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Daily Life of the Patriarchs

The Way It Was

Shaul Bar

While the literature of the ancient Near East portrays legendary heroes, this is not the case with the biblical narrative, which portrays the patriarchs and matriarchs as fallible human beings. Their story is a multigenerational one of family and the dynamics that exist within. Reading these stories is like hearing the echo of family feuds, which is what makes them timeless.
Were the patriarchs real people? Or can we say that many details in the Book of Genesis are fictions that project later romantic ideals of life and faith? To answer these questions the author examines the patriarchs’ daily life, beliefs, and customs to provide provocative and useful insights into the life of the Patriarchs.
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Chapter 2: Marriages


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After God created man, He said: “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him” (Gen. 2:18). This fitting helper had her creation described in detail (vv. 21–25), in contrast to the creation of man, which is told briefly. God also brought the women to the man, and as the Midrash says it was like an attendant who leads the bride to the groom, hence celibacy is undesirable.1 In the patriarchal period, it was the parents who initiated marriages, but the patriarchs headed small clans, so whom did they marry? As noted in the previous chapter, the patriarchs had peaceful relationships with the local population, thus the inevitable question is whether or not the patriarchs intermarried with the local population. We have to remember that the prohibition against intermarriage first appeared in Exodus (34:16). This prohibition also appears twice in Deuteronomy (7:1–6; 23:4). Thus, we will begin our inquiry with the examination of the practice of endogamy, marriage within the family and exogamy, marriage outside the family. In ancient times, wives were purchased, therefore, the subject of bridal price will be examined. The purpose of marriage was procreation. Not surprisingly, marriage contracts from the ancient Near East stipulate that a wife who fails to bear children has to provide her husband with a handmaid to perform the task. We will look into this custom. Dying without...

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