"Women were non-persons back then in the OT--they had NO legal rights in the system at all!"

[Note: This is a simple summary of the detailed data in the syllabus. Refer there for sources/discussion. Updated: 01/02/97]
This is sometimes argued based on the assumption that only men could initiate divorce in the OT (even though Jesus and Paul taught differently, and the Elephantine papyri of the Jewish colony of Egypt indicate otherwise--ANET:222-223), or the assumption that a woman was only a 'somebody' legally when she was "attached to" a male (WS:CP:TCP:9; WS:AHTO:20).

These arguments encounter difficulty when confronted with the vast amount of information and legal terminology applied to women (married, unmarried, widowed) in the OT:

  1. The Levirite law for a brother to marry his brother's widow is called a 'duty to her' (Gen 38.8)
  2. Zelophehad's daughters brought a legal case before Moses and the elders (Num 27)
  3. They show up as required joint-agents with husbands in a number of settings (Gen 26.11; 26.34-35; I Sam 14.1ff)
  4. They could buy their freedom (like males) (Ex 21.2-4)
  5. They could be witnesses at the gate, even to capital crimes (Deut 21.18; 22.15f; 25.5)
  6. Widows could initiate property transference transactions at the gate (Deut 25.5; Ruth 4.7-8)
  7. Women appeared at the 'gates' with the elders (Judges 5.11ff; Prov 8.3-4), spoke for/dominated the group of elders (2 Sam 20.21-22), and were considered 'elders and leaders' (Is 3.11ff).
  8. They had access to the king for grievances! (2 Sam 14 ; 2 kgs 8.5; 1 kgs 3.16)
  9. Widows were said to have legal "cases" (Is 1.16-18,23) and are spoken in terms of "justice" (=>rights, Is 10.1)
  10. [The Elephantine papyri (from a Jewish colony in Egypt) indicated that at least in the times of Ezra-Nehemiah, women could INITIATE divorce--ANET:222-223.]

This data is very diverse and indicative of a legal-system in which women were significant participants.

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