Rebekah's view of the process of her 'arranged' marriage

Discussion in '2003 Archive' started by Danpech, Dec 27, 2003.

  1. Danpech

    Danpech
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    I have a very unusual request.

    First, the subject:

    Genesis 24 consists of the event of the marriage of Isaac, from beginning to end. In Genesis 24:65, Rebekah, upon being informed that the man toward which her entourage was travelling was the man she had come to marry, is recorded as having covered herself with a vail (veil).

    Second, a little purpose and background for my requestion:

    My purpose is to determine why Rebekah covered herself with a vail (I will refer to this as 'the basic question'). The reason I have this purpose is so that I can put the conventional interpretations on trial. The reason I want to put them on trial is because I disagree with them. I found myself with the basic question by way of a very unusual route, and have now studied the matter at length in mostly very unusual ways. And, I'm especially looking for this effort to be made by women, not by men.

    Third, the basic question in a little more detail:

    When Rebekah was informed that the man up ahead was Isaac (vs. 65), did she assume that he knew what that woman (herself) in the entourage was doing here in his neighborhood? In other words, at the point at which she covered herself with the vail, did Rebekah assume that Isaac assumed he was engaged to her? In still other words, did she assume that he, upon seeing her, had identified her as his bride?

    Now, my unusual request:

    I want you to try to look at the basic question as if for the first time. But, I want this effort to be as interpretively pure as possible: First, try to imagine yourself a small child again, with no particular cultural expectations. Then, while you try to look at the basic question in this child-like way, refuse to impute into the problem any ideas that any 'authoritative' source has ever told you about why Rebekah covered herself with the vail. Once you can maintain this simple mental framework, only then examine the claims made by others as to why Rebekah did this. In short, what I'm looking for here is to put the 'authoriative' claims on trial in the purest, most neutral way possible. I think I have done so myself already, but I want people to try to do the same and then to explain to me why they come to the conclusions they come to.
    ---


    My most basic assumption is that this was not strickly an 'arranged' marriage, because I reject as unjust the idea that parents have the right to simply decide who their children shall marry and the children have no right to decline their parent's choice. Here are just a few of my working assumptions:

    1) Isaac had not been informed by anyone that his father had done anything, per se, to get him a wife. This would parallel what seems to be the case of Adam's own 'arranged' marriage to Eve: God had told Adam nothing about what was going on, and then, when Adam awoke from (deep) sleep, there was Eve walking into his presence.

    2) Regardless of 1), when Isaac saw the camel train coming toward him, he had no way to identify which woman, if any, had agreed to marry him. If we assume 1), then, Isaac did not know what that camel train was doing there. Even if we reject 1), we still have the disjunct as to whether Isaac: a)knew, or b)didn't know, what this camel train was doing there. If we assume a), then we still have the further disjunct as to whether Isaac could have: c)identified, or d)could not have identified, his potential bride prior to being informed by Abraham's servant (vs. 66).

    3) In keeping with 2), if not also with 1), Rebekah assumed that Isaac had not identifed her as his (potential) bride even at the point at which the servant told her that the man up ahead was the man she had come to marry.

    4) The passages in this chapter which seem to say that this was strickly an 'arranged' marriage are only of the same value as those passages in other chapters the nature of those other events of which are much debated amongst Bible apologists. The most striking of those other events is the one that begins with God's request to Abraham to sacrific Isaac (Genesis 22). The debate over the nature of that event is initially centered on the portion of text within that event that seems to say that God had required of Abraham nothing but obedience per se (especially vs. 18). A much lesser of those other events is the one whose text is Genesis 38, and the debate within which is whether Tamar's vail (veil) served as a sign of a prostitute, or as merely a covering to hide Tamar's identity from Judah (vs. 15).

    5)Rebekah was surprised to find that the man up ahead was the man she had come to marry. If this was strickly an 'arranged' marriage, then, with the riches that Isaac had, Abraham would have made Isaac ready to meet his bride, by making sure Isaac was washed, clothed richly, etc.. As rich as she knew Isaac must be, from the gifts that had been brought in exchange for a wife for Isaac, Rebekah expected to meet Isaac in some rich setting and dressed in rich clothes. She did not meet him that way at all, and was surprised. Thus, in keeping with 2) and 3), she acted as any modest young woman of her culture would act in the sudden presence of an unmarried man: cover her face with a veil. Upon their meeting, Isaac looked like a dusty servant, dressed in common clothes---just like the way Jesus was when the world first met him face to face.
     
  2. Deacon

    Deacon
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    I’m not quite sure where you’re going with your questions!

    The narrative of Genesis 24 needs to be put into its historical context.
    What were the customs of the day?
    What was the role or social status of an unmarried young woman at that time?

    Your “basic assumption about the text is based on what you feel should be “just”. That is a poor way to start a study!
    At that time a price was paid to the family of the bride, (verse 53). The practice is still carried out in some cultures: In Papua New Guinea the bride price is swine; if you are a ‘twenty pig’ wife you would be worthy. American culture is the opposite; the brides’ family traditionally pays the costs of the wedding. (With three daughters I will be starting a new tradition of allowing sharing of the costs ;) ) These customs don’t need to be classified as just or unjust, they just are.

    In the patriarchal society the daughter would be a passive subject, a possession to be given as necessary to increase the wealth of the ‘family’. Even so, Abrahams servant gave gifts to Rebecca and to other members of the family, which would increase her willingness to come with him and increase the willingness of the family members to let her go.

    Regarding the veil; the veiling of a woman before her future husband seems to be a custom of the time, we carry out the same custom in abbreviated form at the wedding ceremony. Later on in Genesis we find Abrahams grandson Jacob, being deceived into marrying the wrong woman. (Genesis 29:16-30) Was she veiled? (or perhaps he had to much to drink at the feast, maybe both).

    They didn’t travel by auto or train; it was by camel. I’ve read reports about riding camels, it’s not something you would do for very long given a chose. Most of the troop probably walked. It’s rather uncomfortable. On the ride home the caravan included Rebecca and Abraham’s servant, the servants’ helpers (vs 32, 59) and Rebecca’s nurse and her servants (vs .59-61). So Rebecca was unveiled in the presence of other men before meeting Isaac. No cell phones either, so the timing of the arrival would not be an exact thing. More importantly, there was some attempt to delay the departure by Rebecca’s family (vs. 55,56). Upon seeing Isaac, Rebecca didn’t know who he was. The servant of Isaac/Abraham told her when she inquired, then she veiled herself. Isaac, likewise wouldn’t know exactly which woman of the troop was destined to be his wife until the servant related the events.(vs 66) (unless of course she was dress differently or acted differently, hence the veiling.
    We don’t know if Isaac knew before hand that Abraham had sent his servant on this task, only that once told of the purpose, he accepted his Master’s (Abraham and the Lord) will.

    What are we to make of this?
    Should all marriages be arranged like Isaac’s. No, that’s a cultural distinction and not important to the purpose of the story.
    Should women veil themselves? That again is not being taught here, though the aspect of veiling may deal with a woman’s modesty.
    Should we require the husband’s family to pay a bride price, (sounds good to me), No, again it’s a cultural norm of the time and changes.

    Trust in the Lord with all your heart …

    Rob
     

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