Monday, March 26, 2007

Leviticus: The Impurity of Women

These passages of the Mosaic Law are part of a much longer section concerned with impurity; that is, those conditions un­der which performing religious rituals is not permissible. Note that, although men, too, could be impure, the purification of women took longer and the amount of time required for purifi­cation after the birth of a girl was twice as long as that for a boy.
12:2–5. If a woman conceives and bears a male child, she shall be ceremonially unclean seven days; as at the time of her menstruation she shall be unclean. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Her time of blood purification shall be thirty-three days; she shall not touch any holy thing, or come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed. If she bears a female child, she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation; her time of blood purification shall be sixty-six days.
15:12–22. If a man has an emission of semen, he shall bathe his whole body in water, and be un­clean until the evening. Everything made of cloth or skin on which the semen falls shall be washed with water and be unclean until the evening. If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of se­men, both of them shall bathe in water and be un­clean until the evening. When a woman has a discharge of blood that is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be un­clean until the evening. Everything on which she lies during her impurity shall be unclean; every­thing also on which she sits shall be unclean. Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening. Whoever touches anything on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening.
From the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permis­sion. All rights reserved.
divorce and no provision was made for a dowry, which usually meant that a man could divorce his wife without financial loss. Divorces were nevertheless uncommon because Mosaic Law and Jewish custom placed a pre­mium on the family. Polygyny and concubinage, though permitted, were rare for economic reasons, and adultery was punishable by death.
Within the home, women were more respected than their legal position might indicate. They had the right to name the children and were responsible for their early instruction in moral and practical matters. Theory aside, they often controlled the everyday life of the household. Furthermore, Jewish literature reveals none of the contempt for women and their capacities sometimes found in the writings of ancient Greece. The Bible abounds in heroic women such as Esther, Rachel, and Deborah, and the Book of Proverbs holds the value of a good woman as “beyond rubies.” But the patriar­chal nature of Jewish society coupled with the divine origin of the Mosaic Law would have a profound im­pact on subsequent history. Christianity, Islam, and modern Judaism absorbed from the Bible the idea that women’s exclusion from many aspects of public and re­ligious life was ordained by God.
The Mosaic emphasis on family placed a high value on children. Infanticide, a practice common in other ancient cultures, was forbidden, and child-raising prac­tices, like every other aspect of life, were prescribed by law. On the eighth day after birth, male children were circumcised as a sign of their covenant with God. They received religious instruction from their fathers and at age thirteen assumed the full religious responsibilities of an adult. Eldest sons, who were especially honored, had extra responsibilities. Both boys and girls were ex­pected to help in the fields and in the home, but gender roles were carefully preserved. Boys learned their fa-ther’s trade or cared for the livestock. Girls were re­sponsible for gleaning the fields after harvest and for keeping the house supplied with water from wells that, in town at least, were usually communal. What re­mained in the fields after gleaning was left for the poor.
The obligation to assist the poor and helpless— symbolized by this minor, yet divinely established, injunction—was central to the Jewish conception of righteousness. A comprehensive ideal of charity and communal responsibility gradually evolved from such precepts and, like monotheism itself, spread to Western society as a whole long after Israel as a political entity had ceased to exist.
The central features of the Jewish faith were well established at the time of the Babylonian exile. The subsequent history of the Jewish people and the trans­mission of their religious and ethical concepts to other cultures are important to consider, for the interaction of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths continues to this day.

The Social and Economic Structures of Ancient Israel

The society that produced these revolutionary concepts was not in other respects much different from its neigh­bors. From a federation of nomadic herdsmen initially organized into twelve tribes, the earliest Jews evolved into settled agriculturalists after their arrival in Canaan. Tribal survivals such as the communal ownership of re­sources gave way to a system of private property in which land and water were generally owned by fami­lies. Inevitably, some families were more successful than others, and many became substantial landholders with tenants and perhaps a few slaves. As in Mesopotamia, these families were often extended and always patriar­chal in organization. A gradual process of urbanization increased the importance of crafts and trade, but the basic family structure remained.
In earliest times, fathers held absolute authority over wives and children. As ethical standards evolved, patriarchy was increasingly tempered by a sense of re­sponsibility and mercy. However, the status of women was lower in ancient Israel than among the Hittites, the Egyptians, or the Mesopotamians. Under the Judges who ruled Israel from the invasion of Canaan to the emergence of the monarchy, women presided as priestesses over certain festivals. As interpretation of the Mosaic Law evolved, their participation in reli­gious life was restricted (see document 1.6). The wor­ship of Yahweh demanded purity as well as holiness, and women were regarded as ritually impure during menstruation and after childbirth. They were also ex­empted from regular prayer and other rituals on the theory that they should not be distracted from child care. In effect, they were excluded from direct partici­pation in all public rites and were segregated from men even as observers because their presence was thought to be distracting. The proper role of women was in the home.
The home, however, was central to religious life. Marriages were arranged between families and sealed by contract as in Babylon, but only men could initiate

The Prophet Isaiah: Social Justice

This passage (Isa. 1:11–17), attributed to Isaiah of Jerusalem in the mid-eighth century B.C., demonstrates the in­creasing emphasis on social justice in Hebrew religious thought.
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD. I have had enough of burnt offer­ings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not de­light in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomi­nation to me. New moon and sabbath and the call­ing of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your ap­pointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread forth your hands I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppres­sion; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.
From the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 by the Divsion of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permis­sion. All rights reserved.
priests, prophets, and teachers, it remains to this day the foundation of Jewish life.
Certain features of Mosaic Law—such as the princi­ple of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth—recall Babylonian precedents, but it went much further by seeking to govern private as well as public behavior. Di­etary regulations were set forth in great detail along with rules for sexual conduct and the proper form of re­ligious observances. Though legalistic in form, the Mo­saic Law offered a comprehensive guide to ethical behavior whose force transcended social or political sanctions (see document 1.5). It was intended not only as legislation but also as a prescription for the godly life. God could mete out terrible punishment; but the com­mandments were to be kept, not in brute fear or from a sense of grudging duty, but in awe of God’s majesty and holiness, and in gratitude for God’s blessings. This concept of righteousness as an essential duty, together with many of the specific ethical principles enshrined in the Torah, or first five books of the Jewish Bible, would later be adopted by both Christianity and Islam. The in­fluence of Mosaic Law on Western thought and society has therefore been incalculable.

The Covenant

This passage (Exod. 19:1–9) describes the making of the covenant between the Hebrews and their God that forms the basis of the Jewish religion and the concept of the Jews as a chosen people.
On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai.. . . Israelcamped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God, the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself. Now, therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.” So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. The people all answered as one: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.” Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD. Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak to you and so trust you ever after.
From the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permis­sion. All rights reserved.
Greeks would write it, it remains the first attempt to provide a coherent account of past events.
The primary expression of Yahweh’s will is found, however, in the Ten Commandments and in the subse­quent elaboration of the Mosaic Law. The Ten Com­mandments, brought down by Moses from Mt. Sinai and delivered to the people of Israel before their entry into Canaan, formed the basis of an elaborate legal and moral code that governed virtually every aspect of life and conduct. Like the concept of God, the law evolved over time. Refined and amplified by generations of

The Origins of Judaism

Ancient Israel was not, in other words, a material suc­cess. Its people were never numerous or rich, and it was only briefly a regional power. Its contributions to art and technology were negligible, yet few societies have had a greater influence on those that followed. The rea­son for this paradox is that the Jews developed a reli­gion that was unlike anything else in the ancient world. It was not wholly without precedent, for ideas were borrowed from Mesopotamian and perhaps from Egyptian sources. Moreover, though inspired by revela­tions that can be dated with some accuracy, its basic practices evolved over time. But if the history of the be­liefs themselves can be traced like those of any other religion, the Jewish concept of the divine was neverthe­less revolutionary.
Its central feature was a vision of one God who was indivisible and who could not be represented or under­stood in visual terms. Yahweh, the God of the Jews, could not be described. The name is formed from the Hebrew word YHWH and appears to be a derivative of the verb “to be,” indicating that the deity is eternal and changeless. Creator of the universe and absolute in power, the God of Israel was at the same time a per­sonal god who acted in history and who took an inter­est in the lives of individual Jews.
Above all, the worship of Yahweh demanded ethi­cal behavior on the part of the worshipper. This was ex­traordinary, because though the Mesopotamians had emphasized the helplessness of humans and Akhenaton had thought of a single, all-powerful god, the idea that a god might be served by good deeds as well as by rit­ual and sacrifice was new. The concept was founded on the idea of a covenant or agreement made first between God and Abraham and reaffirmed at the time of the ex­odus from Egypt (see document 1.4).
The people of Israel formally reaffirmed the covenant on several occasions, but failure to observe it could bring terrible punishment. The fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchedrezzar was thought to be an example of what could happen if the Jews lapsed in their devotion, and a rich prophetic tradition developed that called upon the people of Israel to avoid God’s wrath by be­having in an ethical manner. The Jews thus became the first people to write long narratives of human events as opposed to mere chronologies and king lists. Much of the Jewish Bible is devoted to the interaction between God and the children of Israel and is intended to pro­vide a record of God’s judgments on Earth to discern the divine will. Therefore, while not history as the

The Historical Development of Ancient Israel

The Hapiru who entered Canaan around 1200 B.C. came from Egypt. The name is thought to mean outsider or marauder and is the probable root of the term Hebrew. The invaders were a Semitic group of mixed ancestry whose forebears had left Mesopotamia some six hun­dred years earlier during the conquest of Sumeria by Babylon. According to tradition, their patriarch Abra­ham came from Ur. They lived for several generations as pastoralists in the trans–Jordan highlands and then emigrated to Egypt, probably at about the time of the Hyksos domination. With the revival of the New King­dom under native Egyptian dynasties, the situation of the Semitic immigrants became more difficult. Op­pressed by a pharaoh (or pharaohs) whose identity re­mains the subject of controversy, a group of them fled to Sinai under the leadership of Moses. Moses, whose Egyptian name helps to confirm the biblical story of his origins, molded the refugees into the people of Israel and transmitted to them the Ten Commandments, the ethical code that forms the basis of Judaism, Christian­ity, and Islam.
The Israelites conquered their new homeland with great difficulty. The period between 1200 and 1020
B.C. appears to have been one of constant struggle. As described in the Book of Judges, the people of Israel were at this time a loose confederacy of tribes united by a common religion and by military necessity. Saul (reigned c. 1020–1000 B.C.) established a monarchy of sorts in response to the Philistine threat, but it was not until after his death that David (ruled 1000–961 B.C.)
consolidated the territories between Beersheba and the Galilee into the kingdom of Israel.
Under David’s son Solomon (reigned 961–922 B.C.), Israel became a major regional power. Commerce flourished, and the king used his wealth to construct a lavish palace as well as the First Temple at Jerusalem, a structure heavily influenced by Phoenician models. But Solomon’s glory came at a price. Heavy taxation and religious disputes led to rebellion after his death, and Is­rael divided into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Israel was a loosely knit, aristocratic monarchy occupying the land later known as Samaria. Judah, with its walled capital of Jerusalem, was poorer but more cohesive. Both, in the end, would fall prey to more powerful neighbors.
The danger came from the north. In what is now Syria, remnants of the Hittite empire had survived as petty states. Many of them were annexed in the twelfth century by the Aramaeans, a Semitic people whose most important center was Damascus. The Aramaic lan­guage would become the vernacular of the Middle East—it was the language, for example, in which Jesus preached. However, Syria remained politically unsta­ble. Assyria, once more in an expansionist phase and enriched by the conquest of Mesopotamia, filled the vacuum. The ministates of the region could not long expect to resist such a juggernaut. For a time, an al­liance between Israel and Damascus held the Assyrians at bay, but by 722 B.C., both had fallen to the armies of the Assyrian conquerors Tiglath-pileser and Sargon II. Sennacherib (ruled 705–682 B.C.) annexed Philistia and Phoenicia, after which Esarhaddon (ruled 680–689 B.C.) and Assurbanipal (reigned 669–c.627 B.C.), the greatest and most cultivated of the Assyrian emperors, con­quered Egypt. The tiny kingdom of Judah survived only by allying itself with the conquerors.
The end came in 587 B.C. A resurgent Babylonia had destroyed Assyria by allying itself with the Medes and adopting Assyrian military tactics. In a general set­tling of scores the Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar II then sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and car­ried the Judaean leadership off to captivity in Babylon. Many of these people returned after Babylon was con­quered by the Persians in 539 B.C., but the Israelites or Jews, a name derived from the kingdom of Judah, did not establish another independent state until 142 B.C. Judaea and Samaria would be ruled for four hundred years by Persians and by Hellenistic Greeks, while thousands of Jews, faced with the desolation of their homeland, dispersed to the corners of the known world.

Canaan, Phoenicia, and Philistia

The eastern shore of the Mediterranean has been in­habited since earliest times. Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon remains are found in close proximity to one another in the caves of Mt. Carmel, and agriculture was established on the eastern shore before it was intro­duced to Egypt or Mesopotamia. The climate is benign, with mild winters and enough rainfall to support the Mediterranean triad of crops—wheat, olives, and grapes. The Bible calls it “the land of milk and honey,” but it was also a corridor and at times a disputed fron­tier between the civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Its inhabitants never enjoyed the political stabil­ity of the great river empires. The eastern shore of the Mediterranean was from the beginning a world of small, aggressive city-states whose wealth and strategic position attracted the unwelcome attention of stronger powers.
The first Canaanites or Phoenicians, as they were known to the Greeks, spoke a variety of Semitic di­alects and moved into the region during the fourth mil­lennium, superseding or blending with an earlier Neolithic population (see map 1.2). Their first urban foundations, at Sidon, Byblos, and Ras Shamra (Ugarit), date from around 3000 B.C. From the beginning, these and a host of other cities traded actively with both Egypt and Sumer. Their inhabitants were sailors, ship­builders, and merchants who played a vital role in the process of cultural exchange.
They were also skilled craftsmen. Carved furniture of wood and ivory was an obvious speciality, but metal­working was equally important. The Phoenicians ex­ported fine gold and copper jewelry, bronze tools, and weapons over a wide area. Around 1500 B.C. they seem to have invented the process of casting glass around a core of sand. Decorative glassware remained an impor­tant export throughout antiquity, and glassblowing likely was invented by their descendants in Roman
Illustration 1.6
.Egyptian Beliefs about the Afterlife. In this papyrus from the Theban Book of the Dead, the dead man and his wife watch as the god Anubis weighs his heart against a feather and Thoth records the results. The Devourer of Hearts waits at the far right. The writing in the background provides a good example of New Kingdom hieroglyphics.

times. The women of Sidon were known for their re­markable textiles, and Sidon and Tyre were the primary source of the purple dye that symbolized royalty throughout the ancient world. It was extracted with great difficulty from the shell of the murex snail, a crea­ture abundant in the harbors of Lebanon.
Politically, Phoenician towns were governed by a hereditary king assisted by a council of elders. In prac­tice, they were probably oligarchies in which policy was decided by the wealthy merchants who served on the council. Little is known of their civic life or even of their religious practices. The Phoenicians are credited with inventing the first true alphabet, a phonetic script with twenty-two abstract symbols representing the consonants. Vowels, as in the other Semitic languages, were omitted. Their system is regarded as the greatest of all Phoenician contributions to Western culture be­cause it could be mastered without the kind of exten­sive education given to professional scribes in Egypt or Mesopotamia. Literacy was now available to nearly everyone, but because the Phoenicians normally wrote with ink on papyrus, most of their records have perished.
Political crises were common. Phoenicia was in­vaded and at times ruled by both Egypt and the Hittites of Asia Minor. In 1190 B.C. a mysterious group known as the Sea Peoples attacked the Egyptian delta. They were driven out but eventually established themselves along the coast south of Jaffa. They appear to have come from somewhere in the Aegean or western Asia Minor and to have brought with them the use of iron weapons. Little of their language has survived. Their gods appear to have been Canaanite deities adopted on arrival. The Sea People were great fighters and iron-smiths who dominated the iron trade in the Middle East for many years. Politically, their towns of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Eglon formed a powerful league known as Philistia or the Philistine confederacy. The Bible calls these people Philistines, and the Ro­mans used Palestine, a term derived from that name, to describe the entire region.
While the Philistines annexed the southern coast, the Hebrews, recently escaped from Egypt, invaded the Canaanite highlands. They fought bitterly with the Philistines, but after establishing a united kingdom of Israel that stretched from the Negev to Galilee, they formed an alliance of sorts with the Phoenicians of Tyre. Both of these incursions were related to broader population movements in the eastern Mediterranean. They coincide roughly with the displacement of the Io­nians in Greece and a successful assault on the western portion of the Hittite empire by the Phrygians, a peo­ple who may have come from the same region as the Philistines. In Canaan proper, both Philistines and He­brews were forced to contend with other peoples push­ing in from the Arabian desert and the country beyond the Jordan.
Canaan was becoming crowded. The newcomers encountered a land that may already have been reach­ing its ecological limits after several millennia of human settlement. The Phoenician cities, already closely spaced, now saw their hinterlands greatly reduced, and with that their ability to feed their people. Led by Tyre, the Phoenicians began planting colonies from one end of the Mediterranean to the other. The first was at Utica in North Africa, supposedly founded by 1101
B.C. In the next three centuries, dozens of others were established in Cyprus, Sicily, Sardinia, and Spain. At least twenty-six such communities were in North Africa, the most important of which was Carthage, founded about 800 B.C. near the present site of Tunis.
Like the colonies later established by the Greeks, those of the Phoenicians retained commercial and per­haps sentimental ties to their founding city but were for all practical purposes independent city-states. They did not normally try to establish control over large territo­ries. They served as commercial stations that extracted wealth from the interior in return for goods from the civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean. They were also useful as safe harbors for Phoenician traders.
By the seventh century B.C., Phoenician ships had reached Britain in search of precious tin, and Phoeni­cian caravan routes based on the African colonies had penetrated the regions south of the Sahara. The Carthaginians later claimed to have circumnavigated Africa, and, at the very beginnings of the age of colo­nization, Hiram I of Tyre and his ally Solomon of Israel sent triennial expeditions to Ophir, a place now thought to have been on the coast of India. Wherever they went, the Phoenicians carried their system of writ­ing together with the ideas and products of a dozen other cultures. Though their history was all too often neglected or written by their enemies, they played a vital role in the establishment of Mediterranean civilization.