Zipporah or Tzipora (// or //; Hebrew: צִפוֹרָה, Modern Tsippora, Tiberian Ṣippôrā 'bird'; Greek: Σεπφώρα Sepphōra; Arabic: صفورة Ṣaffūrah) is mentioned in the Book of Exodus as the wife of Moses, and the daughter of Reuel/Jethro, the priest or prince of Midian. In the Book of Chronicles, two of her descendants are mentioned: Shebuel, son of Gershom and Rehabiah son of Eliezer.
In the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible Zipporah was one of the seven daughters of Jethro, a Kenite shepherd who was a priest of Midian. In Exodus 2:18 Jethro is also referred to as Reuel and referred to as Hobab in the Book of Judges. (Judges 4:11). (Hobab was also the name of Jethro's son as recorded in Numbers 10:29.) While the Israelites/Hebrews were captives in Egypt, Moses killed an Egyptian who was striking a Hebrew, for which offense Pharaoh sought to kill Moses. Moses therefore fled from Egypt and arrived in Midian. One day while he sat by a well, Reuel's daughters came to water their father's flocks. Other shepherds arrived and drove the girls away so they could water their own flocks first. Moses helped the girls and watered their flock.
Upon their return home their father asked them, "How is it that you have come back so soon today?" The girls answered, "An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock." "Where is he then?" Reuel asked them. "Why did you leave the man? Ask him in to break bread." (Exodus 2:18–20)
Moses stayed and lived with the Midianite and his family. Reuel gave him his daughter Zipporah in marriage and, in due time, she gave birth to Gershom and then to Eliezer.
Incident at the Inn
After all the men in Egypt who had sought his death had died, Moses returned to Egypt. Moses took his wife and sons and started his journey back to Egypt. On the road, they stayed in an inn, where a mysterious and much-debated incident that features Zipporah took place. The Bible describes that God came to kill Moses (Exodus 4:24-27). Zipporah quickly circumcised Gershom with a sharp stone and touched Moses' feet with it, saying "You are a husband of blood!." (Exodus 4:26.) Some scholars explain the reason why God came to kill Moses was because of the covenant He made with Abraham. "'He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.'" (Genesis 17:10-14)
After Moses succeeded in taking the Israelites out of Egypt, and won a battle against Amalek, Reuel came to the Hebrew camp in the wilderness of Sinai, bringing with him Zipporah, Gershom, and Eliezer. The Bible does not say when Zipporah and her sons rejoined Reuel/Jethro, only that after he heard of what God did for the Israelites, he brought Moses' family to him. The most common translation is that Moses sent her away, but another grammatically permissible translation is that she sent things or persons, perhaps the announcement of the victory over Amalek. The word that makes this difficult is shelucheiha, the sendings [away] of her.
The Cushite reference to the wife of Moses occurs at Numbers 12. In the story Aaron and Miriam harshly criticize Moses' marriage to a Cushite or Kushite woman after he returned to Egypt to set the children of Israel free. Cushites were of the ancestry of Kush, a.k.a. Nubia, in northeast Africa. The book of Genesis identifies the nations of Africa as descendants of Ham son of Noah. The Midianites themselves were a dark-skinned people often called Kushim, the Hebrew word used to describe dark skinned Africans.
In popular culture
- Yvonne De Carlo portrayed Sephora (the Douay–Rheims variant of the name) in Cecil B. DeMille's epic film The Ten Commandments (1956).
- Irene Papas portrayed Zipporah in the British-Italian miniseries Moses the Lawgiver (1974).
- Michelle Pfeiffer voiced Tzipporah (another variant of the name) in the animated film The Prince of Egypt (1998).
- Mía Maestro portrayed Zipporah in the ABC miniseries The Ten Commandments (2006).
- María Valverde portrayed Zipporah in Ridley Scott's epic film Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014).
- Sephora, a beauty store chain, is often associated with Zipporah and the variants of her name.
- 1 Chronicles 23:16-17
- Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.[page needed]
- "Exodus 2 - Passage Lookup - New International Version - BibleGateway.com". biblegateway.com. Retrieved 2014-04-05.
- "Judges 4 / Hebrew - English Bible / Mechon-Mamre". mechon-mamre.org. Retrieved 2014-04-05.
- Ex. 18:2
- David M. Goldenberg. The curse of Ham: race and slavery in early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, chapter 8. p. 124.
- Israël Shahak. Jewish history, Jewish religion: the weight of three thousand years. p. 25
- Noerdlinger, Henry S. (1956). Moses and Egypt. University of Southern California Press. p. 70. ISBN 9781258130275. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
- Pardes, Ilana (1992). "Zipporah and the Struggle for Deliverance" in Countertraditions in the Bible: A Feminist Approach. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674175426
- Piper, John (September 2007). "Did Moses Marry a Black Woman?". 9Marks.