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Spark+Echo co-founder Emily Clare Zempel created "Bitter Drink" 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.

Numbers 5:11-31

Bitter Drink


Emily Clare Zempel


Music and Lyrics by Emily Clare Zempel
Musicians: Emily Clare Zempel, ukulele, voice; Jonathon Roberts, harmonica
Mixing by J Scott Hinkley
Film by Michael Markham (Kite Monkey Productions)
Mastering by Christopher Colbert
Location: Clocktower Lofts, Bronx, New York

Curated by: 

Jonathon + Emily



Image by Giorgio Trovato

Primary Scripture

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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.

Spark Notes

The Artist's Reflection

Emily Clare Zempel (Spark+Echo Arts Co-Founder) is an actor and musician based in Beacon, NY, who received her MFA from Brooklyn College. Favorite credits include Katherine in Love’s Labour’s Lost at Milwaukee Shakespeare, Ophelia in Hamlet at Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, and Wittenberg at Rep Stage, which was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award. She plays bassoon, ukulele, guitar, clarinet, and other assorted toys in Spark & Echo the Band, has co-created the original play Esther with Jonathon Roberts and Chris Cragin, and has a small obsession with running marathons.

Emily Clare Zempel

About the Artist

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Emily Clare Zempel

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