Another Look at Moses and the Ethiopian Wife

Moses and the Ethiopian

“And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it.”

Numbers 12:1-2 KJV

Most of the commentaries I have read suggest that Miriam and Aaron’s real beef with Moses was not about the Black woman he married. They suggest that the real and only problem was the fact that they were envious of Moses’ unique position of leadership and the criticism of Moses’ marriage to a Black woman was just a smoke-screen of an excuse to address the real problem. But could this interpretation be a case of inserting modern-day Western values and mores into the ancient Eastern text? The unspoken suggestion of most commentaries is that Miriam and Aaron felt that Moses was lowering his social status by marrying a Black woman! But was that really the case? I would like to suggest that it was not!

First of all, who were the people of the dominant culture at that time? Well, I learned in Sunday School as a little boy, that it was actually the Hebrews who were enslaved by the Egyptians! The dominant people in that place and time and in that culture were the Black Africans! Therefore, for Moses to marry a Black woman was not a matter of him marrying someone who was considered socially beneath him but rather it was a case of him marrying someone who was considered to be socially above him! Moses did not marry “down,” he married “up!”

When we consider this possibility, Moses’ marriage to the Ethiopian woman and the complaint of Miriam and Aaron are not so dis-jointed after all! When Moses married the Ethiopian woman, as far as Miriam and Aaron was concerned, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back! E. R. Richards and B. J. O’Brien write in their work: Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible: “The Cushites (Ethiopians) were not demeaned as a slave race in the ancient world; they were respected as highly skilled soldiers. It is more likely that Miriam and Aaron thought Moses was being presumptuous by marrying above himself. That makes sense of the tone of the passage. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they whined. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” (Num 12:2). In other words: Moses is not the only prophet here. Who does he think he is?” And to top it all off, he has the nerve to try to make himself more than what he is by marrying an Ethiopian woman!

 

Richards, E. R., & O’Brien, B. J. (2012). Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (p. 61). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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