Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Cousin Brides

Alice C. Linsley

In the ancient world, cousin marriage was a common practice for ruling families. Cain and Seth married cousins who named their first-born sons after their father, Enoch/Enosh/Enos. Enoch the Elder would have been a contemporary of the historical Adam. Enoch is a royal title derived from the ancient Akkadian first-person pronoun: anāku. Likely, this is a reference to the royal first person.

The cousin brides played a significant role in the building up of the early Hebrew clans. There are numerous references to cousin brides in the Bible. Eleazar’s daughters married their cousins, the sons of Kish (1 Chron. 23:22). Other cousin brides include Naamah, Keturah, Mahalath, Rebekah, Zipporah, and the five daughters of Zelophehad who married the "sons of their father's brothers" (Num. 36:11).

The maternal ancestry of the Hebrew rulers is traced mainly through the cousin brides. The pattern is found among the earliest known Hebrew rulers listed in Genesis chapters 4 and 5 and throughout the Bible.

The diagram below draws data from Genesis 4 and 5. Lamech’s daughter Naamah (Gen. 4) married her patrilineal cousin Methuselah (Gen. 5) and named their first-born son Lamech after her father. This custom necessitates speaking of two rulers named Lamech: Lamech the Elder and Lamech the Younger.

Tracing Descent by the Cousin Bride’s Naming Prerogative

The cousin-bride’s naming prerogative is a distinctive feature of the marriage and ascendancy pattern of the biblical Hebrew. Of the ruler’s two wives, the second bride was a cousin who named her first-born son after her father. The cousin bride’s naming prerogative is evident in the naming of Lamech the Younger (Gen. 5) after his maternal grandfather, Lamech the Elder (Gen. 4). Methuselah (Gen. 5) married his patrilineal cousin Naamah.

The same pattern is found with Amram who married his cousin Ishar/Izhar/Ishara, a descendant of Kohath and the Horite Hebrew ruler Seir (Gen. 36). She named their first-born son Korah after her father according to the cousin-bride’s naming prerogative. The word “Korah” refers to a priest who has shaved his body for ritual purposes. Numbers 16:1 mentions Korah, son of Izhar/Ishara. Some insist that Izhar was a male because some versions of the Bible refer to her as a “son of Kohath” rather than a descendant. However, the name is related to the Hebrew isha, meaning "woman" and is the name of a goddess venerated by the Hurrians, Horites, and Hittites.

There are numerous examples of the cousin bride’s naming prerogative in the Bible. These can be identified by the repetition of a name or royal title. There are two named Nahor, two named Esau, two named Korah, two named Sheba, two named Joktan, and two named Asshur.

The diagram below draws data from Genesis chapters 10 and 11. It shows evidence of intermarriage between the lines of Ham and his brother Shem. Nimrod married his cousin, a daughter of Asshur. She named their first-born son Asshur, after her father. The word “Assyria” is derived from the royal name Asshur. Asshur the Elder is the son of Shem. Asshur the Younger is the son of Nimrod, a Kushite kingdom builder.

One of Noah’s descendants was Terah, the father of Abraham, Nahor, and Haran. Terah’s cousin bride was a daughter of Haran the Elder who ruled over a territory in Haran (southeastern Turkey). She named their first-born son Haran. Had he not died in Ur (Gen. 10:28), Haran the Younger would have served as a high official in the territory of his maternal grandfather.

Abraham’s cousin bride was Keturah (Gen. 25). She bore him 5 sons: Zimran, Jokshan (Jachin/Joktan), Medan, Ishbak, Shuah, and Midian. These Hebrew clans continued to intermarry long after Abraham’s time. Moses’s cousin wife Zipporah was a descendant of Midian.

The biblical Hebrew traced lineage with a particular focus on prominent or "righteous" ancestors. Both male and female ancestors are remembered, though male ancestors are more commonly named in the biblical texts as they assume governance over their fathers’ territories or become high officials in the territories of their maternal grandfathers.

Noah is said to have married his sons to cousin brides. The Qumran Scroll known as "Genesis Apocryphon" is a midrash on Genesis. Here we find evidence for the caste endogamy of the early Hebrew. Noah states in Column 6:
"Then I procured wives for my sons from among the daughters of my brother, and I gave my daughters to the sons of my brother in accordance with the eternal law."

As cousin brides are usually the second wives in the early Hebrew marriage pattern, it is likely that Ham, Shem, and Japheth had two wives each. The first wives would have been half-sisters.

Related reading: The Cousin Bride's Naming Prerogative; Terah's Two Wives; Hebrew Rulers with Two Wives; Royal Sons and Their Maternal Uncles; Royal Women and the Exercise of Power

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