Classics and Religious Studies


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Published in STUDIES IN JEWISH CIVILIZATION, VOLUME 14: WOMEN AND JUDAISM, ed. Leonard J. Greenspoon, Ronald A. Simkins, & Jean Axelrad Cahan (Omaha: Creighton University Press, 2003), pp. 33-44.


The collection of manuscripts recovered from the caves surrounding Khirbet Qumran, popularly known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, contains a wealth of previously unknown literary compositions from the period of the Second Temple, many adding to our knowledge of the traditions surrounding these familiar biblical characters. It is especially pertinent, given the theme of this volume, to note that there is new material concerning female biblical characters to be gleaned from the fragmentary remains of the Qumran collection. This paper focuses on two or three Qumran texts that mention the biblical character Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, who, with her brothers, was a leader of the Israelites during the sojourn in the wilderness. Miriam appears in seven passages in the Hebrew Bible. In Exod 15:20-21 Miriam, identified as a prophet, is portrayed as leading the Israelite women in a victory celebration following the rout of the Egyptians at the Reed Sea. As it stands, Miriam's song is only a repetition of the first verse of Moses' Song of the Sea (Exod 15:l); one might ask if Miriam sang anything else. Numbers 12:1-15 contains the story of Miriam and Aaron's complaint against Moses, with Miriam's subsequent punishment with a form of skin disease. The death of Miriam is recounted in Num 20:1. Wiriam also appears in genealogical notices in Num 26:59 and 1 Chr 5:29 (Eng. 6:3), where she is identified as the daughter of Amram and Jochebed and the sister ofAaron and Moses. Finally, Micah, the eighth century prophet, lists Moses, Aaron and Miriam as the leaders of the Exodus from Egypt (Mic 6:4). In addition, Exod 2:4-8 portrays an unnamed sister of Moses watching over him after his mother sets him adrift on the Nile. Although later tradition identifies this unnamed sister as Miriam (for example, Jubilees 47:4-9), some scholars have speculated that the tradition that identifies Moses, Aaron, and Miriam as siblings is a later P tradition, and that originally Miriam was a leader in her own right, unrelated to Moses. These few passages provide a tantalizing glimpse of a female leadership figure, a prophet whose actual role may have been far greater than recorded.

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