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As Tom McMahon suggested last week "proceed cautiously" — and I think today's commentary reflects that. Our Tom is a brave man though — brave enough to ask some of the questions that are on everybody's lips but which are largely unvoiced because of various kinds of social or religious taboos. Today he's endeavouring to not so much answer questions but raise questions in the mind of the reader. What were the attitudes to marriage — and to women — six thousand years ago, long before anyone had heard the name Jesus Christ? What do we know of what women themselves thought in those earlier epochs of history?
A tease to open...
Before we take up the subject of Abraham's "wife" I begin with a tease (part of the promised 101 in human sexuality). At 80 years of age while driving down the Almaden Expressway I find my eyes darting to a street corner on which a young damsel stands in summer bare legs and skin revealing halter top. What compulsion, what instinct in me automates that electronic pattern of eye to brain back to eye, all in a split second? Am I just a dirty old man? And what's going on in the human psyche? (Here Brian, please run again your VALLEY OF THE HORSES picture as you did on our first marriage commentary) I am interested in how a female reader views this picture and then again what a male reader sees; perhaps some will share their view on Forum. We'll be back to this subject next week.
MARRIAGE STOP #2:
We have set up our trek into eight epochs, the 2nd of which is: The Bronze Age, 4500 B.C.E. (Abraham, recommend THE SOURCE by James A Mitchener) as well as a brief look see into ancient Egyptian customs.
We are searching for a needle in a haystack. looking back 6000 years into tribal customs that differ radically from our 21st century. Read Chapter 12 of Genesis. Now this Abraham fellow is a cagey character, 75 years old with a beautiful wife (and this is the word we are keenly looking a ); the Pharaoh throws Abe and his family out for the deception of hiding his WIFE, especially after Sky God-Yahweh has inflicted plagues catching the Egyptian ruler with his eye on the woman. Sarai appears to me to be property.
I am reminded of the Code of Hammurabi [Wikipedia reference], a tribal chief recorded in 1925 BCE: if a person wanted the protection of the tribal chief he had to swear allegiance to the leader and his tribal code — Hammurabi's code or covenant, from which we have today seven of the ten commandments/ It twice forbids the stealing of a man's wife (thou shalt not commit adultery and thou shalt not covet, or even think about it, thy neighbor's wife [or ass or donkey].) Hammurabi's Code and the Ten Commandments are justice orientated, protecting possessions. What was the relationship of Abraham to Sarah? (Notice the change of spelling — an ancient literary device to recognize a change in consciousness or relationship. In Genesis Abraham relates differently to Yahweh and Abraham to once Sarai, now Sarah. After the sparing of Isaac, Abram, the polytheist becomes Abraham who listens to the God of love and makes a covenant with the monotheistic God.) Sigmund Freud must have had a field day with this Abraham story. Abram seems to struggle as to his relationship to a possession or a helpmate wife. I would enjoy knowing what kind of communication existed between the two; I am not appreciating here human sensitivity to a person. (A clue: the word wife is Middle Ages Angelo-Saxon … wif … to give to wife is to give a daughter's hand in marriage … notice the "hand ove ".)
Genesis in the first 11 chapters give us a human appreciation of THE BEGINNINGS (the Valley of the Horses-type imaginative overview of creation etc.) and chapters 12 to 50 will end with Joseph down in Egypt. Two thousand years into the Middle Bronze Ages a well organized Egypt controls the Syro-Palestinian coast but not the interior and civilization is underway with pyramids having been built in 3000 BCE. There is organized government as we read Joseph becoming overseer of the Pharaoh's large scale agricultural system and Joseph's father and family have gone down to Egypt to purchase food. They appear to me to be wholesale merchants. Pyramids are built with labor gangs, commonly thought now to be a type of military national duty for a specific length of time; no mention is found of construction working woman yet we do know the men were given daily rations of beer in the labor camps and that cosmetics and high heels are the invention of Egyptian prostitutes so as to highlight her external sexuality and tip her breasts more directly at the watchful eye of the male. Again the woman emerges as "thing", the fly-by-night relationship in the world's oldest business occupation. Outside of the royal queen there is no mention of Egyptian females.
A study of the Egyptian priesthood adds to the mystery. Young men undergo years of lengthy initiation and rigorous training, learning magic spells while mastering the art of discerning the afterworld and the means of immortalizing the Pharaoh class. Pharoah means "big house". The Egyptian priest need be a male celibate and to keep the burial secret he dies with his master. Mention of females is reserved for the royal families and the goddesses titled Star of the Sea and Gate of Heaven (reader you make comparison and draw conclusions for yourself). No marriage ceremonial exists for the common people and again in the limited resources I have the word marriage is not to be found. Nowhere in the bible do I see the word commitment concerning man and woman.
Now we do have the famous story of a wooden horse being the means of overcoming the City of Troy (if true, around the 5th century BCE) and the motive behind the war. The ILIAD, known as one of "the world's greatest war novels" tells the story of a kidnapped beauty named Helen and what warrior men will do to recapture their possessions.
Moses and the Exodus are stories under close scrutiny today, perhaps a cover for Joshua's invasion of the "Promised Land", circa 1220 BCE. There are also myth stories about babies floating down rivers only to become great heroes. Jethro (chapters 2 and 3 of Exodus) is mentioned as Moses' father-in-law, "who gives his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage", this after Moses has done Jethro a great service. We have quid pro quo and perhaps the origin of the dowry. At age 80 I read these biblical passages quite differently than when I was a seminarian at age 20. I question again the back and forth use of the words marriage and wife and if the cultural differences between ancient and modern language are compatible.
I am sure that great King David will never be canonized a saint; he would have to hand over nearly a thousand wives to the cloisters and spend a long time in purgatory to make up for killing Urias. Hollywood can make a raving beauty out of Bathseeba but in my book she remains Dave's possession.
Now go back to the picture of the young damsel (Valley of the Horses book cover) and ask yourself what you see. William Glassar of REALITY THERAPY fame teaches that the human eye sees what it wants to see and automatically compares and projects its hoped for images. One of my female friends has taken the test, much to my satisfaction.
Let's prepare to talk about the teenager Jesus and Joseph's duty to find him a bride by age 8(?) … or 10(?). Stoke up the boilers … we are Jerusalem bound to look up the carpenter's son.
Tom McMahon, San Jose, Ca. … puzzled by the word marriage and how it is used historically. 17/03/2009 St Pat's Day
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Image Credits: The image used in the headline is adapted from an image available from AllPosters entitled "Tender Passion" available at: www.allposters.com. Clicking on the images in the body of the article will take you to the original source.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?