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dren, among the ancient Greeks, Germans, and Kelts. Tlie
unbounded power of the house-father in modern Russia
and India is notorious.^ The question arises, how far, if
at all, did this authority prevail among the Semites, and
particularly the Hebrews ?

§ 411. Here again we must make a clear distinction
between different stages of civilization and social develop-
ment. That the " family " was constituted upon an earlier
basis of maternal relationship has been asserted by most
modern sociologists for primitive races generally, and has
been especially claimed for the ancient Semitic tribes by
W. Robertson Smith. But it is immaterial for our pres-
ent purpose whether such a state of society ever existed.^
What we have to do with is the accessible monuments of
Semitic civilization and the testimony they bear as to the
condition of the household in times which they illustrate.
And particularly we wish to know something of those

1 For evidence as to the Greeks, see La Cite antique, p. 99 ; for the
rest, Hearn, The Aryan Household (1891), p. 92 ff. ; cf. the usage of terms
derived from words for " hand " as presented by Maine, EarJtj History of
Institutions (New York, 1888), p. 210 f.

" The somewhat notable controversy between Sir Henry Maine and Mr.
J. F. McLennan turned primarily upon the origin of the family as a social
and political institution. Maine was certainly right in his claim for the
prevalence of tlie patriarchal type of family life in many parts of the
world, but it is quite possible that he was wrong in his assumption that
it was the ultimate form of society, which the later types have displaced.
McLennan, on the other hand, apparently through his anxiety to refute
the "patriarchal theory," went to undue lengths in endeavouring to dis-
prove any form of patria potestas among peoples by whom indications of
it have been rather obtrusively manifested. It should be added that both
parties appeal to instances which are not decisive at all for the purpose
which tliey had in view, — at least, within the Semitic sphere, — since what
the Old Testament has to tell us of the Hebrews belongs to a compara-
tively late stage in Semitic social development. See McLennan as above
cited, and Maine, Ancient Law, p. 118 ff.


aspects of family life which gave form and colour to dom-
inant religious and moral conceptions and relations. The
immense significance of the facts in question becomes at
once evident when we again call to mind how large a part
is played in the religion of the Bible by the relations of
fatherhood and sonship, and when we further reflect that
the surest key to the meaning of much of the Biblical
phraseology is provided by the domestic institutions of the
people to whom the word of Jehovah came.

§412. As far as the Hebrews are concerned, — with
whom our interest more directly lies, — the most obvious
source of information is the recorded usage of the family
life of those households, whose history has been most fully
related in the surviving literature. The widest induction
may be made at once from the statement of Gen. xviii. 19,
that the great ancestor of the Hebrews was chosen by
Jehovah, "in order that he might command his children
and his household after him." Accordingly, at the com-
mand of Jehovah, Abraham prepares to dispose of the very
life of the heir of his household (Gen. xxii. ; cf. xv. 2 ff.).
He also settles the fate of his other children (Gen. xxi. 14 ;
XXV. 6), born of the secondary wives of inferior rank. In
these matters the primary wife makes her wishes known,i
but even over the children of her own handmaid (female
slave) she has no power (Gen. xxi. 10), not even over the
handmaid herself, whose banishment, along with her son, is
executed by the father of the household. In like manner
Isaac has control of the destiny of his oldest son Esau, even
after the marriage of the latter (Gen. xxvii. , cf. xxvi.
34 f.). Nor is it easy to see how the patriarchal blessing
could be either given or withheld, unless the paternal
authority remained with the head of the household till
the day of his death. Again, though Rebekah advises the
younger son Jacob to go to his Aramaean kindred, he has
to appear before his father, who " commands " him formally

1 This transaction is regarded as an " order " by McLennan, Patriarchal
Theory, p. 48.


to the same effect, and " sends him away " (Gen. xxviii.
1, 5). The subsequent story is made much of by McLen-
nan ^ and W. R. Smith,^ who attempt to show that Jacob
contracted a " beenah marriage " (by which the husband
transfers himself to the family of his wife) with the daugh-
ters of Laban. But they have entirely misconceived the
nature of the relations. Jacob became a member of the
family of Laban, and actually worked as his servant, be-
cause he had no choice but to come under the authority of
the head of whatever household he might attach himself
to. For a month he was a guest, but after this term (prob-
ably the conventional period) of hospitality, Laban recog-
nizes the permanent relation of servitude, and just because
he was a kinsman, he proposes that he should have a fixed
wage (Gen. xxix. 14 f.). In support of his contention,
McLennan further says : " We find, first, that Jacob had to
buy his place in Laban's family, as husband of Laban 's
daughters, by service; and second, that the children born
to ]iim belonged to Laban's family, and not to him, both
notes of beenah marriage, and the second denoting it be-
yond possibility of mistake." Rather, we should say, the
fact that the children were claimed by Laban as his own is
an indication, and a very striking one, of the patria potes-
tas. The claim is in fact asserted by Laban in a most pos-
itive manner (xxxi. 43; cf. 28 f.), and Jacob was so much
convinced of the soundness of it, that he could only escape
from Laban's rightful jurisdiction by a secret flight.

§ 413. The episode of the theft of the teraphim by
Rachel is another interesting parallel with the Roman
household, where the Lares and Penates were the essential
bond of solidarity in the ancestral community. Rachel's
object in securing them was apparently to have the new
household brought under the protection of the manes
which had guarded and blessed her paternal home. This
was in her view quite possible and natural. Jacob had
been adopted into her father's family, and when in posses-

1 Patriarchal Theory, p. 42 ff. ^ junshiji, p. 176.


sioii of the tutelary images, he might well be expected to
enjoy their patronage. The prominence given to this in-
cident in the history of the founders of Israel (in spite of
the renunciation of Gen. xxxv. 2) goes to show that the
descendants of Jacob through Rachel ascribed for many
generations considerable importance to the transfer of
these ancestral guardians from Aram to Israel. Our spe-
cial point here, however, is the indication given by the
whole story that as long as Jacob's wives lived with their
father, they, as well as their husband, were subject to him,
and that only upon their departure was a new household
set up, for which the teraphim were to furnish the neces-
sary auspices. Moreover, it is clear that in the transaction
Rachel did not act for herself, as in a beenah marriage, but
for her husband. Indeed, Laban 'illustrates the marital
aspect of patria potestas when he reminds Jacob (xxxi.
49 f.) that the latter has absolute power thenceforth over
his wives. Lastly, the former state of things under the
paternal regime of Laban is recognized in the very phrase-
ology of that touching description of the final parting,
when it is said (ver. 55) that " Laban kissed his sons and
his daughters and blessed them." McLennan is of course
right in claiming that relationship through daughters as
well as through sons was recognized, though we must re-
member that this was not the only ground upon which
Laban " claimed his daughters' children as his own " ; ^
since Jacob the father, when adopted into the household,
became a male member of it. But it is not necessary to
patria potestas that kinship through the male line only
should be recognized. What is involved in it is that legal
relationship is reckoned only through the male, and not
through the female descendants. But of this, more pres-

§ 414. Jacob's family having been thus established as
a separate household, its history also is given with more
than usual fulness. The narrative shows that while the

1 Patriarchal Theory, p. 47.


range of freedom that was absolutely necessaiy to the life
of shepherds was granted to the children, they yet, when
under the direct oversight of their father, were subject
to his commands. The disposal of important affairs rests
ultimately with the father, and not with any or all of the
grown-up sons. In the management of the expeditions to
Egypt for food, the sons seem to be merely trustees or
agents for the father, the head of the huge household
of families (see especially Gen. xliii. 11 ff.). McLennan,
as John Locke did before him in his controversy with
Sir Robert Filmer,i makes much of the fact that Reuben
offered his sons as hostages to Jacob for the safe return
of Benjamin; and that Judah actually became surety for
it. As to this, Locke is quoted as saying, " which all
had been vain and superfluous, and but a sort of mockery,
if Jacob had had the same power over every one of his
family as he had over his ox or his ass." And McLennan
says : ^ " They show much deference to their father, no
doubt ; but they address him like men that have a right
to be listened to, and, for the general good, j^ress him and
almost coerce him into a course he was most averse to."
But is moral influence and persuasion on the part of
children excluded by patria potestas? Even among the
Romans it was prescribed not that the father was bound
to repress the wishes of his children, but that he had the
power to do so if he willed it. Neither Locke nor Mc-
Lennan would have maintained that all the young Romans
who made a career for themselves (young Caius Marius,
for example, who broke away from the plough to wield
the sword) refrained from exercising any sort of influence
upon the patres familiarum. Patria potestas did not make
moral nonentities of the sons of Romans any more than it
did of the mother of the Gracchi or of the daughter of
Cicero. An apt illustration of this moral liberty of the
member of the family within the realm of parental con-
trol, is furnished by the sons of Eli, of whom it is said —
1 See Fatriarchal Theory, p. 30 ff. 2 j^. p. 40.


and that while they were grown men — that " they were
cursing God (Sept.)? and he did not make them give up "
(1 Sam. iii. 13). To conclude the family history of Jacob,
it should be noticed that after the paternal blessing and
the parting charges, and after the death of the doughty
old patriarch, the older sons recalled the fact that their
father had left a positive command with them before he
died (Gen. 1. 16 f.).

§ 115. Passing on to the time of the Judges, it is worth
mentioning that in spite of Gideon's independence of action
against the worship of Baal, the 3^oung innovator was
reckoned by the followers of Baal to be at the disposal of
his father (Jud. vi. 30). In the early regal period we are
struck by Saul's treatment of his son Jonathan (1 Sam.
XX. 30 ff.), when the latter seemed to be intriguing with
David. This might be accounted for on the supposition
that Saul was here acting as a king and not as a pater-
familias^ this having certainly been the case in an earlier
instance of threatened punishment (1 Sam. xiv. 44). But
the similar incident, when David was the intended victim,
reminds us that both he and Jonathan were members of
the household of Saul when the acts of violence were per-
formed ; the attempt on the life of David having been
made before he was outlawed by the proclamation of the
king (1 Sam. xix. 1), and he in fact being treated as one
of the king's sons (cf. 1 Sam. xx. 25 ff. with 2 Sam. ix.
11). Thereafter in the recorded history of Israel we have
but few glimpses of domestic life apart from the regal
households, in whose management it is difficult to distin-
guish between the kingly and tlie paternal authority ; the
most conspicuous instance being the relations between
David and his sons.

§ 416. But a decisive indication of fundamental cus-
toms is afforded by the story of the Rechabites (Jer.
XXXV.). These people had held, in the middle of the ninth
century B.C., their abode somewhere between Jezreel and
Samaria (2 K. x. 15 ff.). Jonadab, their chief at that


date, had enjoined upon his descendants to all generations
that they should keep themselves free from all the haljits
and employment of agriculture and civic life, drink no
wine, build no house, and sow no seed — all this so that
they might escape the enervating influences of that form
of civilization which has always been injurious to those
nomadic peoples Avho have in Palestine renounced the
immemorial traditions and customs of the desert and the
pasture land. With such tenacity was this conservative
principle maintained among the clan that, nearly three
hundred years after Jonadab, none of "the sons of the house
of the Rechabites" would bate one jot of the faith they had
so sternly kept with their ancestral head who still ruled
their spirits from his tomb. We may explain this devo-
tion as the expression of the fanatical prejudice of a sect,
and yet we cannot account for the singular persistence of
the belief and the habit except upon the ground alleged
by the Prophet, deference to the paternal command.
These Rechabites, of the Kenite stock (1 Chr. ii. 55),
though not descended from Jacob, were, at an early date
(Jud. iv. 11, 17 ff. ; v. 24), the twelfth century B.C., very
good Hebrews and an important part of the nation
(of. § 186). Such a deeply rooted princi[)le as this, how-
ever it might vary in its application, was of course not
confined to a small nomadic circle. We have accordingly
very good reason to suppose that the head of the nomadic
household exercised not only a moral influence upon liis
family, but also a prescriptiye restraint, which had all the
force of statutory law.

§ 417. The historical testimony of the Old Testament
is clearer as to the status of the children of the household
than as to that of the wife or mother, though, as we have
incidentally seen, all the evidence of the narratives is in
favour of the h3-[)othesis of the supremacy of the house-
master in both relations. We shall now take a glance at
the specific laws and institutions which have to do with
the status and relations of the wives and mothers of the


household among the Hebrews. As bearing upon the
function and condition of the wife, allusion may be made to
the custom by which the nearest of male kin in a deceased
husband's family was bound to marry the widow for the
sake of perpetuating the name and family of the dead man.
Nothing more plainly indicates the secondary position of
the wife from the legal point of view than this deep-rooted
institution. The kindred of the wife are shown to be as
dead to her in law as they were in ancient Roman society.
McLennan's attempt to derive the levirate custom from
polj^andry ^ is, at least in the case of the Hebrews, very
precarious. The doubly or multiply married woman is
here evidently only the necessary connecting link between
the original husband as the family representative and the
much coveted descendants. There was, in fact, no other
way of securing the perpetuation of his family except by
means of the device of levirate marriage and its extension
to even more remote kindred than the brothers of the
deceased. And those who reject the derivation from
primitive polyandry, and abide by the hypothesis of an
established fiction of paternal descent, have no more
difficulty in accounting for the origin of that fiction
than they have in explaining the simulated sonship of
adoption — the exact counterpart of the simulated father-
hood of the levirate household, and a usage of far wider
range and influence among ancient peoples, than the latter
ever could become.

§ 418. There are but scanty indications in the Old
Testament laws and customs as to the earliest Hebrew
conceptions of the marital relation. But the evidence
is strongly in favour of tlie assumption that the wife was
held, from the old Semitic times, to be the property of
the husband. The first argument is to be drawn from
the terminology of the relation. The immemorial word
for " Imsband " in Hebrew and the cognate idioms is haal,
a lord or owner, and the corresponding verbal root means

1 Patriarchal Theory, p. 15G ff.


universally to rule or possess, and in Hebrew in the
passive as applied to the woman, to be married. It is
needless to furnish many examples in the Old Testament :
see, for instance. Gen. xx. 3 ; Hos. ii. 16 ; Isa. Ixii. 4, and
the whole phraseology of the legal sections, and compare
1 Pet. iii. 6 : " Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord."
That in Arabic and Aramaic the same verbal root means
" to possess a wife or concubine " is highly significant,
when it is remembered, on the one hand, that concubines
were slaves of the husband, and on the other, that a female
slave might become the lawful wife of her owner. An
argument may also fairly be based upon the language of
the tenth commandment of the Decalogue (Ex. xx. 17),
in which, among the most valuable items of personal prop-
erty, the wife is mentioned, and actually placed between
the house and the domestic animals. There seems indeed
reason to believe that according to primitive custom the
wife or wives were bequeathed to the care of the eldest
son along with the other chattels.^

§ 419. Further, the means employed to secure a wife
in primitive times furnish a striking illustration of the
general principle. The method was- essentially one of
purchase, which in the case of Jacob and the daughters
of Laban was commuted into servile labour to the same
purpose. The term translated " dowry," in Gen. xxxiv.
12 ; Ex. xxii. 16, means purchase money. That this was
not always literally insisted on by the father or other
guardian of the bride, and that, as in the case of Rebekah
(Gen. xxiv.), the contract was just as readily ratified by
the giving of presents, is only what would be naturally
expected. But that the fundamental usage could be en-
forced at any time is shown from the conditions prescribed
by Saul for David (1 Sam. xviii. 25), in connection with
the suit for his daughter Michal. That the father of the

1 Hence, the action of Eeuben (Gen. xxxv. 22; xlix. 4), of Absalom
(2 Sam. xvi. 20 ff.), and of Abner, Saul's cousin (2 Sam. iii. 7 f.), was
regarded as an attempt at usurpation. See Nowack, HA. I, 348.


bridegroom was looked to for the procuring of the bride
(^e.g. Jud. xiv. 3), indicates both the paternal power of the
head of the house and the subjection of the newly ex-
pected member of the family. Pointing in the same direc-
tion are the privileges of chvorce granted to the husband.
The most explicit prescription on the subject is Deut.
xxiv. 1, aimed at disgraceful or offensive conduct (cf.
the same phrase in xxiii. 14, which has its explanation in
xxiii. 9). With this passage compare Jer. iii. 1. and Isa.
1. 1, and the command in Matt. v. 31. Add to this the
enactments as to the fulfilment of vows made by wives,
given in Numb. xxx. These are summarized as follows
(v. 13) : " Every vow and every binding oath to afflict the
soul her husband may establish it, or her husband may
make it void." Finally, we may defer to the statement
of Paul (Rom. vii. If.), who affirms directly that accord-
ing to the usage of his nation the wife is legally subject
to the husband.

§ 420. Exceptional instances must be looked at nar-
rowly, for it is just such cases that are chosen by the
deniers of patria potestas among the Hebrews to prove
their contention. In apparent contravention of recog-
nized laws and usages, women in the historical times of
Israel appear to have enjoyed a considerable range of
freedom and independence of action. While the father
had the power to choose and procure a wife for his son
or a husband for his daughter, young people are seen to
mix freely enough with one another, and virtually to do
the choosing for themselves (cf. Numb, xxxvi. 6). Again,
in the case of married women, we observe that the initia-
tive is sometimes taken by them in matters of importance,
and what is more significant they would appear to be at
liberty to dispose of a share of the common property
(1 Sam. XXV. 14 ff. ; 2 K. iv. 8 ff. ; cf . Isa. iii. 12, 16 ff., xxxii.
9 ff. ; Prov. xiv. 1, and especially xxxi. 10 ff.). The expla-
nation of this phenomenon does not lie upon the surface
of the historical records ; but, as we shall see presently, it


is connected with the deepest and most potential forces
in the life of Israel.

§ 421. The experience of the Israelitish family in this
respect is in its outward aspect not without historical
parallel. Indeed, the very best analogy is afforded by
the history of that very civilization whose family life
furnishes the extreme ancient exemplification of marital
control. The original prescriptions as to marital gov-
ernment, and the legal powers which they perpetually
carried with them, throughout the history of ancient
Rome, must be carefully distinguished from the actual
practice that inevitably grew up with the expansion
of the state and the differentiation of social habits and
relations. Thus under the Roman law, while a widow
could inherit property along with the children, both she
and the other females of the family were debarred from
its administration. Yet we find that at the end of the
third century B.C. both the marital and tutorial powers
were frequently set at nought by both widows and mar-
ried women with respect to their property; and in 169
B.C. they had accumulated so much capital that the states-
men of the time resorted to the expedient of prohibiting
to women, by statute, the right of inheritance. The law
was thus actually made more stringent than it had been
even in the days when the household laws were framed,
and when the idea of emancipation of women was a thing
quite inconceivable.^ Yet both traditional sanctions and
legislation were ineffective. The marital power of disci-
pline was generally held in abeyance in all the later
history ; and the prerogative of the wife was gradually
enlarged through various devices, chief of which Avas the
persistence of the bride in remaining under tlie mcDius of
her own family head, so that she could legally continue
a member of the household of her birth.^ The lamenta-
ble results, in the ever-increasing laxity of the marriage

1 See Mommsen, History of Borne (Eng. tr.), II, 482.

2 Cf. Ilearn, The Artjan Household, p. 471.


bond and the frequency of divorce, contributed largely
to the internal dissolution of the Roman state.

§ 422. It is interesting, further, to observe how, in
Babylon and Assyria also, the primitive bonds were relaxed
which restricted the privileges of women, and which were
forged in the old Semitic camp before the dispersion of
the united family (cf. § 418). So far as we have direct
evidence, the "emancipation" was particularl}^ effected in
the sphere of business relations. Unfortunately, we have
clear testimony on the subject so far only from the docu-
ments of the later historical times, and it is as yet impos-
sible to learn at what stage in the development of society
independence of action began to be accorded to women.
Among the juridical inscriptions of which such an abun-
dance is already at the disposal of Assyriologists, frequent
instances are furnished of business relations maintained
independently by women both married and single. For
details I can only here refer to the critical works which
have made the facts accessible and the subject intelligible
even to the lay reader.^ Besides inheriting and controlling
their own property, they are, in this class of documents,
conspicuous as money-lenders.

§ 423. A singular phenomenon, as unique in modern
as in ancient civilization, requires at least to be alluded

Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 7 of 39)