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Zipporah, Wife of Moses

Zipporah, Wife of Moses

4.5 21
by Marek Halter

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From the internationally bestselling author of Sarah comes the riveting story of the remarkable woman who walked beside Moses.

Although she is a Cushite by birth—one of the people of the lands to the south—Zipporah grew up as the beloved daughter of Jethro, high priest and sage of the Midianites. But the color of Zipporah’s skin sets her


From the internationally bestselling author of Sarah comes the riveting story of the remarkable woman who walked beside Moses.

Although she is a Cushite by birth—one of the people of the lands to the south—Zipporah grew up as the beloved daughter of Jethro, high priest and sage of the Midianites. But the color of Zipporah’s skin sets her apart, making her an outsider to the men of her adopted tribe, who do not want her as a wife. Then one day while drawing water from a well, she meets a handsome young stranger. Like her, he is an outsider. A Hebrew raised in the house of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Moses is a fugitive, forced to flee his homeland. Zipporah realizes that this man will be the husband and partner she never thought she would have.

Moses wants nothing more than a peaceful life with the Midianites, but Zipporah won’t let Moses forget his past—or turn away from his true destiny.

She refuses to marry him until he returns to Egypt to free his people. When God reveals himself to Moses in a burning bush, his words echo Zipporah’s, and Moses returns to Egypt with his passionate and generous wife by his side.

A woman ahead of her time, Zipporah leaps from the pages of this remarkable novel. Bold, independent, and a true survivor, she is a captivating heroine, and her world of deserts, temples, and ancient wonders is a fitting backdrop to an epic tale.

Look for the Reader’s Group Guide at the back of this book.

Also available as an ebook

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In his enjoyable but uneven second installment in the Canaan trilogy (Sarah), Halter takes his cue from the biblical story of Moses to imagine the life of Moses's little-known wife. In Midian, the pride of High Priest Jethro is his lovely and wise adopted daughter, Zipporah, a Cushite, yet he can't find a husband for her because she is black. Zipporah dreams about an Egyptian prince who waits for her at the bottom of the sea; Moses (literally the man of her dreams) arrives on the scene just as marauding shepherds attack. Zipporah's heart is stirred by the handsome vagabond, but so is the lust of her beautiful, cruel sister. When Moses chooses Zipporah, she realizes that before she can love him unreservedly, she must first make him face his destiny. Halter includes many rich cultural details and plenty of steamy sex, and he strikes a balance on miraculous occurrences, offering plausible ideas for some (the burning bush may have resulted from volcanic activity) while leaving others open to divine activity. Though it opens well, the book loses energy and culminates in a disappointing conclusion. Although this is not as engaging as The Red Tent, it should appeal to the same readership. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Sarah, the first book in Halter's "Canaan Trilogy," was enthralling, but this follow-up is even better. Mentioned by name only three times in the book of Exodus, Zipporah is given a rich heritage and a powerful voice here. The daughter of a Cushite (i.e., African) woman who died shortly after her birth, she is raised and loved dearly by Jethro, high priest and leader of the Midianites. But her dark skin sets her apart from the tribe and condemns her to a life of isolation and loneliness; it isn't until Moses stumbles out of the desert fleeing the Egyptians and into Jethro's camp that Zipporah's destiny changes. Within a few short years, she becomes Moses' wife and the mother of his children. Bolstered by her strength of character and firm belief in him, Moses finds the courage to return to Egypt and demand the release of his people from slavery. Halter's Zipporah is a woman of passion, loyalty, and faith, and readers will cheer her on. Highly recommended, particularly for libraries whose patrons have asked for more books like Orson Scott Card's "Women of Genesis" series and Anita Diamant's The Red Tent. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/05; "The Canaan Trilogy" will conclude with Lilah, due for a 2006 release.-Ed.]-Jane Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fanciful version of the fatal encounter between African princess Zipporah and young Moses, in a breathy, atmospheric translation. The second volume of French novelist Halter's Canaan Trilogy (Sarah, 2004) shows Zipporah, the daughter of Midian high priest Jethro, meeting the fugitive Moses on his flight out of Egypt. At the well with her light-skinned stepsisters, Zipporah is intrigued by the stranger she recognizes from a dream. Although Moses explains to Jethro that he has killed an Egyptian overseer and is fleeing Pharaoh's court, the priest offers him a small flock and shelter among the Midianites. News of his adopted mother's illness nearly sends him back to Egypt, but Zipporah persuades Moses to remain and be her husband, despite his conflicted identity-he has learned he is Hebrew by birth-and inability to embrace the Midian god, Horeb. True to her dream, however, the sight of a burning bush convinces Moses he must return to Egypt. Zipporah makes the arduous trek with her husband, their flock and two children; they are joyously reunited with Moses' long-lost siblings, Aaron and Miriam. The Hebrews, however, are appalled by this black-skinned bride, and Miriam is particularly hostile to her. Moses insists on his gratitude to Zipporah for saving his life (and circumcising his son Eliezer), but she at last grasps the futility of her presence amid the monumental events unfolding in Egypt. Excluded by her African birth from the covenant Yahweh made with Abraham, Zipporah returns sadly to Midian, only to learn a year later that Moses had led the great exodus from Egypt. By then, the Hebrews are wandering restively, Moses is a changed man and the couple's brief, final meeting makes atragic footnote to the violent surge of events. Affecting biblical drama scaled down to human dimensions.
From the Publisher
Praise for Sarah, the first book in Marek Halter’s Canaan Trilogy

“A worthy heiress to Anita Diamant’s bestseller The Red Tent, and an entertaining read, with a heroine who uses both her brains and her femininity to astonishing effect.” —Atlanta Journal-Constitution

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

Gale Group
Publication date:
Canaan Trilogy
Edition description:
Large Print
Product dimensions:
5.64(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.93(d)

Read an Excerpt

Zipporah, Wife of Moses

By Marek Halter

Random House

Marek Halter
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1400052793

Chapter One

The Fugitive

That day, and all the days that followed, Horeb remained silent.

The dream lingered for a long time in Zipporah's body, like the poison left by an illness.

For several moons, she dreaded the night. She lay on her bed without moving, without closing her eyes, without even daring to touch her lips with her tongue for fear of finding the taste of the stranger's mouth on them.

She thought for a moment of confiding in her father Jethro. Who better to counsel her than the sage of the kings of Midian? Who loved her more than he did? Who better understood her torments?

But she said nothing. She did not want to seem too weak, too childish, too much like other women, who were always ready to believe their hearts rather than their eyes. He was so proud of her, and she wanted to show him that she was strong and sensible and held firm to all the things he had taught her.

With time, the images of the dream faded. The Egyptian's face became blurred. A season went by without her thinking of it once. Then, one morning, Jethro announced to his daughters that young Reba, the son of the king of Sheba, one of the five kings of Midian, would be their guest the next day.

"He has come to ask counsel of me. He will be here before the end of the day. We shall welcome him as he deserves."

The news provoked a great deal of mirth among the women of the house. All of them--Jethro's daughters, the handmaids--knew what was going on. For more than a year, barely a moon had passed without Reba coming to seek Jethro's counsel.

While everyone bustled to prepare the next day's banquet, some preparing the food, others the reception tent and the carpets and cushions that had to be laid out in the courtyard, it was Sefoba, the eldest of Jethro's daughters still living in their father's house, who, with her usual directness, said out loud what everyone was thinking:

"Reba has had more counsel by now than anyone needs in a lifetime--unless, behind that handsome little face of his, he's the stupidest man Horeb has ever created. What he really wants to know is if he still appeals to our dear Orma. He's hoping Father will think his patience a sign of wisdom and agree to make him his son-in-law!"

Orma shrugged. "We all know why he's coming," she admitted. "But what's the point of these visits? They bore me. They're always the same. Reba sits down with our father, spends half the night chatting and drinking wine, and then goes home again, without ever making his mind up to say the necessary words."

"Yes, I wonder why," Sefoba said, pretending to be thinking deeply. "Perhaps he doesn't find you beautiful enough?"

Orma glared at her sister, unsure whether she was joking. Sefoba laughed, pleased with her teasing. Zipporah sensed that they might be building up to one of their customary quarrels. She stroked the back of Orma's neck to calm her, and received a slap on the hand by way of thanks.

Although they had the same mother, Sefoba and Orma could not have been more dissimilar. Sefoba was short and round, sensual and tender, with nothing dazzling about her. Her smile revealed her lack of guile, the honesty of her thoughts and feelings. She was completely trustworthy and, more than once, Zipporah had confided to her what she did not dare tell anyone else. Orma, on the other hand, was like one of those stars that keep their brilliance even when the sky is already flooded with sunlight. There was no woman more beautiful in Jethro's house, perhaps in the whole of Midian. And certainly no woman prouder of this gift of Horeb.

Suitors had written long poems about the splendor of her eyes, the grace of her mouth, the elegance of her neck. In their songs, the shepherds, although they did not dare mention her by name, vaunted her breasts and her hips, comparing them to fabulous fruits, strange animals, and magic spells cast by goddesses. Orma savored this fame, never tired of it. But she seemed perfectly content to inflame others, without herself being inflamed. No man had yet been able to arouse in her an interest greater than the interest she had in herself. She was the despair of Jethro, who saw her fussing over her robes, her cosmetics, and her jewels as if they were the most precious things in the world. He had had no success in making her a wife and mother. Although she was the youngest daughter of his blood and he loved her dearly, there were times when even he, who rarely lost his composure, could not restrain his harsh judgment of her.

"Orma is like the desert wind," he would rage, in Zipporah's presence. "She blows first one way then the other. She's like a bladder that fills with air and then bursts. Her mind is an empty chest. Even the dust of memory won't settle in it! She's a jewel, of course, and she grows more beautiful every day, but I sometimes wonder if Horeb is angry with me and is using her to test me."

"You're too hard on her," Zipporah would gently protest. "Orma knows very well what she wants and has a strong will, but she's young."

"She's three years older than you," Jethro would reply. "It's high time she thought less about making hay and more about making babies!"

In fact, there had been no lack of suitors. But Jethro, having promised Orma that he would never choose a husband for her without her consent, was still waiting, just like the suitors. Now new songs were being sung across the land of Midian, saying that the beautiful Orma, daughter of Jethro the sage, had been born to break the hardest of hearts and that Horeb would soon transform her, as virgin as the day she was born, into a superb rock on his mountain, caressed only by the wind. But now Reba had decided to take up the challenge, and was endlessly coming to pay his respects to Jethro with the impatience of a warlord before a battle. Nobody doubted that his persistence deserved its reward.

"This time, little sister," Sefoba resumed, "you really must make up your mind."

"Why should I?"

"Because Reba deserves it!"

"No more than anyone else."

"Oh, come on!" Sefoba said, warming to the argument. "What other man would you prefer? Everything about him is pleasing."

"To an ordinary woman!"

"To you, Princess. Do you want a man worthy of your beauty? Ask any of the women here, young or old. Reba is the handsomest of men--tall and slim, skin the color of fresh dates, firm buttocks! Who wouldn't want to give him a cuddle?"

"That's true," Orma chuckled.

"Do you want a rich man, a man of power?" Sefoba went on. "He'll soon be succeeding his father as king, and then he'll own the most fertile pastureland and caravans so richly laden they stretch from sunrise to sunset. You'll have gold and fabrics from the East, and as many handmaids as there are days in the year!"

"What do you take me for? To become a man's wife just because his caravans are so impressive--how boring!"

"They say Reba can sit on a camel's hump for a week without getting tired. Do you know what that means?"

"I'm not a camel, I don't need to be straddled every night--unlike you, squealing loud enough to stop other people sleeping!"

Sefoba's purple cheeks turned crimson. "How do you know that?" she cried, which merely increased the general laughter. "Well, all right, it's true," she admitted. "When my husband isn't running after his flocks, he comes to me every night and eats me up! My heart isn't dry like Orma's, I enjoy giving it nourishment. And doing it every night," she concluded, now joining in the laughter, "isn't as easy as lighting a fire to bake cakes!"

"The fact is, the seasons are passing," Zipporah said softly, when calm had returned. "You've already rejected every other suitor, my dear Orma. If you send Reba away, who else will dare to want you?"

Orma looked at her with a touch of surprise, a stubborn grimace creasing her pretty nose. "If Reba is only coming here to talk to Father, without declaring himself, then I shall stay in my room tomorrow. He won't even see me."

"You know perfectly well why Reba doesn't ask Father for your hand! He's afraid you'll refuse. He has his pride, too. Your very silence has become an affront. This may be the last time--"

"Tell them I'm ill," Orma interrupted. "Just look sad and worried, and they'll believe you . . ."

"I shan't say anything!" Zipporah protested. "I certainly shan't tell a lie."

"It won't be a lie! I will be ill. You'll see."

"Nonsense!" Sefoba exclaimed. "We know exactly what we'll see! You'll paint your face until you glow and, as usual, you'll be more beautiful than a goddess. Reba will only have eyes for you. He won't even touch the excellent food we serve him. That's really the saddest thing about being your sister. The proudest, handsomest men come here, and always end up looking stupid!"

The handmaids, who had been all ears, burst out laughing, and Orma laughed with them.

Zipporah got to her feet. "Let's take the sheep to the well," she said, decisively. "It's our day and we're already late. Forget about husbands for the moment--real or imagined."

The well of Irmna was a good hour's walk from Jethro's domain. In the distance rose the great mountain of the god Horeb, its covering of petrified lava sparkling in the evening sun. Below it, between the folds of red rock, plains of short grass, sometimes green in winter, stretched as far as the sea. Such was the land of Midian, vast, harsh, and tender, a land of burning sand and volcanic dust where scattered oases shimmered like oil in the desert heat. The wells of abundant, miraculous water found at the oases were both sources of life and gathering places.

Every seven days, those who had pitched their tents less than two or three hours away by road, or who, like Jethro, owned gardens, flocks, and brick houses, were entitled to fill their goatskins at the well of Irmna. They were also allowed to let their flocks drink there, whatever the size of the flock, provided they finished in the time it took the shadow of the sun to move six cubits.

It was late summer, and the men had already left Jethro's domain with the livestock to sell it in the markets of the land of Moab, along with the iron weapons produced by the armorers. They would not return until the dead of winter. In the meantime, it was the women's job to lead the remaining animals to the well. This was where Zipporah and her sisters, with the casualness of habit, were taking their sheep. As they tramped along in their clogs, the dust rose off the road like flour.

The tall shaft of the shadoof was already in sight when Jethro's daughters noticed a herd of long-horned cows pressing around the adjoining drinking troughs.

Sefoba frowned. "Look, they're drinking our water! Whose animals are those?"

Four men appeared, pushing the cows aside with their staffs. They all had thick beards, and were dressed in old, patched tunics white with dust. They positioned themselves at the top of the track, and planted their staffs in the ground.

Orma and Sefoba came to a standstill, while their sheep went on by themselves. Zipporah, who had been walking behind, now joined them and shaded her eyes from the sun to get a better look at the men.

"They're Houssenek's sons," she said. "I recognize the eldest, the one with the leather necklace."

"Well, this isn't their day," Orma said, setting off again. "They'll just have to go."

"They don't look as if they want to," Sefoba observed.

"Whether they want to or not, this isn't their day, and they're going to leave!" Orma said, angry now.

The sheep had sensed water. It was too late to stop them. They began trotting toward the troughs, jostling one another and bleating.

Zipporah caught hold of Sefoba's arm. "Less than a moon ago, our father passed an unfavorable judgment on Houssenek. He and his sons aren't too keen on the law."

Sefoba, eyebrows raised, asked her to explain what she meant. But they were both interrupted by Orma's shouts: "What are you doing? Have you gone mad?"

Houssenek's sons had started running toward the sheep, yelling raucously. In a panic, the animals began to disperse. Within a few seconds, they had scattered in all directions. Zipporah and Sefoba tried in vain to stop them. Some ran down the slope, risking breaking their necks on the rocks. Houssenek's sons laughed and swung their staffs.

Sefoba stopped running. Out of breath, her eyes black with rage, she pointed at the scattered flock. "If a single sheep is hurt, you'll regret this! We are Jethro's daughters, and this is his flock."

The four men stopped laughing.

"We know perfectly well who you are," muttered the one Zipporah had pointed out as the eldest.

"Then you also know it isn't your turn to be at the well," Orma retorted. "Get out of here and leave us in peace. What's more, you stink like old oxen! It's quite disgusting!"

She underlined her disgust with a grimace, adjusted her tunic, which had slipped from her shoulder, and walked toward Zipporah. Heedless of her insults, the men watched her, fascinated.

"It's our day today," one of them said. "And tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, too, if we feel like it."

"You animal!" Orma snapped. "You know very well that isn't true."

Zipporah placed a hand on her arm to silence her.

The one who had spoken before started laughing again. "It's our day whenever we like. We've decided this well belongs to us."

Sefoba let out a cry of rage.

Zipporah stepped forward. "I know you, son of Houssenek. My father passed judgment on you and your brothers for stealing a she-camel. If stopping us from reaching the well is some kind of revenge, it's stupid.


Excerpted from Zipporah, Wife of Moses by Marek Halter Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Marek Halter was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1936. During World War II, his family escaped the Warsaw Ghetto and eventually settled in France. He is the author of several critically acclaimed, bestselling novels, including Sarah, the first novel of the Canaan trilogy. Lilah, the last of the trilogy, will be published in 2006. Marek Halter lives in Paris.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Zipporah, Wife of Moses 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book was bought by my sister as gift to me. My name is Zipora, so I was very intrigued. Once opened, I could not peel myself away from the pages in which I found a surreal connection as I discovered more about this woman after whom I was named. I cannot even begin to elaborate on the similarities between myself and the Zipporah that Harek describes! It was like I was discovering myself...uncanny! I may be the modern day Zipora from South Africa - I can only hope to dream that my legacy would be a smidgen of this great woman who lead Moses out his mental 'Egypt' to become the man he was destined to be.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was simply browsing through a section of Barnes and Nobles when I came across this book. I began reading it after a quick glance at the description on the back. I have to say, I love this book. I read three chapters at that first encounter. It's a wonderful fictionalization of a biblical romance. A nice spin on a religious story as yet fully realized. And, it's main character is a woman, a heroine of sorts. I loved it!!!
SMM77 More than 1 year ago
I have read Sarah and it was great. Zipporah Wife of Moses was even better! The bible really doesn't describe Zipporah in great detail. I believe the author did a fantastic job developing Zipporah and making her a very interesting and different heroine. The book was hard to put down and I read it in less than a week. It is not a predictable book like you would normally think a bible story would be. I strongly recommend it!!
tendermercies More than 1 year ago
We have almost no detail about a very important part of Moses development as a leader and God's prophet -- his 40 years in Midia. Here he was an outcast, fleeing from the law. Yet -- here he became the leader God wanted him to be, developing the strength and power he needed to return to Egypt, and to his dream of helping the Israelites. Here he became a shepherd -- and a husband, father, and tribal leader. What was life like -- and how did his wife respond? This book seeks to go there, and imagines a complex and remarkable woman -- a great read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldnt put it down, Sarah was great as well, but this will be one that can be read over and over. truly a masterpiece!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is the 2nd in the Trilogy by Marek Halter. I loved the first book, Sarah, and was not disappointed by this book! I loved the storyline that Halter created for Moses and Zipporah. Don't miss out on this one!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it- halter really knows how to make the characters come alive
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SenoraGill More than 1 year ago
Liked this one better than halter's 'sarah.' Nice writing, interesting story. Worth the read, for sure.
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SunnyMKay More than 1 year ago
The author has a talent for making us feel the emotional pain and joys of Zipporah and her love for Moses. What a great way to bring out the personal life of Moses apart from the traditional story line shown in movies!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful novel. I brought it because Sarah, Marks first novel was hypnotic and extremely sexy. I was thrilled when i heard he would be writing Zipporah, due to the fact that she is a documented black biblical character. As a Christian, i must say that Mark takes artistic license, however the simple point comes through. Zipporah was Moses' right hand. Your heart will drop, the dynamics of his take on the white Moses and black Zipporah is: FIRE.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not only scholars and students of the Bible but all will find much to enjoy in this narrative, especially as read by multi talented actress Ellen Reilly. She brings understanding, drama, and vibrant voice to the story of Zipporah, wife of Moses. Although there is some discussion as to Zipporah's true identity, author Halter takes his story from the traditional Jewish and Christian views as found in the Book of Numbers. It was during the years of the Pharaoh that a small baby was found by the Red Sea. The child is a girl, and is named Zipporah, meaning 'little bird.' Obviously, she is a Cushite, as her skin is dark. Nonetheless, she is adopted by Jethro, high priest of the Midianites. At the same time that Zipporah has reached womanhood Moses has just killed a man in Egypt, and is running away. He looks for safety among the Midianites. It is there that he meets Zipporah. Her beauty has been acknowledged but because of the color of her skin she knows that men in her adopted tribe will not want her as a wife. Halter posits that when she meets Moses she knows she will be his wife. They have two children, Gershon and Eliezer. Moses is content to remain in Midian, but Zipporah urges him to go back to Egypt and confront the Pharaoh for the sake of his people. Listen, you'll find much of value in this story of a remarkable woman whose name is little known today. Plus, it's a wonderful way to introduce young ones to one of the more intriguing stories in the Bible. - Gail Cooke