September 19, 2018

Divorce in the Pentateuch and ANE

Category: Bible - OT - Deuteronomy,Bible - OT - Exodus,Ethics,Marriage :: Permalink

David Instone-Brewer’s comparison of the biblical laws relating to divorce and other laws in the Ancient Near East (ANE) reveals that “women have greater rights in the Pentateuch than in the ancient Near East generally”¬†(Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, 21).

What rights? Instone-Brewer points to these two in particular:

(1) While other ANE lawcodes did allow women to divorce their husbands in some cases, few allowed a woman whose husband has failed to provide food and clothing to divorce her husband. A Middle Assyrian law does, but only after the wife has been abandoned for five years.

“The Pentateuch was more generous to the woman because it did not prescribe time constraints while it allowed women to divorce their husbands on the same grounds of neglect” (26).

(2) Only in the Pentateuch do we hear about a certificate of divorce being given to the divorced woman. The certificate would likely have said something like “You are allowed to marry any man you wish.”

“It would have been a most valuable document for a woman to possess,” says Instone-Brewer, “because it gave her the right to remarry. Without it she would be under the constant threat of her former husband, who could claim at a later date that she was still married to him and thus charge her with adultery” (29).

After all, “in other ancient Near Eastern cultures, the man could neglect his wife and then reclaim her within five years, even if she had remarried in the meantime” (30; cf. Middle Assyrian law # 36).

It strikes me that the differences Instone-Brewer points out between the laws in Exodus and Deuteronomy and the laws in the rest of the Ancient Near East concerning divorce indicate that the Pentateuch is not making a concession to the culture (e.g., “The ANE generally allowed divorce, and so the Law goes along with that, but it wasn’t ideal and God wanted to tighten it up later”).

No, as a matter of fact the Law goes beyond what ANE culture normally allowed, allowing speedier divorce in the case of neglect and making it clear that a first marriage really was over and the divorced wife was free to remarry.

Put another way, it’s one thing to say “The ANE was ‘loose’ on divorce and so, by way of concession to the culture, the Bible is correspondingly ‘loose’ … for a while.” I don’t buy it, but it makes a certain sort of sense.

But it makes no sense to me at all to say “The ANE was ‘loose’ on divorce and so, by way of concession to the culture, the Bible is even ‘looser.'”

Posted by John Barach @ 9:07 pm | Discuss (0)

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