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MIRIAM mĭr’ ĭ əm (מִרְיָ֥ם). The name of two persons in the OT. 1. The daughter of Amram and Jochebed and the sister of Moses and Aaron (Num 26:59; 1 Chron 6:3). She is first mentioned by name on the occasion of her leading the women in the chorus of the Song of Moses (Exod 15:20, 21). The Song of Moses was sung at the time of the crossing of the Sea by the Israelites on dry land when they left Egypt.

At an earlier time she had watched the ark that her mother had prepared for the baby Moses (Exod 2:3ff.). The little ark was put into the river and floated until Pharaoh’s daughter took the child from the ark. Miriam, seeing all of this, alertly offered to the princess the services of Moses’ real mother to care for the child.

In the Book of Numbers she is mentioned frequently. In the twelfth ch., with her brother Aaron, she opposed Moses at Hazeroth because of his wife who was a Cushite (Num 12:1). The opposition was more deep-seated than this however, for it is clear that a jealousy over his leadership was involved (Num 12:2). God completely vindicated Moses at this time and rebuked Miriam and Aaron for their challenge to his leadership (12:4ff.). Miriam was prob. the leader of her brother Aaron at this time, for the brunt of the punishment for this insurrection fell upon her and she became leprous (12:10).

Miriam’s brother Aaron interceded before Moses for her and Moses pleaded to God that she be healed (12:11, 12), and she was healed; however, she was compelled to remain outside the camp of Israel for seven days after the cleansing.

The death of Miriam is recorded. She died in the wilderness of Zin at Kadesh and was buried there.

The punishment of Miriam continued to be a warning in Israel that they should not rebel against the Lord’s chosen ones. Moses recalled the punishment of Miriam to the people in his address to Israel just before his own death (Deut 24:9). She is long afterward still recognized as one of the great leaders of Israel in the wilderness (Mic 6:4). She is called a prophetess and undoubtedly was highly regarded in Israel long after her death.

The meaning of her name is unknown. Guesses have ranged from an Egyp. origin “love of Amun” to “bitterness” from the root מרר; from “star of the sea” (Jerome) to “plump one” from the root מרא. Her name was destined for greatness. It became, in the LXX, Μαριάμ, G3452, which in time came to be Μαρία, G3451, in the NT. The latter name is the name of the mother of Jesus.

Josephus (Antiq. III. Ch. II) identifies Miriam further as the wife of Hur and therefore the grandmother of Bezalel.

2. A descendant of Judah through Caleb (1 Chron 4:17). The Heb. does not clarify whether the Miriam mentioned here is male or female, neither does it apparently name the parents. Two other kin, presumably brothers, Shamma and Ishbah are mentioned. The RSV has altered the v., taking the last half of the eighteenth v. and inserting it before the last half of the seventeenth v. and thus making it read as though Bithiah and Mered are the parents of Miriam and the other two mentioned.


A. Edersheim, Bible History, I (1890), 35, 164; J. Finegan, Light From the Ancient Past (1946), 130; W. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine (1949), 232, 233; H. Rowley, The Old Testament and Modern Study (1951), 33; W. Albright, From Stone Age to Christianity (1957), 14; Wright and Fuller, The Book of the Acts of God (1957), 32; E. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (1958), 73, 93, 97; C. Pfeiffer, Egypt and the Exodus (1964), 40, 66, 69.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(miryam; Septuagint and the New Testament Mariam; English Versions of the Bible of the New Testament "Mary"):

(1) Daughter of Amram and Jochebed, and sister of Aaron and Moses. It is probable that it was she who watched the ark of bulrushes in which the child Moses was laid (Ex 2:4). She associated herself with her brothers in the exodus, is called "the prophetess," and led the choir of maidens who sang the triumph-song after the crossing of the Red Sea (Ex 15:20 f). Along with Aaron, she opposed Moses at Hazeroth (Nu 12:1-5). She was smitten with leprosy in punishment, but on Aaron’s intercession was pardoned and healed (Nu 12:10-15). She died and was buried at Kadesh (Nu 20:1). In the Deuteronomic Law respecting leprosy, Miriam is mentioned as a warning to the Israelites (De 24:8 f). In Mic 6:4, she is referred to along with Moses and Aaron as a leader of God’s people.

(2) Son (or daughter) of Jether (1Ch 4:17). The latter half of the verse is in its present situation unintelligible; it should probably follow verse 18 (see Curtis, Chronicles, in the place cited.).

John A. Lees