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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Social Structure of the Biblical Hebrew (Part 5)


All rights reserved. If you borrow, please cite this page. This information represents 35 years of research.

Alice C. Linsley

Part 1 of this series addresses the Feminist claim that the biblical Hebrew had a patriarchal social structure. This argument is used to support the ordination of women to the priesthood among Anglicans. The argument maintains that women were denied the opportunity to serve as priests among the Hebrew because of patriarchy and to correct that social injustice the Church should ordain women.

A detailed examination of the social structure of the biblical Hebrew reveals that the argument has no basis in fact. The social structure of the biblical Hebrew is not patriarchal because it is not characterized by these 6 conditions of absolute patriarchy:

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 or near the groom's clan/family
5. governed by a council of all males
6. ultimate authority rests with a male figure such as a patriarch, chief or king.

In this article we explore the claim that the biblical Hebrew practiced patrilocal residence (point #4 above). Patrilocal residence or patrilocality refers to a system in which a married couple resides with or near the husband's parents. In other words, the bride leaves her family or clan. However, this is not a characteristic of the biblical Hebrew because they practiced endogamy which means the bride and groom are close kin. As half-siblings (Abraham and Sarah) or patrilineal parallel cousins (Jacob and Leah) the bride and groom have the same relatives in their extended families.

The clan to which the individual belonged did not depend on where the person resided. It depended on the marriage and ascendancy pattern of the Hebrew people. For example, upon her marriage to Methuselah, Naamah belonged to her husband's clan, but her first born son Lamech the Younger belonged to the clan of Naamah's father, Lamech the Elder.




Further, the evidence of Scripture indicates that the biblical Hebrew had at least four residential arrangements: patrilocal, matrilocal, neolocal, and avunculocal. The residence of married couples depended on the social position of the groom. The residence of widows depended on their eligibility to remarry.

Patrilocal residence

Among the biblical Hebrew it was customary for the first born son of the principal wife to ascend to the throne of his father and to reside in the territory over which he ruled. This meant maintaining two separate households, one for the principal wife and another for the second wife. Abraham's territory extended on a north-south axis between Sarah's residence in Hebron and Keturah's residence in Beersheba. As the proper heir to Abraham's holdings, Isaac ruled over Abraham's territory and resided at both settlements. When he first met Rebekah, he was residing in Beersheba. This would have been where his first wife was living. She was Isaac's half-sister (as was Sarah to Abraham). This is also where Abraham spent the last years of his life.


Edom (Idumea) extended between Hebron and Beersheba.


As Abraham approached his death, Isaac had not taken his second wife, a prerequisite for ascension to his father's throne. According to a long observed Hebrew custom, the heir's second wife was a patrilateral cousin. Therefore, Abraham enjoined his servant to seek a wife for Isaac among his Aramean kin in the territory of Abraham's older brother Nahor.

Abraham's servant asked what he is to do if the woman refused to come back to Beersheba with him. Abraham answered: "If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there." (Gen. 24:8) As the proper heir to Abraham's territory, Isaac was not to leave Abraham's territory in Edom. Upon marriage, Rebekah was to reside with her husband in his father's territory (patrilocal residence). Patrilocal residence applied to the proper heir and his wives, but not to all married couples.

Widows who were not eligible to remarry lived with or near their fathers. This is why Judah told Tamar to return to her father's house. "Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, 'Live as a widow in your father's household..." (Gen. 38:11)

Some widows resided in the Temple precincts or at shrines. Anna is an example. She was a widow for 84 years. "She never left the temple, but continued to worship there night and day with times of fasting and prayer." (Luke 2:36-38)

In the ancient world, some women attached themselves to shrines or temples once their husbands died. This is still a custom in Africa and India. The Hindu scholar, Dr. Shubhash C. Sharma, explains: "The same type of consideration, as … for young girls, is generally applicable to adult women, especially the widows, when they decide to live in temples and religious places... Note that even though the widows living in such places (temples etc.) might number in several thousand they still represent an extremely small minority relative to millions of Indian widows."


Matrilocal residence

Widows who were eligible to remarry went to live with or near their mothers. This is why Naomi told her daughters-in-law to return to their mothers. "Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, 'Go back, each of you, to your mother's home." (Ruth 1:8)


Neolocal residence

The first biblical reference to residence is found in Genesis 2:24. "Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife." The context is a garden in Eden from which the man and the woman are sent away.

Likewise, Cain was sent away and he built a city named Enoch, in honor of his son Enoch. This city was away from his natal home and appears to be an example of neolocal residence. Neolocal residence pertains to sent-away sons. These are the sons who venture from their homes to gain a territory of their own, often with the help of kinsmen living in the region.

Most of the heroes of the Bible were in similar circumstances: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David. Abraham moved to Hebron where he had familial contacts. Jacob moved to Paddan-Aram where he initially had familial support. Moses moved to Midian where he had a kinsmen in Jethro, and David sought refuge for his parents with the king of Moab, who was a royal kinsmen.

Before he died, Abraham gave grants to all his sons and sent them away from Isaac, his heir. These sent-away sons had establish neolocal residences in places where they could maintain their households.

In some instances, the sent-away sons received assistance from their maternal uncles. If they take up residence with or near their maternal uncles, it is called avunculocal residence. Avunculocal residence is common in matrilineal societies, as it brings the adult males of a matrilineage together as a single residential unit.


Avunculocal residence

Upon the death of Terah, Abraham's older brother ruled over Terah's holdings in Mesopotamia. Abraham became a sent-away son. Sent-away sons, like Abraham and Jacob, often lived with or near their maternal uncles. This is called "avunculocal residence" and Abraham's visit to the prophet at Mamre may have been directed by his maternal uncle who was a ruler in that territory. Abraham's mother was said to be the daughter of a Hebrew ruler of Nebo. He is called Kar-Nevo/Nebo in the Talmud. Kar/Har Nebo refers to Mount Nebo. From Mount Nebo sentries would have been able to survey all of Palestine.

Likewise, Jacob was sent away to live with his maternal uncle Laban. There he gained the wealth and wives he needed to establish himself in another place (neolocal residence). He set out for his natal home in Edom, but after making peace with his estranged brother Esau, he finally settled in the area of Shechem. Shechem later became the first capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.


Related reading: Abraham's Maternal Line; Isaac's Second Marriage; Jacob's Journeys; Where Abraham Spent His Old Age; The Bible and Anthropology FB Forum


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