WOMEN CAN BE PRIESTSheader

Responsive image

HOME

REASONS

DEFY THE POPE?!

DEBATE

MENU

Nederlands/Vlaams Deutsch Francais English language Spanish language Portuguese language Catalan Chinese Czech Malayalam Finnish Igbo
Japanese Korean Romanian Malay language Norwegian Swedish Polish Swahili Chichewa Tagalog Urdu
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>Marriage from 'And Sarah Laughed' The Status of Woman in the Old Testament, by John H.Otwell

Marriage

from And Sarah Laughed
The Status of Woman in the Old Testament, pp 31-48.
by John H.Otwell

published by The Westminster Press, 1977

I

We tend to overlook the primacy of the family in the I Old Testament. The divine promise given Abraham de-scribes humanity as "all the families of the earth" (Gen. 12:3), and the transmission of that promise from I Abraham down to the enslavement of Israel in Egypt is is told as family history. Family genealogies appear | throughout the Pentateuch, and there is more interest in the family affairs of the kings than in their statesmanship. In the late post-exilic rewriting of the history reported earlier in Samuel-Kings, the Chronicler provides elaborate and detailed family genealogies. Even in the book of The Proverbs, which may have been a series of exercises for the training of professional scribes, the sayings by means of which literacy and morality were taught dwell as often upon family relationships as upon those affairs of government and business which would be the duties of the future scribes.

The family was the primary structure of society throughout the whole period of time covered by the writings of the Old Testament. It was the source of biologicalsurvival, it gave individuals their personal identity, it provided whatever economic security there was, and it was the primary entity in legal and governmental affairs. To describe a person's place in the family, therefore, is to report the basis of his or her status in society.

Our study of the status of woman in the home will occupy five chapters, those dealing with marriage, motherhood, the subservience of women, subservience to women, and woman as sister, divorcee, and widow.

II

The continuation of the family through contracting marriages for the children was the responsibility of the family itself. This function is assigned to the father frequently in the Old Testament, although others also are reported to have discharged the responsibility.

We are told several times that fathers "took wives" for their sons. Judah "took a wife for Er his first-born," and then tried to arrange a levirate marriage for his son's widow in order to secure male issue for his dead son (Gen. 38:6-9). The Chronicler reports that Rehoboam, king of Judah, "procured wives" for all his sons (II Chron. 11:23; see also ch. 18:1).

Fathers also are reported to give their daughters in marriage. In the earliest of the narratives about Moses (the J source), Reuel, a priest of Midian, gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses for Moses' wife (Ex. 2:21). Caleb is said to have promised Achsah, his daughter, to anyone who would capture Kiriath-sepher (Josh. 15:16 = Judg. 1:12). Samson's Philistine father-in-law, having decided that Samson had repudiated his daughter, gave her in marriage to one of Samson's friends (Judg. 15:2), and the men of the Israelite confederation that had sworn during a civil war not to give their daughters in marriage to the of the tribe of Benjamin relented and agreed to let the Benjaminites capture wives for themselves during a vintage festival (Judg- 21:1-23). Saul is reported twice to have promised David one of his daughters (I Sam. 18: 17-19, 20-27). And Jeremiah is reported by Baruch, his biographer, to have advised the Judeans taken into exile in Babylonia in 598 B.C. to "take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage" (Jer. 29:6).

Others could act on behalf of the family. Rebekah's brother and mother represented her family in some of the marriage negotiations with Abraham's representative seeking a bride for Isaac (Gen. 24:28-51) even though Bethuel, her father, was present (vs. 15, 50); and Jehoiada, a priest, secured wives for the young king for whom he was acting as regent (II Chron. 24:2f.).

The passages just cited could be taken as proof that the ancient Israelite father when living so dominated the family that he alone contracted marriages for his children. Other passages, however, indicate that the matter was not quite that simple. Samson's marriage to a Philistine girl was arranged by his parents under protest because Samson insisted upon it (Judg. 14:1-4). Similarly, in the legendary story of a clash between the city of Shechem and invading Israelites, Shechem, pictured as a youth, raped an Israelite girl and then asked his father to arrange a marriage (Gen. 34:1-4). Father and son sought to negotiate it together (vs. 5-12), and the girl was represented by both father and brothers (vs. 7, 13-17).

Other passages report the groom acting on his own behalf. The patriarch Judah is said to have taken a Canaan-ite girl as wife (Gen. 38:2), and the legal restrictions placed on a priest's marriage say nothing about the participation of the parents in his choice (Lev. 21:13-15; Ezek. 44:22). Leviticus, ch. 21, is post-exilic. The pre-exilic Deuteronomic Code provided for marriage to a woman captured in war, again without any reference to the husband's parents (Deut. 21:10-14).

A prophet might marry as a "sign," a deed that was to convey a word from the Lord. This is reported of Hosea twice, in both instances obscurely. "When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, 'Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry, for the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the LORD' " (Hos. 1:2). The meaning of the phrase "a wife of harlotry" is unclear. Following Hosea's divorce, he again received a word from the Lord: "And the LORD said to me, 'Go again, love a woman who is beloved of a paramour and is an adulteress; even as the LORD loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins' " (Hos. 3:1). Here it is not clear whether the prophet is attracted for the second time to his first wife (as I believe) or to a second woman. In neither of these passages is the prophet's father mentioned. Nor is Hilkiah, Jeremiah's father, when that prophet heard "the word of the LORD," "You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place" (Jer. 16:2). Hosea's marriage was to be an acting out of the relationship between the Lord and Israel, in which Gomer's infidelity to Hosea paralleled Israel's faithlessness to God. Jeremiah was commanded not to marry as a sign of the divine judgment against Judah.

The king seems often to have arranged marriages for himself. One of the narrative strands telling of David's rise to the throne pictures him as the captain of a band of mercenaries. An incident in this strand involves Nabal, a wealthy man who refuses to buy protection from David. Nabal's wife Abigail, however, provided the tribute. Her deed so enraged Nabal that he dropped dead when she told him about it. "Then David sent and wooed Abigail, to make her his wife" (I Sam. 25:39).

Princes are reported twice as seeking to take wives for themselves in the attempt to establish a claim on the throne by possessing the former king's harem. Absalom did this during his revolt against David (II Sam. 16: 20-22), and Adonijah, the older son displaced by Solomon's seizure of the throne, tried to strengthen his claim to be king by attempting to marry Abishag, David's last concubine. Solomon replied to the person transmitting the request: "And why do you ask Abishag the Shunam-mite for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom also; for he is my elder brother, and on his side are Abiathar the priest and Joab the son of Zeruiah" (I Kings 2:22).(18)

Marriages arranged by kings seem often to have represented alliances between royal houses. Solomon made "a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt" (I Kings 3:1) which probably reflected Egyptian foreign policy and gave Solomon status. The seven hundred princesses that he married (ch. 11:3) may have represented as many alliances.

A final situation in which a man chose his own wife can be reported best in the words of the Deuteronomic law code:

If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her; he may not put her away all his days. (Deut. 22:28f.)

This is a form of marriage by capture in which the captor is captured!

A woman also could display initiative in arranging marriage. Instances of this in the Old Testament are rare, yet the practice seems to have been sufficiently acceptable to be reported without comment. We have already noted that Michal's love for David was well known in Saul's court before there had been any thought of giving her to David as wife (I Sam. 18:20). Tamar, David's daughter, tried to change the threat of rape by Amnon into marriage, replying to his demand that she lie with him:

No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this wanton folly. And as for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the wanton fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray you, speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you. (II Sam. 13:12-13)

Daughters whose father had died without male issue inherited the family property and chose their own husbands, according to decisions made about the daughters of Zelophehad (Num. 27:1-11; 36:1-12). There was one condition: "Let them marry whom they think best; only, they shall marry within the family of the tribe of their father" (Num. 36:6b).

Two other incidents indicate that the bride shared in the decisions involved in the marriage. When the servant who represented Abraham, the father of the groom (Isaac), urged Rebekah's family to allow her to leave with him immediately, they said, " 'We will call the maiden, and ask her.' And they called Rebekah, and said to her, 'Will you go with this man?' She said, 'I will go' " (Gen. 24:57f.). Abigail displayed a similar decisiveness when David asked her to become his wife (I Sam. 25:40-42). Rebekah was a dependent virgin, and Abigail was a widow; but each decided when to join her future husband and thus determined when the marriage would be consummated. Abigail also seems to have decided to accept, David's proposal. No male relative is mentioned. | The passages we have just examined suggest that the contracting of a marriage was a family matter. The per-son (or persons) who was the functioning head of the family seems to have had the formal responsibility for arranging marriage for both sons and daughters. This individual often was the father, although husbands and wives are described as acting together. The person to be married, whether female or male, could have the responsibility if he or she were the de facto head of the family. There also is evidence that the wishes of the bride and groom were influential.

lll

What kind of transaction was marriage? Was the daughter sold? Was an unmarried female disposable property? These questions must be asked because passages in the Old Testament seem to imply the purchase of the bride. Bride purchase appears to be reported in Ex. 22:16f.:

If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall give the marriage present for her, and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equivalent to the marriage present for virgins.

Shechem, in Gen. 34:12, promises to provide whatever "marriage present and gift" is asked.(19) The matter cannot be left here, however. This is a scanty sampling of the reports in the Old Testament of exchanges of property accompanying marriage.

There is at least one reference in the Old Testament to gifts given the bride by the father of the groom. In the story of the betrothal of Rebekah and Isaac, we are told that the servant representing Abraham "brought forth jewelry of silver and of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah" (Gen. 24:53).

The "marriage money" for virgins mentioned in Ex. 22:16f. presumably was paid to the family of the bride, but other narratives describe a father asking of a prospec- tive groom seven years' service (Gen. 29:16-30; Hos. 12:12), circumcision (Gen. 34:12-17), the capture of a city (Josh. 15:16 = Judg. 1:12), and military service (I Sam. 18:17-27). Each of these was of substantial value to the family of the bride.

The bride often seems to have received a gift from her own family. When Laban "gave" Leah and Rachel to Jacob, he gave each girl a servant (Gen. 29:24, 29). Caleb's daughter, after being given in marriage to Othniel, then asked her father to give her springs of water (Josh. 15:19 = Judg. 1:15). And we are told that Pharaoh, king of Egypt, gave Gezer as a dowry to his daughter, Solomon's wife (I Kings 9:16).

There is an odd sequel to the service Jacob gave his father-in-law for Leah and Rachel. When Jacob described to his wives how their father had cheated him, "then Rachel and Leah answered him, 'Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father's house? Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has been using up the money given for us'" (Gen. 31:14f.). Apparently the daughters felt themselves to have been wronged by their father, to have been treated as if they were "foreigners," not as daughters.

How is all of this evidence to be interpreted? The Covenant Code, a Canaanite law code adapted by the Israelites to their own use, provides for the sale of a daughter:

When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt faithlessly with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money. (Ex. 21:7-11)

Both sons and daughters could be sold into slavery by their parents. This law restricts the type of servitude to which the daughter could be subjected and protects her rights while she was enslaved. The slavery here is a form of marriage. This and the bitter comment by Leah and Rachel in Gen. 31:14f. constitute the primary evidence in support for the hypothesis that a daughter was negotiable property.

The variety of donors and recipients of marriage gifts makes it difficult to maintain that the bride had been sold by her family. The evidence available to us suggests strongly that selfhood for the ancient Israelite was corporate rather than individualistic, and that the fundamental reality in it was the family group in its totality.(20) Since that totality included every person in the family, as well as all that the family owned, the movement of children from one family to another through marriage would seem to change the relative strength of the families involved. It is possible that the exchange of wedding gifts was a redress of the original relative strengths of the families of bride and groom.

The evidence we have surveyed, however, does not seem to support such an interpretation. It was not always the family of the groom which gave a present to the family of the bride, yet the groom's family had been enlarged by the addition to it of the bride. Millar Burrows suggested, "The gift established a bond not merely by creating good will or a sense of obligation but by actually conveying something of the life of the giver to the recipient. (21) This implies that marriage represented a fusion of the families involved. The exchange of gifts would thus become a part of that merger.

The suggestion that marriage was a merger of the families involved is supported by two passages. Shechem and his father urge their fellow townsmen to pay the "price" asked for Dinah, saying:

Only on this condition will the men agree to dwell with us, to become one people: that every male among us be circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their cattle, their property, and all their beasts be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will dwell with us. (Gen. 34:22f.)

Nehemiah, seeking to rebuild Jerusalem after the exile of 586 to 536 B.C., found himself hindered by a Samaritan named Tobiah. He was powerful, since "many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Bere-chiah as his wife" (Neh. 6:18). Family ties created by marriage were stronger than regional loyalties.

Thus the giving of gifts during a marriage does not imply a subordinate status for the bride, whether we view the exchange as a redress of the relative strength of the two families or as a celebration of the fusion of the two families. Quite the contrary! Even the law governing the sale of a daughter into slavery indicates her high standing. She could be sold only for a form of marriage; she could not be resold; and her marital rights could not be reduced. No such protection was given a son sold into slavery.

IV

The practice of polygamy in ancient Israel has been held on three counts to imply an inferior status for the wife. The purpose of marriage has been said to be to perpetuate the husband's name, and "two or three wives do more than one to satisfy the husband's demand for progeny."(22) The ability of the husband to support a ha-rem was a form of conspicuous consumption, a witness to the standing of the man in the community.(23) And the existence of the institution gave rise to a double standard which discriminated against the wife. It is sometimes claimed that only the wife could commit adultery in a polygamous marriage. The man involved had merely violated another man's property rights. Once again, however, we need to measure our expectation of what we will find in the Old Testament by what the Old Testament itself reports.

Polygamy was practiced in ancient Israel. Jacob had two wives and two concubines (Gen., chs. 29 to 30). Gideon had many wives and a concubine (Judg. 8:30f.); Elkanah had two wives (I Sam. 1:2); David had a harem of unspecified size (I Chron. 14:3); Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (I Kings 11:3); Rehoboam had eighteen wives and sixty concubines (II Chron. 11:21); and Abijah married fourteen wives (II Chron. 13:21). David, Solomon, Rehoboam, and Abijah were kings.

There also are references in the Old Testament to the kinds of family relationships possible only in a polygamous marriage. Gideon described slain men as "my brothers, the sons of my mother" (Judg. 8:19), indicating a distinction between them and other brothers with whom only the father was shared. Abimelech claimed a relationship with his mother's relatives and their city that brothers who had different mothers lacked (Judg. 9:1-3). Jephthah's paternal brothers excluded him from their patrimony because his mother had been a harlot (Judg. 11:2). Amnon and Absalom were half brothers, sons of different mothers (Ahinoam for Amnon and Maacah for Absalom, II Sam. 3:2f.). The Deuteronomic law code also attests to the practice of polygamy by stipulating that a man, in settling his estate, "may not treat the son of the loved as the first-born in preference to the son of the disliked, who is the first-born" (Deut. 21:16; see also Ex 21:10; Lev. 18:18).

It is often said that monogamy was more common than polygamy in ancient Israel.(24) Both the direct and the indirect evidence seem to bear this out. Samson's father had one wife (Judg. 13:2; 14:2-4), as did Uriah, Bath-sheba's first husband (II Sam. 11:3; 12:1-7), Ezekiel (Ezek. 24:15-18), and Job (Job 2:9f.). It also seems proper to infer monogamy from such comments in The Proverbs as

It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
than in a house shared with a contentious woman
(Prov. 21:9; 25:24)

or from the advice given a youth in Prov. 5:18f. In fact, instances of polygamy reported outside royal families are confined to the pre-monarchic period, although we should perhaps not make too much of this.

Indirect evidence of opposition to polygamy is found in the Deuteronomists' suspicion, stated both in the law code and in the history, that it encouraged apostasy. Deuteronomy 17:17 warns, "And he [the king] shall not multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply for himself silver and gold." A similar attitude reappears in the Deuteronomic historian's comment about Solomon's harem (I Kings 11: 4-8).

We cannot have it both ways in attempting to assess the significance of the practice of polygamy in ancient Israel for the status of woman. If we believe that polygamy lowered the status of woman, then monogamy raised it. It seems likely to me, however, that neither form of marriage contributes to our knowledge of the standing of woman. We will see later that even the law codes which acknowledge polygamy are as harsh in their treatment of the man involved in adultery as of the woman. Thus polygamy did not encourage a double standard. The influence of the members of the harem on the religion of the husband was such as to give rise to the suspicion that the wives exercised a good deal of power individually and collectively. It may be better to view polygamy as an attempt to ensure the survival of the family in the face of what must have been a shocking mortality rate among mothers and infants rather than as an expression of male supremacy.

V

Two other aspects of Old Testament evidence dealing with marriage yield information important for understanding the status of woman. These are the value put upon marriage, and reports of marital love.

Several oracles of judgment and restoration employ similes taken from marriage. A psalmist conveyed the devastation of the experience of divine judgment by writing:

Fire devoured their young men,
and their maidens had no marriage song.
(Ps. 78:63)

This image is found also in Jer. 7:34. Jeremiah used the contrast between a bride's care for her finery and the nation's neglect of its God to give force to a proclamation of judgment (Jer. 2:32). Elsewhere he described a nation faithful to God as a bride that "followed me [God] in the wilderness, in a land not sown" (ch. 2:2).

The focus of passages of this kind is upon the relationship between God and people. The effectiveness of the simile depends upon its importance in the minds of those who use or hear it. Thus the use of the marriage bond and festivities in statements about the relationship between God and people is strong evidence of the high standing given marriage. Since only the bride is mentioned several times (e.g., Jer. 2:2f., 32; Ps. 78:63; Joel 1:8), it seems proper to conclude that her status must have been high for her role to have sustained the importance given it in the similes

Reports in the Old Testament of marital love gain added luster when they are read against the background of the candid descriptions of marital discord also found in the Scriptures. Proverbs 27:15f., because of its wry humor, can represent all other passages of like viewpoint:

A continual dripping on a rainy day
and a contentious woman are alike;
to restrain her is to restrain the wind
or to grasp oil in his right hand.

By contrast, the tributes to the depth and duration of marital love that appear in the Old Testament are all the more impressive because they are so oblique. It is almost as if feelings ran so deeply that they were hard to voice.

Each year, Elkanah and his two wives went together to a festival at Shiloh. When Peninnah, who had children, taunted Hannah, who was childless, Elkanah tried to console Hannah, saying: "Why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?" (I Sam. 1:8). Children were so important in an Israelite marriage that Elkanah knew why Hannah was sad and shared her sadness. Therefore his words come to us across the centuries as those of a husband trying to make the best of a situation in which two people who loved one another found themselves.

One tribute to married love appears in a law on the freeing of slaves: If his master gives him [a Hebrew slave] a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, "I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free," then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for life. (Ex. 21:4-6)

The Israelites' love of their rights and their freedom is writ large in the pages of the Old Testament. That there were enough who loved their slave wives more than their freedom to make this law necessary is quite a tribute to the love that sustained those marriages.

Our deepest feelings are likely to emerge most clearly in the elemental crises of life. It is not surprising that testimony to the love of man and wife should appear in the report of the death of the one or the other. One example is the report of Sarah's death (Gen. 23: 1f.). Another is Ezekiel's description of the death of his wife:

Also the word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of mourners." So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded. (Ezek. 24:15-18)

Ezekiel had been commanded to announce a terrible event in which the victims would not be allowed to mourn for their dead, the devastation of Judah and the capture of Jerusalem. He was to proclaim the word of the Lord by not mourning after the death of his beloved wife. For the acted sign to have been recognized as such, the group of exiles to which it was directed must have had Prior knowledge of the couple's love for one another.

Because we opened this section with one of the tart comments of the sages about wives, we should add here the sardonic observation of the author of Ecclesiastes on the meaninglessness of life:

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life which he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. (Eccl. 9:9f.)

But at least do whatever you do with the wife whom you love! Roland de Vaux wrote: "Those rare passages which give us a glimpse into the intimacy of family life show that an Israelite wife was loved and listened to by her husband, and treated by him as an equal. . . . And there is no doubt that this was the normal picture."(25) Evidence has been submitted here which indicates that it was a part of the normal picture, but only a part, for we read of alienation and hostility also.

Exodus 20:17 is often quoted in support of the contention that the wife in ancient Israel was the property of her husband: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's." The evidence we have just reviewed, however, is the most convincing demonstration that such a view of woman in ancient Israel cannot be correct. The strength and durability of the bond between husband and wife (and also the depth of alienation and hostility) which we have just seen could exist only between persons who lived together within a framework of mutual respect. The love that sustained Abraham and Sarah until she was 127 years old was no momentary physical attraction, and the agony of a prophet acting out the destruction of his nation in his conduct after the death of his wife is not the affection of a man for a prized possession.

What we have just glimpsed is an understanding of the d between man and wife in marriage which continues this day to be the most demanding concept of marriage known to us. The author of Gen. 2:24 stated it when he wrote, "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." The two become one! Again, as in the P creation story (Gen. l:26f.), the status of the husband is the status of the wife, and the status of the wife is the status of the husband.

VI

This has been a long and tortuous road. Nonetheless, important conclusions have been reached along the way. We have encountered the first evidence of a parity between the sexes in which there is some functional differentiation. Fathers are said often to have arranged the marriages of children, yet other passages giving us more details tell us that virtually all concerned participated— mothers, brides, grooms, and brothers. No examples have survived of a father assigning a daughter to a marriage against her will. From this, it was concluded that arranging marriages was a family concern in which the bride and groom had a significant role. The father seems to have acted as the representative of the group, its epitome. Except in royal marriages, where different expectations may have prevailed, wives, daughters, and sons had top decisive a part to play to use any language that im-plies tyrannical powers for the father.

The familial significance of marriage was confirmed further by the exchange of gifts before and after the event. Interpretations of this practice which see it as the sale of the bride by her father and the purchase of the girl by the father of the groom simply ignore the passages indicating a widespread distribution of gifts throughout both families. No bride-purchase hypothesis fits all the facts. Instead, we found it necessary to turn to a different hypothesis. The daughter and son were so valued by their respective families that changes in their standing in their own families called for either a carefully balanced system of mutual compensation for loss or an equally carefully calculated manifestation of the fusion of the two families. The practice among royal families and the families of the nobility of making alliances through marriage support the second possibility rather than the first. In either case, the inadvertent testimony of the material underscores the high status of the bride, both in her own family and in the groom's.

No particular significance for the status of woman was found in the practice of both polygamy and monogamy. The use of the bride as a simile for Israel in its relationships with God under the covenant, and the infrequent but moving testimonies to marital love, were found to be indirect but strong evidence of the extremely high status of woman in ancient Israel.

This chapter, because of the nature of its subject matter, found more evidence for the high standing of the woman than of the man, but it also reported one area in which the husband often (but not always) occupied an office on behalf of the family. In the next chapter, we will examine the unique function of woman in the Old Testament. Later chapters will demonstrate, however, that her unique function was far from her only function.

Notes

18. Louis M. Epstein, Marriage Laws in the Bible and the Talmud (Harvard University Press, 1942), p. 38, n. 17, cites Gen. 35: 22 and II Sam. 3:8 for other examples of this, and sec. 158 of the Code of Hammurabi for a Babylonian parallel.

19. "If a Man," secs. 28 to 30 in Ephraim Neufeld, The Hittite Laws: Translated Into English and Hebrew with a Commentary (London: Luzac & Company, Inc., 1951), pp. 8f., for Hittite laws regulating payments of the "bride price."

20. H. Wheeler Robinson, "The Hebrew Conception, of Corporate Personality," in P. Volz, F. Stummer, and J. Hempel (eds.), Werden und Wesen des Alten Testaments: Vortrage gehalten auf der internationalen Tagung alttestamentlicher Forschung zu Gottingen vom 4.-10. September 1935. (Berlin: Alfred Topelmann, 1936), pp. 49-62.

21. Burrows, op. cit., p. 12. For a different interpretation, see Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture (Copenhagen: Povl Branner, Pts. I-II, 1926; Pts. III-IV, 1940), Pts. I-II, p. 68. Cited hereafter as Pedersen, Israel I-II, or Israel III-IV.

22. Pedersen, Israel I-II, p. 70.

23. David R. Mace, Hebrew Marriage: A Sociological Study (Philosophical Library, Inc., 1953), p. 122.

24. So, among others, de Vaux, op. cit., pp. 25f.; Mace, op. cit., p. 129.

25. De Vaux, op. cit., p. 40.

Contents of “And Sarah Laughed” Support our campaign Sitemap Contemporary theologians Join Campaign activities Go back to home page


Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.


Visitors to our website since January 2014.
Pop-up names are online now.



The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.


Please, support our campaign
for women priests
Join our Women Priests' Mailing List
for occasional newsletters:
Email:
Name:
Surname:
City:
Country:
 
An email will be immediately sent to you
requesting your confirmation.