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Monday, May 29, 2023

Scripture on Marriage (Part 2)

According to Blue Letter Bible, the word "marriage" occurs 19 times in the King James Version of the Bible. Likewise, the same source indicates that the word "marry" occurs 22 times in that translation of Scripture. Moreover, although most Christian wedding ceremonies employ or quote from Scripture, there is no wedding ceremony or formula for marriage outlined ANYWHERE in the Judeo-Christian Bible! Even so, both Jews and Christians have developed elaborate rituals associated with the binding of a man and a woman together in marriage, and many of those rituals are loosely based on passages found in the Old and New Testaments.

As we noted in the previous post, the origin story in Genesis assumed that 1) a man would leave his parents' household, 2) hold fast to his wife, and 3) have sexual intercourse with her. This was the basis of marriage in Torah (and, as we will eventually demonstrate, also in the New Testament). The Torah also imposed limitations on who an Israelite could marry (Leviticus 18 and Deuteronomy 23). There was also a provision where a brother was obligated to marry the widow of a deceased, childless brother - known today as a levirate marriage (Genesis 38 and Deuteronomy 25). The Torah and other writings of the Hebrew Bible also make clear that polygamy was accepted, permitted and/or tolerated among the Israelites (Genesis 20, 30, Leviticus 18:18, Deuteronomy 17:17, 21:15, I Samuel 18:27, 25:42-43, II Samuel 3:3-5, 12:24, I Kings 11:1-3, etc.). Finally, those same writings make clear that distinctions were made between primary/principal wives and concubines/secondary wives (Genesis 22:24, 35:22, Judges 8:31, 19, II Samuel 6:13, I Chronicles 3:9, etc.). In this connection, we should also note that the Hebrew Scriptures are based on a very paternalistic outlook on society - which consequently influenced their customs associated with marriage. In other words, a woman was looked upon as the property of her father until she was transferred by marriage to her husband. This is reflected in the "bride-price" referenced in the Torah (Genesis 34:11-12, Exodus 22:16-17, etc.).

As for the actual marriage ceremony, Chabad.ORG posted an article titled "The Jewish Marriage Ceremony: According to the Laws of Moses and Israel" which informs us that "Jewish marriage law consists not only of ishut, the determination of prohibited and permitted partners, but of kiddushin, the legal process of establishing the marriage bond. The Bible has no single word for marriage, as it has none for religion. But the codes define it by these two categories: ishut and kiddushin, persons and process." Continuing in the same article, we read: "Before the revelation (at Sinai), a man would meet a woman on the street and if both desired marriage, he would bring her into his home and have intercourse privately [without the testimony of witnesses] and she would become his wife. When the Torah was given, the Jews were instructed that in order to marry a woman, the man should "acquire her" in the presence of witnesses and then she would become his wife. As the Torah says, "when a man takes a woman and has intercourse with her." This taking is a positive commandment and is performed in one of three ways—with money, by contract, or by cohabitiation... and it is everywhere called kiddushin or erusin. And a woman who is 'acquired' in one of these three ways is called mc'kudeshet or arusah [a betrothed woman]. And as soon as she is 'acquired' and becomes betrothed, even though she has not cohabited and did not even enter the groom's home, she is a married woman." The article goes on to inform us that a Jewish marriage originally consisted of a betrothal and the actual nuptials, but that it eventually evolved into a single ceremony (this helps us to understand the situation between Joseph and Mary in the New Testament).

This view is further reinforced by an article posted at my Jewish Learning titled "Ancient Jewish Marriage." They say that "Marriage in ancient times was a negotiated match involving an agreement on conditions and payment of a bridal price." The article goes on to inform us that "As a rule, the fathers arranged the match. The girl was consulted, but the 'calling of the damsel and inquiring at her mouth' after the conclusion of all negotiations was merely a formality." Continuing, we read: "The mohar was originally the purchase price of the bride, and it is therefore understandable why it was paid by the father of the groom to the father of the bride. In ancient days, marriage was not an agreement between two individuals, but between two families." Moreover, as we have already seen from the previous article this one reinforces both the notion of patriarchy and a period of betrothal. The author further informs us that: "Until late in the Middle Ages, marriage consisted of two ceremonies that were marked by celebrations at two separate times, with an interval between. First came the betrothal [erusin]; and later, the wedding [nissuin]. At the betrothal the woman was legally married, although she still remained in her father’s house. She could not belong to another man unless she was divorced from her betrothed. The wedding meant only that the betrothed woman, accompanied by a colorful procession, was brought from her father’s house to the house of her groom, and the legal tie with him was consummated. - This division of marriage into two separate events originated in very ancient times when marriage was a purchase, both in its outward form and in its inner meaning. Woman was not recognized as a person but was bought in marriage, like chattel."

Now, although we have already mentioned that the Torah prohibited the children of Israel from intermarrying with certain individuals, we should also take a look at how this was interpreted and applied by Jewish religious leaders before we leave this topic to explore others related to marriage in the Hebrew Bible. In JewishEncyclopedia.com's article "Marriage Laws," we read: "Prohibitions of marriage on grounds other than those of consanguinity refer to the following: (1) Mamzers, persons born of incest or of adultery; they are not permitted to marry Israelites (see Bastard; Foundling; Illegitimacy; Incest). (2) Ammonites or Moabites; they may not marry Israelitish women. (3) Egyptians or Idumeans to the third generation. (4) Nethinim or Gibeonites. The Rabbis declare: 'Now all proselytes are permitted to marry Israelites; and we do not suspect that they are descendants of any of the nations forbidden in the Bible' ('Yad,' Issure Biah, xii. 25; Tosef., Ḳid. v. 6; Yad. iv. 4; Ber. 28a; see Intermarriage; Proselytes). (5) Slaves. (6) Spadones, i.e., persons forcibly emasculated, but not those that are born so. When the defect is the result of a disease, there is a difference of opinion among the authorities (Eben ha-'Ezer, 5)."

Similarly, Chabad.ORG's article "Prohibited Marriages" informs us that: "A Man May Not Marry: 1. Anyone not Jewish. 2. The daughter of an adulterous or incestuous union (mamzeret). 3. A married woman, until the civil and Jewish divorces have been completed. 4. His own divorced wife after her remarriage to another man and the latter’s death or divorce. 5. A widow of a childless husband who is survived by a brother, until after the chalitzah ceremony has been performed. 6. A married woman with whom he committed adultery, but now divorced or widowed. 7. A kohen may not marry a divorced woman, a chalutzah-widow, a convert, a zonah, or a chalalah (see Kohen Marriages). 8. Relatives (primary and secondary incest)..." Hence, we see that the proscription against marrying certain individuals was taken very seriously by the Jews. We also see evidence of this in Scripture itself. The canonical books of Ezra and Nehemiah make very clear that marriages to people who weren't Jewish were NOT tolerated by the religious/political leadership of the community.

In many ways, the Torah is a very practical document. It anticipates the many ways that humans can screw things up and seeks to forestall failure by prohibiting a number of behaviors, and then designating both penalties and remedies for disobedience. The institution of marriage is not exempt from this construct. To begin with, the Ten Commandments clearly prohibit a married person from having sexual intercourse with anyone who isn't his/her spouse (Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18, see also Leviticus 18:20). Moreover, the sin of adultery was to be considered a capital offense in Israel (Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22). Additionally, the Israelite was forbidden to even covet his neighbor's wife (Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21). Moreover, the book of Proverbs warns against the allure and consequences of marital infidelity (5, 6:23-35 and 30:20).

As we just noted, the Torah also made provision for ending a troubled marriage. In the twenty-fourth chapter of Deuteronomy, we read: "When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man's wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance." (Verses 1-4, ESV) Notice that this provision is focused on a dissatisfied husband - no mention is made of the wife having this same ability. Moreover, in the next post in this series, we will see that Jesus Christ singled out this provision for divorce as being inconsistent with God's original intent for marriage! 

In this connection, we would be remiss if we didn't note that the notion of marriage as a contract, the prohibition against adultery, and the provisions for ending a marriage are consistent with the characterization of God's covenant with Israel as a marriage. Indeed, God as a husband to Israel is a prominent feature throughout the writings of the prophets. In the book of Isaiah, Israel is told that their Maker is their husband (54:5). Jeremiah recorded the fact that God had played the role of husband to Israel (31:32). Likewise, Ezekiel wrote that God had made Israel his and showered "her" with gifts (16:8-14). In numerous passages, Israel's idolatry and abandonment of the Lord and his covenant is referred to as adultery (Jeremiah 3:8-9, 20, 5:7, Ezekiel 16:32-34, 23:37, etc.) Finally, God implied that he had given Israel a certificate of divorce in the book of Isaiah (50:1). Likewise, in Jeremiah, we read that God had sent Israel away with a certificate of divorce (3:8). Interestingly, in the next post, we will see how God's relationship with his people was once again compared to a marriage.

In closing, we have seen that marriage was viewed through an extremely paternalistic lens in the Hebrew Bible. We have also seen that the institution of marriage was regulated in both its terms and performance. We have also seen that there was NO formal ceremony outlined in those scriptures, and that the institution was originally regarded as a contract between a woman's father and her husband, and that the woman effectively became the property of her husband. Moreover, although the original marriage was between one man and one woman (Adam and Eve), we have seen that polygamy was accepted/permitted/tolerated among the Israelites. Finally, we have seen that the Torah prohibited marital infidelity and provided for the formal dissolution of a problematic marriage. In other words, marriage in the Hebrew Bible does NOT mesh with the way that institution has been portrayed by many Christian churches. Stay tuned!

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