A Virgin with Seven Husbands

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Sarah receiving a blessing on her eighth wedding night from her father, being led by her mother. Image “Sarah” from christianity.about.com

During the time of Josephus’ priestly “oligarchy” nothing much is known about the lives of women. If wives of High Priests were treated as queens, we don’t know about it. But here is a portion of a story that shows both the evolution of angels and demons and how young virgin daughters of upper class families were treated. The story is an early fictional tale with elements, perhaps, of an Egyptian story of “Khons,” about how a demon was cast out of a princess. The tale is from the Book of Tobit and likely dated to the “beginning of the second century B.C.”

There was a man named Tobit who has a son named Tobias. Tobit sends Tobias on a mission to a faraway relative accompanied by a man named Azariah, who is unbeknownst, an angel…

On their long journey, the angel said to the boy,

“Brother, we will stop today with Raguel, for he is your relative. He has an only daughter, named Sarah. I am going to tell him to give her to you in marriage, for you have a right to have her, for you are her only relative, and she is beautiful and sensible. So now if you will listen to me, I will speak to her father, and when we come back from (their destination), we will perform the marriage. For I know that by the law of Moses Raguel cannot marry her to anyone else under pain of death, for it is your right and no one else’s to possess her.”

Then the boy said to the angel,

“Brother Azariah, I have heard that this girl has been given in marriage to seven husbands and they all perished in the bridal chamber. Now I am my father’s only child, and I am afraid that if I go in, I will die like the others, for a demon is in love with her, and he harms only those who approach her…

And the angel said to him,

… “Now you must listen to me, brother, for she must be your wife, and don’t be concerned about the demon, for she will be given to you tonight to be your wife. And when you go into the bridal chamber, you must take some of the ashes of the incense, and put on them some of the heart and the liver of the fish (recently caught), and make a smoke, and the demon will smell it and will flee and never come back. And when you go up to her, you must both rise up and cry out to the merciful God, and he will save you… Have no fear, for she was destined for you from the beginning, and you will save her, and she will go home with you, and I suppose you will have children by her.”

When Tobias heard this, he loved her, and he became deeply attached to her.

After approaching the girl’s father about taking the girl, the father said…”Eat, drink, and be merry, for you have the right to take my child. But I must reveal the truth to you. I have given my child to seven husbands, and whenever they approached her, they died the same night….”

And Tobias said, “I will eat nothing here until you make a binding agreement with me to do this.”

Then Raguel…called in his daughter Sarah, and he took her by the hand and gave her to Tobias to be his wife, and said, “Here, take her according to the law of Moses, and take her back to your father.”…Then Raguel called Edna his wife aside and said to her, “My sister, get the other bed chamber ready, and take her into it.”

And she did as he told her, and took her into it, and she wept. And she let her daughter weep on her shoulder, and she said to her, “Courage my child! …Courage, my daughter.”

When they had finished supper, they took Tobias in to her. And as he went, he… took the ashes of the incense and put the heart and the liver of the fish on them and made a smoke. And when the demon smelled the smoke he fled to the farthest parts of Upper Egypt, and the angel bound him there. When they were both shut in together, Tobias got up from the bed and said, “Get up, my sister, and let us pray that the Lord will have mercy upon us.”

And, of course he does. They sleep through the night and Tobias brings his new wife back home to his father and mother…and lived happily ever after…And all these thousands of years later in certain orthodox corners of the world…the attitude prevails, daughters are the property of their fathers…even royal daughters, as we will see.

The Book of Tobit 5:22 to 11:19 from The Apocrypha, An American Translation by Edgar J. Goodspeed, Vintage Books, New York, 1959

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