Fandom

Religion Wiki

Sotah

34,278pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Talk0 Share

Ad blocker interference detected!


Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.

Sotah (סוטה, "wayward wife") deals with the ritual of the Sotah - the woman suspected of adultery as described and prescribed in the Book of Numbers in Numbers 5:. Part of the Biblical ritual to determine if a wife suspected and accused of adultery, but not proven to have done so based on any reliable witnesses that obviates this ritual, is the so-called "ordeal of bitter water" to be applied in certain cases of suspected adultery[1].

Specifically, the Hebrew Bible requires that a pregnant[2] woman, suspected of adultery, be subjected to this ordeal if her husband becomes fiercely jealous about the pregnancy (literally has the storm-wind of jealousy), and there are not enough witnesses able to confirm the woman's guilt or innocence[1].

The ritual is fairly unique in the Torah, and although some scholars think that it might be mentioned by a psalm[3][4], there is no other Biblical evidence for the ritual ever having been carried out, nor is its existence acknowledged elsewhere in the Bible[4].

According to the Mishnah, the ritual of Sotah was formally abolished in the middle of the first century (20 years before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem)[5].

Preparations

The regulations require that the ordeal take place when the woman is brought to an Israelite priest[6], or when she is brought before God[7]. The Talmud reports that, for the latter situation, in the time of the Second Temple, this equated with the Nikanor gate[8].

The woman is required by the Biblical passage to have loosened hair during the ritual[9]; this is often taken to be a symbol of the woman's supposed shame[4], but according to Josephus, it was merely the standard behaviour for anyone accused of any crime, when they appeared before the Sanhedrin[10]. The Mishnah, however, argues that the clothing on the woman's upper body was also stripped away, leaving her bare-breasted, which could only have the significance that she was treated as a harlot (note that at this point she had not yet even been found guilty)[11].

The ordeal

This trial consisted of the wife having to drink a specific potion[12], which was believed to trigger a miscarriage/abortion[4] if she was guilty, but to have no malign effect if she were innocent[13]. The text does not specify the amount of time needed for the potion to take effect; the Mishnah argues for a period of two or three years[14] (despite pregnancies rarely taking more than 9 months), but 19th century scholars suspect it was probably intended to have a fairly immediate effect[4].

The text specifies that the potion should be made from water and dust[15]; in the masoretic text, the water used for the potion must be holy water, and the Targum interpret it as water from the Molten Sea, but the Septuagint instead requires running water[4]. The passage argues that the curse (against adultery) was washed into the water[16]; it is thought that this idea derives from a belief that the words of a curse exist in their own right[4].

The potion also had to be mixed in an earthenware vessel[15]; this may have been because the potion was regarded as a taboo which could be spread by contact, and therefore also made the vessel taboo, necessitating its subsequent destruction (as do the biblical rules concerning taboo animals, for any earthenware vessels into which such animals fall[17])[4].

The offering

The husband was required to make a sacrifice to God, as part of the ritual, probably due to a general principle that no-one should seek answers from God without giving something in return[4]. This offering is required to be placed in the wife's hands[9], and is literally described as her offering for her[6]; scholars think that it is the man's offering, in relation to the ordeal of his wife, and that her holding of it is merely symbolic of this[4].

The offering specified is one tenth of an ephah of barley meal, unaccompanied by oil or frankincense[6]; this is the cheaper type of flour, unlike the flour specified for all other biblical sacrifices[4]. The specification is now thought to a rare survival of an earlier period, in which there was no restriction on the types of flour which could be used for sacrifices[4], although the Mishnah argues that it was a reference to the bestial nature of adultery, coarse flour being the food of beasts[18].

Original form of ritual(s)

The text appears to suggest[4] first that the offering should occur before the ordeal[19], and then that it should occur after it[4][20].

Secular scholars claim that due of the awkwardness of the idea that the wife has to drink the potion twice, textual scholars argue that either the first drinking must be a later addition to the text, or that the whole account of the ordeal must be spliced together from two earlier descriptions[4].

Noting that there are two descriptions of the location for the ritual (in the presence of a priest[6], and before Yahweh[7]), and two occasions on which the punishment for the woman is mentioned[21], the division into two earlier documents, first suggested by Bernhard Stade[22], is typically as follows:

  • one account is the ordeal and sacrifice before God, in which the possible miscarriage/abortion results from drinking the potion[23]
  • the other is merely a condemnation by a priest, in which the women stands with hair loosened, her guilt is assumed, and divine intervention (due to the priest's involvement) will cause a miscarriage/abortion as punishment[23].

Origin and similar rituals elsewhere

Secular Biblical scholars think that the ordeal is itself a fusion of two earlier rituals (pre-dating the original priestly text), one using water, and the other dust[4]. The use of dust might be connected to necromancy[4]. In other historic semitic cultures there are many instances in which holy water was regarded as taboo, and therefore that contact with it, or its consumption, was dangerous[24].

Historic Arabic culture similarly had an adultery ordeal, although in scientific terms, compared to the Israelite ritual it relied more on nausea, than on directly poisoning the woman. In this Arabic ritual, the woman simply took oaths at Mecca attesting to her innocence, and asking the divinity to cause her to have a miscarriage/abortion, should she be lying[25]; but, on the way to Mecca, she would be forced to travel on a camel, between two bags of dung[25].

Ordeals involving the risk of harm, including potential injury resulting from the drinking of certain potions, were common in antiquity[4]; in parts of Europe, their judicial use even lasted until the late Middle Ages[4]. Such ordeals were once believed to result in a direct decision by a deity, about the guilt or innocence of the party/parties undertaking the ordeal[4]; typically divine intervention was believed to prevent the innocent being harmed, or to ensure that the guilty were, although in the case of some - witch ducking for example - the innocent were more likely to come to harm.

False accusations

If the woman was unharmed by the jealousy ordeal, the rules regard her as innocent of the accusation; her husband, however, was not to be punished for his cruelty in subjecting her to the ordeal - the Priestly Code insists that the man always be regarded as free from blame[20]. This is not however the view of the Deuteronomic Code, which insists that when a man accuses his wife of adultery, and the accusation is disproven, the husband is to be whipped and fined, and is no longer to have the right of divorcing the wife[26]. Textual scholars explain these differences by the fact that these two law codes originate from different authors, and at different times[27][28][29][30][31][32]; there is uncertainty about whether this implies that the laws became more humane, or more ritualised, as there is some debate about the date of the Priestly Code[27][29][30][32].

Later attitudes to the ordeal

The death penalty (for all crimes) was abolished in 40 CE[33], meaning that confession to the crimes was no longer as dangerous. Thus, according to the Mishnah, it became the practice for women suspected of adultery to first be brought to the Sanhedrin, before being subjected to the ordeal[34]. Repeated attempts would be made to persuade the women to confess, including multiple suggestions to her of possible mitigating factors; if she confessed, the ordeal was not required[34].

Regardless of whatever its original significance was, at the time the Talmud was compiled the ordeal was simply regarded as a method of pressuring the woman into a confession[34]. Eventually, in 70 CE[35], under the leadership of Johanan ben Zakkai, the Sanhedrin abolished the ordeal completely[34], on the basis that the men of that era were not above the suspicion of wickedness themselves[35]

See also

Wikisource-logo
This page uses content from the English Wikisource. The original article was at Sotah. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion wiki, the text of Wikisource is available under the CC-BY-SA.
Wikisource-logo
This page uses content from the English Wikisource. The original article was at Sotah. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion wiki, the text of Wikisource is available under the CC-BY-SA.
Wikisource-logo
This page uses content from the English Wikisource. The original article was at Sotah. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion wiki, the text of Wikisource is available under the CC-BY-SA.
Wikisource-logo
This page uses content from the English Wikisource. The original article was at Sotah. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion wiki, the text of Wikisource is available under the CC-BY-SA.
Wikisource-logo
This page uses content from the English Wikisource. The original article was at Sotah. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion wiki, the text of Wikisource is available under the CC-BY-SA.


References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Numbers 5:11-31
  2. Peake's commentary on the Bible (1962 edition), ad loc.
  3. specifically Psalms 109:18
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "Jealousy, Ordeal of", a publication now in the public domain.
  5. Sotah, 9:9
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Numbers 5:15
  7. 7.0 7.1 Numbers 5:30
  8. Sotah 1:5
  9. 9.0 9.1 Numbers 5:18
  10. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 14:49
  11. Sotah, 1:5
  12. Numbers 5:24
  13. Numbers 5:27-28
  14. Sotah 34
  15. 15.0 15.1 Numbers 5:17
  16. Numbers 5:23
  17. Leviticus 11:33
  18. Sotah, 2:1
  19. Numbers 5:24-25
  20. 20.0 20.1 Numbers 5:26
  21. Numbers 5:21 and Numbers 5:27
  22. Bernhard Stade, Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft (commonly known, among theologians, as ZATW), (1895), 15:166-178
  23. 23.0 23.1 Joseph Estlin Carpenter, and George Harford-battersby (and the Society of Historical Theology, Oxford), The Hexateuch (1900, republished 2003), volume 2, pages 191-192
  24. William Robertson Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites (2nd edition - 1894), 181
  25. 25.0 25.1 Kitab al-Aghani, 1:156:3+
  26. Deuteronomy 22:13-19
  27. 27.0 27.1 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Numbers, Book of", a publication now in the public domain.
  28. This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Deuteronomy", a publication now in the public domain.
  29. 29.0 29.1 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Priestly Code", a publication now in the public domain.
  30. 30.0 30.1 This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "Numbers(book)", a publication now in the public domain.
  31. This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "Deuteronomy", a publication now in the public domain.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (1987)
  33. Sanhedrin 41
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "adultery", a publication now in the public domain.
  35. 35.0 35.1 This article incorporates text from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia article "Adultery", a publication now in the public domain.

Further reading

  • Daniel Friedmann: From the Trial of Adam and Eve to the Judgments of Solomon and Daniel

Also on Fandom

Random Wiki