We continue our critique of Brian Schwertley’s sermon series that he dubs “The Kinist Heresy.” The previous article explained why Caleb the son of Jephunneh, Rahab the harlot, and Uriah the Hittite were not disproofs of the Kinist stances on nationhood and intraracial marriage. In this edition we’ll look at Schwertley’s treatment of Ruth, Moses’s Cushite wife, and Joseph’s wife Asenath.
The story of Ruth is well-known. An Israelite family of the tribe of Judah consisting of Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their sons Mahlon and Chilion, fearing an approaching famine, flee Bethlehem to the country of Moab. Mahlon and Chilion marry women of Moab named Orpah and Ruth. Eventually Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion die in the country of Moab, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law. Upon hearing that the famine has ended, Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem, and her daughters-in-law wish to return with her. With lamentation, Naomi counsels them to stay in Moab, for she is too old to bear any more sons for them to marry. Orpah decides to leave Naomi and says a tearful goodbye, but Ruth insists on going to Bethlehem with Naomi. Ruth famously declares, “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).
From the narrative of Ruth, Schwertley concludes:
The racist kinist will argue that this marriage and incorporation was okay because Ruth was fellow Semite—they were technically of the same people. This argument which is racial and therefore racist is easily refuted by the text. Ruth and Naomi did not think in terms of race, but rather in terms of faith in the true God. . . .
The kinist goes to Scripture not to be instructed by it, but rather comes with a set of racist presuppositions. Thus, he must repeatedly ignore its great exaltation of Christ’s grace and mercy in saving and integrating heathen non-Jews like Rahab and Ruth into the nation and the crucial role of faith in these passages. Instead, the passages are twisted and perverted to accommodate a racist paradigm. The lesson of these non-Jews coming into the covenant nation is that faith is far more important than race or nationality.1
The concession which Schwertley makes here is immense. His argument is not that the Moabites are sufficiently foreign to Israel, as if Boaz and Ruth were an interracial couple, but rather that Ruth, in pleading to return to Bethlehem, appealed to faith rather than blood. He concedes that the Moabites were fellow Shemites, and thus that this example is not a case of interracial assimilation at all; his argument instead depends on the fact that Ruth and Naomi’s conversation was predicated on religious differences, not racial ones. Schwertley concludes that because Ruth expressed her willingness to convert as central to her desire to join Naomi’s people, rather than merely referencing her closer relation, therefore blood is of no consequence in marital decisions: faith is the sole criterion. All of this is derived from Ruth’s confession of faith.
Kinists maintain that religious compatibility is also a crucial factor of consideration for marriage, and that a people is strongest when united by a common (and true) faith, so we believe that it can be fitting to sometimes emphasize one of these elements without mentioning the other, depending on the circumstances. This should be obvious. If a prospective couple is discussing their religious compatibility with reference to a potential marriage, they do not imply that all other factors are morally meaningless. This is particularly clear when applied to gender differences. What if Ruth, in conversation with Boaz, did not mention that she was female, but merely emphasized her common faith? Should we then conclude that anyone who asserts the importance of gender distinctions has approached the text “with a set of sexist presuppositions“? Schwertley’s accusations of eisegesis notwithstanding, it is he who approaches this text with egalitarian, “racial = racist” presuppositions, for he supposes that a text silent about the racial compatibility of an intraracial marriage is somehow a refutation of the significance of racial differences! A much stabler explanation is that, even though ancestry is not irrelevant to nationhood and marriage, it was fitting that Ruth express her willingness to assimilate in terms of religion. Given that religion is important unto nationhood, even if nations are not constituted by religious affiliation – as is true also of families – this interpretation is plausible and, of course, harmless to Kinist principles.
Schwertley’s awful argumentation all presupposes that Ruth was an ethnic Moabite. Schwertley is correct that Moabites were the ethnic kin of Israelites, as Moab was the son of Lot (Gen. 19:36-37), Abraham’s nephew (Gen. 14:12), making Jacob/Israel and Moab to be second cousins. Thus, even if Ruth were an ethnic Moabite, this would provide no problems to Kinism. In this regard, the passage is frankly irrelevant.2 It would still be helpful, however, to better understand the details of this narrative, for as we will see, we have reasons to believe that Ruth was not an ethnic Moabite.
First, we need to establish the identity of the inhabitants of the country of Moab (Ruth 1:1). It might seem obvious that the inhabitants of the country of Moab must have been ethnic Moabites, but there is a significant history regarding the ethnic Moabites’ displacement before the lifetime of Ruth. The Amorites under Sihon, King of Heshbon, decimated the Moabites and occupied their land, driving away most of the people and taking some of them captive (Num. 21:26-30). Israel then conquered the Amorites and occupied this territory (Num. 21:33-35; Deut. 2:30-34) prior to crossing the Jordan; and even though the ethnic Moabites had been expelled, it continued to be called the country or plains of Moab.3 This land was then given as an inheritance to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh (Deut. 3:12-16; 29:7-8; Josh. 13:32), according to the tribes’ own request to remain east of the Jordan (Num. 32). There still seem to be Moabites after this time, since they are listed among David’s servants (2 Sam. 8:2), as well as among the foreigners with whom Solomon intermarried (1 Kings 11:1). Still, the preponderance of evidence strongly suggests that the inhabitants of the country of Moab during the time of Ruth were actually the descendants of Israelite settlers.4 Israelite tribes are said to have inhabited the area, and Scripture is silent on whatever other minority populations may have resided there with them.
There is another issue to consider in this narrative. In Ruth 1:15, Naomi seems to counsel her daughters-in-law to return to their heathen gods. Orpah complies, but Ruth demurs, saying that Naomi’s God will be her God (v. 16). Three interpretations have been offered for this: (1) Orpah and Ruth are both heathens at this point, so Naomi is counselling them to return to where their religion is more widely practiced; (2) Orpah and Ruth were both converts when they married Naomi’s sons, so Naomi is counselling them to revert back to idolatry; or (3) the term “gods” refers to political rulers, not deities, so Naomi is not giving an admonition about religion at all. Adam Clarke supports the first interpretation, but a central consideration against it is that Boaz would not have likely considered such a marriage to be valid for the application of the law of the Levirate (Deut. 25:5-10). Moreover, the deep-rooted conviction of Ruth’s plea and her later virtuous living (3:11) seem to indicate that she was not an infant in the faith, but a more mature convert. John Gill and Matthew Henry support the second interpretation, although the central issue for this interpretation, of course, is the deeply unsettling nature of an admonition to apostatize. This view becomes more reasonable, however, if we see Naomi not truly and sincerely urging her daughters’ apostasy, but rather describing (while disapproving of) the apostasy which would inevitably follow their departure, and, as a matter of testing (and perhaps even guilt-tripping), actually desiring the opposite of what she ostensibly stated. Both Gill and Henry make qualifications like this in their commentaries. The third interpretation is supported by Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary for the term Elohim (H430), which can refer to magistrates, as in Exodus 22:28. The main issue with this interpretation is its removal of an otherwise poignant expression of faith, but its desirability consists in avoiding the issues with the above two interpretations.
At any rate, these details of the passage can be important to the Alienist who wishes to leverage the girls’ likelihood of apostasy into an argument that Ruth and Naomi’s people were ethnic foreigners. The Alienist could argue (though Schwertley does not) that we cannot expect Ruth and Orpah to have been ethnic Israelites, for the inevitability of their apostasy in returning to their own people indicates that they were not of the covenant people, and thus not Israelites. He might similarly appeal to Ruth’s identification as a “stranger” in 2:10. The evident flaw in this argument is that the Israelites throughout Scripture are remarkably prone to idolatry and apostasy, in which case even a pattern of corporate apostasy among some long-separated Israelite group is not any reliable indicator of foreign ancestry. It is not a stretch to consider the Israelite contingent in the plains of Moab, whose forefathers desired not to enter the Promised Land west of the Jordan, as a sort of separate people, especially if they had been seduced to some sort of indigenous idolatry. We therefore have good overall reasons to consider Ruth as being descended from these original Israelite inhabitants, termed a “Moabitess” to refer to the geography and/or society (and perhaps the religion) of the Israelite contingent residing in the plains of Moab.
In addition to the above argumentation, we can add further evidence to suppose that Ruth was not an ethnic Moabite. Just as the application of Deuteronomy 23 by Ezra and Nehemiah forbade Rahab from being an ethnic Canaanite and Uriah from being an ethnic Hittite, the exact same consideration applies to Moabites. The exclusion of Moabites (Deut. 23:3) is specifically cited and applied in Nehemiah 13:1-3, when Nehemiah commands Israel to separate themselves from their foreign wives and children. Hence if Ruth were an ethnic Moabite, even though her ethnic distance would of itself be no issue for Kinism, we would have quite a large issue: not only Ruth, but Jesus Himself, would be barred from the congregation of the Lord by this legislation.
Though I will defer a fuller discussion of Deuteronomy 23 until a future article, it is remarkable to note how Schwertley grapples with this. Rather than concluding that Ruth was not an ethnic Moabite – which would not even damage his own argument, as it was predicated on Ruth’s appeal to religion, not on any racial dissimilarity – he embarks upon a confusing quest to harmonize his affirmation of her Moabite ancestry with the clear prohibitions of the law. After rejecting the Talmudic thesis that Deuteronomy 23 only forbade intermarriage with foreign males so that foreign women were fair game, Schwertley mentions, as a possible interpretation, that Ruth could have been a divinely-granted exception to the law because of her remarkable faith. Presumably, though he doesn’t explicitly say so, he would reject the absurd interpretation that none of the generational prohibitions in Deuteronomy 23 mattered so long as the subject is a believer, i.e. that all believing Ammonites, Moabites, and members of other forbidden nations could be integrated into Israel without hindrance. Such a confounding of national and religious categories makes God’s law to be foolish, elaborating upon forbidden nationalities and descendants only to provide an enormous, unstated loophole. Schwertley would instead, in this more robust interpretation, deny that all believing Moabites, Ammonites, and such could be immediately assimilated into Israel, maintaining instead that only exceptional believers among those nations could be. Hence some believers would still be forbidden by ancestry, but this rule would be rescinded for exceptional believers like Ruth.
The problem with this, of course, is that Scripture says nothing of the sort. The text speaks of nations, as nations, being forbidden from entrance into Israel, and of foreign women and foreign children being separated from Israel. When Boaz considers marrying Ruth, he does not fear for the sanctions of the law which explicitly forbids intermarriage with Moabite women, nor does he have his fear forestalled by a divine revelation communicating the temporary inapplicability of the law for his circumstance. The law simply does not provide the exception which Schwertley supposes; it would be the worst of eisegesis to add in a separate, unstated loophole just to maintain that Ruth was an ethnic foreigner, especially when we already have positive evidence of Israelites residing in the land of Moab. The superior harmonization is to deny that Ruth was an ethnic Moabite.
It would be fitting here to call attention to the structure of our various responses to Schwertley’s examples. Schwertley would have us believe that Kinists’ only motivation for interpreting Rahab to be a non-Canaanite, Uriah to be a non-Hittite, and Ruth to be a non-Moabite (ethnically speaking) is that our preselected principles demand such interpretations. But our arguments have predominantly been appeals to the plain statements of Scripture explicitly forbidding those exact nations from intermarriage and integration with Israel. Our concern has been to harmonize the various relevant biblical texts with each other; harmonizing the biblical examples with our own view of nationhood has been secondary. Yet he accuses us of twisting and perverting the words of Scripture to accommodate a racist paradigm, even as he mangles the Word to buttress his Alienism.
Whatever we conclude of Ruth’s ancestry, even if we hold that she had Moabite blood – or Amorite blood, which would be Canaanite (Gen. 10:15-16) and hence equally repugnant to the Deuteronomic assimilation laws – we can also see that her marriage to Boaz is not necessarily normative; it cannot prove Schwertley’s point that race or nationality is irrelevant to marriage. This is illustrated by the blessing at the end of the book of Ruth (4:11-12). The people gathered at the gate praise Boaz and Ruth and pray God’s blessing upon them, that they would be fruitful like Leah and Rachel, who built the house of Israel, and like the house of Pharez (Perez), the son of Judah and Tamar. The first marriage is a bigamous one in which Jacob married two sisters, and the second was an incestuous relationship between Judah and his daughter-in-law. Even if we had reason to believe that Ruth and Boaz’s marriage was interracial or otherwise neglectful of the established bounds of nationhood, we would have equal grounds to exalt bigamy and incest as morally normative, that is to say, none at all. We should consider the wise counsel of our friend Tim: “It is a common mistake to assume that the biblical narrative always can be taken as presenting normative patterns of behavior, unless contradicted by a law of God. But this is a shaky foundation; the biblical narrative evidently is not given with that purpose.”5 The point of the story, which the Alienist should not overshadow with race-denying propaganda, is that God provided seed to Boaz the kinsman-redeemer through Christ’s virtuous foremother Ruth; thus Boaz serves as a type of Christ, the Kinsman-Redeemer of all the faithful.
Moses’s Cushite Wife
Schwertley waxes triumphant when he deals with Moses’s supposed marriage to an Ethiopian or a Cushite woman. Schwertley’s enthusiasm derives from his belief that this is not only an example of an interracial marriage, but a case in which God directly defends Moses the participant. Schwertley writes, “Then we have the marriage of Moses, who God used to write down His law, to an Africa [sic], an Ethiopian (Nu. 12:1). When Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses’ authority and used Moses’ wife as an excuse, God struck Miriam with leprosy (Nu. 12:10).” He cites commentators to argue that this wife could not have been Zipporah, and he argues that if Kinists concede her African ancestry, then we are forced to admit this as an explicitly morally approved example of miscegenation.
There’s quite a bit here to consider, and Schwertley seems to have only scratched the surface of this passage’s implications. First, notwithstanding Schwertley’s cited commentaries, it is entirely plausible that the Cushite or Ethiopian woman mentioned in Numbers 12:1 is in fact Zipporah, whom Moses married after killing an Egyptian and fleeing to escape Pharaoh (Ex. 2:15-21). Zipporah was a Midianite, and the Midianites were descended from Abraham and Keturah (Gen. 25:1-2). Scripture nowhere records any other marriage for Moses, and the sons of Zipporah are the only sons of Moses mentioned in the genealogies of the tribes of Israel (Ex. 18:2-4; 1 Chron. 23:14-15). Further, the terms “Ethiopia” and “Midian” are used interchangeably in Habakkuk 3:7. This all provides strong prima facie evidence that Numbers 12 is not referring to someone other than Zipporah. If this is the case, then the text is obviously not presenting us an interracial marriage, as Schwertley alleges; it would not suit Schwertley’s agenda at all. In fact, this is the position of the majority of commentaries. Schwertley acknowledges that this is the position of John Calvin, but it is also the position of John Gill, Adam Clarke, and the Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown commentary. Matthew Henry states that the wife mentioned in Numbers 12:1 could be either Zipporah or a wife whom Moses married after her, but he inclines towards believing that this verse refers to Zipporah. Consider Gill’s commentary on Habakkuk 3:7, where Ethiopia and Midian are equated:
“I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction,” … The same with Cush or Ethiopia; hence the Septuagint and Vulgate Latin versions render it, “the tents of the Ethiopians”; and these are the same with “the curtains of Midian” in the next clause, tents being made of curtains, and the Ethiopians and Midianites the same people; so the daughter of the priest of Midian, whom Moses married, is called an Ethiopian woman, Exodus 2:21.6
Schwertley commonly appeals to multiple commentaries to reaffirm his arguments, but he seems to ignore the consensus opinion against his view in this case. One of the commentators he cites, A. Noordtzij, argues, “It is indeed true that in the Old Testament a portion of southern Arabia is called Cush (see 2 Chron. 14:9; 21:16); but the Midianite woman Zipporah came from the northern region of the Sinai peninsula (Exod. 3:1; 18:1), and according to 1 Kings 11:18; Habakkuk 3:7 from near Paran.” This argumentation is confusing, to say the least. In the first place, Zipporah and her Midianite people did not reside in the “northern region of the Sinai peninsula. ” Noordtzij cites Exodus 3:1 to establish that the Midianites resided near Mt. Sinai, and he presumably cites Exodus 18:1 to prove that the Midianites were in earshot of the Israelites before their arrival at Mt. Sinai one chapter later. This does prove the nearness of Midian to Mt. Sinai – but Mt. Sinai is not located on the Sinai Peninsula. (Even if it were, the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea – which on this theory would have had to occur in the Gulf of Suez, the western extension of the Red Sea to the north – would have placed them in the central or southern parts of the peninsula, not the northern region.) Midian is widely understood to be a region in northwest Arabia, not part of the Sinai Peninsula. This is why Moses, when he fled from Egypt for fear of his life, went to Midian in the east: Egypt (then and now) retained control of the Sinai Peninsula, and he would have been a fool to have remained in Egyptian-controlled lands. And if that were not enough, St. Paul himself explicitly describes Mt. Sinai as located in Arabia, not Egypt (Gal. 4:25). Clearly, then, we cannot conclude that Zipporah the Midianitess was an inhabitant of the northern Sinai Peninsula.
Perhaps Noordtzij meant to argue that Zipporah hailed from the northern region of the Arabian Peninsula, instead of the Sinai Peninsula. This would indeed be true, though it would not excuse Schwertley from failing to make this crucial correction. If this were so, his argument would depend on the fact that though “Ethiopia” or “Cush” can be used to describe the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, Zipporah was too distant on this same peninsula to be accurately described as a Cushite. But his biblical citations entirely fail to make this point. 1 Kings 11:18 does indeed teach that Paran is in the vicinity of Midian, for Paran is on the eastern edge of the Sinai Peninsula, consistent with a location of Midian in northwest Arabia. However, 2 Chronicles 14:9 and 21:16 refer to Ethiopia but do not identify it specifically as a region of southern Arabia. Even if the figures mentioned in those verses resided or fought in the southern region of the peninsula, the text does not specify that the term “Ethiopia” is meant to exclude the northern region of the Arabian Peninsula. Hence John Gill in his commentaries on both verses describes “Ethiopia” as referring either to the African nation or to Midian (and actually concludes, in 14:9, that the proper reference is the former), but he never states the southern region of Arabia as an exegetical alternative.7
Noordtzij’s citation of Habakkuk 3:7 is particularly interesting, given that it provides evidence supporting the identification of Midian with Cush/Ethiopia. Noordtzij evidently understands this passage to teach that Midian was near Paran, but it is difficult to see how he makes this connection in the passage, even though we agree that Paran and Midian were in proximity. What we can press upon him, however, is that the text does not seem to be referring to separate areas; it is rather offering a Hebraic restatement of the same phrase, as Gill comments above. In order to conclude that “Ethiopia” cannot refer to Midian, and thus that Zipporah cannot be the Cushite of Numbers 12, Noordtzij must posit, without textual evidence, that this Hebrew restatement is actually a nuanced description of mutually exclusive regions on opposite sides of the Arabian Peninsula. But whether or not he can coherently maintain this, he offers no compelling positive exegetical evidence for applying the description of “Ethiopian” to merely a portion of Arabia.
Schwertley also cites a commentator named R.K. Harrison, who presupposes that Numbers 12 is referring to an African Ethiopian but otherwise does not contend against the identification of Zipporah as Moses’s Cushite wife. The one popular commentary which maintains that she is not Zipporah is the Keil and Delitzsch commentary. Keil and Delitzsch comment,
Miriam found an occasion for the manifestation of her discontent in the Cushite wife whom Moses had taken. This wife cannot have been Zipporah the Midianite: for even though Miriam might possibly have called her a Cushite, whether because the Cushite tribes dwelt in Arabia, or in a contemptuous sense as a Moor or Hamite, the author would certainly not have confirmed this at all events inaccurate, if not contemptuous epithet, by adding, ‘for he had taken a Cushite wife;’ to say nothing of the improbability of Miriam having made the marriage which her brother had contracted when he was a fugitive in a foreign land, long before he was called by God, the occasion of reproach so many years afterwards. It would be quite different if, a short time before, probably after the death of Zipporah, he had contracted a second marriage with a Cushite woman, who either sprang from the Cushites dwelling in Arabia, or from the foreigners who had come out of Egypt along with the Israelites.8
Because verse 1 uses the phrase, “for he had taken a Cushite wife,” Keil and Delitzsch conclude that “Cushite” could not have been a geographic description or ethnic slur, and also that this marriage must have been recently formed. Given the narrator’s agreement in terming her a Cushite, Keil and Delitzsch are correct that the phrase could not have been an ethnic slur, but this is no reason to conclude that it could not have been a geographic term. Scripture elsewhere speaks of Ethiopians in a geographic rather than ethnographic sense (e.g. 1 Chron. 21:16 and Hab. 3:7 above), so this would not be inaccurate. A more important objection to address from Keil and Delitzsch is that Zipporah and Moses were married too long for Miriam’s objection to be realistic. Schwertley makes this same argument: “the Zipporah argument does not make any sense whatsoever. If it was Zipporah, Moses’ first wife, then Miriam was complaining about a woman that Moses had been married to for decades.”
This argument seems to make sense on the surface, but it fails to account for the lengthy separation that Moses and Zipporah experienced during the Exodus. As I already stated, Moses met and married Zipporah after he fled Egypt to hide from Pharaoh. Zipporah gave birth to two sons, but after Moses was called by God back to Egypt to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land, he returned to Egypt alone. Only after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea does Moses’s father-in-law Jethro come with Zipporah to reunite Moses with his family (Ex. 18). Exodus 19:1 states that the Israelites then arrived at the wilderness of Sinai in the third month after their departure from Egypt, and Numbers 10:11, probably only slightly before the events of Numbers 12, speaks of their departure from Sinai as occurring one year, one month, and twenty days after the Exodus. Hence Zipporah would have been with Moses for about a year at the most by this time, which could easily provide the context in which Aaron and Miriam protested against Moses. It is likely that most Israelites didn’t know about Zipporah, and Aaron and Miriam tried to use this against Moses. It is also possible that Aaron and Miriam were offended that Moses had appointed leaders in the government of the Israelites at the recommendation of his father-in-law Jethro (Ex. 18:21-22) without consulting them (Num. 12:2). Matthew Henry also adds another possibility, which from experience we know is plausible: “Perhaps there was some private falling out between Zipporah and Miriam, which occasioned some hot words, and one peevish reflection introduced another, till Moses and Aaron came to be interested.” A falling out between two individuals can often lead to irrational vitriol and accusations of longstanding wrongs, so Miriam’s accusations would not be at all extraordinary; and this could be hypothesized even if Moses and Zipporah were never separated in the first place.
If this is the case, then it satisfies the problems presented by both Keil and Delitzsch and Schwertley, and most commentaries are correct in identifying the unnamed wife of Numbers 12:1 as Zipporah. Schwertley’s usage of this passage as a defense of miscegenation is thus undermined. But what if we were to concede that the Cushite or Ethiopian woman of Numbers 12:1 was not Zipporah but instead a different woman? Would this prove Schwertley’s case? No, because it would still lead to more problems. If Moses took a wife in addition to Zipporah, this would make him a bigamist, and hence a scriptural approval of his marriage would prove too much. Schwertley could possibly retort that Zipporah had died within the year of their reunion in Exodus 18, but this seems unlikely. There is no indication of such an occurrence from the text, so that Schwertley would have to assume her death in order to preserve his argument. Of course, it is possible that Moses was a genuine bigamist, since this practice was not unknown among the Old Testament patriarchs and was regulated in the Mosaic Law (Ex. 21:7-11; Deut. 21:15-17), but even if that were so, the passage still could not be used to defend miscegenation any more than it justifies bigamy.
The only way Schwertley could preserve his pro-miscegenist argument, after presuming that Zipporah is not the referenced wife, is by postulating that Aaron and Miriam were objecting simply to the interracial nature of Moses’s marriage (not to the bigamy), so that God vindicated the marriage’s interracial nature by punishing Miriam’s racism with white leprosy. This is the absurd Alienist narrative given by John Piper: “In God’s anger at Miriam, Moses’ sister, God says in effect, ‘You like being light-skinned Miriam? I’ll make you light-skinned.'” Against this vagary, it should be pointed out that Moses’s marriage is only mentioned in verse 1 of this passage and does not seem to be a central part of the narrative. Aaron and Miriam mention Moses’s marriage only in passing as a way to challenge his authority, which is the real issue addressed by the passage. When God defends and vindicates Moses, he doesn’t mention Moses’s marriage, but simply reaffirms Moses as the one to whom God has chosen to reveal Himself. Schwertley conjectures that the reason God smote Miriam with leprosy was her opposition to the putatively interracial nature of Moses’s marriage, in addition to her challenging of Moses’s authority. This idea, however, isn’t mentioned or insinuated anywhere in the text, and I can find no commentary which suggests it.
The commentaries all disagree with Schwertley on this. Matthew Henry states, “[L]eprosy was a disease often inflicted by the immediate hand of God as the punishment of some particular sin . . . here on Miriam for scolding and making mischief among relations.” Adam Clarke suggests, “It is likely Miriam was chief in this mutiny.” Rushdoony comments, “Some have seen the sin of Miriam and Aaron as an example of racial prejudice. If this had been the case, it would have been shown towards Zipporah much earlier. It was rather a resentment against anyone other than themselves having a closeness to Moses.“9 The consensus is that Miriam was punished because she was the chief instigator; she was punished for her rebellion against Moses’s legitimate authority and her inciting of family strife. Moses’s marriage and Aaron and Miriam’s opposition to the marriage are not mentioned again in Numbers 12. Even A. Noordtzij, whom Schwertley cites as an authority, suggests that Aaron and Miriam mention Moses’s marriage to an outsider as an excuse and segue: “I conclude from verse 2 that Moses’ marriage to the Cushite woman was nothing more than an excuse.” Schwertley’s whole argument is based upon the false assumption that God is defending the interracial nature of Moses’s marriage along with Moses’s authority, but there is no reason to believe that this is true. Even if it were interracial, the text does not present God as defending it, and hence the text provides no moral approval of the practice. The marriage mentioned in Numbers 12:1, whether it is referring to Zipporah (as is more probable) or to another unnamed woman, is yet another weak peg upon which to hang a defense of miscegenation.
Joseph and Asenath
Schwertley discusses Joseph and Asenath as an instance of an Israelite-Egyptian intermarriage. Joseph is the beloved son of Jacob and Rachel (Gen. 35:24). Jacob’s overt favoritism towards Joseph within the family, coupled with Joseph’s prophetic dreams, causes Joseph’s brothers to resent him. They plot to kill Joseph, but Reuben persuades them otherwise, and Judah eventually convinces the rest to sell Joseph to traveling merchants (Gen. 37). Joseph ends up in Egypt, where his interpretation of dreams ultimately earns him a place in Pharaoh’s court (Gen. 39-41). Pharaoh becomes a sort of surrogate father to Joseph, giving him a new name and marrying him to Asenath, the daughter of Potipherah, priest of On (Gen. 41:45). In so doing, Pharaoh exalts Joseph to a very lofty and privileged position in Egypt, thus demonstrating the bountiful providence of God toward Joseph (cf. Gen. 50:20). Joseph and Asenath are the parents of Manasseh and Ephraim (Gen. 41:51-52), who become patriarchs of two “half-tribes” of the Israelites. Schwertley points out that Asenath is a Hamitic Egyptian name; therefore this must be an example of interracial marriage, and at the very least it still represents an entire tribe of Israel as having half-Hamitic blood.
As with all the previous examples that Schwertley has provided, this one requires further consideration. First, we must ask the obvious question: was Asenath a believer? She is identified as the daughter of a pagan priest, so she most certainly wasn’t raised as a believer, and it is doubtful that she converted prior to her marriage. Even if she did convert prior to her marriage, she likely did not have a thorough knowledge of the faith. It is certainly plausible that she converted at some point in her life, especially after seeing how God blessed her husband and his family, but the marriage of Joseph to Asenath no more justifies marriage across ethnic or racial lines than it does across religious lines. Joseph’s marriage to Asenath was a product of his unique circumstances in Egypt; therefore we shouldn’t try to generalize too much from this marriage.
This does not resolve all the possible issues which Joseph’s marriage brings up, for the point remains that Ephraim and Manasseh would have been half-Hamites, which we would not expect to have occurred if endogamy was normative among the ancient Israelites. If certain foreigners like Canaanites were forbidden (as nations, not merely as unbelievers) from entering into the congregation of the Lord, then it would seem unfitting for Hamite blood to comprise half of the original ethnic composition of two Israelite tribes. However, rather than fully discuss this issue here, I will simply note that the resolution to understanding Ephraim and Manasseh’s heritage is the same resolution to be provided for the assimilation of Egyptians into Israel which we find in Deuteronomy 23:7-8. I will discuss this in a later article.
Though I wish to defer a fuller discussion of Egyptian integration until later, I’ll discuss one important detail of the passage here: we do not see significant differences in appearance between the Israelites and Egyptians. While appearance certainly does not exhaust the extent of racial differences, it is the most common means of identifying race. When Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt to buy corn during the famine, they do not realize that they are conversing with their brother (Genesis 42:8). Part of the reason for this is that it had been such a long time since they had seen Joseph, and there is no doubt that he would have looked different from before. Still, it should have been an easy task for Joseph’s brothers to distinguish him from the majority of the Egyptian population if there had been significant racial differences between the Israelites and Egyptians.
The same issue arises when considering Moses. When a Pharaoh of a later dynasty decides to kill all male children among the Israelites because he perceives them as a threat (Ex. 1:15-16), Moses is saved by his mother by being placed in basket and sent down a river (Ex. 2:3). The daughter of Pharaoh discovers the infant Moses while he is floating in the river, and decides to raise him as her own (Ex. 2:5-10). The fact that his identity was able to be hidden for so long is another illustration of the common appearance of the Israelites and the Egyptians. After fleeing Egypt to hide from Pharaoh, Moses is mistaken for an Egyptian (Ex. 2:19). The likely reason for this similarity of appearance is that there was a period of Egyptian history when Egypt was dominated by the Shemitic Hyksos people, which could cover at least some of the history from the time of Joseph to the Exodus.10 It’s possible that these Shemitic people adopted certain Egyptian cultural traits and names, but regardless, whether or not we can identify the exact ancestry of Joseph’s wife, these examples indicate that the Israelites were not racially dissimilar from the Egyptians they encountered. This consideration places Joseph’s marriage to Asenath in perspective. It’s entirely likely that this marriage would not be considered a true interracial marriage by today’s standards, and hence that Ephraim and Manasseh are not mixed-race half-tribes.
We have nearly concluded our analysis of Schwertley’s Old Testament examples of sanctified miscegenation and integration. Schwertley contends that intermarriage between Israelites and non-Israelites was a matter of pure indifference as long as the foreigner in question was a believer or a convert. He provides examples that he believes prove his point, but his arguments require a number of unproven assumptions to get off the ground, and his examples almost entirely contradict explicit biblical prohibitions of the specific nations in question. The reader should consider what was earlier stated regarding the structure of the debate over interracial marriage: a more appropriate and effective discussion of the issue does not focus on explaining all the details of all the non-Israelite foreigners which one can locate in the biblical text, but instead ensures that the broader moral principles are thoroughly understood, in whose light we can better understand these various examples. In this respect, Schwertley’s approach is hardly different from someone arguing for the normative permissibility and acceptability of polygamy.11
The examples that Schwertley has used to establish miscegenation as a practice commonly accepted by the Israelite people are questionable at best, and they fail to establish that God considers race as a matter of indifference. In the next article, we will complete our survey of relevant Old Testament texts by providing a comprehensive analysis of Deuteronomy 23:1-8, including its relation to the half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
- Emphasis in original ↩
- But don’t think this would stop Schwertley, later in his series, from claiming that he proved Ruth to be a non-Hebrew involved in an interracial marriage! He confuses Hebrews for Israelites, and moreover forgets his early concession that Ruth and Boaz were of the same race. ↩
- Num. 22:1; 26:3, 63; 31:12; 33:48-50; 35:1; 36:13; Deut. 34:1, 8; Josh. 13:32; Judges 11:12-26 ↩
- Deuteronomy 23:3-4, which prohibits Moabites and Ammonites from entering the congregation of the Lord to the tenth generation, is also to be considered. I will discuss this passage later. ↩
- First Word, “Ham on Genealogy: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Christ.” Note that the citation of Judah and Tamar, besides showing here why Ruth’s marriage (even if interracial) could not be cited as an approved example of miscegenation, also disproves the Alienist fallacy that all marriages which occurred in Christ’s genealogy are morally licit. ↩
- John Gill’s commentary on Habakkuk 3 ↩
- See his commentaries on 2 Chronicles 14 and 2 Chronicles 21. ↩
- Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Numbers 12 ↩
- R.J. Rushdoony, Numbers: Volume IV of Commentaries on the Pentateuch, p. 103 ↩
- I will cover this Hyksos theory in much more depth when I deal with the provisions of Deuteronomy 23:7-8. ↩
- This is explained more in my articles on “Divorce, Miscegenation, and Polygamy: A Comparative Approach to Their Morality,” part 1 and part 2. ↩