Yamauchi - Wilson - Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity

Edwin M. Yamauchi and Marvin R. Wilson - Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2014. – 2000 p. eBook ISBN 978-1-68307-362-8  The Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity (DDL), to be issued in three volumes, was a project begun 30 years ago with the collaboration of the distinguished Old Testament scholar Roland K. Harrison (1920–1993), to whom Marvin Wilson and I dedicate this reference work. In the original conception

Edwin M. Yamauchi and Marvin R. Wilson - Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity

Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2014. – 2000 p.
eBook ISBN 978-1-68307-362-8
The Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity (DDL), to be issued in three volumes, was a project begun 30 years ago with the collaboration of the distinguished Old Testament scholar Roland K. Harrison (1920–1993), to whom Marvin Wilson and I dedicate this reference work. In the original conception of the project, Harrison, Wilson, and I were to write all the articles for a work entitled Dictionary of Bible Manners and Customs. It subsequently became expedient to engage the research and writing skills of other select scholars of the ancient world.
While there are many excellent Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias, and popular books on biblical backgrounds available, I had noticed a serious deficiency. I noted that while every one of these had an entry on “Abomination,” none (with the exception of the six-volume Anchor Bible Dictionary) had an entry on “Abortion. ” Why was this the case? It was because these references were keyed to the words which occurred in the Bible.
From my 40 years of teaching the history of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, early Judaism, and early Christianity, I was well aware of the widespread practice of abortion, contraception, and infanticide in these societies and epochs. I therefore proposed a new framework for the DDL, one based on the Human Relations Area Files, an anthropological grid of human society, which would systematically and comparatively survey different aspects of culture, whether they were highlighted in the Bible or not.
The biblical texts were not intended to give us a complete representation of their worlds. In fact, they take for granted what was well known to both the writers and readers, but of which we are not aware. It is as though we hear the vocalization of an operatic libretto, but do not see the scenery and the costumes of the singers. Thanks, however, to extra-biblical texts and archaeology, we are able to recreate much of the background for the Bible.
For example, what did ancient people eat and drink? In the essay on FOOD PRODUCTION, one will learn that before the introduction of rotary mills, housewives had to labor on hands and knees about four hours a day to grind wheat and barley for their daily bread. Most of the bread in the ancient world was flat (unleavened) bread, because the predominant emmer wheat and the barley in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece did not have the gluten necessary to cause bread to rise.
From the articles on CLOTHING, DYES, LAUNDRY, and TEXTILES, one would learn that white linen was the preferred textile in Egypt, and was worn by Israelite priests and New Testament angels. How was Jesus dressed? Jesus’ sole garments, except for his burial shroud, were woolen. As wool was not easily laundered, his clothes would have been dirty except for the moment of his transfiguration.
How did Jesus appear? From the article on BARBERS & BEARDS, we can conclude with near certainty that Jesus had a beard. Why? Men in antiquity could not shave themselves. They had to resort either to slaves or to barbers for a shave. Moreover, beards were a symbol of masculinity and seniority. The Old Testament word for “elders” is literally “bearded ones. ”
Where did people live? This would have varied from place to place and from one time period to another. From the article on DWELLINGS, one would learn that in the Old Testament era in Palestine most would have lived in houses with flat roofs and courtyards full of animals. In Rome, 95% of the people would have lived in insulae, crowded tenements without kitchens or bathrooms.
What about the relations between men and women? From the ar­ticles on EDUCATION and MARRIAGE, one would learn a striking fact, which is missing from both the Old and the New Testaments—the average age of spouses. We learn from our extra-biblical evidence that the bride would have certainly been a young teenager, and the groom several years her senior. The early marriage of girls, to preserve their purity, meant that they had only at best a primary education, with the exception of those from wealthy Roman families, which could afford private tutors for their daughters.
The DDL is also quite unique in attempting to trace the developments of the features of the biblical world along what the French historians of the Annales School have called the longue durée, that is, over the centuries after the New Testament era. It is instructive to understand how the Jewish rabbis, in following the traditions of the Pharisees, debated over the application of biblical laws in changing circumstances, and how the Church Fathers also responded to these same developments.
Rather than attempting to cover all possible topics, we have chosen to concentrate on 120 subjects, not because of their prominence in the biblical text but because of their significant roles in the ancient world. For example, ASTROLOGY, DREAMS, MAGIC, and DIVINATION & SORTITION (i. e. , the casting of lots) are mentioned sparingly in the biblical texts themselves but they were dominant facets of life in antiquity.
* * *
Sexual intercourse between a married or betrothed woman and someone other than her husband was regarded in all societies as a serious offense, since it compromised the paternity of any heirs. Sexual intercourse between a married man and a woman who was not another man’s wife was not usually considered adultery.
Ancient Near Eastern, Greek, and Roman laws were concerned with protecting the rights of husbands and father, and most ancient cultures did not view sexual relations between a married man and an unmarried woman a punishable offense. Spartan practice was singular in permitting married women to engage in sexual intercourse with persons other than their husbands, while early Christian law was singular in allowing husbands as well as wives to be tried for adultery.
The seventh commandment forbids adultery (Exod 20:14; Deut 5:18), while the tenth commandment forbids coveting a neighbor’s wife (Exod 20:17). Although husbands were exhorted to be faithful (Prov 5:15–20), they were guilty of adultery only when they consorted with married women (Lev 18:20). A betrothed woman who committed adultery was also judged worthy of death (Deut 22:23–24). Spiritually sensitive men were aware that adultery was not only a crime against a wife’s husband but also a grievous sin against God (Gen 39:9; 2 Sam 11–12).
Both parties involved in adultery could be subject to capital punishment according to the Torah (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22), though we have no instance of such a penalty being exacted in the OT. Proverbs 6:34–35 implies that a husband could accept compensation from the adulterer, instead of exacting vengeance. Jeremiah 3:8 indicates that the adulteress would be divorced. Jeremiah 3:10–13 may indicate the possibility of her return to her husband.
Adultery is a frequent metaphor for spiritual apostasy (Jer 2:23–25; Ezek 16:35–41 and 23; Hos 1–3). As these metaphors were based on actual practice, it appears that women judged guilty of adultery would be subject to the public humiliation of disrobing (Isa 47:3; Jer 13:22–26; Ezek 16:36–41; Hos 2:4–10). A wife who was suspected of adultery could be required to undergo the ordeal of “bitter water” (Num 5:11–31) to demonstrate her innocence.
David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and compounded the sin of adultery with murder by sending her husband Uriah to the front lines, where he was certain to be killed (2 Sam 11). When confronted by Nathan, David repented (cf. Ps 51).
According to Matt 5:32 and 19:8, 9, divorce was prohibited except in the case of adultery. Joseph when he discovered Mary with child was disposed to divorce her, because it appeared that she had committed adultery (Matt 1:19).
Christians condemned not only moicheia (“adultery”), but also porneia (“fornication”) or all forms of immoral conduct including sexual misbehavior by men with unmarried women, conduct condoned by pagans (1 Cor 6:18–20). Jesus declared that even lustful thoughts constitute adultery (Matt 5:27–28), and that to remarry after divorce was to commit adultery (Mark 10:2–9; Matt 5:31–32; 19:3–9).
Though not found in the early NT manuscripts, the pericope of the adulterous woman (John 7:53–8:11) is regarded by most scholars as a genuine tradition. Such a story was known to Papias (2nd c. AD), the Didascalia Apostolorum (3rd c. AD), and to Didymus the Blind (4th c. AD). It was clearly a trap by the Pharisees to bait Jesus either into defying the Law of Moses, or into initiating capital punishment, which had not been customary. In this pericope nothing is said of the adulterer or the husband. The witnesses to the adultery would usually have cast the first stones.
In Mesopotamia a few texts speak of divine anger against adultery. A hymn to Ninurta declares,
A man who covets his neighbour’s wife
Will [ . . .] before his appointed day.
A nasty snare is prepared for him (BWL, 131).
The earliest law code, that of Ur-Nammu, declared: “If the wife of a man . . . followed after another man and he slept with her, they . . . shall slay that woman, but that male . . . shall be set free” (ANET, 524). Since the male was let free, the assumption must have been that he did not know she was a married woman.
According to the Code of Hammurabi a woman who was accused of infidelity could prove her innocence by taking an oath or undergoing the ordeal of casting herself into the river (CH 131–132). A guilty pair caught in flagrante delicto could be bound together and thrown into the river. If the husband, however, spared his wife, the king could spare the guilty man (CH 129; ANET, 171). CH 153 calls for the impaling of a woman whose husband was murdered by her lover.
According to the Middle Assyrian Law 12 the seduction in public of a married woman who resisted was a capital offense. The MAL 13 decreed, “When a seignior’s wife has left her own house and has visited a(nother) seignior where he is living, if he has lain with her, knowing that she was a seignior’s wife, they shall put that seignior to death and the woman as well” (ANET, 181). A man would be guilty of adultery only if he were aware that the woman he had seduced was a married woman (MAL 14). Instead of execution, mutilation was permitted by the MAL 15: “if he cuts off his wife’s nose, he shall turn the seignior into a eunuch and they shall mutilate his whole face” (ANET,181). However, if he spared his wife, he had to allow the adulterer to go free.
An Old Babylonian tale of an adultery trial at Nippur has the husband binding his wife and her lover to the bed, and bringing them thus before the court. The adulterous wife had her pudenda shaved, and her nose bored with an arrow. She was then led naked around the city.
The possibility that a husband could falsely accuse his wife is conveyed by a proverb, “What the (accused) adultress says at the door of the judge’s house carries more weight than the words of her husband” (Oppenheim, 170). A number of Neo-Babylonian marriage agreements refer to the possibility of a wife committing adultery. Should such a wife “be discovered with another man, she will die by the iron dagger” (Roth).
The Hittite Law 197 decreed: “If a man seizes a woman in the mountains, it is the man’s crime and he will be killed. But if he seizes her in (her) house, it is the woman’s crime and the woman shall be killed. If the husband finds them (that is, in the act), he may kill them, there shall be no punishment for him” (ANET, 196). If he brought them before the palace and wished to spare his wife, the adulterer was also spared, though his head was marked.
According to the Egyptian Westcar Papyrus a magician arranged to have a crocodile seize the adulterer, and for his wife to be burnt. In “The Tale of the Two Brothers” concerning the brothers Anubis and Bata, the story relates how the wife of Anubis tried to seduce her brother-in-law. The outraged husband had his wife killed and her body thrown to the dogs (ANET, 24). Short of execution, those guilty could be publicly flogged or mutilated by having their ears or noses cut off, or they could be banished to the stone quarries or to Nubia.
As part of the Negative Confession in the Book of the Dead a man would claim, “I did not commit adultery with a married woman.” A husband could have sexual relations with servant girls with impunity, though one part of the Negative Confession has a man claiming, “I did not covet my servant-girl” (Budge, 385).
The Instruction of Ankhsheshonq advised a husband who discovered his wife with another man to divorce her as quickly as possible. Adultery was the most frequent cause for divorce. Later settlements of the 22nd–26th Dyn. stipulated that the husband would make certain divorce payments “except for the great sin which is found in woman.” A papyrus from 492 BC indicated that if a wife loved another man more than her husband, this very fact called for divorce.
A letter from a woman at Deir el-Medinah reports the outrage of the community of tomb workers at a foreman named Paneb, who was accused of committing adultery with two wives. He was brought before a tribunal and rebuked. In the Ptolemaic period some religious associations expelled a member who committed adultery with another member’s wife.
A Greek contract from Egypt includes the following provisions to protect a wife from an adulterous husband: “Herakleides is not permitted to take another woman, which would be injurious to Demetria. . . . If he is caught out in such an act, she will denounce him before three arbitrators chosen by them both. Let him return to her the dowry of 1,000 drachmas, and as well pay in amends 1,000 drachmas of Alexandrian silver” (Hunt and Edgar, 3).
It was claimed that there could be no adultery in Sparta, since in their concern to engender as many healthy male babies as possible, the Spartans allowed wives to consort with other men with the husbands’ permission.
Moicheia or adultery involved the seduction of a wife or the recognized concubine of a citizen. Seduction was considered more reprehensible than rape and was severely punished. If an adulterer were caught in flagrante delicto he could be maltreated, forced to pay a heavy compensation, or even killed by the outraged husband. A vivid speech, “On the Killing of Eratosthenes the Seducer,” was written by Lysias (4th c. BC) to defend a husband who had killed the seducer of his wife. The husband had to divorce his adulteress wife or be disenfranchised. The adulteress was not permitted to attend the temples or wear ornaments; if she did, a citizen could tear off her clothes and beat her up.
In the Roman Republic a husband who caught his wife and a man in the act of adultery had the right to kill her and to mutilate or kill her lover. If there were evidence that she was unfaithful, he summoned a tribunal including members of her family to judge her. If found guilty, she could be condemned to death or could be divorced with her husband retaining a portion of her dowry.
The Romans adhered to a double standard in which a wife could not take any legal action against an unfaithful husband. The elder Cato declared: “If you should take your wife in adultery, you may with impunity put her to death without trial. If you commit adultery or indecency yourself, she dare not lay a finger on you, and she has no legal right to do so.” The old slave Syra in Plautus’s play Mercator complained: “Why, if a husband has brought home some strumpet, unbeknown to his wife, and she finds it out, the husband goes scot free. But once a wife steps out of the house unbeknown to her husband, he has his ground and she’s divorced. Oh, I wish there was the same rule for the husband as for the wife!”
In 18 BC Augustus passed the Lex Julia de adulteriis to make adultery a public crime and to establish a court to hear cases against married women. The adulterer would be tried first. If he were found guilty, there would then be a trial for the woman. In case of his wife’s adultery the husband was required to divorce his wife, who would be exiled to an island. The adulterer would also be banished but to a different island. A husband who failed to divorce his wife could himself be prosecuted as an adulterer.
A husband could kill with impunity a man of an inferior class such as a slave or a freedman caught in adultery. A father could kill both his daughter and the adulterer; the husband could only kill the adulterer. Since Augustus’ law made adultery a crime, a third party could prosecute with the hope of acquiring a reward, a situation which led to accusations which were politically or economically motivated. It is an irony that Augustus had to banish his own daughter Julia for her notorious adulteries.
Tacitus in his essay on the Germans commented, “Very rare for so numerous a population is adultery, the punishment for which is prompt, and in the husband’s power. Having cut off the hair of the adulteress and stripped her naked, he expels her from the house in the presence of her kinsfolk, and then flogs her through the whole village” (Germ. 18–19). This was in sharp contrast to the frequency of adulteries among the wealthy Romans of the Imperial period. Satirists such as Juvenal (Sat. 6) and Martial (Ep. 1–4) poked fun at adulterers, conniving women, and cuckolded husbands.
In singular opposition to the prevailing double standard of Roman men was the position of the Stoic Musonius Rufus. To one who would say, “even though the adulterer wrongs the husband of the seduced woman, the man who associates with a mistress or even, by Zeus, with an unmarried woman does not wrong anyone, for he does not ruin anyone’s hope for legitimate heirs,” Musonius maintained: “Unlawful relationships with women, even if they do not involve adultery, are all of them shameful since they are undertaken out of a lack of self-control” (Lec. 12; King, 55).
According to the Greek addition to Daniel, Susanna was falsely accused by two lecherous elders of adultery, but Daniel proved that they were false witnesses (Sus 37–41).
Sirach warned against the temptations of adultery, “Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman, and do not look intently at beauty belonging to another. . . . Never dine with another man’s wife, nor revel with her at wine; lest your heart turn aside to her, and in blood you be plunged into destruction” (Sir 9:8–9).
In the first century BC, a celebrated debate occurred between Hillel and Shammai over the interpretation of the phrase ‘erwat dabar in Deut 24:1. Shammai inverted the phrase and explained it as “a matter of unchastity,” and held that divorce was permissible only for adultery. According to the Mishnah, “The House of Shammai say, ‘A Man should divorce his wife only because he has found grounds for it in unchastity,’ . . . And the House of Hillel say, ‘Even if she spoiled his dish’ ” (m. Git. 9.10). According to the rabbis, two eye-witnesses were required to prove adultery (m. Sanh. 5; b. Sanh. 30a). Divorce was obligatory if the wife had committed adultery.
The ordeal of Num 5:11–31 could only be invoked if the husband were himself without fault and if she had been forewarned (m. Sotah 1.1; 6.3). The woman should be conducted to the East Gate of the Temple before the Nicanor Gate. The priest tore her dress, loosened her hair, removed all ornaments, clothed her in black, and placed a rope around her neck. He took dust from the Temple floor and mixed it in a vessel of water taken from the laver mixed with wormwood and bitter herbs (m. Sotah 2; 20a). If the woman was guilty, then according to the Mishnah (m. Sotah 3.4), “her face turns yellow and her eyes bulge and her veins swell.” It is in this passage that Ben Azzai suggests that a man should teach his daughter the Torah, in case she should have to undergo this ordeal. The rite could not be performed after the destruction of the Temple.
The Shepherd of Hermas says that a Christian husband who has discovered that his wife has committed adultery should put her away, but he should not remarry, in case she might repent and come back to him (Herm. Mand. 4.1.6; cf. Justin, 2 Apol. 2).Adultery often heads the list of vices as in the Didache (Did. 2.2.). It is condemned in numerous texts such as Justin Martyr (1 Apol. 15), Clement (Strom. 2.147), and Lactantius (Inst. 6.23).
The church fathers in interpreting Jesus’ statement on divorce held that a husband could put away an adulterous wife and a wife could leave an adulterous husband. They were not disposed to broaden the grounds for separation beyond adultery, though Origen considered it a matter of inquiry whether Jesus would have forbidden the putting away of a wife for such heinous crimes as witchcraft, infanticide, and murder. Except for rigorists such as Tertullian and Hippolytus, penitent adulterers were accepted back into fellowship.
Unlike the Western Church which permitted separation but not divorce, the Eastern Church interpreted adultery as equivalent to the death of the marriage, and in the Council at Trullo of AD 692 authorized the remarriage of divorced parties.
The church maintained a single standard of fidelity for both wives and husbands. Ambrose taught, “Every act of debauchery is adultery, nor is that permitted to a man which is not permitted to a woman” (De Abraham 1.25). Constantine altered the law so that a husband as well as a wife could be tried for adultery. Under his law the guilty parties were condemned to death; under Justinian the guilty man was condemned to death but the guilty woman was scourged and placed in a nunnery.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. A. Anderson, “Law in Old Israel: Laws concerning Adultery,” in Law and Religion, ed. B. Lindars(1988), 13–19; A. Arjava, Women and Law in Late Antiquity (1996); A. Bach, “Good to the Last Drop, Viewing the Sotah (Numbers 5.11–31),” in New Literary Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (1993), 26–54; M. Bockmuehl, “Matthew 5.32; 19.9 in the Light of Pre-Rabbinic Halakhah,” NTS 35 (1989), 291–95; E. A. W. Budge, trans., The Book of the Dead (1960 repr.); G. M. Burge, “A Specific Problem in the New Testament Text and Canon: The Woman Caught in Adultery,” JETS 27 (1984), 141–48; D. Cohen, “The Athenian Law of Adultery,” RIDA 31 (1984), 147–65; D. Daube, “The Lex Julia concerning Adultery,” The Irish Jurist 7 (1972), 373–80; P. L. Day, “Adulterous Jerusalem’s Imagined Demise: Death of a Metaphor in Ezekiel xvi,” VT 50 (2000), 285–309; W. Deming, “Mark 9.42–10.12, Matthew 5.27–32, and B. Nid. 13b: A First Century Discussion of Male Sexuality,” NTS 36 (1990), 130–41; J. D. M. Derrett, “Law in the New Testament: The Story of the Woman Taken in Adultery,” NTS 10 (1963), 1–26; K. Dover, “Classical Greek Attitudes to Sexual Behaviour,” Arethusa, 6 (1973), 59–73; M. Drori, “Inadvertent Adultery (Shgaga) in Jewish Law: Mistake of Law and Mistake of Fact,” in Authority, Process and Method: Studies in Jewish Law, ed. H. Ben-Menahem and N. S. Hecht (1998), 231–67; C. J. Eyre, “Crime and Adultery in Ancient Egypt,” JEA 70 (1984), 92–105; J. Finkelstein, “Sex Offenses in Sumerian Laws,” JAOS, 86 (1966), 355–72; M. Fishbane, “Accusations of Adultery: A Study of Law and Scribal Practice in Numbers 5:11–31,” HUCA 45 (1974), 25–45; A. Fitzgerald, “The Mythological Background for the Presentation of Jerusalem as a Queen and False Worship as Adultery in the Old Testament,” CBQ 34 (1972), 403–16; J. M. Ford, “The Divorce Bill of the Lamb and the Scroll of the Suspected Adulteress,” JSJ 2 (1971), 136–43; K. Freeman, The Murder of Herodes and Other Trials from the Athenian Law Courts (1963); T. Frymer-Kensky, “The Strange Case of the Suspected Sotah (Numbers V 11–31),” VT 34 (1984), 11–26; P. Galpaz-Feller, “Private Lives and Public Censure—Adultery in Ancient Egypt and Biblical Israel,” NEA 67 (2004), 152–61; E. A. Goodfriend, “Adultery,” ABD I, 82–86; S. Greengus, “A Textbook Case of Adultery in Ancient Mesopotamia,” HUCA, 40–41 (1969–1970), 33–44; B. A. Holmes and S. R. Holmes Winfield, “Sex, Stones, and Power Games: A Woman Caught at the Intersection of Law and Religion,” in Pregnant Passion: Gender, Sex, and Violence in the Bible, ed. C. A. Kirk-Duggan (2004), 143–62; A. S. Hunt and C. C. Edgar, “Agreements” in Select Papyri I: Private Documents (1970); W. Kornfeld, “L’adultère dans l’orient antique,” RB, 57 (1950), 92–109; L. J. Kreitzer and D. W. Rooke, ed., Ciphers in the Sand: Interpretations of the Woman Taken in Adultery (John 7.53–8.11) (2000); W. Lambert, “Morals in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Ex Oriente Lux, 15 (1957–1958), 184–96; S. Loewenstamm, “The Law of Adultery and the Law of Murder in Biblical and Mesopotamian Law,” Alter Orient und Altes Testament 204 (1980), 146–53; J. Ian H. McDonald, “The So-Called Pericope de Adultera,” NTS 41 (1995), 415–27; H. McKeating, “Sanctions against Adultery in Ancient Israelite Society,” JSOT 11 (1979), 57–72; A. Oppenheim, Letters from Mesopotamia (1967); A. Phillips, “Another Look at Adultery,” JSOT 20 (1981), 3–25; A. Richlin, “Approaches to the Sources on Adultery at Rome,” Women’s Studies 8 (1981), 225–50; W. Rordorf, “Marriage in the New Testament and in the Early Church,” JEH 20 (1969), 193–210; M. T. Roth, “ ‘She Will Die by the Iron Dagger’: Adultery and Neo-Babylonian Marriage,” JESHO 31 (1988), 186–205; R. M. Schwartz, “Adultery in the House of David,” Semeia 54 (1991), 35–55; S. Schwartz, “From Bedroom to Courtroom: The Adultery Type-scene and the Acts of Andrew,” in Mapping Gender in Ancient Religious Discourses, ed. T. Penner and C. Vander Stichele (2007), 267–311; A. Watson, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” Bib 80 (1999), 100–108; R. Westbrook, “Adultery in Ancient Near Eastern Law,” RB 97 (1990), 542–80; B. H. Young, “ ‘Save the Adulteress!’ Ancient Jewish Responsa in the Gospels?” NTS 41 (1995), 59–70.
CONTRIBUTOR: Edwin M. Yamauchi, PhD (Professor of History emeritus, Miami University).
See also the following article(s) in the Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity: DIVORCE, MARRIAGE, RAPE, and VIRGINITY.


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