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The Hated Wife in Deuteronomic Law

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image of Vetus Testamentum

In Deut 21:15-17, a father is required to grant the birthright to his biologically oldest son, when he has both a loved wife and a hated wife, and when the oldest son is the son of the hated wife. A common interpretation of this text is that it seeks to prevent fathers in general from demoting an eldest son and granting the birthright to a younger son. By contrast, this article argues that the text assumes that fathers had the right to demote their eldest and that they would continue to have this right. It suggests that the hated wife is one who has been arbitrarily demoted by her husband to a lower status within the household. Because of this action on the part of the husband, the text requires him to forfeit his right also to demote this woman’s son arbitrarily, a right he would otherwise have retained.

Affiliations: 1: Saint Joseph’s University Philadelphia


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