Zipporah, Wife of Moses: A Novel

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9780739311714: Zipporah, Wife of Moses: A Novel

In the time of the Pharaoh, a tiny infant is rescued from the banks of the Red Sea. She is named Zipporah, “the little bird.” Although she is a Cushite by birth—one of the black people of the lands to the south—she is taken in by Jethro, high priest and sage of the Midianites. Jethro adores his adopted daughter, and she is an honored member of his family. But the blackness of Zipporah’s skin sets her apart and will decide her future: she will be an outsider, and the men of her adopted tribe will not want her as a wife.

But when she becomes a young woman, Zipporah’s destiny changes forever. While drawing water at a well one day, she meets a handsome young man, a stranger. Like her, he is an outsider, a foreigner. His name is Moses. A Hebrew raised in the house of the Pharaoh, Moses is a fugitive, forced to flee his homeland of Egypt after murdering one of the Pharaoh’s cruel overseers. Zipporah knows almost immediately that this man will be the husband and partner she never thought she would have.

At first Moses wants nothing more than a peaceful life with the Midianites. He is content in his role as Zipporah’s lover and the honorary son of Jethro the sage. But Zipporah refuses to let Moses forget his past or turn away from what she believes to be his true destiny. Although he is the love of her life and the father of her children, Zipporah won’t marry Moses until he agrees to return to Egypt to confront Pharaoh and free his people. When God reveals himself to Moses in the burning bush, his words echo Zipporah’s, and Moses returns to Egypt with Zipporah by his side. A passionate lover and a generous, thoughtful wife, Zipporah becomes the guiding force in Moses’ struggle. With the help of her powerful father, she teaches the rebellious young man about the rule of law and the force of justice. Because of Zipporah—the outsider, the black-skinned woman—Moses becomes a defender of the oppressed and a liberator of the enslaved.

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.
As Zipporah and Moses came closer to the queen of cities, the road parted company with the riverbank, and they found themselves facing a vast expanse of palm groves between the river and the hills and ocher cliffs, beyond which the desert began. And there, finally, rising into the blue sky, were the temples of Pharaoh.

There were about ten of them, the largest surrounded by smaller ones, as if they had given birth to them. Seeming to grow out of the rock, the tops reaching up into the sky, they defied belief, so fantastically huge that beside them, even the cliffs seemed mere hillocks. Their faces shimmered in the heat like oil against the transparent sky. The neatly laid brick road leading to them burned in the sun.

Zipporah remembered Moses’ words about the splendor of Pharaoh’s temples, but their hugeness surpassed anything she could have imagined. Nothing here was on a human scale. Not even the stone monsters with the heads of men and the bodies of lions that stood guard before them.

Farther on, beneath great pyramids, they could see vast building sites. Colonnades and needles of white limestone and walls carved and painted with thousands of figures rose on the fronts of palaces hollowed out of the cliffs. There were unfinished monsters without wings, and statues without heads. In places, the roads became mere dirt paths, with bricks piled at the sides. And everywhere, the slaves swarmed, working, carrying, hammering, creating a din that rose into the heat of the day and was carried on the air from the farthest reaches of the building sites. —FROM ZIPPORAH
Look for the Reader’s Group Guide at the back of this book.
From the Hardcover edition.

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About the Author:

Marek Halter was born in 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. Lilah is the final installment in the sweeping, bestselling Canaan trilogy, which also includes Sarah and Zipporah, Wife of Moses.
From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

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 ...

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