Property & Women in the Abrahamic Tradition
Reply #14 - July 21, 2016, 11:51 AM
So, last time we covered through the time when the stories of Saul, David, and Solomon were written, which is about when the books of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) would have been written. There are actually two Torahs in the Jewish tradition, the written and the oral, but just for the purpose of this discussion we're going to be talking about the written one; the oral one became the Talmud at a later date and that's something we'll get into when we get to the 3rd century CE, as I'm trying to do this series roughly chronologically. The Torah was compiled at around the time of Cyrus the Great, circa 500 BCE. As I had mentioned in our series on homosexuality and the Abrahamic tradition, Cyrus had offered some measure of autonomy to religious groups that could coexist with his own Zoroastrian faith, so there was great political pressure for the Jewish texts to be codified and assembled, and in some cases, invented, by the political/priestly elites. The priestly class did hold a lot of political power, and even today, the rabbi or the rabbinical council of any given area holds great authority over the lives of observant Jews in that area, but that's a subject for another time (probably we can go over it in one of our "about me" videos, because I have a lot of relevant stories about this topic). Just as a brief commentary about the great political power of the priestly class, the entire Maccabean revolt and kingdom was caused by what was essentially a religious dispute between two schools of thought, and one priestly clan killed and exiled another priestly clan over perceived heresy. So the various schools of Jewish thought were highly motivated to get together and create the Torah during the time of Cyrus, being almost goaded to it with the promise of political regional autonomy.
Within this context of Cyrus' promise of political autonomy, the authors or compilers of the books we have today started compiling and editing the books we have today. There is very little evidence of any pieces of the Torah pre-existing this era, except those parts that are plagiarized from other local religions and a single amulet with a single generic benediction. It's therefore very unlikely that the Torah did exist in any form--oral or written--before this time. Within Cyrus' Zoroastrian faith, wives could be in several categories, the best of which was the "favored" wife, who was the one with whom the man had a marriage contract. This wife had many more rights than other consorts the man took. Zoroastrianism forbade sex with menstruating women, considering them "unclean", and condemned women who hid the fact that they were menstruating from their husbands, even saying that such women could be divorced without impunity because of the seriousness of the offense. Zoroastrianism also favored incest, with the Zoroastrian texts claiming that marrying one's mother, sisters, or daughters would "produce stronger men, more virtuous women...and protect the purity of the race..."1 I am going to provide a link to this information below. Women in Zoroastrianism could not, in general, inherit property; they could only safeguard it for their minor sons until the oldest son reached the age of 15. The political motives of the authors very clearly influenced the texts they wrote, which is why I spent so much time going over this, because I think it really does lend context to their views, as will become apparent as we go through these texts.
I'm going to skip over the story of Adam and Eve because I think it deserves its own standalone series, separate from this one, and I don't think I can condense it neatly to fit in this episode. Instead, I want to talk about the Jewish matriarchs and in particular, their relationships with their husbands and slaves. The first of the Jewish matriarchs was Sarah, wife of Abraham. Sarah was the half-sister of Abraham by his father (Gen. 20:12). Sarah did not have a child early in her life, and so she gave her slave, Hagar, to Abraham. This was done according to the Code of Hammurabi (number 146) which allowed a woman to give her slave to her husband if she did not want to or could not become pregnant. This "outsourcing" of pregnancy was not uncommon among women of status, as childbirth was incredibly dangerous and maternal mortality rates were high.
Hagar conceived and gave birth to Ishmael; the text does say that Hagar began to mock Sarah, or as the Code of Hammurabi says, she began to "assume equality with the wife". Sarah was cruel to her and Hagar ran away, but an angel appeared to her and told her to return to Sarah and comforted her with the promise that her son Ishmael would become the father of 12 princes. Ishmael was, at birth, the legal son of Sarah and would have been legally obligated to care for her after the death of Abraham, but then Sarah had a son of her own, Isaac, and disowned Ishmael. Note that this does not mean that Ishmael was disowned by Abraham--he was still the legal son of Abraham, and was required to be freed with his mother from their slavery and given an inheritance when Abraham died--but he was not the legal son of Sarah anymore. Sarah was a woman of status and a wife, and therefore had a lot of rights, but Hagar did not have these same rights, which is a theme we'll see a lot in these stories.
The binding of Isaac happened, which again, should be its own video, and Sarah died, according to Rashi from grief over the binding of Isaac, and Abraham decided to marry Isaac off but did not want him to marry a Canaanite woman. Abraham sent his servant (Eliezer of Damascus, according to tradition) to find a wife for Isaac in Mesopotamia, where Abraham was born. The servant found, and Isaac married, Rebekah, who was Abraham's brother's granddaughter. Her marriage was arranged by Laban her brother and Abraham's servant (Eliezer of Damascus, according to tradition). Her mother asked for her to be given ten days to prepare for the marriage, but the servant said they should return immediately and Rebekah agreed.
Gen. 24:59 And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham's servant, and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her: 'Our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of ten thousands, and let thy seed possess the gate of those that hate them.' 61 And Rebekah arose, and her damsels, and they rode upon the camels, and followed the man. And the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. 62 And Isaac came from the way of Beer-lahai-roi; for he dwelt in the land of the South. 63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide; and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming. 64 And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she alighted from the camel. 65 And she said unto the servant: 'What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us?' And the servant said: 'It is my master.' And she took her veil, and covered herself. 66 And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for his mother.
This is an interesting reversal of the theme we'd seen earlier of women being "comforted" with sexuality.
In the next chapter, we read: (Gen 25)1 And Abraham took another wife, and her name was Keturah. 2 And she bore him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 And Jokshan begot Sheba, and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, and Letushim, and Leummim. 4 And the sons of Midian: Ephah, and Epher, and Hanoch, and Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. 5 And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac. 6 But unto the sons of the concubines, that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts; and he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country...8 And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. 9 And Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; 10 the field which Abraham purchased of the children of Heth; there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.
Keturah is identified by the Talmud as Hagar, and the reason given for the name change is that "her deeds had become as keturot (incense)". Either way, Keturah was a subordinate wife and her children would not have had inheritance rights or legal recognition as sons of Abraham, and he took steps to ensure that they did not take his inheritance from his legal heirs. However, what isn't clear is whether or not Ishmael received an inheritance, which he might have been legally entitled to in addition to his freedom. It's interesting that Ishmael is mentioned as being alongside Isaac at the burial of Abraham, especially considering his importance in Islam.
Moving on, Isaac and Rebekah had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was a hairy man and a hunter and his name means "red"; Jacob means "supplanter". Jacob used trickery and deceit to steal his elder brother's inheritance and blessings. Jacob was Rebekah's favorite, and when Rebekah learned that Esau intended to kill Jacob for his treachery, she begged Isaac to send Jacob away on the pretense that she hated Esau's Canaanite wives and would kill herself if Jacob married a Canaanite. The demonization of the Canaanites in this story and the one previous probably reflect both the political tensions between the 5th centuries authors of these texts and the Canaanites and their desire to "suck up" to the Mesopotamian Cyrus. Isaac does send Jacob away, and he find Laban, the brother of Rebekah, and marries Laban's two daughters, Rachel and Leah. He prefers Rachel but Leah is sort of forced on him by Laban because she's older and has to get married first but is apparently unable to be married off due to her weak eyes and being a bit of a butterface compared to Rachel. God apparently sees that Jacob favors Rachel, so he gives Leah five sons in quick succession. In a bit of a battle of the wombs, Rachel says to Jacob "Give me sons or I'll die!" Jacob says "I'm not the one stopping you from having kids", so she gives him her slave Bilhah. Bilhah has two sons, but Leah, not to be outdone, gives him her slave Zilpah. Zilpah also has two sons. Leah's son Reuben goes out for a walk and finds some mandrakes, which he brings home, and Rachel asks Leah for them (apparently they were linked to fertility). Leah says "you stole my husband and now you want my mandrakes?" so Rachel says "Fine, he can sleep with you tonight if you give me the mandrakes." So Leah conceives and has a sixth son. Finally Rachel conceives and has Joseph (the one with the technicolor coat) and later Benjamin, but dies during childbirth with him.
Within these stories, we definitely see an appeal to the Zoroastrian ideals, with incest being highly prioritized and an effort to ingratiate themselves with the Persian "race", as it were, and with the purity of the Jewish lineage in relation to the Persians. The authors also put in a story about menstruation being unclean, just for added measure. To give some context to the story, Jacob decided to return home because Laban was apparently losing money and blamed it on him. Rachel and Leah said "We might as well go with you, our dad has burned through the bride price so it's not like he's going to be able to support us if we leave you." On the way out, Rachel stole her dad's idols (teraphim) because she was like "Meh, I could use more gold." Laban catches up with Jacob to demand his gods back.
Jacob responds: Gen. 31:32 With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, he shall not live; before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee.'--For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.-- 33 And Laban went into Jacob's tent, and into Leah's tent, and into the tent of the two maid-servants; but he found them not. And he went out of Leah's tent, and entered into Rachel's tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the teraphim, and put them in the saddle of the camel, and sat upon them. And Laban felt about all the tent, but found them not. 35 And she said to her father: 'Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise up before thee; for the manner of women is upon me.' And he searched, but found not the teraphim.
There are two last women in the book of Genesis I'd like to cover before we conclude, Tamar and Dinah. Dinah was the daughter of Leah and Jacob. She went "out on the town", as it were, with some Canaanite girls. A Canaanite city-state prince, Shechem, finds her and sleeps with her. Whether or not this is consensual is not very clear, although all the action verbs in the verses about it are his actions: He saw her, he took her, he lay with her, he loved her, he told his dad to get her as his wife. Her brothers Levi and Simeon are none to pleased about it. Shechem offers a dowry and whatever other demands they might place on him. Simeon and Levi say him and all the men of his city must be circumcised, then while the men are recovering, they go kill them all and take their wives and children as slaves. According to Gen. 34:28 "They took their flocks and their herds and their asses, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; 29 and all their wealth, and all their little ones and their wives, took they captive and spoiled...30 And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi: 'Ye have troubled me, to make me odious unto the inhabitants of the land, even unto the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and, I being few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and smite me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.' 31 And they said: 'Should one deal with our sister as with a harlot?'"
So there is some implication here of at least some of these women of the town having been made sex slaves. The issue here doesn't seem to be the rape of women being a horrific crime, or even sex outside of marriage being a particularly vile crime; it seems to be a matter of who that woman is. It seems like it's fine to abuse Canaanite women (they're slags, after all), but not the holy, untouchable Jewish/Mesopotamian women. It seems to be a form of racism almost as bad as the American south post-emancipation, where "those unruly black men with their insatiable libidos are always raping our wimin" and deserve to be lynched, but pure white women "can't do no wrong" and need to be protected and avenged. It's hard not to look at this and see in it the origins of some of the modern Orthodox Jewish community's racism, like Freundel (whose 150 victims were almost all non-Jewish women or converts to Judaism and therefore "unclean") or Eyal Karim, current head rabbi of the IDF, who has in the past issued edicts permitting the rape of "comely gentile women" if it would improve soldier morale.
Tamar is another great example of Biblical double standards. Tamar was the daughter-in-law of Judah. She was originally married to his oldest son, Er. Er died childless, so in accordance with Zoroastrian tradition, Tamar was given to Onan so that Onan could get her knocked up. Onan pulled out, not wanting to give his brother an heir. I hear a lot of people say that this verse is about pulling out or about a bad grasp on genetics, but I'd argue that neither of those is the case: Onan was chosen because his genetics were closest to Er, and the child would be the legal heir of Er. Onan did not want to give Tamar a son because that son would then inherit all of Judah's stuff; if Tamar died childless, Onan would inherit Judah's stuff. God got angry and killed Onan too. Judah said "well, Tamar's trouble, not giving her my last son", so he told her to go live as a widow in her father's house until his youngest was older. She saw that he wasn't going to give her to his youngest but didn't want to be childless, so she dressed as a shrine prostitute and got Judah to sleep with her in exchange for his signet ring and staff. Judah finds out after a few months that she's "played the whore" and gotten knocked up and thinks "Cool, finally I can get rid of her!" and orders her to be put to death, but she says "I think not!" and brings out his signet ring. He says "Well, I guess she's been more righteous than me, I was supposed to get her knocked up but I refused to give her my son, I guess we're square now."
1 -- Nashat, Guity & Beck, Lois, eds. Women in Iran from the Rise of Islam to 1800. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003. Print.
it's 5 am and I need to go to sleep, someone remind me to write an "in closing" paragraph.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for I have a sonic screwdriver, a tricorder, and a Type 2 phaser.