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Miriam (right), painting by William Gale.

Biblical longevity
Name Age LXX
Methuselah 969 969
Jared 962 962
Noah 950 950
Adam 930 930
Seth 912 912
Kenan 910 910
Enos 905 905
Mahalalel 895 895
Lamech 777 753
Shem 600 600
Eber 464 404
Cainan 460
Arpachshad 438 465
Salah 433 466
Enoch 365 365
Peleg 239 339
Reu 239 339
Serug 230 330
Job 210? 210?
Terah 205 205
Isaac 180 180
Abraham 175 175
Nahor 148 304
Jacob 147 147
Esau 147? 147?
Ishmael 137 137
Levi 137 137
Amram 137 137
Kohath 133 133
Laban 130+ 130+
Deborah 130+ 130+
Sarah 127 127
Miriam 125+ 125+
Aaron 123 123
Rebecca 120+ 120+
Moses 120 120
Joseph 110 110
Joshua 110 110

Miriam (Hebrew: מִרְיָם, Modern Miryam Tiberian Miryām ; meaning either “wished for child,” “bitterness,” “rebellious,” or “lifted up”; or perhaps originally from Egyptian mry "beloved" or mr “love”[1] or the derived ancient Egyptian name Meritamen or “Merit-Amun,” “beloved of Amun[2]; Greek name: Μαριάμ; Arabic name :مريم ) was the sister of Moses and Aaron, and the daughter of Amram and Jochebed. She appears first in the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible.

The name Miriam is the source of the modern names Mary and Maria.[3]

Biblical account

At her mother Jochebed's request, Miriam hid her baby brother Moses by the side of a river to evade the Pharaoh’s order that newborn Hebrew boys be killed. She watched as the Pharaoh’s daughter discovered the infant and decided to adopt him. Miriam then suggested that the princess take on a nurse for the child, and suggested Jochebed; as a result, Moses was raised to be familiar with his background as a Hebrew. (Exodus 2:1-10)

Miriam is called a prophetess, and is traditionally believed to have composed a brief victory song after Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the Red Sea (Exodus 15:20-21).

“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

It is considered by many that this poetic couplet is one of the oldest parts of the Biblical account. Rashi’s commentary on this verse, based on the Mekhilta (Be-Shalah, ch. 10), states “Moses chanted a song for the men; he would chant for them and they would answer him. And Miriam chanted a song for the women.” In other words, the Song on the Sea was recited twice, for the men and the women in parallel. Moses chanted the song in its entirety for the men, who answered him in refrain, and Miriam repeated this procedure for the women.

Later, she objected to the marriage of Moses to a Cushite woman, which made her guilty of speaking Lashon hara (gossiping, or speaking negatively about someone), for which she was struck with tzaraat. After Aaron asked Moses to intercede for her, Moses uttered a five-word prayer: El nah refa nah-la — “O Lord, make her well,” and she recovered within seven days. (Numbers 12) A passage in Micah suggests she had a legacy with significant regard among later prophets: “And I brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, and I sent before you Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam.” (Micah 6:4)

“Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing” (Exodus 15:19).
Illuminated manuscript, Tomić Psalter, 1360/63, Moscow State Historical Museum

Miriam is a popular figure among some Jewish feminists. Some place a “Cup of Miriam,” filled with water, beside the customary “Cup of Elijah” (filled with wine) during the Passover Seder. The cup contains water in memory of Miriam's well, which according to a Midrash (see Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews 3, 50-54) accompanied the Israelites on their journey through the desert. Some Modern Orthodox[who?] Jews have revived a millennium-old custom of adding a piece of fish to the seder plate, with the lamb, egg and fish jointly symbolizing the three prophets referred to in Micah 6:4, and also alluding to the mythical beasts (the bird Ziz, the animal Behemoth, and the sea-creature Leviathan) which, according to Midrash, are to be served at the Seudat Chiyat HaMatim, the feast for the righteous following the resurrection of the dead, which the Passover Seder (and the Cup of Elijah) allude to. The fish represents Leviathan as well as Miriam and is also a water symbol.[4]


Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews states that Miriam was the wife of Hur, who is mentioned in Exodus as a close companion of Moses.[5] However, in the Targum to I Chron. ii. 19, iv. 4, Miriam is said to be Hur's mother, asserting that Ephrath, the wife of Caleb, was another name for Miriam.

Snow-white Miriam

At Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses because:

of the Cushite (Ethiopian) woman whom he had married: for he had married a Cushite woman

Miriam and Aaron question Moses’ exclusive religious authority, since they consider themselves to also have been prophets.

'They said, 'Was it only to Moses that God spoke? Did he not speak to us as well?

God hears and calls all three to the door of the tabernacle. When they arrive, God states to them that Moses has a much greater authority than Miriam and Aaron; indeed, He chooses to speak to Moses face to face, rather than merely through dreams.

In anger, God subsequently visits a punishment on Miriam, giving her tzaraath turning her “white as snow.” According to the rules concerning tzaraath, Miriam must then live outside of the camp, in isolation, only being allowed back when Moses intercedes with God on her behalf. Nevertheless, God insists that she still be punished for seven days. (Numbers 12:10-14)

Rabbinic Interpretation

According to the Hebrew Bible anyone with tzaraath was tamei (Leviticus 13-14) The Rabbis of the Talmud noted that Aaron did not receive the same punishment as his sister, otherwise he would no longer have been able to perform his duties as high priest.

Form criticism

Zipporah is identified as the wife of Moses, so the traditional Jewish and Christian view is that Zipporah is the woman that Miriam opposes. However, Zipporah is described as being a Cushite from Midian. According to Richard E. Friedman, because Cush refers to Ethiopia (Note: “Ethiopia” in ancient resources refers to the region of Nubia in modern Sudan.) or other lands well outside, the “Cushite woman” of the story is not Zipporah. Friedman, building on interpretations from the documentary hypothesis, notes that Zipporah is only mentioned in the Jahwist text, while the story of Snow-white Miriam is assigned to the Elohist, and so, in each, Moses only ever has one wife.[6]

According to Friedman's interpretation, these two accounts reflected the stories of two different, rival priesthoods, the Aaronid priesthood in the Kingdom of Judah, which claimed descent from Aaron and which controlled the Temple in Jerusalem, and a priesthood based at Shiloh, in the Kingdom of Israel. Friedman, following the tradition of the documentary hypothesis, asserts that various Biblical tales were created or publicized by these factions in order to add an aura of legitimacy to their various claims to privilege and power. According to Friedman, the Elohist was from, or supported, the Shiloh priesthood, and thus had a strong motivation to repeat or create this tale.[6]


  1. Behind the Name: Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Mary
  2. Holly Ingraham, People's names: A Cross-Cultural Guide to the Proper Use of Over 40,000 Names in Over One Hundred Culture Groups (1997)
  3. Behind the Name
  4. Where is Miriam on the Seder plate? Yael Levine, Edah, YNet, 2006-11-04. Retrieved 2007-05-13.
  5. Antiquities, Book 3, ch. 1
  6. 6.0 6.1 Richard E. Friedman (May 1997). Who Wrote the Bible?. San Francisco: Harper. pp. 78,92. ISBN 0-06-063035-3. 
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Miriam. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.