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Alice C. Linsley
It is often asserted that the social structure of the biblical Hebrew was patriarchal. Rarely has this assertion been challenged. It is likely that some who might question this assertion are hesitant to speak, fearing feminist wrath. In this series on The Social Structure of the Biblical Hebrew, I will not hesitate to challenge the false narrative of feminists. I will show that the six conditions necessary for a society to be patriarchal did not exist among the biblical Hebrew. The imposition of the feminist hermeneutic on the Bible leads to distortion and misinformation.
The feminist interpretation is poorly informed, narrowly focused, and unsubstantiated by anthropological studies. The typical Feminist narrative runs like this: "the Hebrew scriptures presents Israel as a patriarchal society. Legal codes conceive of men as the sole legal actors. Women are regarded as men's possessions on a par with oxen, asses, and servants. Women are sexual abused and valued mainly for their reproduction of offspring. Even the sign of the covenant between God and Israel is an expression is male circumcision."
Clearly, this cherry picking approach to Scripture advances the feminist agenda, but it does not accurately represent the biblical Hebrew whose wives and daughters were women of social influence, prestige, and wealth. Some even served as the heads of their clans.
Before Israel existed, the wives and daughters of the Hebrew rulers listed in Genesis 4, 5, 10, 11, 25 and 36 ruled over large royal households, arranged royal weddings, owned property, and assisted in the building of kingdoms.
The Hebrew had a distinctive marriage and ascendancy pattern that has been established through anthropological research using kinship analysis. Though the wives are not always named, their presence is evident in analysis of the social structure of the biblical Hebrew.
As to the claim that circumcision pertained to men only, it should be noted that here is evidence that some females were circumcised. Male and female circumcision is understood only in the context of the binary worldview of the biblical Hebrew. I will not address this topic in this series simply because it is impossible to discuss female circumcision rationally in the present highly-charged political climate.
Hebrew wives were essential to the establishment of a territory. The ruler-priest had two wives living in separate settlements at the northern and southern boundaries of their territories. Without these wives, there was no way to establish his kingdom and maintain his territorial boundaries. To cite an example, Abraham's territory extended between Sarah in Hebron and Keturah in Beersheba. The wives' separate settlements were on a north-south axis.
In the social system of the biblical Hebrew, wives exercised considerable influence over their settlements. Sarah ordered her servant Hagar to leave the settlement and Abraham had to concede. Among the biblical Hebrew all movable property such as tents and flocks belonged to the wife who ruled over her settlement.
Cousin brides named their first-born sons after their fathers. Those sons belonged to the households of their maternal grandfathers. The biblical Hebrew had a double unilineal descent pattern. This pattern pertains to more than ancestry. It reflects the rights and responsibilities of the matriarch and the patriarch. In a double unilineal descent pattern, both the patrilineage and the matrilineage are recognized and honored, but in different ways.
Many mistakenly believe that the Hebrew priesthood began with Aaron. Aaron and the Levites are not the first priests. Their service follows the practice of their Horite Hebrew ancestors.
The Horite Hebrew were a royal caste of priests known from ancient documents and archaeological discoveries going back to at least 3800 BC. Melchizedek was the ruler-priest of Salem (Jerusalem) and his ministry to Abraham (Gen 14) represents a long-standing custom of ritual purification following combat. Analysis of the biblical kinship pattern of the Hebrew ruler-priests suggests that Melchizedek was the maternal uncle of Abraham's second wife, Keturah.
Josephus calls the descendants of Abraham by Keturah "Horites" and quoting another ancient historian, speaks of them as "conquerors of Egypt and founders of the Assyrian Empire."
Moses's entire family were Horite Hebrew priests.They are descendants of Seir, the Horite ruler of Edom (Gen. 36). Aaron and Korah were his brothers. Korah means "shaved one" and refers to a priest. Here is a diagram of Amram's Hebrew clan. Also note that Anah, a female, is listed in the lineage as a chief.
The patriarchal system
Patriarchy is given as an explanation for why there were no female priests among the Hebrew. This is a false picture of the biblical Hebrew and one which should be corrected. Using the anthropological definition of patriarchy, I will expose that falsehood.
The term "patriarchy" is one of the most abused anthropological terms. In feminist and gender studies, patriarchy refers to the universal oppression of females in male-dominated societies. This is not a scientific definition. It is an ideological definition, and one which lacks empirical support.
In the most general sense, patriarchy refers to rule by men. However, this rule takes various forms. A pure patriarchy would have these conditions:
1. descent is traced through the paternal line only (Part 2)
2. inheritance rights come through the father's lineage only (Part 3)
3. right to rule is vested with males only (Part 4)
4. patrilocal residence; that is the bride lives with the groom's clan/family (Part 5)
5. governed by a council of all males (Part 6)
6. ultimate authority rests with a male figure such as a patriarch, a chief or a king (Part 7)It should be noted that anthropologists never have found an absolute patriarchy. Neither have they found an absolute matriarchy. In an absolute matriarchy, the six conditions would be vested with the ruling females (matriarchs).
|A tera/terah is a priest. The priest carries a staff, sign of his ruler status.|
Anthropologically, social structures are much more complex than generally presented in feminist literature. This is evident when we examine the biblical data to see if the Hebrew social structure is characterized by the six conditions listed above.
In Part 2 we investigate whether the Hebrew social structure traces descent through the paternal line only. We will discover patterns that have been ignored by feminists and that challenge common interpretations of even Bible scholars.
Related reading: The Substance of Abraham's Faith; The Social Structure of the Biblical Hebrew (Part 3); Who Were the Horite Hebrew?; Samuel's Horite Family; Denying Marriage: A cunning royal strategy