Rachel - the world she lived in
Jacob loved Rachel the minute he saw her, and was determined to marry her. But love does not pay the bills, even in ancient Israel, and the practicalities had to be attended to.
A bride expected to get a present from her father when she married, either a sum of money or its its equivalent in goods – cattle, land, woven goods, work, etc.
The amount of money/goods was geared to the status and wealth of the girl’s family, and so there was family pride involved in the transaction. It was seen as compensation to the family for the loss of the girl, as well as the means of providing her with certain necessities.
The two women were deeply angry that their father had ignored this practice and robbed them of what was their rightful inheritance: ‘Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has been using up the money given for us. All this property belongs to us and our children.’ (Genesis 31:14-16)
They had good reason to be resentful: the purpose of the bride price was to insure the woman against being left unsupported if she was widowed. She would never be left destitute. It also meant that women as well as men received an inheritance from family wealth.
It was probably in this period that women enjoyed greatest freedom and prestige. The stories in Genesis and Exodus showed them as independent and strong, smart and tough. They displayed leadership and initiative, and almost always got their way when they wanted something.
This was probably because women were necessary for the survival of the tribe, and they knew it. They did a wide range of tasks, without which the clan or family simply could not have
managed - see the second section of
Archaeology: Daily Work
for the range of these tasks.
As well, women played an active role in religious matters. The concept of monotheism was just beginning to develop, but many women probably worshipped a fertility goddess, the Great Mother, source of plant, animal and human life. Rachel's story shows that monotheism had not completely ousted worship of the old gods/goddesses of the hearth and the land. The terephim she stole may have been something like the figurines in the photograph above right.
The laws of Hammurabi, a famous law-maker and king of Babylonia, provide insights into the lives of women in this period. There were laws to
For more information on the lives of Bible women, see
Family, work and religion: the tribe, the family, slaves, women's tasks, beliefs
Milestones in a woman's life: Puberty, menstruation, marriage, childbirth, death, burials
Clothing and housing : ancient fabric, weaving, different styles for rich and poor
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