Islam and Judaism on Non-Jewish Open or Gender Open Prophets

While Islam states that God sends at least one prophet to every linguistic community in the whole world; most Islamic scholars believe that the prophets sent were always male. Judaism states that God sends both male and female prophets to the People of Israel in great numbers; and in smaller numbers to non-Jewish peoples.

Muslims believe that Prophets were sent to every human language group since the age of Adam. The Qur’an says: “There never was a people without a Warner (Prophet) having lived among them” (35:24) and “We would never visit our wrath (chastise any community) until We had sent a Messenger to give warning.” (17:15)

Since there are over 7,000 languages now spoken, and another 10-20,000 that were spoken over the previous 10,000 years and then died out, all human societies have have been taught the way God wants each of them to conduct their Divine worship (Qur’an 21:25), and the moral behavioral rules they should observe (Qur’an 16:90-92).

One Islamic tradition hadith puts the number of prophets sent to mankind as 124,000. (Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 5, 169)

Another is more detailed. Abu Dharr one day asked the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad): “How many prophets are there in all? He replied: One hundred and twenty four thousand. He then asked: How many of them were messenger prophets who wrote down sacred scriptures? He replied: Three hundred thirteen from the above (124,000) group. He asked: Who was the first of them? He replied: Adam. The first prophet among Bani Israel was Musa (Moses) and the last of them was Isa (Jesus) and they were in all six hundred (Jewish) prophets.” (Biharul Anwar, Vol. 11, Pg. 32)

“Indeed, We have given REVELATION to you, (Muhammad,) even as We gave REVELATION to Noah and the prophets after him, We have given REVELATION to Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and (to) the (prophets of the 12) Tribes (of Israel), and (to) Jesus, and Job, and Jonah, and Aaron, and Solomon. And We gave David the Psalms (as a revelation).

Jews know the names of many of the prophets sent to the Israelite people, but we do not know the names of many others. The Rabbis taught that there were 48 named male prophets and 7 named female prophets who prophesied in Israel. Who were the 7 female prophets? Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Hulda and Esther.” (Talmud Megillah 14a)

The Torah asserts that Miriam was a prophet (Exodus 15:20). Prophet Micah listed three prophets as being sent to lead Israel’s exodus from Egypt: “For I brought you up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, and I sent before you [Prophet] Moses, [Prophet] Aaron, and [Prophet] Miriam (Micah 6:4).

And Numbers 12:2 quotes Miriam and Aaron, saying, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?”

If so, when and what did God speak through Prophet Miriam? What was Miriam’s Torah (teaching)?

Some say Miriam wrote down the narrative oral Torah from Genesis 12 through 50 while Moses was in Midian. Midrash Exodus Rabbah 5:18 and Tanhumah Va’era 6 state that the Israelite slaves in Egypt “possessed scrolls which they read.” This probably refers to the oral narrative Torah that Miriam the prophet wrote down for them.

Prophet Miriam also might have written the first fifteen chapters of Exodus, from “these are the names” to the song she and all the Jewish woman sang when the Israelites safely crossed the Sea of Reeds. As the Torah states, “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 Hebrew Bible mentions by name three Prophetesses Deborah, Huldah and Queen Esther. The Talmud (Megillah 14a ) adds a few more: “Forty-eight male prophets and seven female prophets prophesied to the Jewish people, and they neither subtracted from nor added to [the commandments] written in the Torah, except for [Prophetess] Esther who added the Mitzvah [duty of reading] the Book of Esther.”

Prophet Miriam also might have directly written the Exodus narrative at Marah where “the Lord placed statute and ordinance” on the Jewish people” to get them ready for the covenant at Sinai.

Biblical scholar Wendy Zierler states: “Miriam’s role brackets the Exodus story at its beginning and end. The story begins with Moses’ sister standing by the threatening banks of a river, watching as her baby brother is drawn safely from the water. It ends with Miriam standing by the previously threatening banks of the Reed Sea, watching as the Jewish people are drawn safely out of the parted waters, and then singing and dancing in triumph.”

Some feminist readers view Miriam’s chorus in Exodus 15:21 as evidence identifying the song more closely with Miriam than with Moses. Historians and archaeologists point to evidence of ancient women’s leadership roles, particularly in composing and performing songs of triumph, and suggest the song may have been ascribed to Miriam before it was transferred to Moses.

Returning to the final form of the text, we can see evidence that Miriam, not Moses, sings for the entire people. Whereas Moses opens his song with אָשִׁירָה, “I shall sing” (Exodus 15:1), Miriam says שִׁירוּ, “sing” (15:21), in the imperative plural, suggesting that she is leading the entire congregation.

For Jews I suggest using some of this material at the beginning of the Seder either before the candle lighting ceremony (because as a prophet Miriam most likely started the tradition of the candle lighting ceremony); or after the hand washing ceremony, going from water, to Miriam’s well which was a wellspring that provided water and accompanied the Israelites throughout the 40 years they traveled in the wilderness. When Miriam died the wellspring disappeared. (Numbers 20:1-2). Then from Miriam’s wellspring to this material about Miriam’s Prophetic activities.

For non-Jews I suggest reading The Women’s Torah Commentary; New Insights From Women Rabbis On The 54 Weekly Torah Portions used copies online at Second Sale.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 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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