The Bible links the ancestors of Israel with the ancient civilizations of southern Mesopotamia. These ancestors came originally from the city of Ur. Ur was one of the oldest cities in a region called Sumer. The Sumerians created the first city states in Mesopotamia more than 5000 years ago. They invented the cuneiform writing system and created some of the world’s earliest literature.They are also credited by some scholars with such inventions as the potter’s wheel, the boat, the wheel, the wagon, and the plough.
The ruins of Ur can still be seen today, and the visitor gets a good impression of the dimensions of this large ancient city. Most of its temples still lie buried under the sand; a few have been excavated. One type of Sumerian temple was called a ziggurat. A ziggurat was a four-sided tower in the form of a pyramid. On its outer wall was a wide ramp climbing towards the top of the tower. In the opinion of many scholars, the tower described in Genesis chapter 11, commonly known as the Tower of Babel, is modelled on the ziggurat. At the top of the main ziggurat in Ur was a temple devoted to the worship of the moon god, whom the Sumarians called Nanna.
The biblical narrative describes Abram as a nomad or semi-nomad. This means that he moved from place to place with the seasons to find pasture and water for his flocks and herds. However, scripture also tells us that Abram came from the area of the city of Ur. Some of the residential area of ancient Ur has been excavated.
Together with his father Terah and his nephew Lot, Abram left the great city of Ur to go to Canaan. He became a nomad, moving from place to place. This did not mean, however, that Abram was poor. He was actually a rich man whose wealth was measured by the number of animals he owned. He moved in a large company of family members and slaves with a caravan of goods and with great flocks of goats and sheep, and herds of camels.
The direct line of travel from Mesopotamia to Canaan leads across a desert with few sources of water. Abram and his company followed the normal route, travelling northward along the Euphrates River until they arrived at the plain of Haran in upper Mesopotamia, an area within the borders of present day Turkey. This was a journey of almost one thousand kilometers.
Like Ur, the city of Haran was also a center for the worship of a moon god, known in Haran as Sin. Some scholars have suggested that this might explain why Abram settled in Haran. The temple devoted to the moon god Sin has been excavated.
Abram remained for an unspecified period of time on the plain of Haran. Whether he actually lived inside the city we do not know. The Bible refers to the ancestors of Israel as wandering Arameans, who lived beyond the great river Euphrates and who served other gods. The Arameans, or people of Aram, were a Semitic group from Northern Syria. They are frequently mentioned in the Bible, often in a negative sense, as they became the enemies of the nation of ancient Israel.For a long time their political center was the city of Damascus.
The biblical sources tell us that the Lord called Abram to leave Haran for the land of Canaan. When Abram moved to Canaan, he stopped first in Shechem and then near Bethel. Later he camped by Hebron, near some oak trees belonging to an Amorite named Mamre.Near these trees, which may have been used by Mamre as some kind of sacred place, Abram built an altar to the Lord. Abram, whose name was changed by God to Abraham, moved around with his flocks in southern Canaan along the edge of the Negev desert as far as Beersheba.Tradition links the well just outside the ancient city of Beersheba with Abraham. The patriarch is supposed to have dug this deep well to water his animals.
It is difficult to determine exactly in what historical period Abraham lived. Scholars now tend to situate the patriarchs in the late bronze period, roughly between 1550 and 1200 BC, but an earlier date is also possible. For the people of Israel Abraham was first of all a legendary figure of great traditional significance. He lived in the distant past, in a period that was very different from the time when the biblical author was recording his history.
The narratives of Genesis often mention that the Canaanites possessed the land. Abraham’s main ally was Mamre, who was an Amorite. The Amorites were also a Semitic people. They were originally nomadic tribes from the eastern deserts who had settled in north Syria. In the late bronze age they mixed with the local populations in Syria and Canaan. In the Bible the term Amorite is sometimes used in a general sense, meaning the original inhabitants of Canaan, the people of the land. In addition to the Canaanites and the Amorites, there were also Hittites living in the land of Canaan in the time of the patriarchs.
It was from a Hittite that Abraham bought a piece of land to bury his wife Sarah. The Hittites are known to us as a powerful people who established a large empire in the Ancient Near East between 1600 and 1200 BC. Their homeland and political center was in Anatolia. It is not entirely clear if the Hittites in Canaan maintained ties with the main group of Hittites in Anatolia.
For a small piece of land for family burial including a cave Abraham is said to have paid four hundred shekels of silver. These shekels were not coins, which only made their appearance in history in about the seventh century BC. Among the people of Israel coins did not come into common usage until near the beginning of the fourth century. Before that time Bible references to money actually indicate raw metal that was measured out by weight. In fact, the Hebrew word for a standard scale weight, shekel, comes from a verb meaning “to weigh.” The text says that Abraham “weighed out four hundred shekels of silver” to pay for a place to bury his wife.
Death, burial, and mourning
In ancient Canaan there was only a small amount of preparation of the body before the burial of an ordinary person. The body was washed, and spices were applied, either as a preservative or against smell. The body was dressed in the dead person’s own clothing or wrapped in a cloth.
Burial conditions varied according to the station and wealth of the family. Nomadic groups, such as the patriarchs, simply buried the body under a pile of stones or near some landmark along the route of travel.
People living in permanent dwellings also had more permanent places of burial. Poorer people did little more than scrape out a shallow hole in which to place the body, covering the hole with stones. Richer people had tombs in caves or cut out of the rock in a location near the area of settlement but outside of it. These were family tombs, which were reused for several generations.
After a body had been placed in a cut tomb or cave, it could be an attraction to wild animals in the area. In order to prevent the animals from getting to the body, the entrance to the tomb was blocked up with stones. If it was a tomb owned by rich people, then it could be a specially prepared stone. Sometimes it was a kind of round boulder that was rolled down an incline to block the entrance. At other times it could be a stone in the shape of a cylinder that was rolled in front of the opening from the side.
Burial in the ancient world was often done in stages. After the person died, he was brought in and laid on a kind of shelf. We can even see here in this very rich tomb a place for the head. The body was left for about a year, and at the end of that year when the flesh had decayed off of the bones, the bones were collected, and they were moved down into a special collection area so that the shelf would then be free for the next person who died. Between the first and second burials, the family was considered to be in mourning.
The practice of burying a person in the same tomb with members of earlier generations gave rise to the expression “he lay down (or slept) with his fathers.”
Some personal possessions were buried with the corpse. These were just symbols of who the person was in life, although some may have been intended to comfort the person in the afterlife or to drive away evil spirits. Sometimes oil lamps were placed at the head of the corpse along with items of food or drink.
Many rituals accompanied the period of mourning. These could include tearing clothing; wearing a heavy cloth with a coarse weave, known as sackcloth; and throwing dust or dirt on one’s head. Mourners wore black clothing, removed all ornaments, and went barefoot. A period of mourning and special widow’s clothing are mentioned in Genesis 38 in the story of Judah and Tamar.
There were also many physical movements connected with mourning. Some of these were weeping and fasting, beating the breast, lifting hands in the air, lying or sitting in silence on the ground, covering the lips, and bowing the head. Certain other actions were practiced by Israel’s pagan neighbors and were explicitly forbidden to the Israelites. Among these were the custom of cutting the flesh or tearing or cutting hair from one’s head or beard.
Sometimes the grieving family hired professional women mourners. The scriptures call these “mourning women,” or “skillful women,” or even “singing women.” The professional mourners could also be accompanied by the playing of flutes.
Abraham came to a land where the amounts of annual rainfall vary greatly from one part of the land to another. The western slopes of the central ridge receive more rain than the slopes to the east of the ridge. Fixed agriculture is difficult on the east slope, which is better suited for the grazing of animals. However, the large combined flocks of Abraham and his nephew Lot could not find sufficient grazing areas and watering places. They had to split up.
At the south end of the Dead Sea stood several cities in a broad plain. The book of Genesis describes this plain as green and fertile. The most prominent of the cities were Sodom and Gomorrah, and there were two others, Admah and Zeboiim.Lot, the nephew of Abraham, chose to live in the city of Sodom. Genesis 19 describes a great destruction of this plain in a judgment of God, and Deuteronomyreflects the result: “The fields will be a barren waste, covered with sulfur and salt; nothing will be planted, and not even weeds will grow there.”
When the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire, Lot escaped with his two daughters. The three lived in a cave above the plain of the destroyed cities.
Lot’s two daughters were either engaged or possibly married. Their husbands had refused to leave Sodom. Out of sexual relations with their father the daughters of Lot gave birth to two sons: Moab and Ammon. The Moabites and the Ammonites, who later inhabited the TransJordan area, would become enemies of Israel.
It was the custom among Semitic peoples to marry within the wider family related to the father. Marriages were often arranged by the heads of families and agreed by a contract. The terms of the contract would include the payment of a “bride price” by the family of the groom. There was a period of betrothal, lasting a year. Only divorce or death could cancel the betrothal, and if the man died during this period, the woman was considered a widow.
Abraham sent his servant all the way back to Mesopotamia to find a wife for his son Isaac. There the servant found Rebecca, the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor. Abraham had to pay a bride price to Nahor’s family. When Rebecca accepted the offer to become Isaac’s wife, she received from Abraham a special wedding gift consisting of jewelry made of silver and gold and dresses. This was an exceptional display of generosity by Abraham.
Twin sons were born to Isaac and Rebecca. Esau was born first and so became the first heir of Isaac’s wealth. The second son, Jacob, tricked his blind father by pretending to be Esau, and so he obtained the ancestral blessing that traditionally belonged to the first born son. Jacob was afraid that his brother would try to get back at him, so he ran away to Haran, where his grandfather Abraham had lived. There he worked as a shepherd for his uncle Laban and married Laban’s two daughters.
However, the relationship between Jacob and his father-in-law got worse and worse. After serving Laban for about twenty years, Jacob one day gathered together his wives, children, slaves, and animals and left the plains of Haran. He did not tell Laban of his intentions but more or less fled from Haran back to Canaan, where his father Isaac still lived.
Rachel had stolen a number of small statues from her father’s house before leaving for Canaan. We do not know what exactly these statues or figurines represented, perhaps gods or possibly ancestors. They were quite small and were in common use in homes all over Syria and Canaan, and even among the Israelites themselves. Such statues, called teraphim in Hebrew, were very important to the people of that time, who believed they protected the family and increased the fertility of the fields and the women. When Laban discovered that Jacob had fled from Haran and that the teraphim had been stolen, he quickly decided to chase the group of Jacob. He caught up with them in the hill country of Gilead.
Jacob did not know that Rachel had taken the teraphim. He denied the theft and challenged Laban to search all the tents. Rachel had hidden them in her tent under the saddle of a camel. Claiming to be unwell, she remained seated on the saddle when her father entered her tent to search for his gods.
The quarrels between Laban and Jacob help to explain the deep-rooted hostility that existed between the Israelites and the Arameans in later times. The narratives of the book of Genesis provide the background for the historical and political relationships between Israel, its rivals, and neighbors as those relationships would exist later, between 1000 and 400 BC. The narratives all have repeated themes: there is rivalry between brothers and other family members; deceit and trickery play dominant roles. Scholars call these narratives etiological, which means that they explain how a present situation originated.
Upon returning to Canaan, Jacob informed his brother Esau of his arrival. According to this narrative, Esau took four hundred men and approached the group of Jacob from the south. Esau lived in the land of Seir in what is now Southern Jordan.
The two brothers met near a wadi, or dry riverbed, named Jabbok, which we can see out behind me in the distance here. There, the night before, Jacob had had his name changed to Israel, after a struggle through the night with a mysterious divine being. The two brothers separated afterwards and each went his way.
Esau returned to his home in Seir, and Jacob went on into Canaan, where he settled near the city of Shechem in the central hill country. From these two brothers would come two rival nations, Edom and Israel.
The Edomites frequently appear in scripture as the enemies of Israel. The Edomites were descendants of Edom, the son of Esau. Sela was the capital of the Edomite kingdom. King David conquered the Edomite kingdom, but after just over one hundred years they managed to free themselves from the rule of the kings of Judah. In the fourth century BC they lost most of their territory to the Nabateans.
Jacob had twelve sons, and these became the forefathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. A number of narratives in the book of Genesis tell about rivalries between the twelve brothers. The story of Joseph, who was sold by his brothers into slavery, is the most expanded example of the rivalry theme in scripture. The brothers were jealous because Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob.
Probably because of successive years of poor rainfall, Canaan suffered from famine conditions. This was a periodic danger in a land situated on the edge of the desert; it was in similar circumstances that Abraham had left for Egypt shortly after arriving in Canaan. The sons of Jacob also now went to Egypt with their families and animals to escape starvation in the land of Canaan. Joseph, the brother they had sold into slavery, had risen to become the vizier, or prime minister of the King of Egypt.
Some scholars date these events to the time when the land of Egypt was under the rule of foreign kings, whom the Egyptians called Hyksos. They were a non-Egyptian group whose origins are obscure. They probably spoke a Semitic language.The Hyksos had conquered Egypt around 1700 BC, and stayed in power for more than a century. It is quite possible that Joseph served in the court of one of the last Hyksos rulers.
The Hyksos had built their capital in the Northeastern part of the Nile delta. The name of the capital was Avaris. If it is accurate to date the Joseph story to this time, then it would have been here that Joseph lived and worked. However, there is still much uncertainty as to the dates of the patriarchs and Joseph. The ruins of the Hyksos capital are barely visible today at a place called Tel ed Daba.
Around 1550 BC the Hyksos were driven out of Egypt, and a new dynasty of native Egyptians took the reigns of power. The descendants of Jacob living in Egypt, sometimes called Hebrews, grew in number and became more and more a risk factor in the eyes of the new rulers. The first chapter of Exodus describes the rise to power of “a king who did not know Joseph.” This probably reflects the fact that a new dynasty had taken over, a dynasty that had not worked with Joseph as prime minister. The king, known by his Egyptian title of “pharaoh,” decided to impose heavy labor on the Hebrews. In order to limit their numerical growth he ordered that all newborn male babies should be killed.
Egypt’s new rulers established their capital at Memphis, on the banks of the Nile River a few kilometers south of present-day Cairo. It appears that Moses grew up there, at the royal court. The pharaoh of the first two chapters of Exodus was probably Raamses II, who was able to reestablish Egypt’s control over the land of Canaan and southern Syria.
Raamses II built a new capital in the Eastern Delta, the city of Pi Raamses, named after himself. In a later dynasty, with its capital city at Memphis, Moses’ family is found living near the Nile River. It seems possible that Moses made long journeys between the capital city and the region where most of his people were living. The Hebrews were forced to labor in the construction of the new capital and another city called Pithom. They had to produce mud bricks. The bricks were used for all buildings except palaces and temples. These more important buildings were constructed of stone that had to be transported by boat from far up the Nile.
The people of Israel were put to work building cities for the Egyptian king. They probably did not build the temples and large administrative buildings, which were made of stone. Instead they built the houses of the officials who would live in those cities. The houses were made mostly of sun-baked bricks. These bricks were made of mud mixed with grass or straw. The straw acted as a binding agent to add strength to the bricks. When they first began their work, the straw was cut by other slaves and supplied to those who made the bricks. After the people complained about their hard work, the king ordered that they go out and cut the straw for themselves. This only added to their workload.
The prophet Nahum describes parts of the brickmaking process, which included trampling the mud and straw with the feet until it was well mixed. The mud was then packed into wooden molds and after the bricks were removed from the molds, they were left to dry and harden in the sun. in some places bricks were hardened in a special oven. The size of mud bricks could vary wiedly from one place to another. In 2 Samuel 12 the meaning of the word “malben” is uncertain. It may refer to a brick mold or to the oven where bricks were baked.
Raamses II ruled Egypt for a very long time, roughly between 1280 and 1230 BC. The book of Exodus records his death. It was to a later pharoah that Moses and Aaron came and asked permission for the Hebrews to go out into the desert to sacrifice to their God. On the face of it, this was a reasonable request. However, since it was coming from an oppressed group of forced laborers, the king was understandably suspicious.
Egyptian sources mention that people called “hapiru” worked on the construction of the cities. The term hapiru was a sociological term for people in Canaan, Syria, and northern Mesopotamia who owned no inherited land and often served as hired soldiers. In the book of Exodus the use of the word Hebrews to refer to the Israelites may reflect the term “hapiru,” although the exact relationship between the words is still unclear.
The spectacular escape of the Hebrews from Egypt is recorded only in the Bible. This is not surprising. The Egyptians believed their king to be the representative on earth of the great sun god. In fact the Pharaoh himself was considered to be a god. As such he was always shown in art and literature as defeating all his enemies. Consequently, Egyptian sources never tell of disasters or defeats of the king, and it is not to be expected that they would preserve a story like the Exodus.
The footstools of the Egyptian kings had images of defeated enemies of Egypt carved in them. As he sat on his throne, the king always had his enemies symbolically under his feet. As is often the case, the biblical imagery of “my enemies a footstool under my feet” originates from real objects and practices in the ancient world.
The Israelite slaves were joined together by Moses, and together they crossed over the Sea of Reeds, according to the narrative of the book of Exodus. This crossing may well have taken place at an area which is today known as the Bitter Lakes, which you can see out in front of me here.
Exodus 14 describes the miraculous departure from Egypt. A strong wind divided the sea and even dried up the sea bottom. The people walked out on dry ground, but the chariots of the Egyptian army were covered by the returning water.
Several possible routes could take the Hebrews back to the land of Canaan, from where their forefathers had come. The most direct route was the Way of the Sea. After their conquests of countries to the north, the Egyptians had built a series of fortified positions along this route. This would have made it too dangerous for a group trying to escape from Pharaoh. A second route heading directly eastward across the Sinai plateau would have been extremely difficult with insufficient water sources. Faced with these choices, the fleeing nation of slaves headed southward.
The composition and the size of the Exodus group is debated. The group may have numbered only a few thousand people. It is described as a mixed group of Israelites and people of other ethnic origins. The leaders, Moses and Aaron, were from the tribe of Levi. Whatever the actual size of the group, the experience of the Exodus had a deep influence on Israel’s faith and religion. The Israelites had experienced that their God was able to defeat the awful powers of the Egyptian gods and their representative, the Pharaoh. From that point onward in Israelite history, whenever the nation was in danger of being destroyed by foreign powers, it was faith in the Lord, who truly had shown his might in Egypt, that kept people going in difficult times.
It is difficult to reconstruct the route the exodus group took from Egypt through the wilderness to the land of Canaan. We do not have a complete chronological description of the route, and often we are not able to identify with certainty the place names that are mentioned in the biblical sources. These sources indicate that the Israelites stayed for extended periods in three specific areas: around Mount Sinai, possibly located in the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula; at the oasis of Kadesh Barnea at the edge of the Negev; and around Mount Hor, which has traditionally been located in the area of the Seir mountain range, to the southeast of the Dead Sea. Many scholars, however, believe that Mount Hor was much closer to Kadesh Barnea.
The Israelites followed the coast. The Southern Sinai peninsula is mountainous, and the coastal strip provides the best natural thoroughfare. After moving some distance southward, the group went inland following the natural route provided by wide dry riverbeds, or wadis. It is extremely difficult for a large group to travel in a very dry area. The trip must be planned carefully from one source of water to the next.
After a journey of several weeks into the wilderness, Moses brought the people to a mountain. There they were later to receive the commandments of God. The mountain is known as the Mountain of the Lord, and in other books of the Old Testament it is also called Mount Sinai or Mount Horeb. They are all the same place. In fact we do not know exactly where that mountain was. This mountain here is one of the candidates, known today as Mount Sinai, also known in Arabic as Mount Moses.This mountain stands at an altitude of 2200 meters, and it is quite a climb to get up here, over 3000 stairs. In fact today in the winter we have snow on the ground—it’s quite cold.
The livestock of the exodus group consisted mainly of sheep and goats. Neither of these animals depends entirely on grass; they are also able to browse from bushes and trees.They are especially good at finding their food even in arid and semi-arid regions. The flocks themselves provided their owners with milk and occasional meat. It is clear, however, that additional food was also needed from time to time, and this need is reflected in the biblical narrative.
The Israelites remained a long time at Mount Sinai. There they made a covenant with the God who had rescued them from the king of Egypt. There too they constructed a sanctuary, but one that could easily be taken down and moved from place to place in their wanderings.
From Sinai they moved on in a northern direction, through wadis and open sandy terrains, until they arrived at the large oasis of Kadesh Barnea.The oasis is situated between the Negev and Sinai deserts. Here the Israelites encamped for many years. An oasis is a source of water and sometimes plant food in an area that is otherwise desert. Kadesh Barnea probably looked similar to these oases, with water and date palm trees.
From Kadesh they made several attempts to occupy land in the south of Canaan. Some small groups may have managed to move into southern parts of Canaan. The large group under Moses intended to move eastwards, passing through the region south of the Dead Sea. This area was populated by the people of Edom. When the Israelites asked for permission to pass, however, the Edomites refused. The Israelites promised not to trespass fields and not to take water from the wells, but the Edomites, who must have been too strong for the nomadic Israelite tribes, would not give their permission.
Another attempt to head north from Kadesh was met with opposition from the king of the Negev region of Arad. Not long after, the Israelites were victorious and destroyed Arad, calling the place Hormah, meaning destruction. Arad had been occupied as early as the fourth millenium BC. At the time of the Israelite invasion there was no city of Arad. There had been a Canaanite village there as early as the fourth millennium. By the early third millennium it grew to a fortified city surrounded by a long wall with intermittent guard towers. Runoff rainwater was collected in a depression in the center of the city. Much later, in the Judean period, a well was dug there. Excavations have revealed private houses as well as temples and a palace. Partly because of increasingly dry conditions, the Canaanite city was abandoned around 2650 BC, and the site remained unoccupied for about 1500 years.
Arad is not mentioned in the Bible after the Israelite invasion, but archaeological excavations show that Israelite settlement was begun there in the 11th century. In the time of Solomon about a hundred years later the city was fortified and guarded the north-south route through the Aravah Valley.
The climate in the Arabah and Jordan Valley must have been very similar to what exists today. The main differences are in the type and amount of vegetation and the presence of wildlife. The Jordan Valley and the area south of the Dead Sea had both forest and grassland. There were large numbers of gazelles and similar mammals, which provided plenty of meat for hunters.The forest also offered considerable wild food resources in the form of fruits and nuts.The Edomites must have been successful in agriculture, in raising animals, and in hunting. Both forests and game have largely disappeared over the centuries.
The exodus group turned and headed south as far as the Red Sea, near the present day city of Eilat. From there they moved in a northeasterly direction, entering Edomite territory from the south. This time relations with Edom were better. The Israelites took the Desert Road, as the biblical sources call it.After a long and difficult trip, the Israelites reached the mountainous area of southern Edom, called Seir.
In Judges 5.4 we read that the Lord came from Seir to fight for his people. Seir was a mountain range to the southeast of the Dead Sea. This mountain range is mentioned in the Bible as a dwelling place of the Lord. Before they entered the land, the Israelites camped for a relatively long period in the valleys near Seir. The highest peak of the range is Mount Hor, the mountain Aaron where was buried.
Until today this entire mountainous area is barren, and in summer it is also extremely dry. It was probably here that Moses struck the rock and brought forth water. The place is still called Wadi Musa, recalling the name of Moses.
From here we can see the valleys where the Israelites camped for an extended period of time. It was here that they were attacked by poisonous snakes. God told Moses to make a snake out of bronze and raise it up in a prominent place in the camp. The Israelites who had been bitten by a snake only had to look at the bronze snake and they would be healed.
God told Moses to take Aaron and Aaron’s son Eleazar up to the top of Mount Hor. The three of them climbed the mountain, and there Moses took off Aaron’s special clothes of the high priest, and Aaron died. Moses then clothed Eleazar with the high priest’s clothing, and Eleazar replaced his father as high priest.
From the mountain range of Seir the exodus group moved northwards over the King’s Highway, which passes along the ridge of the mountains, until they arrived at a wide wadi.This wadi formed the boundary between the land of the Edomites and the land of Moab. The biblical name of the wadi is Zered; today it is called Wadi Hassa.
The Israelites wanted to pass through the land of Moab. They contacted the king of the Amorites, who controlled the land and people of Moab in those days, and they asked permission to pass through his land on the King’s Highway, which ran through his territory. They promised to stay on the King’s Highway. They said they would not enter fields and would not take water from wells. When the Amorite king refused his permission, they had to stay down in the Wadi. This forced them to go in a western direction rather than northwards as they had wanted.
It is also possible that they turned back eastwards through the wadi in order to return to the desert east of the land of Moab, using the Desert Road.
The Israelites moved northward. When the Amorite king refused to give them permission to pass, they fought and defeated several Amorite armies, conquering the Trans-Jordan plateaus of Ammon and Gilead.
Finally the Israelites camped in the Jordan Valley not far from Mount Nebo. The Bible refers to the area as the plains of Moab.
Here, just to the east of the Jordan River, the people of Israel will experience a changing of the guard. Moses ascends Mount Nebo to die, and a new leader, Joshua, will lead some of the tribes of Israel into the land where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had once lived.
R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, Its Life and Institutions, pp. 24-40
I. Polygamy and monogamy
The story of the creation of the first two human beings (Gn 2: 21-24) presents monogamous marriage as the will of God. The patriarchs of Seth’s line (e.g. Noah in Gn 7: 7) are said to be monogamous, and polygamy first appears in the reprobate line of Cain, when Lamek takes two wives (Gn 4: 19). Such was the traditional story of the origins of man.
In the patriarchal age, Abraham had at first only one wife, Sarah, and it was because she was barren that he took her handmaid Hagar, at Sarah’s own suggestion (Gn 16: 1-2). Abraham also married Qeturah (Gn 25: 1), but since this is related after the death of Sarah (Gn 23: 1-2), Qeturah could have been his lawful, wedded wife. (Against this view, however, Gn 25: 6, which speaks of Abraham’s concubines in the plural, seems to refer to Hagar and Qeturah.) Similarly, Nahor, who had children by his wife Milkah, also had a concubine, Reumah (Gn 22: 20-24); and Eliphaz, son of Esau, had both a wife and a concubine (Gn 36: 11-12).
In all this the patriarchs are following the customs of the time. According to the Code of Hammurabi (about 1700 B.C.), the husband may not take a second wife unless the first is barren, and he loses this right if the wife herself gives him a slave as concubine. The husband can, however, himself take a concubine, even if his wife has borne him children; but the concubine never has the same rights as the wife, and he may not take another concubine unless the first is barren. In the region of Kirkuk, in the fifteenth century B.C., the same customs obtained, but it seems that there the barren wife was under an obligation to provide a concubine for her husband.
In all these instances there is relative monogamy, for there is never more than one lawful, wedded wife. But other examples show that these restrictions were not always observed. Jacob married the two sisters Leah and Rachel, each of whom gave him her maid (Gn 29: 15-30; 30: 1-9), and Esau had three wives who were of equal rank (Gn 26: 34; 28: 9; 36: 1-5). It would seem that the patriarchs followed a less stringent code of conduct than that which prevailed in Mesopotamia at the same time, but the latter too was soon relaxed. At the end of the second millennium B.C., the Assyrian Code of Law assigns an intermediary place, between the wife and the concubine who is a slave, to the esirtu, or ‘woman ofthe harem’; a man may have several esirtu, and an esirtu may be raised to the rank ofwife.
In Israel, under the Judges and the monarchy, the old restrictions fell into disuse. Gideon had ‘many wives’ and at least one concubine (Jg 8: 30-31). Bigamy is recognized as a legal fact by Dt 21: 15-17, and the kings sometimes kept a large harem.
There was, it seems, no limit to the number ofwives and concubines a man might have. Much later, the Talmud fixed the number ofwives at four for a subject and eighteen for a king. In practice, however, only royalty could afford the luxury ofa large harem, and commoners had to be content with one wife, or two at the most. Samuel’s father had two wives, one ofwhom was barren (1 S 1: 2); and, according to 2 Ch 24: 3, the priest Yehoyada had chosen two wives for King Joash. It is hard to say whether bigamy ofthis kind, referred to in Dt 21: 15-17 also, was very common, but it was probably no more frequent than with the Bedouin and fellahs ofmodern Palestine, who, for all the liberty allowed by Moslem law, are rarely polygamous. Sometimes self-interest leads a man to take a second wife, for he thus acquires another servant; more often, it is the desire for many children, especially when the first wife is barren, or has borne only daughters. There is also the fact that the Eastern woman, being married very young, ages quickly. The same motives played their part, no doubt, in ancient Israel.
The presence ofseveral wives did not make for peace in the home. A barren wife would be despised by her companion (e.g. Anna and Peninnah, in 1 S 1: 6), even if the latter were a slave (cf. Sarah and Hagar, in Gn 16: 4-5); and the barren wife could be jealous ofone with children (as Rachel was of Leah, Gn 30: 1). The husband’s preference for one ofhis wives could make this rivalry more bitter (Gn 29: 30-31; 1 S 1: 5), until eventually the law (Dt 21: 15-17) had to intervene toprevent the children ofhis favorite from receiving more than their fair share ofthe inheritance. The attitude has left its mark on the language, which calls the wives ofone man ‘rivals’ (1 S 1: 6; cf. Si 37: 12).
It is clear, however, that the most common form ofmarriage in Israel was monogamy. It is noteworthy that the books ofSamuel and Kings, which cover the entire period ofthe monarchy, do not record a single case ofbigamy among commoners (except that ofSamuel’s father, at the very beginning ofthe period). The Wisdom books, too, which provide a picture ofsociety in their age, never mention polygamy. Except for the text ofSi 37: 11, just cited, which might be interpreted in a wider sense, the many passages in these books which speak ofa wife in her home all yield a better meaning against the background ofa strictly monogamous family (cf, for example, Pr 5: 15-19; Qo 9: 9; Si 26: 1-4 and the eulogy ofa perfect wife which closes the book ofProverbs, Pr 31: 10-31). The book ofTobias, a family tale, never refers to any but monogamous families, that of the elder Tobias, that of Raguel, and that founded by the younger Tobias and Sarra. The image of a monogamous marriage is before the eyes of those prophets who represent Israel as the one wife chosen by the one and only God (Hos2: 4f.; Jr 2: 2; Is 50: 1; 54: 6-7; 62: 4-5), and Ezekiel develops the same metaphor into an allegory (Ez 16). It is true that the same prophet compares Yahweh’s dealings with Samaria and Jerusalem to a marriage with two sisters (Ez 23; cf. also Jr 3: 6-11), but this is merely to adapt the allegory of chapter 16 to the historical conditions which prevailed after the political schism.
2. The typical Israelite marriage
Just as the unmarried woman was under the authority of her father, so the married woman was under the authority of her husband. The Decalogue (Ex 20: 17) lists a wife among a man’s possessions, along with his servants and maids, his ox and his ass. The husband is called the ba’al or ‘master’ of his wife, just as he is the ba’al of a house or field (Ex 21: 3, 22; 2 S 11: 26; Pr 12: 4, etc.); a married woman is therefore the ‘possession’ of her ba’al (Gn 20: 3; Dt 22: 22). Indeed, ‘to marry a wife’ is expressed by the verb ba’al, the root meaning of which is ‘to become master’ (Dt 21: 13; 24: 1).
The question immediately arises, whether this usage indicates that the wife was really considered as her husband’s property; in other words, had she been bought by him? It has often been suggested that the Israelites practiced a form of ‘marriage by purchase’ (ethnographers have certainly shown its existence among other peoples). The argument is based partly on the vocabulary employed, and partly on the story of Rachel and Leah (who complain that their father has sold them, Gn 31: 15). But one need not give a formal, juridical sense to words spoken by women in a moment of anger. However, the supporters of the purchase-theory appeal above all, and with more reason, to the custom of the Mohar.
The mohar was a sum of money which the fiancé was bound to pay to the girl’s father. The word occurs only three times in the Bible (Gn 34: 12; Ex 22: 16; 1 S 18: 25). The amount could vary; it depended on the girl’s father (Gn 34: 12), and on the social standing of the family (1 S 18: 23). For a compulsory marriage after a virgin had been raped, the law prescribed the payment of fifty shekels of silver (Dt 22: 29). But, since this was a penalty, the ordinary mohar must have been less. Besides, fifty shekels is roughly the sum paid by the Pharaoh Amenophis III for the women of Gezer destined for his harem. According to Ex 21: 32, thirty shekels was the indemnity due for the death of a female servant, but this too was a penalty. The law on the fulfillment of vows (Lv 27: 4-5) valued a woman at thirty shekels, and a girl under twenty years of age at ten shekels.
A fiancé could compound for the payment of the mohar by service, as Jacob did for both his marriages (Gn 29: 15-30), or by accomplishing an appointed task, as David did for Mikal (1 S 18: 25-27) and Othniel for Caleb’s daughter (Jos 15: 16 = Jg 1: 12).
This obligation to pay a sum of money, or its equivalent, to the girl’s family obviously gives the Israelite marriage the outward appearance of a purchase. But the Mohar seems to be not so much the price paid for the woman as a compensation given to the family, and, in spite of the apparent resemblance, in law this is a different consideration. The future husband thereby acquires a right over the woman, but the woman herself is not bought and sold. The difference becomes clear if we compare the mohar marriage with another type of union, which really was a purchase: a girl could be sold by her father to another man who intended her to be his own, or his son’s, concubine; she was a slave, and could be re-sold, though not to an alien (Ex 21: 7-11). Furthermore, it is probable that the father enjoyed only the usufruct of the mohar, and that the latter reverted to the daughter at the time of succession, or if her husband’s death reduced her to penury. This would explain the complaint of Rachel and Leah against their father, that he had ‘devoured their money’ after having ‘sold’ them (Gn 31: 15).
A similar custom, with the same name (mahr), is found among the Palestinian Arabs of to-day. The mahr is a sum of money paid by the fiancé to the girl’s parents. Its amount varies from village to village, and according to the family’s income; the amount depends, too, on whether the girl is marrying within her kin or outside the clan, whether she is of the same village or from some other place. Those concerned do not regard this payment as a real purchase, and part of the sum goes towards the bride’s trousseau.
A parallel, though not identical, custom existed in ancient Babylonian Jaw: the tirbatu, though not a necessary condition of the marriage, was usually paid over to the girl’s father, and sometimes to the girl herself. The amount varied greatly, from one to fifty shekels of silver. This sum was administered by the father, who enjoyed the usufruct of it; but he could not alienate it, and it reverted to the wife if she was widowed, or to her children after their mother’s death. In Assyrian law, the tirbatu was given to the girl herself. It was not a purchase price, but, according to two very probable theories, either a compensation to the girl for the loss of her virginity, or a dowry intended to assist the wife if she lost her husband. There is a close parallel in the marriage-contracts found in the Jewish colony at Elephantine; there the mohar is counted among the wife’s possessions, though it had been paid to the father.
The gifts presented by the bridegroom on the occasion of the wedding are quite different from the mohar: the two things are clearly distinguished in Gn 34: 12. These presents offered to the girl and her family were a reward for their accepting tl1e proposal of marriage. So, as soon as Rebecca’s marriage had been agreed on, Abraham’s servant brought out jewels and dresses for the girl, and rich presents for her father and mother (Gn 24: 53).
The same custom is found in Mesopotamia. According to the Code of Hammurabi, the bridegroom distributed presents to the girl’s parents, and if they broke off the engagement, they had to restore twice what they had received. By Assyrian law, where the tirbatu was a gift of money made previously to the bride, the man gave her ornaments also and made a present to her father.
Was there, in addition, a dowry, a contribution on the part of the bride at the time of the marriage? It is difficult to reconcile any such custom with the payment of the mohar by the bridegroom. In fact, there is no mention of any mohar in those texts which mention what seems like a dowry: the pharaoh gave Gezer as a wedding gift to his daughter when Solomon married her (1 K 9: 16); and when Tobias married Sarra, her father gave Tobias half of his fortune (Tb 8: 21). Solomon’s marriage, however, follows Egyptian custom, and he is above convention, while the story of Tobias is set in a foreign land. Besides, since Sarra was an only child, this grant appears to be an advance of the inheritance. In Israel, parents might give presents to their daughter at her wedding-a slave, for example (Gn 24: 59; 29: 24, 29), or a piece of land (Jos 15: 18-19), though the latter present was made after the wedding. In general, the custom of providing a dowry never took root in Jewish territory, and Si 25: 22 seems even to repudiate it: ‘A woman who maintains her husband is an object of anger, of reproach and of shame.’
In Babylonian law, however, the f1ther gave the young bride certain possessions, which belonged to her in her own right, the husband having only the use of them. They reverted to the wife if she were widowed or divorced without fault on her part. Assyrian law seems to contain similar provisions.
By marriage a woman left her parents, went to live with her husband, and joined his clan, to which her children would belong. Rebecca left her father and mother (Gn 24: 58-59), and Abraham would not allow Isaac to go to Mesopotamia unless the wife chosen for him agreed to come to Canaan (Gn 24: 5-8). A few marriages mentioned in the Bible seem, however, to be exceptions to this general rule. Jacob, after marrying Leah and Rachel, continued to live with his father-in-law, Laban; when he stole away, Laban reproached him for taking away Leah and Rachel, protesting that they were ‘his’ daughters and their children ‘his’ children (Gn 31: 26, 43). Gideon had a concubine who continued to live with her family at Shechem (Jg 8: 31), and her son Abimelek asserted the relationship which united him to his mother’s clan (Jg 9: 1-2). When Samson married a philistine woman of Timnah, the woman continued to live with her parents, where Samson visited her (Jg 14: 8f; 15: 1-2).
Some think these marriages are a type of union in which the wife does not leave her father’s house; instead, the husband takes up residence in her home, and severs his connections with his own clan. Ethnographers call it a beena marriage, from its name in Ceylon, where their research has been principally centered. But the comparison is not exact. Jacob’s fourteen years of service were equivalent to the mohar. He stayed a further six years with his father-in-law (Gn 31: 41) simply because he was afraid of Esau’s vengeance (Gn 27: 42-45) and because he had a contract with Laban (Gn 30: 25-31). It was not, in fact, on the plea of matrimonial law that Laban opposed Jacob’s departure with his wives (Gn 30: 25f); he merely blamed him for running away secretly (Gn 31: 26-28). He would have spoken differently if Jacob, by his marriage, had become a member of his own clan. As for Gideon, the text stresses that the woman was a concubine. The story of Samson’s marriage is more to the point, but it must be noted that Samson did not stay at Timnah with his wife; he only came to visit her, and he was not incorporated into her clan, so that this too is not a beena marriage.
Gideon’s marriage should be compared, rather, with the şadiqa union of the ancient Arabs. It is not so much a marriage as a liaison sanctioned by custom: şadiqa means ‘lover’ or ‘mistress’. Samson’s marriage has close similarities with a form found among Palestinian Arabs, in that it is a true marriage but without permanent cohabitation. The woman is mistress of her own house, and the husband, known as joz musarrib, ‘a visiting husband’, comes as a guest and brings presents. Ancient Assyrian law also provided for the case where a married woman continued to live with her father, but it has not been proved that this kind of marriage (called erebu) constitutes a special type of marriage.
3. Choosing the bride
The Bible gives no information about the age at which girls were married. The practice of marrying the eldest first was not universal (Gn 29: 26). On the other hand, it seems certain that girls, and therefore presumably boys too, were married very young; for centuries this has been the custom of the East, and in many places it still obtains to-day. The books of Kings, however, usually give the age of each king of Judah at his accession, followed by the length of his reign and the age of his son (normally the eldest) who succeeded him. From these figures we can deduce that Joiakin married at sixteen, Amon and Josiah at fourteen; but the calculations are based on figures which are not all reliable. In later days the Rabbis fixed the minimum age for marriage at twelve years for girls and thirteen for boys.
Under these circumstances it is understandable that the parents took all the decisions when a marriage was being arranged. Neither the girl nor, often, the youth was consulted. Abraham sent his servant to choose a wife for Isaac, and the servant arranged the contract with Rebecca’s brother, Laban (Gn 24: 33-53). Her own consent was asked only afterwards (vv. 57-58), and, if we interpret this by analogy with certain Mesopotamian texts, her consent was asked only because her father was dead, and because her brother, not her father, had authority over her. When Abraham expelled Hagar from his camp, she took a wife for Ishmael (Gn 21: 21), and Judah arranged the marriage of his first-born (Gn 38: 6). Alternatively, the father might guide his son’s choice, as, for example, when Isaac sent Jacob to marry one of his cousins (Gn 28: 1-2). Hamor asked for Dinah as a wife for his son Shechem (Gn 34: 4-6), and Samson, when he fell in love with a Philistine woman, asked her parents for her (Jg 14: 2-3). Even the independent-minded Esau took his father’s wishes into account (Gn 28: 8-9). Caleb decided on his daughter’s marriage (Jos 15: 16), as did Saul (1 S 18: 17, 19,21,27; 25: 44). At the end of the old Testament, the elder Tobias advised his son on the choice of a wife (Tb 4: 12-13), and the marriage of young Tobias with Sarra was agreed on with the father of Sarra, in her absence (Tb 7: 9-12).
Once the proposal of marriage had been put to the girl’s parents, they discussed the conditions, especially the amount of the Mohar (Gn 29: 15f; 34: 12). In short, even in those days marriageable daughters caused as much anxiety to their parents as to-day (Si 42: 9).
Nevertheless, parental authority was not such as to leave no room for the feelings of the young couple. There were love marriages in Israel. The young man could make his preferences known (Gn 34: 4; Jg 14: 2), or take his own decision without consulting his parents, and even against their wishes (Gn 26: 34-35). It was rarer for the girl to take the initiative, but we do read of Saul’s daughter Mikal falling in love with David (1 S 18: 20).
Actually, young people had ample opportunity for falling in love, and for expressing their feelings, for they were very free. 2 M 3: 19, it is true, speaks of the young girls of Jerusalem being confined to the house, but this text refers to the Greek period and to an exceptional state of affairs. The veiling of women came even later. In ancient times young girls were not secluded and went out unveiled. They looked after the sheep (Gn 29: 6), drew the water (Gn 24: 13; 1 S 9: 11), went gleaning in the fields behind the reapers (Rt 2: 2f) and visited other people’s houses (Gn 34: 1). They could talk with men without any embarrassment (Gn 24: 15-21; 29: 11-12; 1 S 9: 11-13).
This freedom sometimes exposed girls to the violence of young men (Gn 34: 1-2), but the man who seduced a virgin was bound to marry his victim and to pay an enhanced Mohar; and he forfeited the right to divorce her (Ex 22: 15; Dt 22: 28-29).
It was the custom to take a wife from among one’s own kith and kin; the custom was a relic of tribal life. So Abraham sent his servant to find Isaac a wife among his own family in Mesopotamia (Gn 24: 4), and Isaac in turn sent Jacob there to find a wife (Gn 28: 2). Laban declared that he would rather give his daughter to Jacob than to a stranger (Gn 29: 19), and Samson’s father was saddened because his son did not choose a wife from his own clan (Jg 14: 3); Tobias, too, advised his son to choose a wife within his tribe (Tb 4: 12).
Marriages between first cousins were common, e.g. the marriage between Isaac and Rebecca, and those of Jacob with Rachel and Leah. Even to-day such marriages are common among the Arabs of Palestine, where a young man has a strict right to the hand of his cousin. According to Tb 6: 12-13 and 7: 10, Tobias’ request for Sarra’s hand could not be refused, because he was her nearest kinsman; it is ‘a law of Moses’ (Tb 6: 13; 7: 11-12). The Pentateuch, however, contains no such prescription. The text in Tobias must refer either to the accounts of the marriages of Isaac and Jacob (cf. especially Gn 24: 50-51), or perhaps to the law requiring heiresses to marry within their father’s clan, to preclude the alienation of family property (Nb 36: 5-9), for Sarra was Raguel’s only daughter (Tb 6: 12). The same considerations of patrimony and blood-relationship were the basis of the obligation of the levir towards his widowed sister-in-law.
Marriages did take place, however, between persons of different families, and even with foreign women. Esau married two Hittite women (Gn 26: 34), Joseph an Egyptian (Gn 41: 45) and Moses a Midianite (Ex 2: 21). Naomi’s two daughters-in-law were Moabites (Rt 1: 4); David had a Calebite and an Aramaean among his wives (2 S 3: 3), and Solomon’s harem included, ‘besides the pharaoh’s daughter, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites’ (1 K 11: 1; cf 14: 21). Ahab married Jezebel, a Sidonian (1 K 16: 31). Israelite women, too, were married to foreigners, Bathsheba to a Hittite (2 S 11: 3), and the mother of Hiram the bronzeworker to a Tyrian (1 K 7: 13-14).
These mixed marriages, made by kings for political reasons, became common among subjects also, after the settlement in Canaan (Jg 3: 6). They not only tainted the purity of Israel’s blood, but also endangered its religious faith (1 K 11: 4), and were therefore forbidden by law (Ex 34: 15-16; Dt 7: 3-4). An exception was made for women captured in war, whom Israelites could marry after a ceremony symbolizing the abandonment of their country of origin (Dt 21: 10-14). Scant respect was paid to these prohibitions, however, and the community which returned from the Exile continued to contract mixed marriages (Mal 2: 11-12); Ezra and Nehemiah both had to take strict measures, which, it seems, were not always very effective (Esd 9-10; Ne 10: 31; 13: 23-27).
Within the family, marriages with very close relations were forbidden, because one does not unite with ‘the flesh of one’s body’ (Lv 18: 6), affinity being held to create the same bond as consanguinity (Lv 18: 17). These bans amount to the prohibition of incest. Some are primitive, others represent later additions to the law; the main collection of precepts is found in Lv 18. An impediment of consanguinity exists in the direct line between father and daughter, mother and son (Lv 15: 7), father and granddaughter (Lv 15: 10), and in the collateral line between brother and sister (Lv 15: 9; Dt 27: 22). Marriage with a half-sister, which was permitted in the patriarchal age (Gn 20: 12) and even under David (2 S 13: 13), is forbidden by the laws of Lv 18: 11; 20: 17; marriage between a nephew and aunt, like that from which Moses was born (Ex 6: 20; Nb 26: 59), is prohibited by Lv 15: 12-13; 20: 19. The impediment of affinity exists between a son and his step-mother (Lv 15: S), between father-in-law and daughter-in-law (Lv 15: 15; 20: 12; cf Gn 3S: 26), between mother-in-law and son-in-law (Lv 20: 14; Dt 27: 23), between a man and the daughter or granddaughter of a woman he has married (Lv 15: 17), between a man and his uncle’s wife (Lv 18: 14; 20: 20), between brother-in-law and sister-in-law (Lv 18: 16; 20: 21). Marriage with two sisters, which might seem to be authorized by the example of Jacob, is forbidden by Lv 18: 18.
Members of the priestly line were subject to special restrictions. According to Lv 21: 7, they could not take a wife who had been a prostitute, or divorced by her husband. Ez 44: 22 adds also widows, unless they were widows of a priest. The rule was even stricter for the high priest: he could marry only a virgin of Israel.
Engagement, or betrothal, is a promise of marriage made some time before the celebration of the wedding. The custom existed in Israel, and Hebrew has a special word for it, ’aras, which occurs eleven times in the Bible.
The historical books provide little information. The engagements of Isaac and Jacob are rather peculiar. Though Rebecca was promised to Isaac in Mesopotamia, the wedding took place only when she joined him in Canaan (Gn 24: 67); Jacob waited seven years before marrying, but he had a special contract with Laban (Gn 29: 15-21). The story of David and Saul’s two daughters is clearer. Merab had been promised to him, but ‘when the time came’ she was given to another man (1 S 18: 17-19); Mikal was promised to David on payment of a hundred foreskins from the Philistines, which he brought ‘before the time had passed’ (1 S 18: 26-27). On the other hand, Tobias married Sarra as soon as the terms of the marriage contract were agreed (Tb 7: 9-16).
Legal texts, however, show that engagement was a recognized custom with juridical consequences. According to Dt 20: 7, a man who is engaged, though not yet married to a girl, is excused from going to war. The law of Dt 22: 23-27 makes provision for the case in which a betrothed virgin is violated by a man other than her fiancé. If the crime was committed in a town, the girl is stoned along with her seducer, because she should have cried for help; if she was assaulted in the country, only the man is put to death, because the woman might have cried without being heard.
The gloss in 1 S 18: 21 probably preserves the formula spoken by the girl’s father to make the engagement valid: ‘To-day you shall be my son-in-law.’
The amount of the mohar was discussed with the girl’s parents at the time of the engagement, and was no doubt paid over at once if, as usually happened, it was paid in money.
The custom existed in Mesopotamia also. An engagement was concluded by the payment of the tirbatu, the equivalent of the mohar, and it entailed juridical consequences. A certain interval elapsed between the engagement and the marriage, during which either party could withdraw, but at the price of a forfeit. Hittite law contained similar provisions.
5. Marriage ceremonies
It is interesting to note that both in Israel and in Mesopotamia, marriage was a purely civil contract, not sanctioned by any re1igious rite. Malachi, it is true, calls the bride ‘the wife of thy covenant’ (b’rith: Mal 2: 14), and b’rith is often used for a religious pact; but here the pact is simply the contract of marriage. In Pr 2: 17 marriage is called ‘the covenant of God’, and in the allegory of Ez 16: 8 the covenant of Sinai becomes the contract of marriage between Yahweh and Israel.
The texts just cited may well allude to a written contract; apart from these references, the Old Testament mentions a written marriage contract only in the story of Tobias (Tb 7: 13). We possess several marriage contracts originating from the Jewish colony at Elephantine in the fifth century B.C., and the custom was firmly established among the Jews in the Greco-Roman era. How far back it dates is hard to say. The custom existed in very early times in Mesopotamia, and the Code of Hammurabi declares that a marriage concluded without a formal contract is invalid. In Israel, acts of divorce were drawn up before the Exile (Dt 24: 1-3; Jr 3: 8), and it would be surprising if contracts of marriage did not exist at the same time. Perhaps it is merely by accident that they are never mentioned in the Bible.
The formula pronounced at marriage is given in the Elephantine contracts, which are made out in the name of the husband: ‘She is my wife and I am her husband, from this day for ever.’ The woman made no declaration. An equivalent formula is found in Tb 7: 11, where Sarra’s father says to Tobias: ‘Henceforth thou art her brother and she is thy sister.’ In a contract of the second century after Christ, found in the desert of Judah, the formula is: ‘Thou shalt be my wife.’
Marriage was, of course, an occasion for rejoicing. The chief ceremony was the entry of the bride into the bridegroom’s house. The bridegroom, wearing a diadem (Song 3: 11; Is 61: 10) and accompanied by his friends with tambourines and a band (1 M 9: 39), proceeded to the bride’s house. She was richly dressed and adorned with jewels (Ps 45: 14-15; Is 61: 10), but she wore a veil (Song 4: 1,3; 6: 7), which she took off only in the bridal chamber. This explains why Rebecca veiled herself on seeing Isaac, her fiancé (Gn 24: 65), and how Laban was able to substitute Leah for Rachel at Jacob’s first marriage (Gn 29: 23-25). The bride, escorted by her companions (Ps 45: 15), was conducted to the home of the bridegroom (Ps 45: 16; cf. Gn 24: 67). Love songs were sung in praise of the bridal pair Jr 16: 9), examples of which survive in Ps 45 and in the Song of Songs, whether we interpret them literally or allegorically.
The Arabs of Palestine and Syria have preserved similar customs–the procession, the wedding songs and the veiling of the bride. Sometimes, during the procession, a sword is carried by the bride or in front of her, and sometimes she performs the dance of the sabre, advancing and retiring before it. Some have compared this with the dance of the Shulamite in Song 7: 1. In some tribes the bride pretends to escape from the bridegroom, and he has to make a show of capturing her by force. It has been suggested that these games are a survival of marriage by abduction; the story of the men of Benjamin and the girls who danced in the vineyards of Shiloh would be an example from the Old Testament (Jg 21: 19-23). There seems to be little foundation for these comparisons. The brandishing of the sword is symbolic: it cuts away bad luck and drives off evil spirits. There is nothing to suggest that the Shulamite’s dance was a sabre-dance, and the incident at Shiloh is explained by exceptional circumstances which are recorded in the story.
Next came a great feast (Gn 29: 22; Jg 14: 10; Tb 7: 14). In these three passages the feast took place at the home of the bride’s parents, but the circumstances were exceptional. As a general rule it was certainly given at the bridegroom’s house (cf. Mt 22: 2). The feast normally lasted seven days (Gn 29: 27; Jg 14: 12), and could even be prolonged for two weeks (Tb 8: 20; 10: 7). But the marriage was consummated on the first night (Gn 29: 23; Tb 8: 1). The blood-stained linen of this nuptial night was preserved; it proved the bride’s virginity and would be evidence if she were slandered by her husband (Dt 22: 13-21). The same naive custom still obtains in Palestine and other Moslem countries.
6. Repudiation and divorce
A husband could divorce his wife. The motive accepted by Dt 24: 1 is ‘that he has found a fault to impute to her’. The expression is very vague, and in the Rabbinical age there was keen discussion on the meaning of this text. The rigorist school of Shammai admitted only adultery and misconduct as grounds for divorce, but the more liberal school of Hillel would accept any reason, however trivial, such as the charge that a wife had cooked a dish badly, or merely that the husband preferred another woman. Even before this age, Si 25: 26 had told the husband: ‘If thy wife does not obey thee at a signal and a glance, separate from her.’
The form of divorce was simple: the husband made out a declaration contradicting that which had sealed the marriage contract: ‘She is no longer my wife and 1 am no longer her husband’ (Hos 2: 4). In the colony at Elephantine he pronounced in front of witnesses the words: ‘I divorce my wife’ (literally: ‘I hate my wife’). In Assyria he said: ‘I repudiate her’ or ‘You are no more my wife.’ But in Israel, Mesopotamia and Elephantine, the husband had to draw up a writ of divorce (Dt 24: 1, 3; Is 50: 1; Jr 3: 8) which allowed the woman to remarry (Dt 24: 2). A writ of divorce dating from the beginning of the second century of our era has been found in the caves of Murabba’at.
The law laid few restrictions on the husband’s right. A man who had falsely accused his wife of not being a virgin when he married her could never divorce her (Dt 22: 13-19), nor could a man who had been compelled to marry a girl he had violated (Dt 22: 28-29). If a divorced wife remarried, and later regained her liberty by the death of her second husband or by divorce from him, the first husband could not take her back (Dt 24: 3-4; cf Jr 3: 1). Hosea’s double marriage (Hos 2-3)-if, as it seems, he did take back a wife he had divorced-is not forbidden by this law, for in the meantime she had not remarried, but had become a prostitute. Nor did the law apply to Mikal, first married to David, then given to another man and finally taken back by David (1 S 18: 20-27; 25: 44; 2 S 3: 13-16), because David had never divorced her.
We do not know whether Israelite husbands made much use of this right, which seems to have been very far-reaching. The Wisdom books praise conjugal fidelity (Pr 5: 15-19; Qo 9: 9), and Malachi teaches that marriage makes the two partners one person, and that the husband must keep the oath sworn to his partner: ‘I hate divorce, says Yahweh, the God of Israel’ (Mal 2: 14-16). But not until New Testament times do we find the proclamation, by Jesus, of the indissolubility of marriage. He uses the same argument as Malachi: ‘what God bas joined together, let no man separate’ (Mt 5: 31-32; 19: 1-9 and parallels).
Women, on the other hand, could not ask for a divorce. Even at the beginning of the Christian era, when Salome, the sister of Herod, sent her husband Kostabar a letter of divorce, her action was held to be against Jewish law. If the Gospel envisages the possibility of a woman divorcing her husband (Mk 10: 12, but not in the parallels), it is certainly with reference to Gentile customs. The Jewish colony of Elephantine, which was subject to foreign influence, did allow a woman to divorce her husband. In Palestine itself the custom is attested in the second century of our era by a document from the desert of Judah.
In Mesopotamia, according to the Code of Hammurabi, the husband could divorce his wife by pronouncing the appropriate formula, but he had to pay her compensation, varying according to the circumstances. The wife could obtain a divorce only after a judicial decision recognizing the husband’s guilt. In Assyrian law the husband could repudiate his wife without any compensation, but the wife could not obtain a divorce at all. The situation revealed by Assyrian marriage contracts is still more complicated, for they often stipulate still more onerous conditions for the husband: when arranging the marriage, the wife’s parents might protect her interests by special clauses.
Though the Old Testament makes no mention of them, it is likely that in Israel too, certain financial conditions were attached to divorce. According to the marriage contracts of Elephantine, the husband who repudiated his wife could not reclaim the mohar; he paid the ‘price of divorce’. Similarly, the wife who separated from her husband paid the same ‘price of divorce’, but took away her personal property, which presumably included the mohar.
7. Adultery and fornication
The condemnation of adultery in the Decalogue (Ex 20: 14; Dt 5: 18) is placed between the prohibitions of murder and stealing, among acts which injure one’s neighbour. In Lv 18: 20 it is ranked among sins against marriage: it makes a person ‘unclean’. In Israel, then, as everywhere in the ancient east, adultery was a sin against one’s neighbour, but the text of Lv 18: 20 adds a religious consideration, and the stories of Gn 20: 1-13; 26: 7-11 represent adultery as a sin against God.
If a man commits adultery with a married woman, both the partners in crime are put to death (Lv 20: 10; Dt 22: 22), and, on this count, a girl engaged to be married is treated exactly like a woman already married (Dt 22: 23f.), for she belongs to her fiancé in exactly the same way as a married woman belongs to her husband. According to Dt 22: 23f.; Ez 16: 40 (cf. Jn 8: 5), the penalty was death by stoning, but it is possible that in ancient times it was death by burning. Judah condemned his daughter-in-law Tamar to be burned alive (Gn 38: 24), because he suspected she had given herself to a man at a time when she was the widow of his son Er, and, by the law of levirate, promised to his other son Shelah.
The latest collection of Proverbs (Pr 1-9) often puts young men on their guard against the seductions of a woman who is unfaithful to her husband. She is called the ‘strange woman’, meaning simply the wife of another man (Pr 2: 16-19; 5: 2-14; 6: 23-7: 27). Such love leads to death (2: 18; 5: 5; 7: 26-27), but this ‘death’ is generally synonymous with moral perdition: it appears once as the revenge of the injured husband (6: 34), never as the legal punishment of adultery.
The older parts of Proverbs rarely refer to adultery (Pr 30: 18-20) but they rank it side by side with prostitution (23: 27). The man who goes after prostitutes dissipates his wealth and loses his strength (Pr 29: 3; 3 1: 3), but he commits no crime in the eyes of the law. Judah, for example, is not blamed for taking his pleasure with one whom he thinks is a prostitute (Gn 38: 15-19); his only fault is in not observing the law of levirate towards his daughter-in-law (Gn 38: 26).
The husband is exhorted to be faithful to his wife in Pr 5: 15-19, but his infidelity is punished only if he violates the rights of another man by taking a married woman as his accomplice.
In contrast with the licence which the husband enjoyed, the wife’s misconduct was punished severely: it is the ‘great sin’ mentioned in certain Egyptian and Ugaritic texts, the ‘great sin’ which the king of Gerar almost committed with Sarah (Gn 20: 9; cf the metaphorical use of the same term with reference to idolatry, in Ex 32: 21, 30, 31; 2 K 17:21). Her husband could, indeed, pardon her, but he could also divorce her, and her punishment entailed disgrace (Hos 2: 5, 11-12; Ez 16: 37-38; 23: 29). We have no information about unmarried women, except that a priest’s daughter who turned to prostitution was to be burned alive (Lv 21: 9).
8. The levirate
According to a law of Dt 25: 5-10, if brothers live together and one of them dies without issue, one of the surviving brothers takes his widow to wife, and the first-born of this new marriage is regarded in law as the son of the deceased. The brother-in-law can, however, decline this obligation, by making a declaration before the elders of the town; but it is a dishonorable action. The widow takes off his shoe and spits in his face, because ‘he does not raise up his brother’s house’.
This institution is called levirate, from the Latin levir, translating the Hebrew yabam (‘brother-in-law’). Only two examples of it occur in the Old Testament, both of them difficult to interpret and only imperfectly corresponding to the law in Deuteronomy: the stories of Tamar and Ruth.
Judah’s first-born son, Er, dies without having a child by his wife Tamar (Gn 38: 6-7). It is the duty of his brother Onan to marry the widow, but Onan docs not want to have a child who would not be, in law, his own son, so he frustrates his union with Tamar; for this sin, Yahweh brings about his death (Gn 38: 8-10). Judah ought now to give Tamar his youngest son Shelah, but he shirks this duty (38: 11); so Tamar tricks her father-in-law into having intercourse with her (38: 15-19). This story of ancient times presents the obligation of the levirate as much stricter than in the law of Deuteronomy; the brother-in-law may not decline the duty, and it passes to all the surviving brothers in turn (cf. Mt 22: 24-27). Tamar’s intercourse with Judah may be a relic of a time when the duty of levirate fell on the father-in-law if he had no other sons, a practice which is found among some peoples. More probably, it is the desperate act of a woman who desires children of the same stock as her husband.
The story of Ruth combines the custom of the levirate with the duty of redemption which fell on the go’el The law of Dt 25 docs not apply, for Ruth had no more brothers-in-law (Rt 1: 11-12). The fact that some near relative must ,marry her, and that this obligation proceeds in a certain order Rt. 2: 20; 3: 12), no doubt indicates a period or a milieu in which the law of levirate was a matter for the clan rather than for the family in the strict sense. In any case, the intentions and effects of the marriage were those of a levirate marriage, for it was made ‘to perpetuate the name of the dead’ (Rt 4: 5, 10; cf. 2: 20), and the child born of it was considered the son of the deceased (Rt 4: 6; cf. 4: 17).
There are parallels to this custom among other peoples, and especially among Israel’s neighbors. Though the Code of Hammurabi does not mention it, the Assyrian laws devote several articles to it. Though they do not expressly state that the widow had to be childless, this may be due to a gap in the text. On the other hand, they treat engagement, for this purpose, in just the same way as a consummated marriage; if a betrothed man dies, his fiancée must marry the dead man’s brother. Some of the Hittite laws also mention the levirate, but they are less detailed. The custom also existed among the Hurrites of Nuzu and perhaps in Elam, and there is evidence of it at Ugarit also.
Discussion about the purpose of the levirate seems to be endless. Some have regarded it as a means of perpetuating ancestor-worship, others as an indication of a fratriarchal society. But, whatever may be true of other nations, the Old Testament gives its own explanation, which seems sufficient. The essential purpose is to perpetuate male descent, the ‘name’, the ‘house’, and therefore the child (probably only the first child) of a levirate marriage was considered the child of the deceased man. It was not mere sentiment, but an expression of the importance attached to blood-ties. A secondary, but similar, purpose was to prevent the alienation of family property. This consideration appears in Dt 25: 5, which makes it a condition of the levirate that the brothers should be living together, and it explains why, in the story of Ruth, the right of redeeming the land is linked with the duty of marrying the widow. The same motive is found in the legislation about the Jubilee (Lv 25), and in the law about daughters who are heiresses (Nb 36: 2-9).
THE POSITION OF WOMEN: WIDOWS
It has already been said that the wife called her husband ba’al or ‘master’; she also called him ’adon or ‘lord’ (Gn 18: 12; Jg 19: 26; Am 4: 1); she addressed him, in fact, as a slave addressed his master, or a subject his king. The Decalogue includes a man’s wife among his possessions, along with his house and land, his male and female slaves, his ox and his ass (Ex 20: 17; Dt 5: 21). Her husband can repudiate her, but she cannot claim a divorce; all her life she remains a minor. The wife does not inherit from her husband, nor daughters from their father, except when there is no male heir (Nb 27: 8). A vow made by a girl or married woman needs, to be valid, the consent of father or husband and if this consent is withheld, the vow is null and void (Nb 30: 4-17).
For all this, the wife of an Israelite was by no means on the level of a slave. A man could sell his slaves, or even his daughter (Ex 21: 7), but he could never sell his wife, even though he had acquired her as a captive in war (Dt 21: 14). The husband could divorce his wife, but she was protected by the letter of repudiation, which restored her freedom. Most probably, the married woman kept, if not the use, at least the ownership, of part of the mohar and of whatever she received from her parents (cf Jos 15: 19; Jg 1: 15).
All the hard work at home certainly fell to her; she looked after the flocks, worked in the fields, cooked the food, did the spinning, and so on. All this apparent drudgery, however, far from lowering her status, earned her consideration. Sometimes, in exceptional circumstances, a woman could even take part in public affairs. Israel honoured Deborah and Jael as heroines Jg 4-5), Athaliah reigned over Judah for several years (2 K 11); Huldah the prophetess was consulted by the king’s ministers (2 K 22: 14f); and the books of Judith and Esther tell how the nation was saved by a woman.
Within the family, respect for a wife increased on the birth of her first child, especially if the child were a boy (Gn 16: 4 and Gn 29: 31-30: 24; note the explanation of the names which Leah and Rachel gave to their children). Her husband became more attached to her, and her children owed her obedience and respect. The law condemned the faults of children against their mother as much as offences against their father (Ex 21: 17; Lv 20: 9; Dt 21: 18-21; 27: 16), and the Decalogue (Ex 20: 12) commanded equal honor to be given to father and mother (cf. Lv 19: 3). The Wisdom books insist on the respect due to one’s mother (Pr 19: 26; 20: 20; 23: 22; 30: 17; Si 3: 1-16). And those rare passages which give us a glimpse into the intimacy of family life show that an Israelite wife was loved and listened to by her husband, and treated by him as an equal: Samuel’s mother, for example (1 S 1:4-8,22-23), and the woman of Shunem (2 K 4: 8-24), or the two aged couples in the book of Tobias. And there is no doubt that this was the normal picture. It was a faithful reflection of the teaching enshrined in Genesis, where God is said to have created woman as a helpmate for man, to whom he was to cling (Gn 2: 18, 24); and the last chapter of Proverbs sings the praises of a good housewife, blessed by her children, and the pride of her husband (Pr 31: 10-31).
The social and legal position of an Israelite wife was, however, inferior to the position a wife occupied in the great countries round about. In Egypt the wife was often the head ofthe family, with all the rights such a position en tailed. In Babylon she could acquire property, take legal action, be a party to contracts, and she even had a certain share in her husband’s inheritance.
In the colony at Elephantine, under such foreign influence, the Jewish wife acquired certain civil rights. We have already said that she could obtain a divorce. She could also own property, and thereby became liable to taxation (in a long list of taxpayers, there are thirty-two names of women). Deeds of exchange and donations, etc., also survive, in which the contracting parties were women.
The position of widows calls for some special remarks. A vow made by a wife continued to bind her after her husband’s death (Nb 30: 10). By the levirate law, a childless widow could continue as part of her husband’s family. If there were no levir, she could re-marry outside the family (Rt 1: 9), spending the interval before her second marriage with her own father and mother (Rt 1: 8; Gn 38: 11; cf. Lv 22: 13). The story of Tamar, however, shows that even during this period her father-in-law retained authority over her (Gn 38: 24). The widow wore mourning, at least for a time (Gn 38: 14; 2 S 14: 2; Jdt 8: 5; 10: 3). How long the period of mourning lasted is not known, but to spend more than three years mourning, as Judith did, seems exceptional Jdt 8: 4).
Judith was a rich widow. More commonly widows, especially those with children to support, were in a piteous condition (1 K 17: 8-15; 2 K 4: 1-7; cf. the widow in the Gospel, Mk 12: 41-44; Lk 21: 1-4). They were therefore protected by religious law and commended to the charity of the people, together with orphans and resident aliens-all those, in fact, who no longer had a family to assist them (Ex 22: 21, and emphatically in Deuteronomy 10: 18; 24: 17-21; 26: 12-13; 27: 19; cf. Is 1: 17; Jr 22: 3; note in contrast Is 1: 23; Jr 7: 6; cf. also Jb 29: 13). God himself is their protector, according to Ps 146: 9.
The mention of Bethuel, Rebecca’s father, in v. 50, is an addition. Bethuel was dead, and Laban was the head of the family (cf. vv. 33, 53, 55, 59).
R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, Its Life and Institutions, pp. 56-61
DEATH AND FUNERAL RITES
The distinction between soul and body is something foreign to the Hebrew mentality, and death, therefore, is not regarded as the separation of these two elements. A live man is a living ‘soul’ (nephesh), and a dead man is a dead ‘soul’, a dead ‘nephesh‘ (Nb 6: 6; Lv 21: 11; cf. Nb 19: 13). Death is not annihilation. So long as the body exists and the bones at least remain, the soul exists, like a shade, in a condition of extreme weakness, in the subterranean abode of Sheo1 (Jb 26: 5-6; Is 14: 9-10; Ez 32: 17-32).
These ideas account for the care bestowed on the corpse and the importance of honourable burial, for the soul continued to feel what was done to the body. Hence to be left unburied, a prey to the birds and the wild beasts, was the worst of all curses (1 K 14: 11; Jr 16: 4; 22: 19; Ez 29: 5). Yet the corpse which was doomed to corruption, and the tomb which contained it, were both considered unclean, and conveyed uncleanness to those who touched them (Lv 21: 1-4; 22: 4; Nb 19: 11-16; Hag 2: 13; cf. Ez 43: 7).
I. Treatment of the corpse
In Gn 46: 4 there is an allusion to the custom of closing the eyes of the dead; this almost universal custom is perhaps simply explained by the resemblance of death to sleep. The nearest relatives embraced the body (Gn 50: 1). It is probable that it was then prepared for burial, but we have no information earlier than the New Testament (Mt 27: 59 and parallels; Jn 11: 44; 19: 39-40). The pins and other ornaments found in excavated tombs show that the dead were buried fully clothed. Samuel came up from Sheol with his cloak around him (1 S 28: 14), and Ez 32: 27 tells us that soldiers were laid to rest in their armour, with their swords under their heads and their shields under their bodies.
Embalming was never practised in Israel: the two examples known, those of Jacob and Joseph, are explicitly ascribed to Egyptian custom (Gn 50: 2-3). The corpse was not placed in a coffin (cf. 2 K 13: 21), but carried on a bier (2 S 3: 31; cf. Lk 7: 14). Joseph’s body was placed in a coffin; but it is the only example recorded, and this also is to be explained by Egyptian custom (Gn 50:26). We do not know the interval which elapsed between death and burial. The seventy days’ mourning before the transfer of Jacob’s body is exceptional, for the Egyptians accorded the Patriarch a royal funeral. The precept of Dt 21: 22-23 concerns only the bodies of those who had been executed: they had to be removed before nightfall. The delay was probably very short, as it still is in the East; it is probable that, as a general rule, burial took place on the day of death.
There is no evidence that corpses were cremated in Palestine, except in days long before the coming of the Israelites, or among groups of foreigners; the Israelites never practised it. On the contrary, to burn a body was an outrage, inflicted only on notorious criminals (Gn 38: 24 ; Lv 20: 14; 21 : 9), or upon enemies a man wanted to annihilate for ever (Am 2: 1). There remains one difficult instance: the people of Yabesh in Gilead burnt the bodies of Saul and his sons before burying their bones (1 S 31: 12); it seems to have been a departure from traditional usage, and the parallel passage in 1 Ch 10: 12 omits this point. In addition we must not confuse with cremation the references given in Jr 34: 5; 2 Ch 16: 14; 21: 19, which speak of a fire being lit at the death of a king who died in peace with God: this is certainly not cremation, but incense and perfumes were burned near the body.
The normal type of Israelite tomb is a burial chamber dug out of soft rock, or making use of a natural cave. The entry is a narrow passage opening on one of the sides: on the other three sides are ledges on which the bodies were laid. There is sometimes a cavity in which the bones of skeletons were placed, to make way for new burials. These tombs are, in fact, common tombs, used by a family or clan over a considerable period. There does not seem to have been any fixed rule about the position of the bodies. Some personal belongings and pottery were put beside the corpse. These funeral offerings, intended for the use of the dead, are not so numerous or rich as in the Canaanite period, and, at the end of the Israelite period, are confined to a few vases or lamps. Men’s ideas on the fate of the dead had progressed, and their offerings had only symbolic value.
In the Hellenistic period a new type of tomb appears; instead of ledges, narrow niches are cut perpendicularly into the wall, and the corpses placed inside. For at least two hundred years, from 100 B.C. to A.D. 100, the bones were laid to rest in coffers of soft limestone: great numbers of these ossuaries have been discovered in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. In Palestine, other methods of burial, such as shafts opened in the rock, stone sarcophagi and wooden or leaden coffins, are later than Old Testament times.
Not every family could afford the expense of owning and maintaining such tombs. The poor were simply laid to rest in the ground, and at Jerusalem, in the Kedron valley, there was a ‘tomb of the sons of the people’, a common trench, where the bodies of ‘stateless persons’ and condemned criminals were thrown (Jr 26: 23; cf. 2 K 23: 6). The rich, on the other hand, provided themselves during life with burial-places worthy of their rank (Is 22: 16; cf. Jb 3: 14), and the remains of well-tended tombs, belonging to important persons in Jerusalem, can still be seen at Shiloah. The necropolis of the kings of Judah, where David and his successors until Achaz were buried, lay inside the ramparts, in the old city of David (1 K 2: 10; 11: 43; 14: 31, down to 2 K 16: 20, but cf. 2 Ch. 28: 27). Excavations have brought to light two galleries in the rock, which may be the remains of these tombs; they have been opened several times, and were later wrecked by quarrying.
The site of a tomb might be marked by a pillar: thus, Jacob set up a stele over Rachel’s tomb (Gn 35: 20), and Absalom, who had no son ‘to make his name remembered’, had a stele prepared for himself near Jerusalem (2 S 18: 18). Some stelae were definitely funeral monuments, and stelae were also erected on the high places, the bamoth; this raises the question whether a cult of the dead was not practised on the high places. This suggestion can claim the support of a few biblical texts which have been corrupted or badly understood. Is 53: 9 should read, according to the Qumran manuscript: ‘They set his grave among the wicked, and his bamah (here: the place of his tomb) with the rich (or: with evil-doers)’; Jb 27: 15, with a very simple change of vowels, reads: ‘Their survivors will be buried in bamoth, and their widows will not weep for them’; Ez 43: 7 needs no correction: ‘Never again will they defile my holy name with their prostitutions, and with the funeral stelae (peger) of their kings in their bamoth.‘But the construction of a monument over the tomb or in connection with it is a late practice. The first written mention of it occurs in connection with the tomb of the Maccabees at Modin (1 M 13: 27, 30). The tombs in the Kedron valley which have monuments over them (the so-called tombs of Absalom, Josaphat, St James and Zacharias) all date from the end of the Greek or the beginning of the Roman period, according to the experts.
Except for the kings of Judah, there is no evidence that the dead were buried inside the towns. The tombs were scattered over the surrounding slopes, or grouped in places where the nature of the soil was favourable. The tomb was family property, whether it stood on land belonging to the family (Jos 24: 30, 32; 1 S 25: 1; 1 K 2: 34), or in a piece of land bought as a burying place (Gn 23). Itwas thus that family tombs were established: the cave of Macpelah, which Abraham bought for the burial of Sarah (Gn 23) became in later days the tomb of Abraham himself (Gn 25: 9-10), of Isaac and Rebecca, of Jacob and Leah (Gn 49: 29-32; 50: 13). It was normal for a man to be buried ‘in the tomb of his father’ (Jg 8: 32; 16: 31; 2 S 2: 32; 17: 23); they hoped for it during life (2 S 19: 38), and David made this gesture as a last tribute to the bones of Saul and his descendants (2 S 21: 12-14). Conversely, to be excluded from the family tomb was a punishment from God (1 K 13: 21-22). The expressions ‘to sleep with one’s fathers’ and ‘to be reunited with one’s own’, which record the deaths of great Old Testament figures, patriarchs and kings of Israel or Judah, perhaps referred originally to this custom of a family tomb; but the original meaning later took on a deeper sense, and the words became a solemn formula signifying death, and at the same time emphasizing that the ties of blood reached beyond the grave.
3. Mourning rites
The deceased person’s relatives, and those present at the death and funeral, went through a certain ritual, many items of which were customary on occasions of great sorrow, in public calamities and in seasons of penance.
At news of the death, the first action was to tear one’s garments (Gn 3T 34; 2 S 1: 11; 3: 31; 13: 31; Jb 1: 20). Then ‘sackcloth’ was put on (Gn 37:34; 2 S 3 : 31); it was a coarse material, usually worn next to the skin, around the waist and below the breast (cf. 2 K 6: 30; 2 M 3: 19). (The ‘nakedness’ of Mi 1: 8 means this rudimentary garment, in spite of the parallel of Is 20: 2-4.) The mourners took off their shoes (2 S 15: 30; Ez 24: 17, 23; Mi 1: 8) and headdress (Ez 24: 17,23). Yet, on the other hand, a man covered his beard (Ez 24: 17, 23) or veiled his face (2 S 19: 5; cf 15: 30). It is probable that to put one’s hands on one’s head was a regular sign of mourning: the Bible speaks of this gesture as an expression of sorrow or shame (2 S 13: 19; Jr 2: 37), and it is the pose of weeping women in certain Egyptian bas-reliefs and on the sarcophagus of Ahiram, king of Byblos.
The mourner would put earth on his head (Jos T 6; 1 S 4: 12; Ne 9: 1; 2 M 10: 25; 14: 15; Jb 2: 12; Ez 27: 30); he would roll his head (Jb 16: 15), or even his whole body (Mi 1: 10) in the dust, and lie or sit among a heap of ashes (Est 4: 3; Is 58: 5; Jr 6: 26; Ez 27:30).
Mourners would also shave their hair and beard, at least partly, and make cuts on their bodies (Jb 1: 20; Is 22: 12; J r 16: 6; 41: 5; 47: 5; 48: 37; Ez 7: 18; Am 8: 10). These rites, however, are condemned by Lv 19: 27-28; cf 21: 5, and by Dt 14: 1, for the taint of heathenism they preserve. Lastly, mourners refrained from washing and using perfumes (2 S 12: 20; 14: 2; Jdt 10: 3).
4. Rites concerning food
David kept a day’s fast for Saul and Jonathan (2 S 1: 12) and also for Abner (2 S 3: 35), and people were surprised that he did not fast for his dead child (2 S 12: 20-21). After burying the remains of Saul and his sons, the inhabitants of Yabesh fasted for seven days (1 S 31: 13), the usual period of strict mourning (Gn 50: 10; Jdt 16: 24; Si 22: 12; but cf 38: 17). The fact that Judith continued to fast, except on feast days, throughout her widowhood, is noted as something exceptional (Jdt 8: 5-6).
Neighbours or friends brought mourning bread and the ‘cup of consolation’ to the relatives of the deceased (Jr 16: 7; Ez 24: 17, 22; cf. Hos 9: 4), for the uncleanness which was attached to the house of the dead prevented food from being prepared there.
On the other hand, some texts mention, though in mockery, the making of food-offerings to the dead person (Ba 6: 26), which might be placed on his tomb (Si 30: 18 [Greek: in Hebrew ‘before an idol’]). Excavations show that there was a time when the Israelites followed the Canaanite custom of
depositing food in the tomb. In Tb 4: 17 the elder Tobias counsels his son to be lavish with bread and wine on the tomb of the just, but this precept is taken from the pagan book entitled The Wisdom of Ahiqar, and, in the immediate context of the book of Tobias, could be interpreted of alms given on the occasion of a funeral. Whatever be the true interpretation of this text, such and similar customs continued for a long time, and still do continue in parts of the Christian world; they indicate nothing more than a belief in survival after death and a feeling of affection towards the dead. They are not acts of worship directed towards the dead, for that attitude never existed in Israel. Prayer and sacrifice of expiation for the dead (both incompatible with a cult of the dead) appear at the very end of the Old Testament, in 2 M 12: 38-46.
Perhaps we should explain the very awkward text of Dt 26: 14 by reference to the same customs. The Israelite there declares that he has taken nothing as mourning food, nor made any offering to the dead, out of the tithe, which is holy and reserved to the poor (v. 13); either use would have made the entire tithe unclean.
5. The funeral lamentations
The chief funeral ceremony was the lamentation for the dead. In its simplest form it was a sharp, repeated cry, compared in Mi 1: 8 to the call of the jackal or the ostrich. They cried, ‘Alas, alas!’ (Am 5: 16), ‘Alas, my brother!’ or, ‘Alas, my sister!’ (1 K 13: 30), or, if it were a member of the royal family, ‘Alas, Lord! Alas, Majesty!’ (Jr 22: 18; 34: 5). A father would call on his son by name (2 S 19: 1, 5). For the death of an only son, the lamentation was particularly heart-rending (Jr 6: 26; Am 8: 10; Zech 12: 10). These cries were uttered by the men and women in separate groups (Zech 12: 11-14); it was the duty of close relations (Gn 23: 2; 50: 10; 2 S 11: 26), though everyone present joined in (1 S 25: 1; 28: 3; 2 S 1: 11-12; 3: 31, etc., where to ‘make mourning’ means ‘to perform the lamentation’).
These exclamations of sorrow could be developed into a lament, a qinah, composed in a special rhythm (2 S 1: 17; Am 8: 10). The oldest and finest is that sung by David for the death of Saul and Jonathan (2 S 1: 19-27). David wrote one for Abner, too (2 S 3: 33-34). But these laments were usually composed and sung by professionals, men or women (2 Ch 35: 25; Am 5: 16), especially women Or 9: 16f; cf Ez 32: 16). It was a trade or profession which they taught their daughters (Jr 9: 19). There were fixed forms, and a stock number of themes, which the wailers then applied to the individual. Thus the lament over Judas Maccabee, the beginning of which is quoted in 1 M 9: 21, repeats the words of the lament over Saul and Jonathan. The mourners praised the qualities of the dead man and bewailed his fate, but it is a most striking fact that the examples preserved in the Bible never have a religious content. In the elegy on Saul and Jonathan, for example, there is deep human emotion, but not a word of religious feeling.
In the Prophets we find imitations of these funeral hymns, which they use to depict the misfortunes of Israel, of its kings and of its enemies (Jr 9: 9-11, 16-21; Ez 19: 1-14; 26: 17-18; 27: 2-9, 25-36; 28: 12-19; 32: 2-8; Am 5: 1-2). The best example of all is the book of Lamentations.
6. Interpretation of these rites
These funeral rites have sometimes been explained as evidence for a cult of the dead. Sometimes the argument is that the deceased person was feared, and that the living therefore wanted to protect themselves from him, or to secure his goodwill; at other times, it is argued that the living attributed a kind of divinity to the dead. There is no foundation for either opinion in the Old Testament.
At the other extreme, it has been held that these rites were merely the expression of sorrow at the loss of a dear one. It is true that many of these rites were used in times of great sorrow and national disaster; they were not, then, restricted to funeral services. But to say that the rites are merely the expression of sorrow is not sufficient, for some of them (wearing sackcloth, for example, or fasting) are found as penitential rites, and can therefore have a religious meaning. The self-mutilation and shaving of the head which the Law condemned (Lv 19: 27-28; Dt 14: 1) certainly had a religious significance, even though we cannot now define it. The food-offerings express, at the very least, belief in a life beyond the grave. Finally, these ceremonies were regarded as a duty which had to be paid to the dead, as an act of piety which was their due (1 S 31: 12; 2 S 21: 13-14; Tb 1: 17-19; Si 7: 33; 22: 11-12). For children, these rites formed part of that duty to their parents enjoined by the Decalogue. We conclude that the dead were honoured in a religious spirit, but that no cult was paid to them.
R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, Its Life and Institutions, pp. 203-209
4. Measures of weight
While foodstuff, were measured by volume, precious materials and metals were weighed. Small things were weighed on a beam-balance with two scales. The weights, usually of hard stone, were called ‘eben, which means both ‘stone’ and ‘weight’; they were kept in a purse (Dt 25: 13; Mi 6: 11; Pr 16: 11).
‘To weigh’ is shaqal and the sheqel or shekel was consequently the basic unit of weight. This unit is common to all ancient Semitic metrologies. The original text of 2 S 14: 26 speaks of 200 shekels ‘at the king’s weight’, and a series of post-exilic texts mentions the ‘shekel of the sanctuary’ (Ex 30: 13, 24; 38: 24-26; Lv 5: 15; 27: 3,25; Nb 3: 47, 50; 7 passim; 18: 16). In all these references it is the weight which conforms to the official standard, or else a unit of the sallle name but heavier; some of the Ugaritic texts reckon in ‘heavy’ shekels and in Mesopotamia there was a series of ‘royal’ weights, double the ordinary weights. In a story from the patriarchal period, before the institution of the State, there is a reference to shekels which were ‘current among the merchants’ (Gn 23: 16). But it sometimes happened that traders had large and small ‘stones’ (Dt 25: 13), two kinds of weights (Pr 20: 23), according to whether they were buying or selling.
The multiples of the shekel are the mina and the talent. The mina (maneh) appears only rarely and is apparently late (1 K 10: 17, perhaps redactional; Ez 45: 12; Esd 2: 69; Ne 7: 70, 71; cf. Dn 5: 25). The mina is often mentioned in Mesopotamian texts, but we may note that at Ugarit it is attested only in Akkadian texts of foreign origin, or by Ugaritic translations of them; in practice, however, weights of 50 shekels were used, the equivalent of one mina. The talent (kikkar) takes its name from the fact that it is a weight of circular shape (root: krr). It is a unit for gross reckoning, often used in the historical books but seldom in the Pentateuch (Ex 25: 39; 37: 24; 38: 24-29).
Several fractions of the shekel are mentioned: a half-shekel (Ex 30: 13), one-third of a shekel (Ne 10: 33), a quarter-shekel (1 S 9: 8). But there are also special names for the small units of weight. The beqa’, literally a ‘fraction’, is mentioned only in Gn 24: 22 and Ex 38 : 26, and is a half-shekel. The gerah (probably ‘grain’) is the smallest unit of weight (Ex 30: 13; Lv 27: 25; Nb 3: 47; 18: 16; Ez 45: 12). The payim, familiar to archaeologists, is mentioned in 1 S 13: 21, a text which was for a long time incomprehensible; it represents two-thirds of a shekel (cf Za 13: 8). Another term occurring only once in the Bible, but known in Akkadian, is quoted in Dn 5: 25, 28 (Aramaic), along with the mina and the shekel: it is the p’res, with the plural or dual parsin (‘part’), representing half a mina or, more probably, half a shekel.
Finally we must mention the q’sitah, an otherwise unknown unit of weight, used by Jacob when paying for the field of Shechem (Gn 33: 19; cf. Jos 24: 32, and repeated in Jb 42: 11 by a deliberate archaism).
The basic elements of these units are found among Israel’s neighbours. In Mesopotamia they are arranged on a sexagesimal basis: the shekel contains 180 ‘grains’ and is also divided into multiple fractions, from two-thirds to a twenty-fourth of a shekeL The mina is 60 shekels and the talent is 60 minas = 3,600 shekels. At Ugarit the talent is only 3,000 shekels; the value of the mina is not given by the texts where it is mentioned, but it appears from the series of weights that it was only 50 shekels, and so there were 60 minas in the talent.
For Israel, the following values are given by the texts: according to Ex 38: 25-26, the talent is worth 3,000 shekels and the beqa’ is a half-shekel. From Lv 27: 25; Nb 3: 47; 18: 16; Ez 45: 12, the shekel contains 20 gerah, and the first three texts make clear that this is the shekel of the sanctuary. Evaluation of the mina is more difficult: the Hebrew of Ez 45: 12 reads: ‘the mina shall be for you 20 shekels and 25 shekels and 15 shekels’, which gives a total of 60shekels, like the Babylonian mina. The manner of counting is odd, but is perhaps explained by the existence of weights of 15, 20 and 25 shekels, the last representing half a mina of 50 shekels, as at Ugarit. Ezechiel seems to try to revalue the mina, as Ez 40: 5 would revalue the cubit and Ez 45: 11 would perhaps revalue the ‘ephah and the bath. Reckoning the shekel as 20 gerah Ez 45: 12, followed by the later texts, would then be part of the scheme of reform. The best plan is therefore to draw up two tables. One depends on Ex 38: 25-26, and runs as follows:
mina 60 1
shekel 3,000 50 1
beqa’ 6,000 100 2 1
These values seem to be confirmed bythe penalties of 100 shekels (Dt22: 19) and 50shekels (Dt22: 29) and the tax of 50 shekels imposed on the wealthy byMenahem (2 K 15: 20), We must remember that the name of the mina is very rare and that here we have its equivalent in shekels, The system is of a respectable antiquity, and, as we have seen, obtained at Ugarit.
From the data given by Ezechiel, we can produce another table:
mina 60 1
shekel 3,600 60 1
gerah 72,000 1,200 20 1
This value for the mina seems to be fOlUld in an ancient text: according to Ex 21: 32, a fine of 30 shekels is imposed in a case where the Code of Hammurabi imposes half a mina.
To transpose these weights into our modern systems is very difficult. In the system most commonly used in Mesopotamia, the shekel weighed 0.30 ounces (8.4 grams), but there was a series derived from the ‘royal’ talent in which all the units weighed double. At Ugarit a collection of weights postulates a light shekel of 0.34 ounces (9.5 grams), and the texts speak of a ‘heavy’ shekel, perhaps its double, which would give a weight of 0.67 ounces (18.7 grams).
For Israel, excavations in Palestine have yielded numerous weights, some of which bear a numerical mark or the name of a unit of weight, or both together. Though their archaeological contcxt is rarely beyond dispute, these inscribed weights can gcnerally be dated, by epigraphic criteria, towards the cnd of the monarchy. But there an~ notable differences of weight bctween specimens belonging to the same type and apparently to the samc period, and found in the same site (e.g. at Tell ed-Duweir, which has produced a large collection). Only the small units are represented byinscribed weights, and none bears the name ‘shekel’; it is replaccd by a symbol, followed bya number. Since it was the commonest unit, the word ‘shekel’ must also be supplied in many reckonings in the Bible.
The longest series of inscribed weights bears the symbol and the numbers 1, 2, 4 or 8. At least twenty-five examples are known, a dozen of them for eight units, The mark is that of the shekel, and they weigh about 0.41 ounces (11.5 grams). A small bronze weight, found at Gezer, is marked lmlk with a figure 2; this would be a ‘royal’ weight. It actually weighs 0.79 ounces (22.28 grams), which would give a shekel of 0.39 ounces (11.14 grams), but the metal may have lost some of its weight through oxidization.
Half a dozen weights connected with this series are inscribed pym; the word can be recognized, as we said, in 1 S 13: 21, and stands for two-thirds of a shekel. Judging bywhat they weigh, a shekel is about 0.42 ounces (12 grams).
The weights inscribed bq’ evidently represent half-shekels (cf. Ex 38:26). The six known specimens weigh roughly 0.21 ounces (6 grams) and suggest a shekel of at least 0.42 ounces or 12 grams.
Besides these, we possess a dozen weights inscribed nsp. This seems to mean the ‘half’ of a unit, but the unit is not the Israelite shekel, for judging by what they weigh the nsp averages 0.35 ounces (10 grams). It belongs, therefore, to another system, also represented by a small weight, marked 1/4 nsp, weighing 0.09 ounces (2.54 grams), and perhaps by certain uninscribed weights, some of which weigh 0.18 ounces (5 grams) and others 0.72 ounces (20 grams). Clearly, they represent 1/2 and 2 nsp respectively. The name is never found in the Old Testament as that of a weight, but it is found in the Ugaritic texts together with the shekel, and is perhaps represented by a weight of 0.34 ounces (9.5 grams) in the weight system: in the Ugaritic system, the nsp would be a ‘light’ shekel, ‘half’ of the ‘heavy’ shekel. Perhaps the nsp weights found in Palestine were lost there by ‘Canaanite’ traders.
Uncertainty about the exact value of the shekel and the theoretical nature of Ezechiel’s classification prevent us suggesting more than approximate values for the mina and the talent. The ancient mina must have weighed between 1.213 and 1.323 pounds (550 and 600 grams), the talent between 75 and 80 pounds (34 and 36 kilograms). In Ezechiel’s system the mina would have weighed about 1.54 pounds (700 grams). It is useless to be too precise in what has always been a fluctuating metrology.
5. The coinage
Study of weights leads us naturally to that of the coinage. The earliest form of trade was bartering merchandise, and payment was made, at first, in goods which could be measured or counted―so many measures of barley or oil, so many head of cattle, etc. For the sake of convenience, metal was soon adopted as the means of payment; sometimes it was wrought, sometimes in ingots, the quality and weight of which determined the value in exchange. Metal was used in large quantities for the payment of tribute (2 K 15: 19; 15: 14, etc.), in small amounts for individual transactions with foreign countries (Gn 42: 25, 35; 43: 12f.; 1 S 13: 21; 1 K 10: 29), and always, it seems, for the purchase of land (Gn 23: 14f; 2 S 24: 24; 1 K 16: 24; 21: 2; Jr 32: 9). Solomon paid Hiram in kind (1 K 5: 25) and Mesha used to pay a tribute of sheep and wool (2 K 3: 4). The two methods of payment might he combined: Hosea acquired his wife for 15 shekels of silver, a homer of barley and a lethek of barley (Hos 3 : 2).
The metals ofexchange were copper, gold and, chiefly, silver. The word keseph, silver, thus came to mean both the metal itself and the medium of payment, like kaspu in Akkadian, argent in French and ‘silver’ in Scottish usage. At a very early date in the Eastern Mediterranean, at Mycenae, in Cyprus, in Egypt, in Mesopotamia and in Syria, the metal was melted into ingots of different shapes, or into discs, bars, brooches and rings, sometimes bearing signs certifying their weight and purity, but this was not yet coinage. Payments were always made by weight. The weight of the silver or gold is often mentioned on Egyptian monuments and is described in one of the Ras Shamra poems. This remained the only method of payment among the Israelites until the Exile; the q’sitah of Gn 33: 19 is not ‘coinage of the patriarchal period’, but a weight of unknown value. The verb shaqal means both ‘to weigh’ and ‘to pay’, and the shekel became the basic unit in the Jewish monetary system after first being the basic unit of the Israelite weight system. To pay for the cave of Macpelah Abraham ‘weighs’ 400shekels to Ephron (Gn 23 : 16); Jeremias ‘weighs’ 17 shekels to his cousin forthe field at Anathoth (Jr 32: 9, etc.). Merchants are called ‘weighers of silver’ in Zeph 1: 11. The State acted in exactly the same way. To finance the repairing of the Temple, King Joash placed at the entrance to the sanctuary a chest, prototype of our church alms-boxes, in which the faithful deposited silver of every shape. When they saw the chest contained a large amount of silver, the royal secretary came and the silver found in the Temple of Yahweh was melted down and calculated. Then they sent the silver, after checking it, to the master-builders, who paid it out (2 K 12: 10-13). This should be compared with what Herodotus relates about Darius : ‘The gold and silver of the tribute are kept by the king in this fashion: he has them melted down and poured into earthenware jars. When the vessel is full, the clay covering is taken off and, when the king needs money, he has so much metal broken into pieces as is required for each occasion’ (Hist. III, 96).
But between Joash and Darius came the invention of coinage. A coin is a piece of metal stamped with a mark which guarantees its denomination and weight. In theory, then, it can be accepted at sight, without weighing or checking. It was invented in Asia Minor in the seventh century B.C., and the custom spread through the Near East, largely through the influence of the Persians. The earliest coins were made of electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver, which was collected in the sands of river-beds, especially in the Pactolus. Croesus invented a bimetallic system of gold and silver staters. These ‘croesids’ were replaced under Darius by ‘darics’ of gold and shekels of silver. The daric had no rival as a gold coin, but the use of the Median shekel was not widespread and it did not compete with the Greek silver coins.
Naturally, then, the first references to coinage in the Bible appear in the post-exilic books. Gold darics are mentioned in Esd 8: 27 and, by an anachronism, in 1 Ch 29: 7, which refers to the time of David. The reckonings of Esd 2: 69 and Ne 7:69-71 are made in gold drachmas. The silver drachma was the Greek coin most highly valued, especially the Athenian drachma, the ‘owl’ of the fifth century B.C. But the gold drachmas were struck only rarely, and were never in wide circulation. It seems certain, then, that the ‘drachmas’ of Esd and Ne are darics, the confusion being due to the redactor, or to a copyist’s fault. We cannot tell whether the silver shekels of Ne 5: 15; 10: 33 refer to a weight or a coin; but they are certainly not Median shekels, for these were never current in Palestine.
The oldest coins discovered in Palestine are Greek Macedonian coins: an electrum coin dated circa 500 B.C. comes from the latest excavations at Balata (Shechem), and a silver four-drachma piece struck at Aegaea about 480 has been found in a tomb at Athlith. It is obvious that these coins from remote lands were not current in Palestine, and circulated only for their value as ingots, estimated by their weight.
But Judaea, like other provinces of the Persian Empire, eventually struck its own coinage. The first Jewish coin seems to have been a small silver piece of the fifth century B.C., originating from Hebron and similar to those, of uncertain series, from Arabia and Philistia in the same period. It bears the inscription bq’ in old Hebrew script, and weighs 0.14 ounces (3.88 grams), which is approximately the weight of the Attic drachma. It has been ascribed to the time when Nehemias was governor of Judaea, but this is only a hypothesis, and it is not even certain that the coin is Jewish: the type is not characteristic, and the Phoenician alphabet was then in use far beyond the boundaries of Judaea. More authentic are two silver pieces with the legend yhd, that is, Y’hud, the official name of the Persian province of Judah in the Aramaic Esd 5: 1, 8; 7: 14 (cf. Dn 2: 25; 5: 13; 6: 14). A silver coin found at Bethsur also carries the stamp Y’hud and the proper name ‘Ezechias’. This is probably the priest Ezechias who, according to Josephus, became in old age the friend of Ptolemy I around 315 B.C.; but it is scarcely probable that the Ptolemies would have authorized silver coinage to be struck locally. The coin must date from the time when Ezechias administered the province of Judaea, immediately after the conquest of Alexander or at the very end of the Persian rule. The other two coins inscribed Y’hud are earlier.
Palestine, and indeed, the entire Near East, then came under the monetary systems of the Seleucids or the Ptolemies. This followed the Phoenician standard, the silver drachma of 0.13 ounces (3.6 grams) and the tetradrachma, or shekel, of approximately 0.51 ounces (14.4 grams). It was only when Simon Maccabaeus was recognized by Antiochus VII Sidetes as priest and ethnarch of the Jews that he received the right to strike a coinage (1 M 15: 6). As in similar concessions made by the Seleucids, this only extended to a bronze coinage for local use. This event took place in 138 B.C. But Simon did not use his privilege, and it must have been revoked by the same Antiochus, who very soon turned against him (1 M 15: 27), and Simon died shortly after, in 134. In any case, no bronze coins of his age have reached us: the silver and bronze coins which were for a long time attributed to him date in fact from the First Revolt, in A.D. 66-70. Jewish coinage began only with Simon’s successor, John Hyrcanus, and then only when he considered himself independent, after the conquest ofSamaria, around 110 B.C. It was an inferior bronze coinage, which continued under his successors, the Hasmoneans; among silver coins, Tyrian money, which was valued for its alloy, circulated almost tothe exclusion ofall others. The history ofthis coinage and its successors under Herod and the Procurators does not concern us here. The Jews began tostrike bronze and silver coins again during their two revolts against the Romans, in A.D. 66-70 and 132-135. Their coins have an inscription in Hebrew and are dated from the years ofthe ‘deliverance ofSion’ orthe ‘deliverance ofIsrael’. But this has taken us far beyond the Old Testament era.
Session One: Ur to Canaan, Hittites, death and burial, exodus
Readings: Script, pages 1 to 3, Geography.
R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, pages 56-61, 203-209.
Do the following:
- Genesis 23:2-3 refers to mourning rites. Describe in detail what Abraham could have done in accordance with the customs of the Semitic tribes of the Ancient Near East.
- Where exactly did Abraham perform the mourning rites for his wife Sarah?
- When he finished the mourning rites where did he go?
- Explain the value of 400 shekels of silver for a piece of land. Was it a good price? Did Abraham intend to bargain? Why not?
- Translate Genesis 23:2-3 in such a way that your audience gets the full picture of what the narrator wanted to say.
- Translate Genesis 23:14-15 meaningfully in your language.
Session Two: Geography, marriage customs
Readings: Script, pages 3, Geography, up to page 5, “Jacob had twelve sons.”
R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, pages 24-38.
Give a general account of the marriage customs of Ancient Near Eastern peoples.
Readings: Genesis 38.
R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, pages 37-40.
Answer the following questions:
- What is the message of the Tamar story?
- How would you translate Genesis 38:26 meaningfully according the context?
Session Four: The exodus, entering Canaan
Read the remaining part of the script.
Do the following:
- Translate Nahum 3:14.
- The video shows footstools of the Egyptian kings. The Hebrew word for footstool, hadom, occurs several times in scripture. See 1 Chron. 28:2 and also 2 Chron. 9:18; Ps. 99:5; Isaiah 66:1 and others. Psa 110:1 and the New Testament texts Hebrews 1:13 and 10:13 relate the footstool to enemies. Explain the metaphoric use of “footstool” in these texts.
- How would you translate “footstool” in your language?
- On the map of the Ancient Near East indicate the following:
- Three possible Exodus routes from Egypt to Canaan
- The way of the sea
- The King’s Highway
- The way of the desert
- Read Deuteronomy 2 and summarize the content of the chapter. What specific information is given about Seir in this passage?
- In Judges 5:4 Seir is mentioned a dwelling of the Lord. Explain the possible relationship between Judges 5:4 and Deut. 2.
2 And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 3 Abraham rose up from beside his dead, and said to the Hittites
2 וַתָּמָת שָׂרָה בְּקִרְיַת אַרְבַּע הִוא חֶבְרֹון בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וַיָּבֹא אַבְרָהָם לִסְפֹּד לְשָׂרָה וְלִבְכֹּתָֽהּ׃ 3 וַיָּקָם אַבְרָהָם מֵעַל פְּנֵי מֵתֹו
14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver–what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.”
14 וַיַּעַן עֶפְרֹון אֶת־אַבְרָהָם לֵאמֹר לֹֽו׃ 15 אֲדֹנִי שְׁמָעֵנִי אֶרֶץ אַרְבַּע מֵאֹת שֶֽׁקֶל־כֶּסֶף בֵּינִי וּבֵֽינְךָ מַה־הִוא וְאֶת־מֵתְךָ קְבֹֽר׃
26 Then Judah acknowledged them and said, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not lie with her again.
26 וַיַּכֵּר יְהוּדָה וַיֹּאמֶר צָֽדְקָה מִמֶּנִּי כִּֽי־עַל־כֵּן לֹא־נְתַתִּיהָ לְשֵׁלָה בְנִי וְלֹֽא־יָסַף עֹוד לְדַעְתָּֽה׃
14 Draw water for the siege,
strengthen your forts;
trample the clay,
tread the mortar,
take hold of the brick mold!
14 מֵי מָצֹור שַֽׁאֲבִי־לָךְ חַזְּקִי מִבְצָרָיִךְ בֹּאִי בַטִּיט וְרִמְסִי בַחֹמֶר הַחֲזִיקִי מַלְבֵּֽן׃