inbreeding and the ancient hebrews (and the arabs)

the slitty eye said:

“Wonder why Arabs end up crazy about marrying cousins in the end…. On the other hand, I wonder if ancient Jewish had the same habit as well. After all, Yemen back then was under heavy influence of Judaism. Just wondering….”

did the ancient jews inbreed — and did they introduce those practices to the arabs? short answer: yes and probably kinda-sorta.

longer answer: the ancient hebrews did, indeed, inbreed. the twelve tribes of israel — ‘tribes’ — that should give you a clue right there! — married their cousins pretty regularly and practiced uncle-niece marriage, both of which is still technically ok in judaism today, i think (altho obviously not allowed in many states in america where they live).

robin fox devotes a part chapter of six in “The Tribal Imagination” to the inbreeding practices of the hebrews. here’s a bit of what he has to say [pg. 143]:

“Genesis 5, where the lineage of Seth is first spelled out, simply says of the successive male heirs that ‘they had many sons and daughters.’ Similarly, in the Gospel of Luke where the genealogy of Jesus is given back to Adam (Luke 3:23), only the line of firstborn sons is given. Jubilees spells out how these in turn found marriage partners. Kenan’s son Mahalelil marries the daughter of his paternal uncle Barakiel. The text spells this out, specifying explicitly that she is his ‘father’s brother’s daughter.’ This form of lineage endogamy then persists down the generations until Noah marries his paternal uncle’s daughter Emzara and begets Ham, Shem, and Japeth, the ancestors of the modern races….”

now, maybe none of these people ever really existed, or maybe they did. the genealogies and what they say about hebrew mating patterns may be accurate. but even if they are just inventions by the writers, the notable point is that the jewish people who wrote these texts obviously at least must’ve thought father’s brother’s daughter’s (fbd) marriage was the way to go.

continuing from fox [pgs. 143 & 145]:

“You will immediately be struck by the similarity to … the structure of paternal parallel-cousin marriage in Iraq and in the Arab world generally. And again the same principle applies: it is the way of keeping succession and inheritance in the paternal lineage: it is in that sense endogamic: marriage-in rather than marriage-out. (Cross-cousin marriage will always take you out of your lineal group.) It avoids marriage with the full sister (although the paternal half-sister can be allowed as an exception), but it does the next best thing in marrying the paternal first cousin….

“This form of marriage — with the father’s brother’s daughter — is allowed in Jewish law, and obviously the Pharisaic tradition that is enshrined in Jubliees endorses it fully. Marriage with the brother’s daughter — structurally the same thing (either a man marries his paternal niece or he passes the privilege on to his son) — both was allowed and occurred. Even if the paternal first cousin was not available, biblical tradition endorses second- or third-cousin marriages of the same type. Isaac married Rebeka, who was his father’s father’s brother’s son’s daughter, while Jacob married Leah, and then Rachel, who were his father’s father’s brother’s son’s son’s daughters. Keep the marriage in the patrilineal line: avoid marrying strangers, and totally avoid marrying gentiles. A lot of the Old Testament is about just this. Nehemiah’s great contribution to the Israelite’s rehabilitation after the captivity and exile was to prevent them from marrying strangers, thus regaining God’s confidence. Fans of Seinfeld will remember that when in desperation George decides to start an affair with a cousin, it is his father’s brother’s daughter he picks, and he explicitly spells this out.”

heh.

russian anthropologist, andrey korotayev, points out that most peoples around the world — even the ones who marry their cousins — think that fbd marriage is incestuous:

“[M]ost traditional cultures have a clear perception that marriage between a man and his FBD is incestuous. This is evident in the fact that in most languages a kinship term for FBD (or MSD) would be identical with a kinship term for one’s sister. This normally implies that marriage with a FBD (or MSD) would be perceived as equivalent to marriage with a sister (Korotayev 1999). There appears to be something here that Kronenfeld (pers. comm.) called a ‘cognitive problem’….”

so, how did the hebrews — and the arabs — wind up practicing fbd marriage?

“At the time of its origin, FBD marriage had nothing to do with Islam. The cognitive problem solution seems to have occurred somewhere in the Syro-Palestine region well before the birth of Christ. Rodionov (1999) has recently drawn attention to the fact that this marriage pattern is widespread in the non-Islamic cultures of this area (e.g., Maronites or Druze) and that it has considerable functional value in this non-Islamic context in facilitating the division of property among brothers after their father’s death (Rodionov 1999). Like Rodionov (1999), I believe that this marriage pattern could hardly be attributed to Islamic or Arab influence here. It seems, rather, that this marriage pattern in the Islamic world and the non-Islamic Syro-Palestinian cultures stems from the same source.

“But prior to the time of Islam, the diffusion of the FBD marriage pattern was rather limited. The only adjacent area where it diffused widely was the Arabian Peninsula (Negrja 1981; Kudelin 1994), where its diffusion can be linked with a considerable Jewish influence in the area well before Islam (Crone 1987; Korotayev 1996; Korotayev, Klimenko, and Proussakov 1999). In any case, by the seventh century, preferential parallel-cousin marriage became quite common among several important Arab tribes (Negrja 1981; Kudelin 1994). In the seventh and eighth centuries, an explosive diffusion of this pattern took place when Arab tribes, backed by Islam, spread throughout the whole of the Omayyid Khalifate. Although preferential parallel-cousin marriage diffused (together with Islam and Arabs) later beyond the borders of the Omayyid Khalifate, the extent of this diffusion was very limited. Hence, the present distribution of FBD marriage was essentially created by the Muslim Arab conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries….”

so, father’s brother’s daughter marriage was “invented” in the levant at some point in time b.c. and it’s likely that the jews introduced it to the arabs (who may have already been been marrying their cousins, just not their fbd) once they started migrating into and settling in the arab peninsula. why the arabs actually adopted it, i don’t know. they must’ve been impressed by the jews and their culture and, presumably, wanted to imitate it — just as other peoples did (persians, kurds, berbers, afghanis) when the arabs later conquered them.

see also: Hebrew Social Organization: Marriage

previously: jewish inbreeding and father’s brother’s daughter marriage

(note: comments do not require an email. george costanza!)

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8 Comments

  1. It’s funny, because any young Ashkenazi Jew today will tell you that cousin marriage is perverse, and that they can’t believe any of their ancestors, in the past few centuries at least, would do such a thing.
    Actually, many non-Ashkenazi Jews are like this as well, unless they have recent ancestors, whom they know were cousin-married. (It’s possible that non-Ashkenazi Jewish families in Israel today have downplayed/hidden cousin marriages in their genealogical history, even from their own descendants, to avoid being stigmatized).

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  2. @ihtg – well, the default really seems to be cousin marriage or, at least, endogamy of some sort. in all human groups, i mean. the weird thing is to not marry in. that’s what needs explainin’!

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  3. Ironically, the ability to collectively flush a tradition down the memory hole is itself much easier to do in an ethnic group that is more inbred.

    Worth noting: Hebrew has no dedicated word for ‘cousin’. There’s just a compound word “ben dod”, which literally means “son of uncle”. Which is of course, only the first cousin.
    On the other hand, Hebrew does have dedicated words for nephew/niece, grandparent and grandchild, and oddly enough, for great-grandchild but NOT for great-grandparent.

    There are many conclusions one could draw from this.

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  4. @ihtg – yeah, the names people give relatives can be revealing. (it can also be bloody difficult to interpret the significance behind a people’s naming system!)

    so far to me, the greeks seem to be the winners when it comes to the number of different names for all the different family members – 32 unique names for first-cousins, apprarently! that distinguishes both gender and whether they’re your fbd or mbd or whatever. complicated!

    interesting about the hebrew designations. hebrew was “revived” in the 1800s, wasn’t it? i wonder if those nationalists who worked on the revival were influenced at all by whatever surrounding language in which they were living (german, for instance), because german certainly became less specific in its naming system throughout the middle ages as people outbred more and more. maybe the curious pattern in hebrew reflects some influence from the outside?

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  5. “russian anthropologist, andrey korotayev, points out that most peoples around the world — even the ones who marry their cousins — think that fbd marriage is incestuous”

    “so, how did the hebrews — and the arabs — wind up practicing fbd marriage?”

    “so, father’s brother’s daughter marriage was “invented” in the levant at some point in time b.c. and it’s likely that the jews introduced it to the arabs”

    I think there’s a simpler explanation.

    If we assume that the driving force is cost/benefit then if there’s a benefit to marrying close then people would naturally marry as close as possible up to the point where the cost outweighed the benefit. If the genetic costs of too close were very high then a physical mechanism might evolve to prevent it e.g Westermarck, but beyond that point the mechanism might become cultural evolution.

    For example say the benefit of FBD is particularly strong small group cohesion with the cost being the standard endogamy-exogamy trade off where small group cohesion prevents larger-group co-operation. If people exist in an economic niche which physically limits people to small clan groups e.g nomadic desert pastoralists or very mountainous terrain, then the cost is irrelevant and you’re left with the benefit.

    If those people then move into an agricultural niche where larger-group co-operation becomes feasible *and more productive* then the cost of preventing larger group co-operation suddenly becomes important. In that situation it seems likely to me that a Moses or Aquinas or Confucius type figure would eventually notice this and use religion to try and change the marriage system. In particular the system where a group of clans trade wives in a circular pattern seems a likely candidate for this kind of transitional scenario.

    If so then i’d think it was more likely Jews (or similar) came out of the Arabian peninsular with FBD and became the Levant source of that form of marriage with the Arabs as a much bigger but later secondary source.

    (In fact it’s surprising to me the whole eruption from the desert thing hadn’t happeend more often in a similar way to the Mongols and China. Maybe it did?)

    However if it’s true that FBD suits a particular set of environmental niches and there’s been a historical pattern where people shift to other forms when they settle down to agriculture then i’d expect the same to have happened in the Levant unless the marriage system got tied up culturally with a particular religion like it seems to have done with Islam.

    If all of that is true then it makes me think the Jews might have transitioned at some point from FBD to one of the circular wife swapping ones with the possibility that there’s literary evidence in the bible of this kind of transition i.e early references to marriages which sound FBD (as above) but with later references pointing otherwise.

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  6. “It’s funny, because any young Ashkenazi Jew today will tell you that cousin marriage is perverse, and that they can’t believe any of their ancestors, in the past few centuries at least, would do such a thing.
    Actually, many non-Ashkenazi Jews are like this as well, unless they have recent ancestors, whom they know were cousin-married. (It’s possible that non-Ashkenazi Jewish families in Israel today have downplayed/hidden cousin marriages in their genealogical history, even from their own descendants, to avoid being stigmatized).”
    WRONG!!!!!
    Genetics have proven that any 2 ashkenazi jews share DNA like 5TH COUSINS!! NOT FIRST COUSINS!.
    Also, many other jewish groups are inbred. however, israel has a lot of genetic resuorces, currently, with all the different jewish groups living there, and genetic diversity is growing rapidly.
    Also, Jews never marry their cousins. Only arabs do that today. actually, in many arab countries it GOES OVER 50%. Even pakistani muslims marry their first cousins a lot IN BRITAIN. you can take the arab out of his country, but you can’t take islam out of the arab.
    There’s a huge difference between being endogamous and between actually marrying your known first cousin.
    Also, how did we know that Germanic people did’nt inbreed too? we don’t. My bet is that they did.

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  7. @kenny – “Also, Jews never marry their cousins.”

    not true. depends on which group of jews you’re talking about and when and where. see this post and also the section on jews in the “mating patterns in europe series” in the left-hand column below.

    @kenny – “Also, how did we know that Germanic people did’nt inbreed too? we don’t. My bet is that they did.”

    actually, we do have a pretty good idea and, you are right, they did. again, see the section on germans in the “mating patterns in europe series” — and you might want to have a look at some of the posts in the “general” section, too.

    the thing with the germans — and several other northern european groups — is that they quit marrying their cousins in the early medieval period.

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  8. The worst marriage is Homosexual marriages, That is abomination unto OUR HEAVENLY Abba so why are we allowing that to take place in America, Are we another sedom and Amorah and what happen to them? Whats next, John to marry his Dog?

    Reply

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