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Did Miriam write some parts of the Torah prior to Mara or Sinai?

Our Rabbis taught that 48 male prophets and 7 female prophets prophesied in Israel… Who were the 7 female prophets? Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Hulda and Esther…

The Torah clearly states that Miriam was a prophet (Exodus 15:20); and Numbers 12:2 quotes Miriam and Aaron saying, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?”

We should take these statements seriously; they are very unlikely to be latter additions. Further, Exodus 15:20 is the only place in all of scripture where Miriam is described directly as a prophetess. Why at this point? What had Miriam done prior to this that led to her title here as a prophetess?

Freeing ourselves from the gender assumptions of the past, we could say that while Moses was in Midian, Miriam wrote down the oral narrative account of Abraham, Sarah, and their descendants, that we find from Genesis 12 through Genesis 50, which Israel must have known to some extant, or how could Moses have convinced these slaves that an unknown God was going to liberate them.

Midrash Exodus Rabbah 5:18 and Tanhumah Va’era 6 both state that the Israelite slaves in Egypt “possessed scrolls which they read”. Thus, some rabbis realized that there probably was an oral narrative that was written down prior to the return of Moses to Egypt. Why not think that Miriam the prophet wrote the oral narratives down for them.

And/or Miriam could have also written the first 15 chapters of Exodus from “these are the names” to the song that she and all the Jewish woman sang when Israel safely crossed the Sea of Reeds. That is precisely when the Torah states directly, “Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and with all the women following her, dancing with tambourines; Miriam sang this refrain: Sing to the Lord…” (Exodus 15:21).

The Talmud has less difficulty than most modern Jews in accepting the concept of female prophets; for it lists Miriam as one of seven female prophetesses of Israel (Megillah 14b).

The Talmud also states that Miriam was so righteous that due to her merit, the Israelites drank water from her portable, potable, desert well for forty years in the Wilderness (Taanit 9a). And even in Medieval times at least one Orthodox rabbi thought that Miriam was indeed a prophetess.

The Kli Yakar commentary to Exodus 15:20 states that Miriam did prophesied at this point, during the “Song of the Sea”. The Torah describes how Miriam called out to the women to sing; using the masculine “lahem” in place of the feminine “lahen”. Why? The Kli Yakar commentary explains that women have often been ignored, oppressed, disadvantaged, and generally treated as second-class citizens compared to men (an amazing admission for a rabbi who lived between 1550-1619 CE). What Miriam prophesied is that a time would come when women would be equal to men in all ways, hence the use of the masculine lahem.

Also I would add, since the song itself is grammatically in the first person, it could just as easily been first sung by Miriam and later ascribed to Moses.

Finally, there is another prophet who predicts that as we approach Messianic times male only work, play and study; will be replaced by a mixed gender society in which females will be all around males. Jeremiah describes this radical future when: “The Lord will create a new thing on earth-a woman will surround a man” (31:22).

The great French commentator Rashi understands ‘surround’ to mean encircle. The most radical thing Rashi can think of (and in 11th century France it was radical) is that woman will propose marriage (a wedding ring/circle) to men.

In today’s feminist generation we can see women already surrounding men in professional fields once almost exclusively male such as in law, medical and rabbinical schools. In a few generations, as the Jewish People become used to Female Rabbis, the idea that Miriam the Prophetess actually wrote some parts of the Torah will seem more reasonable.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 450 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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