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Calvin: Moses Ethiopian (or Cushite) Wife was Zipporah

“I do not by any means agree with those who think that she was any other than Zipporah, since we hear nothing of the death of Zipporah, nay, she had been brought back by Jethro, her father, only a little while before the delivery of the Law; whilst it is too absurd to charge the holy Prophet with the reproach of polygamy. Besides, as an octogenarian, he would have been but little suited for a second marriage. Again, how would such a marriage have been practicable in the desert? It is, therefore, sufficiently clear that they refer to Zipporah, who is called an Ethiopian woman, because the Scripture comprehends the Midianites under this name: although I have no doubt but that they maliciously selected this name, for the purpose of awakening greater odium against Moses. I designedly forbear from adducing the frivolous glosses in which some indulge. Moses, however, acknowledges that it was not accorded to him to have a wife of the holy race of Abraham.”

— John Calvin, Commentary on Numbers 12

4 thoughts on “John Calvin: Moses Ethiopian (or Cushite) Wife was Zipporah”

  1. I’m guessing in the original text he specified the text that calls Midianites “Cushites”. I don’t think Midianites are Cushites, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they might not be called that in derision.

    • Charles,

      Thank you for commenting on the site. Sorry I am late in replying but here is something written by B. H. Carroll (1843 – 1914) from his work An Interpretation of the English Bible:

      “Cush in the Bible means Ethiopia. But Moses had never been to Ethiopia except when he waged a campaign there, and if he married there that would make her the first wife and Zipporah the second. But there was a part of Arabia called Cush and that land of the Cushites included a part of the territory occupied by the Midianites. So that the Cushite woman was undoubtedly his wife, Zipporah. There is not a scintilla of evidence that Moses ever married again. And so Aaron and Miriam had never been satisfied with his marriage with Zipporah.”

    • Charles,

      This is from the footnotes in Calvin’s Commentary for Numbers 12:1.

      “Bochart endeavors to prove that the Cushites and Midianites were the same people; and Shuckford (vol. 1, p. 166, edit. 1743) states his opinion that “by the land of Cush is always meant some part of Arabia.” Hab 3:7, in which “the tents of Cushan,” and “the land of Midian,” are mentioned together, seems to corroborate this view.”

      Samuel Bochart (1599-1667) was a French Protestant who was the author of a work called Geographia Sacra seu Phaleg et Canaan (1646).

      Samuel Shuckford (died 1754) was an Anglican priest who was the author of a work called History of the World, Sacred and Profane (1743).


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