Let’s look at a word for the week, Marriage. This is a hot button topic among a lot of people. Pushing aggression aside, indifferences, and pride, we will explore the historical significance of marriage.
Many people will say that marriage was never in the Bible. Some say that it was made up. In fact, with some research marriage customs are very clearly present in the Bible.
The first notable occurrence of marriage in the Bible is the story of Abraham sending his servant to find a bride for his son Isaac [Gen 24:1]. At the time of Abraham, most of the people still practiced the marriage laws established by the Code of Hammurabi.
The servant travels the desert to Abraham’s homeland. Where he stops at a well. Wells were very important in the time of Abraham. People did not own land, or houses. They lived in tents and were nomads. They raised cattle. Mostly sheep and goats. These animals are grazers and will eat a land bare. Especially when the land is arid and dry.
In order for their herds to have enough to graze, they would move around.
Wells became a center of life. It took a lot of effort to dig a well by hand. A person that has a well will not travel far from it, because it offers a source of water for the people and animals.
Those who owned wells were considered wealthy, because they held the means of life to people.
People at the time were not selfish, or impolite. Indifferent to many people today, it was customary in the time of Abraham to share hospitality. Everyone was a nomad.
If another came to a camp, they were offered water and hospitality. People did this because it was polite. People did this because if you wandered too far and came into their camp, they would expect to also receive water and hospitality. People were kind to one another because they expected to receive kindness in the same way.
Back to our story. The Servant finds a young woman at a well. It was customary for the young women to gather large jars of water for the family. They would travel back and forth between the well and their settlement. It was also a good place to see young women who were not in the presence of their family. Most young woman would not talk to strangers. They also would not be allowed to be around men without a chaperone.
The important thing to note, at this time marriages were arranged. The bride and the bridegroom were not involved in the selection process. It was a decision set by the parents.
Most would consider this barbaric, or even for some personal greater glory of the family. However, a married couple would no longer be a part of the family. Arranging a son or daughter to a rich or poor family would not be a decision made for personal gain.
Parents, as today, would likely want to be sure that their daughters were taken care of.
Parents of sons, would want to make sure their son had a wife that could birth children. In a way they were often looking towards the better of their children’s future.
In the case of Isaac, the servant found Rebecca. He offers the family a Mohar. A Mohar was a dowry that was paid to the family for the right to marry. The acceptance of the Mohar, was an acceptance of engagement. This was called aras.
The aras would last up to a year. This was negotiated between the families. During the aras either family could withdraw from the marriage pact. If the bridegroom’s family withdrew, they would forfeit the Mohar. If the bride’s family withdrew, they would forfeit the Mohar and have to repay it to the bridegroom’s family.
The Mohar was not buying the bride. Many people falsely believe that the woman was bought and owned like property, and this was never the case.
The payment was a payment for legal rights. It was a payment to release the family of their legal responsibilities of the daughter.
In these times if a child did something wrong, or committed a crime, the family would be responsible for the damages. Children were considered property and often slaves. From this regard, the Mohar was a release of the woman from slavery, and made her no longer property. It gave her rights. Rights which were protected by her husband.
The bridegrooms family would then hold a wedding feast. The feast was celebrated before the marriage. It would last seven to fourteen days. It was important that the bridegrooms parents had sufficient food and drinks for everyone at the celebration. This would bring embarrassment to the bridegroom’s family if they did not. It might even create a cause for withdraw by the bride’s family from the aras.
The importance of this can be seen later in the bible at the Wedding of Cana. Mary tells Jesus they have no wine. She is very upset about this. The fact that she has concern over this, shows her relationship to the bridegroom. That she is responsible to ensure that there is sufficient wine, so that there is no shame to the bridegroom’s family. If they ran out of wine, the bride’s family may withdraw from the marriage.
We can see that the act of Jesus to create wine from water has a two fold effect. First, his miracle and beginning of his journey to the Passion. Secondly, his act shows the great importance and sanctity of marriage. He did this for the sake of the marriage. He did this so that the man and the woman could be married. His act creates a sanctity and holiness to the act of marriage because Jesus decided it was important. If it is important to Jesus, then it is important to God.
In the time of Abraham, the wedded couple would go to the altar. At the sacrificial altar a ram, bull, or calf would be cut in half. The couple would stand in the midst of this dead animal. They would proclaim to all the witnesses and to God, “If anything should try to come between us, let it be done to us as it was done to this animal.”
The animal was whole. Until the sacrifice, it was one being. This oath sworn by the couple proclaims that they are one being. That nothing can separate them, but a blade. That they would need to be severed as the animal was. That they are the same blood. When one of them suffers the other suffers.
The bond of blood was considered so sacred that the couple was no longer a part of either family. They were not part of the bridegroom’s family, and they were not part of the bride’s family. They were no longer children of a parent. They were now their own tribe. They had become their own people, with concerns of their own safety and survival.
“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” [Mk 10:9]
Jesus was not preaching some new rule. Jesus said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” [Mt 19:5] We can see that Jesus was preaching what had already been practiced by the Jewish people for more than 1500 years. It was a part of their culture and became a part of our Christianity.
Our customs have changed. Our way of celebrating marriage has changed. The Sanctity of marriage has never changed. Marriage is as important today as it was, and has been, for over 3500 years.
We can go into the purpose of pregnancy, and the basis of having children. It has as much historical and practical meaning as marriage does. That is for another topic. This post was intended to be about marriage.
This information is not made up. I have spent many hours researching this and written two thesis papers on this topic.
I hope that my research will help to build an appreciation of marriage. It will bring an understanding of the teaching of the Church in regards to the sanctity of marriage. A sanctity that has not changed in thousands of years.
We can see that an oath, like the couple and the bull, was a blood oath. Breaking an oath in the Old Testament was not just punishable, but it was considered to be punishable to future generations of the one that broke it.
Marriage was taken as an oath. We say vows that are our oath to one another. The priest wraps the hands together to symbolize this union.
Perhaps now we may even have a deeper understanding of the Wedding of Cana, and how the act by Jesus was so important.
May God bless you on your journey. Let us pray today for all married couples, that they live out their oath of marriage the way God intended.