Meredith Warren deposited Moses Married a Black Woman: Modern American Receptions of the Cushite Wife of Moses in the group Biblical Studies on Humanities Commons 4 months, 2 weeks ago
Americans overwhelmingly assume that Moses married a Black woman. Using sources from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this article highlights interpretations of Moses’s marriage to the Cushite woman in Numbers 12. Utilising cultural-critical reception history—that biblical interpretation is culturally conditioned—readers in the United States contrast a Black wife with an assumedly white Moses and Miriam and therefore display an assumption of a racial binary at work in their contemporary societies. In some cases, the name Tharbis is utilised as part of a post-biblical tradition that Moses acquired a war-bride in his early days as an Egyptian military leader. In three parts, the article first discusses nineteenth century associations between a Black wife and a white Miriam, followed by several examples of readers using “Moses Married a Black Woman,” or, as I call it, “Mosaic miscegenation” in their social and intellectual spaces. Readers call upon Moses’s marriage to a Black woman to address their contemporary social issues. Tharbis makes a come-back with twentieth-century novels that lead up to the 1956 Hollywood film The Ten Commandments. Whether named or not, the wife of Moses, mentioned briefly in Numbers, serves as a touchstone on which Americans project their anxieties about abolition and inter-racial marriage.