Miriam is Not Alone

Feminism is not all the same, but one feature of all theological feminism is a heightened alert to how women are treated. Take, for example, Miriam, Moses’ sister. My colleague, Claude Mariottini in  Rereading the Biblical Text: Searching for Meaning and Understanding, wonders if translators of the Old Testament have been consistently fair to Miriam.

To begin with, though her name appears 15x in the OT, twice her name becomes “she” (Numbers 12:10, 15). Not a big issue.

In Exodus 2:4 she’s not named, she’s but “his sister” (of Moses). More importantly, she is the one who saves Moses so “Miriam saves her brother before he can save a single Hebrew” (33).

The big event about Miriam is that she’s a prophet because she interprets the exodus in the famous song of Miriam about the horse and rider. Claude Mariottini observes that the writer of Exodus just might be eclipsing Miriam a touch when in Exodus 15:1 it says that Moses sang that song, while in v. 21 it was Miriam who sang this. Is this a case of Miriam singing Moses’ song or the Moses’ singing Miriam’s song? It appears to be the second according to our author.

Only Miriam gets punished in Numbers 12 when Aaron was also involved (12:2, 12).

Here’s the issue for Dr. Mariottini — it comes from Micah 6:4.

NIV 2011: “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.” Observe the comma and the word “also.” Moses and also Aaron and Miriam.

ASV: “and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.” Here the three are virtual equals.

WEB: “I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.” Equals again.

NRSV: “and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”

In three representative translations, which can be taken as more “literal” or “word for word” translations, we have three equal names for Israel’s three great leaders: two men and one woman. But the grammar is three names … and, and. The addition of the comma and the also separates Aaron and Miriam from the status of Moses. Moses gets the attention; Miriam (and Aaron) are assigned to another status. Claude: she is “downgraded partly in order to promote Moses as the prominent leader of Israel” (33).

What is perhaps more notable here is that nowhere in the OT elsewhere do the three get the kind of status we find in Micah, so it can be said that Micah elevated Miriam to the status of Moses and Aaron while the NIV did not translate it that way.

She’s also eliminated by the psalmist in Psalm 77:20.

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