Zipporah: a heroine of the Old Testament
Transworld, 2006, £6.99, Pbk., 304p., ISBN 0553816500
Zipporah, wife of Moses, gets very little mention in the Old Testament. This enjoyable novel (the second part of a trilogy including Sarah and Lilah) is based on an interpretation of Numbers 12:1 which equates Moses’ “Cushite wife” with Zipporah daughter of Jethro. Although this is not an obvious correlation, the author has created a reasonable scenario around it, and thus introduces the themes of an inter-racial marriage, the difficulties of a black woman in an alien culture, and the place of women in Jewish society. Zipporah has the vision and wisdom of her ‘father’ Jethro, which is appreciated by Moses but (tragically for Zipporah) suppressed by the other Israelites.
In this story, Zipporah is ‘found’ in a boat and adopted by Jethro (an obvious correlation with Moses’ basket). The story of Moses is told from her viewpoint, beginning with their meeting at the well and their instant mutual attraction (Mills and Boon style!) They go to Egypt together but she returns home before the plagues because of the antagonism of Miriam and the elders. The book concentrates on the relationships between Moses and Jethro’s family and we only get a general idea of life in a Midianite household.
The other interesting theme concerns Moses discovering God on Mount Horeb (Sinai). Jethro and his family, although acknowledging their descent from Abraham, worship the god Horeb, who rather confusingly becomes Yahweh when Moses meets him on the mountain; was this the same or a different god?
In the basics the story is faithful to the biblical account, including the development of Moses’ character, with Zipporah as the catalyst for his maturity from fearful fugitive to obedient (if reluctant) rescuer of the Israelites. An enjoyable book, and a tribute to a brave woman trying to make her mark in a culture not her own.
Contributed by: Janice Paine, MCLIP, CLIS Membership Secretary, who until retirement worked as Senior Library Assistant at University College, London.