In The Bible
Biblical Hebrew has two words for "husband": ba'al (also meaning "master"), and ish (also meaning "man", parallel to isha meaning "woman" or "wife"). The words are contrasted in Hosea 2:18 (2:16 in Christian Bibles), where God speaks to Israel as though it is his wife: "On that day, says the Lord, you will call 'my husband' (ish), and will no longer call me 'my master' (ba'al)."
Women were not isolated from society. The Bible refers to the presence of women at festive events. and they take part in public rejoicing, song, and dance.
A wife was also seen as being of high value, and was therefore, usually, carefully looked after. Early nomadic communities practised a form of marriage known as beena, in which a wife would own a tent of her own, within which she retains complete independence from her husband; this principle appears to survive in parts of early Israelite society, as some early passages of the Bible appear to portray certain wives as each owning a tent as a personal possession (specifically, Jael, Sarah, and Jacob's wives). In later times, the Bible describes wives as being given the innermost room(s) of the husband's house, as her own private area to which men were not permitted; in the case of wealthy husbands, the Bible describes their wives as having each been given an entire house for this purpose.
It was not, however, a life of complete freedom. The descriptions of the Bible suggest that a wife was expected to perform certain household tasks: spinning, sewing, weaving, manufacture of clothing, fetching of water, baking of bread, and animal husbandry. The Book of Proverbs contains an entire acrostic about the duties which would be performed by a virtuous wife.
The husband too, is indirectly implied to have some responsibilities to his wife. The Covenant Code orders men who have two wives (polygynously) to not deprive the first wife of food, of clothing, nor of sexual activity; if the husband does not provide the first wife with these things, she is to be divorced, without cost to her. The Talmud interprets this as a requirement for a man to provide food and clothing to, and have sex with, each of his wives, even if he only has one.
As a polygynous society, the Israelites did not have any laws which imposed marital fidelity on men. Adulterous married women and adulterous betrothed women, however, were subject to the death penalty by the biblical laws against adultery, as were their male accomplices. According to the Priestly Code of the Book of Numbers, if a pregnant woman was suspected of adultery, she was to be subjected to the Ordeal of Bitter Water, a form of trial by ordeal, but one that took a miracle to convict. The literary prophets indicate that adultery was a frequent occurrence, despite their strong protests against it, and these legal strictnesses.
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“Think of the Bible think of Homer think of Shakespeare and think of me.”
—Gertrude Stein (18741946)