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The following are many characters in Genesis who did not have Israelite mothers:
- The children of Judah whose wife, Shua, was a Canaanite
- Manasseh and Ephraim, the sons of Joseph and his Egyptian wife, Asenath
All of these characters are pillars of the Israelite tribe. Chapter 46:8 states:
The chapter then proceeds to list the names of all of Jacobs sons and their children, a group totalling seventy. Of particular importance are Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Jacob speaks of them in Chapter 48:5:
Jacob then asks to bless them and states in Chapter 48:15-16:
Jacob continues to say on his death bed in Chapter 48:20:
There can be no question that these children of an Israelite father and Egyptian mother are children of the Israelite God. The religious affiliation is unquestionably that of the father’s. At least 7 times in Genesis when a character speaks of God, he uses the reference “God of my father” or “God of your father.” These occur in Chapter 31, verses 5,29,42, Chapter 32:10, Chapter 43:23 and Chapter 46, verses 1 and 3.
An important story on the subject of intermarriage is contained in the book of Genesis, Chapter 34. This is the story of Jacob’s daughter Dinah. She has been raped by Shechem, son of Hamor, a Hivite. The story continues in verse 8:
This story makes crystal clear that it was abhorrent for the Israelites to have one of their women marry into another tribe, but that it was perfectly acceptable for their males to take as wives members of another tribe.
It is important to mention that for most characters in the Tanach, the identity of the mother is not known. In the numerous geneological listings that are given, usually, only the name of the father is stated. This is because it didn’t matter who the mother was. Your identity and social status was determined by your father.
The book of Exodus contains fewer references to the subject of miscegenation, however it does contain some important ones. Firstly, the phrase “God of my father” or “God of your father” is used several times, specifically in chapter 3:6,13,15,16, chapter 4:5, chapter 15:2 and chapter 18:4. This of course reiterates the prevalent importance of the father’s religion. In several of these instances, the reference is made to the “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” which is the basis of the “avot” prayer. It is important to note that while the Reform movement and many within the Conservative movement have added the names of the matriarchs to this prayer, the Orthodox have steadfastly refused to do so. One of the reasons they give for this is that there is no certainty that the matriarchs were actually Jewish. This renders their argument for relying only on the mother’ s religion to determine the child’s religion totally incoherent. They acknowledge on the one hand that it was not the original intent of the Torah to use the mother’s religion as identifying, but then will not follow the Torah.
The first and most important intermarriage that takes place in Exodus is in chapter 2 which details the marriage of Moses to Zippora, the daughter of a Midianite priest. Zippora had two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. Both are absolutely 100% Jewish and listed as part of the Israelite clan. The meaning of their respective names give a clear indication of their identity. Gershom means “I have been a stranger in a foreign land,” referring to the Israelites captivity in Egypt, and Eliezer means “The God of my father was my help, and he delivered me from the sword of Pharoah.” This , of course, indicates that the child is under the protection of the God of it’s father.
In chapter 6, starting with verse 14, the heads of the clans of Israel are enumerated. In verse 15, Saul is listed as being the son of Simeon and a Canaanite woman and nevertheless listed as a head of an Israelite clan, clearly indicating his complete membership within the Israelite tribe.
The establishment of one mandate from God which helps our understanding of this subject takes place in chapter 12:48-49:
The Hebrew word used for “stranger” is “ger” (gimmel,resh) which in modern Hebrew means convert. The Hebrew word used for “among” is “b-toch.” This is the first reference to what would today be considered a conversion. It is important to note that it refers only to the males, indicating that a female does not have to do anything to be accepted into the tribe. At this point it has no real importance, however we shall see in Leviticus and Numbers how this ties in to the concept of defining Jewish identity.
LEVITICUS & NUMBERS
I have decided to incorporate the Books of Leviticus and Numbers here because there are several passages relevant to this topic in both books that tie into one another. In picking up on the concept that we left off with in the previous paragraph, that of determining how the Israelites dealt with non-Jews in their midst, which are always referred to as those who dwell “amongst” them, let us look at several stories. The most important is Leviticus, chapter 24:10-23:
This, of course, directly relates to our topic, which is matrilineal versus patrilineal heritage. However, in order to properly interpret this passage, we must relate it to similar ones. I have previously cited Exodus 12:48-49. Others are Numbers 9:14:
Finally, Numbers 19, after mandating the rituals for the sacrificial slaughter of the red cow, verse 10 goes on to say:
All of these stories illustrate the phraseology used to refer to a person who is not a member of the Israelite tribe by birth, but that due to whatever circumstances, has come to be, for all practical purposes a member. These people are referred to as one who dwells, resides or lives “among” the Israelites. It is very important to look at the original Hebrew text in order to properly analyze them, as errors can be made in translation. In all of these passages except Numbers 9:14-16, the Hebrew word “b-toch” meaning among, is used when referring to those who live with the Israelites but were not born into the tribe. This is the same word used in Exodus 12:48-49. Additionally, in all of these passages the Hebrew word “ger” is also used to refer to these people, as it is in Exodus 12:48-49. All of these citations conclude that these people are subject to the same laws as the native-born Israelites. The story that most concerns us is Leviticus 24:10-23, concerning the blasphemer. This man is referred to as one who is “among” the Israelites, once again using the Hebrew word “b-toch”. This term is NEVER,EVER used in the Torah to refer to a clan member, but only to what we would call today a convert. He is referred to this way because his mother is Israelite but his father is Egyptian. Pointedly, his mother is described as being a member of the tribe of Dan, but he himself is not. Most importantly, the fight that breaks out is described as being between this “son of an Israelite woman and a certain Israelite.” It doesn’t say between two Israelites, a distinction is made in the status of the two men. In reading this story we must remember one concept that is always used when studying Torah. That is that every word in the Torah is there for a reason. They all have meaning. What is the purpose of this story? The commandment against blasphemy has already been given, along with it’s punishment. The purpose of this story, then, is to answer the question of whether the law applies equally to one who is not a member of the Israelite tribe by birthright, but that dwells among them. While the answer to this question is yes, the blasphemer who has an Israelite mother and Egyptian father is used as the example of one who is not a member by birthright. There is no story in the Torah that asks this question of one who has an Israelite father and non-Israelite mother, in spite of the many important characters with this geneology. It is assumed. What I find laughable is that I have actually seen this story cited in Orthodox texts as a support for the practice of exclusive matrilineal heritage. The use of the term “b-toch,” meaning among, the Israelites is definitive in drawing from this text that the blasphemer of an Israelite mother and Egyptian father is not an Israelite by birth. Also, the answer that Moses gives to the Israelites in verse 22 uses the Hebrew word “ger” when referring to the blasphemer. Only a person completely detached from reality could come to any other conclusion. Even if we wanted to say for the sake of argument that the blasphemer is a native of the Israelite tribe, it isn’t because of his mother. Deuteronomy 23:9, which I cite under the Deuteronomy heading, states clearly that an Egyptian must be allowed to assimilate into the Israelite tribe because the Israelites had been strangers in their land and that they can be admitted into the congregation of the Lord in the third generation. The blasphemer was at least a second generation Egyptian living among the Israelites and quite possibly a third generation,although it doesn’t say, so he would have been an Israelite because his father was an assimilated Egyptian. Other foreign tribes lived among the Israelites and were enslaved and not allowed to assimilate, but God has commanded the Israelites to allow the Egyptians to become members. Later, Solomon marries an Egyptian and this does not incur the wrath of God.
Another minor incident relevent to this topic is the marriage of Moses to a Cushite woman, which is recounted in Numbers 12:1. While there is no mention of any offspring from this union, it is clear that the Israelite men can marry whom they wish.
The previously oft-cited phrase of “God of your father” or “God of our father” appears at least four times in Deuteronomy, in chapter 1:11 and 21, 4:1, and 26:7.
The most important evidence we find in Deuteronomy, however, is in chapter 10:15:
This statement is unequivocal and requires no interpretation.
An important discussion of intermarriage takes place in chaper 23:3-9:
This clearly indicates that intermarriage with some tribes was acceptable. We must make a note on the translation here. The Hebrew word for stranger used here to refer to an Israelite in living in Egypt is “ger,” the same term used for a so-called convert in the Israelite tribe. Certain other prohibited tribes are listed in chapter 7:1-4:
This passage is used by those who follow Talmudic Judaism in support of the custom of matrilineal heritage (kiddushin 68b). If you’re asking yourself what this passage has to do with that, that’s a good question. I’ll not get into a Talmudic argument here. That can be found on the “Talmud” page of this site. However, I will state here that these people are gravely mistaken in their interpretation. Regardless of it’s meaning, the Israelites proceed to intermarry and miscegenize anyway.
The last piece of text worth examining in Deuteronomy is chapter 17:15:
This is important, as we shall see in the Prophetic writings examples of Kings with non-Israelite mothers.
We can start our analysis of Joshua by picking up the topic that we discussed in the section on Leviticus and Numbers dealing with the terminology used to refer to someone who is not an Israelite by birth but comes to belong to the tribe. Once again we have a reference in chapter 6:25:
The terminology used here is similar to that used to describe the blasphemer in Leviticus 24 and the other examples which you can find under the heading “Leviticus & Numbers” on the Torah page of this site. The Hebrew in this case is “b-kerev Israel” meaning near Israel. What is important is that this terminology is distinct from that used when referring to an Israelite. When identifying an Israelite, it is done by simply giving the name and “son of” someone and sometimes their tribal designation. But when referring to someone not born into the tribe, the phrases “dwell among”, “near” or “with” is used. We know that Rahav is not an Israelite but came to belong to them.
There are many places in the Prophets and all the biblical writings where the phrase “God of our fathers” or something similar is used and many times when God invokes the covenant “made with your fathers.” I cited many of these instances in my analysis of the Torah. However, I’ll not continue to cite each one, as that would be tedious.
The story of Abimelech in Chapter 9 presents an interesting study in the social structure of a polygamous society, such as the Israelite community was at that time, and the relations between half-siblings. The current leader of Israel, Gideon or Jerubbaal, has died leaving 70 sons. In addition to these 70 “legitimate” sons by his wives, he has a son, Abimelech, by a concubine. This is the only son born to this concubine, apparently. Abimelech has decided that he wants to be the new leader of Israel. The story starts:
In the interest of efficiency, I’ll summarize the body of the story. Abimelech is proclaimed king. Then the surviving brother, Jotham, calls out to the people, telling them Abimelech’s power has been misbegotten and that they themselves have acted dishonorably toward the memory of his father, Jerubbaal, who had protected them and led them well. War breaks out and the story ends thus:
This story illustrates the overwhelming importance of the father’s bloodline. Abimelech was trying to please and unite with his mother’s family and had no value for the blood relation with his half-brothers. He was punished for this. Once again, the paternal relations are the predominant relations in the eyes of God.
Another passage worth looking at is chapter 12:8-10:
It could be that the meaning of “outside the clan” is to another clan of Israel, or it could be to an outside clan, this isn’t clear. Nevertheless, it makes clear that the social structure was such that when a woman was married, she left her clan and became a part of her husband’s.
Judges also contains the story of Samson and Delila. While this certainly is a very bad example of an intermarriage, there it is, nevertheless.
1 & 2 SAMUEL
1 Samuel introduces us to one of the most famous of biblical characters, King David. Who David’s mother is is never mentioned. His father was Jesse, however the identity of his mother is never revealed. This reiterates the fact that one’s identity was determined by one’s father.
Another mention of an apparent intermarriage is in chapter 18:19:
A Meholathite, as far as I have been able to discern, is not an Israelite tribe. This woman would have then gone to live in her husband’s territory.
2 Samuel continues the story of David’s Kingship over Israel. He had several wives and one of them was not an Israelite. His sons born to him in Hebron are listed in chapter 3:3:
In chapter 11, the character of Bathsheeba is introduced. Her husband at the time that David sees her is “Uriah the Hittite.” The Hittites are one of the tribes which are prohibited for the Israelites to marry in Deuteronomy 7. This does not indicate, however, as the Orthodox assert, that this prohibition only applies to male Israelites. Deut. 7 states verbatim that Israelite women are not suppose to marry into these tribes. Furthermore, there are many examples of Israelite men marrying them and the status of the children are not questioned. There is no mention of any offspring from Bathsheeba and the Hittite. At any rate, she becomes David’s wife and bears Solomon.
The next important character we come across without an Israelite mother is Tamar. Tamar apppears in chapter 13:1-4:
We have already stated that Absalom’s mother was not an Israelite, but from a country called Geshur. In this story Tamar is described as the full sister of Absalom and therefore her mother was also not an Israelite. Tamar is, of course one of the most common of Jewish names.
1 & 2 KINGS
1 Kings chronicles the reign of King Solomon. He starts off his reign with a BANG by marrying the daughter of the Pharoah of Egypt and bringing her to live with him in Jerusalem. The Egyptians are one of the “acceptable” foreign tribes listed in Deuteronomy.
In chapter 4 one of Solomon’s twelve prefects, Ben-abinadab, is listed as being married to Solomon’s daughter, Taphath. At this point, we don’t know of any other wife of Solomon other than the Egyptian, so we must assume that she is the mother. So much for matrilineal descent!
In chapter 5 we are introduced to the character of King Hiram of Tyre. Later in chapter 7:14 he is described as the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali and a Tyrian coppersmith. He is clearly not considered an Israelite as he is the King of Tyre, which is not in the Israelite’s territory ( as the IDF could attest to ). He is very friendly with Solomon and helps him build the temple. Solomon in turns gives him some small lands near Tyre in appreciation which Hiram doesn’t care for and apparently gives back. So, I’m sorry to say to you Orthodox Jews who may be reading, despite his Israelite mother, he is most definitely not an Israelite.
Solomon has a enjoyed a great reign, but in chapter 11:1-2 goes astray:
At this point God becomes displeased with him. After his death, Israel is again divided into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel. Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, succeeds him. His mother is mentioned in 14:21 as Naamah the Ammonitess, not an Israelite. A servant of Solomon’s of the tribe of Ephraim, named Jeroboam, becomes the King over the territory of Israel, comprising 10 tribes of the Israelites. It is prophesied at this point that these dynasties will die out due to their practice of idol worship, going against the God of the Israelites. Although, it is stated that a small line coming from David will be saved to preserve the memory of David.
As 1 Kings flows into 2 Kings, the narrative turns into a mind-numbing labyrinth dictating the lines of royal succession. In the interest of brevity, I will summarize. Basically, for many generations the kings of Israel and Judah do what is displeasing to the Lord, most of all idolatry. The kings sometimes marry Israelite women, sometimes not and sometimes they are overthrown from within and a new dynasty established. In general, God is less displeased with the kings of Judah and the kings of Judah marry Israelite women more often than the Israelite kings. It would be fair to argue then, at this point, that, if God were less angry at the kings of Judah and they intermarried less than the kings of Israel, doesn’t that prove that intermarrying for men has been prohibited? Well, there is no question that intermarrying is something prohibited to the Israelites, but this has nothing to do with the status of the children produced from such unions. The maternal line of descent in the House of David has already been broken with Rehoboam, who succeeds Solomon and whose mother was not an Israelite. All successive generations are still Israelites. If they weren’t then God wouldn’t be angry with them, because they would not be under any obligation to fulfill the commandments of the Israelite God. He’s angry at them because they ARE Israelites. Also, at this point we must remember Deuteronomy 17:15 which tells the Israelites that they cannot have foreigners as kings.
In 2 Kings, chapter 5, another reference to a union between an Israelite woman and non-Israelite man. The story begins:
“Attendant” means that she was also a concubine to her master, of course. The practice of “carrying off” women is common at this time and we have seen the Israelites do this also. The woman has to go live with whatever man is her master or husband. This is simply the social custom and applies to all women. Naaman does go to Israel, is cured and proclaims, “Now I know that there is no God in the whole world except in Israel!…” This is not to be taken as a sort of “conversion” though. As he does return to his land and tells the prophet who has cured him to forgive him for continuing to worship in the temple of Rimmon, which he must continue to do.
As 2 Kings concludes, the Israelites are gradually taken over by the Assyrians and taken out of their homeland to live in territories of Assyria. The territory of Israel falls first. Judah holds out for a while, but eventually falls to the Assyrians and is exiled, although it is stated in 25:12:
The book of Isaiah is a beautiful piece of poetry that has no real references to our topic. There are a couple of passages in chapter 11 which confirm to us the dominance of the male line. Verse 1 states:
Note that it is the descendents of Jesse, not Bathsheba or any woman, but the male line.
Chapter 58:14 reads:
Not the heritage of your mother, but your father.
JEREMIAH & EZEKIEL
The prophet Jeremiah tells the Israelites when they are in exile in Babylon, Chapter 16:2-4:
This is important because it reiterates that this command is equal for both men and women. The Hebrew is explicit in referring to both sexes. The Talmudic discourse on maternal lineage tries to draw the conclusion that it applies differently to men and women, but we see here and in other passages that is not the case.
There is some discussion of the last kings of Judah which I feel is important to mention. In the books of Kings we discussed the anger of God towards the kings of both Israel and Judah, but that the anger was somewhat greater against the kings of Israel. The kings of Israel had married non-Israelites more often than the kings of Judah and that might lead one who was so inclined to interpret that as a wrath against the intermarriage. However, the last king of Judah is mentioned in Jeremiah:
This last king, Jehoiakin, had an Israelite mother, Nehushta daughter of Elnatan of Jerusalem, no less. So the issue of intermarriage was not what turned God against the kings of Israel and Judah, but their behavior.
Another citation I would like to make concerns our friend Hiram, King of Tyre, whom we met in chapter 5 of Kings 1. Tyre is listed several times in Jeremiah and Ezekial as a seperate nation from the Israelites and Judeans. That would be in chapter25:22 and 27:3 of Jeremiah and chapters 26, 27 and 28 of Ezekial, which contain a dirge for Tyre. Chapter 28:10 says that the Tyreans will die “The death of the uncircumcised.” King Hiram of Tyre, if we remember, had an Israelite mother but a Tyrean father, and was decidedly NOT an Israelite as he was the king of another nation.
In continuation, I would like to cite a poetic analogy made in chapter 31. God speaks through His prophet about his intention of one day returning the Israelites to their homeland and former splendor. Verse 9 states:
Ephraim had an Egyptian mother but is, nevertheless, the symbol of the Israelite people.
Lastly, towards the end of Ezekial, in chapter 47:21-23, instructions are given to the Israelites regarding their eventual return to Israel and Judah and how to settle the land:
The pronoun “you” has both a masculine and feminine form in Hebrew, in both it’s singular and plural form. The Hebrew form used in these verses is the plural masculine form. The grammatical rule in Hebrew is that when referring to a group of mixedgender, the masculine form is always used, even where there is only one male and many females. There is no gender neutral word. Thus, this can be translated either as “you” referring to only males or both to females and males. In either case, it is quite clear here that males have been commanded to include their children they have sired with non-Israelite women, as well as the mothers of those children as part of their tribe. Whether the Israelite women are required to do the same is opento debate, as the form of the pronoun “you” used here could include females or not. This erradicates any argument that anyone could try to make that men who have children with non-Israelite women are not suppose to include these children within the Israelite tribe. Point, match, game.
I would like to mention that the Hebrew word used here to refer to the foreigners who would come back with the Israelites is “b-toch” meaning “among.” This is the same word that was used to describe the blasphemer in Leviticus who had an Israelite mother and Egyptian father who some cite as evidence of matrilineal descent. If you view my discussion of this passage on the “Torah” page under the heading “Leviticus & Numbers” you can see how I point out that this word is only used to describe non-native Israelites, thus refuting the argument that this blasphemer is evidence of the Jews use of matrilineal descent.
One last point about the Hebrew in these verses that I would like to make regards the word “stranger.” The Hebrew word used is “ger” which in modern Hebrew means convert. However, this is not the meaning in biblical Hebrew. The word means stranger or sojourner and is used, in addition to referring to non-Israelites living among Israelites, to describe the Israelites when they were living in Egypt. They were definitely not converts to the Egyptian religion at that time and so it is clear that this is not the meaning of the word. It can also be found in Psalms in a literary personification of the Israelites. There was no such thing as a conversion as we understand it today. The only ritual required to gain membership into the Israelite community was circumcision for males. There was no such thing as a mikva conversion and females were not required to do anything. If they were taken possession of by an Israelite then they belonged to him, period.
The minor prophets are a series of short writings. They are:
I did not find anything of substantive relevance to our topic in these writings.
The book of Ruth doesn’t contain any specific information regarding the subject of matrilineal versus patrilineal descent, but it is worth discussing because of the absurd myth that has arisen around her as the first “convert.” We must be clear that there was no such thing as a conversion in biblical times. The only ritual that was required for membership into the Israelite tribe was circumsion for males. Women weren’t anything, that is they had no independent identity apart from their father or husband. The marriage of Ruth to Boaz was merely a Levirite marriage. This is the biblical commandment that if a man dies childless, as did Ruth’s first Israelite husband, then his brother or closest male relative is suppose to marry his wife or wives in order to impregnate her and symbolically pass on his lineage. However, this obligation, according to Rabbinic “law”, only applies to the Jewish wives of paternal brothers. So, this obligation does not apply to a situation where a Jewish man has “married” a non-Jewish woman because, according to Rabbinic “law,” no marriage has taken place. Also, the brothers must have the same father, so it would not apply to maternal half-brothers. The children belonged to the male line. This poses many obstacles to the theory that Ruth was a “convert.” The assertion is that she “converted” when she said to her mother-in-law, Noami, after her first husband dies, “For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1:16). So, if this is when she converted, then she wasn’t Jewish during her marriage to Mahlon and the obligation of levirite marriage doesn’t apply to her. But clearly it does, because when she goes to Israel with Noami, Boaz makes this claim. So, Rabbinic “law” has changed what Biblical law was. Many non-Israelite women married Israelite men and bore them children before Ruth, which you can find enumerated on the “Torah” page of this web site. Ruth’s legend is the figment of someone’s imagination.
The book of Esther, just as in Ruth, contains no specific information on our topic, but it is an example of an intermarriage between a Jewish woman and non-Jewish male. Esther helped her people and succeeded in elevating her uncle to a position of power, however, she was most certainly the possession of her non-Jewish husband. She spoke and moved as he dictated. There is no mention of any children produced by her union with King Ahasuerus. However, there is no question that whatever children might have been produced were raised exactly as this absolute monarch wished. The social structure was such that children were a possession.
The book of Ezra recounts the return of the Israelites to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple after their Babylonian exile, the story of which ended the books of the Prophets. Much of the text is devoted to listing the names and numbers of the people returning. Only the male names are listed. Some issues of identity come up, which are similar to the issues in modern Israel. Chapter 2:59-63 reads as follows:
There were some in the group who couldn’t prove their Jewishness (sound familiar) and were then separated out from the group. Please note that it says that they had to prove that their “father’s house and descent were Israelite.” Not their mother’s. In spite of this, we soon run into some problems which initially appear to derail our defense of patrilineal descent. Ezra takes note of the fact that many of the returning Israelites have brought with them wives from the countries they had been exiled in and had had children with them. This disturbs Ezra because it violates the commandment given by God to the Israelites in Deuteronomy not to intermarry. The commandment applied to both the men and women, as spelled out. But only the males returned to Israel. Any Jewish women who had been given in marriage to men in the countries they were exiled to were the possessions of their husbands and could not have been brought back to Israel. The Israelites soon find a solution in Chapter 10:2-4:
Easy! They’ll just get rid of ’em. As the story is told, they do in fact do this. However, God had commanded them in Ezekiel 47:21-23 [see the “Prophets” page under the title “Jeremiah & Ezekiel” for the full citation] to bring back with them any foreigners who had settled with them and their children upon their return to Israel. This is contained in Ezekiel’s prophesy and the Israelites clearly violated this commandment when they committed such a despicable act as abandoning their own children. We all know that the rebuilt Temple was short-lived and the Israelites never knew peace again. We can all rest easy with the knowledge that the doom that befell them was certainly in part due to the commission of such an atrocity, in direct violation of God’s commandment.
In summary, the book of Ezra teaches that during the first return from the Babylonian exile, BOTH parents had to be Jewish in order for one to be accepted in the tribe. This is demonstrated in the example in Chapter 2:59-63, where returning Israelites had to show proof of their fathers genealogy and later in Chapter 10:2-4, where we see children rejected for not having Israelite mothers. All of the genealogical lists that are given do not mention any Israelite women returning, only men. Certainly there is no case of any person with a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, let alone one who was accepted in the tribe.
The book of Nehemiah contains an example of both male and female intermarriage. A Jewish woman has married one of the Persian guards who’s duty it was to watch over the Jews named Tobiah. This is recounted in chapter 6:17-19:
Later, Nehemiah becomes enraged when Tobiah has been allowed to live in the Temple. Chapter 13:4-9 reads:
The fact that this Tobiah had married a Jewess did not make him acceptable to the Jews. Nehemiah is still suspicious of him. When it says that Nehemiah had all his “household gear” thrown out of the Temple, the Hebrew used is merely the “house of Tobiah,” ( beit-tobiah) which would include his wife, children, slaves and any other entourage.
The closing lines of Nehemiah tell of the marriages of Jewish men to non-Jewish women with equal disdain. Chapter 13:23-28 reads:
So, here we see that it was equally abhorrent for Jewish men and women to intermarry.
The books of Chronicles are a retelling of the stories of David and Solomon that were given in 1 & 2 Kings. There are a few minor details that are changed, but nothing significant. There are a few examples of miscegenation in Chronicles. The first comes in 1 Chronicles, chapter 2:34, which appears during a geneological listing:
The genealogical listing then continues to insinuate that these children of his daughter and the Egyptian slave are considered part of his (Jewish) tribe. This inclusion has to be viewed through the prism of the contemporary social structure. Firstly, and most importantly, Egyptians are allowed to be included as part of the Israelite tribe in the third generation, as stated in Deuteronomy, chapter 7, so these children were acceptable. Secondly, we have to understand the economic structure, of which slaves were an important part. Slaves were a possession and financial asset, and any children of these slaves were the possession of the slave’s master.
Later in the genealogical listings comes an example of a Jewish man having included his child with a non-Jewish woman as part of his tribe. This appears in chapter 7:14:
King Hiram of Tyre reappears in 2 Chronicles. His name has changed slightly, to Huram, and another character is introduced, also named Huram. Chapter 2:10-13 reads:
I found this passage to be confusing at first. When they refer to the king of Tyre as Huram I just figured it was a scribal error or discrepency. But I didn’t understand who they were talking about with this second Huram. I initially thought it was the same person, that King Hiram or Huram was going himself to help build the Temple. But after reading Josephus it became clear to me that it is a seperate person. This craftsman is described as having a mother from the tribe of Dan, whereas in the book of Kings, King Hiram is described as having a mother of the tribe of Naphtali. Josephus, interestingly, describes this Huram, the craftsman, as having a Danite mother and an Israelite father, whereas in Chronicles his father is Tyrian. We don’t know who is right, but we have to accept the version in Chronicles because that has been the version accepted into the canon. So this Huram, the craftsman, is another example of a half-Jew on the mother’s side who belongs to his father’s tribe, the Tyrians.
This concludes our analysis of the Hebrew sacred writings. We have found dozens of examples of Jewish men producing children with non-Jewish women and having them included in the Israelite tribe. There are only two examples of a child produced by a Jewish woman and a non-Jewish man arguably being included in the Israelite tribe. These come in Leviticus, chapter 7 and 1 Chronicles, chapter 2, both of whom had Egyptian fathers. I will repeat here that Egyptians are allowed to assimilate into the Israelite tribe and participate fully in religious rituals in the third generation. The most logical conclusion that can be derived from this information is that it was the father that determined one’s membership in the Israelite tribe, quite the opposite of the contemporary Orthodox and Conservative positions. The most generous argument that could be given to matrilineal descent is that, because there are two examples of a matrilineal Jew being accepted, the biblical law was exactly what the Reform position is. That is bilineal, if you are living amongst Jews. Either way, there is no excuse for the current stance among the Orthodox, Conservative and Israel and it must change immediately. The Reform isn’t off the hook either, as it’s practice of “letting each synagogue decide for themselves” is in some ways more absurd than the others. It’s over, guys!
Here we will examine what evidence regarding the subject of matrilineal and patrilineal descent that can be found in the writings of Josephus. Briefly, for those not familiar with Josephus, he was a first century Jewish historian who fought in the Jewish wars with the Romans, was captured by them and later befriended and was patronized by the Emperor. He was a Cohen (priest) on both sides of his family and descended from the Hasmonean dynasty on his mother’s side. His writings have proven to be eminently reliable and have frequently been confirmed with archaelogical evidence. He wrote four works, that survived, which are a brief autobiography; Jewish Antiquities, which tells Jewish history starting from creation and continuing from where the Tanach leaves off; The Jewish War, which describes the great war the Jews had with the Romans in the first century that resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple, mostly from his own eyewitness accounts; and finally “Against Apion,” which is basically a diatribe intended to counter some contemporary writers who Josephus felt had cast aspersion on Jewish culture and history. We will be looking at his works only as they relate to the topic of matrilineal and patrilineal descent, however.
“Jewish Antiquities” starts by retelling the stories of the Bible from Creation all the way through to it’s end. His telling varies slightly from the version we know as the Bible and there were a few minor points of interest in it regarding our topic. However, I am choosing not to discuss those here because the version that has been accepted as “official” for religious purposes is the Bible, so we should go by that. “Antiquities” then picks up where the Bible leaves off, which is where we’ll begin.
I will first address cases of intermarriage or miscegenation that I have found in Josephus’ writings. The first I found was in Antiquities, Book 13, chapter 7:4:228 [Josephus has been codified into verses similar to the bible to simplify referencing]. It describes the killing of the then-ruler and priest of Judea, Simon the Maccabee, at a feast by his “son-in-law Ptolemy.” Ptolemy is the name given to the rulers of Egypt at that time. So, we know that the daughter of this Simon, who was Jewish, was married to a non-Jew. There is no description of their relationship or any children they had. However, given the fact that after killing her father, he then proceeded to kidnap, torture and kill his wife’s mother and 2 of her brothers, it’s not likely that he would have been very open to having his wife impose her religion on their children. After this spectacular performance, he escaped to Philadelphia in Egypt and, given his temperament, his wife no doubt obeyed him.
The next example we find of an intermarriage is in Book 14, chapter 7:4:126. It takes place at the end of the Hasmoneon dynasty. Another Ptolemy, decribed as the son of Menneus and ruler of Chalcis, which is an area of Lebanon, gives refuge to the remnants of the Hasmoneon dynasty, who were under threat from Pompey, the Roman Emperor. Ptolemy’s son falls in love with and marries one of the daughters of the Hasmonean ruler, Aristobulus II, named Alexandra. However, Ptolemy killed this son and then married her himself. They did produce at least one son, Lysanius, who became king over the area known as Iturea. This area is not traditionally a part of Judea or Israel, although later the kings of Judea did come to control it and the kings of Iturea payed tribute to the Judaen kings. Iturea is located in what is now known as the Bakaa Valley. Lebanese history considers the rulers Ptolemy and Lysanius to be Hellenistic rulers. No mention is made in Josephus of the religious practices of this Lysanius, but the people he ruled over were Arabs and it’s not likely that he would have practiced Judaism, as that would have alienated his subjects and threatened his rule, if he even had wanted to in the first place.
The next character that appears to help us examine our subject is Herod the Great. I have read many discussions on the Jewish status of Herod. One thing is for certain is that Herod was not ethnically Jewish at all. His father was an Idumean, or Edomite. Idumea had been conquered and the people forcibly converted to Judaism by the Hasmonean ruler, John Hyrcanus, sometime in the second century BCE. So, Herod’s father, Antipater, was certainly Jewish by religion. Herod’s mother is generally accepted to have been the daughter of a prominent Arab, named Cypros. It’s commonly held that this woman was not Jewish. However, Josephus contradicts himself as to her exact origins. In Antiquities, Book 14, chapter 7:3:121, Josephus says that she was an Idumean. If that is the case, then she would have been Jewish because the Idumeans had been converted already for about a century. In his “Jewish Wars,” he says that she was an Arab [Book 1, chapter 8:9:181]. Making her probably not Jewish. But we will say for the sake of argument that she wasn’t Jewish, because that is the commonly held belief. Herod became King after the death of his father, who had been the de-facto ruler of Judea in the name of the High Priest, Hyrcanus. He became King in a power struggle and I have seen some written articles claiming that this had something to do with his mother not being Jewish. But there is no indication of this. There was almost always a struggle whenever there was a succession, and that is not unique to Jewish history. For example, when the Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus died, his sons Aristobulus I and Alexander fought over power and likewise when this Alexander died, his sons Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II fought , as well, and none of them ever had their Jewishness questioned. Many Jews supported Herod, including the High Priest, Hyrcanus. Proof of this is that Herod married the grandaughter of Hyrcanus, Mariamme. Being that she was a Cohen, this marriage would not have been allowed if Herod was not Jewish. The struggle was between Herod and Antigonus, a Hasmonean who would have had the right to succession by birth. However, this Antigonus had been living for some time under the protection of Lysanius of Irutea and hadn’t been in Judea for many years. In Antiquities, Book 14, chapter 15:2:403, Josephus describes a proclamation Antigonus made in pleading his cause. He says,
We don’t know, of course, if these were the exact words of Antigonus or merely paraphrasing by Josephus. But, both of these men were Cohens and thus intimately familiar with Jewish law, and they uttered the ineffible name of half-Jew. [any Orthodox Jews reading please take a moment to regain control of your faculties before continuing] In examining the meaning of this statement we have to look at the whole context. In the original, the Greek word used is an amalgalm of half and Jew, without any hyphen. It could be that this was meant literally, that only one of his parents was Jewish, or it could have been an idiomatic expression meaning “quasi-Jew” or “sort-of-Jew,” intended to cast aspersion on his descent from converts. For example, in English you might say “I’m half-asleep” meaning that I’m almost asleep but not quite, right? The speaker was insulting Herod in several ways, referring to his non-royal status and his Idumean ethinicity. It seems more likely that this was in fact intended to mean “quasi-Jew” due to his Idumean ethnicity because the speaker uses it to elaborate on his description of Herod as an Idumean, saying “…an Idumean, that is, a half-Jew.” The Idumeans had only been part of the Jewish nation for a couple of generations at the time of Herod’s ascendency to the throne and while history would prove the union to be everlasting (the Idumeans fought in the Jewish War with the Romans), at that time many Jews probably were suspicious of their loyalty. However, either way you wish to read it, it proves that there was no such custom of exclusive matrilineal descent. If taken literally, then it means that there was such a thing as a half-Jew, which the Rabbinical custom of matrilineal descent precludes. Or, if taken idiomatically, it means that Herod was Jewish by religion, if not by ethnicity, and that matrilineal descent did not apply (assuming his mother wasn’t Jewish). There is no other mention of Herod’s enemies questioning his Jewishness. Throughout Josephus’ writings the objection by the opposition is always explained as being based on the fact that he wasn’t from the royal family. Anitgonus, who called him a half-Jew, was his rival and statements made by rivals who have a personal interest in defaming their enemy can never be taken very seriously.
Further evidence of Herod’s Jewishness can be found in the marriages of his full sister, Salome. Her first marriage was to an Idumean, which marriage Herod arranged. Her husband’s name was Costobarus and Herod made him governor of Idumea. Salome divorced him because he had wanted to raise a rebellion against Herod and preclude the Idumeans from having to follow Jewish customs and law, which had been imposed upon them by Hyrcanus. This is described in Antiquities, Book 15, chapter 7:9-10. Later, in Antiquities, Book 16, chapter 7:6:225, a potential marriage is discussed between Salome and an Arabian sheik named Sylleus. Josephus writes that it was placed as a condition of the match that Sylleus convert to Judaism, which Sylleus refused to agree to, and the marriage thus never took place. It’s hard to imagine any reason for imposing this condition unless Salome was Jewish and, since she and Herod had the same mother and father, Herod must have been also.
I have also seen articles that question Herod’s Jewishness because he introduced some Roman customs into Judea, such as placing a Roman herald, the eagle, above the entrance to the Temple grounds and building Roman-style gymnasiums. But this cannot be viewed as anything more than political machinations. Herod undertook massive building projects in Judea and fortified the Temple greatly. He would never have been allowed to do this if the Romans had felt threatened at all. Herod was nothing more than an astute politician. When the Hasmonean ruler Aristobulus, before him, had flouted Roman directives, Jews lost their independence to Rome. The tragic destruction of the Temple and Jewish civilization almost a century after Herod’s death was a result of the same misjudgements of the Jews. Herod was a realist and knew where to give in order to get in other places. The Jews owed him a great debt. Under his rule they were able to maintain their temple and continue their customs, for the most part, which many other civilizations Rome conquered were not able to do. After his death he acquired the monniker “the Great,” with good reason. It was all downhill for the Jews after him. Future generations certainly claimed him. In Antiquities Book 20, chapter 8:7:173, Josephus describes a dispute that arose between the Jews and Syrians that were then living in the city of Caesarea, long after Herod the Great’s death. It reads as follows:
Herod had nine wives and produced fourteen children. Some of them were married to non-Jews and there is nothing in Josephus’ writings to indicate that the children of women who were not native-born Jews were considered not Jewish. I don’t wish to digress into minutae, so anyone who wishes to know the particulars can read “Antiquities” themselves. Herod’s posterity is discussed in Books 17-20. Something I did notice, however, is that when one of his female posterity was marrying a non-Jew there was always an insistence that the man convert to Judaism and become circumcised. But there is no mention of any such requirement when Herod’s male posterity marries a non-Jewish female. One reason for this would have been that the custom of mikveh immersion for conversion to Judaism had not yet been adopted and therefore there was no ritual for women to convert. But it also indicates that it wasn’t important for the woman to be of the religion, only the man. One important instance that is worth mentioning is related by Josephus in Anitquities, Book 19, chapter 7. Herod’s grandson, Herod Agrippa I, has become king of Judea. An incident ensues, as described by Josephus.
What did this Simon mean when he called Herod Aggripa I not a “native Jew” ? Let’s examine his ancestry. His father was Aristobulus, the son of Herod the Great and Mariamme, a Cohen of the Hasmonean dynasty. His mother was Bernice, the daughter of Herod the Great’s sister, Salome, and her first husband, Costobarus. In examining the idea of exclusive matrilineal descent, it could be argued that his maternal and paternal great-grandmother (his parents were first-cousins, thus this was one and the same person), that is Herod the Great’s mother, wasn’t Jewish (if that is in fact the case), and that therefore this Simon was referring to a custom of matrilineal descent in order to declare him not a “native Jew.” But Josephus never says this. If there was such a custom, this would have been a perfect opportunity for him to invoke it. But he doesn’t. He could have been referring to some racial impurity regarding his maternal grandfather, Costobarus. Costobarus, as I have already stated was an Idumean, which made him a Jew via the forcible conversion of that nation. But Costobarus had wanted to reject Judaism, so that could be the “impurity” that this Simon was alluding to. If by “native Jew” this Simon meant not ethnically Jewish, that is, descended from Idumean converts, his comment has nothing to do with which line, maternal or paternal, because it would have been specified if that were the case. It could have been that Simon viewed the conversion of the Idumeans as invalid because it was forced. Perhaps he was referring to Agrippa’s mixed ethnicity, but it was clearly not a “matrilineal thing.” Maybe he wasn’t referring to his ascendency at all, but merely to a method of his religious observance that he took issue with. Josephus mentions in the first line that this Herod Agrippa was “humane to foreigners,” which this Simon may have considered a betrayal of the Jewish nation. Most likely he was just a disgruntled egomaniac trying to stir up trouble and nothing more. Also worth noting is that this Agrippa married the daughter of the then High Priest, who didn’t call into question his Jewishness. In any case, it is clear from the tone of the narrative that Josephus, who was a Cohen and very well versed in Jewish law, thought that this accusation about Agrippa was unfounded and downright preposterous.
In all fairness, I don’t think we can make any definitive conclusions as to what Jewish customs were at that time based on the behavior of royalty, because they obviously have priveleges that commoners don’t have. But that is all we have to go on. Josephus doesn’t really talk about commoners. There is only one instance of an intermarriage between commoners in his writings. It occurrs in Antiquites, Book 18, chapter 9:5. He relates a story of some Jews living in Babylon. A pair of brothers had risen to positions of importance and one of them married a non-Jew. His relations and entourage urge him to send her back to her relatives because she has brought her idols with her and continues to worship them. But there is no mention of any children so we cannot deduce anything from this story.
After this examination of instances of intermarriages, the next aspect of Josephus’ narrative that concerns us is the infamous description that he makes of the various sects of Judaism that existed and competed with eachother at that time, the Essenes, Suduccees and Pharisees. Josephus’ writings end with the destruction of the second Temple in the Jewish war with the Romans. Judaism emerged from the rubble as almosty an entirely different religion than it had been. The Pharisees won out and are responsible for bringing us the Talmud. Josephus goes into explanations of some of their philosophical differences regarding the afterlife, etc., but I won’t repeat them because they aren’t relevant to the topic of matrilineal descent. What is relevant is how and why the Talmud came to dictate Jewish religious life, because from there is the concept of matrilineal descent derived.
Josephus speaks most highly of the Essenes. He praises their morality and ascetic existence. Some of them were monastic and others married. Ritual cleansing was an important part of their practices. Mikveh immersion for conversion to Judaism and Christian baptism undoubtedly are derived from them. But this sect didn’t seem to have much concern for imposing their beliefs on other Jews. The real power struggle was between the Saduccees and Pharisees. Josephus relates the fundamental differences between the two in Antiquities, Book 13, chapter 10:6:297-298 as follows:
The first thing we notice here is that the Pharisees’ traditions, which became the Talmud, were NOT derived from the Torah, contrary to what their modern-day equivalents, the Orthodox, claim. The second thing we take away is that it was the common people that backed the Pharisees. Why? The average person was a farmer and uneducated. Hebrew, the language of the Torah, had been a dead language already for several centuries. Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Jews at this time. Thus, the average person couldn’t read the Torah themselves. They relied on a few people, who were proto-rabbis, to specialize in this field and tell them what it said. This system gives complete control to the few. They could tell the masses whatever they wanted. The obssessive rituals the proto-rabbis developed, very few of which are actually found in the Torah, were a form of mind control devised to retain power. Creating a system where the average person had to come to them to ask how to eat, sleep and crap suited their purposes. We can see this unfortunate tradition still in practice today. Outside of Israel, very few Jews can actually understand the original writing of the Torah or Talmud, so they just let the Rabbis tell them what to do. Almost all Jews today believe the Orthodox claim that their practices are “real” Judaism and what has always been practiced, while Reform and other branches are modern inventions. That’s complete bullshit, but since no one knows how to dispute them, they just believe them.
Josephus says in his brief autobiography that he studied as a teenager with all three sects of Judaism and then allied himself to the Pharisees. Why he did is apparent from his descriptions of them. He mainly writes of the grip that they had on the common people. For example, in Antiquities, Book 18, chapter 2:3:14-15 and 4:16-17:
Here we start to get some insight into why Josephus went along with the Pharisees. He was an aristocrat and his natural alliance would have been with the Sadducees. His writings speak most complimentary of the Essenes. In the “Jewish War” Book 2, chapter 8 he goes into a long, very adoring, almost awestruck decription of their lives and practices. He does say some nice things of the Pharisees, but nothing special. But Josephus was ambitious. He became the governor of Galilee and was a general in the war with the Romans. From this passage that I have just cited we see that he couldn’t have achieved those things if he hadn’t been a Pharisee. This description of the two sects illuminates the reasons why the poor masses followed the Pharisees. They promised the miserable, tired, and poor an afterlife whereas the comfortable and content needed no such comforting thoughts. The Pharisees were the Tammy Faye Bakers and Jimmy Swagarts of their day. Many aristocrats, like Josephus, went along with them for the same reason that American presidents always make public claims of their personal faith, in order to ingratiate themselves to the masses. They need to appear to have the “common touch.” Josephus mentions several anecdotes that further elaborate on the Pharisees’ stranglehold on the populace. For example, in Antiquities Book 13, chapter 10:5-6, he describes a conflict that arose between the Hasmonean ruler Hyrcanus and the Pharisees. Hyrcanus was a very successful ruler, was also the High Priest, and brought a lot of prosperity to the Jewish nation. Josephus continues:
One item that deserves explanation here is that when they say “captive” here they mean raped. It was common in all societies for the conquering side in a war to take the wives of their enemies captives and they were frequently raped. So Eleazar was alluding to the idea that Hyrcanus’ mother was in some way “impure” for the possibilty of her having been raped as a captive and that thus Hyrcanus himself was somehow “impure.” Rabbinic “law” prohibits a woman who has been raped from being married to a priest and considers any children produced from such a union to be tainted as to being able to serve as priests.
Let’s look at another anecdote that illustrates the power of the Pharisees. After the death of this Hyrcanus we have just spoken of, his son Alexander took the government, after a struggle with his brother Aristobulus I. At the end of his life, Alexander gives instructions to his wife, Alexandra, as to how she can retain the government for herself and her sons. He primarily warns her of the power of the Pharisees. It reads in Antiquities, Book 13, chapter 15:5:399-404:
Here we can see another example of the fear the aristocracy had of the Pharisees. Alexandra did take power and followed her husband’s advice, as outlined in Antiquities Book 13, chapter 16:1-2:405-409:
The death of this Alexander was pretty much the beginning of the end for the Sadducees. If Alexander had died with a strong male heir, he might have continued to oppose the Pharisees and Jewish history may have taken a different course. But, as a woman, Alexandra had to walk on eggshells in order to retain power and would have had difficulty getting men to follow her orders. So she had to take the path of least resistance, even though Josephus does describe her as being a wise and strong woman. His two sons became rivals for power, opening another window for the Pharisees to triangulate and consolodate their position.
In conclusion, their is nothing whatsoever in the writings of Josephus to indicate or insinuate, either directly or indirectly, that there was any custom of exclusive matrilineal descent, and there are many occassions where it would have been logical for him to mention it. Was it a custom among some groups of Pharisees? Maybe. Even within the three sects of Judaism that Josephus describes he makes clear that there were differences in practices and opinions. And we will see in the Talmud that there were (and are) few issues which Jews agreed on. What is also clear is that the Pharisaic customs which evolved in the Talmud were not derived from the Torah, as their modern-day counterparts, the Orthodox, claim. I find the portrait that Josephus draws of the stranglehold the Pharisees had on the masses to be an uncanny resemblance to the current struggle going on in Judaism and particularly in Israel. Many non-Orthodox Jews outside of Israel today will have Orthodox marriage ceremonies even though they don’t want them simply because they’re afraid that they may not be recognized in Israel and Israeli politicians won’t allow non-Orthodox Rabbis to have any participation in religious life because they’re afraid of retribution from the Orthodox. The Pharisaic/Orthodox tradition is based on intimidation, fear, manipulation and disingenuity