November 21 Bible Study

Produced by
Yeshuan Leader:


  1. Hey Brother Grady and dear other listeners!

    I’ve checked a bunch of interpretations of Exod 4:24-26available as online sources in my native language from the past 100 years. The only certainty in them is that there are so many uncertainties in the equation. I’ve run into a profusion of question marks and a vast panoply of explanations. As one author put it: “The uncertain nature of the translation puts insurmountable difficulties in the way of attempts at explanation.” Another one calls those passages “cryptic text”. A third one states that each “interpretation is inseparably connected to each scholar’s method, presuppositions, and particular setting”. By the way, there is a whole book that independently deals with the topic and reportedly lists 40 types of interpretations (John T. Willis: Yahweh and Moses in conflict). I observed, too, that in several cases the explanation is part of a broader research about the ancient history of circumcision.

    One sort of problem is the identity of the persons mentioned in the verses. For example, in the Masoretic Text there is no specific name or reference to identify the male target of the attack/threat. It was the Syriac translation that inserted the name of Moses at the beginning of the text. Although traditionally, the vast majority of the theorists agree upon the fact that it was Moses but this is only eisegesis, as you called it. Nevertheless, critical biblical research has allegedly long since agreed (and perhaps only in this one…) that these few verses were an independent and ancient text fragment that was later inserted into the text of Exodus 4. Needless to say, if so then Moses is never there, only his son.
    But back to a supposition of the opposite! What was the ‘bridegroom of blood’ or ‘bloody husband’? First of all, I’ve read that in Septuagint and in the aramaic Targums this wording is not there, instead each of them says “the blood of circumcision”. But the words we have, ḥatan dámím (or in other transliteration, hâtan-dâmîm) meant as an ancient midianitish phrase: ‘husband (earned) by blood’.
    So it seems that the son wasn’t circumcised (timely), or even neither was his father (Jewish exegetes tend to object to this assumption). In other words, a direct or indirect prerequisite was missing and it jeopardized Moses’ capability of accomplishing the divine mission. If Moses’ lack of circumcision was the issue, then the circumcision of him would have disabled him for days which would not have been a good start for a mission. So could it be a makeshift circumcision on the son that was able to mitigate or eliminate Yahavah’s wrath? Anyway, based on the fact that the closing context of Exodus 4:23 is killing the firstborns in Egypt, the son was most likely Gershom. (Although if not, but Eliezer, that could explain Zipporah’s ‘experience’ in carrying out a circumcision…)

    If the mark of blood that counted for Yahavah (as a seal of the covenant), then by the phrase Zipporah wanted to say that Moses, who should have died, was made her bridegroom again through the blood of his son. Or in a long-winded fashion: Zipporah took action and did the circumcision (maybe reluctantly as she might have talked Moses out of it beforehand, who knows?), did it realizing the gravity of the situation, that Moses was about to pay the piper (for example, he became seriously ill), and then called Moses as her “bridegroom of blood” meaning: ‘yes, you’re still alive, so I’m remarrying, I’m getting you as my husband again, but at the cost of my son’s blood’.
    According to another viewpoint, Zipporah, a simple shepherd girl, was superstitious, believed in the demon (Moloch) and knew how to cast spells, so she knew that the blood of the reproductive organ could be an atonement and therefore she could regain her spouse.
    And because the word for the body part that was touched could mean not only foot or thigh, but genitals as well (with a euphemism), there are those who depict the scene as the contact of the cut foreskin with the intact one… This figurative gesture and the phrase Zipporah used would refer to her new symbolic affiliation with the nation of the covenant and not only with her husband.

    Besides, I had a quick look at a quite detailed study (30+ pages) from 1963 which employs the connections between the contemporary clan structure and matriarchy of Hebrews and/or the nomadic Midianites. If anyone is interested, let me know.
    I also found an explanation of a psychoanalyst, too, but don’t ask me to quote it here, it’s replete with a bit too much Freudian inferences;-)

    Eventually, let me add my own finding which is nothing but a sheer side issue. The critical situation was tackled and resolved by a WOMAN. Not once, not twice but thrice, I mean that literally! In the previous chapters of Exodus, first the midwives are the safeguards, then Pharaoh’s daughter and now, Zipporah. All of them rescued Moses from 1) the command of Pharaoh, 2) the abandonment and the water of the Nile, 3) the menacing death penalty. It is to stress the indispensable significance of WOMEN in the broader story of salvation!

    • Thanks a ton Aron. This is exactly the type of feedback and commentary I’m hoping and praying for while doing these studies. Seeing that you’ve researched it you understand why it’s so hard to actually even make an educated guess about the situation. I tend to lean twords the Moses was the one circumcised. In my mind that’s the only one that would bring any connection to bride and wife. However, like you pointed out… the entire passage is almost “addlib” as if it’s an insert. Your point on women saving Moses is a great observation. Just out of curiosity did you know that Judah actually had a Queen that rueled for 7 years ( evil witch but she was queen of Judah). Again after the exile in Babylon there was another woman who rueled over Judia. Something else is I wonder if the Medianites normally circumcised their sons and if not when and why did the stop. They were from Abraham after all. Many Egyptians were circumcised as well. Circumcision was not unheard-of or uncommon amoung the Egyptians and ancient peoples. It’s interesting to think about. I also love that you mentioned that Moses’ wife was worshiped other gods. The Medianites were polytheists and while it is possible they recognized and worshiped the God Almighty if their father Abraham they most assuredly honored and recognized other dieties. I know this response has been a little all over the place but I realy appreciate your research and observations. Great insights brother!

      • Thank you for the examples of Athalia and Esther(?). At some point, it will be worth looking into the stories of them further.

        Now I’m reading a little study which says it is widely accepted that circumcision “was routinely performed at least 12,000 years ago during the Stone Age”. By the way, the tool was already a stone knife back then! But ancient artefacts about circumcision were found from fairly diverse regions of the world so there had to be independent origins of the procedure. (Although almost certainly not in Europe, India or in the Orient.)
        Jos 5:8-9 could refer to the probable fact that Jews and Egyptians performed circumcision in an inherently different way. An Assyriologist explains it as follows (warning! graphic content!): “Whereas the Hebrews amputated the prepuce and thus exposed the corona of the penis, the Egyptian practice consisted of a dorsal incision upon the foreskin which liberated the glans penis.” Look at the phrase “second time” in Jos 5:2. J. M. Sasson says that “this can now be explained as an injunction for those who have accepted an Egyptian circumcision to “improve” on the ritual by undergoing a thorough removal of the foreskin”. Kind of an upgraded, nay completed version… However, technically, it seems that this is a one-way street where only an Egyptian man could become a Hebrew outwardly. At least this was my first guess, but then it turned out that I underestimated the development of technology. To wit: later on, in the Greek/Roman world of the 2nd century BC there was a medical procedure (epispasm) that made it possible to restore the foreskin of those who were circumcised.
        But back closer to our subject. Not to forget that in Egypt circumcision took place as a rite by the time a boy left puberty or was about to get married. And most probably mainly among people of privileged groups as an initiation rite possibly into some sacred service of Re (or Rā). So the timing and even the personal scope was dissimilar. Supposedly, both infantile circumcision and its comprehensiveness became very specifically an ancient Israelite characteristic.

        Well, according to a biblical scholar you’re spot on, Midianites were one of the Abrahamic tribes and this background alone seems to testify the practice among them. And yes, explanations about the intercultural tensions or frictions between Moses and Zipporah (or the family of Zipporah) build on the premise that Midianites didn’t practice it any more in that day and age. There are related stories or tales in the Midrash that say it was Jethro’s clause of the marriage agreement that if Moses had sons the first would be raised as a Midianite and only the second as a Hebrew, so the first would not be circumcised. So in the Jewish tradition the whole sticky wicket is not on Zipporah who carried out the circumcision despite the fact that this action per se violated the Halakha, but on Jethro. The firstborn belonged to the clan of Jethro, so therefore he had to be redeemed from this previous bond in order to fend off the onslaught on him or on his father (depending on specific interpretations). The Syrian tradition says just the opposite and rebukes Zipporah.

        Jeez, too much verbosity, that’s enough for a while!

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