Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Social Structure of the Biblical Hebrew (Part 4)

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

Sultan Jamal ul-Kiram (seated at center), with his chiefs. 
They are holding knob sticks or rods as the sign of their rank.
Also shown US Army officer and some visiting Muslims.
Photo taken in Mindanao c. 1899-1901

Alice C. Linsley

In seeking to understand the social structure of the biblical Hebrew, we must investigate numerous features such as descent, inheritance, right of rule, residence, form of government, and ultimate authority for decisions. 

Feminists claim that the biblical Hebrew had a patriarchal social structure, but they are unable to prove this. In feminist and gender studies, patriarchy refers to the universal oppression of females in male-dominated societies. This is an ideological definition, and one which lacks empirical evidence.

In The Social Structure of the Biblical Hebrew (Part 1), we saw that for the feminist claim to be true, the social structure of the biblical Hebrew would be characterized by these 6 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.

In Part 2 (Descent), we investigated whether the Hebrew social structure traces descent through the paternal line only and discovered that this is not the case.

In Part 3 (Inheritance), we investigated the claim that only men were permitted to inherit among the biblical Hebrew. We found that the inheritance laws among the biblical Hebrew are more complex because the ruler had two first born sons. Provision was made for both sons to receive an inheritance. Additionally, grants were made to the sent-away sons of concubines. Daughters could petition to receive inheritance. By levirate marriage a widow was able to preserve her deceased husband's holdings for his son. In an extremely archaic practice, inheritance rights were attached to whoever had possession of the clan ancestor figurines. These were stolen by Rachel who knew that her husband Jacob (Israel) had no inheritance.

Having found that the feminist claim of patriarchy does not apply to the Hebrew patterns of descent and inheritance, we move to the question of the right to rule among the biblical Hebrew to see if it fits the pattern of absolute patriarchy.


Among the biblical Hebrew the first born son of the principal wife ruled over his father's territory upon the death of the father. These were regional kings, not high kings whose territories we would consider empires. Abraham is an example. These rulers carried rods as a sign of their rank. Below is the image of a ruler-priest (tera-neter) holding a rod (Petrie 1939). This ruler-priest served the Creator, the High God, who was called Anu in Akkadian (the equivalent of El Elyon in Hebrew).

Annu refers top "those of royal blood"
according to Gwendolyn Leick
(Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Mythology, 1998, p. 7)
The first born son of the second wife, a patrilineal cousin, served as a vizier in the court of his maternal grandfather's territory. Abraham's first born son, Joktan, is an example.

Other sons and the sons of concubines received grants which enabled them to become chiefs in areas where they did not pose a threat to the first born sons. Ishmael is an example.

Some of these sent-away sons ruled over kingdoms that they gained by conquest, negotiation, and marriage. This was the case with Nimrod, a Kushite kingdom builder (Gen. 10:8).

Some sent-away sons are noted for being city builders. The Hebrew phrase וַיְהִי בֹּנֶה עִיר may be translated as [Cain] "he existed as a builder of a city" or "he existed, building a city." He named his city Enoch, after his father-in-law and the first born son of his cousin wife (Gen. 4:17). Nimrod, the son of Kush (Gen. 10:8) built the cities of Erech and Accad (Gen. 10:10).

The most protected and most desired lands were areas where copper and gold were collected. If these were acquired, the son's right to rule was established by virtue of wealth and power to control much desired commodities. It is significant that the oldest chacolithic sites are places where the Horite Hebrew rulers were established: Predynastic Lower Nile and the shrine city of Jericho (9000 BC). The next oldest sites are in Mesopotamia: Harran, Eridu, Lagash, Mari, Nippur and Ur (5000-4000 BC). Abraham's father, Tera, controlled a territory between Harran and Ur.

Among the Horite Hebrew one woman was especially honored: Hathor. Her image and name appear at many ancient shrines and temples. She is the foreshadowing of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, who is venerated by Christians.

Hebrew women ruled their households and exercised considerable influence in their social circles as the wives of ruler-priests. Some women ruled in Israel as judges and queens.

Now we will look more closely at each of these situations.

Right to rule of the first born son of the first wife

Analysis of the marriage and ascendancy pattern of the biblical Hebrew refers that the Hebrew ruler-priests maintained two wives in separate households. The principal wife was the bride of the man's youth and his half-sister. Sarah is an example. The first born son of the half-sister wife was the ruler's proper heir. Sarah's inability to have a son posed a serious problem for Abraham. When Isaac was born, Abraham rejoiced to have a proper heir. Isaac ruled after Abraham's death and his territory extended on a north-south axis between Hebron and Beersheba and on an east-west axis between Engedi and Gerar. Isaac was a ruler of prestige and great wealth.

Keep in mind that "These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the children of Israel.” (Genesis 36:31) Their smiths were among the most elite metal workers of the ancient world. Edom was rich in copper and the patroness of their mines and smelting operations was Hathor. She is the overshadowed one (Luke 1:35) who brings forth the son of God, Horus, from whom the Horite Hebrew or Horim are named. A temple dedicated to Hathor was discovered at the southwestern edge of Mt. Timna by Professor Beno Rothenberg of Hebrew University.

There is little doubt that Hathor was venerated among the Horite Hebrew. The Chalcolithic works at Timna in the foothills along the western fringe of the southern Arabah Valley include smelting works, slag, and flints found to be identical to those discovered near Beersheba where Abraham spent much of his time. The metal workers of Timnah and Beersheba were kin, and the patroness of their mining and smelting operations was the mother of Horus. Rothenberg concluded that the peoples living in the area were "partners not only in the work but in the worship of Hathor." (Timna, p. 183)

Right to serve as a chief (vizier) in the territory of the maternal grandfather

The first born son of the second wife became a high ranking official in the territory of his maternal grandfather. He was named after that ruler. This explains why there are two named Esau, Enoch, Lamech, Nahor, Joktan, etc. This is the "cousin bride's naming prerogative" and it is a distinctive feature of the social pattern of the biblical Hebrew.

An example is Joktan. He had a right to rule as an official in his maternal grandfather's territory. He was Abraham's first born son by his cousin wife, Keturah. 

Right to rule by conquest, negotiation, and marriage

Royal sons who were not first born received grants and were sent away to gain territories of their own. Abraham is an example. He was the youngest son of Terah. When Terah died, Abraham's older brother Nahor ascended to the throne.

Abraham left Haran in search of a territory of his own and, following God's leading, he gained a territory in Edom between Hebron and Beersheba. This involved marriage to Keturah, a descendant of Sheba, and aligning with some regional chiefs who were kinsmen: Mamre, Eschol and Aner (Gen. 14:13). They are called "Amorites" in Genesis 14:13.

The word is Am-urru refers to people of the high places. Urusalem (Jerusalem) means high place of peace. Ur-shu is the ancient Egyptian word for a sentry posted at a high place. These "high place" allies joined their forces with Abraham's army of 318 trained warriors (Gen. 14:14). This confederation of about 1300 warriors raided the contingent of Elamites who had taken Abraham's nephew captive. Abraham relinquished his share of the booty to his allies (Gen. 14:24) and received the cleansing rite after combat from Melchizedek, the high priest of Jerusalem.

Genesis 6 speaks of Hebron, where Sarah resided, as a holding of Anak. Anak's father was Arba and Hebron was called Kiriah-Arba (Gen. 23:2). This is likely related to the Akkadian kiprat arba, meaning four regions/four peoples. In addition to Anakim, this same region was populated and controlled by Hittites, Horites, and Jebusites. The clan of Het lived in Kiriath-Arba (Gen. 23:3,7) and the sons of Het are designated as Hittites in Genesis 23:2-11. The Hittites recognized Abraham the Horite ruler of Edom as a great prince among them (Gen. 23:6). Indeed, Genesis 13:2 describes Abraham as very wealthy.

Most of the heroes of the Bible were sent-away sons to whom God delivered a kingdom. These speak of the Son who was sent by the Father to transfer us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Col. 1:12-14)

Just as Abraham established his kingdom through marriage to Keturah, so Jesus Christ will come as the Divine bridegroom (Mat. 9:15, 25:6), and this time of fasting will become the time of feasting at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9).

The Rule of Women
Examination of the biblical data reveals that Hebrew women ruled their households and exercised considerable influence in their social circles as the wives and daughter of high ranking priests.

The responsibilities of the Hebrew ruler's wife are described in Proverbs 31. This woman is the wife of a city elder (like Ruth) and a respected figure in her own right. She is the mistress of her house and a decision maker. She buys and sells merchandise, and “makes herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.”

Feminists insist that the Hebrew woman's condition under Patriarchy is one of subjugation. Instead, we find strong, dignified, multi-talented, caring women who make a mark for themselves in the world. They invest wisely, oversee servants, and manage real estate. Some are so important that they are named in the Genesis king lists: Naamah, Anah and Oholibamah, are examples. Anah is called a "chief" in Genesis 36.

Some women are consulted by priests and kings as in the case of Huldah. Deborah judged in Israel from her tamar between Bethel and Ramah. No telling how often wives saved their husband’s estates from destruction, as did Abigail. The Wise Woman of Abel Beth-Macaah is praised for saving her entire city.

Women also ruled as queens. The August 2008 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) reports on a Judean queen named Salome Alexandra who ruled alone from BC 76-67. Archaeologists have discovered her palace in Jericho. Salome was one of two women to rule Judea alone. She is the only woman mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. She is responsible for some of the religious reforms that shaped second-Temple Judaism, and her reign is viewed as a golden age in the Talmud. Queen Salome Alexandra was so admired that generations of mothers named their daughters "Salome" in her honor.


Margaret said...

I listened to a conversation today between Dr. Jordan B Petersen and Camille Paglia in which she made strong mention of her observations of women and men in her Italian Family, as well as in studies of primitive societies. She maintained that the decline of extended family living together has created a tension between men and women that was mitigated by women and men being separated in daily activities with their own gender relatives. Women were not at a disadvantage in this situation, but had power within the women’s society: women worked together on tasks, imparted knowledge of child bearing and rearing, and sharing gender traits were able to work cooperatively. There was respect for the older women for their wisdom as well as how they handled their power within the family. She also does not believe that there was patriarchal oppression of women in Biblical culture, or many other cultures, but that they had authority of a different kind than the men. Men’s gender traits were respected for their contributions to the family: leaving to hunt in the winter, being gone for weeks, and the inevitable injuries or deaths associated with their activities and contributions to the family.

This seems an adjunct to the power you describe held by Sara, Keturah, Deborah and others.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thank you, Margaret, for this thoughtful comment.

There is a fairly substantial body of anthropological information about gender roles in archaic societies and the benefits of separate yet equally necessary contributions. Women did indeed have authority. The Feminist image of universal oppression of women is false.

The roles of Hebrew women in ancient society is quite different from the roles of women in ancient Greco-Roman societies. One should never confuse the biblical priesthood with priestess oracles, for example. That is like comparing apples to avocados.

It is important also to distinguish Hathor, the mother of Horus, from Isis, Venus and other fertility goddesses. Her story is unique and foreshadows the blessed Virgin Mary. Christians who abandoned the veneration of Mary lost something important and it is in these groups that women seek authority through ordination. I believe this is one reason evangelical Anglicans succumbed to cultural pressures to have women priests.