Families in Ancient Israel

Perdue, Leo G., Joseph Blenkinsopp, John J. Collins, and Carol Meyers. Families in Ancient Israel. The Family, Religion, and Culture Series. Don S. Browning and Ian S. Evison, eds. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997.

As Leo Perdue explains in the book’s Preface, Families in Ancient Israel provides “an in-depth social-critical analysis of the family in ancient Israel and early Judaism; an indication of the connection between the social reality of the family and Israelite and Jewish understandings of God, Israel, the world, and ethics; and a proposal of what the ancient understandings may or may not contribute to the nature and character of the family in modern North America.” The larger issues treated include: the purposes of the family; whether there exists a normative family form; gender and gender roles; the roles of children in families; intergenerational and social care; the relationship between family, religion, and state; and marriage and divorce. <p> Carol Meyers’ Chapter 1, “The Family in Early Israel,” takes a functionalist approach to the study of the early (premonarchical) Israelite family household, finding that members worked interdependently as agriculturalists and lived in small village communities. In Chapter 2, “The Family in First Temple Israel,” Joseph Blenkinsopp—who regards the family as the primary context for the individual during the rise of the monarchy—surveys the nature and economic role of the Israelite household, marriage and divorce, family relations, religion and values, and the family’s relation to the state. In Chapter 3, “Marriage, Divorce, and Family in Second Temple Judaism,” John Collins locates the theological grounding of marriage during this period in Genesis and describes the common view of marriage as a contract. <p> Leo Perdue, who writes the final two chapters (Chapter 4, “The Israelite and Early Jewish Family: Summary and Conclusions,” and Chapter 5, “The Household, Old Testament Theology, and Contemporary Hermeneutics”), draws these conclusions from the study: (1) the ancestral household served as the typical form of the Israelite and Jewish family; (2) the family household contributed to Israel’s understanding of redemptive history and creation within the framework of covenant and obligation; and (3) ancient Israel’s family household informs our own society’s need to be responsible for one another and for all creation.