Posts Tagged History
During the message today, I mentioned a model of Herod’s temple that was built by a British pensioner. The man’s name is Alex Garrard, and he spent the last thirty years constructing his model – which stretches 20 feet long and 12 feet wide. Sadly, Mr. Garrard passed away in 2010, and the model is no longer displayed for the public.
You can read the Telegraph article about Garrard and his hobby. I have to say that while the Holyland Model is pretty cool (I saw it in 1997), the scale of Garrard’s model makes it pale in comparison. The Holyland Model is 1:50 scale, and Garrard’s is 1:100, but Garrard’s is much more focused on the temple complex itself.
Here are some pictures of Garrard’s amazing model. They help us get a grasp of the massive complex begun by Herod the Great in 19BCE and completed in 62CE. The entire thing was destroyed in 70CE by the soon-to-be-emperor Titus.
In 1203, a massive Venetian fleet sailed into the Golden Horn intent on landing a Crusader army and taking the city of Constantinople. The Crusaders had intended to sail to Egypt but they had failed to pay the Venetians and now were doing the Venetians bidding in attempting to put the young claimant Alexius Angelus on the throne of Constantinople.
When the battle began at the sea walls, the Norman Crusaders almost faltered. The Venetian galleys hung back as the battle became a stalemate. Then from the midst of the fleet, one galley picked up speed and headed for the beach. At its prow was a nearly ninety year old blind man named Enrico Dandolo.
Dandolo had been elected doge of Venice in 1192. Before that, he had been a wealthy merchant from a good family and had even served as an envoy to Constantinople. When the representatives of the Fourth Crusade had come to Venice seeking passage, Dandolo had taken the cross himself.
Where there was money to be made, Dandolo was there and there was a lot of money to be made in a Crusade. But the endeavor had fallen apart and Venice was on the verge of bankruptcy if the Crusade was not profitable. So, Dandolo had led the Crusaders to Constantinople to aid Angelus’ claim to the throne because the bounty Angelus promised would cover Venice’s expenses and provide a bit of profit.
When the fleet faltered, Dandolo ordered his galley beached as a message to the rest of the galleys. His act would be told and retold for five hundred years in Venice. As a result of his charge, the Crusaders took the city and the course of history was altered.
Dandolo believed in Venice and making money. His zeal drove him to exceed any human limitation in pursuit of his goal.
What about us? Do we have within us a passion for anything that is strong enough to send us at full speed to the hostile beach? I fear the greatest problem among Christian leaders is that we do not believe anything passionately. We are lukewarm in everything rather than boiling in one.
Amorites, Ammonites, Jebusites, Edomites, blah-blah-ites. What’s with all these -ites in the Bible?
Sometimes the most confusing thing about reading the Bible is all of the names. Because the early translators used a sort of English shorthand for lots of different idioms, it gets overwhelming and redundant to have all these -ites and not know anything about them.
Here’s a quick list from Genesis 10, known as “The Table of Nations”. It lists seventy people groups who lived in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean basin, and it divides them as descendants of Noah’s three sons.
Japtheth (יפת, “open”)
The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras.
And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah.
And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim.
By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations. (Genesis 10:2-5)
Let’s start with a couple of misconceptions. The word Gentiles is the Hebrew word goyim and it simply means “nations” or “peoples.” In early Hebrew usage, it means people not from around here. These are people who are distinct from the local conflicts of the Hebrew people. Those conflicts, we will soon see, are about the rivalry between the sons of Ham and the sons of Shem.
The sons of Japheth are the people who lived to the west and north of Israel – in modern Turkey, Armenia and Greece, as well as the islands of the Mediterranean. They lived in the open spaces.
And here, we encounter a Hebrew plural form -im. It appears in Kittim and Dodanim. These words are plurals of the words Kittiy and Dodan. These are foreign words which appear nowhere else in Hebrew except as some kind of geographical identifier.
We believe that Kittiy is the term the Hebrews used for the island of Cyprus. The city of Larnaca, on eastern Cyprus, was known as Kition as early as the 13th century BCE, and the derivation seems to be pretty solid.
Dodan is not as easy to identify. It is possible that the pronunciation was changed from Rodan, in which a likely candidate is the island of Rhodes in the Aegean. In the victory inscription of Ramesses II from the Battle of Karnak in 1275, there is mention of a group of Hittite allies called the Dardanayu. They came from the Aegean, so they might be the same geographic identifier. If so, then the Dodanim would have lived in the Aegean islands.
But the really -ite activity begins with the sons of Ham and Shem.
Ham (חם, “hot”)
And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan.
And the sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah, and Sabtah, and Raamah, and Sabtecha: and the sons of Raamah; Sheba, and Dedan. And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city.
And Mizraim begat Ludim, and Anamim, and Lehabim, and Naphtuhim, and Pathrusim, and Casluhim, (out of whom came Philistim,) and Caphtorim.
And Canaan begat Sidon his firstborn, and Heth, and the Jebusite, and the Amorite, and the Girgasite, and the Hivite, and the Arkite, and the Sinite, and the Arvadite, and the Zemarite, and the Hamathite: and afterward were the families of the Canaanites spread abroad. And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as thou comest to Gerar, unto Gaza; as thou goest, unto Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim, even unto Lasha.
These are the sons of Ham, after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, and in their nations. (Genesis 10:6-20)
Let’s begin with Ham’s four sons, and the -ites get a bit easier to sort out. They are listed in order of distance from Palestine.
- Cush is mostly people in Africa south of the 2nd cataract of the Nile, except for Nimrod. Nimrod establishes cities in what is today Iraq and Syria. More of that in a minute.
- Mizraim is Egypt, in fact everywhere you read the English word Egypt, it is a replacement for the Hebrew word Mizraim.
- Phut appears to be western Africa, the region of Libya
- Canaan is, of course, Canaan or Palestine as it was later known.
It is in the sons of Canaan that we encounter our -ites. A lot of them are relatively unknown to history, but the Hebrew forms are quite interesting, so I am going to list them out and note how they appear in Hebrew. Specifically, these are considered the people who lived in Canaan when the Hebrews arrived. Eventually, most of them seem to have merged with other people groups.
The first two are easy, because they’re not -ites. They are geographical designations for regions.
- Sidon (צידון) – southwestern Lebanon today, the core of what became the Phoenicians.
- Heth or Hat (חת) – the region of Hatti, Syria and western Turkey – the land of the Hittites
- Jebusite (יבוסי, Yebusiy, “of the threshing floor”) – Interestingly, the author does not say Jebus as he did Sidon and Heth. Most people assume that Jebus is the name of a person, but it may also be that these were the people who lived around the threshing floor – what became Jerusalem.
- Amorite (אמרי, Amoriy, “of the speaker” or “of the public place”) – Amor is an old Canaanite word for speaker, so it may be that these were the city dwellers of the Canaanites although the presence of the word Chamath later might indicate that they were people who lived at the assembly places. Israel had a couple of places where people, probably representatives of the various peoples, gathered to hear proclamations. (Both Deuteronomy and Joshua are written around these kinds of places.)
- Girgasite (גרגשׁי, Gergasiy, “of the clay”) – Gerad is the Hebrew word for clay. So this could be a group of people who lived in a region known for its clay, like the region east of the Sea of Galilee or it is a group known for working with clay.
- Hivite (חוי, Chiviy, “of the village”) – if the Amorites are the city dwellers, the Hivites are the villagers, those who lived in the unwalled collectives in the region.
- Arkite (ערקי, “of the sinew” or “of the fleeing”) – we assume an affinity of this name with the word ‘araq but no one is really sure how it works. The root word appears only in Job (30:3, 17). In particular, Job 30:3 seems to indicate something people would do in starvation – perhaps gnawing on the sinew or marrow of bones. But no one knows. The imagery of Job evokes, for me at least, images of the Gadarean demoniac.
- Sinite (סיני, Ciyniy, “of the thorns” or “of the moon goddess”) – the word Ciyn appears several times as a descriptor of a wilderness through which the sons of Israel journeyed. No one knows what it actually means. Some thing it means “thorn” while others equate it to the Canaanite moon goddess who might have been called SIN.
- Arvadite (ארודי, ‘rwadiy “of the loose land”) – this word could best be translated as “nomads” because that is the image it evokes. These are people who are not tied to a location or a practice. They are wanderers.
- Zemarite (צמרי, Tzamardiy, “of the two wools”) – Hebrew has a plural form called the dual, denoting pairings of things. It is used for legs, heavens, eyes, and anything else that comes in pairs. This name is derived from the dual of TZEMER or “wool”. Probably these were shepherds and goatherds, although this might also connect to the materials used to make their clothes. We know from Egyptian descriptions that some Canaanites were known for wearing striped woolen garments.
- Hamathite (חמתי, Chamathiy, “of the fortress”) – people who dwell in fortresses.
So, here is a list of the sons of Canaan, all of which have something to do with the way they lived when the Hebrews arrived. They are not necessarily patronyms at all.
Shem (שׁם, “name”)
This is driven home when we read the list of the descendants of Shem and realize that since Shem actually means “name” we are looking at the names of his descendants rather than descriptions of their lifestyles.
Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born. The children of Shem; Elam, and Asshur, and Arphaxad, and Lud, and Aram.
And the children of Aram; Uz, and Hul, and Gether, and Mash.
And Arphaxad begat Salah; and Salah begat Eber. And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan. And Joktan begat Almodad, and Sheleph, and Hazarmaveth, and Jerah, And Hadoram, and Uzal, and Diklah, And Obal, and Abimael, and Sheba, And Ophir, and Havilah, and Jobab: all these were the sons of Joktan.
And their dwelling was from Mesha, as thou goest unto Sephar a mount of the east. 31 These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations. (Genesis 10:21-31)
First of all, it should be noted that Eber may be the source of the word Hebrew and that the genealogy is picked up again in Genesis 11 to tell the connection from Shem to Abraham.
Second, it is worth noting that these are definitely names. There is a distinctly different feel to the way the names are presented. For one thing, it is linear. Both the families of Japheth and Ham only go two or three generations. Here, the genealogy follows the line through one son of Eber, Joktan. In chapter 11, it follows the other son, Peleg.
The division between Peleg and Joktan is the “in his days was the earth divide”, much to the displeasure of creation scientists everywhere who want to make this the continental drift. The line of Shem divides between the two sons of Eber. There is more or less a consensus among scholars that Joktan is representative of the Arab peoples.
Joktan was probably the Hebrew name for the northern Arabian cultures, which are largely nomadic due to the topography of the region. It is generally conjectured among linguists that the Semitic languages began in northern Arabia and spread out from there.
What is interesting about the Semitic peoples is that they are not labeled as -ites generally. They are given the English suffix -ans. So, we have the Assyrians and the Chaldeans and the Babylonians instead of the Assurites, the Chaldites and the Babylonites. This is an intentional distinction, made first in Latin and Greek, and then carried through into English.
Within the line of Shem, we will encounter Abraham and his father Terah. From Abraham’s brother Haran, we get his son Lot. Lot is the progenitor of two of the Hebrews’ closest relatives and rivals, through an incestuous relationship with his daughters:
- Ammonites (עמוני, Ammowniy, “of the tribes”) – the Ammonites are generally called simply AMMONIYM or “the tribes”. They are rarely an organized group.
- Moabites (מֹואָבִי, Moabiy, “of her father”) – likewise, the Moabites have kings from time to time, but they are nomadic peoples.
Both the Ammonites and the Moabites lived in modern Jordan. They were bordered to the south by the Edomites (descendants of Israel’s brother Esau) and the southeast by the Ishmaelites (descendants of Abraham’s illegitimate son with an Egyptian woman). There are also a number of related groups, all of which are various forms of -ites, including people like the Kenites and the Midianites. Do a little digging and you’ll find their relationships to the Hebrews as well.
There is one last group worth mentioning – the Pilistim, or the Philistines. Originally, this term was a designation for people who lived in what is today the Gaza strip. Historically, another group invaded the region during the Bronze Age Collapse and the Hebrews simply referred to them as Pilistim as well although they were clearly a different people.
As David is fleeing east from Jerusalem because of his son Absalom’s betrayal, he meets an old friend Ittai the Gittite. Ittai is planning to come with David, and the following conversation occurs:
DAVID: Why would you come with us? Go back and stay with Absalom. You’re a guest here. You just got here yesterday. I can’t drag you into this. Why don’t you just stay here?
ITTAI: As YHWH lives, wherever you go, that’s where ITTAI goes. If you die, I die. If you live, I live.
DAVID: Oh, you’re definitely coming then! (2 Samuel 15:19-22, my paraphrase)
Gittite means “from Gath”, the same Philistine city that Goliath was from. We all know that David had a long history with Gath. Beside the fact that he killed Goliath, David also spent quite a bit of time working as a mercenary general for the Gittites. Apparently, Ittai had become David’s friend during his service in Gath, and as the Philistines were fading from power, Ittai had brought his 600 man unit over to David in Jerusalem.
So here is a Philistine working for David, commanding other Philistines. And then we read the most fascinating thing about Ittai in a little tag that the chronicler throws in at the end of verse 22: So Ittai the Gittite passed on with all his men and all the little ones who were with him. (Emphasis mine)
“All the little ones”?
That obviously doesn’t mean children, so what is the chronicler getting at?
Ittai was a giant, like Goliath. He was a mighty man who commanded a contingent of “little ones”. This might even be a little joke, like calling a 6’6″ man “tiny” and the entire unit might have been giants OR Ittai commanded a contingent of both giants (“all his men”) and regular sized men (“all the little ones”).
One way or the other, one of David’s closest confidants and allies was a giant Philistine from Gath. In fact, during the battle with Absalom, Ittai will hold a command equal to Joab and Abishai, David’s cousins. (2 Samuel 18:2)
Can things get any more ironic in David’s life? As a shepherd boy, he brought down the giant of Gath in a contest of champions. As an exiled king, he is depending on a giant of Gath to protect him.
And people wonder why I spend so much time studying David.
Apparently, Fred Phelps (the pastor of that bastion of hope and encouragement, Westboro Baptist Church) has some tremendous insight into the Scriptures.
In the video below, Phelps pinpoints the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to the year 1898 BC. This is tremendous news to me since until now I have wondered endlessly how to date the Bronze Age portions of the Hebrew Scriptures. I am entirely unsure where he got this precise date, but let me assure you that there is no evidence in the Scriptures or archaeological record that points to this date. The very idea of being this precise about anything that far back in history is simply absurd.
I make no qualms about the fact that I consider Phelps to be a false prophet who is misleading people and defaming the name of Jesus Christ. False prophets love to sound absolutely certain, to make them appear to be authoritative. Be warned. This is something we have seen in Christianity since the time of the apostles and it will only get worse as time goes on.
Test everything anyone says by the Scriptures.
וַתִּשָּׂא וַתָּבוֹא הָעִיר וַתֵּרֶא חֲמוֹתָהּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר־לִקֵּטָה וַתּוֹצֵא וַתִּתֶּן־לָהּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר־הוֹתִרָה מִשָּׂבְעָהּ׃
וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ חֲמוֹתָהּ אֵיפֹה לִקַּטְתְּ הַיּוֹם וְאָנָה עָשִׂית יְהִי מַכִּירֵךְ בָּרוּךְ וַתַּגֵּד לַחֲמוֹתָהּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר־עָשְׂתָה עִמּוֹ וַתֹּאמֶר שֵׁם הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי עִמּוֹ הַיּוֹם בֹּעַז׃
וַתֹּאמֶר נָעֳמִי לְכַלָּתָהּ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לַיהוָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא־עָזַב חַסְדּוֹ אֶת־הַחַיִּים וְאֶת־הַמֵּתִים וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ נָעֳמִי קָרוֹב לָנוּ הָאִישׁ מִגֹּאֲלֵנוּ הוּא׃
וַתֹּאמֶר רוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה גַּם כִּי־אָמַר אֵלַי עִם־הַנְּעָרִים אֲשֶׁר־לִי תִּדְבָּקִין עַד אִם־כִּלּוּ אֵת כָּל־הַקָּצִיר אֲשֶׁר־לִי׃
וַתֹּאמֶר נָעֳמִי אֶל־רוּת כַּלָּתָהּ טוֹב בִּתִּי כִּי תֵצְאִי עִם־נַעֲרוֹתָיו וְלֹא יִפְגְּעוּ־בָךְ בְּשָׂדֶה אַחֵר׃
וַתִּדְבַּק בְּנַעֲרוֹת בֹּעַז לְלַקֵּט עַד־כְּלוֹת קְצִיר־הַשְּׂעֹרִים וּקְצִיר הַחִטִּים וַתֵּשֶׁב אֶת־חֲמוֹתָהּ׃
And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.”
And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.”
And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’ ” And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law. (2:18-23)
The man who took notice of you. When Ruth returns from the fields with an ephah of barley, Naomi is surprised. And why wouldn’t she be surprised? Ruth gleaned the equivalent of a day’s work for someone who was supposed to be harvesting in the field. It is clear that someone noticed her and provided for her.
“The man who took notice” is actually just one Hebrew word - נָכַר, nakar. Nakar is distinct from the Hebrew word that indicates intimate knowledge (יָדַע , yada’) of marriage. This is purely a recognition or a shift of focus. In other words, Naomi is excited that someone is interested in Ruth but not pursuing her. I am not sure that Naomi was fully aware of the situation until Ruth mentions that the man’s name was Boaz.
Blessed by the LORD. As soon as Naomi hears the name Boaz, she realizes that YHWH has not forsaken her. This is an important turning point in the story because until this point, Naomi believes that she is under some kind of curse. She was bitter and broken, but here she sees the hand of Providence that has guided her to this point.
It is good, my daughter. Ruth’s revelation that Boaz commanded her to stay close to his own young women is a signal to Naomi. She realizes that not only has Boaz chosen to protect her but that he has singled her out as a potential wife. The young men have been assigned the task of protecting Ruth from other young men, a sort of informal bodyguard for her. Ruth is not oblivious to this, as we saw in the way she responded to Boaz’s flirtatious statements to her; but Naomi confirms it.
I question the English translation of פָּגַע (paga’) as “assaulted”. While the context is certainly that young men could meet young women in the field and have sex with them, thus claiming them as their own, there is no indication here that this was an “assault” or rape, which the translation clearly implies. The word is used much more in the sense of meeting or encountering, and the concept seems to be a more consensual thing. Clearly, Naomi is concerned that Ruth remain focused on Boaz, but I think her concern is more that Ruth might find a young man that she prefers over the most likely older (3:10) Boaz.
Until the end of the harvest. Now, here is an interesting paradox because in the next chapter we will discover that Ruth goes to Boaz and they make their marriage covenant during the barley threshing, which would have occurred before shavuot, meaning within seven weeks of paschal. The wheat harvest, however, extends until succoth in the autumn. How could Ruth remain with Naomi until autumn but also enter into her marriage covenant with Boaz?
We will wrestle with the nature of the marriage covenant in a subsequent post, but it is important to remember that actual marriage ceremonies, which the Hebrews seem to have really enjoyed, took place long after the covenant was made between the bride and groom. Boaz could take Ruth has his wife but she remain with Naomi until the ceremony; and there really would be no time for such a ceremony during the barley harvest and the wheat growing season.
If you’re wondering where I get a lot of the information that I share about the Late Bronze Age and Israel, it is from William Dever. Dr. Dever was the professor of Near East Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Arizona, and is currently Distinguished Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. His book Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? is, to me at least, a modern classic.
When it comes to the Monarchy period or Early Iron Age Israel, I get a lot of my chronological data from Gershon Galil’s book The Chronology of the Kings of Israel & Judah. (Yes, I own it. No, I did not pay $165 for it.) Dr. Galil is Senior Lecturer in Biblical History in the Department of Jewish History at the University of Haifa, Israel.
These two works are by far my favorite books on Ancient Israel, although I own a great many others and have read far more.
וַיָּמָת אֱלִימֶלֶךְ אִישׁ נָעֳמִי וַתִּשָּׁאֵר הִיא וּשְׁנֵי בָנֶיהָ׃
וַיִּשְׂאוּ לָהֶם נָשִׁים מֹאֲבִיּוֹת שֵׁם הָאַחַת עָרְפָּה וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִית רוּת וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם כְּעֶשֶׂר שָׁנִים׃
וַיָּמוּתוּ גַם־שְׁנֵיהֶם מַחְלוֹן וְכִלְיוֹן וַתִּשָּׁאֵר הָאִשָּׁה מִשְּׁנֵי יְלָדֶיהָ וּמֵאִישָׁהּ׃
But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. (ESV)
There is something ironic about the fact that Elimelech and his family fled from Bethlehem to Moab to escape a famine (רָעָב) which usually implies starvation and death, and in the prosperity of the Moabite plain, they find only death.
Marriage. It is difficult to convey a lot of Hebrew thinking and language in English, but there is an important point I need to make here before proceeding. In Hebrew, “the husband of Naomi” is ‘ēsh-na’amēy, quite literally “husband Naomi.”
In the same vein, what is translated as “took Moabite wives” is actually na-ēshēym na-mō’abēōth, quite literally “they wived female Moabites.” The Hebrew word ēsh means “man” and the female form ēshah means woman, but in the sexual sense. It is the capacity to form a union between them that makes them man and woman. Once that union is formed, they are part of a single being.
Unlike many of their neighbors, the Hebrews did not distinguish between sexual intercourse and marriage. They were one and the same thing, which would ultimately give rise to monogamy in later Judaism (an idea that is not explicit or even implicit in the Hebrew Scriptures but is taken very seriously in the Christian testament.) To them, to join in sexual union was to unite as a single being.
Before sexual union, a female was not ēshah. After puberty, a female was considered a נַעֲרָה (na’arah). Although translated as young woman or damsel, it derives from the verb נָעַר (na’ar) which means “to shake.” We cannot be certain of the etymological connection, but this might have to do with male verility (the “shaking” of the testes after they have dropped) or something to do with the changes in the body that are occasioned by puberty. Both males and females were referred to by derivatives of this verb.
The transition from na’arah to ēshah could be a very simple one, as denoted by this later law in Deuteronomy:
But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.
If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days. (Deuteronomy 22:25-29, ESV)
It was as simple as that. If a young man and woman had intercourse, they were considered no longer na’ar and na’arah but ēsh and ēshah. He was required to compensate her father for the inconvenience of not allowing the proper wedding ceremony (and more than likely the fifty shekels of silver would be used to finance a wedding ceremony), but they were united and unable to divorce or separate.
Of course, this law was instituted long after the stories of Ruth (probably around 650 BCE) but it reflects a reality of custom that might easily date from this period.
The words open country translate the Hebrew שָׂדַי (saday) which means “the spread out place” and is usually translated as field. Part of the springtime harvest was the choosing of wives. It was quite common for young men and women to participate in the early barley harvest and in the vigor and celebration of that season to “discover” one another. This practice appears later in Ruth, and we will address it when we get there.
The Death of the Sons. Probably shortly after their father’s death, Naomi’s two sons are joined to women of Moab. We do not know the circumstances of their marriages, but it is reasonable to assume that they were all young and virile, and with their father dead, it was important that the sons perpetuate their line.
There is no prohibition against marrying Moabites in the early Torah. The prohibitions that do exist are in Deuteronomy (23:3), which as I have already noted is a later reiteration of the Torah. Even in the Numbers passage in which the Moabites draw the Hebrews into cultic prostitution (Numbers 25), there is no prohibition. In fact, most of the latter half of Numbers takes place on the plains of Moab and there is plenty of opportunity to make such a prohibition. The absence of such a thing should tell us something, and even the prohibition that does exist in Deuteronomy is mitigated by a declaration of Moab’s uniqueness before God (Deuteronomy 2:9).
It was actually fairly common in their pastoral, rural cultures to occasionally bring in women from other groups to ensure the depth of the gene pool. Although Mahlon and Chilion live with their wives for ten years, they have no children. This is interesting in itself, but we can only speculate as to the cause. For whatever reason, they die childless.
Lineage and Land. But notice that the story does not say that the two Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth, are left childless. The focus instead is on Naomi and the emptiness of her life. Why?
Here is where the narrative begins to gain dimension and depth. In the Hebrew system, a widow could manage her dead husband’s property in the absence of male heirs, but if she did not remarry, the rights would pass to the next of kin and her family would essentially cease to exist.
Naomi therefore is put in a difficult position. She is childless, so she is a lame duck. She is probably still virile, but the odds of finding a man willing to marry her and give up his own potential for heirs are slim indeed. The house of Elimelech will end with her.
Ultimately, the book of Ruth will bring a legitimization of David through the way that Elimelech’s lands pass through Naomi to Ruth, but once again this is something we will see in due time.
Western cultures love a good epic that explains things. We really do.
It all really starts with the Greeks and their fixation with Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey. Of course, the Greeks saw themselves as the descendants (spiritually if not physically) of Odysseus and Achilles. They were living out that heroic tradition.
When the Romans needed to connect their own greatness to the epic past, they came up with the idea of Rome being founded by one of Odysseus’ opponents, Aeneas of Troy.
And when the British wanted to come up with a reason their island nation should be great, they latched onto both Homer and Virgil and created their own epic around a character named Brutus, one of Aeneas’ companions. This story first appeared in Historia Brittonum in the 9th century, and it was still being repeated when Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote three centuries later.
From Brutus, they got to the mythical king Arthur; and believe it or not, every British monarch since Edward I has claimed to be a descendant of Arthur. (Of course, Arthur probably is based on a historical person who would have lived around the time of the beginning of the 5th century CE – roughly the same time as St. Patrick and a number of other historio-mythical characters.)
Culturally, we have a longing to be a part of something, and that something is not just the Christian tradition Europe has bounced around for the past 1500 years or so. Europe reframed the Christian narrative within this great epic framework – what I am calling the Helleno-Romance-Briton Historical Epic because it is possibly the most awkward term ever devised.
I haven’t fully processed the idea yet, and it will probably come to nothing but it is lurking around the edges of my brain, so I figured I would write it out and let it gestate a bit.
The Palace of Susa
The book of Esther gives us a glimpse into the palaces of Susa, the residence of the Kshatriya Kshatriyanamah – the King of Kings. As I mentioned in my previous post, the Persian empire was organized in such a way that regional governors were often the legitimate kings and rulers of those regions and the Persian emperor was “King of Kings.”
His official residence was at Susa, about 250 miles east of the Tigris River in the lower Zagros Mountains of what is now Iran. Although the Persian kings spent much of their time on military campaigns or administrating the vast bureaucracy of the other three capital provinces, Susa was the main palace and his residence during the winter months.
Darius I built a major palace there, founded on bedrock and built to last. The palace was damaged badly in a fire during the reign of Artaxerxes I but was subsequently rebuilt. It then lasted for nearly 1500 years before being razed by Mongol invaders in 1213 CE.
The entire narrative of the book of Esther takes place within or around the grounds of this palace. According to A.T. Olmstead, Xerxes had a large harem constructed for his queen Amestris to the west of the treasury building. Since it was not uncommon for Persian rulers to have hundreds of sexual partners (wives would being generous toward them) and all these women and their families were kept as part of the king’s household, it may very well be that all of Susa was occupied with harems. The site itself is not very large at all.
Vashti the Queen
The entire Esther narrative revolves around her predecessor’s refusal to appear before King Ahasuerus during a party he was throwing. This lends weight to the idea that Susa was primarily the king’s pleasure palace. It consisted largely of his harem and his banqueting facilities; and since it was his winter palace, it makes sense.
But who was this queen?
Historically, we may never know the true identity of Vashti, if she was indeed a historical person; because we cannot be certain of the identity of Ahasuerus. But we can extract a little bit from the Esther narrative.
The name Vashti derives from the Old Persian word for “beautiful.” This derivation is supported by the way in which Ahasuerus calls for her to appear so that he could show the assembled group of men “her beauty.”
It is important that we understand what Ahasuerus asks. He calls for seven eunuchs to bring her to him in her “royal crown.” This is a euphemism, and it implies that she would be brought before the men and then Ahasuerus would “show her beauty” by stripping her and having sex with her. It was meant to be a demonstration of his virility and power, and most likely would have been violent and humiliating for her. The idea would have been to impregnate her in front of his subordinates.
That Vashti refused is remarkable. There are a couple of possible reasons for this.
One reason may be simply biological. If Vashti was – to put it delicately – “sexually unavailable” due to a couple of female biological processes, that would be a legitimate reason to refuse the summons. (If you haven’t figured out what I’m talking about, ask your mother. She’ll explain it to you.) But a Persian woman would have been practically bred to serve the king, no matter her feelings on the matter or whether she was in midst of biological processes.
It may demonstrate that she was most likely not a Persian woman herself. This type of subjugating marriage was unknown in Anatolia (modern day Turkey) and Greece, and it is possible that she was a captive or a descendant of a captive from those western regions.
The Achaemenid Persians had something of an identity crisis. Although they were rulers of the world at the time, they were descendent from mountain sheep herders, living on the mountainous edge of the great kingdoms of Babylon and Assyria. They wanted to be greater than Babylon (Darius refused the title of King of Babylon, giving it to a lesser satrap), but their culture was far from refined.
The Persians were barbarians in silk. They asserted their riches by glamorous shows like the party Ahasuerus throws and through subjugating the women of conquered races. When the Greeks under Alexander took Susa in around 330 BCE, they found enormous wealth; but they were astonished by the mistreatment of the women in the harem.
Vashti was not loved, and she was not joined to Ahasuerus in what we would consider a marriage. She was nothing more than a beautiful accessory for making sons. Failing that, the king had no purpose for her.
I write all of this to provide a caution about reading Esther. Moralizers want to make the episode between Vashti and Ahasuerus into a narrative about marriage or drunkenness. In reality, it is just a depiction of palace life in Susa. We must be careful in reading this narrative not to eisogete some kind of moral themes.