Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why Did Ishmael Follow Lehi into the Desert? Part II

Continuing from the last post about why Ishmael followed Lehi into the wilderness and more about Nephi’s sisters.    
    As shown in the last post, the 600 B.C. Jewish custom of marriage consisted of very formal application to a covenant bond, and also of agreements between parents of both the bride and groom. Once again, the Lord commanded Lehi to send his sons to Jerusalem and bring Ishmael and his family into the wilderness. Ishmael and his family were obviously orthodox in their religious beliefs and obedient to the Lord’s commands. If Lehi’s sons and Ishmael’s daughters were betrothed under the Jewish custom by their parents (see the last post), then it was simply an unquestionable matter of Ishmael having to take his children into the desert after Lehi.
At the same time, one might ask why the older children, at least, had not already married since they had been betrothed. The answer might lie in the oldest daughter of Ishmael. Apparently, she had not been previously betrothed, and ended up marrying Zoram (1 Nephi 16:7). Under Jewish custom at the time, the oldest daughter had to be the first one married, as is seen in the story of the patriarch Jacob, who married first Leah, then his love Rachel (Genesis 29:17). Laban, the two girls’ father, explains why he tricked Jacob into marrying Leah first when Jacob had asked for the hand of the second daughter, Rachel, saying: “it is uncustomary to give the younger daughter away in marriage before the older one” (Genesis 29:16-30). Leah, who is described as having “tender eyes,” which is claimed to be a Hebrew idiom meaning she was slow, or possibly unattractive because of a slight deformity, and therefore had not married by the time Jacob came along after Rachel. In the same token, the question needs to be asked why Ishmael’s youngest daughters were betrothed and not his oldest daughter. 
    After all, when the five daughters were married, the youngest, who married Nephi, could not have been younger than about 15 years of age, which was a common age for a Jewish girl to be married in 600 B.C. In this case, that would make the next older daughter about 17, the next about 19, the next about 21, and the oldest about 23 or so, with Ishmael’s sons older still.
On the other hand, Nephi tells us that “one of the daughters of Ishmael pled with Laman and Lemuel to spare Nephi’s life (1 Nephi 7:19), which might suggest an older young woman to go against at least one of her brothers, and the much older sons of Lehi—an event seldom known in the ancient Jewish world. It may be that she was older, maybe 17 or 18, to have stood up to these “men” who, in the ancient world, had great authority over women. If this was the case, then her sisters would have been older, making the oldest daughter as much as 30 years old or so.
    We have to keep in mind that marrying ages of ancient Israel and the Middle East were very different from our day and age. Women had no say in the selection of their future husband, which was arranged by their parents, mainly the father, or possible an uncle, etc. Women married very young by our standards, but the men did not marry at a similarly young age. It was imperative that the young man be 1) established in some type of occupation, apprenticeship, etc., where he could support a family, and 2) mature enough to be the head of a household, which by ancient Jewish custom was around 25 or older. Again, the age of 30 was the age of maturity and wisdom among men in Israel.
    Then, too, if Ishmael’s two sons had been born between the first and second daughters, that would make her somewhere between 32 and 36 years of age, which would be very old for a girl not to be married. So, not knowing any other reason, it is likely she had some type of problem that made her less desirable than her sisters to a suitor. Also, she would have been too old for a marriage bond younger in life, very likely older than Lehi’s oldest son, Laman, for there would only have been a year or two difference, and under Jewish custom, women were not betrothed to a man unless he was enough older to be into some type of business where he could support her and bring her into his home. As much as a ten-year difference was far more common in ancient Israel.
    If, in fact, Ishmael’s oldest daughter had no suitor or betrothal, then it would answer the problem of the next girls and Lehi’s older sons not already married by the time they left Jerusalem. Yet, it seems certain that the daughters who eventually married Laman and Lemuel were already aligned with them, such as through betrothal, since when Laman and Lemuel rebelled against Nephi (1 Nephi 7:6-7), these two daughters joined with Laman and Lemuel. One might wonder why, since their sustenance and protection came from their father, Ishmael, and his household. After all, if these two girls rebelled against their father, in his presence with Laman and Lemuel, with a desire to go back to Jerusalem, what future would they believe they had without a household and money to provide for themselves unless they were 1) already betrothed to Laman and Lemuel, and 2) knowing Laman and Lemuel would inherit their father’s wealth, and 3) know Laman would have double his father’s holdings as the oldest son and be responsible for their welfare as well.
Again, we have to keep in mind that living in 600 B.C. under Jewish laws was very different than what we experience in our life and society today. As we understand the role of the father during this time we can better understand Lehi’s dealings with his sons. As the dominant figure in ancient family law, the father had broad and complete powers, apparently even over his married sons if they lived with him, and over their wives. Thus, Lehi would have continued to exercise legal control over all his sons, even after they married. Then, too, in the ancient Hebrew family, children were considered part of the father’s “property,” especially unmarried children still living at home. The father had the right to do with them or to take them with him virtually as he willed, which would appear to explain Lehi’s power to take his family with him out into the desert. Indeed, the idea that family members were legally part of the father’s moveable property seems to be reflected in Nephi’s listing of the family together with Lehi’s provisions and tents. Although a man’s wife and grown sons might murmur and object, their legal and social duty was to follow. Accordingly, of all the things Laman and Lemuel complain about, they never object to Lehi’s right to have taken them with him.
    In this sense, then, a father had complete and absolute control over his family, and even his sons and their families while he was alive—which might have been the reason Laman and Lemuel sought to kill Lehi after the death of Ishmael, which would have left Laman in charge of Nephi, and the sons of Ishmael in charge of their own families (1 Nephi 16:37). This idea in 600 B.C., was, no doubt, a reflection of Hebrew law dating back to the Exodus, when “smiting” or “cursing” one’s father or mother was a capital offense (Exodus 21:15, 17). Certainly, earlier, the offenses of Laman and Lemuel would have resulted in serious punishment under Hebrew law as seen in the procedures spelled out in Deuteronomy and applicable in Israel during Lehi’s day where the “stubborn and rebellious son” was to be chastened, seized, taken to the elders at the city gate, accused by the father and the mother, and stoned by all the men of his city (Deuteronomy 21:18–21). Thus, we can see that such ingrained obedience to the degree expressed by his complaining sons, Laman and Lemuel, was well within reason as Nephi describes it in his account of their leaving Jerusalem.

(See the next post, “Why Did Ishmael Follow Lehi into the Desert? Part III,” to see how this bethrothed state affected the women who are said to have rebelled against Nephi and following Lehi into the wilderness, and also the state and number of Nephi’s sisters)

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