||This article improperly uses one or more religious texts as primary sources without referring to secondary sources that critically analyze them. (August 2011)|
Serah bat Asher was, in the Tanakh, a daughter of Asher, the son of Jacob. She is one of the seventy members of the patriarch's family who emigrated from Canaan to Egypt, and her name occurs in connection with the census taken by Moses in the wilderness. She is mentioned also among the descendants of Asher in I Chronicles vii. 30. The fact of her being the only one of her sex to be mentioned in the genealogical lists seemed to the Rabbis to indicate that there was something extraordinary in connection with her history; and she became the heroine of several legends.
In the Torah
There are three mentions of Serach in the Torah. The first is in Genesis, 46:17, in a passage that begins “These are the names of the Israelites, Jacob and his descendants, who came to Egypt,” and continues to mention all of Jacob’s sons, his daughter Dinah, his grandsons, and one granddaughter—Serach (spelled שֶׂרַח Serakh). The passage reads “The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beri’ah, with Serach their sister.” This sentence is repeated in Chronicles, First Chron. 7:30 (same spelling). One would suppose that, since the Torah mentions 53 grandsons and only one granddaughter, she was a person of significance.
The second time Serach is mentioned is in the Book of Numbers, 26:46, in the listing of Israelites who escaped from Egypt, where it simply says “And the name of the daughter of Asher was Serach.” (This time spelled שָׂרַח Sorakh.) Since Serach is mentioned both as Jacob’s granddaughter and also as one of the people who escaped from Egypt 210 years later, Serach is often referred to as the oldest woman in the Torah.
A number of midrashim have been written about Serach. According to one midrash, Serach was not Asher's daughter, but his stepdaughter. She was three years old when Asher married her mother, and she was brought up in the house of Jacob, whose affection she won by her remarkable piety and virtue. The most well known of the midrashim about her tells of how she was the first to inform Jacob that his son Joseph was still alive. Fearing that the news will be too much of a shock for the old man, however, she informs Jacob by playing a harp for him, gently mixing in the words that Joseph is “alive and the ruler of all Egypt.” In return, Jacob blesses her, saying “May you live forever and never die.” According to this midrash, Serach was eventually permitted to enter Heaven alive, something achieved only by Enoch and Elijah. Moses addressed himself to Serach when he wished to learn where the remains of Joseph were to be buried. According to the Midrash, Serach was "the wise woman" who caused the death of Sheba ben Bichri. According to another legend she lived until the tribe of Asher was exiled by Shalmaneser V, went with them into exile, and died there, nearly 1000 years old. According to the legend, her grave is located in Linjan, a small village about 30 km southeast of Isfahan. The site consists of a small synagogue and a huge cemetery which is probably 2000 years old.
There are also stories of her identifying Moses as the man who will lead the Israelites to freedom, and of her telling Moses where to find where Joseph was buried, although his body had been placed in a lead casket on the bottom of the Nile river when he died. Some consider her the guardian of Israel’s communal memory.
- Genesis xlvi. 17
- Numbers xxvi. 46.
- Midrash Abot, p. 45.
- Sotah 13a; Deuteronomy Rabba xi.
- Ecclesiastes Rabba vii. 11
- II Samuel xx.
- Edward Einhorn's absurdist comedy The Living Methuselah, appearing in his book of plays entitled The Golem, Methuselah, and Shylock, gives another perspective on both Serach and Methuselah. In it, Methuselah and Serach have lived to modern day, through all the major disasters of human history.