Allen S. Maller

Since Miriam was a prophet (Exodus 15:20) what part of the Torah did Miriam write?

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

It is clear that Miriam and Aaron considered themselves to be prophets; and the Qur’an specifically states that Aaron, the brother of Moses, was also a Prophet/Messenger (Qur’an 23:45).

Although the Qur’an does not explicitly mention Miriam as a prophet, there are many prophets of Israel that are not named in the Qur’an.

So since Miriam was a prophet, what part of the Torah would Miriam the prophet have written?

In post-biblical times, when the majority of the Rabbis asserted that Moses wrote every word in the Torah, the rabbis downplay the prophecy of Miriam. But there were always some Rabbis who maintained that the revealing and writing of Torah was a much more complex process than Akiba and his followers believed.

Although we cannot know for sure, we can inquire about when and what did God speak through Miriam? What was Miriam’s Torah (teaching)?

One could say Miriam was inspired to write down the oral family narrative that had been transmitted over the generations from the birth of Abraham (Genesis 11:27) through the death of Joseph (Genesis 50:26) during the many years when 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”.

What was the content of these scrolls and who wrote them down? These two midrashim probably refer to the oral narrative about the patriarchs and the matriarchs that was passed down through the generations.

The logical conclusion is that Miriam the prophet wrote down this material in the “scrolls which they read’ (and that material became Genesis 12 to Genesis 50 when the Torah was compiled), and this is why Miriam is called a prophet.

But if Miriam the prophet wrote the narrative about the patriarchs and the matriarchs, perhaps Miriam the prophet also wrote the first 15 chapters of Exodus from “these are the names” to the song she and all the Jewish women sang when Israel had safely crossed the Sea of Reeds.

That would explain why it is at this point that the Torah asserts the claim that Miriam was a prophet.. “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).

Miriam finished writing the Exodus narrative at Marah where “the Lord placed statute and ordinance” on the Jewish people. According to Rabbi Jacob: “statute” – refers to Shabbat, “ordinance” – refers to honoring parents, (Mechilta). These are the Mitsvot that will prepare the Jewish people for the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai.

This is the logical transition point for Moses to take over as the prophet who will lead the Jewish people into the covenant with God at Sinai. Miriam was the prophet who was inspired by God to write Genesis 12 through Exodus 15. In later centuries people forgot her role, and her younger brother got all the credit.

Only Miriam’s music (song and dance) is explicitly referred to in the Torah as it says: “Miriam the prophet, sister of Aaron, took the drum in her hand; and all the woman followed her with drum and dances.” (Exodus 15:20) Why does the Torah mention at this particular time that Miriam was a prophet?

Because Miriam herself composed the music for this song long before Israel left Egypt. According to the Midrash: for many years Miriam went throughout the people of Israel declaring that God would someday rescue Israel from Pharaoh’s oppression; and after Israel left Egypt and crossed the Sea of Reeds, they would sing a praise-God song to this very music.

Miriam taught all the women how to play the drum for this praise-God song and Miriam also taught all the woman several different dance steps that the women would do when they played the rhythm’s of the song.

Once the plagues started, Miriam kept reminding the women of all that she had taught them; and that as a sign of their faith in God they should all take at least one drum per family with them when it was time to leave. (Mechilta & Pirkey d’Rabbi Eliezer)

Another reason the Torah stresses that Miriam was a prophet is because the women danced and played their drums on the 7th day of Passover, when in later generations Orthodox Rabbis would rule that playing an instrument was prohibited.

The Jewish People could then say playing a drum was kosher at the Sea of Reeds because Miriam was a Prophet. (Yalkut Me’am Loaz to Exodus 15:20)

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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