Question about the birthright - help me picture this, please!

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Carmen Gauvin-O'Donnell | Forum Activity | Posted: Mon, Jul 11 2022 3:30 AM

Hi folks! This may sound like a silly question, but I'm trying to clarify the notion of the Hebrew birthright (the fact that the firstborn gets a "double portion") by translating it into a picture using 100 dollars. But I'm usually bad with anything mathematical/involving numbers so I would like to know if I've understood it correctly.

Let's say a man has ten sons, of whom A is the oldest. The man has $100 at his death, so all things being equal, each son would normally receive $10.00.

BUT as A is the firstborn with the birthright, he gets a double portion (i.e. $20) while the other 9 brothers now share the remaining 80 dollars.

Is that how it works? If not, please use the "100-dollar" example above to get me straight on the concept... sigh. Cool

Thanks! 

Posts 610
Carmen Gauvin-O'Donnell | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Jul 11 2022 3:43 AM

Aha! So then I spot the following in the Homan Illustrated Bible Dictionary:

"If a man had two sons, his estate would be divided into three portions, and the older son would receive two. If there were three sons, the estate would be divided into four portions, and the oldest son would receive two."

So in fact, does that mean in my example that we would divide 100 by 11 (9.09 each), and then multiply by two (18.18 for the eldest)?

Oh myyyyy.... Big Smile

Posts 631
Gregory Lawhorn | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Jul 11 2022 3:54 AM

That sounds right to me. That way the portion is truly doubled and each gets his full share.

Posts 1665
DMB | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Jul 11 2022 5:30 AM

Carmen Gauvin-O'Donnell:
"If a man had two sons, his estate would be divided into three portions, and the older son would receive two. If there were three sons, the estate would be divided into four portions, and the oldest son would receive two."

That sounds like Holman is similar TDOT (second interpretation):

"According to some scholars, e.g., Noth, pi shenayim means “two-thirds,” i.e., the firstborn received two-thirds of the entire inheritance, and all the other sons received an equal of the other third. Noth’s reasons are: (1) the above-mentioned Mari text, which has shittīn, “two-thirds,” in a situation comparable to that described in Dt. 21:15–17; and (2) Zec. 13:8. However, this interpretation must be rejected. Actually, pi shenayim means “a portion of two, a double portion” (cf. Sir. 12:5). Thus, if there are three parties concerned, the firstborn would receive two-thirds; if there are four parties concerned, he would receive two-fourths, etc. This explanation is supported by a comparison with the pertinent texts from Mesopotamia."

I doubt there's an answer; it sounds culturally idiomatic.  It's interesting the Talmud goes into extensive detail on the double portion, even the case where gender is indeterminate (boy?, girl?).  But as far as I can see, no technical formula.  

Posts 232
Thomas Pape | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Jul 11 2022 7:00 AM

On such issues, I love what the Jewish/Messianic package offers:

collection - The JPS Torah Commentary: 

THE RIGHT OF THE FIRSTBORN IN A POLYGAMOUS FAMILY (vv. 15–17)

In much of the ancient Near East, even before the time of the Torah, the firstborn son had the right to inherit a larger share of his father’s estate than the other sons did. The present law seeks to protect this right in circumstances where it might be overridden by extraneous factors. The law envisages a situation where the father may be tempted to pass over the firstborn in favor of a younger son because he prefers the latter’s mother. It forbids this because the right of the biological firstborn is inherent in his being the “first fruit of his [father’s] vigor” (v. 17).
There were several varieties of firstborn inheritance rights in the ancient Near East.36 In some places the firstborn received the entire estate; in others an extra ten percent or a double share; and in others he received an equal share but was entitled to choose his share first. It was not always the biological firstborn who was designated chief heir: in some cases it was the son of the first wife, no matter when he was born; in others it was whichever son the father chose.37
...

17. double portion Hebrew pi shenayim means “a portion [lit., mouth] of two” or “two portions [mouths].” The ancient translations and halakhic exegesis understand this as meaning two shares of the estate.43 This interpretation is consistent with the fact that in some parts of the ancient Near East a man’s estate was divided into shares equal to one more than the number of his sons; his chief heir received two of these shares and the others each received one.44 However, another interpretation is also possible. In Zechariah 13:8, pi shenayim is an idiom for “two-thirds.”45 Hence, the present law may mean that the firstborn inherits two-thirds of the estate. Ibn Janaḥ argues that the text uses this idiom only because in the present, hypothetical case, there are only two heirs and a double share amounts to two-thirds of the estate; where there are more heirs, the firstborn would receive less than two-thirds—whatever a double share would amount to. However, an adoption contract from Mari stipulates that the chief heir would receive two-thirds of the estate no matter how many others there were.46 This may seem excessive to the modern reader, but it is plausible in light of the fact that in some places the chief heir received the entire estate, as was the case in medieval England.

Posts 1665
DMB | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Jul 11 2022 7:28 AM

JPS Commentary indeed is good.  On the parallel passage Gen 48:22 , it gets stranger:

"one portion … Hebrew shekhem ʾaḥad is of uncertain meaning and has generated varied interpretations. The present rendering, which is that of the Targums, Peshitta, and Vulgate, has been overwhelmingly accepted by Jewish commentators although devoid of philological support. If correct, it means that Jacob gives Joseph a double share, thus elevating him to the status of first-born. Such a tradition is indeed preserved in 1 Chronicles 5:1–2. Because Hebrew shekhem usually means “shoulder,” it has been assumed that, like its synonym katef in Numbers 34:11 and Joshua 15:8, shekhem can be used in the sense of “shoulder,” that is, “side/slope, of a mountain.” However, this usage too is not otherwise paralleled."

And of course, the Samaritan translates 'portion' as 'Shechem'.   Sounds good.

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David Thomas | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Jul 11 2022 7:38 AM

In our house, the youngest got to divide the dessert, and the oldest got to pick the first 2 pieces Big Smile

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DMB | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Jul 11 2022 7:48 AM

David Thomas:

In our house, the youngest got to divide the dessert, and the oldest got to pick the first 2 pieces Big Smile

I'd bet, you're closer to the origin! In our famiiy, at the grandparents farm, the oldest got first pick of the fried chicken ... shoulder or thigh. I always got the wings.

Posts 408
Puddin’ | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 12 2022 3:12 AM

I hope this doesn’t hijack this (very interesting) thread nor violate forum policy but I have been meaning to look into why God disdained Esau for selling his birthright to Jacob so much that we read about it over and over and over in His word (It’s not like it was a novel idea or the last time this was done!).

My curiosity and (premature) sense is that God doesn’t take kindly to someone trivializing and trading in something so honored as a “birthright“—for anything that temporarily satisfies the fleshly senses.  Obviously (as a pastor) I’m thinking of how many folks we have seen walk away from “sitting together in heavenly places in Christ”——for mere fleshly satisfaction.

In fact, if anyone knows of a product that might address this query I would love to know about it....that is if Carmen doesn’t string me up😳.

Posts 5658
David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 12 2022 3:56 AM

DMB:

JPS Commentary indeed is good.  On the parallel passage Gen 48:22 , it gets stranger:

"one portion … Hebrew shekhem ʾaḥad is of uncertain meaning and has generated varied interpretations. The present rendering, which is that of the Targums, Peshitta, and Vulgate, has been overwhelmingly accepted by Jewish commentators although devoid of philological support. If correct, it means that Jacob gives Joseph a double share, thus elevating him to the status of first-born. Such a tradition is indeed preserved in 1 Chronicles 5:1–2. Because Hebrew shekhem usually means “shoulder,” it has been assumed that, like its synonym katef in Numbers 34:11 and Joshua 15:8, shekhem can be used in the sense of “shoulder,” that is, “side/slope, of a mountain.” However, this usage too is not otherwise paralleled."

And of course, the Samaritan translates 'portion' as 'Shechem'.   Sounds good.

Just spit-balling here, but it sounds like the fundamental concept is that of a person getting to fill and carry one shoulder bag of goods, while the favored gets to carry two shoulder bags...one on each shoulder. Since each bag would have its own "mouth", that could account for that imagery, as well.

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Posts 610
Carmen Gauvin-O'Donnell | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 12 2022 4:00 AM

Hey all, thanks for the GREAT feedback. This has really helped, which can only hep me as I teach others from time to time!

Posts 1665
DMB | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 12 2022 6:43 AM

Puddin’:
I have been meaning to look into why God disdained Esau for selling his birthright to Jacob so much that we read about it over and over and over in His word (It’s not like it was a novel idea or the last time this was done!).

Now that Carmen has signed off, it may be safe to answer (smiling).  Regarding a product, that's sort of a quandary.  Old Testament interpretation by the ancient ones has favored allegory ... the issue is Edom vs Israel.  But then, one could read the story 'literally' and see a stupid (or starving) older brother.  Or, one could read the story devotionally.  Or read the story with micro-lessons (eg the Talmud, etc).

I assume you're wanting a resource that matches your interpretation?  Or a broader view?

Posts 232
Thomas Pape | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 12 2022 8:02 AM

Fits the topic here: in germany there is a normal law of succession. And then there is a special law for farmers called "Höfeordnung" - which only applies to very specific cases and completely nullifies normal inheritance law.
Such special laws we find just also in the Bible ;-)

Posts 5658
David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 12 2022 12:34 PM

Just a personal anecdote on a somewhat inverse version of this theme. As a kid of about 7-8, my grandfather had a large container with pennies in it. One day he let each of the five kids take a handful of pennies. I think I was the last one to pick. Each of the others had just grabbed a handful, coming out with a slightly bulging fistful each. I knew I could do better. I shoved my hand down into the pennies and cupped it like a backhoe and then I compressed my fingers together in a wide grip so that they put tension on my haul. When I came up, some fell loose, but I clearly had more than everyone else. There were a lot of "whoa!"s, but rather than get any praise for how I successfully tackled the problem at hand (yes, pun intended), all the adults standing by immediately started commenting about how I had an unfair advantage because I had large hands, which wasn't true then and still isn't true. It was then decided that each of the other four kids would get a second handful to make it fair. Most of them copied my method and in the end everyone else had way more than I did. One of the first but definitely not the last times my initial success was overruled and turned into a comparative failure.

Never understood the logic of that--still don't.

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 12 2022 1:01 PM

Puddin’:
In fact, if anyone knows of a product that might address this query I would love to know about it

You might try typing "Esau" and "why" into your Go panel and choose to search "everything" (should be last choice). Depending on the size of your library, you should get some hits that may provide insight for you. You could also do a similar search with the word "hate" added.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 12 2022 1:44 PM

DMB:
Regarding a product, that's sort of a quandary.

Search your resources for "Jewish inheritance law" and then lookup the footnotes for potential resources; Then lookup the commentaries on references identified in your original search and see if their footnotes lead to useful resources.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

Posts 1665
DMB | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 12 2022 1:59 PM

MJ. Smith:

DMB:
Regarding a product, that's sort of a quandary.

Search your resources for "Jewish inheritance law" and then lookup the footnotes for potential resources; Then lookup the commentaries on references identified in your original search and see if their footnotes lead to useful resources.

For Puddin'?

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 12 2022 2:06 PM

DMB:
For Puddin'?

Yeah ...

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

Posts 1665
DMB | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 12 2022 2:08 PM

MJ. Smith:

DMB:
For Puddin'?

Yeah ...

In your dreams. Big Smile

Posts 3575
Beloved Amodeo | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 12 2022 2:44 PM

This probably OT, but David, your anecdote and this question regarding Esau brings to mind Gal 6.7. I think the NET translation captures best the intent of this portion of scripture. We would do well to meditate on this passage and consider well our motives for any course of action. This message is for all who would hear it.

This is indeed an interesting thread. Thank you, Carmen for posing the question.

Meanwhile, Jesus kept on growing wiser and more mature, and in favor with God and his fellow man.

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