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Miriam the Prophet (fl. c. 13th or 14th c. BCE)

Miriam the Prophet (fl. c. 13th or 14th c. bce)

Hebrew prophet who was the sister of Moses and Aaron. Name variations: Miriam the Jewess; Miriam the Prophetess; Mary the Jewess; Mariam. Flourished in the 13th or 14th century bce; born in Alexandria, Egypt; died at Kadesh; daughter of Jochebed; sister of Moses and Aaron.

Miriam the Prophet is a well-known Biblical figure, most often associated with her criticism of Moses and subsequent punishment by God, and with leading the Israelite women in song and dance after the escape from Egypt. The elder sister of Moses, the legendary prophet and leader of Israel, she first appears in the Bible as a young Hebrew girl living in the capital of Egypt, watching from among the reeds as her baby brother floats on the Nile River in a basket. Having been placed there by their mother Jochebed to save him from the slaughter of Hebrew boys ordered by the Pharaoh, he is soon discovered by an Egyptian princess. Miriam, seeing this, rushes to the scene and suggests to the princess that the infant needs a nurse. When the princess agrees, Miriam fetches Jochebed, who is appointed as the boy's nurse.

As Miriam watched, her brother Moses was raised as Egyptian royalty until he was exiled. Forty years later, he received a calling from God to lead Israel out of slavery. After the departing Israelites had crossed the divinely parted Red Sea (or the Sea of Reeds according to some sources), leaving their Egyptian pursuers in the closing waters behind them, Miriam led the women in a jubilee song and dance. She later displayed prophetic powers; some say she prophesied her brother's extraordinary destiny when he was just an infant. The last public events in her life took place after Moses married Zipporah , a Cushite (or Ethiopian, or, simply, foreign) woman. Miriam, backed by her brother Aaron, criticized him for his choice and as punishment from God she was stricken with a white leprosy. Moses intervened on her behalf and she was healed, but, in accordance with God's strictures, was banished in shame for seven days.

Miriam as a historical figure is often commingled, or by some accounts erroneously confused, with an influential Alexandrian alchemist and inventor of the 1st, 2nd or 3rd century ce, Mary the Jewess , who is known by some of the same alternative appellations as Moses' sister. The apparent discrepancy between the time periods when each one lived suggests they are different women, but many sources treat them as the same person, simply clouded by the mists of history and myth. Some attribute the connection to the ancient alchemists' penchant for things mystical and exalted; they are said to have often appropriated historical names for themselves. Others say the link may originate from the concept of alchemy as a gift from God to his prophets or to the Hebrews alone.


Doberer, Kurt K. The Goldmakers. London, 1948, pp. 21–22.

King, William C. Woman: Her Position, Influence, and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World: From the Garden of Eden to the Twentieth Century. Springfield, MA: King-Richardson, 1900.

suggested reading:

The Bible. Exodus 15; Numbers 12:1–17.

Jacquie Maurice , Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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