Friday, July 24, 2015

Mother's House and Father's House

East African village seen through the cattle kraal

Dr. Alice C. Linsley

Scholars have often wondered why Rebecca ran to her mother's house to announce the marriage proposal from Isaac (Gen. 24:28). One explanation is that the mother's house was responsible for the necessary arrangements to set up a new household for the bride-to-be. The father's house was responsible for the legalities involving dowry, inheritance, and property. Running to her mother's house expressed Rebecca's willingness and eagerness to be married.

It is also likely that the authority to grant the marriage to Isaac was vested with Rebecca's mother, a clan chief. Esau the Younger married Oholibamah, daughter of the female clan chief Anah. Oholibamah had to receive permission from her mother to marry Esau, the son of Isaac and Rebecca, just as Rebecca ran to her mother's household for permission to marry Isaac (Gen. 24:28).

(Esau the Elder married Adah and Basemath, daughters of the Hittite ruler Elon.)

A woman who was forbidden to marry or remarry was told to return to her father's house. This is what Judah told Tamar when he refused to provide her with another son. On the other hand, Naomi hoped that her two daughters-in-law would remarry, and she sent them back to their mothers (Ruth 1).

The mother's house is where women gather to plan weddings and ceremonies for the girls. The father's house is where the elders of the village gather to deliberate. Sometimes marriages are arranged here, but the women are the ones who take care of the practical arrangements for weddings and help the bride with the necessities to set up a new household.

The Bible is pointing us to a village arrangement in which the women gathered in the house of the chief's principal wife and the men gathered in the house of the chief. The custom is found even today among Africans and in some Eurasian villages.

Among African peoples, rites of passage included circumcision, scarification, naak, and the building of small huts. Before girls come of marriage age (13-15 years) they build their own huts next to the huts of their mothers. They mimic female adulthood until they marry, at which point they take down their small hut and move into a larger hut built by their husband and located with his kinsmen (patrilocal residence).

Similarly, young men celebrate their approaching manhood by building a small hut next to their father's hut until they take a wife, at which time they build a larger hut in the kraal.

South African women preparing the bride
Credit: Monica Dart

This Xhosa bride wears a sheet to cover her secrets.

A blanket or sheet covering is an ancient practice associated with marriage.
Ruth sought marriage to Boaz by covering herself with his blanket.

This practice of building up a house is more than building a place to live. It is about building a lineage. The book of Ruth alludes to this. Naomi tells her widowed daughters-in-law to return to their "mother's house" so that they can prepare to remarry and have families.

Contrast this to the story of Judah and Tamar (Gen. 38). Judah's sons who were married to Tamar die one after the other. He refuses to fulfill the law of levirate marriage, fearing that he might lose another son. Judah tells Tamar to return to her "father's house" which is to say, "You will remain a widow and childless."


J Eppinga said...

Thanks for this, Alice.

The more I learn about African peoples, the more I regret that Western Civilization isn't more like them, instead of the other way around.

On the other hand, I have noted those instances where the West mimics African wisdom, and it turns out to be manipulative and fascist. The "indaba" business and the musings of the one who will probably be our next US president (back in the 90's) spring to mind.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The African bishops have been saying for decades that Western ideologues and many Western theologians have reasoned themselves out of the Bible and no longer even recognize the biblical worldview.

African societies certainly are not ideal in every way, but the values of family unity, clan loyalty, reverence for holy things, and respect for mothers and mothering, are values we would do well to adopt. Abortion, for example, is unacceptable in Africa, except where it has been forced on African women by the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Since Obama rescinded the Mexico City Policy in 2009, American tax dollars have underwritten thousands of abortions abroad. This was one of his first Presidential actions.

DManA said...

Scarification - Seems by the time of Leviticus they turned against that practice.

Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am Jehovah. Leviticus 19:28

Alice C. Linsley said...

Yes, and the Horim also denounced shamanic practices associated with scarification.

DManA said...

At some point they threw up an an impenetrable cultural wall between the worlds of the dead and the living. It is fascinating to speculate on what precipitated this divorce.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Consultation of the spirits of the dead was discovered to bring about demon possession. It was regarded as witchcraft (1 Samuel 28). Saul became possessed.

Shamanic trances opened people to demonic influences. Shamans also discovered that the spirits lie and therefore have to be tested. I John 4:1 - "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world."

Priests were absolutely forbidden to consult spirits. Only the Holy Spirit never lies. From what I have been able to discover so far, the divorce to which you refer took place long before the time of Abraham.