Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Asymmetries of exchange: Marriage gifts and the social structure of ancient Palestine from Iron I to the Roman period
by Lemos, Tracy Maria, Ph.D., Yale University, 2007, 362; 3293405
Abstract (Summary)

This work traces changes in the form of marriage gifts, and thus of marriage, in the region of ancient Palestine over the course of a millennium. The evidence for preexilic Israel strongly implies that bridewealth—what many biblical scholars call "brideprice"—was not only the most common form of marriage gift, but also played a central, juridical role in the formation of marriage itself. A few centuries later, however, bridewealth is almost entirely absent from the many postexilic sources that discuss marriage; instead, it is dowry that occupies the minds of Hellenistic- and Roman-era writers. The latter gift appears repeatedly in the marriage contracts that survive from this period and, rather than taking over the juridical function that bridewealth had earlier possessed, plays a very different role in the culture and society of the region.

Although previous treatments of biblical and postbiblical marriage have either left these shifts unexplained or attributed them to the influence of foreign groups, this study draws upon anthropological ideas regarding marriage gifts, and especially upon the proposals of Jack Goody, to put forth a more nuanced and wide-ranging explanation. Goody has persuasively argued that bridewealth and dowry are associated with two very different types of societies: while bridewealth is very common among socioeconomically unstratified groups with corporate structures of kinship, dowry is found almost exclusively in highly-stratified, complex societies.

Building upon these ideas, this work argues that the shift from bridewealth to dowry relates directly to other social changes that occurred in ancient Palestine in the same period. At the time of its emergence in the Iron I period, ancient Israel was a kinship-based society with a subsistence economy. Over the course of several centuries, however, it developed marked social stratification and a centralized state apparatus, both of which resulted in a pronounced weakening of its kinship structures. In short, what began as an almost prototypical bridewealth-giving society slowly became the very type of society that almost always gives dowry. Thus, changes in social structure, and not the intrusion of foreign customs, are what best explain changes in marriage gifts in this region.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wilson, Robert R.
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 68/12, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Bible, Ancient civilizations, Judaic studies
Keywords: Ancient Palestine, Ancient civilizations, Hebrew Bible, Iron Age, Israelites, Marriage, Marriage gifts, Roman Empire, Social history, Social structure
Publication Number: 3293405
ISBN: 978-0-549-37349-0
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