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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(when spoken of persons, properly עָקָי, akar', στεῖρος ). Barrenness is, in the East, the hardest lot that can befall a woman, and was considered among the Israelites as the heaviest punishment with which the Lord could visit a female (Genesis 16:2; Genesis 30:1-23; 1 Samuel 1:6; Isaiah 47:9; Isaiah 49:21; Luke 1:25; Niebuhr, p. 76; Volney, 2:359; Lane's Egyptians, 1:74). In the Talmud (Yeramoth, 6:6) a man was bound, after ten years of childless conjugal life, to marry another woman (with or without repudiation of the first), and even a third one if the second proved also barren. Nor is it improbable that Moses himself contributed to strengthen the opinion of disgrace by the promises of the Lord of exemption from barrenness as a blessing (Exodus 23:26; Deuteronomy 7:14). Instances of childless wives are found in Genesis 11:30; Genesis 25:21; Genesis 29:31; Judges 13:2-3; Luke 1:7; Luke 1:36. Some cases of unlawful marriages, and more especially with a brother's wife, were visited with the punishment of barrenness (Leviticus 20:20-21); Michaelis, however (Mosaisches Recht, v. 290), takes the word עֲרַירַי (destitute, "childless") here in a figurative sense, implying that the children born in such an illicit marriage should not be ascribed to the real father, but to the former brother, thus depriving the second husband of the share of patrimonial inheritance which would otherwise have fallen to his lot if the first brother had died childless. The reproach attached to sterility, especially by the Hebrews, may perhaps be accounted for by the constant expectation of the Messiah, and the hope that every woman cherished that she might be the mother of the promised Seed. This constant hope seems to account for many circumstances in the Old Testament history which might otherwise appear extraordinary or exceptionable (Genesis 3:15; Genesis 21:6-7; Genesis 25:21-23; Genesis 27:13; Genesis 28:14; Genesis 38:11-18; Deuteronomy 25:9). This general notion of the disgrace of barrenness in a woman may early have given rise, in the patriarchal age, to the custom among barren wives of introducing to their husbands their maid-servants, and of regarding the children born in that concubinage as their own. by which they thought to cover their own disgrace of barrenness (Genesis 16:2; Genesis 30:3). (See CHILD).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Barren'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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