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Zipporah (Hebrew: צפרה, Ẓippōrāh; Greek: Σεπφώρα, Sephōrā; Arabic: صفورة, Safūrā; "Name means::bird") (m. Married::Teveth 2473 AM) was the daughter of daughter of::Jethro, wife of Moses, and mother of his two sons Gershom and Eliezer.

Life and family

The Bible describes Zipporah as the daughter of Jethro, priest of Midian. She had six sisters, and their names are unrecorded. Eleazar, son of Aaron, would later marry one of them.


Zipporah was probably the eldest daughter of a man who had no sons. One day, in 2473 AM (in the winter of 1532/31 BC, according to Ussher[1]), she and her sisters drove their flock of sheep to their well and drew water from it to water their flock. Some rival shepherds of unknown nationality tried to drive them away from the well. Then a stranger, whom Zipporah identified at first as an Egyptian, came to the women's aid and forced the shepherds to desist. He then helped the women complete their watering.

The Biblical narrative here says that the sisters returned to their father's camp and left the man behind. Jethro asked them how they could have finished their task so quickly, and they told him that "an Egyptian" had helped them. Jethro then asked why they left him at the well, and told them to invite the stranger to the camp.

This man was Moses, who agreed to stay in camp and learn how to be a shepherd. Moses and Zipporah were married soon afterward. Their first son was born in the next fall, and Moses named him Gershom ("the stranger"), because, he said, "I have been a stranger in a strange land." (Exodus 2:16-22 )[2][3][4][5][6]


The next mention of Zipporah occurs when Moses is traveling back to Egypt to start his famous mission. The Bible says that God met Moses and was about to put him to death. Then Zipporah performed a circumcision on his son (some authorities say Gershom,[7] and others say Eliezer[8]) and then threw the foreskin at Moses' feet, saying, "You are a bridegroom of blood to me." (Exodus 4:24-26 )

This incident is a matter of sharp controversy with regard to the significance of circumcision and Zipporah's feelings about it. Most authorities recall that circumcision was an important sign that God had given to Abraham of His covenant with His people, and if one of the sons of Moses had not been properly circumcised, then Moses had failed to honor the terms of the covenant, and had to rectify this oversight before proceeding further.[5][9][10][6] Some authorities further suggest that Moses was guilty of a worse fault: still refusing to obey God and carry out His mission to Egypt.[9] Concerning Zipporah herself, some authorities credit her with thinking more clearly than did Moses, recognizing his failure to circumcise his son, and acting in order to avert disaster.[5][6] But others suggest that Zipporah recoiled in horror at the custom of the circumcision and felt estranged from Moses on that account. According to this theory, God forced Zipporah to act, and Zipporah withdrew temporarily from Moses' life, leaving him free to continue the mission without argument.[10]

In Egypt

The Biblical narrative clearly says that Moses, Zipporah, and their two sons set out for Egypt. (Exodus 4:18-20 ) Yet the Bible also says that Moses sent Zipporah and their sons away to Jethro before the Exodus of Israel. (Exodus 18:1-4 ) Some authorities assume that Moses sent Zipporah back to Jethro before he arrived in Egypt.[2][8][3][10] Whether Zipporah deliberately abandoned Moses is in dispute.[5][10] In any event, Zipporah and the sons of Moses joined the camp of Israel after the Red Sea crossing.

The Cushite Woman?

The identity of the Cushite, or Ethiopian, woman whom Moses had married by the second year of the wilderness journey (Numbers 12 ) is in doubt. Ussher[11], Jacobs[3], Konig[4], and others[6][12] assume that Zipporah and the Ethiopian woman were the same person. Others[2][5][13] admit the possibility that the two women were distinct. Many authorities who identify the Ethiopian woman as Zipporah suggest that racial prejudice[12] or simple woman-to-woman jealousy[6] provoked Miriam to question the authority of Moses and cite his marriage as her excuse.

Different authorities cite different reasons for identifying Zipporah as the Ethiopian. Ussher[11] states that Midianite country was a part of Ethiopia at the time. Other authorities suggest that the Midianites were not descended from Abraham at all, but from Ham, and specifically Cush.[5][13]

If Zipporah is not the Ethiopian, then Moses married twice, as did Jacob, because the Bible does not state unequivocally that Moses gave Zipporah any sort of bill of divorcement. Josephus[14] stated that Moses commanded Egyptian troops and led them in a successful attack against Ethiopia before his exile. If this was true, then some Ethiopians might have been part of the "mixed multitude" that joined the Israelites at the Exodus. But Moses' campaign in Ethiopia, if it occurred at all, occurred forty years before the Exodus, so Moses would not likely have married a woman whom he had earlier taken as a hostage or prize in that campaign.

See Also

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  1. James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003, pgh. 170
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Blank, Wayne. "Entry for Zipporah." Daily Bible Study, n.d. Accessed December 5, 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Jacobs J and Ochser S, "Zipporah," The Jewish Encyclopedia, n.d. Accessed December 5, 2008.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Konig, G. "Zipporah." About Bible Prophecy, 2001. Accessed December 5, 2008.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Authors unknown. "Women of the Bible: Z." Alabaster Jars, n.d. Accessed December 5, 2008.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Goldstein CR, ed. "Moses and Zipporah: Reading with Relations." Sabbath School Network, n.d. Accessed December 5, 2008.
  7. Jones, Floyd N., The Chronology of the Old Testament, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004, p. 216
  8. 8.0 8.1 Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 175
  9. 9.0 9.1 Atteberry, Shawna R. B. "Women Intercessors: Zipporah and Huldah." CRI/Voice, 2007. Accessed December 5, 2008.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Bob L. "Moses and Zipporah." Ichthys, October 21, 2006. Accessed December 5, 2008.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 238
  12. 12.0 12.1 See for example "Wehzo", "Moses and Zipporah," HubPages, 2008. Accessed December 5, 2008.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Authors unknown. "Zipporah." American Bible Society, 2008. Accessed December 5, 2008.
  14. Josephus, Antiquities 2.10