The Ancient Near East and Divers Regulations & The Care of Widows and Orphans in the Bible

ThinkingI guess you better make sure You really love the person you marry; that it better be love and not lust.

1. The Ancient Egyptian Bride
The Ancient Egyptian BrideFor all that religion played in ancient Egyptian life, there was one place it had no role at all: the Egyptian marriage.

There wasnt even a civil ceremony.

Rather, marriage simply took place when two young people decided to move in together (usually the bride would move in with her husband) and start a common household.

But that doesn’t mean that marriage was not taken seriously.

From the paintings we have found, letters that were left from grieved widowers to their deceased mates, and from statues from all periods of ancient Egyptian history, we see that marriage and a close family played an integral role in ancient Egypt.

“If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.

And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain Number.

Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee” (Deut 25:1-3). 

Jesus was sinless, but because of His love for us He took our stripes for us: 

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. 

And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

3. marriages were arranged
Many marriages were arranged with parental consent needed, as they have been in all societies, especially among the upper classes.

But the abundance of love poetry between young people suggests that many couples did fall in love and choose each other as mates.

Women played an important role in arranging a marriage.

A suitor sometimes used a female go-between to approach the girls mother, not her father.

Interestingly, one of the most affectionate titles one could call their love was “brother” or “sister” in ancient Egypt.

This had nothing to do with sibling relations, but led many archaeologists and scholars to wrongly assume that most ancient Egyptians married their siblings.

Actually, this usually occurred only among royalty, and was not a common occurrence otherwise.

So we find part of a love poem written by a young ancient Egyptian woman which tells us that, “My brother torments my heart with his voice, he makes sickness take hold of me; he is neighbor to my mothers house, and I cannot get to him!”

Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was Numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Is 53:3-12).

“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Pet 2:24).

The above scriptures are still valid, they will occur with those that spend eternity in Hell:

“And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 

2. Love and Marriage
Love and Marriage
A bride would be young, about 14 or 15 years old.

Her husband could be anywhere from 17 to 20 or older if he was divorced or a widower.

The ancient Egyptians were encouraged to marry young, considering that the life span at this time was relatively short.

“Take a wife while you are young, that she may make a son for you

while you are youthful”

(Instructions of Ani)

But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Lk 12:47-48).

“If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her. 

And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.

And if the man like not to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband’s brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother. 

Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her.

Then shall his brother’s wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother’s house. 

4. Marriage Settlement
The Marriage Settlement
It wasn’t necessary, but most marriages had a contract drawn up between the parties.

The poorer classes probably did not do this because they probably had few possessions to consider and also the cost of a scribe would have been prohibitive.

Marriage settlements were drawn up between a woman’s father and her prospective husband, although many times the woman herself was part of the contract.

The sole purpose of the contract was to establish the rights of both parties to maintenance and possessions during the marriage and after divorce if it should occur, very similar to today’s prenuptial agreements.

What is really fascinating is the equality women held with men in their rights to own, manage and receive property.

If the marriage ended in divorce, the rights of the wife were equally protected.

Generally, she was entitled to support from her husband, especially if she was rejected by him, no fault of her own.

The amount might equal 1/3 of the settlement or even more.

If the bride ended up committing adultery (which was extremely frowned upon for both men and women), she still had certain rights to maintenance from her former husband.

Monogamy, except for some of the higher classes and royalty, seemed to be the rule for most ancient Egyptian couples.

Marriage Contract
Found among the numerous records left by the ancient Egyptians. It contained:

The date (the year of the reign of the ruling monarch).

The contractors (future husband and wife).

The names of both sets of parents.

Husbands profession (wifes rarely mentioned).

The scribe who drew up the contract.

The names of the witnesses.

Then the details of the settlement followed.

Beginning of a marriage contract from 219 B.C.:
“The Blemmyann, born in Egypt, son of Horpais,

whose mother is Wenis, has said to the woman Tais, daughter of the Khahor, whose mother is

Tairerdjeret: I have made you a married woman. As your womans portion, I give you two pieces of silver. If I dismiss you as wife and dislike you and

prefer another woman to you as wife, I will give you

two pieces of silver in addition to the two pieces of silver mentioned above and I will give you one third of each and everything that will accrue to you and me.”

And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed” (Deut 25:5-10). 

If you remember, God killed Onan for disobeying the order (Gen 38:9-10). 

(“The house of him that hath his shoe loosed”, means that they are not with God).

“I [John the Baptist] indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he [Jesus] that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

5. Great Ziggurat of Ur. Sumerian temples
The Great Ziggurat of Ur. Sumerian temples played a major role in the ancient Mesopotamian economy.
Modern banking traces its origins to Babylonian temples in the early 2nd millennium B.C.

Ancient Mesopotamian temples always had a redistributive economic function.

Temples took in donations and tax revenue and amassed great wealth.

They then redistributed these goods to people in need such as widows, orphans, and the poor (sometimes the temples became corrupt and hoarded wealth.

After a thousand years of this, the priests who ran the temples were literally sitting on giant piles of money.

So around the time of Hammurabi (in the 18th century B.C.), they began to make loans.

Old Babylonian temples made numerous loans to poor and needy entrepreneurs.

The loans were made at reduced below-market interest rates lower than those offered on loans given by private individuals, and sometimes arrangements were made for the creditor to make food donations to the temple instead of repaying interest.

Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fine” (Matt 3:11-12).

This does not mean that John the Baptist was like Onan, because he had been baptized by the Holy Ghost before he was even born (Lk 1:15), he was just pointing out that not he or anyone is equal to Jesus.

“And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose” (Mk 1:7).

The Care of Widows and Orphans
in the Bible
and the Ancient Near East

In Old Testament laws God commanded the Israelites not to “take advantage of a widow or an orphan”. 

In fact, Ps 68.5 describes God himself as a “father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.”

Israelite farmers were instructed to leave some grain unharvested so that Levites, widows, orphans and for foreigners could glean the leftovers in their fields and eat.

In addition, the tithes of every third year were to provide for widows, orphans, aliens and priests. 

Hebrews, who themselves had been aliens and slaves in Egypt, were never to pervert the justice due to widows, orphans or foreigners.

One of the reasons God stipulated for allowing Israel and Judah to fall before Assyria and Babylon was his people failed in their obligation to “defend the cause of the fatherless” and “plead the case of the widow”. 

In the New Testament the widow of Zarephath and the widowed prophetess Anna are cited as examples of faith, and an impoverished widow was held up by Jesus as a model of generosity.

6. Cuneiform tablet detailing a loan of silver
Cuneiform tablet detailing a loan of silver, c. 1800 B.C.
The text reads:
“3 1/3 silver sigloi, at interest of 1/6 sigloi and 6 grains per sigloi, has Amurritum, servant of Ikun-pi-Istar, received on loan from Ilum-nasir. In the third month she shall pay the silver.”

1 sigloi=8.3 grams.
Numerous contract documents have been recovered which list recipients of loans, the amount loaned, the term of the loan and the interest rate to be paid.

When the loan was repaid, the tablet was usually broken.

This gives us a possibly skewed picture of loans, because the only tablets we can read are from the loans that were not repaid.

In one of Jesus’ parables a widow provided a clear ex­ample of the innocent being easy prey for the unjust and indifferent. 

Jesus demonstrated mercy toward the widow at Nain and refused to leave his own disciples “as orphans” with relation to his own coming departure from Earth.

A Jewish widow had the right to expect financial maintenance from her husband’s heirs.

Yet Jesus went so far as to accuse reli­gious scribes of stealing widows’ properties.

The early church continued God’s concern for such otherwise destitute women. Needy widows were fed, and the disci­ple Dorcas of her own accord sewed clothing especially for them. 

A ministerial order of widows was begun for the purpose of prayer, and James, Jesus’ brother, defined true worship as that demon­strated by visitation of distressed orphans and widows.


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