On The Striking Similarity Between Foreign Princesses And Prisoners Of War

Today, as we continue our tour through the biblical law relevant to the issue of maternal lines in the Bible [1], we come to a strange connection that many readers of the Bible are likely unaware of.  There were, in fact, two groups of women who were explicitly told to overcome their own background and overcome their family ties.  Those two groups of people were prisoners of war and foreign princesses.  What similarities does the Bible draw between these two groups of women, and what is the purpose of the biblical command for both of these groups of women to rise above their background as they are integrated into Israel?  Of course, we will also reflect on the differences, as thinking of these two groups of women as similar may be distressing to many readers.

The biblical law about female prisoners of war [2] can be found in Deuteronomy 21:10-14, which reads:  “When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hand, and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails.  She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.  And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall set her free, but you certainly shall not sell her for money; you shall not treat her brutally, because you have humbled her.”  To provide the material for contrast, let us look at the advice that Psalm 45:10-11:  “Listen, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your own people also, and your father’s house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty; because He is your Lord, worship Him.”

In the case of both female prisoners of war and foreign princesses, there was a marked similarity in the call for them to forget their father and mother.  Of interest as well, in passing, is the way that foreign prisoners of war humbled by becoming the wives of Israelites are compared to those women humbled as a result of men forced to marry after having engaged in a hidden relationship.  In both cases as well a chief cause of the foreign woman entering into a marriage relationship is beauty, in the case of the female prisoner of war it is the beauty of the woman that saves her from the status of slave and elevates her to the position of a wife, with guaranteed rights and freedom from exploitation and sale, and in the case of the foreign princess it is her beauty that serves as a major part of her attraction to the Israelite monarch, some of whom were highly disposed to marry foreign princesses–Solomon being conspicuous in this tendency.

Of course, although both female prisoners of war and foreign princesses marrying into Israelite royalty were told to forget their parents, there were some major differences in the two situations as well that need to be recognized.  Foreign prisoners of war likely had to mourn their parents because they were dead–ancient warfare was exceptionally brutal, and in many cases virgin young women and children were the only survivors of the warfare (see, for example:  Judges 21:12).  On the other hand, the maternal ancestral lines of foreign princesses were highly valuable, and it was the alliances that those marriages sealed with foreign nations that marked a great part of the appeal of such princesses as well, besides their beauty.  Likewise, the two situations were significantly different in terms of status, as prisoners of war and princesses were on opposite sides of the status spectrum, one being in the most extreme state of vulnerability and the other among the highest elites.  That said, it is quite possible that many princesses may have found their position as wombs and alliance consideration to be unpleasant, and considered themselves as prisoners in a strange land.

What was the point of these women being told to forget and overcome their background, though?  A large part of that reason was the expectation that these women would become assimilated into Israel.  Overcoming their backgrounds would be an important step in these women taking their places as citizens of God’s people, which was a clear expectation of such situations, as can be seen, for example, from a reading of Psalm 87:4-6:  “I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to those who know Me; behold, O Philistia and Tyre, with Ethiopia:  ‘This one was born there.’”  And of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her; and the Most High Himself shall establish her.”  The Lord will record, when He registers the peoples:  “This one was born there.””  Here we see that the foreign background of these women was no barrier to acceptance, so long as they claimed their identity as Israelites and lived in accordance with the ways of Israel.  Forgetting their ancestral ways and learning to follow God’s ways was an essential part of that change of identity that would allow them to be considered as God’s people regardless of their background, as was the case for women like Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth.  Praise be to a God that cares more about the character of a heart than the place where we came from.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/03/on-the-restrictions-of-priestly-marriage/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/04/on-the-restrictions-of-kingly-marriage

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/06/if-such-is-the-case-of-the-man-with-his-wife-it-is-better-not-to-marry/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/07/and-she-shall-be-his-wife-because-he-has-humbled-her/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2010/12/11/spoils-of-war-an-examination-of-the-treatment-of-captive-women-in-deuteronomy-2110-14/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Love & Marriage, Maternal Lines, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to On The Striking Similarity Between Foreign Princesses And Prisoners Of War

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