Australian Catholic University’s Bachelor of Theology (Honours)

The Bachelor of Theology (Honours) is a one-year programme for high-achieving students who have completed the Bachelor of Theology pass degree or equivalent.

Undertake a focused research project framed by one-on-one supervision with one of our internationally-recognised academic staff, and engage in an in-depth study of an area of theology or biblical studies in which you are particularly interested.


Admission year 2021
Date of offer 17-FEB-2021
Course Bachelor of Theology (Honours)
Campus Brisbane
Fee type Commonwealth Supported


My application included the following outline of my interest in matrilineal Biblical Studies. Below is an extract from my series online: Genealogies of Women in OT: ‘Sarah’.

I write from the viewpoint that the Israelites began as a matriarchal society, but translators and interpreters have rendered it a patriarchal one. My argument supports the practice of endogamous marriage, of marrying within a specific social group, caste, or ethnic group, rejecting those from others as unsuitable for marriage or other close personal relationships. Endogamy is common in many cultures and ethnic groups. Endogamy is the social norm prescribed in Genesis 2: 24. 

‘For this reason, a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh’ (KJV).

Such marriages rely on female kinship and each mother’s innate knowledge of her children. History shows that women-owned land and resided in matriarchal households. As the land was settled, regions, cities, and towns in early Canaan history are named after the women of Israel possibly signifying them and their kin as the rightful owners. Women were not without standing in the community of Israel. It was in the mother’s and their daughter’s best interest to build up their matriarchal kinship houses and extended groups.

Careful scrutiny of documents that relate to Chief Sarah’s time that Sarah occupied a very dignified position in Mesopotamia, ‘land of the two rivers, and finally, Canaan. This was not unusual, for women of Sarah’s day also held places of public and private power in Egypt Babylonia, Assyria, Arabia, Canaan, and Asia Minor. In all those civilisations, the matriarchate, that is, mother-right can be traced. Her household was not small (Gen 12: 5). Abraham was seventy-five years old and Sarah was sixty (Gen 12: 4). Many of these servants likely made-up part of her dowry from her family 1 and, in keeping with the tradition of that time, would have remained her property. 

Sarah’s family belonged to the Semitic races and mother-kinship dominated all Semitic speech. As a father was not able to prove paternity and was reliant on the woman’s integrity, mother-kinship provided the kindred unity. When the tribes of Israel entered Canaan they still held to this social order of matri-locality and mother-right. This social order was also practiced in Egypt, where Israel previously dwelt and worked as slaves. In Canaan where the tribes of Israel eventually settled after leaving Egypt, the language patterns of matri-locality and mother-right continue there. Regions, cities, villages, and meadows were named after notable women of Israel. 

‘Mother tongue’ was also cognizant of matrilocality. The inhabitants of a place collectively in Israel were recognised as ‘daughter’ (Heb. ‘bath’). Not only was Israel’s name (‘Prince’) the stem of Sarah’s name (Chief or Prince) but individual cities and regions were also recognised by women’s names. 2 Such language usage denoted the sphere of influence the women of Israel held. It also strengthens the evidence that, based on the first social law (Gen 2: 24) kinship in those golden years for women was reckoned through the mothers and their daughters. 

‘We know that in parts of Asia Minor, notably among the Lycians, a matrilineal system was still in existence, and it may be that certain privileges enjoyed by women among the Hittites represent vestiges of this.’ In various Scriptures, ‘mother-kin’, in Scripture, is referred to as ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’. 

‘There is indisputable proof that kinship was reckoned through women during the time of history when Sarah lived. The Tel el Armana tablets, decreed by one King Amraphel, have helped us greatly with understanding the social law under which she lived. These tell their own story of women’s plight concerning the bearing of children and divorce. Because of such archaeological discoveries as the Tel el Armana tablets, the code of Hammurabi 3 and the numerous finds around Ninevah, Egypt, Babylonia, and other ancient places, scholars have been able to reconstruct, to a considerable extent, the manners and customs of these people of early ages’. 4

In the past, male scholars have ignored the body of evidence available that gives insight into the lives and achievements of women in ancient times. To study the Bible and ignore this evidence as immaterial is equal to saying that the lives of women and their achievements were and are of no value; that there is nothing to be learned from such an approach to bible study. 

In keeping with this, Bible dictionaries, commentaries, encyclopedias, and other Bible study resources generally omit material that reveal women’s lives. An example of such gross negligence of women’s history by male scholars is highlighted by a Jewish feminist, Ross Kramer (1992). 

‘The study of Jewish women generally subsumed within the discussion of “Women in the New Testament” or, ‘Early Christian Women’ can be substantiated by the widespread ignorance of the Jewish women who make up the majority of women in the New Testament’. 

Other feminist scholars, such as Karen Jo Torjensen (1993) are reconstructing women’s early Christian history. With the ever-increasing body of work carried out by feminist scholars, a plethora of different approaches in relation to studies in religion, the ancient societies they lived in, and the participation of women within those societies in which they thrived as active members now exist. This body of work includes such approaches as identifying the methodological problems involved in a study of women in ancient history. Out of this feminist methodology, feminist sociology and anthropology has emerged accompanied by textual, political, and feminist criticism. 

The Bible itself contains traces of former matrilineal inheritance and matrilocal marriages. However, some are difficult to trace, because they have been tampered with.5 Furthermore, unless you are looking for the matriarchal mother-kin theme, the patriarchal, paternalistic, androcentric, and overall tone of the Bible can at times not only be overwhelming but also can give the impression that no other form of social order ever existed. 

Historically, during the Neolithic period (8500-4000 BC) the matrilineal clan system and the rule of mother-right were followed almost everywhere. 6 Barbara Walker’s work includes proof from Egyptian and Greek writings, 

‘the most significant revolution in Greece was the transition from matrilineal to patrilineal succession and the resulting destruction of clan loyalties. In many other areas, the matrilineal system survived to a later date and was still in existence in parts of the British Isles up to the 9th Century. In most ancient societies young men went forth from their maternal homes to seek their fortune elsewhere because their sisters inherited the family home. It was a fixed habit of Greek men to leave home and seek a matrilocal marriage with an heir (ess) in a distant land’ (Walker, 1996, 620-624). 

Bushnell points out that distinctive features of the matriarchate included the recognised head of the clan was a woman. The descent was reckoned through the female line. The husband severed connection with his own gen to join that of his wife, and a woman was entirely free in the choice of a mate. The woman retained, after marriage, absolute control of her person and the arrangement the women entered into as regards marriage. 

The matriarch, Milcah, sister of Iscah (Gen 11: 29), in the Jewish traditions, according to Josephus, says that Iscah is Sarai, making Lot, Milcah and Sarai one kin, their unnamed mother being the wife of Haran. Haran died and Abram and Nahor married the two sisters. These men were not of the sister’s immediate kinship group. They were not ‘bone of bone and flesh of flesh’. When Abram and Sarai left Ur Lot, Sarai’s brother, in keeping with the tradition of that day, of the brother’s protection of his sister, (Abram’s nephew), went with Sarai and her husband, Abraham. Sarai and Lot left the Mother house leaving Milcah in Ur, with Sarai’s inheritance, given the matri-locality of the situation. 

When Abram sent his steward Eleizer back for a wife for Sarah’s son, Isaac, he came to Milcah’s household. Milcah also became the mother of twelve tribes (Gen 22: 20-23). Milcah takes the root of her name from mlk – ruler. ‘These names have been interpreted as honorific descriptions of the individual’s position within the family group’ (Anchor Bible Dictionary). 

When Jacob returned here seeking refuge and a wife, on his mother’s authority, the social order remained the same. Whereas Lot had left the home in Padan Aran with Abraham, Rebekah’s brother, Laban, had remained with the property and daughters were born to him of an unnamed woman presumably of the same kin. As Milcah’s granddaughters, the property in Padan Aram belonged to Leah and Rachel. 

However, Laban sold his daughters to Jacob, very different from matrilocal and mother kin practices of the past where the daughters would receive a dowry from their kin, and the husband would bring a gift (Gen 29: 1-30; 31: 14-16 & 25-43). Instead, Laban profited from their marriages. However, when Laban catches up with Jacob he is still talking mother-tongue ‘ my daughters’, the children born to the women, ‘my children’, the cattle, ‘my cattle’, ‘all that you see is mine’, all members of his clan, not Abraham, Isaac or Jacob’s. 

Laban relented and said to Jacob, ‘Now therefore, come let us make a covenant, a witness ‘if you afflict my daughters or if you take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us’. In other words, even though my daughters are leaving their matrilineal location and inheritance, changing the marriage relationship from ‘sadica’ or ‘beena’ relationship, denoting mother kin and matrilocality to a ‘baal’ marriage, where the wife leaves her kin and goes to her husband’s home. Nevertheless, you are to treat them the same as if they had their brothers to look after them. If you break this covenant, no one will keep you from my sword. ‘Mizpah’ – the Lord watch between us to see you keep this covenant. Do not cross this line to claim anything from me and I will not cross this line to claim anything that belongs to my daughters. If you cross this line or do not look after my daughters and their children, by the agreement we make today, I have the right to kill you’ (Gen 31: 47-55). Jacob agreed out of fear of his father, Isaac (v. 53).

This type of marriage relationship is referred to as ‘sadica’ by Professor Robertson Smith in his groundbreaking work, ‘Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia’. This is where the man leaves his father and mother and joins the wife and her clan. This is in keeping with the way in which Abraham and his brother, Nahor did, when they married their deceased brother’s daughters, Sarai and Milcah, respectively.

Jacob also, when he married the two sisters, his matrilineal cousins, Leah and Rachel. Robertson Smith states that the term comes from ‘sadac’, the ‘gift’ given to a wife by her husband upon marriage, as contrasted with the gift given to the father in the purchase of a wife by her husband, her ‘‘baal’’ ‘master’. The ‘sadica’ type of marriage meant that the wife remained with her kin and the husband visited her there. 

The place where she and her kin resided was identified as a matri-locality. Her children were named after her; her family ties were with her own clan. Kindred were linked together chiefly through the bond of their maternity, as the tribes of Israel were relegated to their various mother’s clans. A map of the placement of the tribes when they entered Canaan in relation to their mothers various tribes reveals this. Another example of this type of relationship is found in the term ‘erebu’ ‘marriage’; it means ‘to come in, pay visits (to one’s wife)’ as in the case of Samson when he visited his wife in Timnah (Jdgs. 15: 1-6 etc). 7

Where descendants are traced through the mother rather than the father and son, the woman’s position is assured in the family structure. Her mother’s brothers and sons, her uncles and brothers, remain her natural protectors. In the ancient gens, descent was limited to the female line. It embraced all common female ancestors through the female, the evidence for this being a common gentile name. It would include this ancestor and her children, the children of her daughters, and the children of her female descendants through females in perpetuity. The children of her sons, and the children of her male descendants, through males, would belong to other gentes, namely those of their respective mothers. Such was the gens in its archaic form, when the paternity of children was not certainly ascertainable and when their maternity afforded the only certain criterion of descents (Ancient Society. Lewis H. Morgan 1877: 47).

Patricia Erlandsen  



  1. The Nuzi texts are, as one would expect, full of references to the bride–price (terhatu) paid by the groom’s family to the bride’s family (i.e., her father or brother), and to the dowry (maluga) a gift received by the bride from her father at the time of her marriage There is some indication in the Nuzi texts that the payment of the bride–price could be postponed until the marriage was consummated, or until the bride had proven her fertility. (ABD).
  2. Too numerous to list here, such names as ‘Tirzah’, Abel beth Maachah, Uzzen Sherah, Bethlehem Ephratah.
  3.  Hammurabi’s Code states a marriage contract is absolutely essential for a marriage (no. 128). (Anchor Bible Dictionary (ABD).
  4. Theologian Katharine C. Bushnell. 100 Bible Studies On Woman’s Place In The Divine Economy.
  5. Lee Anna Starr, Katherine Bushnell, David Bakan and Julian Morgenstien.
  6. More samples from Hammurabi’s Code, for example, if a man outlives his wife, her dowry belongs to her children, not to her husband (no. 162). If, however, the wife died without mothering any children, he is entitled to some of the dowry, but only if his father-in-law has returned the marriage–price (nos. 163, 164, ABD).
  7.  Law no. 33 from Tablet A in the Middle Assyrian Laws in connection with Ugarit reads and others like it (nos. 25, 26, 27, 32) begin conspicuously with the phrase “if while a woman is still living in her father’s house.” Law no. 27 adds, ‘and her husband has been coming in frequently’. 

    Assyriologists often call such a marriage whereby the husband lives with his wife in her father’s house ‘erebu’ marriage (‘erebu’ means “to come in, pay visits [to one’s wife]”). The term is acceptable; however, the very next two laws (nos. 28, 29) indicate that ‘erebu’ was also used of normal marital arrangements in which a woman “went in/entered” her husband’s house. 

    The closest parallels to ‘erebu’ marriage in the Bible would be Jacob living with his wives in the home of Laban, Moses living with his wife, Zipporah, in the home of Jethro, and Samson who goes down to “visit” his wife at Timnah. These examples are a bit different from the law cited in the code in that the husband is an outsider, a foreigner, while in the code the man initiated into the family is a native (ABD).