March 20, 2009

Cultural Relevance pt. 2 (Social Framework)

Ancient Israel’s society was founded on different levels of social identity. Moving spherically from outside to inside ancient Israelite society fell into the following groups:
  • People Group – Israelites (Ex. 19:1; Ezra 2:2)
  • Dynasty – House of “name of king” – regal based (2 Kings 9:8)
  • Tribe – of the tribe of “name of tribe” (Judges 6:34)
  • Village – locality based (Judges 6:11)
  • Clan – uncles, aunts, and cousins (Judges 6:11,34)
  • Beit Av (Father’s House) – extended family (Judges 6:11) [1. Paul Wright, Course Handbook: Cultural Background of the Bible, (Jerusalem: JUC), 23]
The beit av was the base level, the building block that defined all other aspects of social relationships. It was the core of ancient life in the ancient near east. The beit av defines what Israelite families looked like. Here are some characteristics of the beit av:
  • The Biblical family was jointed or connected. Fathers and brothers living under one roof. Property was held in common under the patriarchal head. (Gen. 34-35)
  • The Biblical family was patriarchal. The oldest living male with the direct tie to the official family line ruled the beit av. The oldest living ancestral male from the line of firstborn sons, in practical terms.
  • The Biblical family was patrilineal. The line of succession went through the father. Descent and inheritance based on the line of the father. Levirate marriage was setup as a local, practical mechanism to ensure that the line would continue (Gen. 38, Matt. 22).
  • The Biblical family was patrilocal. The act of marriage was bringing the wife into the tent – bringing her under the umbrella of the patriarch (Gen. 24).
  • The Biblical family was endogamous. Marriage was kept within the family – marrying cousins, between close blood relatives (Gen. 12). Not following this normative is usually not allowed (Judg. 16).
  • The Biblical family was sometimes polygamous. The true wife was the one through whom the inheritance was named. Lesser wives existed within the framework of the beit av (Gen. 16,21). (Adapted from Cultural Backgrounds of the Bible - Paul Wright - JUC)
The patriarch operating within the beit av held the power of life death over his sons, daughters, and wives, as well as the quality of life over everyone else within his clan (foreigners, servants, etc.). He was the physical, emotional, spiritual, and political leader of the beit av. Matthews and Benjamin describe the role of the patriarch within the household like this,

To protect and provide for his land and children, the father of the household is authorized to:
  • Adopt or excommunicate sons and daughters (Gen. 22)
  • Recruit workers and warriors (Lev. 19:13)
  • Negotiate marriages and covenants (Gen. 24)
  • Host strangers (Gen. 18)
  • Designate Heirs (Gen. 49) [2. Victor Matthews and Don Benjamin, Social World of Ancient Israel (1250-587 BCE), (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993), 8. ]
By the time of the New Testament this beit av dynamic had evolved. Men now are able to have occupations that can operate outside the beit av and bring income home. Before all work was done within the limits of the extended household on the ancestral land. With the advent of coin circulation it was possible to take on occupations that could support the household externally. Joseph the earthly father of Jesus would have had such an occupation; he was a builder, a τεκτων (Mark 6:3). Also the dwelling structure itself evolved from the Four Room House to blocks of dwellings known as insula. Despite the changes the idea and principles of the beit av remained relatively unchanged in New Testament times (Matt. 25).

No comments: