Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Temple-Dedicated Daughters of Hebrew Priests

Alice C. Linsley

To understand the Bible we must look for patterns that first appear in Genesis. In this sense, Genesis is foundational to the whole of the Bible. The patterns are sometimes more evident when we focus on the women. This is true when considering blood lines among Abraham's Horite Hebrew people because blood line was traced through the mother. Social status was according to the father's status, which is why all the first-born sons listed in the Genesis genealogies are of noble status, like their fathers.

In this essay, we will look at a pattern involving three wives whose lives present interesting common features. The women are Tamar, Asenath, and Zipporah. The evidence suggests that these women grew up around shrines where their fathers served as priests. They apparently did not live pampered lives, if we consider that Zipporah was drawing water for livestock when she first met Moses, her future husband. On the other hand, they held a high status compared to girls who might have been indentured to the shrine. All of them had two sons, the younger of which was tagged as a pointer to Messiah.

The fulfillment of messianic expectation is found in the story of Photini, the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. She is the only woman who Jesus is said to have met at a well.  He revealed Himself to her and she believed.  She repented and became the first evangelist, bringing many to faith in Jesus Christ. According to tradition, she died a martyr's death, as did most of her children. In a sense, Photini is the embodiment of the Church, the Bride of Christ.

Tamar, Who Builds Up the House of Jacob

Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law who bore him twin sons after he had intercourse with her at a Canaanite shrine. Possibly, this was the shrine of her "father's house" to which she was sent by Judah when he refused to provide her another of his sons.

Tamar's name means date nut palm, a symbol of fertility. Judah praised her as "more righteous” than himself in (Gen. 38:26) because she found a way to fulfill the levirate marriage law. The younger of Tamar's two sons was Perez, an ancestor of Jesus Christ.

According Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (Gen. 38:6), Tamar is a daughter of Shem who is also identified as Melchizedek. Since Shem-Melchizedek was a priest, Tamar's punishment as demanded by Judah was that set in Lev. 21:9 for a priest's daughter guilty of prostitution.

Asenath, Daughter of Potiphera, High Priest of Heliopolis

Asenath was Joseph’s Egyptian wife. She was a woman of high rank whose father was a Horite Priest of Heliopolis (City of the Sun). Her son Manasseh probably belongs to her father's house and Ephraim, the younger belonged to the house of Jacob, which explains why Jacob gave Ephraim the blessing of the first-born.

Asenath's father was Putiphar or Potiphera. This is a title composed of the word pu and tifra.  Putifra in ancient Egyptian means "this order." This may indicate the order of Horite ruler priests. The stela of Putiphar speaks of Putiphar as the "son of Horus, may He live forever."

Asenath's name means “holy to Anath” and she had "goddess" status throughout the Ancient Near East. She is sometimes called Mari-Anath. Many shrines were built to her. These had pools of water and were regarded as places where women could come to ask the High God for children. These were also places of healing (compare to the story in John 5).

Zipporah, Daughter of the Priest of Midian

Zipporah was Moses’ wife and a daughter of Jethro, Priest of Midian. Her name is derived from the word ציפור (tsipor, “bird”). Moses met Zipporah at a well, like a Midianite shrine. She bore Moses two sons: Gershom and Eliezer. The younger son was Eliezer. His Canaanite name means "God is my help”.

In all three cases, the younger sons were given priority over their older brothers. Tamar's son Perez is chosen over Zerah. Jesus Christ came from his line.

In Gen. 48, Jacob gives the blessing reserved for the firstborn to Asenath's younger son, Ephraim. Ephraim's descendants inhabited the principal settlements of Canaan, including Baal-shalisha which means the Three God, the God of Three, or the Three-person God.

In 1 Chronicles 23:17 we read this about Zipporah's youngest son: "The descendants of Eliezer: Rehabiah was the first. Eliezer had no other sons, but the sons of Rehabiah were very numerous.' Note that the name of Eliezer's first born son is a variant of the name Rehab. Rehab was another ancestor of Jesus Christ.

The Virgin Mary

Mary, the mother of Jesus Messiah, was a dedicated Temple virgin. The term "virginity" in Mary's case refers to her role as a priest's daughter who was dedicated to the temple, much as Hannah dedicated Samuel to the temple. In ancient times dedicated virgins led the people in singing. They played the timbrel and danced. There was a celibacy requirement for royal daughters dedicated to the temples and shrines. Temple virgins are described in the Old Testament as women who "watch [or wait] (צָבָא) at the door of the tabernacle.” In Exodus 38:8, we read that the laver of copper and its stand of copper were made “from the mirrors of the women who performed tasks at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting” (Hebrew Study Bible, p. 197).

Temple virgins performed many necessary tasks such as weaving. The connection between the Virgin Mary and weaving is found in non-canonical books as well as in canonical books. Chapter 9 of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew describes how Mary and the other virgins were spinning thread in the Temple compound. Carrying a pitcher, Mary went out to a fountain where the angel said to her, "Blessed art thou, Mary; for in thy womb thou hast prepared an habitation for the Lord." The next day the angel appeared to her again while she is spinning. This icon shows Mary, the Mother of God, weaving purple thread.

Joseph would have understood that Mary was consecrated to God, being a Temple-dedicated virgin. He also was aware through angelic intervention that she was to bring forth the long-awaited Messiah.
"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged in marriage to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with Child through the Holy Spirit." (Matt. 1:18)
Joseph became Mary's spouse protector rather than her sexual partner. As a righteous man, he did not presume to take that which rightfully belonged to God. Therefore, Mary remained a virgin both by virtue of her dedicated status and because of Joseph's righteous regard for her.

A Canaanite Shrine

The ancient mound of Tel Nahariyah is located in Israel south of the Lebanon border and north of the ancient maritime city of Akko. (Tel Akko is where an unusual sign of TNT has been found, showing an anchor.) The name Nahariyya means "River of God." Horite shrines were located a major water systems: rivers or an oasis or a well. This is why so many of the heros of Genesis and Exodus meet their brides at wells or river shrines.

The excavated remains of Tel Nahariyah have revealed it as an open-air Canaanite sanctuary. Like many such sites, it was established near a fresh-water spring. The shrine was founded about 2000 BC and was used as late as about 1250 BC.

Excavations have uncovered the remains of three buildings. The first was a small, square temple accompanied by a circular open-air stone altar. The other buildings were probably residences. Here there is a large standing stone. The third and most recent shrine building had auxiliary buildings and a smaller standing stone.

At the Nahariyah, archaeologists found evidence of offerings placed on the altar and oil oblations poured over the offerings. There was also considerable evidence that the sanctuary had been the location of sacrificial feasting (Pettey 1990: 179).

Excavators also found naked female figurines in silver and in bronze on the "high place" of the shrine, and in a pottery jar under the plaster pavement (Keel and Uehlinger 1998: 31; Negbi 1976: 64 and #1525-1534).

A mold was also found of a slim naked figure standing with her arms at her sides and hands framing her pubic area. She is small-breasted, and she has a protruding navel. Her hair flows about her shoulders. Her tall, conical hat has a horn sticking out on each side, suggesting that this may be an image of Hathor (shown below). Hathor was venerated by the Horite and Sethite Hebrew priests and she was the patron of the Hebrew metal workers at Timna. Her appointment as the mother of the son of God is depicted by the Sun resting over her head. This indicates divine overshadowing such as the Angel Gabriel described to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1).

Although two of the cut-out metal figures from Tel Nahariyah wear short skirts, the others are naked. One of the skirted figures was worn as a pendant, as evidenced by a loop on the back of the figure's head. The figurines were probably made in workshops at the shrine suggesting a connection between priests and metal-workers. This sheds light on the metal-working activities surrounding Aaron after the Israelites had left Egypt.

Such shrines are found in Africa

The Canaanite shrine has a contemporary counterpart in parts of West Africa. Osofo Ahadzi, spokemen for Africania Mission (Ghana), explains that women consult deities at the water shrines in order to have children. These children are sometimes pledged to the shrine or to the deity (as Hannah pledged Samuel to God in return for blessing her with a child). Ahadzi says that people who fail to redeem such pledges eventually lose those children.

People come to the shrines for other reasons as well. Ahadzi explains, “If there is a calamity befalling a family and they go back to the divinity or shrine and it is said that such a person should be trained in the shrine to learn the skills and acquire the power of divination to protect the family, that is when that person is devoted to the shrine."

In the ancient trosoki practice, the girls presented to serve at the shrines are usually young virgins. Sometimes their families are too poor to provide a marriage dowry. This is similar to the way that Catholic girls from poor families were sent to the convents during the Middle Ages.

Ofoso Ahadzi says that men may not marry a trokosi (indentured girl) without permission from the shrine. This is because the girls are also regarded as spirit wives of the deity. He said marrying a trokosi without going through the proper procedure will attract very severe punishment.

“There was a situation where the divinity asked one of the keepers not to marry this woman and he decided to go forward and marry. He thought that he was powerful and he went ahead and married. The mother died, he was going and the car had an accident. He died with his wife. In the traditional African religion the commandment is thou must not do this, if you do that you will get your punishment,” he said.

He says, “It is completely out of place for anybody to claim that the keeper of the shrine plays around with the girls. You can’t do that. When you go against any of the regulations, it is not human beings that will punish you. The deity will punish you because all the girls who go in there for training are the daughters and princesses of the divinity. So if you take liberties with them you will be punished,” he said.

Human rights groups oppose abuses of the trokosi system, claiming that some girls are sexually abused by the shrine priests, and that the arrangement is a form of slavery. However, Osofo Ahadzi reports that the girls have a good life at the shrine although they do not receive a formal Western education.

“I have a whole lot of problems about this so called formal school not because it does not promote development. But we are realizing that the formal education is actually foreign cultural mis-education. You see our people, they come out of the universities and they have no work to do. What we are being taught in the classroom is not what we need in our society. Look at our environment. You go to the villages and the villages are cleaner than the cities where the so-called intellectuals live. So the people who don’t go through our so called formal education are better off than those who go through the formal education,” he said.

Osofo Ahadzi said the girls are not taken advantage of even though they are used as free labor on the farms. He said the chores they perform can be likened to what students are made to do in boarding schools. Are the trokosi girls, some of whom are as young as two years, allowed freedom of movement like students receiving formal education? (Read more on trokosi shrines here.)

Virgins of the Shrine, Temple, and Convent

The sheltering of girls at shrines and temples was common in Africa, Canaan, India, ancient Egypt, and Mesopotamia. Some of the temple-dedicated virgins were the daughters of rulers and high priests. En-Heduanna, a daughter of Sargon (r. 2334-2284 BC), is an example. Sargon appointed Heduanna as the En (master, mistress, head official) of the shrine at Ur. This was a shrewd political move to secure power in the south of his kingdom. En-Heduanna served the Creator God Anu, at the House (pr) of Anu (Iannu). As with Roman Catholic nuns, she would have been considered “married” to the deity she served. En-Heduanna is credited with a large body of cuneiform poetry.

In Amarna letter EA 4, Amenhotep III is quoted by the Babylonian king Kadashman-Enlil I as firmly rejecting his request to marry one of Amenhotep's daughters: "From time immemorial, no daughter of the king of Egypt is given to anyone.” Amenhotep III's refusal was motivated by political concern and the concern to preserve his ruler-priest bloodline.

In ancient Egypt, some royal daughters were appointed to the two highest ranks a woman could hold: the positions of the God’s Wife (Hemet Netjer) and the Divine Adoratrice (Duat Netjer). These offices were held by women of high status, like the queen’s mother, or the wife of the high priest of the most favored royal temple. Pharaoh Ahmose I married his (half?) sister, Ahmose-Nefertiri, who became the God's Wife of Amun.

Ahmose I (reigned from c. 1550-1525 BC) controlled access to the throne by prohibiting princesses from marrying anyone except their royal brothers. This custom did not begin with him, however. Royal priests of the Nile had been marrying their half-sisters for at least 1000 years before the time of Ahmose I.

Ahmose’s principal wife was appointed to the office of the God’s Wife of Amun, and Ahmose endowed the office with more than adequate means, providing financial income, servants, real estate, and her own royal retinue. Many royal women attained high rank as priestesses in charge of Hathor shrines.

A religious option for unmarried girls and women

Royal virgins posed both potential opportunity for rulers. Their fathers could pledge them in marriage to form political alliances. In some cases, the virgins themselves appear to have sought the ruler’s protection from marriages they found displeasing. One of their few options was to be dedicated to a temple or to enter a convent.

In the Middle Ages, many royal daughters assumed the monastic life. The marriage of royal daughters was permitted only in circumstances of political advantage. Not surprisingly, female convents were founded in the regions were monarchs had residences. Some royal women lived saintly lives in the monasteries, and others enjoyed the same luxuries they knew in their palace homes.

In the Hindu context, the abuse of temple girls is regarded as a serious offense. Dr. Shabhash C. Sharma writes, "Regarding the treatment of people (including the young girls and widows) in shelters, temples and orphanages, Hinduism is quite emphatic in its opposition to any abuse and exploitation at the hands of those in positions of power and authority: 'He, who betrays one who has sought refuge, will meet destruction. The very earth will not let the seed, that he sows, sprout.' The Mahabarata (1, p. 181).

Dr Sharma explains: "Sometimes even if the parents of a young girl or boy are alive, they might not be in a good socio-economic condition to take care of their kid and thus could decide to send her/him to live in a temple thinking that the temple would do a better job in raising their child. Thus the temple might be considered by some people an ideal place to raise their child where free room, board and education (in spirituality, arts, music, dancing etc.) are available, perhaps in return for a small or light physical (manual) service (work) to the temple. "

Widows also may attach themselves to the shrine or temple once their husbands have died. This is likely what happened in the case of the Prophetess Anna (Luke 2:36-38) and happens in both west central Africa and in India. Dr. Sharma explains: "The same type of consideration, as indicated above for young girls, is generally applicable to adult women, especially the widows, when they decide to live in temples and religious places like Vrindavan. 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..."

Some believe that the Prophetess Anna is related to the priest Matthan who was the father of three daughters: Sobe (Salome's mother), Elizabeth (John the Baptist's mother) and Anne, the mother of Mary, the Theotokos. There is evidence that the Mary, the daughter of the Hebrew priest Joachim, was a temple-dedicated virgin who later married her patrilineal cousin Joseph. However, as Joseph was a righteous man who already had an heir by his first wife, he did not have sexual relations with Mary due to her vow. 

Mary probably was well-known to Simeon and Anna who greeted Mary when she came to the Temple to offer the prescribed sacrifice and fulfill the Mosaic purification requirement after childbirth.

Related reading: Denying Marriage: A cunning royal practiceWas the Virgin Mary a Dedicated Royal Woman?Wells and BridesA Woman at a WellWho Were the Horite Hebrew?; Mary's Priestly Lineage


Anonymous said...

I find Tamar's action in accomplishing her goal interesting. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the cultural context but couldn't she just take the direct approach and ask Judah what the delay was in giving her to Shelah? Would that have been proper for a woman to do in that time? Apparently, she felt she had no other choice but to secure the bloodline by deception. It seems she knew the moral character of Judah and could count on his "appetite" to get what she wanted. Judah seems to have been a bit of a dope. He was negligent in having Shelah & Tamar secure the family line and he fell for her deception because he couldn't keep it in his pants.

Alice C. Linsley said...

An interesting comment, Phil.

Tamar had taken the direct approach. After her first husband died, she married the next son, Onan, who was to raise up a male heir for his dead older brother, but he spilled his seed (an evil act in this religious context.) So Tamar petitioned Judah for the next son, but Judah told her to wait until his youngest grew up, which was a way of putting her off. Tamar knew what Judah was doing.

Also, the encounter between Judah and the veiled shrine prostitute seems random, but it is likely that Judah visited the shrine often. Otherwise how could Tamar so confidently arrange the encounter? Judah may have visited the shrine regularly for healing or because he was experiencing sexual problems. That puts a different slant of the story, doesn't it? The man who didn't want to fulfill the law, and whose older sons died when they sinned against God, is blessed with twin sons who are remembered as righteous! Indeed God is merciful to us sinners. Tamar is an instrument of God's grace.

Jonathan said...


Whose son actually was Perez according to a biblical understanding? Your post is very thought provoking on a number of levels. What I was thinking about in particular is the fact that the line of the Christ was destined to come through Perez, which is amazing, because we have learned that Perez was the son (according to the flesh) of Judah, through a messed-up relationship with his daughter-in-law Tamar, which you might have thought nothing good could ever come of. But so much good did come from it, by God's grace, and so it started to get interesting to me to try to figure out whose son was Perez considered, legally speaking, by the standard of the Jewish legal/moral regulation at the time? I mean, what we learned about Onan (the second son of Judah and next in-line candidate husband-to-be to Tamar after Tamar had become a widow in the loss of Er), is that he was conflicted about the idea of fathering offspring by Tamar, and wasted his chances on the ground, because "he knew that the seed would not be his" (Gen. 38:9). That is pretty telling: If Onan was concerned about heirs who would have been attributed to Er under the law or conventions of the time, wasn't that because he might just rather have seen Tamar end up son-less, and therefore he might hope to get some inheritance of Er's in the end, and grab it for himself? Yet, in the event, Tamar did not end up son-less: she had an heir -- a couple of them, actually! But whose sons were they, Perez and Zerah, for legal purposes? Er's? Judah's? Melchizedek's? I am thinking that there must be an answer to this that is highly relevant for some of the questions you have been pursuing on this blog. I have a theory about it, in that I am wondering whether Tamar might have had it in mind all along, in seducing Judah, to interpolate herself, and her line, into the tribe of Judah, and "steal" the preeminance of place in the descent of Judah's "branch" (with the attendant rights and interest (primogeniture)) away from Shua (and Shua's other ofspring), and on to her own offspring, and be herself the mother of the kings of Judea? Do you agree with this? Do you have any thoughts about whether there might be a symbolic importance to the "pledges" required by Tamar from Judah -- the seal, the cord, and the staff? Especially the staff which, if I understand correctly, the Hebrew word for staff "matteh" means "tribe," figuratively. (See Num. 17:2) In other words, could Tamar's subterfuge have been intended not only to just be a means of fulfilling the levirate marriage law, but more ambitiously, to claim the tribe of Judah unto her own clan? Or, even if it was not intended, is Scripture saying that it did symbolically have that result? See also Heb. 11:21 (Jacob's faith is demonstrated in that he bowed in worship over the head of his staff -- Whose staff are we talking about here? Jacob's? Joseph's? ... Melzhizedek's?!)

Alice C. Linsley said...

Jonathan, you are pursuing this in the right way, by looking for patterns in the Bible. I think you are right that Tamar was attempting to have her line numbered among the tribe of Judah. The marriage of Tamar to Er was probably arranged by Judah and Tamar's father. If Tamar's father was a priest, as it appears, he would have desired alignment with the tribe from which Messiah was to come.

By levirate marriage law, Perez and Zerah would have been the sons of Er. So Judah raised up sons for his dead son. (Similarly, Naomi manages through Ruth to raise up a son for her dead son.)

When Tamar gave birth, Zerah was about to make his appearance but Perez came out first. Hence it is said of Perez, "What a breach you have made for yourself!" (Genesis 38:29).

The name Perez comes from peres, breach, usually in walls. It comes from the root paras meaning break (through, down, over), burst. This indicates that you are on the right track in your thinking. Did Tamar follow the pattern of Sarah and Rebekah who positioned their sons? Did Naomi follow Tamar's example in directing Ruth to Boaz so that Naomi's grandson would find position? (Remember that Tamar is praised at the end of the book of Ruth.)

I've come to the conclusion that nothing in the book of Genesis is there by chance. Your idea that the staff is a symbol of the tribe is very good. I think the seal and cord are equally symbolic. The seal symbolizes rule and the cord symbolizes divine protection of the house. Remember how Rahab hung the scarlet cord from the window and her house was saved, a kind of second Passover? Also, a scarlet cord was tied around Zerah's wrist, and he was passed over. There is another related meaning found in Zerah's name, which means sunrise. Remember that among Abraham's people the Sun was the emblem of the Creator. Since Zerah came before and then after Perez, the meaning may be that the Creator's light shines over Perez.

Thanks for the super comment. I look forward to hearing from you again.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Jonathan, you might be interested in this geneological information from Luke 3:23-31:


Note that the name Er appears in the 6th generation from Judah. This suggests that Judah's son Er had another wife besides Tamar, a cousin bride. By this wife, Er had a daughter. This daughter named her first-born son Er after her father, according to the custom of her people. This second Er married a cousin and his bride named their first-born son Er. This is the Er listed in the 6th generation from Judah.

Since these rulers maintained 2 wives and one was a cousin and the other a half-sister, Tamar must have been Er's half-sister. That means that Judah had 2 wives, as did his fathers going back at least 5 generations: Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Terah and Nahor.

Thought you'd find this interesting!

Jonathan said...

Does the special role that you are contending is supposed to have been reserved to daughters of priests in the book of Genesis, point us to a more certain understanding of the phrase "daughter/daughters of Zion" and "daughter/daughters of Jerusalem" which are used extensively in Scripture (e.g., Zechariah; Song of Solomon; Psalms 9, 48, 97; Isaiah 3, 16; Lamentations; etc.)?

Alice C. Linsley said...

I don't think so. The phrase daughters of Zion/Jerusalem seems to imply a call and response theme, still evident in African chant where men and women alternately respond to what is sung by the lead singer. The closest parallels to those you note are found in the book of Ruth which was probably written originally as a sacred play. Here we find the women of Bethlehem acting as a chorus. They put forward the critical message in each scene. Upon Naomi's return from Moab they ask "Can this be Naomi?" (Ruth 1:19) At the end of the drama they give a name to Ruth's son. "A son,' they said, 'has been born to Naomi,' and they called him Obed (servant)." Ruth 4:17

Even today African cantors use the word "sala" to call forth a response; which in the Hebrew Psalms appears as "selah".

Margaret said...

"...the cord symbolizes divine protection of the house. Remember how Rahab hung the scarlet cord from the window and her house was saved, a kind of second Passover? Also, a scarlet cord was tied around Zerah's wrist, and he was passed over."

In the icon of the Annunciation from St. Catherine's in Sinai, a scarlet cord falls from the Theotokos' hand and visually becomes the umblical cord of the Savior of the World forming in her womb.