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Zipporah, Wife of Moses: A Novel Hardcover – July 5, 2005

3.6 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews
Book 2 of 3 in the Canaan Trilogy Series

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Editorial Reviews

From 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Halter continues with the second installment of his trilogy on biblical women, which began with Sarah in 2004. He again uses the frame of a biblical story--here, Moses' relationship with Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro--but this time the tale he tells is more overtly feminist. Zipporah is a Cushite, a black woman, and though she has found love and acceptance in her adoptive family, it's unlikely she will find a husband. Then she has a dream about an Egyptian prince, and before long, Moses appears--but a diffident Moses, very different from the biblical version. The focus here is clearly on Zipporah rather than Moses or even God. The great happenings of Moses' life, including the 10 plagues, mostly occur offstage. The strongest part of the book, not surprisingly, is the intense rendering of Zipporah. Halter builds her character not only by re-creating her most intimate thoughts but also by providing vivid details of her daily life in the desert. Less successful is the exploration of race relations, which seems forced. The last book in the triology will focus on Lilah, sister of Ezra. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st Us Edition edition (July 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400052793
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400052790
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #336,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The topic of Zipporah, Moses' black African wife, fascinated me, so this book supplied a want. What we know from the Bible is Moses married a black African woman and had two sons (Gershom and Eliezer) by her. She and her sons pretty much disappear thereafter.

That could be the basis for a happy story, a heroic story - heck, even a comedy. Author Marek Halter, however, inexplicably chose to turn what might have been "Much Ado About Nothing" into "King Lear meets Titus Andronicus".

On the one hand, you have Halter's excellent story telling ability. On the other hand, you feel that Halter perversely abuses his protagonist, Zipporah. Halter breathes considerable life into Zipporah, a sensitive Dickensian underdog character, and then, instead of exalting her with triumph for her moral integrity - as Dickens would do - Halter instead has her husband abandon her, destroys her children in front of her eyes, and disembowels her. If you feel there is something grossly perverted with Halter's conception, then you and I concur.

This Marek Halter story fails aesthetically on multiple levels.

1. Rather than a loyal submissive wife (standard for that time, I'm surmising), Zipporah is an endearing shrew.
2. Zipporah's death and the death of her two sons was totally unnecessary; indeed, the unnecessary bloodiness reminds you of the black comedy of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus.
3. Moses is depicted as vacillating and weak, when in fact he was a prince of Egypt who "was trained in all the wisdom of Egypt, was great in his words and works", and had encountered God personally.
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Format: Paperback
This book was much better than Sarah, the first book in the Canaan Trilogy. Zipporah was a much more sympathetic character than Sarah, and Moses more so than Abraham.

Zipporah was a proud woman who knew her destiny with a defiant certainty. She knew her role besides Moses, even before they had met. Their courtship is passionate (apparently Moses was a sexy thing) and Moses is accepted into Zipporah's family with great trust and love. Her father, Jethro, is a wise and influential figure throughout the novel. It is easy to see where Zipporah gets her wisdom and patience.

When Moses realizes his mission to free the Hebrews, Zipporah is his most trusted advisor, his strength and encouragement, though no one would accept her as anything other than a stranger because of her dark skin. She bears the weight of Moses' doubts, his troubled past, and his lack of confidence. Moses becomes the hero he is because of Zipporah's love and trust in Yahweh. However, the Hebrews will always be slaves in their hearts, and once they are free they cannot accept their lives or Zipporah's influence. It is a tragic conclusion to what should have been a glorious liberation.

This novel was much more emotional and well-written than Sarah, and I'm looking forward to the next in the series, in hopes that Halter's momentum continues.

To see my opinion of the entire trilogy, view my review of Lilah.
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Format: Paperback
I will first state that I listened to this book on CD, and that probably made the book flow a lot better.

When you study the Hebrew Bible, you learn that every place where there is a non sequitur (2 lines that don't necessarily seem to go together, but are next to each other anyway) in the Bible, there is a story behind the story (called a Midrash in Hebrew). I was curious to learn this author's interpretation of who Zipporah was. The first part of the book had some worthwhile background material, but some side stories didn't seem to be necessary.

I really enjoyed the middle part of the story where the author followed the Bible closely: the story of how Moses helped Zipporah and her sisters at the well, the burning bush, the birth of their sons. It was hard to read about the suffering of the Hebrews, but when the book followed the Bible, it was enjoyable, and it made the Bible as well as the characters come alive. (Note: there are scenes of a sexual nature in this portion that other reviewers have found inappropriate. I personally don't think these scenes added much to the book.)

Other reviewers have mentioned being disturbed about the prejudice shown to Zipporah, and I am no different. While I believe that the Hebrews would definitely have mistrusted an outsider, I sincerely doubt that her color was an issue. Many Jews today are white skinned, but that has more to do with where they have lived rather than where they are originally from. There are Jews on every continent, and they have every skin color. I don't know what color the Hebrews of the book of Exodus were, but I would be willing to believe that they were dark-skinned. It seems that this author had an agenda, but I think it would have been better served in a different book.
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Format: Hardcover
Old Testament women certainly deserve biographies, but with information so scanty their stories will have to be imagined in fiction. Marek Halter makes a good try.

He speculates that as adoptees, Zipporah and Moses were attracted, or maybe fated. He also poses that Jethro, Zipporah's father belies the patrifocal stereotypes of desert patriarchs.

Halter illustrates Jethro's caring for his blood and adopted daughters by Jethro's allowing them to chose their husbands and a lack of any mention of paying another family to take them (i.e. dowery). If a suitor is a king, Jethro accepts a daughter's saying no.

It may be his love/respect for his daughters, and this lack of pressure on them to leave, that gives Zipporah the strength to resist marriage until Moses commits to returning to Egypt as she feels he must do. Once in Egypt, Zipporah maintains her dignity, perhaps because her adoptive father respected her in a way that Aron and Miriam (siblings to Moses)never could.

Once Moses leads the slaves to freedom, Halter gives practical examples of their ingrained slave mentality. They cannot manage the details of their lives and come to Moses for the petty grievances against each other. They can be an unruly mob... so unruly that they can trample the weak.

I don't know the accuracy of this account of the death of Zipporah and their sons. She and the sons do disappear from the texts. Halter gives a plausible story as to how it may have happened.

There is a lot of potential to this book. It is heavy in dialog, which I felt was stilted, but then, how else to frame the speech of such hallowed Biblical figures? The unrealistic dialog could be an artifact of what might be a second language for the author.
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