Family connection between persons otherwise than by marriage. To the casual reader of the Old Testament, blood-relationship seems always to have been reckoned by the Hebrews from father to son. The genealogies are all drawn up on this basis (compare Gen. iv., v., x., xxii. 20-24, xlvi.; I Chron. i.-ix., etc.). These genealogies, however, are not uniform. Some of them give the name of the mother (as Gen. xxii. 20, 24), while many of them give the names of father and son merely. Another interesting variation is that one set of passages represents the mother as naming the children (see, for example, Gen. iv. 1, 25; xxix. 32-35), while another set of passages attributes that function to the father (e.g., Gen. xvii. 19; xli. 51, 52). For further light on the ideas of relationship see the Critical View.

Historical Survey.

Blood-relationship was interpreted broadly as a brotherhood which bound together by peculiar ties all who were descended from a common father. In II Sam. v. 1 all the tribes of Israel are said to be bone of David's bone and flesh of his flesh; i.e., to be his brethren. Similarly, in Lev. xxv. 39-46 all Israelites are considered brethren, as opposed to the people of other nations. This idea of brotherhood was founded on a belief that they were all sharers in a common blood. While these broad conceptions of brotherhood prevailed, they did not obscure in the Hebrew mind the fact that in every generation men of one father (i.e., brothers in a narrower sense) were under more peculiar obligations to one another than others of the same nation. Thus, in certain cases restitution had to be made to the nearest of kin (Num. v. 7, 8), and in other cases peculiar duties devolved on the nearest kinsman (compare Ruth ii. 20, iii. and iv. passim;see Goel). Other evidence that in the later time degrees ofrelationship were recognized is shown by Tobit vi. 10 and Luke ii. 36.

Marriage Prohibitions.

The recognition of certain differences in the degrees of kinship belongs to an early period; for marriages within certain degrees of kinship were prohibited from very ancient times. In Lev. xviii. marriage with a father or mother, son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter, or with a consort of any of these, is prohibited, as is the marriage of a man to a woman and her daughter, or to two sisters at the same time. There is involved in some of these prohibitions a recognition of an artificial relationship; but even these are based on the strong feeling of kinship with those of one family. Not all the prohibitions of this law are, however, primitive; for it defines a sister (verse 9) as "the daughter of thy father or the daughter of thy mother"; though in ancient times marriages seem to have been permitted between children of the same father, if they had different mothers; cases in point are the marriages of Abraham and Sarah (Gen. xx. 12), and Amnon and Tamar (II Sam. xiii. 13).

Blood Avenger.

As among the Arabs, it was regarded by the Hebrews a duty to avenge the blood of a murdered relative; and if this were not done, Yhwh was thought to be displeased. Thus Joab avenged his brother Asahel (II Sam. iii. 27); and Yhwhsent a famine because the Gibeonites were not avenged of the house of Saul (II Sam. xxi. 1 et seq.). It was in consequence of this custom that the Cities of Refuge were founded. See also Avenger of Blood.

—Critical View:

It is a feature of primitive culture to form clans artificial in organization though not necessarily of different stocks, which select some totem as their emblem (compare Giddings, "Principles of Sociology," pp. 270-272; and Keasby, in "International Monthly," i. 393 et seq.). These clans in the course of time regard all their members as brethren descended from the common totem. In order to account for the growth of the clan it has been supposed by some scholars that clans meeting others who have for some reason chosen the same totem will naturally regard one another as brethren too. In this way an enlarged and artificial brotherhood is formed, which is, however, conceived as real. The existence of "Leah," "Rachel," and "Caleb" (denoting wild cow, ewe, and dog) as clan names among the Hebrews, taken in connection with the evidence from other parts of the Semitic world, makes it probable that relationships originally artificial were by the Hebrews counted as blood-relationships (compare W. R. Smith, "Animal Worship and Animal Tribes Among the Arabs and in the Old Testament," in "Journal of Philology," ix.; idem, "Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia," ch. vii.; Jacobs, "Studies in Biblical Archæology," iv.; and Barton, "Semitic Origins," ii.).


Among the Semites also kinship was originally reckoned, as among many other primitive nations, through the mother (see W. R. Smith, "Kinship," etc., pp. 145-165, 246-253; Barton, op. cit. ii.). This seems to have been also the case among the Hebrews. In the earlier Jahvistic document the mother names the child, which, as Wellhausen points out, is a relic of maternal kinship (compare "Nachrichten der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen," 1893, p. 478, note 2). By the time of the production of the Priestly Code, relationship was reckoned through the father; so that the mother's name was then suppressed, and the father named the child. In accordance with the system of maternal kinship, the children of Jacob are said (Gen. xxxi. 43) to belong to their mother's clan. The marriage of Abraham and Sarah and that of Amnon and Tamar—though in each case between children of the same father—are explained by the fact that blood-relationship was counted only through the mother.

Adoption and Blood-Relationship.

Some further instances of the artificial assumption of blood-relationship, which differ in character from the primitive totemic system, remain to be considered. Adoption, in the sense of the legal transfer of filial rights from one person to another, seems not to have been known in Israel as it was among the Romans. There are three possible instances of it in the Old Testament: (1) the adoption of Moses by Pharaoh's daughter (Ex. ii. 10), which does not seem to have made the blood-bond to his own people less binding; (2) the adoption of Genubath by the Egyptian queen (I Kings xi. 20), which seems to have been a survival of kinship through the mother; and (3) the adoption of Esther by Mordecai (Esther ii. 7), which was done under foreign influence. Adoption in the modern sense of the word played no important part in Israel's system of relationship (see Adoption).


Closely related to adoption was the system of the levirate, whereby when a man died without issue his brother or nearest kinsman was required to marry the widow, and the first son born of such levirate marriage was counted as the son of the dead brother (Gen. xxxviii.; Deut. xxv. 5-10; Ruth passim; Matt. xxii. 25 et seq.). A similar custom prevailed among the Arabs (compare W. R. Smith, "Kinship," etc., p. 87) and among the Abyssinians (compare Letourneau, "Evolution of Marriage," p. 265), as well as among many non-Semitic peoples (compare Starcke, "Primitive Family," pp. 157, 158; "International Journal of Ethics," iii. 465; and Wester-marck, "History of Human Marriage," pp. 510-514). (For the origin and meaning of the custom see Levirate.) It is enough to note here that it introduced a system of blood-relationship in part artificial.

In Lev. xviii., where the degrees of kinship in which marriage is prohibited are enumerated (compare also Lev. xx.), the consort of a near kinsman or kinswoman is counted as within the prohibited degrees, thus recognizing a certain artificial kinship. Some writers hold that Lev. xviii. 16 and xx. 21, by prohibiting marriage with a deceased brother's wife, abolished the levirate (so Nowack, "Hebräische Archäologie," i. 346; and Benzinger, "Hebräische Archäologie," p. 346): and a confirmation of this is found in Num. xxvii. 1 et seq., which provides for the succession of daughters in case a man dies without male issue. Others hold that Leviticus gives the general prohibition, while Deut. xxv. 5-10 contains the one exception (so Driver, "Deuteronomy,"p. 285). At all events, the levirate seems to have survived till the first century of the common era.

In ancient Semitic society, blood-relationship rested not only upon the basis of common blood, but upon the fact that kinsmen constantly ate together and renewed the physical bond (compare W. R. Smith, "Religion of the Semites," 2d ed., pp. 269 et seq.). Covenants of brotherhood were made between those who were really not related to one another, by opening the veins of the covenanters and tasting each other's blood, as well as by eating together (compare Trumbull, "Blood Covenant," and W. R. Smith, op. cit. pp. 315, 479). Such artificial brotherhoods seem to have been recognized in Israel (compare Amos i. 9).

  • In addition to the literature already cited, see G. A. Wilken, Het Matriarchaat bij de Oude Arabieren (also German translation, Das Matriarchat bei den Arabern);
  • Wellhausen, Die Ehe bei den Arabern, in Nachrichten der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, 1893, pp. 431-481;
  • and Buhl, Die Socialen Verhältnisse der Israeliten, Berlin, 1899.