Marriage: Contract or Covenant, part 2


(This is the second of a three-part series; here are the links to part 1 and part 3.)

In the previous post, I looked at the idea that “marriage” is actually a contract. For so many years, I’ve heard “Marriage is a covenant, not a contract.” But it appears that, in Bible times, marriage WAS a contract, and Jewish customs dictated a written contract, a ketubah.

Historic Background

In the ancient Near East, it was customary for young men to provide a “bride price” to the father of his intended. If he did not have the money, he would work for his future father-in-law (think Jacob and Laban). In return, the father-in-law would “endow” his daughter with a dowry on the occasion of her marriage. These were the terms of the covenant, the contract. There was a two-fold reason for this dowry, by the way. First, it provided stability for the new home, the new marriage. It set the new couple up in good stead. Second, it was the daughter’s share of her father’s estate. Remember that only sons inherited from their fathers? The only exception was made by Moses if there were no male heirs to the father (Num. 27). So this was a way for a daughter to receive a share from her father’s estate. One example of this is seen in the instance of Achsah approaching her father, Caleb. Caleb had said that the man who took Kiriath-Sepher would have his daughter as wife, and Othniel did so. Achsah came to her father and asked for “the upper and lower springs” in addition to the  land that he had given as dowry. (Judg. 1:10-15)

The Ketubah

My podiatrist is Jewish, and when I told him, at last month’s appointment, that I was reading about the Ketubah, he said, “Ah, yes, the Jewish Marriage License.” Sources that I am reading speak of the custom of the Ketubah as being “thousands of years” old. The Ketubah is a contract which spells out the obligations and duties of the husband to his bride, to support her. Apparently, the pre-nup agreements isn’t a new invention! According to the Wikipedia article on Ketubah,

The Jewish husband takes upon himself, in the ketubah, the obligation that he will provide to his wife three major things: clothing, food and conjugal relations,….

That is very interesting, as those are the three things that God required a husband to provide, or his wife could divorce him:

If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights.  And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money. (Ex. 21:10-11)

“Why Are You Looking At Jewish Contracts?”

After all, we’re Christians, and we follow a different teaching, right. I’m look at it because our “different teaching” has no basis in scripture. In yet another area, Christians have created a mythology that has no support from either the Old or New Testament. Our teaching that marriage is a ‘covenant’, not a ‘contract’, is based on the Old Testament teaching of ‘covenant.’ After all, “Covenant” isn’t Christianity’s gift to the world of religion. So if we want to learn about ‘covenant,’ we have to look into the source of the idea, the Old Testament. One of the most famous Biblical weddings comes about as a contract negotiation. In Ruth 4, Boaz goes to the town center, gathers 10 of the city elders in the city gates, and negotiates for the hand of Ruth. He uses the Levirate marriage law to prise Ruth from the man who was first in line to ‘inherit’ Ruth, and proclaims,

Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife,… (Ruth 4:9-10a)

Negotiation, witnesses, public oath and attestation. All part of contract and all part of covenant. to be continued…. CSL If you are interested, click on this link to see photographs of ketubahs.


Filed under Christian Beliefs, Marriage & Sexuality

5 responses to “Marriage: Contract or Covenant, part 2

  1. Pingback: Marriage: Covenant or Contract?, part 1 | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

  2. Pingback: Marriage: Contract or Covenant, part 3 | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

  3. Pingback: Divorce: Scarlet Letter or Valid Option?; pt. 4 | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

  4. Pingback: Adultery/Abandonment: Two Sides, One Coin | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

  5. Pingback: Marriage/Divorce: Restoring Balance, part 3 | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

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