Feminist writers like to emphasize that the stories in the Bible were written by men for men. In many stories about women in the Old Testament, women remain nameless, as in the case of Jephthah’s daughter and the concubine that was raped and then dismembered or they remain voiceless, their voices only heard through the voice of the male redactor.
The portrayal of Miriam in the biblical text may demonstrate how the biblical writers lessened her influence as one of the leaders of the Israelite community at the time
The purpose of this study is to look at Miriam and how she is portrayed in the biblical text and then focus on Micah 6:4 and how the NIV portrays Miriam in its translation of that text.
Miriam appears in five books of the Old Testament: Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, 1 Chronicles, and Micah. Her name appears 15 times in these books, but only 13 in the NIV. On two occasions, in Numbers 12:10 and Numbers 12:15, the NIV uses the pronoun “she” instead of using Miriam’s name, as do most translations.
In Miriam’s first appearance in the biblical text, she is the nameless sister of Moses who watches him on the waters of the
In Exodus 15:20, Miriam is calledהנביאה “the prophetess.” A prophet (נביא) is a person called by God. Miriam was called by God to lead the people together with Moses and Aaron. Miriam was assigned a prophetical role because she led the community in celebrating God’s victory over the Egyptian army:
“Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15:21).
And yet, the song of Miriam has been attributed to Moses:
“Then Moses and the people of
Some scholars have proposed that Miriam’s song was a response to Moses’ song. However, a critical review of Moses’ song in Exodus 15 reveals that the song was written many years after the events. Miriam’s song may be an old composition celebrating
In Numbers 12:1-15 there is a controversy over the issue of leadership. In Numbers 12:2, Aaron and Miriam asked Moses: “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” (Numbers 12:12). However, Numbers 12:1 attributes the controversy to questions about Moses’ Cushite wife.
The text is not clear on the nature of the conflict, but it seems that Miriam was raising an issue that reflected a concern in the community. Although both Aaron and Miriam are involved in this controversy, only Miriam was punished as a result of this challenge to Moses’ leadership. The public nature of her punishment may indicate that the issue was of interest to the whole community.
That Miriam was a leader in
In this text Miriam is named as one of the leaders of
Thus, Micah’s statement reflects an ancient tradition that affirms that Miriam had a very significant leadership role in early Israelite history, a role that in later writing was downgraded partly in order to promote Moses as the prominent leader of
Anderson and Freeman acknowledge the importance of Micah’s statement. They wrote: “What makes Micah’s simple statement so remarkable, and so puzzling, is the fact that nowhere in the tradition are the three siblings presented in a shared leadership role” (p. 519).
However, the NIV’s translation of Micah 6:4 looks like an attempt to diminish Miriam as a leader in
This translation does not reflect the biblical text. All the other translations reflect the Hebrew text: “For I brought you up from the
The translation of the NIV takes away the unique leadership role Miriam had in the community. By separating Aaron and Miriam from Moses, the NIV elevates Moses’ position (“I sent Moses to lead you”) and diminishes Miriam almost to an afterthought (“also . . . Miriam”).
The leadership role of Miriam is also diminished in the biblical text. In Psalm 77:20 the name of Miriam is omitted from the list of leaders in
The NIV diminishes Miriam by omitting her name twice. Furthermore, the addition of the word “also” by the translators of the NIV and TNIV gives a slant to the text that serves to undervalue the role of Miriam as a leader in
In my judgment, the translation of Micah 6:4 in the NIV and the TNIV is not acceptable.
Reference: Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman, Micah: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York: Doubleday, 2000.
Tags: Aaron, Femenist Hermeneutics, Interpretation, Micah 6:4, Miriam, Moses, Translation
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary