"Then the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man." (Gen. 2:22, NKJV)
The word אִשַָּׁה 'ishshâh (Strong's #802, x780) appears to be a feminine form of אִישׁ 'îysh "man, husband, male" (Strong's #376, x1638), in turn probably contracted from אֱנוֹשׁ 'enôwsh "man" (Strong's #582, x564). Many modern Hebraists prefer to see the two words as unrelated despite the similar sound and apparent feminine suffix -âh. The preferred root is אָנַשׁ 'ânash (Strong's #605, x9) meaning "weak, sick, wounded" some would apply this 'weakness' to woman and if applied to man in the sense of 'mortality'. Others point to Arabic and Ugaritic's similar root verb meaning "friendly, social" emphasising man as a social being. At man's creation his mortality, physical or spiritual weakness was not yet paramount, however woman was made by the wounding of man, the taking of his rib or side, making him weaker. Another proposed root for man at least is אוּשׁ 'ûwsh or אָשַׁשׁ 'âshash from the idea of "pressed or compound strength", further contrasting with the idea of weakness in woman, biblically at least.
It is variously translated by "wife" x425, "woman" x324 or "female" just x2 in the AV, just as the male equivalent does not distinguish between man or husband. Gesenius' Hebrew Lexicon rather archaically defines it as "a woman, of every age and condition, whether married or not"! It is even used more generically not only of "the female of the species" but the female of any species as in Genesis 7:2 of taking 2 of each unclean animal (it was 7 of each gender of each clean animal, the Flood story is often inaccurately remembered) into Noah's Ark, literally "two male and his female", an assumption of a breeding pair. When it appears in the construct possessive form אֵשֶׁת 'êsheth it is consistently translated "wife of X", "X's wife" some 98 times including the phrase "wife of harlotry" (Hosea 1:2).
The origin of woman is explained in Gen 2:22-25 where the word is first used, some 4 times. She is initially translated as the one "made into a woman" (v22) "she shall be called Woman" (v23) and then "a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh" (v24) and finally they are described "the man and his wife" as naked and not ashamed. The same word is used throughout, though translators use 'woman' for the first two instances and 'wife' for the second two, without any justification for introducing an uncontextual and anachronistic rather unsubtle hint at marriage or ownership. At best one could more neutrally translate as "mate", though that still denies choice or freewill in the bond, better perhaps "counterpart". Even the Latin Vulgate translates the 4 uses by 3 words as mulier, virago and then twice as uxor "wife". The 1568 Bishop's Bible note on these translation issues in Genesis 2:22-25 said "The Hebrue wordes are isch and ischa, which properly can not be translated." Whilst the concept and ceremony of marriage develop later they are read back into these early texts by translators. Indeed, Hebrew and Judaism allowed for polygamy, concubines, female slaves and maids.
In Deuteronomy 24:1, describing divorce, the verse is usually translated, "When a man takes a wife, and marries her..." but why translate אִישׁ 'îysh by "man" and אִשַָּׁה 'ishshâh by "wife" and not "woman"? Almost alone, the NIV, NLT rightly render as 'man' and 'woman'. The verb to "marry" is בָּעַל bâ'al (Strong's #1166, x16), a strong word to be "lord, master and owner" of someone. One should be careful not to read modern concepts of love and marriage into 3000 year old Hebrew words and concepts of property and possession.
Leviticus 18:18 bans the taking of a woman and her sister as another wife/partner, though clearly other non-related women could be added as multiple wives.
In Genesis 30, Rachel had been unable to conceive for Jacob so "she gave him Bilhah her handmaid as a wife; and Jacob went in to her. (Gen. 30:4)". The phrase is literally "to wife" לְאִשַָּׁה le'ishshâh, and wife is presumably used loosely as concubine.
Genesis 31:34-35 relates Laban's chasing down of Jacob, Rachel and Leah, who had fled with Rachel having stolen the תְּרָפִים terâphîym "family gods/idols" (Strong's #8655, x15) and was hiding them under her in the camel's saddle "And she said to her father: 'Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise up before thee; for the manner of women is upon me.' And he searched, but found not the teraphim"; the "way of women" meaning the time of the month.
In the culture of the time it could be used as a term of reproach to insult a nation or man in his "manliness", e.g., of Egypt being reduced to fearful women, Isaiah 19:16, of Israel being ruled over by women, Isaiah 3:12 or of Babylon ceasing to fight "as women", Jeremiah 51:30.
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