This essay reads the Miriam story of Numbers 12 from the perspective of intersectionality on how disease stigma, gender, age-based hierarchy and patriarchy, and honor-shame culture intersect. It also interprets the story from the perspective of various discourses of scapegoat mechanisms, stigma, and trauma. It also introduces Jewish traditions and modern liturgies participating in Miriam’s healing while positively continuing her legacy, and reflects on how we can participate in the healing of our neighbors today.
The Miriam incident can be observed in three ways from the viewpoint of intersectionality. First, the narrator and Aaron’s detailed description of her changed appearance reveals the intersection of disease stigma and gender, just like gaze rape. Second, in the culture of honor and shame, she is publicly disgraced, closed and excluded as implied by segira, a translation of tzara`at by Targum Ongkelos. Third, in the relationship between a daughter and a father illustrated in Yahweh’s speech (12:14) age, gender oppression, and domestic violence in patriarchal culture intersect.
In addition, the Miriam story can be seen as an example of solving the crisis and conflict of the community through the scapegoat mechanism. Miriam has extreme characteristics and meets René Girard’s scapegoat conditions. She is one of the heroes of Exodus, who is exceptional because she is a woman, but also socially abnormal because she is unmarried. The stigma attached to her would have been a woman who challenged the supreme leader of the community but lost her honor, a woman who threatened the order of the community, a woman cursed by God, and an infectious disease holder, and so on. However, it can be thought that her stigma effect was insignificant. Unlike Aaron, she did not admit that he was ‘foolish’ or ‘sinned’ (Cf. 12:11-13). Her traumatic experiences would have been more severe due to the combination of the intersectionality of disease, gender, age, honor-shame culture, patriarchal culture, and the scapegoat mechanism, and stigma.
Nevertheless, there have been readers who have kept Miriam’s legacy advocating her in their interpretative communities throughout generations. Midrash about Miriam’s Well, Miriam’s Cup, and poems and songs about her are ways of remembering her and participating in her healing and the readers’ own. I also include a poem here that remembers Miriam. In this essay, reading her traumatic incident from the perspectives of various discourses was a symbol of listening deeply to her and participating in her healing and readers’.