Moses’s African Romance
When Pharaoh learned that Moses had struck an Egyptian, he sought to kill Moses and, according to the Pentateuch, “Moses fled from Pharaoh. He arrived in the land of Midian, and sat down beside a well” (Exodus 2:15). There Moses meets the daughters of Jethro, including Zipporah, whom he marries and who gives birth to his two sons. The words “he arrived in the land of Midian” come immediately after we read “[Pharaoh] sought to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh,” in order to show us that the events followed swiftly. Moreover, what happens to Moses in Egypt and Midian forms two parts of a single image: in Egypt Moses interfered in order to defend a Hebrew man from an Egyptian who sought to injure him (vv. 11–12) and also to separate two Hebrew adversaries (vv. 13–14), and in Midian he intervenes in order to rescue Jethro’s daughters from the shepherds (vv. 15–17). These three short stories reveal Moses’s sense of fairness: his unwillingness to stand idle when witnessing injustice between Egyptian and Hebrew, Hebrew and Hebrew, and even two foreigners reflects a swift escalation in Moses’s resolve to promote justice.
To our surprise, several other sources relate an important and lengthy episode that occurred at some point between Moses’s flight from Egypt and his arrival in Midian: a prolonged stay in Ethiopia (Cush) during which he marries an Ethiopian woman. The earliest post-biblical witness that ties Moses to Ethiopia and Ethiopians is the treatise written by the Jewish-Hellenistic writer Artapanus, Concerning the Jews. In the work, which is a sort of biography of Moses, Artapanus tells about Moses, the adopted son of the Egyptian Chenephres, ruler