Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ancient Jewish Marriage Customs

The Engagement: A Pledge of Faithfulness

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3 NIV)

In the Gospels, Jesus relied on the ancient Jewish marriage pattern to illustrate many of his parables. We see this marriage pattern climax in the promises he gave to his disciples at the Last Supper (see passage above). Many Christians miss the full impact of these allusions in relation to his Second Coming because they're not familiar with ancient Jewish wedding practices.

The following excerpt quoted from gives us much insight.

The Bridegroom Waits & Prepares

"In ancient Israel, when it was time for a man and woman to marry, both fathers would negotiate the bride price to compensate the bride-to-be’s family [for the loss of her valuable services]. After exchanging a glass of wine to seal the agreement, the couple was formally engaged.

The young man then told his fiancée, in effect, 'I’m going home to my father’s house to prepare a place for you. When I’m finished, I’ll return and take you to be my wife.'

The son (typically in his mid-twenties) would then build a new house on his father’s existing one. As generations married and built their houses onto the original one, they created a housing complex called an insula. Here, family members ate, worked, and lived together …

As the son worked on his new home, he eagerly awaited his father’s final approval. Only the father could decide when the building was finally complete.

The Bride Waits & Prepares 

As her fiancé prepared a new home, the bride-to-be (typically fourteen years old) would remain at her parents’ home, preparing wedding clothes and learning homemaking skills.

During this time, she was known in the community as 'one who had been bought with a price.' She might wait six months, nine months, or even longer for her fiancé to return; no one know the exact time when he would come for her.

Eventually, she would hear the sound of the shofar [ram's horn] as her bridegroom entered her village and announced that their wedding day had arrived. The wise bride was well-prepared for her groom’s arrival.

Christian Significance

These insights help us to understand how wonderful heaven and our eternal relationship with God will be. When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven, he compared himself to a bridegroom who was engaged to be married.

'I love you as my bride,' he said, in effect, 'so I’ll pay the bride price. I’ll give up my life for you. I’ll go to my father’s house where there are many rooms to prepare a place for you. One day I’ll return and take you to be with me forever in heaven.'

Jesus’ Second Coming will be like the long-awaited arrival of a bridegroom … And heaven will be like a joyous wedding reception, celebrating the love between a husband and a wife."

At Last, the Wedding Ceremony

A thorough explanation of ancient Jewish marriage customs
can be read under Marriage” in Smith’s online Bible Dictionary. Worth quoting are the following points:

1. The essence of the marriage ceremony consisted in the removal of the bride from her father's house to that of the bridegroom or his father. The bridegroom prepared himself for the occasion by putting on a festive dress, and especially by placing on his head a handsome nuptial turban. ( Psalms 45:8 ; Song of Solomon 4:10: Song of Solomon 4:11 )

2. The bride was veiled. Her robes were white, ( Revelation 19:8 ) and sometimes embroidered with gold thread, ( Psalms 45:13Psalms 45:14 ) and covered with perfumes ( Psalms 45:8 ) she was further decked out with jewels. ( Isaiah 49:18 ; 61:10 ; Revelation 21:2 )

3. When the fixed hour arrived, which was, generally late in the evening, the bridegroom set forth from his house, attended by his groomsmen (Authorized Version "companions," ( Judges 14:11 ) "children of the bride-chamber," ( Matthew 9:15 ) preceded by a band of musicians or singers, ( Genesis 31:27 ; Jeremiah 7:34 ; 16:9 ) and accompanied by persons wearing flambeaux, ( Jeremiah 25:10; Matthew 25:7 ; Revelation 18:23 ) and took the bride with the friends to his own house.

4. At the house a feast was prepared, to which all the friends and neighbors were invited, ( Genesis 29:22 ; Matthew 22:1-10 ; Luke 14:8 ; John 2:2 ) and the festivities were protracted for seven or even fourteen days ( Judges 14:12 ; Job 8:19 ). The guests were provided by the host with fitting robes, ( Matthew 22:11 ) and the feast was enlivened with riddles, ( Judges 14:12 ) and other amusements.

5. The last act in the ceremonial was the conducting of the bride to the bridal chamber, ( Judges 15:1 ; Joel 2:16 ) where a canopy was prepared ( Psalms 19:5 ; Joel 2:16 ). The bride was still completely veiled, so that the deception practiced on Jacob, ( Genesis 29:23 ) was not difficult.

In light of this information, many Scripture passages make much more sense. Think about Jesus' Parable of the Ten Virgins (an allusion to ten bridesmaids in Matt 25:1-13) and the Parable of the Great Feast (a wedding feast in Matt 22:1-14). Can you think of others?

Photos: Biblical Archaeology Review & eliel.schafler (Flickr)

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Julie Arduini said...

When I was a baby Christian I did a study on this, and I feel so blessed by it. There is so much we can admire and use in the Jewish customs to apply to our own marriages.

Great post, as always.

Tami Boesiger said...

This certainly sheds new light on the John 14 passage you quote at the beginning. But I must admit, as the mother of a 14-year-old, I'm glad we don't subscribe to these traditions!

Beth said...

I find great motivation in the realization that my marriage should mirror our marriage to Christ. This really puts that into greater perspective. Thanks so much, e-Mom!

Denise said...

Awesome study, thanks.

Faith said...

whew...I have a 14 yr old (my 2nd and youngest child!) and I am SOOO glad we born again Believers don't follow these Jewish traditions! LOL....BUT...i just LOVE the connection between Jesus and all the spiritual significance here. I learned alot!!

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