King Rehoboam of Judah loves Maachah "above all his wives and concubines." Considering the fact that Rehoboam has eighteen wives and sixty concubines (by whom he has twenty-eight sons and sixty daughters), Maachah has to be quite a woman.

But Maachah may also be a bad influence. For under Rehoboam, Judah does "evil in the sight of the Lord." Idolatry runs rampant, as the people erect high places, pillars, and sacred poles (asherim) "on every high hill, and under every green tree." The land is also full of qedeshim, cult functionaries forbidden by Yahweh--though "sodomites" (KJV) and "male temple prostitutes" (NRSV) are dubious translations of qedeshim (literally "holy ones''; see PROSTITUTION). In sum, the Judahites commit "all the abominations" of the Canaanites before them. (See Leviticus 18 for a list of these offenses.)

The extent of Maachah's influence is conjectural, but she is the mother of Abijah (aka Abijam), who, as king after Rehoboam's death, walks "in all the sins of his father" (and has almost as many wives). As queen mother, Maachah outlives even Abijah. However, she runs afoul of her grandson Asa, who as king embarks on religious reform. Asa tears down an idol that Maachah has built in honor of Asherah--a goddess who may have been worshipped as a consort of Yahweh (see ASHERAH)--and ceremoniously burns it. Asa then deposes Maachah as queen mother.

Her reign thus ends in disgrace, and some reign it was. Yahweh's people had never gone "a-whoring after other gods" (see HARLOTRY) moreso than under Rehoboam (and Abijah) and his beloved queen Maachah. (1 Kgs. 14:21-24; 15:1-3,9-13; 2 Chr. 11:21-22) (On to AHAB AND JEZEBEL)



MANDRAKES: "Laid Up for Thee"

The flowering plant mandragora or mandrake, with a root fancied to resemble the human body, was believed in biblical times to be an aphrodisiac and fertility aid.

In Genesis, when her son Reuben brings Leah some mandrakes that he found in the field, her barren sister Rachel talks Leah out of them by letting her sleep that night with Jacob, the husband whom they share. Thus the mandrakes work for Leah after all, as she proceeds to have three more children before Rachel finally conceives one of her own (30:14-22).

In the Song of Solomon, the woman tells her lover that over the doors mandrakes and other "pleasant fruits" are "laid up for thee" (7:13). The Hebrew word for mandrakes is duda'im, which is appropriately similar to dodim, the word used in the Song for lovemaking. (See LOVEMAKING: TO KNOW IN THE BIBLICAL SENSE.)

Mandrake image / Merriam-Webster Online

MARRIAGE: "They Shall Be One Flesh"

"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be one flesh." That's how Genesis (2:24, quoted in Mark 10:7-8 and Eph. 5:31) idealizes marriage, an institution for which there is no single word in biblical Hebrew. In fact there are no words for "husband" and "wife," the Hebrew words so translated being baal ("master" or "lord") and ishah ("woman"), words that more clearly reflect the nature of biblical marriage. As discussed elsewhere (see GENDER), Hebrew society was patriarchal; its women were second-class citizens, treated basically as men's childbearing property. This status was scripturally a result of the Fall, with God telling Eve, "(Thy husband) shall rule over thee" (Gen. 3:16). A Hebrew man, moreover, could rule over more than one woman (see CONCUBINES: "MANY STRANGE WOMEN"). So a man and a woman in marriage may have been "one flesh," but it was more his flesh than hers, and was subject to more flesh being added. The only scriptural limit was that Hebrew men were not to marry non-Hebrew women, Yahweh having chosen Israel as "a special people unto himself" (Deut. 7:2-8). As in the case of Moses, this limit was often ignored. (See especially EZRA: "YE HAVE TAKEN STRANGE WIVES").

A young man or woman's first marriage was customarily arranged by the parents involved. The bridegroom's family provided the bride's father with a mohar or marriage price, at which time the bride, in Schiffman and Achtemeier's words, was "transferred" from her father's house "into her husband's jurisdiction." The statement in Genesis that a man "shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife" is misleading, as in fact a woman would leave her father and her mother and would cleave to her husband. As Raphael Patai notes, the husband would ordinarly not leave his father and his mother, but would stay on, eventually adding children of his own, as part of the large extended family typical of the biblical Hebrews.

While marriages were arranged, a young man, given the androcentric (male-centered) nature of biblical society, was in a better position than a woman to have his preference considered. Thus Samson talks his parents into getting for him a Philistine woman (Judg. 14:2), and the Hivite Shechem asks his father to get for him the Hebrew Dinah, whom Shechem has already raped (see SHECHEM AND DINAH). The passive Isaac, on the other hand, has to settle for whomever a servant of his father brings back for him from Mesopotamia. Isaac lucks out, as the servant shows up with Rebekah.

A man could also win a particular woman as a prize. Thus Caleb offers his daughter Achsah as a wife to whomever takes the town of Debir during the conquest of Canaan. Achsah is won by Othniel, Caleb's nephew (Josh. 15:15-17; Judg. 1:11-13). Saul offers his daughter Michal to David if David can deliver one hundred Philistine foreskins. David brings in an extra hundred (1 Sam. 18:20-27).

Little is known of marriage ceremonies in biblical times other than what tidbits the Bible provides. We are told, for example, that the wedding feasts of Jacob and Samson each last seven days (Gen. 29:27-28; Judg. 14:10-12), and that of Tobias fourteen (Tobit 8:19-20). Jesus attends a wedding in Cana at which the guests guzzle down all the wine, necessitating divine intervention (John 2:1-10). Such festive consumption, combined with the bride's veil and the darkness, may explain how Jacob could spend his wedding night with the wrong woman and not know it till the following day (Gen. 29:21-25).

If a man took a wife and claimed that he "found her (to be) not a maid" (which meant she had "played the whore in her father's house"), and her father could not refute this by producing "the tokens of (her) virginity" (a bloodied bed cloth from her wedding night), the law called for the woman to be stoned to death. But if the man was judged to have lied, thus bringing "an evil name upon a virgin of Israel," he would be whipped, had to pay her father a hundred shekels of silver, and had to keep the woman for the rest of his life (Deut. 22:13-21).

A man didn't have to lie to get out of a marriage, as simply not liking something about one's wife was sufficient grounds, according to the law, to write her a bill of divorcement, after which she was free to belong to some other man (Deut. 24:1-2). The New Testament takes exception to this: to divorce a woman and marry another, says Jesus, is to commit adultery (unless the divorce is on grounds of "fornication"), and a divorced woman who remarries commits adultery too, as does the fellow who marries her (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11-12). "What therefore God hath joined together," says Christ, "let not man put asunder" (Mark 10:9).

The Old Testament in any case urges men to make the most of their marriages. "Rejoice with the wife of thy youth," says Proverbs, "and be thou ravished always with her love" (5:18-19). To the pessimistic author of Ecclesiastes, marriage helps make life worth living: "Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity" (9:9). The Hebrews, commanded to "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28), also prized large families, hence the importance of a man staying married. Under the Hebrew levirate law (from levir, "brother-in-law"), a man was even obliged to marry his brother's widow if the brother died childless, to produce children in the brother's name (Deut. 25:5-10; see ONAN AND TAMAR and JUDAH AND TAMAR.)

Marriage is less important, and in fact discouraged by Paul as a worldly distraction, in the New Testament, due to the first Christians' view that the world is soon coming to an end. (See LOVEMAKING: TO KNOW IN THE BIBLICAL SENSE and PAUL: "BETTER TO MARRY THAN TO BURN.") Still, marriage is described as "honourable in all, and the bed undefiled" (Heb. 13:4). Husbands are told, "Love your wives" (Eph. 5:26), and wives, lest they forget their place, are told to "submit" (Col. 3:18) and "be in subjection" (1 Pet. 3:1), "for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church" (Eph. 5:23). Young wives, says Titus 2:4-5, should "be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed."

The Old Testament prophets portray the relationship between Yahweh and the Israelite people as that of husband and wife, but with Israel continually committing adultery, "a-whoring" after the Canaanite god Baal and other idols. Israel is not only divorced by Yahweh (Jer. 3:8) but violently punished for her unfaithfulness (see HOSEA, ISAIAH, JEREMIAH, and EZEKIEL; on the issue of domestic violence in such passages, see YAHWEH). Yahweh promises, however, to take Israel back: "Thou shalt call me Ishi ('my man'), and shalt call me no more Baali ('my master')," says Yahweh in a play on words, "and I will betroth thee unto me for ever" (Hos. 2:16,19). In the New Testament, Christ upon his return is similarly to betroth, his bride being the church: "The marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready," and "Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:7-9). (See also JERUSALEM: "AS A BRIDE ADORNED.")

Paolo Veronese, The Marriage at Cana (detail) / Mark Harden's Artchive




Among Jesus Christ's followers, "ministering unto him," were "certain women" who "had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities" (Matt. 27:55; Luke 8:2). One of these women was "Mary called Magdalene" (that is, Mary of Magdala, a town in Galilee), out of whom Jesus "had cast seven devils" (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). Mary and "many other women" looked on from afar when Jesus was crucified (Matt . 27:55; Mark 15:40), she and "Mary the mother of James and Joses" sat by the sepulcher in which Jesus was entombed (Matt. 27:61), and the two Marys later brought spices to the sepulcher with the intention of anointing the body. It was to Mary Magdalene that Christ first appeared following his resurrection (Mark 16:9; John 20:1-18). Exclaiming "Rabboni!" ("Teacher!"), Mary embraced him, or tried to, prompting the risen Lord to tell her (in the original Greek of John's gospel), "me mou uptou" ("Do not cling to me" or "Do not hold on to me"), translated in Latin as "Noli me tangere" ("Do not touch me") (John 20:17).

It seems, based on the biblical text, that Mary Magdalene was an affectionate lady with some physical or psychological problems. But what did she do to get a bad reputation? The traditional view of her as a penitent whore seems to be literally a case of mistaken identity. There is no reason why Mary Magdalene should be identified with Luke's "woman in the city, which was a sinner"(7:37-50), John's "woman taken in adultery" (8:3-11), or anyone else. Nor should Mary be faulted for coming from Magdala, a reputedly wicked town, which may be why she left it. As for the "seven devils," demon possession was associated with sickness, not sin.

The fact is that demonizing as a sinner this woman who had been a leader among Jesus' disciples (at least after the top twelve males) fit the patriarchal agenda of the church in the late first century and afterward. Put in her place by a celibate male hierarchy, the penitent Mary, to quote Susan Haskins's excellent study of the Magdalene, "can stand as a metaphor for the historically subordinate position of women in Christianity." (See GENDER and PAUL.)

There is virtually nothing in the Bible to suggest that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' lover or wife (trying to embrace her "Teacher" hardly counts). But the concept of something special between them is found not just in fringe works such as Holy Blood, Holy Grail (summarized in Haskins). The Jesus Seminar, an international group of biblical scholars formed in 1985, has expressed the view that Jesus and the Magdalene probably had "a special relationship" (see Funk et al). Such a relationship is reflected in two extrabiblical Gnostic works. According to the third-century Gospel of Philip, Jesus loved "his companion" Mary more than all the other disciples, and often kissed her on the mouth, to the annoyance of the other disciples. And in the second-century Gospel of Mary, the disciple Levi defends Mary against Peter (who asks, "Did [the Saviour] really speak with a woman without our knowledge [and] not openly? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?") by saying, "But if the Saviour made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Saviour knows her very well. That is why He loved her more than us." (See also JESUS CHRIST.) (On to PAUL)

Correggio, Noli Me Tangere / Museo del Prado, Madrid



MENSTRUATION: Seven Lonely Days

"You shall be holy," Yahweh tells the children of Israel, "for the Lord your God is holy" (Lev. 17:2). In the so-called Holiness Code (Leviticus chapters 17-26), the Bible includes issues of semen and blood among things that for the Hebrews are "unclean," not in the sense of being dirty--see LOVEMAKING: TO KNOW IN THE BIBLICAL SENSE--but in the mysterious sense of being taboo, requiring ritual purification. Thus a man with an issue of semen and the woman with whom he has lain are to bathe in water and are "unclean till the evening" (Lev. 15:16-18). Purification takes longer, of course, for a menstruating woman. She is to be "put apart for her uncleanness" for seven days (Lev. 18:19). Any man who lies with her during this time is also unclean for seven days, anyone who touches her is unclean till the evening, and "everything that she sitteth upon shall be unclean" (Lev. 15:19-24).

Three well-known biblical women bear mentioning on the subject of menstruation. Bathsheba is either irresistible or else doesn't let on to King David, who makes love to her before she's through purifying (2 Sam. 11:4). In the apocryphal Additions to Esther, Queen Esther abhors her crown "like a menstrual rag" (14:16). And when Rachel in Genesis (31:19-35) steals her father Laban's household gods (teraphim), she comes up with a sure way of not getting caught: in her tent she hides the gods under a camel saddle and sits on it. When Laban comes hunting for the figurines, Rachel apologizes for not getting up, saying, "The custom of women is upon me." Laban doesn't dare touch either her or the saddle, and thus doesn't find his gods.

To the prophet Ezekiel, going near a woman who is menstruating is just as bad as committing adultery or idolatry (18:5). (Ezekiel doesn't like women, period. See EZEKIEL.) Yet Jesus, when a woman who suffers from a twelve-year "flow of blood" touches his garment, stops to speak with and heal her (Matt. 9:20-22; Mark 5:24-34; Luke 8:43-48).

Giambattista Tiepolo, Rachel Hides the Idols / Palazzo Patriarcale, Udine

METHUSELAH: You're Never Too Old

The oldest man in the Bible is Noah's grandfather Methuselah, who lived for nine hundred and sixty-nine years. Methuselah is eighth in the ten-man Sethite genealogy, a list of who begat whom from Adam's third son Seth down to Noah, who was six hundred years old at the time of the Flood. (The average number of years lived in the Sethite genealogy is seven hundred and sixty-five years--though Enoch, whom God called home alive after only three hundred and sixty-five years, shouldn't count.)

Methuselah was a relatively young one hundred and eighty-seven when he begat his first son Lamech. Methuselah "begat (other) sons and daughters," though we don't know if he quickened his pace in begetting. If Methuselah fathered only one child every one hundred and eighty-seven years, he would have five kids, with one more on the way, before he died, we may assume of old age. (Gen. 5:25-27) (On to LAMECH, THE WORLD'S FIRST POLYGAMIST)



MISOGYNY: "Adam Was Not Deceived"






J. James Tissot (1836-1902
Rebecca Meets Isaac by the Way
Christian Theological Seminary

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