Monday, August 20, 2012

The Lesson That Almost Killed Moses

[Thanks to Dan for the sources for this]

"At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it," (Exodus 4).

Wait a minute!  How could G-d be so angry with Moses?  After all, Moses' son couldn't have been Jewish according to modern non-Messianic Orthodox Judaism (Tzipporah wasn't Jewish).  The modern view is that one is a Jew by the mother and that being Jewish from the father alone is not enough to make someone a Jew.  Thus, G-d shouldn't have been angry, right?

Wrong.  Moses' son was Jewish because the father was Jewish.  This is called patrilineal descent.  

So when did the law of descent change in Judaism?  According to Shaye Cohen (whom we'll forgive for being a professor at Harvard--I kid), the change occurred in third century common era.  

Now, maybe the Rabbis had their reasons for overturning the Torah on this issue.   Whether or not they had the authority to do this is debatable.  But one thing is for certain:  this idea of matrilineal descent is not from the Bible.  

And so when you have guy's like Gene saying that Timothy was a Jew because of his mother, this is simply not supported by Scripture.  To support it from history, Gene would need to adduce some clear evidence.  Since he hasn't, I'm going to assume that Paul thought it was okay to circumcise gentiles provided they understood that it didn't change their already covenantal status.

We should take note of this lesson.  It's a lesson that nearly cost Moshe his life!



  1. Great points, keep'em coming! :D

    1. Actually, I didn't know about this until Dan Benzvi introduced me to Shaye Cohen.

      I love how this blog has become a communal effort at scholarship. We really build each other up nicely. I'm very honored to learn from you all and to engage with you in discussion. I feel much sharper already!

  2. The hits keep coming. Excellent example. Rashi may not agree with the conclusion, but he would love the question.

    1. Thanks, Rick. By the way, I hope it's okay that I added a link to your site in the links section. is a really fantastic resource.