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 grandsons 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 lived and 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 Numbers. (Judges 4:11). 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.
After all the men in Egypt who had sought his death had died, God commanded Moses to return 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. 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.
Another reference ("the Cushite reference") to a wife of Moses occurs at Numbers 12, in the story of Aaron's and Miriam's harsh criticism of Moses' marriage to a Cushite or Kushite woman, probably of ancestry from Kush, aka 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. Flavius Josephus refers to the Cushite as a wife that Moses married before fleeing Egypt—He married her during his campaign south of Egypt as a general for the Egyptians. Traditional Jewish sources debated throughout Mishnaic and Medieval times whether Zipporah was the Cushite woman.
In Popular Culture
- The Ten Commandments (1956 film) played by Yvonne De Carlo. Her name is rendered as "Sephora" in the film.
- The Prince of Egypt - In this film, Tzipporah appears as the love interest for Moses. At first she hates him for humiliating her in front of the other Egyptians but then comes to respect him after he distracts the guards to allow her to escape from Egypt. After Moses saves her sisters from bandits, Tzipporah gets her own back on Moses by dropping him in a well. However when he later claims to Jethro that he has "done nothing in (my) life worth honouring" she begins to see him in a different light. Throughout the song "Through Heaven's Eyes" she and Moses are shown as becoming good friends and eventually falling in love. By the end of the song they have married. Tzipporah accompanies Moses back to Egypt and leaves with him when he is finally able to set the Israelites free. She remains with him in the Promised Land along with Miriam and Aaron. Voice provided by Michelle Pfieffer.
- The Ten Commandments (TV series) - In the 2006 television mini-series was based more on the biblical narrative of the Book of Exodus; Moses decides on choosing Zipporah as his wife after rescuing her and her sisters from attackers. She travels with Moses to Egypt but returns to her father's lands after the liberation of the Israelites along with Moses' childrem who become estranged to him and don't recognize him in their final scenes together. Her role is played by Argentine actress Mia Maestro.
- 1 Chronicles 23:16-17
- Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
- Ex. 18:2
- David M. Goldenberg. The curse of Ham: race and slavery in early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, chapter 8. Pg 124
- Israël Shahak. Jewish history, Jewish religion: the weight of three thousand years. Pg. 25