According to the BibleGershom (HebrewגֵּרְשֹׁםModern GershomTiberian Gēršōm; “a sojourner there”; LatinGersam) was the firstborn son of Moses and Zipporah.[1] The name appears to mean a sojourner there (גר שם ger sham), which the text argues was a reference to Moses’ flight from Egypt. Biblical scholars regard the name as being essentially the same as Gershon[2] and it is Gershom rather than Gershon who is sometimes listed by the Book of Chronicles as a founder of one of the principal Levite factions.[3] Textual scholars attribute the description of Gershom to a different source text to the genealogy involving Gershom.[4]

The passage in Exodus concerning Moses and Zipporah reaching an inn appears to suggest that some being, possibly God or an angel, attacks either Gershom or Moses, until a circumcision is carried out by Zipporah on Gershom.[5]

The later Books of Chronicles identify Shebuel as a “son” of Gershom,[6] though this is anachronistic for a literal interpretation of the bible because Shebuel is described as living in the time of King David. The Hebrew word for son can also mean a descendant; for example even remote descendants of King David are in many instances called “Sons of David” in the original Hebrew.

Priestly connectionsEdit

Although certain passages of the Bible, which textual scholars ascribe to the Priestly Source, assert that it is only the Aaronim who were legitimate priests, biblical scholars believe that the priesthood was originally open to members of any tribe,[7] and that the restriction to Aaronim was purely an Aaronim invention, opposed by authors such as the Deuteronomist.[8] Aaronim claimed descent from Aaron – Moses’ brother, and hence any immediate descendant of Moses would not be an Aaronim.

The possibility that the story of Micah’s Idol refers to immediate descendants of Moses being priests is taken by biblical scholars as a demonstration that the Aaronim-only restriction was originally not present in the Israelite priesthood. One of the accounts of Micah’s idol refers to a priest as being a sojourner there (גר שם),[9] which could alternatively be taken as stating that the priest was indeed Gershom (גרשם). The accounts of Micah’s idol also include reference to a Jonathan son of Gershom as being a priest,[10] and although the masoretic text seems to avoid the implication that non-Aaronim could be priests by describing this particular Gershom as a son of Manasseh (מנשה), this appears to have been distorted; the letter nun (נ) appears here in superscript, suggesting that the text originally described this Gershom as the one that was a son of Moses [11] (משה).

The priestly/prophetic aspect remains open to discussion, God explicitly chose Aaron and his direct sons for the Tabernacle and Temple services in remembrance of Aaron’s servitude to Moses all along. Aaron served his brother Moses with much devotion being metaphorically called “his prophet” from the very beginning. The King and the Priest/Prophet are the two head leaders in ancient hierarchy; from this viewpoint, the belief of priesthood being open to anyone appears unsupported. The Bible recounts very strict lineage rules for the priests, aka “the descendants of Aaron”, but certain deviations from the concept are mentioned – for instance, prophets such as Samuel or Elijah performed priestly-like services in special cases. As mentioned above, it is probable that Gershom’s lineage would have compelled him into the priesthood, yet it appears he performed no regular priestly services of note. In other related writings it is mentioned that God ordered Moses to pass authority unto Joshua instead of his own two stubborn sons, Gershom and Eliezer.

The fate of the sons of Moses is theologically controversial: they disappear from history. The books attributed to Moses give them no further mention despite the vast Levitic and Deuteronomic settlements of civic, military, priestly duties, and so on. One explanation is that because Zipporah was the daughter of a non-Jewish priest, God (or the priestly writers of the Old Testament) did not have much pleasure in the sons of Moses

At that time, Jethro, Moses‘ father-in-law, heard of the miracles G‑d had wrought for the children of Israel, and he decided to visit Moses in the desert. He took his daughter Zipporahand her two sons, Gershom andEliezer, and brought them to Moses. Having been informed by Jethro that he was coming and bringing with him Moses’ wife and children, Moses, accompanied by the entire community of Israel, went out to greet them. Jethro, a man of great experience and much knowledge, was very much impressed by Moses’ account of the historic events that had occurred to the children of Israel.

Courts of Justice

Jethro was likewise impressed by the law and order that prevailed in the camp of Israel, though they had been mere slaves a little while before. However, he criticized Moses for taking upon himself the entire burden of dispensing justice in all matters of argument and dispute that arose in the large community of the children of Israel, numbering several million souls. He suggested that Moses institute a system of judicial organization, wherein there were to be smaller and larger courts. There were to be appointed judges and officers of different rank-officers of a thousand, officers of 100, of 50, and of 10. They were to shoulder the burden of straightening out all major and minor disputes of the children of Israel. Only matters of far-reaching importance were to come before Moses himself. This suggestion of Jethro was well taken, and immediately put into effect.

Jethro did not stay long with Moses and the children of Israel. He returned to Midian to preach about the greatness of the G‑d of Israel among the heathens. His descendants, the Kainites, remained friendly towards the Jewish people for many centuries.


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