Monday, October 9, 2017

The Social Structure of the Biblical Hebrew (Part 3)

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Alice C. Linsley

Patriarchy is often held up as an explanation for why no women served as priests among the biblical Hebrew. Why should this matter? It matters because it isn't true. It matters because this is the basis of Dr. William Witt's argument for the ordination of women. He served as a consultant to the ACNA task force that studied the question of women's ordination for five years. Dr. Witt's argument is that women were not priests because of patriarchy and Anglicans should correct that injustice by permitting women to be ordained.

Anglicans who push for women's ordination on the basis of this argument should check the facts. Anthropologically, the social structure of the biblical Hebrew is much more complex than generally presented in feminist literature and gender studies. Examination of the biblical data reveals that the Hebrew social structure 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 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, chief or king.

Anthropologists never have found an absolute patriarchy or an absolute matriarchy. In an absolute matriarchy, the six conditions would be vested with the ruling females (matriarchs).

Today we investigate whether the Hebrew social structure reflects the second condition: patrilineal right of inheritance.

In an absolute patriarchy only men inherit property and the right to rule territories. It is often said that the rights of inheritance of the biblical Hebrew follow primogeniture, but that is not accurate. 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. Let's now look at each of these situations.

The right of primogeniture for the principal wife's first born son

The rights of primogeniture applied only to the first-born son of the first wife (the half-sister). This son assumed the rule of his father's territory and control of all property. Because of the Hebrew had a double unilineal descent pattern, his wives and their servants were responsible for flocks, herds, tents, and other moveable property. The story of Jacob is interesting in that he was a servant of Laban and as such, he shared responsibility for his wives' flocks and herds (Gen 30). 

If the sister wife does not produce a son to be the patriarch's heir, the man could appoint the first born son of a concubine to be his heir. Sarah being infertile, Abraham appointed Eliezer, the son the concubine Masek.

To better understand the right to rule among the biblical Hebrew, we should should separate the right to rule from the question of inheritance. However, the two are related in the case of the first born son of the first bride, the half-sister wife. Her son ruled in the place of his father and inherited his father's territory. Abraham's proper heir was Isaac, the son of Sarah, Abraham's half-sister.

It is curious that Isaac's first wife is not mentioned in Genesis. The first born son of this wife would have been Isaac's proper heir. Esau is the first born of Isaac's cousin bride and as such, he was not Isaac's proper heir. He was a chief in Edom, but it does not appear that he ruled all of Edom in Isaac's place.

If Isaac followed the pattern of his Horite Hebrew ancestors, he had a wife before he married Rebekah. She would have been his half-sister. Abraham's urgency to fetch Isaac a cousin wife was so that Isaac would have the two wives necessary for Isaac to rule Abraham's territory upon his death.

The Messianic expectation concerning The Bridegroom coming for his bride and taking His eternal throne is foreshadowed in the marriage and ascendancy pattern of the Horite Hebrew ruler-priests.

Sent-away sons

Inheritance grants were given to the sons of concubines. Abraham gave grants to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from the territory of his proper heir, Isaac (Gen. 25:6). The heroes of the Bible are men who left their homes and relied on God for provision of their own territories: Cain, Nimrod, Abraham, Moses, David... the Son of God, Jesus Messiah.

The practice of sending away sons drove the expansion of the Horite Hebrew into new territories. Before dying, the sent-way chiefs arranged for the transfer of property to their sons. The right of rule was bestowed on the first born son the principal wife. The principal wife was usually the first wife, the bride of the man's youth, and also a half-sister, as was Sarah to Abraham.

Women could inherit property

Zelophehad's five daughters were Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. According to Numbers 27 they inherited property after petitioning Moses to render a judgement on this dispute. The dispute is connected to Moses's half-brother Korah who challenged Moses's authority, and pertains to a land holding of Manasseh. In the Book of Chronicles, Zelophehad (Tzelofhad) is listed as a son of Manasseh whose land holdings were in Egypt.

Zelophehad's daughters argued that the name of their deceased father would be lost among his people were they not to inherit. However, Zelophehad's name would be perpetuated through one of his daughters. Were she to marry a patrilineal cousin, she would name her first born son Zelophehad, after her father, according to the cousin-bride's naming prerogative. Sons did not perpetuate the father's name among the biblical Hebrew.

Moses granted the five daughters' petition to inherit their father's holding, and we read this law: "If a man dies without a son, then the inheritance shall pass to his daughter." (Num 27:8)

This account comes from the Deuteronomist, a source dating to the later Neo-Babylonian period (c.700-300 BC). The purpose is to explain the assignment of tribal holdings in the Promised Land. However, as this story comes before the entrance of the Israelites into the Promised Land, where was Zelophehad's holding? The clan of Manasseh had deep roots in Egypt. It is possible that Zelophehad's holding was in Egypt, but this does not serve the Deuteronomist's narrative. He would have us believe that all the Hebrew people left Egypt, never to return there.

According to Shammai Feldman's "Biblical motives and sources" in "Journal of Near Eastern Studies" 22 (1962), this narrative is a fiction created to illustrate laws of inheritance. To express this another way: "This section of the chapter is a good example of a law embedded in a narrative, or a narrative created for the sake of a law." (The Schocken Bible, p. 796)

Many scholars regard the account of Zelophehad's daughters as an example of accretions added to an earlier source. This would explain the contextual incongruities. Though scholars note problems with the story of Zelophehad's daughters, it is almost certain that the daughters of Hebrew rulers had the right to petition to inherit property. Ancient documents from Mesopotamia, Syria, and the Nile Valley attest to the fact that women could inherit property, even when there was a proper male heir (Hebrew Study Bible, p. 338).

Numbers 27 clarifies that daughters could inherit land. If a land owner died without a male heir his land was to go to a ranking daughter (Numbers 27:8). If he died without a son or daughter, the land was to go to his brothers.

Levirate marriage and inheritance rights

Levirate marriage is extremely ancient practice in which the widow of the deceased brother marries one of his brothers. Levirate marriage is practiced by societies with a strong clan and caste structures in which exogamous marriage is forbidden. The practice is found among the cattle-herding Nuer and Dinka of the Nile. It also is found among the Igbo of southeastern Nigeria, and in the Punjab-Haryana region of Pakistan, and among peoples of Central Asia such as the Saka and Kushan. It appears that the rulers of these regions were served by Horite Hebrew ruler-priests.

In the Punjab-Haryana region, if the levir (dewar) refused to redeem his brother's widow, she would spit in his presence and remove one of his sandals. Subsequently, the people of the town would refer to him as "the one without a shoe".

This sheds light on the redemption of Ruth and the transfer of her husband's inheritance at the city gate of Bethlehem.
Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel. (Ruth 4:7)
In Genesis 23:10, we read that Abraham settled the purchase of a burial cave at the city gate; (literally, in the presence of "all who came in at the gate of his city.")

Rights of inheritance through levirate marriage could be declined. This sometimes happened if acceptance of the widow as a wife endangered the inheritance or ruler status of the levir's own heir. This appears to be the case with the man who was first in line to redeem Ruth. Judah also refused to fulfill the levirate law when he denied Tamar and later recognized that, "She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah." (Gen. 38:26)


Hurrian/Horite law placed importance on the possession of the teraphim (Heb. תְּרָפִים). This is usually rendered "household gods" in Bibles, but these were ancestor figurines usually kept at the family hearth. One was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in 1986. This was a rare showing of a figurine from the Chalcolithic Period, showing holes around the circumference of the head.

During the Chalcolithic Period, the Horite Hebrew were involved in the mining of copper and the fabrication of copper artifacts in Israel, Southern Europe, Spain, and England. Hathor was the patroness of metal workers. Her name means the "tabernacle of Horus," the son of the God. A temple dedicated to Hathor was discovered at the southwestern edge of Mt. Timnah by Professor Beno Rothenberg of Hebrew University. Timnah is the site of some of world's oldest copper mines. The mines were worked almost continuously until the Roman Period.

The teraphim that Rachel hid in her camel bags were figurines of Terah and his principal wife. Hundreds of these figurines have been found in Israel. Many have been found in David's Zion. There were holes around the top of the heads of the figurines. The hair of Terah and the hair of his wife were woven through these holes. Possession of these ancestor figurines represented a claim to inheritance.

When Jacob proposed a plan to escape from servitude to Laban, his two wives were quick to support him, saying: "Are we still likely to inherit anything form our father's estate? Does he not think of us as outsiders now?" (Gen. 31:14) Laban sons had became jealous of Jacob, saying, "Jacob has taken everything that belonged to our father; it is at our father's expense that he has acquired all this wealth." (Gen. 31:1) Clearly, Jacob's wealth was that of his wives, their servants and their flocks and herds. Other than his initial grant as a sent-away son, Jacob had no inheritance coming from Isaac. Nor from Laban. That is why Rachel stole the ancestor figurines.

In Part 4, we explore the right to rule among the biblical Hebrew, and discover that the pattern does not fit that of an absolute patriarchy.


S. SAMEDI said...

The LORD is my inheritance and my cup. You are the one who determines my destiny. 6 Your boundary lines mark out pleasant places for me. Indeed, my inheritance is something beautiful. This brings to life David's words in Ps. 16:5-6 "The LORD is my inheritance and my cup. You are the one who determines my destiny. Your boundary lines mark out pleasant places for me. Indeed, my inheritance is something beautiful."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Some Bibles read "The Lord is my portion and my cup..."