Was Zipporah an Ethiopian?

Answered by John Hunt

Zipporah, the wife of Moses, is often described as an Ethiopian, but the exact nature of her ethnicity is a matter of debate among scholars. In the Bible, Zipporah is referred to as a “Cushite,” which has been interpreted to mean Ethiopian. However, there are different theories as to what “Cushite” actually means in this context.

One theory suggests that Zipporah was indeed Ethiopian, as the term “Cushite” was commonly used to refer to people from the region of Cush, which is generally associated with present-day Ethiopia. This theory is supported by the fact that Moses spent a significant portion of his life in Midian, a region located near Ethiopia. It is possible that Zipporah’s family had migrated from Ethiopia to Midian, explaining her Ethiopian heritage.

On the other hand, some scholars argue that “Cushite” may not refer to Zipporah’s ethnicity at all, but rather to her social status or her complexion. In ancient times, the term “Cushite” was sometimes used to describe people with dark skin or to indicate a foreign or exotic origin. This interpretation suggests that Zipporah may have been from a different region altogether, possibly Midian or another neighboring territory.

The ambiguity surrounding Zipporah’s ethnicity is further complicated by the fact that the term “Ethiopian” itself has evolved over time. In antiquity, the term referred to a broader region encompassing both modern-day Ethiopia and Sudan. Therefore, even if Zipporah was not specifically Ethiopian, she could still have been from a neighboring region that was considered part of ancient Ethiopia.

It is worth noting that artistic representations of Zipporah, such as Jacob Jordaens’ painting “Moses and his Ethiopian Wife Zipporah,” often depict her with distinct African features, reinforcing the notion that she was indeed Ethiopian. However, it is important to remember that these artistic interpretations may not necessarily reflect historical accuracy.

While Zipporah is commonly referred to as Ethiopian, the exact nature of her ethnicity remains uncertain. The term “Cushite” used in the Bible could indicate Ethiopian heritage, but it could also have a broader meaning related to social status or complexion. Without further historical evidence, it is challenging to definitively determine Zipporah’s ethnicity.