Someone recently forwarded this salvo of questions to me. They originate with a young man close to our circles with skin in the game, so to speak. He asks:
How could Joseph’s marriage to an Egyptian and Jacob’s recognition of Ephraim and Manasseh as legitimate heirs – despite their dilution of Israelite blood through their Egyptian mother – be legal?
This is a most understandable question. Because Egyptians as we know them today are of multiple castes and had different racial identities at different times prior. But herein too lies the answer. A careful reading of Genesis 42 confirms that at their reunion Joseph’s brothers took him to be an Egyptian. They could not even distinguish him — their own brother — from the majority population of Egypt at the time. This is because Egypt was at the time likely ruled by the Hyksos — Semitic shepherds who had taken the reins from the founding dynasties whom we now know to have been a Japhethic people. Either way, the admission of Joseph’s wife and children as legitimate was in terms of their Semitic heritage, which was on sight more or less indistinguishable from the Israelite ethnicity.
The same thing would apply to Moses’s marriage to an Ethiopian woman (I understand she was white or at least not black), but even if similar in genetic background, [Ehud] sets forth that the ban extends even to a brother nation like Edom in order to maintain racial purity. If this was the case, how was it possible for such a marriage to be legitimated?
Calvin and Henry, among others, are deliberate in clearing Moses of the charge of marrying an ethnic Ethiop. As we’ve discussed before, there is only one wife of Moses named in text: Zipporah. And Zipporah was the daughter of Jethro, the high priest of Midian. The Midianites were descended from Midian, the son of Abraham by way of his second wife, Keturah. So Zipporah would have been a Semite of close relation to Israel. The reason for her being called an ‘Ethiop’ by Moses’s relatives is on account not of race, but of geography, because Midian’s territory bordered on (and sometimes within) the land of Ethiopia/Cush. If this sounds strange, realize we have the same exact dynamic today as the Dutch tend to look down on their Boer cousins who settled South Africa. They disdain their “Afrikaner” kinsmen on account of certain social and political divergences. The Dutch, being now an especially liberal element, resent the Boer history of having clung to Calvinist orthodoxy as well as the resultant policy of apartheid.
Similarly, fresh from Egyptian slavery, many Israelites likely resented the Midianites’ practice of slave-driving. After all, it was Midianites who first sold Joseph to Potiphar (Gen. 37:36). And as slavers dwelling between Egypt and Cush, the Midianites would have been a central cog in the sale of Africans into Egyptian slavery.
And the idea of Moses having married someone of another racial type is a novelty entertained only as of the past few years under the circumstance of a liberal eclipse which throws all biblical doctrines into question and disrepute. Prior to which, the normative perspective was that Moses’s wife was of the same Semitic race as Moses and Israel, but resented on political and historical grounds; and those social grievances were what prompted Miriam’s slur against Zipporah.
Deuteronomy 23:7-8 says that both Edomites and Egyptians were to be allowed into the congregation after the third generation. As far as I have understood the meaning of congregational admittance, this would mean full rights as a citizen, including land ownership, public office and marriage among the rest of the nation?
Yes, there were restrictions — ‘to the third generation’ — against Edomite and Egyptians. Even if they are treated on an ethnic basis, the distinction between them and Israel was not racial because the Edomites were a Semitic people whom the law in question stipulates to have access to Israelite citizenship explicitly on the grounds that (irrespective of conversion status) the Edomite “is thy brother.” And as we’ve said, the Egyptians whom Israel knew in the time of their sojourn there were Hyksos-Semites, so we do not take the provision allowing for their assimilation to pertain to the Japhethic dynasties of Egypt which preceded them, nor the Nubian dynasty which followed after them, only to the Semitic Egyptians amongst whom Israel had residence.
And think of it — without overt caveat, anytime someone references Germans, Swedes, Englishmen, or Europeans in general, no one assumes them to mean the Arabs, Africans, and Orientals rapidly flooding into Europe today. Because we still think of Europeans in the ethnic sense that we’ve always known and it would be artificial in the extreme to count a community suddenly relocated from Somalia to England as “Englishmen.” Because they simply aren’t Anglo-Saxons. But given enough time, men will be habituated to the new drifts of peoples in those lands to the extent that they may begin to speak occasionally of Germans in the geographic rather than ethnic sense, inclusive of the profuse admixtures. This is the sense to which the law regarding the assimilability of Egyptians compels us — the grant of their integration with Israel pertained only to the sort of Egyptians known to Israel during their sojourn there. And this is especially clear when we see later in Israel’s history that the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah came to regard Egyptians as no longer assimilable under the law (Ezra 9:1, etc.). The law had not changed. But we know from the prophets’ authoritative administration of the law, not to mention classical history, that the definition of “Egyptian” had.
Deuteronomy 21:10-14 deals with the matter of female captives taken in war. I cannot imagine this law as a forecast of the eventual infighting between the Hebrews. Why was the offspring of such ethnic mixing still considered legitimate as indicated by the complete lack of sanctions or legal disadvantages mentioned in connection with such unions?
A survey of the commentaries on this subject is fruitful. I shall quote Ellicott, not because he says anything so different than the others, but merely for his succinctness here:
When thou . . . seest among the captives a beautiful woman.—This could not be among the seven nations, of whom it is said (Deuteronomy 20:1-6), “thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth.” But it may well apply to the recent case of the Midianitish maidens (Numbers 31:15-18), who had been taken captive in great numbers, and would naturally be reduced to slavery.
So, yes, in fact, it seems this law accords precisely to the circumstance of Israelites having taken Midianite warbrides in Numbers 31. As it turns out, it is the only such instance mentioned in Scripture. And as Ellicott notes, because the law elsewhere emphatically forbids certain mixed marriages, this particular allowance cannot be viewed as a contravention or nullification of those codes, but rather, must be understood as somehow congruent with them. And again, Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s prophetic interpretation of the law accepted no loophole for bridegrooming among foreign peoples: “Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude.” (Neh. 13:3) The word translated as ‘mixed multitude’ there is ereb, which Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines as “a mixture, (or mongrel race) — Arabia, mingled people, mixed (multitude)”.
There is a conspicuous inconsistency in arguing that the grant of warbrides in Deuteronomy 21 allows for miscegenation in all circumstances except the one outlined in the text. That is, none who’ve made this case endorse the practice of going to war against another people, exterminating a woman’s whole family, abducting her, and then forcing her to marry her family’s slayer. They instead cite this ad hoc provision (which they don’t even truly endorse) granted to Israel as remedy to the Midianite issue as justification for doing something quite different: “Because God granted Israel to do (X) in a certain circumstance, we may therefore do (Y) in a very different circumstance.” It is simply an incoherent line of argument.
Furthermore, there is the lawful provision discussing a priest’s daughter who marries a foreigner (Leviticus 22:12-13). The law states that the outsider husband of a priest’s daughter may not eat of the holy things, but the Lord still recognizes the marriage and no shame is ascribed to the family of the priest. Does not the very existence of such a by-law, as well as the law in Deut. 21:10-14, indicate that the Lord both anticipated and regarded as legitimate inter-ethnic unions under certain circumstances and with the fulfillment of particular covenant requirements?
This word ‘stranger’ which occurs in Leviticus 22:12 is zuwr. Depending on context, it can mean an alien by race, by nation, by tribe, by community, by clan, by house, or by covenant. This passage in particular is singled out by the Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon as an instance pertaining “to the family of another household, children of another household than God’s, especially of another family than priests, not belonging to the tribe of Levi.”
Which explains why more than half of our English translations make some attempt to clarify the matter by translating that passage as denoting family or tribe, rather than race. To wit, both the ESV and NASB render zuwr there as “a layman,” the CSB and HCSB both use “a man outside a priest’s family,” the CEV and GNT opt for “someone who isn’t a priest,” the JPS Tanakh 1917 says “a common man” (i.e., not a Levite), the DRB uses “any of the people” (i.e., of the other tribes of Israel), and other sundry permutations of the same.
Relative to which, too, is that we always adjudicate the less clear by the more clear. In this case, the more clear is nearby in the same book: “A widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or an harlot, these shall he not take: but he shall take a virgin of his own people to wife. So that he shall not profane his seed among his people: for I the LORD do sanctify him.” (Lev. 21: 14-15)
This use of the word ‘people’ is significant. The Hebrew term is am, which Strong’s defines as “folk, men, nation, people. From amam; a people (as a congregated unit); specifically, a tribe (as those of Israel); … folk, men, nation, people.”
Whereas the LXX uses the word genos, which Strong’s Lexicon renders “kindred, offspring, stock, tribe, nation, nationality descended from a particular people.” And which Thayer’s Lexicon defines preeminently as “race”.
But it isn’t an etymological matter only, as Ezekiel elaborates on the ethnic holiness of the Levites thus: “Neither shall they take for their wives a widow, nor her that is put away: but they shall take maidens of the seed of the house of Israel, or a widow that had a priest before.” (Ezek. 44:22)
Now, if we seek coherence from the interplay of these passages as we are obliged to do, a definitive doctrine takes shape: that Levites could only bridegroom from amongst the tribes of Israel, but if the daughters of Levites married men from amongst the other tribes of Israel, their husbands were not granted the priestly benefits by that union. To squeeze more than that out of it so as to admit miscegenation puts the principle of Levitical holiness, and even the concept of tribal and national distinction emphasized here, at odds with themselves. Which is the same thing as pitting the Scripture against itself. And that is something the Christian cannot abide.
However, God very clearly recognized both the fallen nature of people and the difficult circumstances that are beyond their control in providing the legitimate alternatives of remarriage for both widows and divorced women both in the Old and New Testaments.
This point is well taken. We agree. While circumstance of illegitimate birth (and many other circumstances, besides) does impact perspective, and therefore, spirit as well, it is not wholly determinative. The disposition of a man’s soul toward God and His Word is more important than belonging to any particular race, nation, tribe, or house. Because membership in the household of faith sustains such a one.
But the fact remains that a saving faith does not alchemically transform a Chinaman into a Swede simply because he earnestly desires it. Part of the Christian faith is having the humility to accept our own designs and domains under God.
Mercifully, for the borderman — one born neither one thing nor the other — the mandate of equal yoking applies to him as much as anyone else. We all have a mandate from God to seek our like in bridegrooming. Obviously, this is subject to opportunity, but the positive injunction remains — “be ye not unequally yoked,” “gender not diverse kinds,” “be ye holy.” The Samaritans, being a mixed people after all, came about in just this way too — through a grouping of illegitimate offspring. In time, they became a people of their own and due their relation to Israel, they were the next nation after the Israelites to hear the gospel preached in their streets.
With regard to Ezra and Nehemiah’s reforms, with the above considerations in mind, I don’t see how the inclusion of Egyptians and/or other Hebrew-related people groups in the inter-marriage indictment can be held to have the same meaning as the listed Canaanite nations wholly banned and segregated from the Israelite communities.
Well, they weren’t held to exactly the same standard. As I’m sure you know, segregation was not the extent of ‘the ban’ on Canaanites. God had commanded Israel to make total war on them forever. They were to be exterminated, men, women, and children. Yes, under the administration of Ezra and Nehemiah, Israel only segregated from them, but considering the fact of the mingled presence of so many other nations with them, and the delicate circumstance of their recent widescale admixture with Israel, it seems a special mercy that separation was the only thing mandated there.
Israel did, however, at the insistence of the Prophets, segregate from the other nations (such as Egyptians) there too, even from their mixed offspring born thereby. It was perhaps the most heartbreaking episode in Israel’s history, but, most bittersweet, it was also their time of their national restoration and renewal.
They were flagrantly violating the covenant at numerous points and their unions with other peoples could just as easily have been violations based on different issues rather than on the single prohibition of avoiding mamzer offspring.
There were no doubt many matters at issue, but the law which the Prophets emphasized were those contra miscegenation specifically (Ezra 9:2) and when they heard the law they did not separate from idolaters, but from all the ereb (Neh. 13:3), which, as covered, has reference to foreign peoples and mixed offspring. Circumstantially, nothing proves this more than their putting away the mixed children whom they had themselves raised. As we read in 1 Corinthians 7:14, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; else, your children would be unclean, but they are holy.” Covenantally speaking, the faith of one believer (his identity in Christ) overflows the other members of their house with grace — especially if it is the head of household who believes. This is foundational federal theology, and indispensable to covenantal thinking in Old and New Testaments. Which in turn means the issue for which the foreign wives and children were put away in Ezra and Nehemiah had to be something other than their errant faith. This, again, confirms the face value of the ethnic terminology used there such as ereb.
Since Israel had not been back in their homeland for three generations at this point, the Egyptians and Edomites had not yet reached the required religious and cultural saturation to be considered eligible for marriage.
That’s not quite accurate. Cyrus settled the first Israelite envoys back in Israel around 536 BC. Ezra would not arrive on the scene until the late 450s BC, and Nehemiah later still about 445. Their concerted restoration effort occurred then roughly a century after the first waves of refugees returned. That is plenty of time for many of their admixtures to have satisfied the third-generation stipulation. We see further confirmation of this in that both Ezra and Nehemiah make recourse to the genealogies all the way back to the first settlers from the previous century to confirm everyone’s lineage — a needless action if they were facing a single generation of mixing. But many — adults included — could not validate lawful descent genealogically and were consequently among those sent away. Even the fact that the mixed children were speaking foreign languages and could not speak Hebrew at all testifies to a large-scale and generationally ingrained process of degeneration.
Edomites aren’t mentioned among the offending groups in the book, but Egyptians are. But as of the 25th dynasty, Egypt was under the dominion of an entirely different people; Semites no longer, the Egyptians were, by that time, primarily Nubians or a heavy mixed offshoot thereof. So there is little reason to believe the ‘third generation’ provision would have applied to them at that point.
How would the mamzer prohibition have been applied to the hosts of Gentiles, who considering their ignorance of the laws of Israel and the record of Biblical history itself, seemed to have no problem with ethnic inter-marriage and the results of producing mixed offspring?
Nations have always had some special affinity for their own. The outstanding exceptions to which have generally occurred only by imposition of empires. Whether by top-down diktat, or by bottom-up agitation of one tribe or another, all are artificial as they defy God’s ordained social order, which is nationalism.
In the classical world both nationalism and racial categorization were well observed by the Greeks as well as Romans to a degree that Paul’s discursive on illegitimacy in Hebrews 12 echos Greek law contra miscegenation:
A classical parallel to ‘then are ye bastards, and not sons’ is supplied by Aristophanes, Birds 1650-2, ‘for you are illegitimate and no trueborn son, since your mother is a foreign woman,’ where, however, the nothos [bastard] is the child of mixed marriage which was not recognized as legal in Athens of the fifth century B.C.[1. F.F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Hebrews 12, p. 358]
Even if imperfectly conceived under the various schools of paganism, race consciousness, nationalism, segregation, and anti-miscegenation laws were normative to the ancient world. And the exceptions wherein integration was promoted were invariably in terms of the most aggressive anti-Christ imperial orders such as Babylon, Assyria, Babel, the Soviet Union, and the UN.
You’ve also asked some specific questions about Ruth, Timothy, and others which have been addressed by others before me on this site and elsewhere. Regrettably, for the sake of time (this is already a lengthy reply) I must leave those points to be made by others.
As an aside, how would this apply to the tens of millions of mixed race individuals and families today?
This question is posed parenthetically, but it is really a seminal question for us. How we can most equitably apply these principles to our contemporary world and personal lives is so counter-cultural at this moment, and yet so essential that we dare not lay the matter down. For to do so is to relinquish society and the earth to Lucifer, “the weakener of the nations” (Isa. 14:12). But prior to answering, I will first incorporate your final question.
A final question ending on a personal note…
If it can be proven from Scripture the above questions/propositions-to-the-contrary are simply misunderstandings on my behalf and the mamzer ban applies to anyone of mixed race (regardless of the extent or type of miscegenation), how would I conduct myself as a believer of mixed blood?
With my ancestry approximately 70% European (Dutch, German and English) and the rest being a mixture of African and Asian influence, I have been raised solely in White culture and society. My entire identity is that of a White Christian (my somewhat mixed ancestry notwithstanding). What rules and guidelines should I follow for my illegitimate status? And are there any legal consequences from a Biblical perspective for my biological parents in terms of remarriage and their lives going forward?
I know a fair number of Christians in this approximate scenario — some related to me by blood, in fact. And if you took a survey of professing Kinists today, you’d find a significant margin to have similar situations among their relatives as well. So we are not insensate to the difficulties attending this issue. But as Christians we should be working at all levels to restore and reassert God’s order for society. In the macro, this means cultural revival and civil policy that affirms and sustains our respective nations under Christ; in the micro — especially for already mixed broods — it means doing all that we can to ameliorate the situation by guiding our mixed multitude not to compound the blurring of boundaries, but to seek their like for the purposes of marriage. This may be the greatest affront to the modern egalitarian mind, but it conforms both to the biblical image mandate of equal-yoking and to practicality, because we all know those unions built on greater similarity are necessarily more coherent and durable. Your case — a mulatto raised immersed in Euro-stock culture — is actually a prevalent scenario today. Far more so than the reverse. And no one of only European, African, or Oriental stock would be able to fully identify with your experience. To have a wife who truly sees the world from the perspective of your identity, she needs be as much like you as possible in all things. So the Kinist answer is no occasion to despair. Far from it. It actually affords you the greatest likelihood of personal fulfillment and a secure marriage. Because the telos of God’s design and law work in confluence with our practical needs.
The temptation before you, however, which must be resisted at all costs, is that caustic revolutionary spirit against the peoples from whom you are set apart, which is tantamount to revolution against the God who ordered the world into these identities. And it would be the easiest thing in the world for you to embrace a combative stance, or even visceral hatred, of White people because the humanist zeitgeist encourages it so ubiquitously today. But if you are numbered among the elect, I pray and trust that He will keep you walking contra mundum.
According to His law, by His grace,