Biblical Archaeology Review 20:3, May/June 1994

Power to the Powerless—A Long-Lost Song of Miriam

By George J. Brooke

According to the Book of Exodus, after the miracle at the Red Sea—the Israelites have passed through dry-shod and the Egyptians have drowned—Moses and the Israelites sing a victory hymn (Exodus 15:1–19). Immediately following the Song of the Sea, as it is called,a is the Song of Miriam: “Then Miriam the prophet, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her, with timbrels and dancing. And Miriam sang to them” (Exodus 15:20–21a). The Song of Miriam, however, is a mere half verse—Exodus 15:21b. It is not only truncated, it is simply a repetition of the first lines of the Song of the Sea:

“Sing to the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously;

Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

As the Biblical text now stands, that is all there is to the Song of Miriam.

Scholars have long suspected that either the complete song was somehow suppressed or that the Song of the Sea was originally Miriam’s song and only later was it put into the mouth of her brother Moses.b

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