Badarian (3200 BC) flint knife with ivory handle
Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and threw it at Moses' feet, and she said, "You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me." So He let him alone. At that time she said, "You are a bridegroom of blood" [hatam damim]-- because of the circumcision... Exodus 4:24-26
Alice C. Linsley
Exodus 4:24-26 is a puzzling passage and one that shows evidence of emendation. It is not clear who the Lord sought to put to death. Was it Moses [hatan - "groom" in Hebrew] or the uncircumcized child [hatan - "child" in Arabic]? Is the key word hatan or hatam?
At first glance this story seems to be about Moses and Zipporah, but apparently a later source - probably the Deuteronomist - attempted to shift the focus to the firstborn son and draw a parallel with God's wrath shown to the firstborn of Egypt when the angel of death passed over.
Exodus 4: 2-23 suggests a reason for the intrusion of this idea.
The Lord said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. "Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord, "Israel is My son, My firstborn. "So I said to you, 'Let My son go that he may serve Me'; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.'"Israel is said to God's "firstborn" and circumcision was to be the sign of the covenant with Israel. God's wrath would be expected to fall on Moses if he neglected to circumcise his own son. That said, this theological allusion is vague and does not fit the Exodus narrative well.
In classical Arabic hatana means to circumcise. One might think that hatana, hatan and hatam are related, given the context. However, since circumcision originated among the ancient Nilotes we do well to look at the ancient Egyptian verb TM to determine the meaning of ha-tam damim.
In his book The Ancient Egyptian Language: An Historical Study, James P. Allen explains: "The verb tm forms a negative counterpart of all verb forms that can be negated except the imperative. It is a verb in its own right, meaning something like “stop doing, fail to do, not do,” and as such can be negated itself..." (p. 129). The examples he gives include: "He will not fail to do good." and "He does not fail to return." Zipporah's complaint appears to be related to something Moses failed to do.
To prevent her husband's death, she performed the circumcision herself, and in an act intended to cover him by the blood [dam], she touched him with the circumcised foreskin.
The root dmm appears in over 62 places in the Bible and 4 times in the book of Job, the Horite of Uz. It refers to guilt or responsibility. With this in mind, ha-tm damm appears to mean simply that Moses failed to do his duty.
Whatever the writer's purpose for including this account in the narrative, it is clear that Zipporah was not happy with Moses for putting her in a situation that forced her to take the role of a man, something that would have been extremely distasteful to her. Even today many women dislike having to perform a male role because it feels like it diminishes their femininity.
Circumcision Among Abraham's People
|Badarian flint 4000 BC|
Using a ritual flint knife like the high saline flint knives found at al-Badar, Zipporah cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses's "legs" (genitals?) with it, saying "You are truly a bridegroom of blood [hatam damim] to me!"-- because of the circumcision."
Among Abraham's Nilo-Saharan aancestors, the circumcised penis was a fertility symbol. According to Egyptologist, E. A. Budge (The Gods of the Egyptians, Dover Publications) early Egyptian mythology includes the belief that the universe was created by the blood that was shed when God circumcised himself. Here we find a recurring Biblical theme: "Life is in the blood." There is a sense of protection by the blood which connects hatan (groom) to the older word hatan which means "protect" in Akkadian.
Two ideas emerge from this mysterious account. First, the blood rite of circumcision was regarded as a mark of protection similar to how the divine mark on Cain protected him (Genesis 4:15). Second, the failure to circumcise sons exposed the father to divine judgment.
Moses had two wives, following the pattern of his Horite Hebrew forefathers. One wife was Kushite (Numbers 12). This wife would have been his half-sister. Her designation as "Kushite" means that Moses's father married a Kushite, since ethnicity was traced through the mother, not the father. The mother of Korah and Moses' half-sister wife was Ishar, a descendant of Seir, the Horite (Gen. 36).
Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro (Yetro), was Moses's second wife. Jethro was a Horite Habiru (Hebrew) priest living in Midian. Long before the time of Jethro the Habiru were widely dispersed in the ancient world.
Moses met Zipporah at a well where she was drawing water for her father’s livestock. For obvious reasons, priests maintained shrines near wells, natural springs or along the banks of rivers. As a priest's daughter, Zipporah would have been familiar with animal sacrifice and circumcision, but these were performed by the priests, not by the daughters of priests. This is why her circumcision of her first born son is remarkable.
It is important to see the connection between the ruler-priest as one who circumcises and how God in Christ circumcises the human heart. This is exactly the message Rabbi Paul wanted the Christ followers in Rome to understand when he wrote:
The one who is physically uncircumcised yet keeps the Law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. A man is not is a Jew because he is one outwardly, nor is circumcision only outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew because he is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise does not come from men, but from God. (Romans 2:27-29)The Apostle Paul also wrote about how the sinner is covered or protected, not through a rite or ceremony, but through the Blood of the Cross and the empty Tomb. Because of Christ's victory over death we are seated with Him in the heavenly realms. "For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things,whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross." (Colossians 1:19,20)
Related reading: Why Zipporah Used a Flint Knife; Hatam Damim: The Bridegroom of Blood; Circumcision Among Abraham's People; The Origin of Circumcision; Moses's Wives and Brothers; Seated With Christ; The Pattern of Two Wives