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Through a Babylonian looking glass: what is the problem with foreign wives?

Dr. Laurie Pearce (University of California, Berkeley)


The officers’ report of intermarriage between the people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites and the peoples of the lands can hardly have surprised Ezra. Even if he did not (or could not) read cuneiform documents, Ezra had been resident in an environment where intermarriage occurred between Babylonians and descendants of deported populations, including Judeans. A handful of surviving records demonstrate that such marriages largely conformed to then current social conventions. Building on studies of documents of the marriages of Judean brides and studies of family law and intermarriage at Elephantine, this talk will review recent scholarship on social networks in Babylonian marriages and a perceived shift in the late Achaemenid period documentation of marriage practices in order to better understand historical, social, and economic factors shaping the environment in which Ezra issued his severe decree.

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