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Law of Jealousy

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The Law of Jealousy, also called the Ordeal of Bitter Water was a law recorded in the Pentateuch's Book of Numbers that gave regulation to the Israelites for testing of a wife who was suspected by her husband to have committed adultery[1]. If a man suspected his wife to have slept with another man[2], became jealous[3], and had no evidence whether or not she did[4] must have brought her before a priest to have her tested[5].

Once a husband would bring his wife before a priest the entire Law of Jealousy would be applied and the husband would not receive any punishment if the wife was found guilty[6].

There are no known instances throughout the Old Testament of the Bible, nor any cross-references in the New Testament that mention this law. If there were any instances of this law being exercised it was likely recorded in a historical work outside of the Bible.

Regulations

If a man became suspicious that his wife was unfaithful[2] and had no witnessing to whether or not she was[4], and becomes jealous[3] then he must have taken his wife to the priest. The man would have to pay a regulatory fee of one tenth of an ephah of barley flour on behalf of his wife[5]. This reminder-offering could not have any olive oil poured on it nor could have have incense (sacrificial perfume) on it, because of the kind of grain offering it would be. The priest would then take her to try her before God[7], applying the entire law to her and enforcing any punishment for adultery without the husband receiving any[6].

In order to test the wife the priest would take some holy water in a clay jar and sprinkle some dust from the floor of the Tabernacle in the water[8]. While the woman stood before God's presence, the priest would loosen her hair and place the offering made by her husband in her hands, while he held the dusted water[9]. The woman would then be put under oath, with the priest swearing that the water would not be harmful to her if she was martially faithful[10]. If this was not the case[11] then should would be cursed, receiving a seemingly venereal disease causing swelling of the abdomen and a miscarriage of a conceived child produced within her, (possibly sterility)[12]. The inability to reproduce and loss of a child was considered shameful amongst Hebrew culture, because of the sheer importance of having lineage to inherit[13]. The woman would then accept this curse by an "Amen. So be it"[14].

These curses would then be recorded on a scroll (probably written like a legal document naming the specific woman accused of adultery) and then washed into the bitter water[15]. The priest would then take the jealousy offering, wave it before God[16] and take a handful of it and burn it on an the altar as a memorial offering[17]. Then the woman would drink the water[18] and would either be left unscathed, and with fertility or to suffer and lose reproductive capabilities.

Verses

  1. Num 5:29 (Link)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Num 5:12
  3. 3.0 3.1 Num 5:14,30
  4. 4.0 4.1 Num 5:13
  5. 5.0 5.1 Num 5:14
  6. 6.0 6.1 Num 5:31
  7. Num 5:16 (Link)
  8. Num 5:17 (Link)
  9. Num 5:18 (Link)
  10. Num 5:19 (Link)
  11. Num 5:20 (Link)
  12. Num 5:28 (Link)
  13. Num 5:21-22 (Link)
  14. Num 5:21 (Link)
  15. Num 5:23 (Link)
  16. Num 5:25 (Link)
  17. Num 5:26 (Link)
  18. Num 5:24 (Link)

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