Female Inheritance in Ancient Israel

Q. What evidence is there for female inheritance in Nuzi? What are the benefits and draw backs of using epigraphic evidence from the Near East to inform our understanding of female inheritance in ancient Israel?


Part 1

The epigraphical evidence of inheritance, drawn up by the paterfamilias in Nuzi, belonged to the affluent of that society. They concerned the inheritance of property and other issues surrounding their death and burial. These inheritance wills were inscribed as evidence of the paterfamilias’ instructions to the designated heir. In this regard, where women inheriting in the Ancient Near East (hereafter ANE) are concerned, Zaphira Ben Barak says, “Nuzi stands out from the rest”. 1

Given the similar evidence in this regard between Nuzi and ancient Israel, is it sufficient to reach our goal, namely, to inform our understanding of female inheritance in ancient Israel? Can a simple comparison between the two satisfy this quest? The comparison made here, in part 1, shows that method as not meeting the need. 

However, the evidence-based approach in part 2 will show, once a critical analysis of modern approaches to studying the Bible based upon modern archaeological discoveries, it does achieve that goal. This works by tying the archaeological evidence to the comparisons made between the epigraphical evidence from Nuzi and the HB. Finally, a law passed in the name of equal standing for sons and daughters in Israel made the difference between the two societies. It shows the daughter’s status in Israel, no longer shrouded in mystery, unlike Nuzi, made ancient Israel’s daughters equal to its sons. 

One of the crucial issues faced in the ANE was that of ancestral distress: a father not only having a first-born son but also one who would quality as a suitable heir: one the paterfamilias could trust to conduct the obligations responsibly. 2 This auspicious position entailed taking care of the father in life and after death, to execute his will. Then, the heir was required to perform the rites intricately linked with the cult of the dead, with the associated items of mortuary provisions. In this way, the role of the dead was to provide for the living, who would benefit from ancestral blessings of fecundity for family and fields.

The second conflict was the daughter’s status, a dispute throughout the ANE with little information available. 3 A social principle, but not a law, throughout the ANE was, therefore, daughters were not equal to sons. In Nuzi, daughters were considered incapable to conduct the rites of the dead and attend thereafter to the future requirements of that cult. 4

The foundational social principle in Nuzi and Israel prescribed that the first-born son inherited. 5 As in Israel, however, there is no law in Nuzi that first born sons inherit. Further, Nuzi understood ‘kinship’ as follows: kinship relationships were more than blood relatives. Christopher Wright states, “the paterfamilias had the power to create binding relationships.” 6 This might be between, for example, two individuals. By this, all members of that society recognised kinship as one of natural and therefore lawful descent. The two central questions, then, the ones that guide this research in part 1 are: in what way did the paterfamilias satisfy this social law in Nuzi in relation to the matter of a first-born son inheriting, and how did they overcome the dilemma where there was no son to inherit?

It was, of course, impossible for a family to guarantee to produce a biological son to fulfil this requirement. They therefore had to bring about new ways of functioning. To resolve the challenges in this regard, innovative social construction ensued. The populace invented new models of understanding. These prototypes increased the use of the development and management of available human resources. The Nuzi epigraphical evidence shows, these, in principle, were correct. According to Nuzi’s epigraphical evidence, the individual paterfamilias applied them as required. However, they were deviant models. 

Nuzi’s epigraphical evidence therefore bears witness, to show the innovative ways that society resolved the dilemma. Where there was no son to inherit one remedial action taken to resolve the situation was to adopt a trusted household slave. To enact this contractual agreement an adoption ritual was conducted. The paterfamilias adopted the slave. Once enfranchised with the status of ‘son’ the slave’s status changed: it was a legally binding agreement with the paterfamilias. This enactment supplied the missing link: a surrogate husband and father for the paterfamilias’ biological daughter. It gave her the opportunity of inheriting and in turn, hopefully, giving birth to a son who would then inherit the estate and just as importantly, in Nuzi society, carry-on the father’s name and inherit his estate. 

This led to the right for Matka, an adopted household slave, to marry the father’s natural born daughter Taduni. In the case of the daughter, her and her adoptee husband were granted joint ownership: to “… bear the feudal duties of the fields” and, “should a natural born heir, “a son be born to the adoptive father,” (he would) be recognised as the direct descendant of the paterfamilias (as) recognised through his daughter, and “becomes the chief heir and take his inheritance of the land.”  7

No will was straight forward. As in the case of an adopted son and a natural born son it was typical that restrictions applied, wherein, the natural overrules the adoptee: the will changes automatically and disinherits the ‘adoptee.’ The child, as the daughter’s natural son, thereby related directly to the deceased grandfather. 

There are connections here between the Nuzi and HB texts. The HB has a similar process in relation to manumission and adoption. One, Jarha, an Egyptian household slave of Sheshan married Sheshan’s daughter and acted as a surrogate father for purposes of extending the family line. 8 Sheshan’s daughter’s children inherited whatever property Sheshan’s daughter originally inherited from him, and consequently, it was passed down to the ancestral heirs of the deceased Sheshan. (1 Chr 2:34–35). 

The paterfamilias adopted their paternal kin by the same agreement: to fulfil the role of surrogate husband for a paterfamilias’ natural daughter. In Nuzi, a paternal nephew, Sennima, was chosen by Surihi-lu the estate owner to marry his daughter Gilimninu. 9 There is similarity between this and the case in the HB, concerning Laban and his two daughters. This marriage in the case of Leah and Rachel to Jacob consisted of cross cousins. 10 (Gen. 29: 16-20.) The story reveals household customs practiced in the ANE, and links and customs in Harran, to their primary Sumerian source, ancient Babylon, Nuzi and Emar, and as well to Canaan and Israel. 

Two facets of a single story are raised here: the deceit of Laban, a paterfamilias without, at that time, sons to inherit. 11 In the marriage of his daughters and for our study here the struggle the daughters faced was to inherit in their father’s house. Rachel took matters into her own hands and stole Laban’s ‘gods’ the household images (Gen. 31: 30; Jdg. 18: 20-24). This inferred in that society if a daughter held the images, which represented the ancestral spirits that protected the members of a household, they had the right to inherit them so long as there were no sons. 12

In Nuzi, by the will of the paterfamilias, their daughters were accorded the status of honorary ‘men and sons.’ Nuzi, it seems, was by this time at an advanced stage in their development. 13 According to Ben Barak, “If there are no sons, a daughter may be made “male and female” as the traditional phrase runs: “To the law she then is a son.” 14 A document in the museum in Baghdad bears evidence, where a father, Unaptae, (a senior official of the crown,) whose wife’s name is Sakatu, adopts his daughter, Silwataru, as ‘son’ and therein made her chief and the father’s sole heir. 15

However, reading the authoritarian prescriptive, the society did not consider daughters were legally fit to take on the position in relation to the patrimony. 16 There is no connection to this practice in the HB. This shows the largest difference between Nuzi and the HB concerning practices that allowed daughters to inherit. These practices in Nuzi became acceptable and more widely spread and by them, the threat to the stability of the society’s social structure dissipated. 

An indication detected of how widely the status of the daughter changed in Nuzi in some instances, is where daughters inherited outright, even over the choice of sons available. This occurred when a paterfamilias had huge wealth in the “city and various cities large and small.” 17 The usual practice was to see his male kin, the paterfamilias paternal brothers, the next in line as first legitimate heir, if there were no biological sons to inherit. Notwithstanding, the father recognised his daughter as the direct descendant and his grandchildren born of her. 

A second Nuzi tablet similar to the above (held in the Yale collection), also adopted his three daughters as sons, and willed everything to them. 18 It appears from this that an adopted son in law, albeit the fear remained, the paterfamilias’s own kin might instead, favour the interests of his own paternal household. 19 The paterfamilias therefore opposed the interests of his natural, paternal brothers, even though their family interest gave them a declared interest in the patrimony of their brother. 

There are several cases in the HB, where daughters inherited. 20 One, a prominent case, an example of daughters inheriting on the grounds that they were to marry their paternal kin. To inherit, it required initiative and even immediate action on the part of daughters so as not to let the opportunity pass. The father of the five daughters of Zelophehad was dead. He had no sons to inherit his estate in the new land of Canaan. (Num 27: 3). 

The daughters took the initiative and reasoned with Moses and the elders of Israel why they could not inherit their father’s estate. Moses sought for an answer from YHWH and the daughters won their case, based upon explicit divine instructions (Num 27: 5) In that instance Moses passed a law of intestate succession and raised the status of all the daughters of ancient Israel (Num 27: 8-11). 21

Hiers explains, before Moses passed the law for all in ancient Israel concerning the right for daughters to inherit alongside their brothers, there were traditions in place in ancient Israel. These traditions were known from the customs and practices recorded in the early narratives. It was therefore, understood by all in Israel to have the force of the law. 22

The value of these traditional practices improved once Moses passed this written law. The former biblical texts demonstrate that sons inherited. The general practice there in the narrative shows, Zelophehad’s sons, if any, were the sole heirs. But where no sons, due to the law, it then passed to his daughters, before any other member of the extended family (Num 27: 8-11). 23 In Israel, this law passed by Moses shows the first of two differences between the HB and Nuzi concerning daughters inheriting

The second difference was the daughters of Zelophehad were not free to marry anyone outside their tribe. This is known as an endogamous marriage arrangement. 24 Biblically, until the daughters of Zelophehad, problems arose, because there are no explicit laws or statements of principles in the sources, the only evidence available is from various places at different periods.  25

In Nuzi, the sons and the daughter’s freedoms, obligations regarding duties, influences, or restrictions were the same and both had the same stipulations in respect to two principles that influenced the paterfamilias. To ensure the reality of the situation worked for the society, the ability and character of the heir to carry off their responsibilities was paramount. 

Part 2 

Epigraphical evidence provides reliable types of historical information for the establishing of ancient history. The epigraphical evidence of over 3,500 cuneiform tablets found at Nuzi allows a comparison of them with the HB. In relation to the evidence of the inheritance by daughters in Nuzi and in Israel convergences occur. This element of parallelism shown in part 1 reveals some benefit to this kind of approach. 

The junctions that occur help to fill in components either omitted or sketchily drawn in the HB. On the other hand, the archaeological approach also opens additional advantages in the exploration of the world of ancient Israel. The results go beyond theoretical thinking to an enlivening experience of the reality of its ancient world. Elizabeth Bloch-Smith explains how it brings to ancient Israel and its neighbours, substance through this engagement with the realia of the ANE. 26 Understanding their everyday lives allows these discoveries of the past to function as teaching agents, adding significance to the ancient context.

Contemporary archaeology, by extension, therefore, brings a modern context to the ancient findings. This raises awareness, that, when applied to ancient discoveries, it carries archaeological findings to the fore in interpreting Ancient Israel. Margarita Diaz-Andreu illuminates why it is labelled as “material culture” in as much as, it concerns the daily living of people. 27 Unlike the traditional interests of past archaeological digs, these “material remains,” generated by diverse groups include rich and poor, males and females, adults and children, and urban and rural populations. 28 As physical manifestations of society, they enable a reconstruction of ancient Israelite society from the smallest constituent parts. 29 However, these more intimate details do not necessarily inform our understanding of female inheritance in ancient Israel. 

One example of how using the comparison method to determine inheritance by daughters is difficult. Scholars differ on whether the patriarchal age predated the Nuzi materials. Also, while the Nuzi materials are no longer considered important for the chronology of the OT, there is no question that they provide some of the best available evidence for common social, economic, and legal practices in the ANE. 30 These practices were widespread and deeply entrenched throughout the Syro-Mesopotamian sphere of influence. 31 Thus, the continued value in biblical studies concerning Nuzi derives from its illustration of the background against which the HB was written.

The comparison method informs us of the differences between the two countries regarding the delivery and execution of wills and property. The epigraphical evidence from Nuzi shows the wills of paterfamilias recorded on hard or durable material of the elite members of Nuzi, written to cover anomalies in a Nuzi paterfamilias’ will. The paterfamilias of the HB, on the other hand, delivers his deathbed wishes within the hearing of those who belong to his house. They, in turn, function as witnesses. Moses, at his passing announced Joshua as the inheritor of his leadership position within the hearing of all Israel. (Deut 31). 

A weakness shows up in the comparison method between Nuzi and the HB as compared to the archaeological approach. That is, using epigraphical evidence to date material remains. 32 Unlike texts, for which dating remains a contentious issue, archaeology enables concentration at a micro level, by concentrating, say, on something as it existed at one point in time but also on a macro level, in the way in which something has developed and evolved through time. 33

Scribal textual additions and revisions blur the textual evidence of the HB. However, material remains remain distinct. 34 Therefore, an advantage of dating through archaeological evidence allows what the comparative method does not do. That is, help to determine at a micro level, what enculturating influences may have influenced ancient Israel over time and in that, it may give further insight into the question surrounding daughters inhering in Ancient Israel. 

This brings us to the possibility of a diachronist transmission of culture between Nuzi and ancient Israel. Is there a possibility of ancient Israel being enculturated by the presence of Nuzi’s societal background? What was the chance of ancient Israel intermingling with the people of Nuzi? Were their time frames compatible for this to occur? If an association occurred, to what degree? Was Israel able, not only to observe, but to actuate some of the dynamics of that culture and especially, concerning daughters inheriting, in a comparable way it occurred in Nuzi? If so, was there any differences between the two and what were they that would change the outcomes? 

Ernst Axel Knauf throws light on Nuzi. 35 Nuzi was a Hurrian city and belonged at least for part of its history to Mitanni, one of the great nations of the Near East at that time. Mitanni equaled the power of Egypt. Hurrian daughters married Egyptian royal children. The Hurrians, an efficient chariot-warrior military power, is credited with the dissemination of Near Eastern and specifically Hurrian customs throughout the area including the patriarchal setting. 36 The Hurrians presence is identified in Canaan and the hill country. They may be the Horites of the HB. 37 The biblical Horites in the mountains of Seir are described as original occupants of the land of Canaan (Gen. 14: 6; Deut. 2: 12, 22). 38

However, is it reasonable to say there is a hereditary relationship between Israel and the Hurrians of Mitanni? Nuzi’s culture and language was Hurrain. 39 Israel’s language was Semitic of the northern central group, closely related to Phoenician and Moabite which it is often placed by scholars in a Canaanite subgroup. 40 Nevertheless, Israel and Hurrian roots were intertwined. 41 The Midianites and Kenites were related to Israel through both Abraham’s and Moses’ children through their wives: Abraham to Keturah and Moses to Zipporah. 42

Over the last 150 or more years archaeologists have discovered a range of associations, such as with Mitanni, between biblical texts and other texts from the larger ancient Near Eastern world. These benefits enrich modern academic biblical scholarship. Prior to this, biblical archaeologists described anything that took away from the biblical investigation of the HB, as myths. 43 Little did these self-appointed gate keepers know, that the HB holds vary many parallels to myths in the evidence uncovered by contemporary archaeologists throughout the ANE. The Pentateuch is particularly rich in its associations with broader Near Eastern literature. 44

When used comparatively, this range of “literary genres, cultural phenomena or motifs, and texts from the larger ancient Near Eastern world” help to interpret the ANE. 45 This means, for interpreting the ANE society, contemporary archaeological evidence no longer wholly relies upon epigraphical evidence concerning the everyday affairs of people. 

There is now evidence available through modern archeology that has exceeded the Nuzi epigraphical evidence. Although not within the parameters of this essay, this means an even broader search by means other than the Nuzi epigraphical evidence could be conducted. This would help to capture greater understanding throughout the ANE of daughters inheriting and increase our knowledge even more. 

This brings us to the possibility of a diachronist transmission of culture between Nuzi and ancient Israel. Looking at the evidence it is difficult to separate what is Hurrian from what is native in the cultures where Hurrians were present. 46This is particularly in the second half of the 2nd-millennium b.c. when there was such cross-cultural activity among the nations of the Near East. 47 A complex of cultural features is attested throughout known Hurrian areas, however, and these features are thereby associated with the Hurrians. 48

Considering the evidence presented here, it is, therefore, more than a possibility that ancient Israel was enculturated into parts of Nuzi’s societal background. Their time frames were also compatible. If an association occurred, to what degree? Was Israel able, not only to observe but to actuate some of the dynamics of that culture and especially, concerning daughters inheriting, in the same ways it occurred in Nuzi? If so, when the daughters of Zelophehad approached Moses and the elders to reason their case can we surmise that ancient Israel would have been aware of the relative freedom the Hurrian women enjoyed. 

When Nuzi is discussed, it represents typical Hurrian society. This understanding of Hurrian culture has come through modern archaeological finds. Among the special characteristics worth noting here for our discussion are the position of women and slaves. Hurrian women enjoyed considerably more freedom than in other areas of the Near East. “They could own property, enter contracts, litigate, and participate independently in most areas of public life. Similarly, slaves, though bound to masters or households, had considerable economic and legal rights.” 49 When Nuzi is discussed in relation to ancient Israel, the matter of enculturation of ancient Israel is unavoidable. The assimilation of Hurrian practices and values becomes a possibility that cannot be ignored in the quest here to determine whether the Nuzi evidence can satisfactorily inform our understanding. 

As seen here when comparing only the epigraphical evidence from Nuzi with the HB these do not automatically benefit us to informing us of our understanding of female inheritance in Israel. The cultural landscape then, can widen our understanding of Nuzi. When introduced by modern archaeological findings, this evidence can only occur once examined in their entirety. 

Examining the Nuzi epigraphical evidence shines a light on the deviant practice of Nuzi society declaring their daughters as ‘sons.’ We learn through that through this enactment it stopped the disintegration of the patriarchal society. In the same way, the Nuzi social-scape changes from one of a marginal view to another of deep significance. It is only beneficial however, when the original comparison made between the epigraphical evidence of Nuzi and the HB, (part 1) allows the dissimilarities to arise between the two. 

The most glaring dissimilarity between Nuzi and ancient Israel is, therefore, the adoption of daughters in Nuzi to recognise them as ‘sons.’ Once the benefits modern archelogy brings to the discussion, only then does it become clear. It informs our understanding of female inheritance in ancient Israel. The archaeological evidence of the Nuzi epigraphical evidence clarifies the dilemma of a lack of sons to inherit. The Nuzi epigraphical evidence is then sufficient to allow us to reach our goal to inform our understanding of female inheritance in ancient Israel. However, only with the added information of modern archaeological evidence. 

The difference between the two societies was the daughter’s status in Israel, which was not shrouded in mystery like the rest of the ANE. This was due to the courageous effort of the daughters of Zelophehad. In sum, therefore, we do know conflict and dispute surrounded the status of women in the ANE. 50 However, unlike Hurrian Nuzi, and its ANE neighbours, Israel passed a law to make daughters equal to sons. Thus, the status of the daughters of Israel, once legally allowed to inherit, stood alongside their brothers in prominence, revealing the justice of God. (Numbers 27: 8-11). 


Bartlett, John R. “Chapter 1: What Has Archaeology To Do With the Bible?” 1-14 in Archaeology and Biblical Interpretation, (ed). John R. Bartlett, London & New York: Routledge, 1997.

Ben-Barak, Zafrira. Inheritance by Daughters in Israel and the Ancient Near East: A Social, Legal and Ideological Revolution. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2006. 

Bloch-Smith, Elizabeth. “Archaeology: What It Can Teach Us,” 13-27 in The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Ancient Israel, (ed.) Susan Niditch, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2016. 

Diaz-Andreu, Margarita. “Chapter 6: Biblical Archaeology,” 131-166 in A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology: Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Past. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Hiers, Richard H. “Transfer of Property by Inheritance and Bequest in Biblical Law and Tradition.” Journal of Law and Religion 10, no. 1 (1993): 121–55. https://doi.org/10.2307/1051171 p. 121

Knauf, E. A. (1992). Horites. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 3, p. 288). New York: Doubleday.

Weeks, Noel. “Problems with the Comparative Method in Old Testament Studies,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 62.2 (2019): 287-306. 

Wright C. J. H.  Family. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 3, p. 288). New York: Doubleday 

Wright, David P. “Chapter 20: Ancient Near Eastern Literature and the Pentateuch,” in (eds). Joel S. Baden and Jeffrey Stackert, The Oxford Handbook of the Pentateuch (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021). 


The Land YWHW Is Giving (Deut 18). Women’s Property Rights in Ancient Israel (continued)

Methodology, Expected Results, Scope, and Limitations. Thesis Structure.

Read Part 1 HERE

The twelve tribes


The method adopted in this study will be influenced by Don C Benjamin’s comparative method used between Sargon and Moses in the matter of the women in the Ancient Near East and the women of Deuteronomy land distribution rights. 1 This thesis will show inheritance by daughters was permissible, related to the issue of carrying on the ‘father’s familial name’ (Numbers 27: 1-11). This paper draws upon the work of key scholars work and the Hebrew Bible which relate to the current debate in this arena. The elite strident loud male’s voices will be minimized to accentuate the voices of the marginalised women. 2 Documents from the ANE will be compared with the Hebrew Bible. To situate the project in the discussions and show progress there are three strands which can be used together to estimate its value, study in context and explain my text. 

(1) historical and sociological questions of women and society. One of my primary sources to investigate these questions is Carol Meyers. 3 Meyers introduces the concept of Heterarchy, to show how it fosters partnerships of mutual dependence and interdependence in their tribal setting. 4 Mcclenney-Sadler confirms Israel was a consensual two-pronged endogamous society. 5 Chapman’s work “reconfigures kinship studies” using indigenous kinship terminology. 6

(2) the type of literature we’re looking at to compare one with the other. The ANE primary source used here is Zafrira Ben-Barak. 7 A consideration of comparable cases (including and especially Babylonian) will justify Benjamin’s approach. 8 

(3) what sort of legal text are we looking at in Numbers 27:11? The question is, how is a “statutory ordinance” instigated by Moses in this case, similar or different to other laws in the Old Testament? 


This thesis will conclude ancient Israelite women typically inherited land. 9 This thesis will highlight and correct an imbalance in the ways the rights of women in ancient Israel are perceived. This thesis will show through the investigative study conducted in ANE documents different results emerge from various places, but all bar one testify to women inheriting; some, daughters and their brothers inherited together, just as Job’s daughters did, as is shown in a “unique legal document from Alalah (eighteenth century B.C.); further evidence is found in Akkad of daughters inheriting after sons.” 10 By comparison, the sons of Israel inheriting was conditional on them marrying those women recognised by YHWH, the owner of the land. 11 Overall, the knowledge gathered here on women inheriting land in the ANE, particularly Babylon, when compared with Israel, will contribute to the advancement of feminist theories, particularly in the understanding of women’s standing and social relationships in ancient Israel and their rights to land distribution. Those who benefit from the findings in this paper are the scholarly community and the wider public. Finally, the church’s testimony to the attributes of an impartial God is justified (Isa 61:8). 


Using Numbers 27: 1-11 as a case in point the theme of this paper is women’s right to inherit land in ancient Israel and the inherent rights to land distribution. This will broaden out to investigate ANE documents of the same concern. These will be compared with the Hebrew Bible on the same theme. The levirate marriage, where widow’s inheritance is concerned, is not addressed. Neither Leviticus chapter 18, that limits itself to denoting endogamous society is also not addressed. The research undertaken into the social aspects of the women of Israel is confined within the women’s familial relationships, in particular, the endogamous marriage arrangement, the different marriage arrangements, the indigenous language used in relation to this social order, and the women’s role in the choice of heir and the legal right of land distribution. The investigation of these allows a process of careful consideration that add weight to the significant role women played in them and in furthering the understanding of the women’s lives. No biblical exegesis will be conducted on Numbers 27 at this time due to length limits on this paper. The extent of the study of the ANE Law codes factors in the ANE legal instructions on women’s right to inherit land and land distribution rights which are compared with Israel as recorded by Moses in the book of Deuteronomy.


Chapter two addresses the cultural identity of ancient Israel embedded in its written record with its necessity for social order. This indicates the connection of inheritance rights and stable land management policies, conducted through the women’s distribution of land rights. The sociocultural concept of heterarchy as recognising a way of living in the small villages of Israel and meeting the essential needs of a multidimensional lifegiving community are considered. Examples will be given from the Hebrew Bible and scholarly feminist work. These serve to illustrate the way the households in Israel lived and the way it delivered lifestyles that brought meaning to life by empowering the people; its flexibility to support the laws of inheritance; the heritage of land by both sons and daughters, while reinforcing the women’s rights of land distribution. 

Chapter three questions the rights of the women of Israel and their place as heirs to land leading to comparison between law cases of ancient Assyro-Babylonian literature and Semitic languages of this period with Israel. The legal ruling in Numbers 27, namely, the “statute and ordinance” once summarised and contextualised, will widen our understanding and lead to making some inferences about when and how widely it would have been applied in Israel. It will show that the present concept of patriarchy is unjust once the threads of this thesis are drawn together. 

Chapter four shows the conclusion drawn from the research carried out in the Ancient Near East documents and the biblical narrative that ancient Israel provided for women to inherit land and legal rights to its distribution. The idea that Israel was strictly a patrilocal, patrilineal patriarchal society is disputed; rather, Israel was overwhelmingly an endogamous, two-pronged, heterarchical society, indicating, therefore, an elevated status for women rather than a subservient one. Proposed subjects for future research is the gap found on “statute and ordinance,” which will be taken further in this research  (Numbers 27: 11). The broader research will deliver greater depth to what makes it distinctive and how it compares to other types of commandments. The women’s role in the distribution of land rights, like inheritance, was widely recognised in the ANE. Finally, with increased knowledge of the women in the Hebrew Bible the modern reader is the winner here and the character of God and future work of feminist theology of the Bible will only bring greater depth of understanding for all interested participants. 



The Land YWHW Is Giving (Deut 18). Women’s Property Rights in Ancient Israel.

Patricia Erlandsen Semester 1 Test 3. June 2021

Introduction, Thesis Statement, Literature Review and Bibliography.

The twelve tribes


There is a theory that ancient Israel was inequitable in that it was a patriarchal society 1 This is at variance with the Psalmist: “God is fair and just.” (Ps 25:8 translation????) This inconsistency leaves the believer in a quandary as the patriarchal theory suggests daughters fail to meet the mark. One reason for this stance of gender bias is the Hebrew Bible is not sufficiently nuanced to account for the experiences of ancient Israelite women in their households, and in the wider community. 

This leaves the believer with unanswered questions, such as, do only sons inherit land in ancient Israel? Is the locality of the household always patrilocal? Do the daughters always have to leave their home, and join their husband’s household? These questions and many more in the same vein, not mentioned here, reveals a gap in modern interpretations of the Hebrew Bible and as a result, God’s character the biblical principle of a just God is repudiated (Ps 89:14). The reading in Num 27: 1-11 where the Daughters of Zelophehad petition Moses, and the leadership assembly for recognition of their rights in the matter of inheritance and land suggests that the Daughters of Zelophehad thought the same. The situation was complex, leading to the question of this thesis: were women passive bystanders in Ancient Israel in the matter of inheritance and who held the legal title and rights to the land, and the choice of an heir?  

This thesis will argue that the present patriarchal model of ancient Israel’s society is defective and, the son’s inheritance of the father’s house, without any conditions, as deficient as it does not reveal the conditions imposed upon the heir, due to the women holding the legal title to the land, and with it the rights to its distribution. 2

The women’s lives, in ancient Israel were enmeshed in a net of personal, communal, and administrative responsibilities through the essential matters of life: birth, marriage, and death. These complex matters, managed well, helped establish a sound social structure for the ancient Israelite society. This means the women were involved at the base level of delivering a stable society, enveloped in the endogamous marriage relationship through close kinship ties. 3 “Technically, land could not be sold in the world of the Bible.” 4 Therefore, each household dwelt securely on the portion of land inherited from the deceased father, within their own tribe’s geographical borders, with the mother of that household holding the land distribution rights. The households were tied in a co-operative communal knot of mutually common purpose, and in covenantal relationship with YWYH, ancient Israel’s “divine Patron,” and owner of the land. 5


The literature review will show the conversations taking place surrounding the theme of this thesis and their relevancy. The paper will be set out under three headings: 

(1) Who is discussing the social structure of Ancient Israelite Society, and the women’s rights regarding inheritance, and land distribution

(2) Who is discussing inheritance by Daughters in the ANE, and Ancient Israel 

(3) Case in point: the Daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27: 1-11). 

(4) The social structure of ancient Israelite society, and the women’s rights regarding inheritance, and land distribution:

The scholars quoted here are in discussion about ancient Israel’s society. Naomi Steinberg stresses the exclusivity of the endogamous marriage arrangement as important due to its interrelatedness to the women endorsed by YWYH who occupy the central role as it she who bears the heir; this establishes direct linage of Abraham, and Sarah’s forebears. 6 The women’s centrality to the economic survival of the household is also established due to the mother elect bearing the heir, selected by YWYH. It is the mother also who holds the legal title to the land, and its distribution rights. 7 The ‘father’s house’, (bet ab,) the smallest basic unit of social organization, and its patriline, are under scrutiny in my thesis, due to it not being the only residence in Israel. 8

The households of Israel, and women’s life-matters are intimately intertwined with birth, marriage, and death. In giving birth, mothers “predominantly named their children,” 9 When married, daughters were granted land as dowry; in the matter of conflict between heirs, mothers mediate. 10 Upon their husband’s death, widows continued to exercise their land rights. 11

The view of Israel as a patriarchal society is contested: it is not a biblical term but rather, a “social-science theory.” 12 Naomi Steinberg identifies Israel as a patrilineal society “without exception.” 13 Cynthia Chapman builds on the differentiation by showing a “neatly schematic patriline,” when, on occasions, the male descent line splits laterally and records mother’s lines: the “House of the Mother” (Bet em,) hence revealing the uterine family “nested” in the father’s house (Bet ab). 14

Chapman also discusses the patri-matriline of Jacob’s uncle, as the ‘house of the father of his mother’ (bêt-’ăbî ’immô) and his ‘father’s house’. 15 This scenario may provoke a political struggle, whereby the daughter’s father’s house was never left entirely, but instead, could provide for the mother a “support base” in “her sons bid for succession in his father’s house.” 16 This shows land inheritance does not run along straight descent lines of the patrilineal ‘father’s line’ as the basic unit according to the patriarchal assumption. 

Instead, it shows the naivete of the patriarchal assumption that those most affected, the mothers, daughters, and disinherited sons, have no say or reward in its outcome, yet they willingly play a subjective role in its success. Accordingly, the son who inherited the land of his deceased father did not inherit its legal title. 17 In the first instance, the land ownership and all rights, Moses assigned to YWHW, Israel’s divine patron with Israel as YWYH’s client. 18 In the second instance the land distribution rights, Moses assigned to the mother. 19

Carol Meyers contests the patriarchal model, by identifying the ancient society of Israel as a “Heterarchy.” 20 Benjamin agrees with this. 21 The alternative model to patriarchy is compelling. 22 Meyers says patriarchy manifests itself in two ways: the clans are under the father’s control, by extension, “the organization of an entire society in ways that exclude women from community positions”. 23

The heterarchical model, alternatively, allows for “different power structures” to exist at the same time, rather than “fixed, hierarchical gender patterns” allowing for “autonomous actors in multiple aspects of household and community life.” 24 Benjamin explains women could hold legal title to the land and its distribution rights. 25

Madeline Gay Mcclenney-Sadler identifies five different patterns of marriage in the family structures represented in the ‘father’s house.’ 26 These five, all nestled within Israel’s endogamous clans, reveal an interpersonal, intertwined, clustered knot of familial relationships. Mcclenney-Sadler goes on to discuss the plausibility of Israel practicing a matrilocality (living near the relatives of females) hence a one-sided patrilocal society was defective. 27 The patrilocal model is unsupported by the anthropological and documentary evidence and the different kinship terminology used. 28 She questions the idea of simplified inheritance from father to son and the heir decided by the father as being the norm. 29 Benjamin concurs, asserting, “ancient Israel was not matrilineal, but it was also not rigorously patrilineal.” 30

Benjamin’s proposes, by making a comparison between the similarity of Sargon and Moses’ birth motifs, shows the way Sargon delegated to the woman, Enheduanna, to distribute land use rights to the women of Akkad; he sees the similarity in the way Moses does the same to the women in Deuteronomy. 31 In this, Benjamin shows conclusively, both Sargon and Moses bestow upon their peoples to supply an enduring need; the need for survival in the world of Bible – how to acquire land but also how to manage it. 32 In this way, the women the land, and sustainable practice are entwined. 

Robert A. Oden states, “all of Israel’s approved marriages, to some extent, were endogamous”  (Genesis 12-36). 33 This brings this idea under the scrutiny of daughters leaving their mother’s house and consistently joining the father’s house. In some instances in the endogamous marriage relationship, daughters stayed within the protection of their ‘mother’s house. 34

The “house of the mothers” comes to the fore when Chapman questions, why, in those cases of a daughter marrying out, the house of the mother, her daughters, and their uterine brothers becomes centrally involved in the matter of an eligible daughter, whose groom would marry into her household? This anomaly reiterates the point that the will of the father was not the only determinant in matters relating to inheritance. 

(2) inheritance by Daughters in the ANE and Ancient Israel 

In the ANE sons inherited the father’s estate upon his death. Zafrira Ben-Barak shows documented evidence of women in the ANE inheriting land and women holding legal title to the land and its distribution rights. 35 Ben-Barak cites three distinct situations, attested to in different periods, and in four different societies: daughters may inherit with sons but as inferiors, or they may inherit with sons on an equal basis.” 36

The ANE legal title to the land and its distribution rights were held by the king: he represented the divine assembly who owned the land; as a rule, the distribution was assigned to a body of elite individuals who held the administrative rights. 37 Benjamin brings to the fore the similarity in the motifs of Sargon’s and Moses’ birth stories. 38 Based upon this and Sargon delegating to the woman Enheduanna to distribute land use rights to the women of Akkad. Benjamin makes comparisons between the two and concludes: “Moses appoints the women in Deuteronomy to hold legal title and to distribute land rights in ancient Israel.” 39 This just ruling puts the onus on the fathers of the households to care for the land and women, “as Deuteronomy envisions.” 40  Benjamin justly deduces, “only those fathers can endow their households with life as abundant as the life with which Sargon and Enheduanna endowed Akkad”. 41 However, a difference in point is, unlike the rest of the ANE, YHWH alone is the divine Patron of Judah. 42

A plain reading of Numbers 27: 1-11 appears as if the daughters of Zelophehad bring a petition to Moses to inherit their father’s land. However, Benjamin says this is an example of women asking Moses to allow them to exercise their land rights independently. 43 In other words, it is a dispute about the preservation of the land rights of households. 

We have considered the parallels and comparisons of Benjamin with the ANE documents, between Sargon and Moses’ birth motifs; the dynamics involved in Israel’s endogamous marriage relationships, and finally, Moses’ granting the women of Deuteronomy to hold legal title to the land and its distribution rights. The various authors quoted discussing women’s inheritance and their land distribution rights frame my research topic in such a way as shown there are variances involving marriage, locality, and the diverse ways in which various players are involved in Israel’s ancient society which Chapman liberally covers. 

In the instance where Moses passed a “statute and ordinance,” or more literally “a statute of ordinance” (Hebrew: חֻקַּת מִשְׁפָּט). This means the evidence for inheritance in Israel is broader than here as it looks like a technical expression, which is only used here and in Numb 35:29. The similar expressions חֹק וּמִשְׁפָּט and חֹק וּלְמִשְׁפָּט occur in Exod 15:25 and 1 Sam 30:25, respectively. This means a form-critical study which focuses on this particular type of commandment, will be carried out in the future to ask, what makes it distinctive and how does it compare to other types of commandments? 

Finally, my thesis shows Israel’s ‘patriarchal’ society cannot be seen as simple as the father’s house and son’s linear descent providing for the inheritance needs to the full extent of that society. The hidden nuances and the complexities involved in such a diverse society provide justification for why my research should be undertaken. 

Proposed subjects for future research is the future investigation into “statute and ordinance.” There is found to be a gap here. Further research would bring greater depth to what makes it distinctive and how does it compare to other types of commandments? Finally, with increased knowledge of the women in the Hebrew Bible the modern reader is the winner here and the justification of the just character of God and the future work of feminist theology of the Bible will only bring a greater depth of understanding for all interested participants. 

to be continued


Ackerman, Susan. Celebrate Her for the Fruit of Her Hands: Essays in Honor of Carol L. Meyers. IN: Eisenbrauns, 2015.

Ackerman, Susan. “Digging Up Deborah”. Near Eastern Archaeology 66, no. 4: (2003), 172-184. http://doi.org/10.2307/3557917.

Ackerman, Susan, Charles E Carter, and Beth A Nakhai. “1. General (Including Introductions and Collections of Essays).” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 40, no. 5 (June 2016): 1–40. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309089216638248 .

Albertz, Rainer, Beth Alpert Nakhai, Saul M. Olyan, and Rüdiger Schmitt. Family and Household Religion: Toward a Synthesis of Old Testament Studies, Archaeology, Epigraphy and Cultural Studies. IN: Eisenbrauns, 2014.

Bader, Mary Anna. Genesis 34 and 2 Samuel 13. Dinah and Tamar: Their Brothers and Fathers, PhD diss., Lutheran School of Theology IL, 2002.

Ben-Barak, Zafrira. “Inheritance by Daughters in the Ancient Near East.” Journal of Semitic Studies 25, no. 1 (1980): 22-33. https://doi.org/10.1093/jss/25/1/22 

Benjamin, Don C. “The Impact of Sargon & Enheduanna on Land Rights in Deuteronomy.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 49, (2019), 22-31. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146107918818040

Benjamin, Don, C. “The Land Rights of Women in Deuteronomy: In Memory of John J. Pilch. (1937–2016).” Biblical Theology Bulletin 47, (2017), 67-79. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146107917697901 

Benjamin, Don C. The Social World of Deuteronomy: A new feminist commentary. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015. 

Bess, Stephen Herbert. Systems of Land Tenure in Ancient Israel, PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1963.

Bridge, Edward J. “A Mother’s Influence: Mothers Naming Children in the Hebrew Bible.” Vetus Testamentum 64, no. 3: (2014), 389-400.

Cameron, Averil, and Amelie Kuhrt. Images of Women in Antiquity. LDN: Croom Helm (1983), 260-272.

Chapman, Cynthia R. The House of the Mother: The Social Roles of Maternal Kin in Biblical Hebrew Narrative and Poetry. New Haven, CT: University Press, 2016.

Cimosa, M. “Translating Go’ēl Ha-Dām: “The Avenger of Blood”.” The Bible Translator 41, no. 3 (1990): 319-26. https://doi.org/10.1177/026009359004100303 .

Classens, Juliana. “‘Give Us a Portion among Our Father’s Brothers’: The Daughters of Zelophehad, Land, and the Quest for Human Dignity.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 37, no. 3 (2013): 319-37. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309089213475399

Coogan, Michael D. “Genesis.” In the New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Augmented Third Edition, New Revised Standard Version. Oxford University Press, 2007. Oxford Biblical Studies Online. Accessed 22 April 2021.

Davies, Eryl W. “Inheritance Rights and the Hebrew Levirate Marriage: Part 1.” Vetus Testamentum 31, no. 2 (1981): 138-44. https://doi.org/10.2307/1517677

Harris, Rivkah. “Biographical Notes on the Nadītu Women of Sippar.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 16, no. 1 (1962): 1-12. https://doi.org/10.2307/1359426.

Heady, Patrick and Lale Yalcin-Heckmann. “Implications of Endogamy in the Southwest Eurasian Highlands: Another look at Jack Goody’s theory of production, property and kinship.” History and Anthropology 31 no. 2 (2020): 257-281. https://doi.org/10.1080/02757206.2019.1640693 

Hurvitz, Avi. “The Evidence of Language in dating the Priestly Code: A Linguistic Study in Techical Idioms and Terminology.” Revue Biblique 81, no. 1 (January 1974): 24-56. Accessed April 29, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44089719

Levicheva, Larisa. “Family and Household Religion: Toward a Synthesis of Old Testament Studies, Archaeology, Epigraphy, and Cultural Studies.” Review [Untitled], Bulletin for Biblical Research 26, no. 1 (2016): 88-90.

McEntire, Mark and Wongi Park. “Ethnic Fission and Fusion in Biblical Genealogies.” Journal of Biblical Literature 140, no. 1 (2021): 31-47. Accessed May 9, 2021. https://doi.org/10.15699/jbl.1401.2021.2 .   

Matthews, Victor H., and Don C. Benjamin. Old Testament Parallels: laws and stories from the ancient Near East. NY: Paulist Press, 1991.

Matthews, Victor H., and Benjamin, Don C. Social World of Ancient Israel: 1250 – 587 BCE. 1st Edition, Ada, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993. 

McClenney-Sadler, Madeline Gay. Recovering the Daughter’s Nakedness a Formal Analysis of Israelite Kinship Terminology and the Internal Logic of Leviticus 18. Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies; 476. New York: T & T Clark International, 2007.

Meyers, Carol L. “Gender and the Heterarchy Alternative for Re-Modeling Ancient Israel,” in The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Approaches to the Hebrew Bible, edited by. Susanne Scholz, 1-20. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, OSO, 2020). https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190462673.001.0001

Meyers, Carol L. Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context. NY: Oxford University Press, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199734559.001.0001 

Meyers, Carol L. “Was Ancient Israel a Patriarchal Society?” Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 1 (2014): 8-27. https://doi.org/10.1353/jbl.2014.0012 .

Nelson, Sarah M. Women in Antiquity: Theoretical Approaches to Gender and Archaeology. Gender and Archaeology Series. MD; UK: Alta Mira Press, 2007.

Oden, Robert A. “Jacob as Father, Husband, and Nephew: Kinship Studies and the Patriarchal Narratives.” Journal of Biblical Literature 102, no. 2 (1983): 189-205. http://doi.org/10.2307/3261157 .

Quick, Laura. “The Book of Ruth and the Limits of Proverbial Wisdom.” Journal of Biblical Literature 139, no. 1 (2020): 47-66. https://doi.org/10.15699/jbl.1391.2020.3 

Russell, Stephen C. “Abraham’s Purchase of Ephron’s Land in Anthropological Perspective.” Biblical Interpretation 21, no. 2 (2013): 153-70. https://doi.org/10.1163/15685152-0015A0001 

Russell, Stephen C. “The Legal Background of the Theme of Land in the Book of Joshua.” Hebrew Studies. 59, no. 1 (2018): 111-28.

Sakenfeld, Katharine D. Journeying with God: A Commentary on the Book of Numbers. International Theological Commentary. MI: Handsel Press, 1995.

Scholz, Susanne. The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Approaches to the Hebrew Bible. Oxford Handbooks Online. NY: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Stiebert, Johanna. Sex in the Family: First-Degree Incest and the Hebrew Bible. The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies. LDN: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy2.acu.edu.au/10.5040/9780567670076 .

Steinberg, Naomi. Kinship and Marriage in Genesis: A Household Economic Perspective. (Minneapolis: MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1993). 

Stol. “Women in Mesopotamia.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient. 38, no. 2 (1995): 123-44. https://doi.org/10.1163/1568520952600524 

Tucker, Gene M. Form Criticism of the Old Testament. Guides to Biblical Scholarship. Old Testament Series. PH: Fortress Press, 1971.

Ulrich, Dean A. “The Framing Function of the Narratives about Zelophehad’s Daughters.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41, no. 4 (December 1998): 529.

Wells, Bruce. “What Is Biblical Law?” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 70, no. 2 (2008): 224-43.

Winslow, Karen Strand. “Ethnicity, Exogamy, and Zipporah.” Women in Judaism 4, no. 1 (2006): 1-13. https://search.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/ethnicity-exogamy-zipporah/docview/200846475/se-2?accountid=8194


Patricia’s ACU Honours Thesis Test 1 (of 3)

Task 1: Thesis statement and annotated bibliography: The assessment strategy is intended to allow you to display development of thesis writing and research methods skills appropriate for an Honours thesis. All three assessment tasks are linked together so that the feedback received from each task also acts as a feedforward to help you prepare for the next task.

Assessment task 1 enables you to display achievement of LO 1 by asking you to compile an annotated bibliography of relevant key resources for your proposed thesis topic and drafting a thesis statement, outlining the argument of your proposed thesis

Requires students to demonstrate the skills of writing a thesis statement and compiling an annotated bibliography of relevant sources.

Due Friday 26th March 2021

For this task, you are asked to write an annotated bibliography of ten selected relevant sources for your thesis project. Your annotations should be approximately 100 words each. Each annotation should explain what that resource is about and why it is an important resource for your thesis. You are also asked to include a draft thesis statement written at the top of the document. There is a guide to writing Annotated Bibliographies in Appendix A.

Length and/or format: 1200 words: A single sentence thesis statement plus ten 100- word annotations.

To enable you to gather ten key sources for your project and explain why they are relevant; and to support you in writing a thesis statement, which will provide direction for your thesis project. The annotated bibliography also provides a basis from which you can develop your Literature Review.

Patricia Erlandsen Draft Thesis Statement and Annotated Bibliography

The land of Canaan was divinely promised to Israel through their fore-parents, Abraham and Sarah. Due to acts of divine deliverance, Israel was now poised to enter the promised land.

Moses appointed to each tribe their portion of land. A discrepancy arose and the daughters of Zelophehad approached Moses. Their petition was twofold: “Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? give us property among our father’s relatives.” 1 To ensure the women remained with their land, endogamous marriage was instituted. A statute was passed that showed the land belonged to Yahweh: “the request of the daughters of Zelophehad is justified; you shall certainly give them a possession as an inheritance among their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer their father’s inheritance to them.” 2

This thesis attempts to answer the question, “what motivated the ancient Israelite custom reported in Numbers 27:7 of permitting daughters to inherit?; and is therefore, the matter of women inheriting land in Ancient Israel more of a theological justification about divine ownership of the land?; further, “did the women of Israel typically inherit land? and is this interrelated with widows inheriting land through the endogamous Levirate marriage law?”; so that, in reality, “was inheriting land by all members of the tribes and endogamous marriages a distinctive feature of Israelite society?”

Below: 100 words each Annotated Bibliography.

Ackerman, Susan. 2003. “Digging Up Deborah”. Near Eastern Archaeology 66, no. 4: 172-184. http://doi.org/10.2307/3557917.

Biblical scholar, Susan Ackerman, a biblical scholar, draws from Carol Meyer’s work using archaeology as a tool to uncover the sub text. This opens up indicators of deeper meaning between Iron I period in the book of Judges and Israel’s pre-monarchic era of Iron 11. Close attention is given to the way the ordinary everyday tasks of the women opened up ways for them to influence the society’s economical, judicial and legal affairs and to participate in religious observances. Ackerman also compares the ancient Semitic language and includes extra-biblical source materials, all adding valuable weight to my thesis.

Benjamin, Don C. 2015 The Social World of Deuteronomy: A New Feminist Commentary. Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Both legal traditions and cultures in the bible world are brought together in Don Benjamin’s work. He brings to the reader empathetic insight into the social world of Israel’s women and their household members. Yahweh’s patronage allowed all Israel to receive a divine land grant: “The land that Yahweh is giving.” 3 The author engages feminist criticism, law, social life and customs. Benjamin explains simple lineages, segmented lineages, and genealogies. He uses social – scientific criticism to reconstruct the social institutions that appear in Deuteronomy’s traditions. Along with this, the book’s bibliography is of value in developing my thesis.

Brenner-Idan, Athalya. 1993. Feminist Companion to Genesis. London, Bloomsbury.

Brenner’s approach of feminist criticism and interpretation examines sexism and sex in the bible. Wives controlling their husband’s sexual activity through the wife’s directive led to controlling childbirth. Women therefore were central to building up their clan leading to the growth of the tribe. Brenner concludes it does not infer domination. However, that is questionable. This is relevant to my thesis in showing the way women had autonomy in critical issues and decision making. It also ensured a woman’s relative freedom in preventing sexual harassment. It infers they were not overtly patriarchal households.

Brenner-Idan, Athalya, and Brenner,Athalya. 1993. Feminist Companion to Ruth. London, Bloomsbury.

An explicitly feminist approach is adopted as Brennan shows the way in which the Levirate law in Israel is applied on behalf of widows in Israel. Redemption is the theme. Its central issue is twofold: retention of land and name which works through endogamous matrilineal kinship ties. Brenner insight defines the way in which the matriline is the strength of the society they live in as it provides the source of female authority to help cull the potential of aggressive male domination.

Bridge, Edward J. 2014. A Mother’s Influence: Mothers Naming Children in the Hebrew Bible. Vetus Testamentum 64, no. 3: 389-400.

Edward Bridge shows during the pre-Israelite pre monarchic and monarchic periods women exhibit significant standing and influence in Israel. They predominantly named their children, educated and chose their children’s language. They expressed preference for children over husbands; singularly inquired of God; some were recognised as wise. One saved a city, another built them; others were prophets and mediums, others served at the tabernacle. The Shelomith seal, late fifth early sixth century BC, has a woman acting in the capacity of government official or functionary. Overall, Bridge demonstrates it is a gross misrepresentation to interpret Israelite women as docile which is in keeping with my thesis.

Chapman, Cynthia R. 2016. The House of the Mother: The Social Roles of Maternal Kin in Biblical Hebrew Narrative and Poetry. New Haven, Connecticut.

To provide a lens to magnify ancient Israelite kinship ties, Chapman combines biblical and extra-biblical linguistic analysis with anthropological theory, ethnographical insights, and archaeological data. These serve to help the readers’ gaze converge on what Chapman calls “horizontal lines”. These are matrilineal lines leading to far more complexity in the patriarchal structure of the tribes of Israel than might once be thought. Chapman refers to these as a “more complex maternally subdivided household”. These are identified as “the House of the Mother”. Chapman’s study supports the argument that one-dimensional patrilocal marriage and male only line of descent is inaccurate.

Meyers, Carol L. 2014. Journal of Biblical Literature; Atlanta Vol. 133, Iss. 1, 8-27.


Carol Meyers scholarly feminist critique: “Was Ancient Israel a Patriarchal Society?” seeks to reexamine the concept of patriarchy as a negative descriptor of ancient Israel. Employing historical text analysis, anthropology, archaeology, Hebrew language, science and society, the author highlights the social problems associated with patriarchal interpretation. Meyers says other scholars such as third-wave feminists, social theorists and feminist archaeologists agree. Meyers disagrees with the way theorists use the Roman “paterfamilias” as an example to compare with the families of Ancient Israel. This archaic view has never been entirely corrected. I agree with Meyers: it is too long a time period to make any relevant comparison.

Meyers, Carol. 2013. Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context. New York: Oxford University Press.

Meyer’s feminist study investigates the popular view of Israelite women in their households being at the bottom of a blatantly patriarchal social structure in Iron Age 1 Israelite society. Meyer considers the mundane lives of such ordinary women agrarians residing in matrilineal kinship groups. It reveals a micro-view of their economic, social, political, and religious significance in the tribe’s internal and external cohesion. The author draws upon archaeological discoveries from that period. In support my thesis in as much as it allows a broader picture of Ancient Israelite women’s roles, their worth in the family as well as their interactions amongst themselves and the broader community.

Oden, Robert A. 1983. “Jacob as Father, Husband, and Nephew: Kinship Studies and the Patriarchal Narratives”. Journal of Biblical Literature 102, no. 2 189-205. http://doi.org/10.2307/3261157.

Robert Oden’s emphasis in the study of biblical literature is about modern analysis of kinship studies. This offers the reader the opportunity to research the Hebrew texts in greater depth. In this instance, Jacob and Laban are brought to the fore to examine the special relationship between a man and his maternal uncle. Its most prominent features concern kinship studies and genealogy in the family of Abraham, Sarah and their descendants, allowing preservation of its system of land tenure. The author helps me articulate my argument in the way in which endogamy served Israel.

Zafrira, Ben-Barak. 1980. “Inheritance by Daughters in the Ancient Near East”, Journal of Semitic Studies 25, no. 1, 22-33. https://doi.org/10.1093/jss/25/1/22

Zafrira’s approach is one of bible criticism and interpretation It deals with ancient Assyro-Babylonian literature and Semitic Languages of this period. It ascertains that the situation of women’s right to land also occurred in the course of establishing justice in Middle Eastern society. Certain documents from there show widows orphans and daughters become heirs; this occurs when there is no son. The author explores Job’s daughters inheriting land. The endogamous marriage arrangement is also considered. Zafrira’s study enables comparison between law cases listed here to the one concerning the five daughters of Zelophehad.


Australian Catholic University’s Bachelor of Theology (Honours)

ACU Books

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  



Hey! I have been accepted into Bachelor of Theology (Hons) at ACU!

ACU Books

Congratulations, Patricia – you’re in!

It’s time to celebrate – your application was successful and we’re delighted to offer you a place to study at Australian Catholic University (ACU). Your offer details:

Name: Patricia Erlandsen
Course: Bachelor of Theology (Honours)
Place: Commonwealth Supported
Faculty: Faculty Theology & Philosophy
Campus: Brisbane (check out their campus)
Intake: 2021 Academic Year

Bachelor of Theology (Honours): A one-year programme for high-achieving students who have completed the Bachelor of Theology pass degree or equivalent; students 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.

More news soon… Watch this space!