Zipporah, by Marek Halter

I think most people know that I’m a big fan of good Biblical fiction , since I write it myself.  Zipporah is the second volume of Marek Halter’s “Canaan trilogy” and focuses on an intriguing minor character almost buried in the Biblical footnotes — Moses’ wife Zipporah, who is described both as the daughter of Midianite priest, and also as a Cushite (African).  One of the interesting things Halter does is come up with a plausible backstory that explains how Zipporah can be both of these things, which otherwise seems a little unlikely (some commentators suggest Moses married twice, and the second wife was the Cushite; others think the author/editors of Exodus got the story mixed up).

Due to the Sabbath afternoon movie choices of my children, I have sat through numerous watchings of both the Charlton Heston Ten Commandments and Dreamworks’ Prince of Egypt, both movies which make the courtship of Moses and Zipporah a central part of their tale.  This novel focuses entirely on that relationship, creating a vivid cast of characters from Zipporah’s Midianite family and Moses’ Hebrew family, who don’t like or accept the foreign wife when they finally meet her (that’s based on a passage in Numbers 12 where Aaron and Miriam mock Moses for his choice of wife).

Halter’s Zipporah is a strong character, and her relationship with Moses is interesting.  Another of Halter’s achievement is making a coherent and believable story out of the strange “bridegroom of blood” incident recorded in Exodus 4:24-26 — one of the odder little pericopes in the Biblical record. Up till this point, the novel is a heartwarming romance.

But after Moses and Zipporah arrive back in Egypt, things start to go wrong. Unlike many fictional characters, the hardships Zipporah experiences do not, in the end, make her stronger — they destroy her.  The story is ultimately quite tragic, and gives a significant twist to the Biblical tale — Halter, a Jewish author, has no problem reading the Biblical stories in ways that differ from the traditional readings. 

As a male author writing from the viewpoint of a female character, Halter creates a credible character.  One of my few quibbles with the book was that he sometimes slips into an omniscient point of view and tells us what Moses is thinking, when the vast majority of the narration is strictly from Zipporah’s  point of view.  I prefer a limited viewpoint in fiction, and if the point of view is 85% limited, I don’t want the occasional slip into omniscience — I find it jarring. But that could just be me.

One other problem I have is with pacing.  As with Halter’s first volume in this trilogy, Sarah, he spends so much time on setting up the story and the initial courtship of Zipporah and Moses, that later events — the ones that loom large in the Biblical record, like the actual exodus from Egypt — seem rushed and summarized.  I would have been happy with a longer novel where the later chapters in Zipporah’s life received as much attention as the early ones.

Despite that flaw, this novel is an enjoyable read, and if you enjoy Biblical fiction I highly recommend Halter’s work.  I’m looking forward to picking up the third volume, Lilah.

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4 Comments

Filed under Fiction -- historical, Fiction -- inspirational

4 responses to “Zipporah, by Marek Halter

  1. I was going to ask if you read, Sarah!

    I thought his novel The Book of Abraham was one of THE best English-language novels ever, so I was thrilled when I saw he’d continued to write, unbeknownst to me (I’d forgotten his name). But I gave up on Sarah about two-thirds of the way through.

    I didn’t like his Sarah. I thought some of the liberties he took with the story were just too far afield (the bible never says she was a priestess for another god, does it?). And at 200 pages or so, we were just getting TO the events in the bible. And unlike Zipporah, lots of events are described in Sarah’s life. I didn’t see how he could possibly fit them into the remaining 100ish pages, and it sounds like you had the same quarrel.

    Sad really. Book of Abraham was a doorstop, but I relished every hour spent there. Wish he’d given the same loving attention to each event in the Canaan books.

  2. Hmm, don’t think I’ll rush out to read that one.

    After writing about Joseph the other day I was drawn to my copy of Buechner’s “Son of Laughter.” I can open that one to any page and discover something captivating I’d simply never noticed in Genesis’ blurry pages. It’s like the tagline for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Only the most incredible parts are biblical.

  3. Tea

    Hi Trudy,

    I have just finished reading “So Long a Letter” by a West African author. Wonderful book. I have been looking through my bookshelves wondering what to read next. I picked out ‘Zipporah” by Marek Halter. Then, I wanted to find the bio of the author. Instead, I found your blog. What a great review. Well, I’ve got to run. I’m anxious to start “Zipporah, wife of Moses.”

  4. Charles

    Many Ashekanazi Jews have tough time accepting
    non Europeans. Ironic since their greatest enemy over the centuries
    were Europeans. So it’s not surprising that Marek Halter would turn
    a beautiful story about acceptance into a tragedy.
    Midianites were also known as Kushim.

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