Sunday, February 11, 2024

Understanding "Biblical" Marriage Practices


Dr. Alice C. Linsley

This recently came across my Facebook feed. It is misleading and reveals ignorance of the social structure of the biblical Hebrew and their Jewish descendants.

The Hebrew persons listed in Genesis 4, 5, 10, 11, 25 and 36 were rulers, not commoners. These are king lists similar to the Sumerian king lists, only more easily authenticated using kinship analysis.

None of the marriages of the Hebrew rulers can be called "biblical" and therefore cited as models for Bible believers because this pattern pertains only to Hebrew ruler-priests, the "first lords of the earth". It is not a biblical pattern for marriage. It is a pattern for royal Hebrew persons beginning long before Judaism emerged. These were regnal marriages involving a bride and a groom from related Hebrew clans or between half-siblings (endogamy). Royal marriages are prone to irregularities because of the necessity of a proper heir, and political complexities.

That these were rulers is evident in the fact that they had a distinctive marriage and ascendancy pattern that involved two wives. The firstborn sons of the two wives had different rights according to the Hebrew hierarchy of sons

Jacob's marriage to two "sisters" is the single example in the Bible, and it is more likely that Leah was his half-sister and Rachel is cousin. A proper marriage arrangement of a Hebrew ruler-priest was with a half-sister (as was Sarah to Abraham) and with a patrilineal cousin (as was Keturah to Abraham). Leah and Rachel fit the pattern. Jacob was a sent-away son, and those sons usually went to live with their maternal uncles.

Solomon is criticized for taking many wives and concubines in order to forge political alliances. However, that was a common practice, and his father David did it also.

The payment of dowries was a widespread practice among the many diverse biblical populations. It is still the custom in Africa and among Hindu and Muslim populations. Dowries are not to "purchase" a bride. They are gifts given to the bride by her family to secure some personal wealth for her when she marries. The bride and her dowry contribute to the building up of a new household.

Levirate marriage was a custom among the Hebrew and their Jewish descendants. Levirate marriage is an extremely ancient practice in which the widow of the deceased brother marries one of his brothers. Levirate marriage is practiced by societies with strong clan and caste structures in which exogamous marriage is forbidden. Such a marriage arrangement is intended to preserve the deceased husband's lineage and inheritance. 

Hebrew rulers over territories maintained their two wives in geographically separate settlements. Territorial boundaries were marked by the wives' settlements. Sarah's settlement was in Hebron and Keturah's settlement was in Beersheba. Abraham's territory extended on a north-south axis between the settlements of his wives. 

Hebrew rulers with two wives include Lamech, Terah, Abraham, Esau, Jacob, Amram, Moses, Elkanah (Samuel's father), Ashur (1 Chronicles 4:5), Mered (1 Chronicles 4); and Joash (2 Chronicles 24:1–3). Caleb fathered children by his two wives Azubah and Jerioth.

1 comment:

Alice C. Linsley said...

The meme reveals ignorance of the marriage practices of the ancient world, especially those of the Hebrew ruler-priest caste. Marriages among rulers has always been different than marriage among commoners. To assert that the two-wife custom of high-ranking Hebrew rulers is "biblical" and therefore acceptable to Bible-believers is absurd and misleading.