They represent a challenge, a puzzle I feel obligated to solve, at least in my own mind. One of these is the ancient Israelite process used to determine whether a married woman had messed around a bit on the side, found in s Tucked away in a less popular part of Scripture, undoubtedly getting fewer likes than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we encounter the magical test for the notorious unfaithful wife. Well, the one thing he was not permitted to do was to take matters into his own hands. The woman was brought to the priest, true enough, but the priest was not permitted to take things into his own hands either.
No human judge, jury, executioner here.
No support for community organized honor killings of wayward women in this Middle Eastern society. The woman was to stand trial before the Lord, the one being who could and would judge her fairly, who knew what had and had not occurred and who was and was not guilty as charged. The only case in biblical law, as it turns out, where God all-knowing, rather than an earthly representative, was to preside over a human court.
This type of trial by ordeal was a typical ancient practice found in various law codes of the era. If the accused survived the ordeal without any negative effects, they were vindicated by the gods. If not, they were guilty. Babylon had a similar law that involved tossing the suspected adulteress into a raging river.
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If she perished, the gods had demonstrated she was guilty as charged. The biblical trial was different. If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse.
If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children. If she was innocent, the water would have no effect on current or future pregnancies.
Which, by the way, was the most likely outcome. Think about that for a minute.
On the other hand, if our biblical Hester was guilty she experienced divine judgment that, if she was pregnant, resulted in miscarriage and, potentially, loss of the ability to bear children at all. Yet there was no judgment by human beings, no sentence handed down by a jury of men. And no death penalty, no capital punishment, no honor killing. The most important fact about this trial, however, is revealed in the divine punishment: loss of baby.
This statute was not really about morality or marital unity: it was about inheritance.
A man had a right to know if was truly his. How could he know for sure? An expectant mother, on the other hand, knows the identity of both parents. At least she ought to.
Before the era of DNA testing, our ancient dad was at a disadvantage. Though it may seem like it on first reading, this is not just one more example of the double standard. Not at all. It was a leveling of the playing field, a means to provide a husband with the information his wife already possessed.
But it did so in a way that, compared to its era and surrounding cultures, was protective of women. John H. Walton Grand Rapids: Zondervan, Levine, s New York: Doubleday, Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe Louisville: Westminster John Knox, Levine, sNew York: Doubleday, Reader, thinker, blogger. Wife, mom, grandma. View all posts by Sarah J. Like Like.
This makes so much good sense. Love it! Sounds better than than being thrown into a raging river. Like Liked by 1 person. Like Liked by 3 people.
I did not know about the alternative of the divorce without restitution. That makes sense to allow an out. Another aspect is that once this process has been done, then the result has been settled, the husband should accept the result and not continue to suspect.
The basic question is how does one address the information asymmetry inherent to the sexes: a wife always knows the child is hers, a husband does not but relies on similarities between the baby and himself. In ancient times, this method in Scripture seems like a much better way to address any concerns than in other cultures.
Nowadays, there can be confirmation via genetic testing.
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Donald, your comment below is exactly right. Not how we would handle things today, but an interesting solution in light of the limitations of ancient science. The difference between a miscarriage and abortion is human agency, which is absent in this case. The woman understood the seriousness of falsely maintaining her innocence if in fact she was guilty, including the potential loss of any child she was carrying. As I noted in my reply to the comment above, she might choose to opt out of the ordeal by admitting the truth and forfeiting her kettubah the monetary settlement she would otherwise receive in a divorce.
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According to Baruch Levine the woman usually chose this option over the trial by ordeal. Yes, Marg, that would be fine with me. I want to be part of any way we can help people gain a deeper understanding of scripture. Keep up the great work!
Bless you! I just read this article from another blog and she linked to your site. Had to come and say thank you for such an informative and well explained commentary. These are the parts of the Bible that make many feel very confused in our modern and secular society.
Thank you. Thanks, Victoria.
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Notify me of new posts via. The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. Remember that the next time you read s. If you ever do, I mean.
Like this: Like Loading Published by Sarah J. Well done, again. Thanks for reading. Yes, better than a rushing river! Could I have your permission?
Cheating wives, the double standard and a bizarre bible passage
No pressure. Thank you so much, Sarah.
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