Women Treated as Property: The Influence of the Ancient Near East on the Covenant Code
Keywords:Covenant Code, discrimination, women, treatment of women, gender inequality, Old Testament
Gender discrimination is not a new phenomenon. It has been prevalent in many civilisations through the ages, including those in the ancient Near East. Prejudice against women thus found its way into legal codes, such as the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, which introduced the idea of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” according to which the killer of a woman was only obliged to pay half a gold mina as punishment to her father or husband, while the punishment for the murder of a nobleman was death. Gender discrimination was also displayed in the moral codes of the Hebrew Bible, including the Deuteronomic Code, the Covenant Code, and the Holiness Code. This article will examine how the Covenant Code relates to gender discrimination. The code, which is presented in Exodus 20–23, is an ancient legislative framework of impressive breadth. Scholars agree that the Covenant Code is an excellent barometer to reveal how women were treated in ancient Israel. While the aim of the article is not to make an in-depth exegetical study of the Covenant Code, it will examine the influence that other cultures in the ancient Near East had on Israel. Appreciating the power that pagan cultures exerted over Israel does not however excuse the negative treatment of women reflected in the Covenant Code. Nevertheless, this investigation will demonstrate how significant this influence was in allowing the negative treatment of women in Israel to persist, especially against the backdrop of Yahweh’s covenant, which stipulated that women were to be treated with dignity and respect.
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