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Moses' wife and sons are omitted from the genealogy, whereas Aaron's wife, sons and grandson are all included. What is the significance of this?

Related but different question on the genealogy here - Why is the genealogy of Moses placed in the middle of his life story?

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  • Hi whiskey92, welcome. If that comes in handy for you, Moses's sister (Miriam - Numbers 26:59) doesn't appear in it either Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 10:02

3 Answers 3

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Moses had sent his wife, Zipporah, back to her father Jethro. in the land of Midian, after the incident involving circumcision at the inn, Exodus 4:24-26.

When Jethro comes to see Moses, Exodus 18:1-27, he brings Zipporah with him and her sons, by Moses.

At the time the genealogy in Exodus 6 is written, therefore, Moses has no wife or sons with him. Whether he disclosed their existence to his Hebrew brethren ; whether they are not included because they were not, presently, among the general congregation ; whether they are discounted because there is some doubt they will ever return, is not stated.

They are not included, I would suggest, because at that time, their absence made them irrelevant to the expected progress of Israel and the future of the generations.

Since there is no further mention of them in scripture, we can only speculate as to what happened to them. There is no further evidence, in scripture, that I am aware of, upon which to form a valid conjecture.

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  • Thanks so much @Nigel J. Appreciate the answer. Just some clarifications, please: 1. Is it too speculative to see this as somehow linked to the dissension in Numbers 12? (especially if one holds the view that the wife in question was Zipporah) link 2. Would you have a view on the significance of the emphasis on Aaron & his line instead of on Moses in the genealogy? Thanks in advance!
    – whiskey92
    Commented Jan 3, 2021 at 5:34
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    @whiskey92 It is certainly the case that Moses is representative of something. He represents something that will pass away - the first covenant. Whereas Aaron represents Christ the High Priest and he (Christ) shall ever endure. So I do see an unsurprising lack of following Moses' genealogy, yes indeed.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 3, 2021 at 5:38
  • I see no indication that Moses sent his family back to Midian soon after the incident in Ex. 4. True that it must happened between chs. 4 and 18. Also... Gershom is mentioned in the book of Judges... and not favorably in terms of legacy. I will provided an answer based on this being the reason they were excluded. Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 4:12
  • Regarding "no further mention"... You've reasonably rejected my mention that the Gershom of Judges 18 is Moses' grandson. Do you also reject the report in I1 Chronicles 26:24 "Shebuel the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, was ruler of the treasuries." Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 13:29
  • @DanFefferman I accept what I read in KJV and YLT : And Shebuel son of Gershom, son of Moses, `is' president over the treasures.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 17:17
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An answer to the second question first: A note in the NABRE says:

The purpose of the genealogy here is to give the line from which Moses and Aaron sprang, with special emphasis placed on the line of Aaron. Reuben and Simeon are mentioned first because, as older brothers of Levi, their names occur before his in the genealogy.

The genealogy comes in between Moses' reticence to speak because he is not a gifted orator and God telling him: "I have made you a god to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother will be your prophet." (7:1) A priestly editor has used this moment to introduce Aaron by means of the genealogy. The theory that it was written by Moses at a moment when his wife and sons were not present is weak. Why would Moses not correct the omission when he realized his family would survive?

As to why Moses' lineage was excluded, I think this has to do with its future. Contrary to @Nigel J's contention that "there is no further mention of them in scripture," a grandson of Moses figures prominently in the Book of Judges, much to his ancestors' shame.

The Danites set up the idol for themselves, and Jonathan, son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his descendants were priests for the tribe of the Danites until the time the land went into captivity. 31 They maintained the idol Micah had made as long as the house of God was in Shiloh. (Judges 18)

To summarize: the genealogy of Ex. 6 was inserted to promote the priesthood of Aaron and his descendants. Moses' sons were probably excluded because they were not priests, at least not legitimate ones. The fact that Moses' grandson established an unauthorized priestly tradition at Dan, as described in Judges 18, may also have contributed to Moses' lineage not being mentioned.

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  • and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan Judges 18:30. KJV. (See also YLT.) This is the Masoretic text.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 5:03
  • thanks for that. I was unaware of that tradition. The clear majority of translators say Moses. There is no record of a Gershom son of Manasseh apart from this, so I am dubious. Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 12:27
  • this translation issue has led to ask a new question about the identity of this Gershom Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 13:33
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Very likely, Dan Fefferman's hypothesis (espec. in the last paragraph) is correct. Emanuel Tov could be very useful (Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 3rd edition, 2012, pages 53 [and ft. # 67]) in this instance (all the bold emphasis from now on is mine).

Indeed, he states (I've decoded the symbols Tov scatters throughout his essay, putting their equivalents in square brackets): "In Judg. 18:30 [...], a suspended nun corrected an original [...] 'Moses' to [Manasseh] [...]. This addition was apparently meant to correct an earlier reading that ascribed the erecting of the idol in Dan to one of the descendants of Moses (b. B[ava] Bat[hra]. 109b). The addition therefore indicated a deliberate content change [...]. Many manuscripts and editions of [MT] (as well as [the Jerome's Vulgate]) read the corrected form 'Moses'. The two forms are also reflected in different manuscripts of [the Septuagint][...] 'Moses', in the [Alexandrine manuscript] [...]."

The John MacArthur's Study Bible comments: "Some manuscripts say 'son of Manasseh', others 'son of Moses', which may be more probable as Gershom was a son of Moses (Ex. 2:22; 18:3)." [ad locum]

The New Oxford Annotated Bible (5th edition): "The origins of the shrine at Dan (1 Kings 12.25–30). 30: Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses, Jonathan belonged to the third generation after the Exodus, yet by now scores of years had passed according to thechronology of Judges (see 3.11,30; 5.31; 8.28); this suggests that this episode is placed here for thematic rather than chronological reasons. Pious scribes seeking to protect the name of Moses from association with an illicit shrine connected to his grandson inserted the Heb letter 'nun' ('n') above his name in the Hebrew text, turning 'Mosheh' (Moses) into 'Menashsheh' [...]." [ad locum]

Robert Alter's 'Prophets': "Jonathan son of Gershom son of Moses. At the very end, we are given the name and genealogy of the Levite. The Masoretic Text [better, some manuscripts’] inserts a superscript nun in 'Moshe', 'Moses',turning it into Menashe, Manasseh, but this can’t be right because Gershom was the son of Moses and Manasseh is not a priestly tribe. Rashi aptly explains the orthographic oddity: ‘Out of respect for Moses, a nun is inscribed in order to change the name.’

Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible: "Instead of מנשה Manasseh, the word should be read משה Mosheh, Moses, as it is found in some MSS, in the Vulgate, and in the concessions of the most intelligent Jews. The Jews, as R. D. Kimchi acknowledges, have suspended the letter: נ nun, over the word [...] [so] by the addition of the points, they have changed into Manasseh, because they think it would be a great reproach to their legislator to have had a grandson who was an idolater. That Gershom the son of Moses is here intended, is very probable. See the arguments urged by Dr. Kennicott, Dissertation I., p. 55, etc.; and see the Var. Lect. of De Rossi on this place."

NET Bible note: "Several ancient textual witnesses, including some LXX MSS and the Vulgate, support the reading “Moses” (מֹשֶׁה, mosheh) here. Many Hebrew MSS have a nun (נ) suspended above the name between the first two letters (מנשׁה), suggesting the name Manasseh (מְנַשֶּׁה, menasheh). This is probably a scribal attempt to protect Moses’ reputation. For discussion, see G. F. Moore, Judges (ICC), 401-2."

Among the translations that back the reading 'Moses' instead of 'Manasseh': ESV, NAB, Einaudi (2023) [Italian], NLT, TOB, Alter, NJB, ASV, NWT(2013), BBE, CEV, Darby, GNB, Douay-Rheims.

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