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The Background to the New Testament #8

Women, Wives, Daughters

                    BACKGROUND TO THE NEW TESTAMENT #8

From the book "Sketches of Jewish Social Life" by Alfred
Edersheim Ph.D.

(Here we find the truth of the matter, that women in God's way of
life are beautiful, honorable, on equal footing with man for
salvation, and can be used as much as any man in the work of the
Lord, which I've also proved and expounded to you, else where in
studies on this Website - Keith Hunt)


     IN order accurately to understand the position of woman in
Israel, it is only necessary carefully to peruse the New
Testament. The picture of social life there presented gives a
full view of the place which she held in private and in public
life. Here we do not find that separation, so common among
Orientals at all times, but woman mingles freely with others both
at home and abroad. So far from suffering under social
inferiority, she takes influential and often leading part in all
movements, specially those of a religious character. Above all,
we are wholly spared those sickening details of private and
public immorality with which contemporary classical literature
abounds. Among Israel woman was pure, the home happy, and the
family hallowed by a religion which consisted not only in public
services, but entered into daily life, and embraced in its
observances every member of the household. It was so not only in
New Testament times but always in Israel. St.Peter's reference to
"the holy women " "in the old time" (I Pet. 3:5) is thoroughly in
accordance with Talmudical views.  Indeed, his quotation of Gen.
xviii. 12, and its application: "Even as Sara obeyed Abraham,
calling him lord," occur in precisely the same manner in
Rabbinical writings (Tanch. 28, 6), where her respect and
obedience are likewise set forth as a pattern to her daughters. 1
     Some further details may illustrate the matter better than
arguments. The creation of woman from the rib of Adam is thus
commented on: 2 "It is as if Adam had exchanged a pot of earth
for a precious jewel."   This, although Jewish wit caustically
had it: "God has cursed woman, yet all the world runs after her;
he has cursed the ground, yet all the world lives of it." In what
reverence "the four mothers," as the Rabbis designate Sarah,
Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel, were held, and what influence they
exercised in patriarchal history, no attentive reader of
Scripture can fail to notice. And as we follow on the sacred
story, Miriam, who had originally saved Moses, leads the song of
deliverance on the other side of the flood, and her influence,
though not always for good, continued till her death (compare
Micah 6:4). Then "the women whose heart stirred them up in
wisdom" contribute to the rearing of the Tabernacle. 3 
     Deborah works deliverance, and judgeth in Israel; and the
piety of Manoah's wife is at least as conspicuous, and more
intelligent, than her husband's (Judg. xiii. 23). So also is that
of the mother of Samuel. In the times of the kings the praises of
Israel's maidens stir


1 The following illustration also occurs: A certain wise woman
said to her daughter before her marriage: "My child, stand before
thy husband and minister to him. If thou wilt act as his maiden
he will be thy slave, and honour thee as his mistress; but if
thou exalt thyself against him, he will be thy master, and thou
shalt become vile in his eyes, like one of the maidservants."
2 Shab. 23.
3 There is a Jewish tradition that the women had contributed of
their substance to the Tabernacle, but refused to do so for
making the golden calf, which is deduced from the account in Ex.
xxxii. 2 compared with verse 3.


the jealousy of Saul; Abigail knows how to avert the danger of
her husband's folly; the wise woman of Tekoah is sent for to
induce the king to fetch his banished home; and the conduct of a
woman "in her wisdom " puts an end to the rebellion of Sheba.
Later on, the constant mention of queen mothers, and their
frequent interference in the government, shows their position.
Such names as that of Huldah the prophetess, and the idyllic
narrative of the Shunammite, will readily occur to the memory.


     The story of a woman's devotion forms the subject of the
Book of Ruth; that of her pure and faithful love, the theme or
the imagery of the Song of Songs; that of her courage and
devotion the groundwork of the Book of Esther: while her worth
and virtues are enumerated in the closing chapter of the Book of
Proverbs. Again, in the language of the prophets the people of
God are called "the daughter," "the virgin daughter of Zion," 
"the daughter of Jerusalem," "the daughter of Judah," etc.; and
their relationship to God is constantly compared to that of the
married state. The very terms by which woman is named in the Old
Testament are significant. If the man is 'Ish,' his wife is
'Ishah,' simply his equal; if the husband is 'Gever,' the ruler,
the woman is, in her own domain, 'Gevirah' and 'Gevereth,' the
mistress (as frequently in the history of Sarah and in other
passages), or else the dweller at home (Nevath bayith, Ps.
lxviii. 12). 1  Nor is it otherwise in New


1 Similar expressions are Sarah and Shiddah, both from roots
meaning to rule. Nor is this inconsistent with the use of the
word Baal, to marry, and Beulah, the married one, from Baal, a
lord - even as Sarah "called Abraham lord" (1 Pet. 3:6, the
expression used of her to Abimelech, Gen. xx. 3, being Beulah).  
Of course it is not meant that these are the only words for
females.  But the others, such as Bath and Naarah, are either
simply feminine terminations, or else, as Bethulah, Levush,
Nekevah, Almah, Rachem, descriptive of their physical state.


Testament times. The ministry of woman to our blessed Lord, and
in the Church, has almost become proverbial. Her position there
marks really not a progress upon, but the full carrying out of,
the Old Testament idea; or, to put the matter in another light,
we ask no better than that any one who is acquainted with
classical antiquity should compare what he reads of a Dorcas, of
the mother of Mark, of Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe, Lois, or Eunice,
with what he knows of the noble women of Greece and Rome at that


     Of course, against all this may be set the permission of
polygamy, which undoubtedly was in force at the time of our Lord,
and the ease with which divorce might be obtained. In reference
to both these, however, it must be remembered that they were
temporary concessions to "the hardness" of the people's heart    
For, not only must the circumstances of the times and the moral
state of the Jewish and of neighbouring nations be taken into
account, but there were progressive stages of spiritual
development. If these had not been taken into account, the
religion of the Old Testament would have been unnatural and an
impossibility. Suffice it, that "from the beginning it was not
so," nor yet intended to be so in the end - the intermediate
period thus marking the gradual progress from the perfectness of
the idea to the perfectness of its realisation. Moreover, it is
impossible to read the Old, and still more the New Testament
without gathering from it the conviction, that polygamy was not
the rule but the rare exception, so far as the people generally
were concerned. Although the practice in reference to divorce was
certainly more lax, even the Rabbis surrounded it with so many
safeguards that, in point of fact, it must in many cases have
been difficult of accomplishment. In general, the whole tendency
of the Mosaic legislation, and even more explicitly that ot later
Rabbinical ordinances, was in the direction of recognising the
rights of woman, with a scrupulousness which reached down even to
the Jewish slave, and a delicacy that guarded her most sensitive
feelings. Indeed, we feel warranted in saying, that in cases of
dispute the law generally leant to her side. Of divorce we shall
have to speak in the sequel.  But what the religious views and
feelings both about it and monogamy were at the time of Malachi,
appears from the pathetic description of the altar of God as
covered with the tears of the wife of youth," "the wife of thy
covenant," "thy companion," who had been "put away" or 
"treacherously dealt" with (Mal. ii. 13 to end). The whole is so
beautifully paraphrased by the Rabbis that we subjoin it: 1

"If death hath snatched from thee the wife of youth, It is as if
the sacred city were,
And e'en the Temple, in thy pilgrim days, 
Defiled, laid low, and levelled with the dust. 
The man who harshly sends from him
His first-woo'd wife, the loving wife of youth, 
For him the very altar of the Lord
Sheds forth its tears of bitter agony."

(The truth about divorce and re-marriage, and polygamy, the often
quoted Malachi 2, is given in full detail in studies on this
Website - "Divorce and Re-marriage" - Keith Hunt)


     Where the social intercourse between the sexes was nearly as
unrestricted as among ourselves, so far as consistent with
Eastern manners, it would, of course, be natural for a young man
to make personal choice of his bride. Of this Scripture affords
abundant evidence. But, at any rate, the woman had, in case of
betrothal or marriage, to give her own free and expressed
consent, without which a union was invalid.


1 After the elegant poetical version of Dr.Sachs (Stimmen vom
Jordan u. Euphrat. p.347). We select this one poetic description
of Jewish wedded love and respect for woman from among many that
might be given.



     In the case of girls up to twelve years and one day - might
be betrothed or given away by their father. In that case,
however, they had afterwards the right of insisting upon
divorce.  Of course, it is not intended to convey that woman
attained her full position till under the New Testament. But this
is only to repeat what may be said of almost every social state
and relationship. Yet it is most marked how deeply the spirit of
the Old Testament, which is essentially that of the New also, had
in this respect also penetrated the life of Israel. St.Paul's
warning (2 Cor. 6:14) against being "unequally yoked together,"
which is an allegorical application of Lev. xix. 19; Deut. xxii.
10, finds to some extent a counterpart in mystical Rabbinical
writings, 1  where the last-mentioned passage is expressly
applied to spiritually unequal marriages.
The admonition of 1 Cor. 7:39 to marry  only "in the Lord,"
recalls many similar Rabbinical warnings, from which we select
the most striking. Men, we are told, 2  are wont to marry for one
of four reasons - for passion, wealth, honour, or the glory of
God. As for the first-named class of marriages, their issue must
be expected to be "stubborn and rebellious" sons, as we may
gather from the section referring to such following upon that in
Deut. xxi. 11. In regard to marriages for wealth, we are to learn
a lesson from the sons of Eli, who sought to enrich themselves in
such manner, but of whose posterity it was said (1 Sam. 2:36)
that they should "crouch for a piece of silver and a morsel of
bread." Of marriages for the sake of connection, honour, and
influence, King Jehoram offered a warning, who became King Ahab's
son-in-law, be-


1 The somewhat similar reference to Lev. xix. 19 in "Philo. de
Creat. Princ." (ed Francof.) pp. 730,731, mentioned in Wetstein,
"Nov. Test." ii. p.193, does not seem sufficiently parallel for
2 Yalkut on Deut. xxi. 15.


cause that monarch had seventy sons, whereas upon his death his
widow Athaliah "arose and destroyed all the seed royal" (2 Kings
xi.1). But far otherwise is it in case of marriage "in the name
of heaven." The issue of such will be children who "preserve
Israel." In fact, the Rabbinical references to marrying "in the
name of heaven," or "for the name of God," - in God and for God -
are so frequent and so emphatic, that the expressions used by St.
Paul must have come familiarly to him. Again, much that is said
in 1 Cor. vii. about the married estate, finds striking parallels
in Talmudical writings. One may here be mentioned, as explaining
the expression (ver.14): "Else were your children unclean; but
now are they holy." Precisely the same distinction was made by
the Rabbis in regard to proselytes, whose children, if begotten
before their conversion to Judaism, were said to be "unclean;" if
after that event to have been born" in holiness, "only that,
among the Jews, both parents required to profess Judaism, while
St.Paul argues in the contrary direction, and concerning a far
different holiness than that which could be obtained through any
mere outward ceremony.

     Some further details, gathered almost at random, will give
glimpses of Jewish home life and of current views. It was by a
not uncommon, though irreverent, mode of witticism, that two
forms of the same verb, sounding almost alike, were made to
express opposite experiences of marriage. It was common
to ask a newly-married husband: "Maza or Moze?" - "findeth " or 
"found;" the first expression occurring in Prov. xviii. 22, the
second in Eccles. vii. 26. A different sentiment is the following
from the Talmud (Yeb. 62 b; Sanh. 76 b), the similarity of which
to Eph. 5:28 will be immediately recognised: "He that loveth his
wife as his own body, honoureth her more than his own body,
brings up his children in the right way, and leads them in it to
full age - of him the Scripture saith: 'Thou shalt know that thy
tabernacle shall be in peace' (Job 5:24). 


     Of all qualities those most desired in woman were meekness,
modesty, and shamefacedness. Indeed, brawling, gossip in the
streets, and immodest behaviour in public were sufficient grounds
for divorce. Of course, Jewish women would never have attempted
"teaching" in the synagogue, where they occupied a place separate
from the men - for Rabbinical study, however valued for the male
sex, was disapproved of in the case of women. Yet this direction
of St.Paul (1 Tim. 2:12): "I suffer not a woman to usurp
authority over the man" findeth some kind of parallel in the
Rabbinical saying: "Whoever allows himself to be ruled by his
wife, shall call out, and no one will make answer to him."
     It is on similar grounds that the Rabbis argue, that man
must seek after woman, and not a woman after a man; only the
reason which they assign for it sounds strange. Man, they say,
was formed from the ground - woman from man's rib; hence, in
trying to find a wife man only looks after what he had lost!     
     This formation of man from soft clay, and of woman from a
hard bone, also illustrated why man was so much more easily
reconcilable than woman. Similarly, it was observed, that God had
not formed woman out of the head, lest she should become proud;
nor out of the eye, lest she should lust; nor out of the ear,
lest she should be curious; nor out of the mouth, lest she should
be talkative; nor out of the heart, lest she should be jealous;
nor out of the hand, lest she should be covetous; nor out of the
foot, lest she be a busybody; but out of the rib, which was
always covered. Modesty was, therefore, a prime quality. It was
no doubt chiefly in jealous regard for this, that women were
interdicted engaging in Rabbinical studies; and a story is
related to show how even the wisest of women, Beruria, was
thereby brought to the brink of extreme danger. It is not so easy
to explain why women were dispensed from all positive obligations
(commands, but not prohibitions) that were not general in their
bearing (Kidd. i. 7, 8), but fixed to certain periods of time
(such as wearing the phylacteries, etc.), and from that of
certain prayers, unless it be that woman was considered not her
own mistress but subject to others, or else that husband and wife
were regarded as one, so that his merits and prayers applied to
her as well. Indeed, this view, at least so far as the
meritorious nature of a man's engagement with the law is
concerned, is expressly brought forward, and women are
accordingly admonished to encourage their husbands in all such

(We must remember that in all this, the Jews had at times set up
their own traditions and had misunderstood that women could study
and be as free to study the Word of the Lord and any other
science, as time for them permitted, for they were in many ways
the ones who spent more time with the children. Women are shown
in the New Testament, as using their gifts and abilities, in
serving other people, and in being, if so gifted, teaching the
word of the Lord as equal to any man - Keith Hunt)


     We can understand how, before the coming of the Messiah,
marriage should have been looked upon as of religious obligation.
Many passages of Scripture were at least quoted in support of
this idea. Ordinarily, a young man was expected to enter the
wedded state (according to Maimonides) at the age of sixteen or
seventeen, while the age of twenty may be regarded as the utmost
limit conceded, unless study so absorbed time and attention as to
leave no leisure for the duties of married life. Still it was
thought better even to neglect study than to remain single. Yet
money cares on account of wife and children were dreaded. The
same comparison is used in reference to them, which our Lord
applies to quite a different "offence," that against the "little
ones " (Luke xvii. 2). Such cares are called by the Rabbis,
"a millstone round the neck " (Kidd. 29 b). In fact, the
expression seems to have become proverbial, like so many  others
which are employed in the New Testament.
     We read in the Gospel that, when the Virgin-mother "was
espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with
child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just
man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to
put her away privily" (Matt. 1:18,19). The narrative implies a
distinction between betrothal and marriage - Joseph being at the
time betrothed, but not actually married to the Virgin-mother.
     Even in the Old Testament a distinction is made between
betrothal and marriage. The former was marked by a bridal present
(or Mohar, Gen. xxxiv. 12; Ex. xxii. 17 ; 1 Sam. xviii. 25), with
which the father, however, would in certain circumstances
dispense. From the moment of her betrothal a woman was treated as
if she actually married. The union  could not be dissolved,
except by regular divorce; breach of faithfulness was regarded as
adultery; and the property of the woman became virtually that of
her betrothed, unless he had expressly renounced it (Kidd. ix.
1). But even in that case he was her natural heir. It is
impossible here to enter into the various legal details, as, for
example, about property or money which might come to a woman
after betrothal or marriage. The law adjudicated this to the
husband, yet with many restrictions, and with infinite delicacy
towards the woman, as if reluctant to put in force the rights of
the stronger (Kidd. viii. i, etc.). From the Mishnah (Bab. B. x.
4) we also learn that there were regular "Shitre Erusin," or
writings of betrothal, drawn up by the authorities (the costs
being paid by the bridegroom). These stipulated the mutual
obligations, the dowry, and all other points on which the
parties had agreed. The "Shitre Erusin" were different from the
regular "Chethubah" (literally, "writing"), or marriage contract,
without which the Rabbis regarded a marriage as merely legalised
concubinage (Cheth. v. 1). The "Chethubah" provided a settlement
of at least two hundred denars for a maiden, and one hundred
denars for a widow, while the priestly council at Jerusalem fixed
four hundred denars for a priest's daughter. Of course these sums
indicate only the legal minimum, and might be increased
indefinitely at pleasure, though opinions differ whether any
larger sums might be legally exacted, if matters did not go
beyond betrothal. The form at present in use among the Jews sets
forth, that the bridegroom weds his bride "according to the law
of Moses and of Israel;" that he promises "to please, to honour,
to nourish, and to care for her, as is the manner of the men of
Israel," adding thereto the woman's consent, the document being
signed by two witnesses. In all probability this was
substantially the form in olden times.  In Jerusalem and in
Galilee where it was said that men in their choice had regard to
"a fair degree," while in the rest of Judea they looked a good
deal after money - widows had the right of residence in their
husband's house secured to them.

     On the other hand, a father was bound to provide a dowry
(sedan, nedanjah) for his daughter conformable to her station in
life; and a second daughter could claim a portion equal to that
of her elder sister, or else one-tenth of all immovable property.
     In case of the father's death, the sons, who, according to
Jewish law, were his sole heirs, were bound to maintain their
sisters, even though this would have thrown them upon public
charity, and to endow each with a tenth part of what had been
left. The dowry, whether in money, property, or jewellery, was
entered into the marriage contract, and really belonged to the
wife, the husband being obliged to add to it one-half more, if it
consisted of money or money's value; and if of jewellery, etc.,
to assign to her four-fifths of its value. In case of separation
(not divorce) he was bound to allow her a proper aliment, and to
re-admit her to his table and house on the Sabbath-eve. A wife
was entitled to one-tenth of her dowry for pin-money. If a father
gave away his daughter without any distinct statement about her
dowry, he was bound to allow her at least fifty "sus;" and if it
had been expressly stipulated that she was to have no dowry at
all, it was delicately enjoined that the bridegroom should,
before marriage, give her sufficient for the necessary outfit. An
orphan was to receive a dowry of at least fifty "sus" from the
parochial authorities. A husband could not oblige his wife to
leave the Holy Land nor the city of Jerusalem, nor yet to change
a town for a country residence, or vice versa, nor a good for a
bad house. 

     These are only a few of the provisions which show how
carefully the law protected the interests of women.

     To enter into farther details would lead beyond our present
object. All this was substantially settled at the betrothal,
which, in Judaea at least, seems to have been celebrated by a
feast. Only a "borna fide" breach of these arrangements, or
wilful fraud, was deemed valid ground for dissolving the bond
once formed. Otherwise, as already noted, a regular divorce was


     According to Rabbinical law certain formalities were
requisite to make a betrothal legally valid. These consisted
either in handing to a woman, directly or through messengers, a
piece of money, however small, or else a letter, 1


1 There was also a third mode of espousal - simply by
cohabitation, but this was very strongly disapproved by the


provided it were in each case expressly stated before witnesses,
that the man thereby intended to espouse the woman as his wife.
The marriage followed after a longer or shorter interval, the
limits of which, however, were fixed by law. The ceremony itself
consisted in leading the bride into the house of the bridegroom,
with certain formalities, mostly dating from very ancient times.
Marriage with a maiden was commonly celebrated on a Wednesday
afternoon, which allowed the first days of the week for
preparation, and enabled the husband, if he had a charge to
prefer against the previous chastity of his bride, to make
immediate complaint before the local Sanhedrim, which sat every
Thursday. On the other hand, the marriage of a widow was
celebrated on Thursday afternoon, which left three days of the
week for "rejoicing with her." This circumstance enables us, with
some certainty, to arrange the date of the events which preceded
the marriage in Cana. Inferring from the accompanying festivities
that it was the marriage of a maiden, and therefore took place on
a Wednesday, we have the following succession of events:--On
Thursday (beginning as every Jewish day with the previous
evening), testimony of the Baptist to the Sanhedrim - deputation
from Jerusalem. On Friday (John i. 29), "John seeth Jesus coming
unto him," and significantly preacheth the first sermon about
"the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." On
Saturday (ver.35), John's second sermon on the same text; the
consequent conversion of St.John and St.Andrew, and the calling
of St.Peter. On Sunday (ver.43), our Lord Himself preacheth His
first Messianic sermon, and calls Philip and Nathanael. On "the
third day" after it, that is, on Wednesday, was the marriage in
Cana of Galilee. The significance of these dates when compared
with those in the week of our Lord's Passion, will be
sufficiently evident.

(Speculation only. There is no certain way to claim these events
took place on the days mentioned by Edersheim - Keith Hunt)


     But this is not all that may be learned from the account of
the marriage in Cana. Of course, there was a "marriage feast," as
on all these occasions. For this reason, marriages were not
celebrated either on the Sabbath, or on the day before or after
it, lest the Sabbath-rest should be endangered. Nor was it awful
to wed on any of the three annual festivals, in order, as the
Rabbis put it, "not to mingle one joy (that of the marriage) with
another (that of the festival)." As it was deemed a religious
duty to give pleasure to the newly-married couple, the merriment
at times became greater than the more strict Rabbis approved.
     Accordingly, it is said of one, that to produce gravity he
broke a vase worth about 25 pound; of another, that at his son's
wedding he broke a costly glass; and of a third, that being asked
to sing, he exclaimed, Woe to us, for we must all die! For, as it
is added (Ber. 31 a): "It is forbidden to man, that his mouth be
filled with laughter in this world (dispensation), as it is
written, 'Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue
with singing.' When is that to be? At the time when 'they shall
sing among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for
     It deserves notice, that at the marriage in Cana there is no
mention of "the friends of the bridegroom," or, as we would call
them, the groomsmen. This was in strict accordance with Jewish
custom, for groomsmen were customary in Judaea, but not in
Galilee (Cheth. 25 a). This also casts light upon the locality
where John 3:29 was spoken, in which "the friend of the
bridegroom" is mentioned. But this expression is quite different
from that of "children of the bridechamber," which occurs in
Matt. ix. 15, where the scene is once more laid in Galilee. The
term "children of the bridechamber" is simply a translation of
the Rabbinical "bene Cltuppah," and means the guests invited to
the bridal. In Judaea there were at every marriage two groomsmen
or "friends of the bridegroom " - one for the bridegroom, the
other for his bride. Before marriage, they acted as a kind of
intermediaries between the couple; at the wedding they offered
gifts, waited upon the bride and bridegroom, and attended them to
the bridal chamber, being also, as it were, the guarantors of the
bride's virgin chastity. Hence, when St.Paul tells the
Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:2): "I am jealous over you with godly
jealousy; for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may
present you as a chaste virgin to Christ," he speaks, as it were,
in the character of groomsman or "bridegroom's friend," who had
acted as such at the spiritual union of Christ with the
Corinthian Church.  And we know that it was specially the duty of
the "friend of the bridegroom" so to present to him his bride.   
Similarly it was his also, after marriage, to maintain proper
terms between the couple, and more particularly to defend the
good fame of the bride against all imputations. It may interest
some to know that this custom also was traced up to highest
authority. Thus, in the spiritual union of Israel with their God,
Moses is spoken of as "the friend of the bridegroom" who leads
out the bride (Ex. xix. 17); while Jehovah, as the bridegroom,
meets His Church at Sinai (Ps. lxviii. 7; Pirke di R. El. 41).   
Nay, in some mystic writings God is described as acting "the
friend of the bridegroom," when our first parents met in Eden.
There is a touch of poetry in the application of Ezek. xxviii. 13
to that scene, when angels led the choir, and decked and watched
the bridal-bed (Ab. de R. Nathan iv. and xii.). According to
another ancient Rabbinical commentary (Ber. R. viii.), God
Almighty Himself took the cup of blessing and spoke the
benediction, while Michael and Gabriel acted the "bridegroom's
friends" to our first parents when they wedded in Paradise.

     With such a "benediction," preceded by a brief formula, with
which the bride was handed over to her husband (Tobit vii. I3),
the wedding festivities commenced. 1
     And so the pair were led towards the bridal chamber (Cheder)
and the bridal bed (Chuppah). 2 
     The bride went with her hair unloosed. Ordinarily, it was
most strictly enjoined upon women to have their head and hair
carefully covered.  This may throw some light upon the difficult
passage, I Cor. 11:1-10. We must bear in mind that the apostle
there argues with Jews, and that on their own ground, convincing
them by a reference to their own views, customs, and legends of
the propriety of the practice which he enjoins. From that point
of view the propriety of a woman having her head "covered" could
not be called in question. The opposite would, to a Jew, have
indicated immodesty. Indeed, it was the custom in the case of a
woman accused of adultery to have her hair "shorn or shaven," at
the same time using this formula: "Because thou hast departed
from the manner of the daughters of Israel, who go with their
head covered; . . . therefore that has befallen thee which thou
hast chosen." This so far explains verses 5 and 6. The expression
"power," as applied in verse 10 to the head of


1 It is, to say the least, doubtful whether the Rabbinical form
of this benediction and of that at betrothal dates from earliest
times. However beautiful, seems far too elaborate for that.
2 The distinction is marked in Joel ii. 16; the "Chuppah" is also
mentioned in Ps. xix. 5.


woman, seems to refer to this covering, indicating, as it did,
that she was under the power of her husband, while the very
difficult addition, "because of the angels," may either allude to
the presence of the angels and to the well-known Jewish view
(based, no doubt, on truth) that those angels may be grieved or
offended by our conduct, and bear the sad tidings before the
throne of God, or it may possibly refer to the very ancient
Jewish belief, that the evil spirits gained power over a woman
who went with her head bare.

(The latter is Jewish tradition only. No evil spirit can gain
power over a woman just because she went with her head bare. This
difficult passage from Paul is explained in a study on this
Website - Keith Hunt)

     The custom of a bridal veil - either for the bride alone, or
spread over the couple - was of ancient date. It was interdicted
for a time by the Rabbis after the destruction of Jerusalem.     
Still more ancient was the wearing of crowns (Cant. iii. 11; Isa.
lxi. 10; Ezek. xvi. 12), which was also prohibited after the last
Jewish war. Palm and myrtle branches were borne before the
couple, grain or money was thrown about, and music preceded the
procession, in which all who met it were, as a religious duty,
expected to join. 1
     The Parable of the Ten Virgins, who, with their lamps, were
in expectancy of the bridegroom (Matt. 25:1), is founded on
Jewish custom. For, according to Rabbinical authority, such lamps
carried on the top of staves were frequently used, while ten is
the number always mentioned in connection with public
solemnities. 2  
     The marriage festivities generally lasted a week, but the
bridal days extended over a full month. 3


1 See my article on "Marriage" in "Cassell's Bible Educator,"
vol. iv. pp.267-270. 
2 According to R.Simon (on "Chel. ii." S) it was an Eastern
custom that, when the bride was led to her future home, "they
carried before the party about ten" such lamps.
3 The practice of calling a wife a bride during the first year of
her marriage is probably based on Deut. xxiv. 5.



     Having entered thus fully on the subject of marriage, a few
further particulars may be of interest. The bars to marriage
mentioned in the Bible are sufficiently known. To these the
Rabbis added others, which have been arranged under two heads -
as farther extending the laws of kindred (to their secondary
degrees), and as intended to guard morality. The former were
extended over the whole line of forbidden kindred, where that
line was direct, and to one link farther where the line became
indirect - as, for example, to the wife of a maternal uncle, or
to the step-mother of a wife. In the category of guards to
morality we include such prohibitions as that a divorced woman
might not marry her seducer, nor a man the woman to whom he had
brought her letter of divorce, or in whose case he had borne
testimony; or of marriage with those not in their right senses,
or in a state of drunkenness; or of the marriage of minors, or
under fraud, etc. A widower had to wait over three festivals, a
widow three months, before re-marrying, or if she was with child
or gave suck, for two years.  A woman might not be married a
third time; no marriage could take place within thirty days of
the death of a near relative, nor yet on the Sabbath, nor on a
feast-day, etc. Of the marriage to a deceased husband's brother
(or the next of kin), in case of childlessness, it is unnecessary
here to speak, since although the Mishnah devotes a whole
tractate to it (Yebamoth), and it was evidently customary at the
time of Christ (Mark 12:19, etc.), the practice was considered as
connected with the territorial possession of Palestine, and
ceased with the destruction of the Jewish commonwealth (Bechar.
i. 7). A priest was to inquire into the legal descent of his wife
(up to four degrees if the daughter of a priest, otherwise up to
five degrees), except where the bride's father was a priest in
actual service, or a member of the Sanhedrim. The high-priest's
bride was to be a maid not older than six months beyond her


     The fatal ease with which divorce could be obtained, and its
frequency, appear from the question addressed to Christ by the
Pharisees: "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every
cause?" Matt. 19:3), and still more from the astonishment with
which the disciples had listened to the reply of the Saviour
(ver. 10). That answer was much wider in its range than our
Lord's initial teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:32).
     To the latter no Jew could have had any objection, even
though its morality would have seemed elevated beyond their
highest standard, represented in this case by the school of
Shammai, while that of Hillel, and still more Rabbi Akiba,
presented the lowest opposite extreme.  But in reply to the
Pharisees, our Lord placed the whole question on grounds which
even the strictest Shammaite would have refused to adopt. For the
farthest limit to which he would have gone would have been to
restrict the cause of divorce to "a matter of uncleanness "
(Deut. xxiv. i), by which he would probably have understood not
only a breach of the marriage vow, but of the laws and customs of
the land. In fact, we know that it included every kind of
impropriety, such as going about with loose hair, spinning in the
street, familiarly talking with men, ill-treating her husband's
parents in his presence, brawling, that is, "speaking to her


1 This other reading has been proposed: "for every offence."     
This would certainly tally better with the spirit of the
Pharisees than the reading in our textus receptus.
2 Rabbinical ordinances so limited the Mosaic law in regard to an
adulteress, that the trial and punishment could only have been of
the very rarest occurrence. Into these laws and distinctions we
cannot, however, at present enter.

husband so loudly that the neighbours could hear her in the
adjoining house" (Chethub. vii. 6), a general bad reputation, or
the discovery of fraud before marriage. 
     On the other hand, the wife could insist on being divorced
if her husband were a leper, or affected with polypus, or engaged
in a disagreeable or dirty trade, such as that of a tanner or
coppersmith. One of the cases in which divorce was obligatory
was, if either party had become heretical, or ceased to profess
Judaism. But even so, there were at least checks to the danger of
general lawlessness, such as the obligation of paying to a wife
her portion, and a number of minute ordinances about formal
letters of divorce, without which no divorce was legal, 1  and
which had to be couched in explicit terms, handed to the woman
herself, and that in presence of two witnesses, etc.


     According to Jewish law there were four obligations
incumbent on a wife towards her husband, and ten by which he was
bound. Of the latter, three are referred to in Ex. xxi. 9,10; the
other seven include her settlement, medical treatment in case of
sickness, redemption from captivity, a respectable funeral,
provision in his house so long as she remained a widow and had
not been paid her dowry, the support of her daughters till they
were married, and a provision that her sons should, besides
receiving their portion of the father's inheritance, also share
in what had been settled upon her. The obligations upon the wife
were, that all her gains should belong to her husband, as also
what came to her after marriage by inheritance; that the husband
should have the usufruct of her dowry, and of any gains by it,
provided he had the administration of it, in which case, however,
he was also


1 The Jews have it that a woman "is loosed from the law of her
husband" by only one of two things: death or a letter of divorce;
hence Rom. vii. 2,3.

(This section of Romans is often not understood correctly. See my
study on "Divorce and Re-marriage" - Keith Hunt)


responsible for any loss; and that he should be considered her
heir-at-law. 1
     What the family life among the godly in Israel must have
been, how elevated its tone, how loving its converse, or how
earnestly devoted its mothers and daughters, appears sufficiently
from the gospel story, from that in the book of Acts, and from
notices in the apostolic letters. Women, such as the
Virgin-mother, or Elisabeth, or Anna, or those who enjoyed the
privilege of ministering to the Lord, or who, after His death,
tended and watched for His sacred body, could not have been quite
solitary in Palestine; we find their sisters in a Dorcas, a
Lydia, a Phoebe, and those women of whom St.Paul speaks in Phil.
4:3, and whose lives he sketches in his Epistles to Timothy and
Titus. Wives such as Priscilla, mothers such as that of Zebedee's
children, or of Mark, or like St.John's "elect lady," or as Lois
and Eunice, must have kept the moral atmosphere pure and sweet,
and shed precious light on their homes and on society, corrupt to
the core as it was under the sway of heathenism. 

     What and how they taught their households, and that even
under the most disadvantageous outward circumstances, we learn
from the history of Timothy.  And although they were undoubtedly
in that respect without many of the opportunities which we enjoy,
there was one sweet practice of family religion, going beyond the
prescribed prayers, which enabled them to teach their children
from tenderest years to intertwine the Word of God with their
daily devotion and daily life. For it was the custom to teach a
child some verse of Holy Scripture beginning or ending with
precisely the same letters as its Hebrew


1 This is not the place to enter into the legal details, fully
discussed by the Rabbis.


name, and this birthday text or guardian-promise the child was
day by day to insert in its prayers. 1 
     Such guardian words, familiar to the mind from earliest
years, endeared to the heart by tenderest recollections, would
remain with the youth in life's temptations, and come back amid
the din of manhood's battle. Assuredly, of Jewish children so
reared, so trained, so taught, it might be rightly said: "Take
heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto
you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of My
Father which is in heaven."


1  "Kol Kore," by R.El.Soloweycyk, p.184. Compare "Taan." 9, a.


To be continued

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