One: The Legal Data from the Pre-monarchy period.
The previous section on historical data had frequent illustrations of legal situations and transactions involving women, but the Law of Moses has a wealth of information that directly reveals God's heart for His daughters. In this section we will look at:
Observation: This command from the Decalogue mentions all the household members EXCEPT the wife, implying that she is listed in the "you" under address.
Observations: Women were equally involved in offering expensive gifts to the LORD as a WAVE offering.
Observations: Women were equally involved in offering FREEWILL offerings.
Observation: Women had some kind of tabernacle service AT the tabernacle. This is where all the sacrifices were offered (Ex 29.10-11).
Observations: The daughters of the high priest could eat the sacrificial food.
The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite, 3 he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. 4 As long as he is a Nazirite, he must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins. 5 "`During the entire period of his vow of separation no razor may be used on his head. He must be holy until the period of his separation to the LORD is over; he must let the hair of his head grow long. 6 Throughout the period of his separation to the LORD he must not go near a dead body. 7 Even if his own father or mother or brother or sister dies, he must not make himself ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of his separation to God is on his head. 8 Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the LORD. 9 "`If someone dies suddenly in his presence, thus defiling the hair he has dedicated, he must shave his head on the day of his cleansing -- the seventh day. 10 Then on the eighth day he must bring two doves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 11 The priest is to offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering to make atonement for him because he sinned by being in the presence of the dead body. That same day he is to consecrate his head. 12 He must dedicate himself to the LORD for the period of his separation and must bring a year-old male lamb as a guilt offering. The previous days do not count, because he became defiled during his separation. 13 "`Now this is the law for the Nazirite when the period of his separation is over. He is to be brought to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 14 There he is to present his offerings to the LORD: a year-old male lamb without defect for a burnt offering, a year-old ewe lamb without defect for a sin offering, a ram without defect for a fellowship offering, 15 together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and a basket of bread made without yeast -- cakes made of fine flour mixed with oil, and wafers spread with oil. 16 "`The priest is to present them before the LORD and make the sin offering and the burnt offering. 17 He is to present the basket of unleavened bread and is to sacrifice the ram as a fellowship offering to the LORD, together with its grain offering and drink offering. 18 "`Then at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the Nazirite must shave off the hair that he dedicated. He is to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering.Observations: This is the Nazarite vow--probably the highest form of dedication to the LORD in the OT. It was obviously for both men and women (v.2), with no apparent differences between their commitments--the offerings are the same, the regulations the same, the treatment the same. If the Nazarite were female, notice that she cannot defile herself EVEN FOR HER FATHER or BROTHER (c. 7). At the end of the process, she is required to make the hair-sacrifice HERSELF--not the priest (v.18). This procedure all takes place at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting (v.18).
Evans (citing Vos) points out how high this level of consecration was:
Vos points out that if we compare the elements involved with a vow, such as cleansing regulations, then 'the Nazirite vow...brought one in some respects to the level of consecration of a high priest.' [WS:WIB:29]
And there rejoice before the LORD your God, you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns, who have no allotment or inheritance of their own...Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the LORD your God at the place the LORD your God will choose -- you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns -- and you are to rejoice before the LORD your God in everything you put your hand to...And rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name -- you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you. ..Be joyful at your Feast -- you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns...
Observations: Notice that the wives were specifically addressed as covenant parties.
Observations: the women were specially included in the public reading of the Law.
Observation: This verse in the Song of Moses pre-rehearses the fortunes of Israel. The mention of the word "daughters" illustrates that YHWH's relationship to His covenant people was not just with or through "the sons"!
Observations: Mother was to be honored at the same level as Father--no distinction in honor. (also Lev 19.3)
Observation: "Ancient Israel raised the role and authority of the mother to a new level when compared to her ancient Near Eastern neighbors, as exemplified in law codes where offenses against the mother were judged as seriously as those against the father." (Fontaine, in SAIANE:161) [see also Lev 20.9; Deut 27.16]
Observations: In each of these cases, the male and female are valued EQUALLY.
Observation: The offering was IDENTICAL for male or female babies.
Observations: Both parties in adultery were EQUALLY guilty and EQUALLY punished. (The man was not somehow 'less responsible' or under a 'looser standard'!) [see also Deut 22.22,23]
Curiously, this equal punishment is a step forward for women of the time! So Carmody in WS:WWR:191: "...the provision in Deuteronomy 22.22 that imposes the death penalty on an adulterous couple. This is a landmark insofar as it treats the woman as equal to the men. By contrast, the law of adultery in many other cultures evolved in a way that never granted the woman fully human status. For example, ancient Greece placed the erring wife in the hands of her master, who was usually her husband or father. "
Observations: Male and Female bore equal punishment.
Observations: Females were important enough for a priest to become unclean for!
Observation: Equal treatment for female and male.
Observation: Either party is equally guilty, and equally expected to get the resources necessary for restitution.
Observation: The high priest could share the dedicated offerings of the Lord with his daughters.
Observation: The punishment for idolatry and covenant treason were equal for men and women. Both had the power to influence the community and introduce such 'bitter poison' into the nation.
Observation: Both women and men could sell themselves, and both were to go free under the same conditions--no inequality.
Observation: This passage deals with nations at a distance from Israel (v. 15). Both the men and the women could be made into semi-slave labor or "plunder" (if the men were co-operative). If the men were not, only the women would survive for that. It is important to note that the captive women AND men (if they survived) were BOTH treated as 'plunder'--NOT JUST the women!
Observation: Both sexes are equally prohibited from religious prostitution.
Observations: The exact nature of Hebrew 'slavery' is somewhat obscure. Practically, it looks more like a 6-year contracted labor agreement with room and board included. In the passage above, we want to notice that when a man sold himself as a servant, ALL that 'belonged' to the master was HIM--NOT HIS WIFE. She was not some kind of property that 'transferred' wherever the man went. And, in the case when the master gave the servant a wife (presumably from among his maidservants), it is no wonder it still 'belonged' to his household--no brideprice was paid. When the servant went free, he theoretically could accumulate the necessary capital (or negotiate with the master) to marry the maidservant. It is sufficient for our purposes here simply to note that the wife was not simply a 'automatically transferred asset' upon selling oneself into servanthood.
Observation: A daughter had HIGHER priority than her father's own brothers!
ANE Context. In the Laws of Lipit-Ishtar (ruler of the city-state of Isin in Sumer, after the Third Dynasty of Ur, 1934-1924bc), this was also the case (Law b): "If a man dies without male offspring, an unmarried daughter shall be his heir" (LCMAM:26)
Observation: This passage is VERY interesting. Not only do BOTH parents appear and BOTH speak to the elders at the Gate, but the capital punishment law requiring TWO WITNESSES (Deut 17.6--On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death, but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. ), implies that the WIFE counted as a witness before the elders at the gates.
Observation: Similar to the above--both father AND mother appear at the gates and produce arguments and evidence.
Observations: The removal of the sandal signified the transfer of inheritance rights to someone else (cf. Ruth 4.7-8). The expected future for a widow was to marry the brother (under Levirite law) and have a kid to pass the inheritance on to. In the case of a non-compliant brother (as in the case above), the widow BECAME the owner of the inheritance (like Naomi). This transfer of property was done at the city gates, indicating that a widow was a full legal agent in these types of transactions, and could 'force the issue' at will.
Although the above texts indicated that women were at least EQUAL TO men in most respects before God, there is a surprising number of passages which indicate either stricter standards for men, or preferential treatment by God for His daughters.
ANE Context: This was apparently a common situation in the ANE, with similar laws showing up in the Law codes of Ur-Namma (ca. 2100 bc, city of Ur) and of Eshunna (ca. 1770 bc, city of Eshnunna in Sumer). However, in both these codes (LU 8; LE 64--see LCMAM:18,84), the offender merely pays money to the owner of the slave--there is no real moral guilt involved. In the biblical law, the man must answer to YHWH.
Observations: A man could sell either his sons or daughters (or himself) into the 6-year 'slavery' contracts (cf. Ne 5.5 and Ex 21.2-3). But in the case of selling the daughter, there were the above constraints on him. One can see the protective nature of this passage, involving marital rights, familial rights, and/or gratuitous freedom. In all cases, the female is cared for and provided for! God build safeguards into the law to avoid exploitation of His daughters.
Observations: In this case, notice that the violated virgin is still protected. She either gets a home, or, if the father deems it NOT a good idea, she doesn't have to marry the guy!
Observations. This is a fascinating passage. In verse 6, we see that the actual atonement 'price' for a boy or a girl baby was the same (=>equal value), but the amount of time the mother was ceremonially "unclean" was double for a girl than for a boy. Why the difference, given that the atonement value was the same?
I think the answer might be found in the social understanding of ritual uncleanness. Ritual uncleaness was not a specifically moral notion--e.g. houses could be 'unclean' (Lev 14.36: The priest is to order the house to be emptied before he goes in to examine the mildew, so that nothing in the house will be pronounced unclean. ). If you look at the general restrictions on someone's behavior while unclean (esp. in Lev 15), you can see that they were not permitted to participate in religious ceremonies, they must avoid touching other community members (e.g. at the market), they must not handle items handled by others, they could not touch beds other than their own, they could not touch clay pots or wooden cooking utensils. In practical terms, they could do NOTHING but stay at home. They could do no housework or cooking, no shopping or cleaning. ALL THEY COULD DO is stay at home and "play with the kids"! What the above passage means, given this understanding of the practical dimensions of 'uncleanness' is that God was simply giving mothers more "time off" for having a girl than for having a boy! Whether this was for the mother's simple enjoyment of the mother-daughter experience, or for the additional bonding, or for additional communication of nurturing warmth (or all of the above), we will not be able to determine from the text. But the fact remains--the mother got to play with her girl babies twice as long as her boy babies before she had to 'go back to work'!
Observation: This section describes the restrictions on the woman's activities during her period. In general, they mean exemption from required activities (including 'church'), from potentially uncomfortable sexual activities (cf. 15.24) and from many of the household duties (presumably handled by maidservants, children, relatives, or husband)--amounting to a great deal of flexibility.
Observation: God made special provision for the dis-married daughters of priests.
Observations: This passages concerns 'temporary slave-servants' of YHWH. A male or female could dedicate himself/herself to the LORD's service, and typically would buy themselves back. If they did NOT pay the redemption price, they were actual servants for life, dedicated to cult-related work (including servants to the priests). Thus, such a vow/dedication amounted to semi-slavery.
What is interesting about this passage is that the redemption value for women is LOWER than that for men. What this CANNOT mean, however, is that the value of female slaves is LESS THAN the value of male slaves, because the law concerning the murder/manslaughter of these indicated IDENTICAL values (cf. Ex 21.20-32 placed the exact same monetary values on both sexes). What this passage nets out at, then, is that the Law simply made it easier for women to buy their freedom than for men (or to have someone else buy it for them)! Perhaps this is a simple recognition of the lower earning power of female slaves(?), but in any case, God made provision for His daughters to have a better shot at buying their freedom than His sons!
By comparison, in the other law codes of that time, ANYONE could accuse her and force her to undergo the River Ordeal(!). So, the Laws of Ur-Nammu, 14 [ca. 2100bc, Ur in Sumer]: "If a man accuses the wife of a young man of promiscuity but the River Ordeal clears her..." (LCMAM:18).
"When a young woman still living in her father's house makes a vow to the LORD or obligates herself by a pledge 4 and her father hears about her vow or pledge but says nothing to her, then all her vows and every pledge by which she obligated herself will stand. 5 But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand; the LORD will release her because her father has forbidden her. 6 "If she marries after she makes a vow or after her lips utter a rash promise by which she obligates herself 7 and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her, then her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. 8 But if her husband forbids her when he hears about it, he nullifies the vow that obligates her or the rash promise by which she obligates herself, and the LORD will release her.Observations: These passages are sometimes understood as being restrictive of women, when in actuality they are protective of YOUNG women. In both the first case (the young girl in her father's house) and the second case (a rash promise made by a newlywed), the husband can either let her vow stand (and she gets 'credit' from the Lord) or he can nullify it (and get her out of a difficult spot). This is an incredibly flexible and workable situation for the young.
"If a woman living with her husband makes a vow or obligates herself by a pledge under oath 11 and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her and does not forbid her, then all her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. 12 But if her husband nullifies them when he hears about them, then none of the vows or pledges that came from her lips will stand. Her husband has nullified them, and the LORD will release her. 13 Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself. 14 But if her husband says nothing to her about it from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or the pledges binding on her. He confirms them by saying nothing to her when he hears about them. 15 If, however, he nullifies them some time after he hears about them, then he is responsible for her guilt."Observations: This situation is a bit more complex than the last, for at first blush it looks like the woman has NO independence at all in this matter. But a closer look reveals some interesting qualification to such a conclusion. First of all, we have cases of women making vows without any record of husband-consent (e.g. I Sam 1-2). So, we have to look at the text and context to see if there are any clues that might restrict the RANGE of application of this husband-approval requirement.
There are two such considerations. First, the qualifying phrase at the end of verse 13--"to deny herself" is ALWAYS associated in the OT with 'no work' (cf. Lev 16.29; 16.31; 23.27-32; Num 29.7). In this context, this would amount to a vow to stop working at home, in the field, in the market--wherever. This might have disastrous consequences for the well-being of the family and/or community, and might be a decision that warranted a 'second opinion' (like the 'two witness' motif).
Second, the nature of most vow-fulfillments entailed economic resources (e.g. sacrificing sheep or redeeming oneself as a temple-slave (Lev 27 above)). As such, it really required having solitary control over the finances--a situation that widows and divorcees had (cf. 30.9)--but not one of the average Israelite housewife. The person responsible for the 'debt' (so to speak) was protected in this case, from being over-committed by his wife. This over-commitment, in the typical case of the one-income family, would have also had possible adverse effects on the wife. So, a 'second opinion' in matters relating to finances was probably a protection for BOTH the man and the wife.
Observation: Fontaine (SAIANE:157) refers to this as one of "Israel's more humanitarian values extending even to the treatment of female salves, the 'disposable' persons of the Ancient Near East." One can scarcely read the passage above (with its commands on male restraint!) without sensing God's concern for the protection of this captive female.
Observation: In this passage, the reputation of the women, and the lifelong provision for her needs are focused on. God architects this situation to protect the woman against capricious men.
ANE Context: In a similar case in the Laws of Lipit-Istar (ca. 1930bc), 33, anyone can accuse a woman of promiscuity, and the penalty for slander is only TEN shekels. [LCMAM:33]
ANE Context: The Hittite Law in this regard is much harsher (p197, LCMAM:237): "If a man seizes a woman in the mountains (and rapes her), it is the man's offense, but if he seizes her in her house, it is the woman's offense; the woman shall die." In the biblical version of the 'in-town' rape, BOTH parties are equally guilty---the man is NEVER absolved from responsibility in ANY situations in biblical law (Deut 22.23-24).
Observation: This restriction on remarriage to the same party SEEMS to be aimed at the convenient "Vegas-style" divorce/weekend marriage/re-marriage. In this scenario, the primary wife (and hence the oldest) is temporarily divorced, the man marries some 'little young thing' for a short time, divorces the younger one when it is time to 'get back to life', and re-marries the older, proven, faithful, successful first wife. This type of mistreatment of the wife of 'his youth' (Prov 5.18; Mal 2.14-15) is precluded in some cases by this law.
Observations: The Lord exempts a man from military service--not for the man's happiness, but for the happiness of the wife! God must be concerned about the happiness of those who do the special work of being a wife.
A few passages and observations will illustrate this.
17 Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. 19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.Observations: God made very explicit allowances and provisions for widows, and these regulations were instrumental in the case of the widow Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth (Ruth 2.16ff).
If we simply list the observations from above, we find quite a significant presence of women in the corpus and design of the Law.
In general, we see an almost painstaking attention to detail in God's law, to protect the woman in society, to encourage her religious life, and to facilitate her contribution to biblical history. God seeks His daughters to worship Him in spirit and in truth.