In honor of yesterday’s Mother’s Day Celebration, Jewish Treats presents a brief introduction to some of the unnamed mothers of well-known Biblical personalities.
The mother of King David was a woman named Nitzevet the daughter of Adael. David was the eighth and youngest son of Jesse, but the text of I Samuel 16:11 implies that David was not accepted by his family (since David was left with the flocks when they were called by Samuel to offer sacrifices to God). The reason for this, according to tradition, is that people questioned David’s paternity. The story is that Jesse separated from his wife, Nitzevet, after their seventh son was born because he began to doubt the legitimacy of the conversion of his grandmother, Ruth. After several years, Nitzevet, missing her husband, pretended to be the maidservant whom Jesse had chosen as a concubine. When Nitzevet’s pregnancy was discovered several months later, Jesse chose to raise the child in his household, but neither he nor their older sons believed his paternity. Nitzevet’s young son was treated like a servant until the Prophet Samuel anointed him the future king of Israel, proving the legitimacy of both Ruth’s conversion and of David’s paternity (for a child born of an illicit union could not be chosen as king).
The mother of Samson was named Zelalponith, which means “turned toward an angel.” Zelalponith was childless. One day, an angel appeared to her and predicted that she would have a son, but warned that the child must be raised as a Nazarite and that the hair on his head must never be cut. When the angel appeared to Zelalponith again, she quickly summoned her husband so that he too could hear the unusual directions for raising their promised child.
The mother of Abraham was Amathlai, the daughter of Karnebo, but little more is known of her. Interestingly enough, the same passage in the Talmud that presents these names also states that the evil Haman’s mother’s name was Amathlai the daughter of Orabti.
Nitzevet, Zelalponith, and the two Amathlais are named in Talmud Baba Batra 91a.
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