We are looking at women’s place in the world of Jesus in order to comprehend a more historically-informed understanding of women and ministry. Today’s post will look at two subjects in the ancient Jewish world: what does the evidence tell us about daughters and what does it tell us about marriage? Answers have implications for numerous passages in the NT.
Daughters: here is a basic categorizing of the evidence that survives.
First, the birth of a daughter: some (no doubt) males find the birth of daughters to be a disappointment because they do not carry on the line of the father ( Ben Sira 22:3; Genesis Rabbah 45.2). The command to “be fruitful and multiply” can be thwarted.
Second, what about relations between father and daughter? For many Jewish fathers, daughters were a concern lest they become impregnated before marriage (Ben Sira 42:9-11) but many Jewish sources in haggadic material reveal affection between father and daughter (e.g., Song of Songs Rabbah 1.9.5; 3.7.1; 3.8.2; 6.12).
Third, on naming a daughter: daughters were named at birth after parents, grandparents, relatives, and great Jewish leaders. The most popular names are Salome, Shelamzion, and Miriamme/Maria (these three names account for 46.5% of known names in Palestine); they may reveal idealization of the Hasmoneans. Daughters were identified by the father: “Miriam the daughter of X.”
Marriage: what do we learn about marriage in the ancient Jewish sources?
First, Jewish males were to marry but marriage was not idealized; it brought stability to a young man’s life (Ben Sira 36:30) and one rabbi threatened eternal separation from Heaven for not marrying (bPesahim 113b). R. Yose said since creation, “God sits and makes matches, assigning this man to that woman and this woman to that man” (Genesis Rabbah 68.4). [John’s and Jesus’ celibacy were, therefore, not extraordinary.]
Second, rooted in Proverbs 31, there is a regular praise of the Virtuous Wife : the idealized wife was obedient and beautiful. Ben Sira believed in four virtues for a wife: intelligence (25:8; 40:23), silence (26:16-17), wisdom (26:26), and beauty (26:13-18; 36:27).
Third, there are some reflections on what it means to be a Bad Wife: Ben Sira mentions nagging (25:20; 26:31), drunkenness (19:2), unfaithfulness (26:11-14). The rabbis said: “Who is deemed a scolding wife? Whosoever speaks inside her own house so that her neighbors can hear her voice” (mKetubot 7:6). The rabbis also said: “It is a duty (a mitzvah) to divorce a bad wife” (bEruvin 41b).
Fourth, unbeknownst to Dan Brown, there is evidence for valuing singleness: the more hasidic fringes of Judaism accepted and even idealized asceticism and celibacy (Essenes: acc. to Josephus, Ant. 18:21; War 2:120; cf. Matthew 19:10-12). Some men chose this as an option but the evidence for women choosing this option is negligible. (Maybe it is because they didn’t get to write the texts that survived!)
Fifth, at what age did marriage occur? The general rabbinic halakhah is that girls were married at 12 (cf. bSanhedrin 76a; mNiddah 5:6-8; bNiddah 45a says a daughter can be given in marriage at 3 years and one day!) in order to assure virginity. Boys were frequently just as young (Ben Sira 7;23; Lamentations Rabbah 1.2). However, there is evidence of later marriages as well. [How old was Mary? Probably she was a teenager.]
Sixth, social connection was integral to many marriages: marriage, mostly for the upper classes, was all about social status. So, it matters what your “class” was. [When Jewish Christians began to mix with Gentile Christians, this “status” element came to the fore.]
There are ten classes in Judaism according to mQiddushin 4:1: priests, levites, Israelites, impaired priests, converts, freed slaves, mamzers (bastards), netins (descendants of Gibeonites; cf. Josh. 9:27) shetukis (silenced ones), asufis (foundlings). [Gentile believers in Jesus were probably classes as “converts” by many — hence Acts 15’s ruling about expected levels of obedience.]
Later the rabbis graded classes more academically: daughter of a scholar, daughter of a great man, daughter of the synagogue leaders, daughter of a charity treasurer, daughter of an elementary school teacher (bPesahim 49b). Laws of incest applied (Lev. 18:6-18; cousins, uncles and aunts were permissible marriage partners in certain cases – tQiddushin 1:4 says “a man should not marry a woman until his sister’s daughter has reached maturity”).
Seventh, how did one choose a husband: the halakhah (oral law) ruled that parents chose marriage partners and love was the result of wise choices by the parents. But reality permitted greater flexibility: widows and divorcees found their own husbands and among the poorer classes there was even greater freedom to find a partner. The daughter could repudiate a husband if the father died before she reached maturity and had already chosen a husband for her.
Eighth, what about polygamy? Two legal practices prove that polygamy existed. The practice of yibbum (levirate marriage: when a husband died the husband’s brother was to take in the widow) and halitzah (the legal renunciation of yibbum). However, Judaism frowned upon polygamy as can be seen in the Dead Sea Sect (11QTemple 57:17-18) and the later rabbis who idealized monogamy. But, polygamy was often an economic issue: the poor could not afford more than one wife.
Ninth, here are the basics of the Marriage Process:
It begins with a legal betrothal (Qiddushin): nominal fee; legal arrangement.
There was an official marriage contract (Ketubbah): monetary arrangement in the event of death or divorce that ensured the maintenance of the woman. Divorce was expensive; customs varied (sometimes the woman sometimes the man had control of the funds).
Third, there was a marriage ceremony: the bride was taken ceremonially to the house of the groom.