Cushite Woman

kush’-it: In Nu 12:1 Moses is condemned by his sister Miriam and his brother Aaron "because of the Cushite woman ha-’ishshah ha-kushith whom he had married"; and the narrator immediately adds by way of needed explanation, "for he had married a Cushite woman" (’ishshah khushith). Views regarding this person have been of two general classes:

(1) She is to be identified with Zipporah (Ex 2:21 and elsewhere), Moses’ Midianite wife, who is here called "the Gushite," either in scorn of her dark complexion (compare Jer 13:23) and foreign origin (so most older exegetes), or as a consequence of an erroneous notion of the late age when this apocryphal addition, "because of the Cushite," etc., was inserted in the narrative (so Wellhansen).

(2) She is a woman whom Moses took to wife after the death of Zipporah, really a Cushite (Ethiopian) by race, whether the princess of Meroe of whom Josephus (Ant., II, x, 2) romances (so Targum of Jonathan), or one of the "mixed multitude" (Ex 12:38; compare Nu 11:4) that accompanied the Hebrews on their wanderings (so Ewald and most). Dillmann suggests a compromise between the two classes of views, namely, that this woman is a mere "variation in the saga" from the wife elsewhere represented as Midianite, yet because of this variation she was understood by the author as distinct from Zipporah. The implication of the passage, in any case, is clearly that this connection of Moses tended to injure his prestige in the eyes of race-proud Hebrews, and, equally, that in the author’s opinion such a view of the matter was obnoxious to God.

Additional Material

CUSHITE (ETHIOPIAN) WOMAN. Moses married an Ethiopian woman (Num 12:1). Ethiopia, or Cush, was the region S of the first cataract of the Nile, a region to which Moses never traveled, according to the Biblical records. The ancient LXX and Vul. VSS consider the woman to be from Ethiopia, but ancient Jewish tradition identified her with Zipporah, identifying Cush with Cushan (cf. Hab 3:7). Martin Noth thinks of Cushan as a tribe or a confederacy of tribes allied to, but different from Midian. This wife would have to be distinguished from the Midianite Zipporah. Legend suggests that during the years before he fled to the desert, Moses was commander-in-chief of a campaign against Ethiopia. Tharbis, the king’s daughter saw him, fell in love with him, and helped him capture the city. Finally, according to the legend, she married him.