Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Marriage Pattern of Abraham and His People

Alice C. Linsley

The rulers among Abraham's people married cousins, nieces and half-sisters. The patrilineal parallel cousins are of special interest because they named their first-born sons after their fathers, thus enabling us to trace descent through many generations.

A patrilineal parallel cousin bride is a first cousin who is in the same descent group as her husband. In other words, she and her cousin husband have a common male ancestor. This appears to have been the preferred marriage arrangement for rulers among Abraham's Horite people whose religion was Egyptian/Nubian. These rulers had two wives living in separate households on a north-south axis. One wife was a cousin and the other was a half sister. In Abraham's case, Keturah was his cousin bride and Sarah was his sister bride.

This arrangement doesn't seem to have been the practice among common people, as evidenced from excavations such as Deir El Medina where the average housing indicates monogamous marriages. Yet having multiple wives was common among kings and ruler-priests in ancient Nubia and Egypt. Also, the tradition of brother/sister marriages was confined to the royalty until the Greek period.

Brother/sister marriage was a common feature of the deities in Egyptian mythology, although these siblings often have different mothers. It may be that Egyptian kings, who were regarded as deities, married according to the mythological deities. Brother/sister, uncle/niece, and patrilineal cousin marriages also strengthened the king's control over his territory. It is also possible that the rulers believed that the Son of God, who they called Horus, would be born of their royal priestly lines and therefore they married only the daughters of royal priests.

Egyptian royal couple. Note that the wife is “made white” and the husband is dark, suggesting the symbolism of the Sun (male) and to the Moon (female). 

Cousin marriage and uncle/niece marriage was common among ancient Egyptian rulers and priests, although it appears that nieces were considered cousins. Half-sister marriage was also common and there is some evidence that the first wife was a sister bride. This was the case with Abraham who married Sarah before he married Keturah. It appears to have been the case with Isaac also (see diagram below). This explains the youthful sexual forlicking described in the Song of Songs where the groom addresses his bride as "my sister" (see 4:9-12). The sister wife is the bride of the man's youth. She is described as having been "made white" (8:5) while her beloved has skin as dark "as the tents of Kedar" because he was made to work in in the Sun by his older brothers (like David).

The second wife, a cousin or niece, would be taken at the age that the man was to take over the rule of his father's territory. This explains Abraham's urgency to fetch a cousin bride for Isaac before his death (Gen. 24).

It was through the cousin/niece brides that throne names were passed to first-born sons. I call this the cousin-bride's naming prerogative, although it sometimes pertains to nieces as in the case of Isaac's first wife, a daughter of his brother Yisbak. See below.

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