The Israelite society is a tribal society. The family is the axis of the community. The individual’s link to the legal and economic structures of their society through the family. Having said that, the patriarch of the clam is the representative of the clan. The patriarch is the one responsible for the economy well-being of the family. He enforces the law, and he is responsible for taking care of his own. Hence, the identity of an individual in ancient Israel was the identity of their father, their gender, and their birth order.
The identity of an individual in ancient Israel was the identity of their father, their gender, and their birth order.
The term “family” in ancient Israel reflects the centrality of the patriarch. The basic household of Israelite society is known as the “father’s household.” In this patriarchal society when a man married he remained in the household, but when a woman married she joined the bêtʾāb of her new husband. To illustrate, we look at how Rebecca’s marriage transferred her to the household of Isaac in Genesis 24. She left her father’s household in Haran and journeyed to Canaan to marry.
Consistently, it was the patriarch of the household who bore both legal and economic responsibility for the household. In extreme situations, he decided who lived and who died, who was sold into slavery and who was preserved within the family unit. The father’s word is law in the family. How many families can say this is true for their family today?
An example of this from the Bible is the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38:6–26, when Tamar has become a member of Judah’s bêtʾāb by marriage, but is currently a widow. Although she is apparently no longer living with Judah, she is still under his authority. When Tamar was discovered to be pregnant, the townspeople reported her crime to Judah, and not to any other authority. In this society, they expect the patriarch of the person’s bêtʾāb to administer justice. Judah commands the townspeople, “Bring her out and let her be burned!” (Gen 38:24). As the head of her household, Judah’s judgment carried the power of life and death for Tamar.
Families in the old testament: a Sociological analysis
Kingship of Patriarchs
The office of kingship was the embodiment of the father’s secular duties, specifically for leadership and governing. The father is the leader of his clan, and his notion of justice prevails over the household.
The patriarchal family can be understood within a pastoral society wherein the relationships were highly developed in kinship. The kinship system is unilineal and patrilineal. Children belonged judicially to the father, though the role of the mother was still of importance.
Patriarchs as Priests
There was no professional class of priests in the age before the Levitical priesthood. The foundation for the religion of the patriarchs was the natural family order. The authority is passed from father to son. Sacrifices were not offered at designated sites, instead at the discretion of the patriarchs. Sacred actions, such as building altars (Gen. 12:8), planting trees (Gen. 21:33), offering sacrifice (Gen. 8:20), and erecting pillars (Gen. 28:11-22) are made by the command of the patriarch.
Priesthood is inseparable from fatherhood (Job 1:5).
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