Monday, August 28, 2023

Hebrew Daughters Presented Problems


Dr. Alice C. Linsley

The Hebrew were a ruler-priest caste that protected their identity, preserved their wealth, and expanded their territories through endogamous marriage. 

As was true of all royal fathers, virgin daughters posed both potential trouble and opportunity for the Hebrew rulers. Rulers were wary of fortune seeking men who sought to advance their careers, raise their social status, increase their wealth, or expand their territories through marriage to royal daughters. Such ambitious suitors posed a threat to the kingdom. For the sake of stability, some royal daughters were denied marriage and sent to the temples (later to monasteries).

On the other hand, royal marriages were a common way of forging alliances between Hebrew clans. These were carefully arranged marriages. It was hoped that arranged royal marriages would provide for mutual defense and prevent war. 

However, royal weddings were sometimes violent occasions. The anthropologist, Goran Pavlovic, reports, “In Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Croatia, there are many places, usually with ancient stone slabs or standing stones, which local population calls svatovska groblja or wedding party graveyards." These places are found in remote areas with ancient necropolises dating from the beginning of the fourth millennium B.C. Many ancient necropolises were royal burial grounds where ancestors were called upon to witness the marriage bond.

On the other hand, should a ruler seek to incite war with an enemy, he could deny marriage or take back a daughter who had been given in marriage. This may be what motivated King Saul to take back Michal who he had given as a wife to David. Saul sought provocation to eliminate David who, by that time, had been anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next king.

When Shechem fell in love with Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, his father Hamor met with Jacob to arrange for his son to marry Dinah. Apparently, this marriage was approved by Jacob and the Hivite people of Shechem were kinsmen. However, Jacob’s sons, Levi, and Simeon, did not approve of the marriage and used this as an excuse to massacre Hamor’s men and loot the city. In Genesis 34:13, there is an admission that the sons of Jacob “answered Shechem and his father Hamor in a deceitful way.” The violence against the Shechem community put Jacob’s clan in jeopardy by making subsequent peaceful coexistence and marriage alliances in that region impossible. That is why Jacob reprimanded his sons for the bloodshed.

Bride Capture

The denial of marriage among the biblical Hebrew might result in bride capture. There are two examples of this in the Bible. The first instance is found in Numbers 31 and the second in Judges 21:8-24. In both accounts the focus is on the capture of virgins. The virgin women are captured and taken back to captor’s settlements. The consummation of sexual relations rendered these women no longer marriageable in their social context. Daughters who were bought back by their families usually remained unmarried in their fathers’ households. For most young Hebrew women, that was not a preferable state.

The Judges 21 account describes the virgins coming out to dance at an annual festival. The men of the clan of Benjamin took the number of women they needed from the dancers they caught. The festival with dancing virgins was a way of marrying low-status Hebrew daughters to low-status Hebrew bachelors. Likely, the “attack” was not a surprise. It was, as Robin Fox explains in his book Kinship and Marriage, “ceremonial” but could have “uncomfortably real overtones” and might end in an actual fight or skirmish (p. 178).

This practice should not be equated to terrorist kidnappings, rape, and forced conversions to Islam such as practiced by groups like Boko Haram. Instead, ceremonial bride abduction is a ritual performance that takes place with the knowledge and consent of the bride and her family members.

A collective form of bride capture is found in some societies even today, particularly among lower status women and men. The account in Judges 21 is an example of collective marriages taking place on one night.

Rabbinic sources report that on a single night multiple sets of Hebrew brothers married multiple sets of Hebrew sisters.

Mass marriages or collective wedding night festivities are common in India, Central Asia, and among some Muslim populations. In Imilchil, a Moroccan town in the Atlas Mountains, as many as forty couples marry as part of a Berber tradition known as the annual Imchil Marriage Festival.

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