Monday, June 9, 2014

Elisheba: The Priest’s Wife (Exodus 6:23)

Who was Aaron’s wife? Elisheba

Exodus interrupts its narrative to supply a genealogy of the heads of the first three tribes of Israel (Exodus 6:14-27). The list naturally focuses on the tribe of Levi, the clan of its leaders, Moses and Aaron (Exodus 6:16-27). Amid this context, Aaron’s wife, Elisheba, makes her only biblical appearance (Exodus 6:23).

Aaron married Elisheba, the daughter of Amminadab, the sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. (Exodus 6:23 NASB)
Elisheba is obscure. She appears only in this genealogy and nothing is said of her apart from her family ties. Pamela L. McQuade (b. 1953) acclimates:
Aaron’s wife doesn’t get a lot of press in the Bible. Her brother Nahshon gets more mention as a leader of the tribe of Judah [Exodus 6:23; Numbers 1:7, 2:3, 7:12, 17, 10:14; Ruth 4:20, I Chronicles 2:10, 11; Matthew 1:4; Luke 3:32], but Elisheba would have been well known to the Israelites, as wife of their high priest [Exodus 6:23]. (McQuade, The Top 100 Women of the Bible: Who They Are and What They Mean to You Today, 47)
Some have attempted to fill this void in Elisheba’s story. One strand of Jewish tradition claims that she served as one of the midwives who protected Hebrew babies in Exodus’ opening chapter. (Exodus 1:15-21).

Scott M. Langston (b. 1960) researches:

Were the “midwives of the Hebrews” Egyptians or Hebrews? In the Septuagint, as in Josephus [37-100], they were Egyptians. In the Talmud, however, they were Jewish. One Talmudic tradition, also followed by Targum Neofiti I and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, identified Shiphrah as Jocheved, Moses’ mother, and Puah as Miriam, his sister. The other understood the midwives to be Jocheved and Elisheba, the wife of Aaron (b. Sotah 11b). Exodus Rabbah agreed that they were Hebrew and recorded numerous explanations of their names. Their ethnicity made a difference in the story. As Egyptians, they exemplified God’s ability to use non-Hebrews to achieve his purposes. As Hebrews, they became symbols of the national struggle for freedom. (Langston, Exodus Through the Centuries, 18)
Some scholars have supplied Elisheba a voice. Penina Adelman (b. 1953) apprises:
Very little has been written about Elisheba. Ellen Frankel [b. 1951], author of The Five Books of Miriam (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1996), pages 159-61, responds to this void by letting Elisheba speak in her own voice...Jill Hammer [b. 1969] has responded to the lack of material on Elisheba with a midrash of her own, which also portrays Elisheba in her midwife guise. It is called “The Tenth Plague” and can be found in the midrash collection Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2004), pages 105-113. (Adelman, “Elisheba”, Praise Her Works: Conversations with Biblical Women, 138-39)
Elisheba is the only person who carries this name in the Hebrew Bible (Exodus 6:23). Though uncommon in the modern era, the name did briefly make its way into the mainstream when actress Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) adopted it upon her conversion to Judaism in 1959.

William H.C. Propp (b. 1957) studies:

Ĕlîšeba‘ seems to mean “My god is Seven” (cf. the names batšeba‘ ‘Seven’s daughter,’ yehôšeba‘/yehôšab‘at ‘Yahweh is Seven,’ be’ēršeba‘ ‘Seven’s well’ and šeba‘ ‘Seven’; compare to the Byblian king Sibitti-běl ‘Baal is Seven’ mentioned in inscriptions of Tiglath Pileser III [Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament 282, 283]). Is šeba‘ an Israelite manifestation of the Mesopotamian god/gods/demons Sebettu ‘the Seven,’ on whom see D.O. Edzard [1930-2004] (1965:124-25)? For other etymologies see Samuel E. Loewenstamm [1907-1987] (1950). (Propp, Exodus 1-18 (Anchor Bible), 279)
Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1952) informs:
The name ’élîśeba’ (Elisheba) is the Hebrew form of “Elizabeth”. What “Elizabeth” means is debatable, but two possibilities are “My God is the One by whom to swear” or “My God is Seven.” (Hamilton, Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary, 106)
Craig A. Evans (b. 1952) connects:
According to Luke, the mother of John the Baptist and wife of Zechariah the priest is Elizabeth (Luke 1:5). The name Elizabeth is a variant of the biblical name Elisheba (אלישבע), the wife of Aaron (cf. Exodus 6:23), which in the Septuagint is Έλισάβεθ. The Greek form Έλισάβη appears on an ossuary from Silwan, Jerualem (cf. Hans Henry Spoer [1873-1951] 1907; Samuel Klein [1886-1940] and Jean-Baptiste Frey [1878-1939] no. 1338). (Evans, Jesus and the Ossuaries: What Jewish Burial Practices Reveal about the Beginning of Christianity, 82)
The fact that Elisheba is named is significant in and of itself as Exodus seldom identifies women by name. Carol Meyers (b. 1942) notes:
Only six women (Elisheba [Exodus 6:23], Jochebed [Exodus 6:20], Miriam [Exodus 15:20, 21], Puah [Exodus 1:15], Shiphrah [Exodus 1:15], and Zippporah [Exodus 2:21, 4:25, 18:2]) are mentioned by name in the book of Exodus. But many more are referred to in the narratives, especially in chapters 1-3 [Exodus 1:1-3:22]; and generic women are mentioned in the Decalogue and community regulations of chapters 20-23 [Exodus 20:1-23:33]. (Meyers, Exodus (New Cambridge Bible Commentary), 25)
It is worth noting that Moses’ wife and sister are unnamed in this genealogy while Elisheba is.

It is also rare for women to be mentioned in genealogies. Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1952) comments:

Unlike most genealogies in Scripture or elsewhere, it [Exodus 6:14-27] includes the names of women (Matthew 1:1-17 is another exception to the rule); Jochebed [Exodus 6:20], Elisheba [Exodus 6:23], an anonymous daughter of Putiel (wife of Eleazar, Aaron’s daughter-in-law, Phinehas’s mother) [Exodus 6:25], and Miriam in Exodus 6:20 if we follow the reading of the Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch. What makes the presence of these women so unique here is that this genealogy is about who has the proper bloodlines to serve as high priest or just as priest, an office restricted by sex to males. There are no “priestesses” in the Old Testament. (Hamilton, Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary, 108)
Tikva Frymer-Kensky (1943-2006) analyzes:
She [Elisheba] never appears in any story, and the mention of her name in this brief genealogy must be related to the purpose of this family listing. Such listings don’t ordinarily include female ancestors. This genealogy foregrounds Moses and Aaron, and the addition of named women to their family tree — Moses’ mother Jochebed [Exodus 6:20] as well as Elisheba [Exodus 6:23] — perhaps contributes to the prominence of their lineage. Moreover, the inclusion of a mother’s name indicates how significant these women were to the destiny of their children. (Carol L. Meyers [b. 1942], Toni Craven [b. 1944], Ross Shepard Kraemer [b. 1948], “Elisheba”, Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books and New Testament, 73)
Elisheba is the wife of Aaron, the high priest (Exodus 6:23). There is either a significant difference in age between Elisheba and her husband or there is a gap in the genealogy.

William H.C. Propp (b. 1957) relays:

Heinrich Holzinger [1863-1944] (1900:20) observes that Aaron may be considerably older than his wife. He is of the fourth generation from Jacob, she of the sixth. (Propp, Exodus 1-18 (Anchor Bible), 279)
Brevard S. Childs (1923-2007) counters:
The principle of selectivity is...clear in comparing other genealogies within the Old Testament. So, for example, according to Exodus 6, Aaron and Moses belong to the fourth generation after Jacob, whereas from the lists in Ruth 4:18-20 and I Chronicles 2:4-10, it would appear that Aaron’s wife Elisheba, the daughter of Amminadab, belonged to the sixth generation. (Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary (Old Testament Library), 117)
Douglas K. Stuart (b. 1943) concurs:
Moses’ listing of his and Aaron’s ancestry has, typically, gaps. It mentions Moses and Aaron in the fourth generation after Jacob, although Aaron’s wife Elisheba (Exodus 6:23) seems to fit in the sixth generation after Jacob according to the data lists in I Chronicles 2:4-10 and Ruth 4:18-20. By mentioning only the generations of Levi, Kohath, Amram, and Aaron/Moses (Exodus 6:16-20), it could seem to give the impression that there were in fact only four generations from the entrance into Egypt until the exodus—a period of 430 years (cf. Exodus 12:20). This is theoretically possible in light of the long lives of Levi, Kohath, and Amram and the fact that Moses was eighty when the exodus began, but it would require that each father in this group had the son named in this group at about age one hundred. (Stuart, Exodus (New American Commentary), 176)
Though relatively inconsequential within the confines of the Bible, Elisheba was likely eminent during her own lifetime as she was a prominent member of Israel’s first family.

Ronald L. Eisenberg (b. 1945) educates:

The Talmud notes that “Elisheba had five joys more than the daughters of Israel” on the day the Tabernacle was dedicated. “Her brother-in-law [Moses] was a king, her husband [Aaron] was a high priest, her son [Eleazar] was segan [deputy high priest], her grandson [Pinchas] was anointed [as deputy high priest to lead the army for battle], and her brother [Nachshon] was the prince of his tribe; yet she mourned her two sons [Nadab and Abihu]” (Zevachim 102a). (Eisengberg, Essential Figures in the Bible, 62)
Midrash has also attached Elisheba with Proverbs’ description of the ideal woman (Proverbs 31:25). Michael V. Fox (b. 1940) edifies:
Yalqut Shimoni...assembles midrashic comments that identify the Woman of Strength [Proverbs 31:10-31] with Sarah...Memories of other women are evoked as well. “Strength and majesty are her raiment” (Proverbs 31:25a) was associated with Elisheba daughter of Amminadab (Exodus 6:23), and “She opens her mouth in wisdom” (Proverbs 31:26a) brought to mind the wise woman who spoke with Joab (II Samuel 14:2). These and similar associations were not meant to be exclusive identifications but to point to women who exemplify the qualities described in this poem. (Fox, Proverbs 10-31 (Anchor Bible), 906)
Elisheba’s presence within Exodus’ genealogy gives credibility to her family’s position. Susanne Scholz (b. 1966) discusses:
An extensive genealogy interrupts the events. Strengthening the authority of Moses (Exodus 6:14-25), the list legitimates him as the leader of the people of Israel. The passage includes his male and a few female ancestors. The women are characterized as daughters, wives and mothers...Women are significant only in their relationship to men (cf. Exodus 1:27-:20). Jochebed, the mother of Moses, is named (Exodus 6:20) but not Moses’ sister and wife. Instead, Aaron’s wife Elisheba (Exodus 6:23) and the daughters of Putiel are listed. One of the daughters marries Eleazar and gives birth to a son (Exodus 6:25). (Athalya Brenner [b. 1943], “The Complexities of ‘His’ Liberation Talk: A Literary Feminist Reading of the Book of Exodus”, A Feminist Companion to Exodus to Deuteronomy, 30)
In addition to Moses, the genealogy also bolsters his descendants, who likely need the credibility more than he. Thomas B. Dozeman (b. 1952) concludes:
The structure indicates the important position of Phinehas [Exodus 6:25]. He is the only character named in the sixth generation of descendants from Levi. Additional information provided by the P author further accentuates his position. The P author provides the age of three characters, Levi (137 years) [Exodus 6:16], Kohath (133 years) [Exodus 6:18], and Amram (137 years) [Exodus 6:20], emphasizing the ancestry of Aaron. Then, beginning with the father of Aaron, Amram, the P author also includes the name of the wife: Amram married Jochebed, his father’s sister [Exodus 6:20]; Aaron married Elisheba, the daughter of Amminadab, and the sister of Nashshon [Exodus 6:23]; and Eleazar married one of the daughters of Putiel [Exodus 6:25]. The recording of the mothers further accentuates the status of Phinehas. (Dozeman, Exodus (Eerdmans Critical Commentary), 172)
Exodus’ genealogy serves to bolster the credibility of the priestly line and Elisheba’s inclusion assists in accomplishing this objective (Exodus 6:14-27). Her children, introduced with her (Exodus 6:23), will later play prominent roles. Eleazar will become the nation’s high priest (Numbers 20:23-29) making Elisheba both the wife and the mother of a high priest. From this one reference, it is clear that Elisheba is deemed a great success, a woman many likely aspired to be (Exodus 6:23).

Why is Elisheba named in Exodus’ genealogy when so few women are (Exodus 6:23)? Were you documented as merely a name in your family’s genealogy what could be said of you? Who benefits more from this genealogy, its early or later entries? How important are bloodlines to clergy? What are the advantages and disadvantages to being a second generation minister? Do you add credibility to your relatives and associates?

Elisheba is presented as the wife of the high priest, Aaron (Exodus 6:23). This relationship is accentuated given its connection to a remark made by God earlier in the chapter (Exodus 6:7). Bruce Wells (b. 1968) correlates:

Take you as my own people (Exodus 6:7)...Literally the statement is, “I take [lāqah] you to myself as a people.” The forming of a marriage relationship is also expressed in this way: “Aaron took [lāqah] himself as a wife” (literal translation Exodus 6:23). (John H. Walton [b. 1952], Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), 185)
This type of connection is rare in the Old Testament. Madeline Gay McClenney-Sadler (b. 1967) assesses:
There are only seven marriages in the Pentateuch which provide sufficient kinship information about each character to suggest a preferred marriage form: Milcah–Nahor (Genesis 11:29); Sarah–Abraham (Genesis 12:13, 20:12); Rebekah-Isaac (Genesis 24:4); Mahalath-Esau (Genesis 28:9); Leah–Jacob–Rachel (Genesis 29:30); Aaron–Elisheba (Exodus 6:23) and Amram–Jochebed (Exodus 6:20). (McClenney-Sadler, Re-covering the Daughter’s Nakedness: A Formal Analysis of Israelite Kinship Terminology and the Internal Logic of Leviticus 18, 57)
Given its structure, some have seen practical marriage advice implicit in the genealogy. Ronald L. Eisenberg (b. 1945) informs
The biblical text describes Elisheba as the daughter of Amminadab and the sister of Nachshon (Exodus 6:23). Because the second relationship would seem to be obvious from the first, Rava [280-352] inferred an underlying teaching: “A man who [wishes] to take a wife should inquire about [the character of] her brothers” (Bava Batra 110a), because “most children resemble the brothers of the mother” (Sopherim 15:20). (Eisengberg, Essential Figures in the Bible, 62)
Yehuda Berg (b. 1972) applies:
In an apparent non sequitur, the verse mentions that Elisheva was Nahshon’s sister [Exodus 6:23]. This is important later, Nahshon, who will be one of the foremost tribal princes, will also be the first person to enter the Red Sea when it parts. But there is also a relevant lesson here for us today. Whenever we are considering entering into a relationship, we must take into account the other person’s family because they are the people who have shaped our partner’s concept of the world. (Berg, Exodus (Kabbalistic Bible), 62)
Unlike his brother Moses (Exodus 2:16-22, Numbers 12:1), Aaron marries a fellow Hebrew. But he does not marry someone from his own tribe of Levi. The marriage between Aaron and Elisheba unites two of Israel’s most prominent tribes, Judah and Levi.

William H.C. Propp (b. 1957) relates:

Eliheba is identified by both father and brother because these were an unmarried woman’s primary guardians, and perhaps because, in cases of polgyny, naming a brother in effect identified a woman’s mother. In light of the emphasis on Moses’ and Aaron’s pure Levitic ancestry, it is surprising that Aaron should marry a Judahite (cf. Numbers 1:7, etc.). But Elisheba is the daughter and sister of David’s ancestors Amminadad and Nahshon (Ruth 4:20-22; I Chronicles 2:10-15). The tradition may reflect close ties between the royal house of David and the Jerusalem priesthood (Richard Elliott Friedman [b. 1946] 1987:213). (Propp, Exodus 1-18 (Anchor Bible), 279)
Michele Clark Jenkins (b. 1954) pronounces:
Elisheba is mentioned in Scripture to tell of the marriage union of the Levites with the tribe of Judah. Her husband, Aaron, was a Levitical priest. The priests could not inherit nor leave an inheritance. However, Levites could intermarry with women from other tribes because there would be no confusion regarding inheritances, particularly the allocation of land that God had made to each tribe. (Jenkins, She Speaks: Wisdom From the Women of the Bible to the Modern Black Woman, 63)
Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1952) reviews:
Exodus 6:23 tell us that Aaron does not marry a fellow Levite(ss), but instead marries Elisheba/Elizabeth. Her father is Amminadab, and her brother is Nashshon (a name meaning “snakelike” [the Hebrew word nāhāš, “serpent/snake,” as in Genesis 3 [Genesis 3:1, 2, 4, 13, 14], and -ôn, a characterizing affix]). Both her father and her brother are links in the line of from Judah to David and to Jesus (Ruth 4:20; I Chronicles 2:10-11; Matthew 1:4; Luke 3:32-33). Her brother, Nahshon, is the individual from the tribe of Judah who assists Moses in taking the census (Numbers 1:7). That means that the Levitical priest Aaron is married to a Judahite and that the second generation of high priests comes from mixed tribal groups, Levitical and Judahite. Thus, in the ancestry of Jesus Christ, our High Priest and King of kings, there is an interesting mixture of Levi and Judah. (Hamilton, Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary, 109)
The union of the priestly tribe of Levi with the royal tribe of Judah in the life of Aaron and Elisheba (Exodus 6:23) foreshadows their perfect union in the life of Jesus. It proves to be an unbeatable combination.

Is Aaron’s and Elisheba’s union politically motivated? How important is it to be familiar with a potential spouse’s family before consenting to marriage? Where else do the roles of king and priest overlap? When have two famous families merged? When have you seen a marriage in which the whole was greater than the sum of its parts? What is the most effective combination of people or things of which you are aware?

“Love is a partnership of two unique people who bring out the very best in each other, and who know that even though they are wonderful as individuals, they are even better together.” - Barbara Cage