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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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and BRIDEGROOM. Under this head an account of the marriage customs of ancient times, the knowledge of which is so necessary to explain many allusions in the Holy Scriptures, may be properly introduced. Among the Jews, the state of marriage was, from the remotest periods of their history, reckoned so honourable, that the person who neglected or declined to enter into it without a good reason, was thought to be guilty of a great crime. Such a mode of thinking was not confined to them; in several of the Grecian states, marriage was held in equal respect. The Jews did not allow marriageable persons to enter into that honourable state without restriction; the high priest was forbidden by law to marry a widow; and the priests of every rank, to take a harlot to wife, a profane woman, or one put away from her husband. To prevent the alienation of inheritances, an heiress could not marry but into her own tribe. The whole people of Israel, being a holy nation, separated from all the earth to the service of the true God, and to be the depositaries of his law, were forbidden to contract matrimonial alliances with the idolatrous nations in their vicinity. The marriage engagement of a minor, without the knowledge and consent of the parents, was of no force; so sacred was the parental authority held among that people. These customs appear to have been derived from a very remote antiquity; for when Eliezer of Damascus went to Mesopotamia to take a wife from thence unto his master's son, he disclosed the motives of his journey to the father and brother of Rebecca; and Hamor applied to Jacob and his sons, for their consent to the union of Dinah with his son Shechem. Samson also consulted his parents about his marriage; and entreated them to get for him the object of his choice. Marriage contracts seem to have been made in the primitive ages with little ceremony. The suitor himself, or his father, sent a messenger to the father of the woman, to ask her in marriage. In the remote ages of antiquity, women were literally purchased by their husbands; and the presents made to their parents or other relations were called their dowry. Thus, we find Shechem bargaining with Jacob and his sons for Dinah: "Let me find grace in your eyes, and what ye shall say unto me, I will give: ask me never so much dowry and gift, and I will give according as ye shall say unto me; but give me the damsel to wife," Genesis 34:2 . The practice still continues in the country of Shechem; for when a young Arab wishes to marry, he must purchase his wife; and for this reason, fathers, among the Arabs, are never more happy than when they have many daughters. They are reckoned the principal riches of a house. An Arabian suitor will offer fifty sheep, six camels, or a dozen of cows: if he be not rich enough to make such offers, he proposes to give a mare or a colt, considering in the offer the merit of the young woman, the rank of her family, and his own circumstances. In the primitive times of Greece, a well-educated lady was valued at four oxen. When they are agreed on both sides, the contract is drawn up by him that acts as cadi or judge among these Arabs. In some parts of the east, a measure of corn is formally mentioned in contracts for their concubines, or temporary wives, beside the sum of money which is stipulated by way of dowry. This custom is probably as ancient as concubinage, with which it is connected; and if so, it will perhaps account for the Prophet Hosea's purchasing a wife of this kind, for fifteen pieces of silver, and for a homer of barley, and a half homer of barley. When the intended husband was not able to give a dowry, he offered an equivalent. The patriarch Jacob, who came to Laban with only his staff, offered to serve him seven years for Rachel: a proposal which Laban accepted. This custom has descended to modern times; for in Cabul the young men who are unable to advance the required dowry "live with their future father-in-law, and earn their bride by their services, without ever seeing the object of their wishes." The contract of marriage was made in the house of the woman's father, before the elders and governors of the city or district. The espousals by money, or a written instrument, were performed by the man and woman under a tent or canopy erected for that purpose. Into this chamber the bridegroom was accustomed to go with his bride, that he might talk with her more familiarly; which was considered as a ceremony of confirmation to the wedlock. While he was there, no person was allowed to enter: his friends and attendants waited for him at the door, with torches and lamps in their hands; and when he came out, he was received by all that were present with great joy and acclamation. To this ancient custom, the Psalmist alludes in his magnificent description of the heavens: "In them he set a tabernacle for the sun; which, as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, rejoices as a strong man to run a race," Psalms 19:4 . A Jewish virgin legally betrothed was considered as a lawful wife; and, by consequence, could not be put away without a bill of divorce. And if she proved unfaithful to her betrothed husband, she was punished as an adulteress; and her seducer incurred the same punishment as if he had polluted the wife of his neighbour. This is the reason that the angel addressed Joseph, the betrothed husband of Mary, in these terms: "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." The Evangelist Luke gives her the same title: "And Joseph also went up from Galilee unto Bethlehem, to be taxed, with Mary his espoused wife," Luke 2:4-5 .

2. Ten or twelve months commonly intervened between the ceremony of espousals and the marriage: during this interval, the espoused wife continued with her parents, that she might provide herself with nuptial ornaments suitable to her station. This custom serves to explain a circumstance in Samson's marriage, which is involved in some obscurity. "He went down," says the historian, "and talked with the woman," (whom he had seen at Timnath,) "and she pleased him well," Judges 14:7 , &c. These words seem to refer to the ceremony of espousals; the following, to the subsequent marriage: "And after a time he returned to take her,"

Judges 14:8 . Hence a considerable time intervened between the espousals and their actual union. From the time of the espousals, the bridegroom was at liberty to visit his espoused wife in the house of her father; yet neither of the parties left their own abode during eight days before the marriage; but persons of the same age visited the bridegroom, and made merry with him. These circumstances are distinctly marked in the account which the sacred historian has given us of Samson's marriage: "So his father went down unto the woman, and made there a feast; for so used the young men to do. And it came to pass when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him," Judges 14:10 . These companions were the children of the bride chamber, of whom our Lord speaks: "Can the children of the bride chamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?" Matthew 19:15 . The marriage ceremony was commonly performed in a garden, or in the open air; the bride was placed under a canopy, supported by four youths, and adorned with jewels according to the rank of the married persons; all the company crying out with joyful acclamations, "Blessed be he that cometh!" It was anciently the custom, at the conclusion of the ceremony, for the father and mother and kindred of the woman, to pray for a blessing upon the parties. Bethuel and Laban, and the other members of their family, pronounced a solemn benediction upon Rebecca before her departure: "And they blessed Rebecca, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions; and let thy seed possess the gate of those that hate them," Genesis 24:60 . And in times long posterior to the age of Isaac, when Ruth, the Moabitess, was espoused to Boaz, "all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses: the Lord make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel, and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel; and do thou worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem," Ruth 4:11-12 . After the benedictions, the bride is conducted with great pomp to the house of her husband: this is usually done in the evening; and as the procession moved along, money, sweetmeats, flowers, and other articles, were thrown among the populace, which they caught in cloths made for such occasions, stretched in a particular manner upon frames. The use of perfumes at eastern marriages is common; and upon great occasions very profuse.

3. It was the custom among the ancient Greeks, and the nations around them, to conduct the new-married couple with torches and lamps to their dwellings; as appears from the messenger in Euripides, who says he called to mind the time when he bore torches before Menelaus and Helena. These torches were usually carried by servants; and the procession was sometimes attended by singers and dancers. Thus Homer, in his description of the shield of Achilles:—

εν τη μεν ρα γαμοι τ ' εσαν ειλαπιναι τε ,

Νυμφασ δ εκ θαλαμων , δαιδων υπο λαμπομεναων ,

‘Ηγινεον ανα αστυ . κ .τ .λ .

Il. lib. v. 50. 490.

"In one of the sculptured cities, nuptials were celebrating, and solemn feasts; through the city they conducted the new-married

pair from their chambers, with flaming torches, while frequent shouts of Hymen burst from the attending throng, and young men danced in skilful measures to the sound of the pipe and the harp."

A similar custom is observed among the Hindoos. The husband and wife, on the day of their marriage, being both in the same palanquin, go about seven and eight o'clock at night, accompanied with all their kindred and friends; the trumpets and drums go before them; and they are lighted by a number of flambeaux; immediately before the palanquin walk many women, whose business it is to sing verses, in which they wish them all manner of prosperity. Whey march in this equipage through the streets for the space of some hours, after which they return to their own house, where the domestics are in waiting. The whole house is illumined with small lamps; and many of those flambeaux already mentioned are kept ready for their arrival, beside those which accompany them, and are carried before the palanquin. These flambeaux are composed of many pieces of old linen, squeezed hard against one another in a round figure, and thrust down into a mould of copper. The persons that hold them in one hand have in the other a bottle of the same metal with the copper mould, which is full of oil, which they take care to pour out from time to time upon the linen, which otherwise gives no light. The Roman ladies also were led home to their husbands in the evening by the light of torches. A Jewish marriage seems to have been conducted in much the same way; for in that beautiful psalm, where David describes the majesty of Christ's kingdom, we meet with this passage: "And the daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift; even the rich among the people shall entreat thy favour. The king's daughter is all- glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needle work; the virgins, her companions that follow her, shall be brought unto thee. With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter into the king's palace," Psalms 45:12 , &c. In the parable of the ten virgins, the same circumstances are introduced: "They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried," leading the procession through the streets of the city, the women and domestics that were appointed to wait his arrival at home, "all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh! Go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out," Matthew 25:6 .

The following extract from Ward's "View of the Hindoos" very strikingly illustrates this parable: "At a marriage, the procession of which I saw some years ago, the bridegroom came from a distance, and the bride lived at Serampore, to which place the bridegroom was to come by water. After waiting two or three hours, at length, near midnight, it was announced, as if in the very words of Scripture, ‘Behold, the bridegroom cometh! Go ye out to meet him.' All the persons employed now lighted their lamps, and ran with them in their hands to fill up their stations in the procession; some of them had lost their lights, and were unprepared; but it was then too late to seek them, and the cavalcade moved forward to the house of the bride, at which place the company entered a large and splendidly illuminated area, before the house, covered with an awning, where a great multitude of friends dressed in their best apparel were seated upon mats. The bridegroom was carried in the arms of a friend, and placed on a superb seat in the midst of the company, where he sat a short time, and then went into the house, the door of which was immediately shut, and guarded by Sepoys. I and others expostulated with the door keepers, but in vain."

4. But among the Jews, the bridegroom was not always permitted to accompany his bride from her father's house; an intimate friend was often sent to conduct her, while he remained at home to receive her in his apartment. Her female attendants had the honour to introduce her; and whenever they changed the bride's dress, which is often done, they presented her to the bridegroom. It is the custom, and belongs to their ideas of magnificence, frequently to dress and undress the bride, and to cause her to wear on that same day all the clothes made up for her nuptials. These circumstances discover the force of St. John's language, in his magnificent description of the Christian church in her millennial state: "And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband," Revelation 21:2 .

5. Those that were invited to the marriage were expected to appear in their best and gayest attire. If the bridegroom was in circumstances to afford it, wedding garments were prepared for all the guests, which were hung up in the antechamber for them to put on over the rest of their clothes, as they entered the apartments where the marriage feast was prepared. To refuse, or even to neglect, putting on the wedding garment, was reckoned an insult to the bridegroom; aggravated by the circumstance that it was provided by himself for the very purpose of being worn on that occasion, and was hung up in the way to the inner apartment, that the guests must have seen it, and recollected the design of its suspension. This accounts for the severity of the sentence pronounced by the king, who came in to see the guests, and found among them one who had neglected to put it on: "And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless," Matthew 22:11 , because it was provided at the expense of the entertainer, and placed full in his view. "Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

The following extract will show the importance of having a suitable garment for a marriage feast, and the offence taken against those who refuse it when presented as a gift. "The next day, Dec. 3d, the king sent to invite the ambassadors to dine with him once more. The Mehemander told them, it was the custom that they should wear over their own clothes the best of those garments which the king had sent them. The ambassadors at first made some scruple of that compliance; but when they were told that it was a custom observed by all ambassadors, and that no doubt the king would take it very ill at their hands if they presented themselves before him without the marks of his liberality, they at last resolved to do it; and, after their example, all the rest of the retinue."

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Bride'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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