Marriage and Divorce in Ancient Israel

MALACHI 2 At the heart of the Hebrew concept of marriage is the notion of covenant —a legally binding agreement with spiritual and emotional ramifications (Pr 2:17). God serves as witness to the marriage covenant, blessing its faithfulness but hating its betrayal (Mal 2:14— 16). The Lord's intimate involvement renders this legal commitment a spiritual union, "so they are no longer two, but one" (Mt 19:6). The purpose of marriage as articulated in the Bible is to find true companionship (Ge 2:18; Pr 18:22), produce godly offspring (Mal 2:15; 1Co 7:14) and fulfill God's calling upon an individual's life (Ge 1:28).

It was customary in ancient Israel for parents to arrange a marriage (Ge 24:47-53; 38:6; 1Sa 18:17), although marrying for love was not uncommon (Jdg 14:2). Arranged marriages highlight the nature of the marriage covenant as a commitment intended to outlast youthful infatuation. The declaration at the first marriage,"This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Ge 2:23), is a kinship formula (Ge 29:14; 2Sa 5:1; 19:12 — 13). Marriage binds husband and wife together into an entity greater than either partner as an individual, and it does so in order to assure continuity of the family lineage. Marriage within the kinship group was encouraged so as not to alienate family land holdings (Ge 24:4; No 36:6 —9),1 and in the event that a woman's husband died and left her childless, the law provided for the husband's brother to act as a levirate in order to raise up offspring for the deceased (Ge 38:8; Dt 25:5-6).

An engagement period preceded the wedding celebration and the consummation of the marriage union.The pledge of engagement was regarded as being as binding as the marriage itself, and a betrothed woman was considered legally married (Dt 22:23-29).The engagement was concluded by the payment of a bride-price to the woman's father (Ge 29:18;idg 1:12).This may be understood as a compensation given to the family for the loss of their daughter.The father enjoyed its usage temporarily, but the money reverted to the daughter at the father's death or in the event she were widowed. In addition, gifts were given to the bride and her family at the acceptance of a marriage proposal (Ge 24:53). Thus, marriage and its attendant economic investment brought the bride and groom's families into legal relationship with one another (Ge 31:50).

Israelite law included a provision for divorce—initiated by the husband only. Marriages were dissolved contractually with a certificate of divorce (Dt 24:1).This divorce document most likely recorded a formula of repudiation declared orally before witnesses: "She is not my wife, and I am not her husband" (Hos 2:2). The declaration might have been accompanied by a sign, the act of removing the woman's outer garment as an annulment of the promise made at the time of the wedding to protect and provide for her (Ru 3:9; Eze 16:8, 37; Hos 2:3,9).3 A man was not permitted to divorce his wife if he had forcefully violated her while she was yet unbetrothed (Dt 22:28-29) or if he had falsely accused her of non virginal status at the time they had wed (Dt 22:13-19).

The Intertestamental Period

MALACHI 3 The intertestamental period' designates the time between Malachi (c. 400 B.c.), and the birth of Jesus. This was also part of the Second Temple period —the time between construction of the post-exilic temple in 515 B.C. and destruction of the Herodian temple by the Romans in A.D. 70., Israel's historical experience changed rapidly during successive periods of Persian, Greek and Roman sovereignty. After defeating the Babylonians, the Persian king Cyrus II issued an edict in 538 B.C. allowing some Jews to return to Israel and authorizing temple reconstruction (Ezr 1:2 — 4).3 Israel, a satrapy, or province, of the Persian Empire, was ruled by governors and priests. In 332 B.C. Alexander the Great overtook Judah. After his death in 323 B.C. his generals competed for control of the vast Greek Empire. Israel existed under Egyptian Ptolemaic sovereignty from 302 to 200 B.C. and under Syrian Seleucid control from 200 to 152 B.C.

Antiochus III, the first Seleucid king, allowed Israel to live under the high priests' jurisdiction. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, how-ever, sought to reorganize Jerusalem as a Greek city in 174 B.C. In 168 B.C., Antiochus IV issued an edict prohibiting Jewish observance of the Sabbath, circumcision, dietary laws and temple sacrifices (1 Mc 1:41-64),' and he desecrated the temple by erecting an altar to Zeus (see Da 11:31).

This edict incited the Maccabean revolt, which began in 167 B.C. when an aged priest, Mattathias, defied it by killing a Syrian official and a Jew who was preparing to sacrifice to Zeus. After Mattathias's death his five sons, and especially Judas Maccabeus, assumed leadership. The temple was cleansed and rededicated, an event still commemorated as Hanukkah. Maccabean success led Israel to independent statehood in 142 B.c. The Maccabean priest-kings (the Hasmoneans) ruled Israel from 163 to 142 B.c,,until the Roman general Pompey incorporated Judea into the Roman Empire.

The Romans conferred the status of client king (a king who rules in submission to a foreign ruler and with his support) to Herod the Great, who ruled from 37 to 4 B.C.8 Herod's vast building programs and lavish expansion of the Jerusalem temple endeared him to some, although his willingness to slaughter all opposition sealed his memory as a cruel tyrant (Mt 2:1-20). His son Archelaus slaughtered 3,000 Jews during Passover. After his banishment in A.D. 6 Judea was reduced to a Roman province, governed by prefects and procurators from A.D. 6 to 66 (the most famous being Pontius Pilate).9The insensitivity of Roman leadership and the memory of Maccabean success led Judea to revolt. The four-year rebellion, though bitterly fought, ended with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.10 A second revolt flared from 132 to 135 under Bar Kokhba and Rabbi Akiba. After massive losses on both sides,Jerusalem was converted into a pagan city, Aelia Capitolina, to which Jews were denied access.

The intertestamental period brought significant religious developments, attesting to the developing diversity within Judaism and providing the context for the New Testament:

    • The closure of the Hebrew Scripture gave the Jews an authoritative canon.

    • The translation of the Old Testament into Greek (the Septuagint) produced a Bible that would supply the linguistic background for many New Testament concepts.

    • The progression of foreign nations ruling the Jewish homeland recalled Daniel's prophecies and heightened Messianic expectation.

    • Israel's tumultuous leadership changes contributed to the formation of diverse sects, including the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Samaritans, Zealots and Messianic pretenders.

    • The literary efforts of Palestinian and Babylonian Jews, together with those of Hellenistic Jewish communities, created a large corpus of writings, including the Dead Sea Scrolls,H the works of Philo and Josephus,15 the Apocrypha,166 the pseudepigrapha and the earliest rabbinic sayings.

The Old Testament Canon

MALACHI 4 Canon (from Greek kanon:"rule, standard of measure") refers to writings that are authoritative for faith and religious practice by virtue of their divine inspiration. Secondarily, it designates a listing of such authoritative books. Canonical writings were known in the ancient Near East in extrabiblical contexts.The Pyramid Texts profess to incorporate direct quotations from Egyptian gods. Mesopotamian seers recorded revelations they claimed to have received from the gods in dreams and visions. These compositions were deposited in temples to be preserved by priests. Important religious and secular documents were copied with meticulous care and often contained curses against anyone who would alter their contents. In particular, treaties were preserved in duplicate, with a copy deposited in the temple of each king, to be carefully guarded and periodically reread.

These practices find parallels in the treatment of Biblical writings. As a covenant or treaty document, early Mosaic legislation was preserved in the ark of the covenant (Dt 31:9),2 first within the tabernacle and later in the temple; faithfully copied without alteration (Dt 4:2; 12:32);and publicly read every seven years (Dt 31:10-13).

The author of a canonical writing was to be an Israelite prophet who spoke in the Lord's name. Fulfillment of short-range prophecies authenticated the prophet in the eyes of his country-men (e.g., Jer 28:15-17), after which his prophetic messages were to be held in reverence and obeyed.

The intrinsic authority of canonical books was recognized from the date of their composition, with later prophets at times citing the works of their predecessors as authoritative Scripture (e.g.,Jer 26:18 cites Mic 3:12,and Da 9:2 refers to Jer 25:11-12). Rabbinical writings and the ancient Jewish historian Josephus bear witness that prophetic authorship was essential for a book to be included in the canon.The closing of the Old Testament canon coincided with the cessation of this prophetic activity.

Early witnesses number the books of the Old Testament canon at 24.This total actually corresponds to our 39 books, with the 12 minor prophets counted as one book and the books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and Ezra—Nehemiah as one apiece. Some lists join Lamentations to Jeremiah and Ruth to Judges in order to force the total to correspond to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. All told, these books were often referred to under three different categories: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. The 39 books of our Old Testament already appear as such in the Septuagint,', and fragments of all of them except for Esther, have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (dated 150 B.C.—A.D. 150). Jesus and the apostles acknowledged the same canon by their Old Testament quotations and use of such phrases as"the Law and the Prophets."

The status of some books was debated by Jewish scholars at Jamnia in A.D.90—under the assumption that they were already accepted as canonical. The deliberations resolved difficulties of interpretation in light of other canonical books, such as apparent contradictions (e.g., the differences between Eze 40 —48 and Lev), apparent skepticism (in Ecc), eroticism (in SS), and the lack of any direct reference to God (in Est).

Some scholars argue that the Jewish canon of Alexandria, Egypt, included Apocryphal books., However, Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C.—A.D.50) never alluded to any of them as Scripture, and many early church fathers (e.g., Origen, Athanasius, Chrysostom and Jerome) were either openly uncomfortable treating them as canonical or only rarely quoted them.The earliest manuscripts of the Septuagint (fourth—fifth centuries A.D.) include some of the Apocryphal books, probably as supplementary religious literature, but the list does not correspond to the 14 Apocryphal books designated as such at the Council of Trent in 1546. Many additional non canonical works were cited by Jews in pre-Christian times, as is evident from the large amount of religious literature discovered at Qumran. But the 39 Old Testament canonical books correspond to those Israel has regarded as Scripture from ancient times.