Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sons Who Stayed Home

Alice C. Linsley

Genesis 2: 22-24 speaks of how God fashioned the woman from the man’s rib and brought her to the man who recognized her immediately as bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. Then we are told “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall become one flesh.”

The married man is apparently expected to leave his parents and to establish a new household.  For most Westerners this custom is so commonplace that they rarely dwell on the significance of this text. We tend not to respect grown men who stay home, whether married or not.  Stay-at-home sons often compete with their fathers or become "momma's boys." Jacob's stay-at-home son was Reuben and Reuben slept with his father's concubine, Bilhah (Gen. 35:22; 49:4).

When a pastor preaches on Genesis 2:22-24 the emphasis is usually on the nature of marriage between a man and a woman. Some also stress the husband’s independence from his parents as a prerequisite for forming a strong marriage bond. Rarely do pastors note that many high profile men of the Bible didn't adhere to the pattern of living geographically removed from their parents.  Nahor, Isaac and Reuben lived with their parents after marriage, but many of the great heroes of biblical history lived away from their parents. This includes Cain, Abraham, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and even David.

An anthropologist reading Genesis 2:24 finds evidence of the establishment of a new household geographically separate from the husband’s family. This is called “neolocal residence.” Analysis of the marriage and ascendancy pattern of Abraham’s Horite caste indicates that the neolocal pattern doesn’t apply to the firstborn sons of the patriarch’s wives. It applies only to sent-away sons. Sons who did not ascend to the thrones of their fathers or maternal grandfathers were sent-away sons.  Most sons of concubines were sent away. The firstborn sons of concubines often served as vassals of the firstborn sons of wives and these remained geographically close to the ruling sons.

An anthropologist sees another possibility in Genesis 2:24. “Cleaving to the wife” could suggest “matrilocal residence.” In this case the newly married couple would live with or in close proximity to the bride’s family. This would pertain to the firstborn son of the patriarch’s second wife. This son was the heir of his maternal grandfather, after whom he was named, and he would live with or near his mother’s people. So Abraham's firstborn son by his second wife belonged to the household of Joktan, Keturah's father, after whom he was named.

Genesis 2:24 implies that the preferred marriage arrangement was not “patrilocal residence.” This seems strange given the insistence of most Bible scholars that ancient Hebrew society was patriarchal. Only the firstborn son of the first wife lived with his parents as his father’s heir. This is why Isaac remained with his father. This also explains why Abraham gave gifts to his other sons and sent them away from Isaac (Gen. 25:6).

Genesis 2:24 pertains to sons who lived away from their biological fathers. This includes “sent-away sons” and the firstborn son of the patriarch’s second wife. Jacob's case is especially interesting. He was not Isaac's firstborn son and though he attempted to rob that birthright from Esau, Jacob established his residence with his mother's people. This suggests that Jacob and Esau may not have been twins.  They may have been Isaac's firstborn sons by different wives.  Esau was the firstborn of Isaac's first wife who would have been Isaac's half-sister. Jacob would have been the firstborn son of Isaac's second wife.  As the second wife was either a cousin or niece, as was Rebecca to Isaac, Jacob would have been Rebecca's firstborn son. As such he would belong to the household of his maternal grandfather, Bethuel.  However, this doesn't mean that Jacob was heir to Bethuel's throne in Padan-Aram.  Bethuel's heir appears to have been Laban.


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