Did you know …?
- Miriam is one of the known female prophets of the Hebrew Bible. The others are Deborah, Huldah, and Noadiah.
- Miriam is both a prophet and a leader according to ancient Jewish literature.
- Apart from the Hebrew Bible, the broader ancient Jewish literature attests to Miriam. She is referred to in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the texts of Flavius Josephus and Philo of Alexandria, and rabbinic literature.
Exod 15:20refers to Miriam as the sister of Aaron. Other texts emphasize her kinship relation to both Moses and Aaron (e.g., Num 26:59; 1Chr 6:3).
How did ancient authors understand Miriam’s role as a prophet?
The Hebrew Bible contains numerous references to prophets who communicate between divine and human spheres. They encounter a divine revelation and later disclose it to their audience. Remarkably, only four women—Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, and Noadiah—are known as prophets in the Hebrew Bible. With regard to Miriam, the significance of the title “prophet” that appears in the feminine singular in
Two texts of the Hebrew Bible that shed further light on Miriam’s role as a prophet are
declare and transmit God’s messages. Second, the preposition “before” specifies the motif behind why Aaron, Moses and Miriam are sent. The term “before” indicates power in front of the other Israelites. They go “before” because they exercise some kind of leadership in front of them. Whereas the leadership of Miriam, Moses, and Aaron is not specified in
Significantly, the texts of the Hebrew Bible are not the only sources attesting to Miriam as a prophet. Broader ancient Jewish literature also presents Miriam in such a role. Most notably, an Aramaic text, the Visions of Amram from the Dead Sea Scrolls, connects the figure of Miriam with raz (in 4Q546 12 4). In the Aramaic Jewish texts the term raz applies to secrets and mysteries and only selected people have access to them. People who accessed raz were known to be in touch with God. This narrative is unfortunately fragmentary and the readers do not know the contents of Miriam’s raz. Yet it indicates that belief in Miriam’s function as a divine communicator continued into later eras. Moreover, significantly, Miriam is the only known female figure who accesses raz, a category that is otherwise reserved for male figures exclusively.
Furthermore, a first-century CE text known as Liber antiquitatum biblicarum refers to Miriam’s dream vision. In this composition, Miriam has a dream that reveals to her Moses’s birth and his significance (L.A.B. 9:10). In this text Miriam is the only member of the family who is aware of Moses’s future role. The narrative detail, that people around her do not believe her prediction, highlights Miriam’s own importance as the person to whom God reveals Moses’s role. A similar tradition is preserved in the rabbinic literature, in b.Megillah 14a in which Miriam’s standing by the riverbank in
When one considers Miriam as a prophet one should take into consideration all of these texts and their portrayal of the figure. In light of them, the reference to Miriam as a prophet in