This week our Managing Director, Emily Clare Zempel, has created a song based on Number 5:11-31, also known as “The Test for an Unfaithful Wife”. This passage describes in detail the ceremony that must be followed when a husband suspects his wife of being unfaithful to him without proof, whether she is guilty or not.


Listen to “This Bitter Drink” by Emily Clare Zempel 

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Emily, on the challenges of this passage:

This is such a difficult passage for me, which is why I chose it. At first read it is a strange exercise. It seems degrading to the woman to untie her hair and to force her to drink water mixed with dust from the floor. It also seems cruel and strange that a drink of this dusty water would not harm an innocent wife, but would cause a guilty wife to lose her ability to have children even as it causes her belly to swell as if pregnant.


Even after spending time with this passage, it is a hard passage to embrace. I do, however, think I see its purpose now. A jealous husband with no recourse for his wife’s supposed unfaithfulness might harm her as a result of his untamed emotion. This simple exercise will give him the answer he seeks, which could bring some relief to an innocent wife.


When writing this song I focused not on the merit of the ritual itself, but on the emotions of the wife that is being brought to it by her husband. I wanted to make this abstract woman into a real, living, breathing creature. As a wife myself, I thought of the trust between married partners, and how an accusation can break that trust as much as infidelity can. I also focused on some of the elements of “hands” and “holding”. She holds the offering and the priest holds the bitter water. The priest loosens her hair, and grabs a handful of grain. The ritual is physical.


The Test for an Unfaithful Wife Excerpt
(click here for the full passage)

11 ‘…If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him…14and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— 15then he is to take his wife to the priest…

16“‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. 17Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse…21here the priest is to put the woman under this curse —“may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”

“‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it. ”


Emily Clare Zempel is an actor and musician with secret habits in painting and poetry. Coming from Wisconsin, she enjoys living in the Bronx, but relies on yearly trips to nature to stay sane. She holds a BM in Vocal Jazz Studies from Lawrence University and an MFA in acting from Brooklyn College, and has acted both in NYC and regionally. In 2009 she married Jonathon Roberts, and the two founded Spark and Echo Arts six months later. Six months after that, they began playing music together as Spark & Echo.

In 2011 Emily wrote her first song. In 2012 she ran her first marathon. She looks forward to what 2013 will bring.


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