Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How the Ancient Israelites Understood the Concept of Family

Here are some excerpts from two good books I was reading today ("Families in Ancient Israel" and "Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions").  There are some wonderful insights about how the ancient Israelites understood family!  Enjoy!


pg. 13 "Careful sociological studies of the early Israelite period have linked these villages to biblical terminology for population groups.  Although somewhat fluid in what it can denote, the term mispahah is generally understood to be coterminous with the inhabitants of a village.  It can also, however, represent--perhaps in later time periods--a somewhat larger regional group or a subdivision of a larger settlement.  Nonetheless, the idea that Israelites held land in clusters of kin groups, called mispahot, and not actually by tribes, is contained in the allotment texts of the second half of the book of Joshua. (Cf. Num. 33:54--'You shall apportion the land by lot according to your mispahot.')
Offering an English translation for mispahah is difficult.  Most English version render the term 'family' or sometimes 'clan.'  Neither is quite appropriate, for it is more than a family, although it may well be a grouping of related family units.  And mispahah does not quite fit the general anthropological understanding of a clan, which does not usually involve residential commonality.  The suggestion 'protective association of families' is unwieldy, although it does convey the dimension of local cooperation involved in the mispahah and in the elep, a related term that preserves the idea of military cooperation.  'Residential kinship group,' or 'kinship group' in shortened form, perhaps best conveys the nature of the village community:  related farm families sharing common settled space and earning their livelihoods in the fields, orchards, and vineyards surrounding the village site.  The farmlands themselves were held not by the kinship group as a whole but rather, it seems, by the constituent family groups."
pg. 16  "These dwelling clusters constitute evidence for a family unit in early Israel larger than that of the nuclear family (or conjugal couple with unmarried offspring).  EAch pillared house in a cluster may represent the living space of a nuclear family or parts thereof, but the shared courtyard space and common house walls of the linked buildings indicate a larger family grouping.  Early Israelite dwelling units were thus complex arrangements of several buildings and housed what we might call extended families."

pg. 17  "In addition to the genealogical materials indicating partrilineality, several texts in the book of Judges reflect a family arrangement that would inhabit the kind of dwelling cluster known from the archaeological record.  The story of Micah in Judges 17-18 provides a picture of a man living with his widowed mother, his sons (and probably their wives), and a young priest, hired to serve household cultic needs.  In Judges 18:22, the text describes several members of Micah's household who go off in pursuit of Danite raiders as the 'men who were in the houses comprising the household of Micah.'  This passage fits the material evidence remarkably well and also provides clues about family household functions (cultic, economic, social, military).  Similarly, in Judges 6-8, Gideon is presented as a married man--a parent of at least two children (Judg. 8:20)--working the land of the household identified as that of his father Joash (Judg. 6:11).  This is a multigenerational compound family.  Another indication of an extended family household is the multigenerational accountability of the Decalogue (Ex. 20:5), which is relevant only in a context of families extending across three or even four generations."


pg. 5 "What unites all the tribesmen, then, is this blood-relationship, real or supposed; they all consider themselves 'brothers' in a wide sense.  Abimelek says to the entire clan of his mother, 'Remember that I am of your bones and of your flesh' (Jg 9:2).  All the members of David's clan are, in his eyes, his 'brothers' (I S 20:29), and he goes so far as to tell all the elders of Judah, 'You are my brothers, you are of my flesh and of my bones' (2 S 19:13)."

pg. 5 "In practice, other factors besides common descent may help to constitute a tribe.  The mere fact of living in the same region leads groups of families to join together.  Weak elements are absorbed by stronger neighbors;  alternatively, several weak groups combine to form a body capable of remaining autonomous, that is, of standing up to an attack.  Individuals, too, can be incorporated into a tribe either by adoption into a family (as often happens with freed slaves), or through acceptance by the sheikh or the elders.  
But even here the principle is safeguarded, for the newcomer is attached 'in name and in blood' to the tribe; this means that he acknowledges the tribe's ancestor as his own, that he will marry within the tribe and raise up his family inside it.  ...With a whole clan the fusion takes longer, but the result is the same, and the newcomers are finally considered as being of the same blood."
pg. 6 "The tribes of Israel were not exempt from such changes, and they absorbed groups of different origin.  Thus the tribe of Judah eventually welcomed to its own ranks the remnants of the tribe of Simeon, and incorporated foreign groups like the Calebites and Yerahmeelites.  The Bible gives a clear picture of the process in its references to the Calebites.  They were originally outside the Israelite confederation, for Caleb was the son of Yephunneh the Qenizite (Nb 32:12; Jos 14:6,14; comp. Gn 15:19; 36:11), but hey had contact with Israel from the time of the sojourn at Qadesh, where Caleb was named as Judah's representative for the exploration of Canaan (Nb 13:6).  Their integration into this tribe is recorded in Jos 15:13; cf. Jos 14:6-15, and in the end Caleb is genealogically attached to Judah.  The son of Yephunneh becomes the son of Hesron, son of Peres, son of Judah (1 Ch 2:9, 18, 24) and brother of Yerahmeel (1 Ch 2:9).  There can be no doubt that similar fusions took place frequently, especially in the early days, and that the very concept of the 'Twelve Tribes' contains some elements of systematic arrangement..."

pg. 7 "The organization and government of a tribe....The beth ab, the 'house of one's father', was the family, which comprised not only the father, his wife or wives and their unmarried children but also their married sons with their wives and children, and the servants.  Several families composed a clan, the mishpahah.  The latter usually lived in the same place, and its members always met for common religious feasts and sacrificial meals (1 S 20:6,29).  In particular, the clan assumed the responsibility for blood-vengeance.  Each clan was ruled by the heads of its families, the zeqenim or 'elders', and in time of war it furnished a contingent, theoretically a thousand strong, commanded by a chief, sar.  In Jg 8:14 the 'chiefs' of Sukkoth are distinguished from the 'elders'....A group of clans, of mishpahoth, formed a tribe, shebet or matteh, two words with the same meaning, which also denote the commander's staff and the royal sceptre.  The tribe therefore embraced all those who obeyed the same chief.  
The hierarchy of the three terms, beth ab, misphahah and shebet, is clearly expressed in Jos. 7:14-18, but one term may sometimes be used for another, as in Nb 4:18 and Jg 20:12 (Hebrew text)."
pg. 13 "...everyone remembered to which tribe he belonged, but the unit of society which survived, and which to some extent retained the ancient customs, was the clan.  In practice, after the settlement, the village stood for the clan, and in many of the genealogies of Chronicles, names of villages replace names of ancestors."

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