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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Alienation and Acquisition
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There are several designations for Aliens in the Old Testament. Of these, and mean specifically "foreign," a person outside the circle of the nation (Isaiah 1:7; Judges, 19:12) or of the class or family (Deuteronomy 25:5, husband's family; Exodus 29:33, Aaron's family; Proverbs 2:16, a man's family), and so come to signify simplyanother person" (Proverbs 5:10). In Proverbs 5:3 "a strange woman"="adulteress," a woman, not a man's wife, with whom he has illicit relations. The most important term is , "resident alien," a foreigner who has come to dwell permanently among people with whom he, to a certain extent, identifies himself. Nearly equivalent to ger is , "sojourner," a rare word in the Old Testament, apparently implying a less settled residence than ger (but compare Genesis 23:4; Leviticus 25:23). Most of the occurrences are in Leviticus 22:25. In 1 Kings, 17:1 we should probably read with Septuagint mit-tishbaḥ. To these two terms may be added , "hired man," a person who, though he may be a native (Deuteronomy 24:14), is often contrasted with the native (Deuteronomy 15:18) and associated with the toshab (Exodus 12:45). Three classes of Aliens may be recognized: (1) Canaanites dwelling in Israelitish communities; (2) persons from other lands (fugitives, etc.) seeking permanent abode in Israel; (3) foreigners dwelling there temporarily. No sharp distinction is made in the Old Testament between the first and second classes.

Canaanites and Israelites.

As to the position of Aliens in the pre-Canaanite period, we have no knowledge. After the settlement in Canaan, up to the time of Solomon the relations between the Israelites and their neighbors seem to have been free and unrestricted. The clans dwelt side by side; there was no central government; intermarriages were common (Samson, Uriah, etc.); it was generally accepted that a man going to live in a community should adopt its religion (1 Samuel 26:19). This state of things lasted until the establishment of Israel's political supremacy and the birth of a distinct national feeling. Gradually the rights of citizenship were in part formally restricted to natives. Some of the foreign tribes were reduced to slavery (Joshua 9:27; 1 Kings, 9:20; compare 1 Chronicles 22:2); and resident foreigners occupied an inferior position.

Friendly Laws.

Though Aliens did not enjoy full civil rights, and were not citizens in their own right, their interests were not neglected. Living, as they did, in close social relations with the natives, they were protected by the broad dictates of humanity. There seems to have been a relation similar to that of client-age (Leviticus 22:10, 25:40). Gradually this kindly sentiment was formulated in laws. No prophet before Jeremiah speaks of duties to Aliens. Before his time public opinion had apparently not been directed to this point: it was a new social question. The alien, as well as indigent persons (Levites, widows, orphans), was to have a share in the third year's tithes (Deuteronomy 14:29, 26:12,13) and in the offering of first-fruits (Deuteronomy 26:11); he had the right to glean (Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Leviticus 19:10, 23:22); he might flee from the avenger of blood to the city of refuge(Joshua 20:9, Numbers 35:15); and strict justice was to be meted out to him (Exodus 22:20 [A. V. 21]; Deuteronomy 29:10 [A. V. 11], 27:19; Jeremiah 7:6, 22:3; Ezekiel 22:7). The ordinary commercial regulations applied to him: he might become poor and be sold as a slave (Leviticus 25:45), or grow rich and own slaves, even Israelitish slaves (Leviticus 25:47); but should he be sold he remained a slave in perpetuity, whereas the Israelite slave was freed at the jubilee.

Civil Rights.

It was lawful to lend money at interest to a foreigner (Deuteronomy 23:21 [A. V. 20]) and to exact of him the payment of a debt (Deuteronomy 15:3); but it is not clear whether or not the rule applied to a ger. As to the right of the alien to own land, we have little information. In early times, probably, the right existed; see 2 Samuel 6:10 (Obed-edom), 11:8 (Uriah), 24:24 (Araunah). It is distinctly affirmed by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47:22,23); whether it had been modified before his time, or was modified after his time, it is hardly possible to say. The tendency was to an extension of the rights of Aliens; see especially the broad tone of Numbers 9:14, 15:15, 35:15. The general rule of Leviticus 25, by which land reverted to the Israelite owner at the jubilee, is not incompatible with ownership of land by resident Aliens. On the whole, it seems likely that the right had never been denied them by law.

Religious Rights.

In the religious status of the ger we find a similar movement toward freedom and equality. At first he was not subject to the stricter ritual rules: he might eat of food from animals that had died a natural death (Deuteronomy 14:21), or such a carcass might be sold to a foreigner (Deuteronomy 14:21); but this permission was afterward rescinded (Leviticus 17:15). He was required to observe the national holidays, Sabbath (Exodus 23:12, 20:10), the feasts of Weeks and of Booths (Deuteronomy 16:11,14), though this was perhaps a civil and social regulation, these being probably old Canaanitish festivals. It is probable also that from the beginning he observed the other agricultural festival, Maẓẓot; though such observance is not commanded in Deuteronomy, it is enjoined in Exodus 12:19. The case is different with the nomadic festival, Pesaḥ. This was at first not considered to be an affair of the ger; but after the Exile, when the community became religiously a unit, he was permitted to take part in it (Numbers 9:14).

Finally, as it would seem, the rite of circumcision was made a condition of such participation (Exodus 12:48); probably at this time gerim were as a rule circumcised. But participation was forbidden to the foreigner (nokri), the sojourner (toshab), and the hireling (sakir) (Exodus 12:43,45). In other points equality came to be the rule: as to eating blood (Leviticus 17:10), the cult of Melek (Moloch) (Leviticus 20:2), blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16), sins of inadvertence (Numbers 15:29), offerings (Leviticus 17:8, 19:10, 22:18; Numbers 15:14-16), the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29). The general statement of equality is made in Leviticus 18:26.

The broadest conception of God's relation to the foreigner is given in Solomon's prayer in 1 Kings, 8:41,43: the prayer of the foreigner will be heard. The perfect ethical principle is announced in Deuteronomy 10:19; Leviticus 19:34: the resident alien is to be loved as oneself. Israel is to remember that it was once an alien in Egypt.

The result in the Old Testament is the substantial fusion of Aliens with the nation. Yet from Psalms 146:9 it may be inferred that Aliens long continued to form a separate class; in some circles (Isaiah 56:6) the admission of foreigners to national fellowship was advocated. For postexilic conditions see Proselytes.

  • Michaelis, Das Mosaische Recht, 1770;
  • Works on Hebrew Archeology: Saalschütz, Ewald, Benzinger, and Nowack;
  • W. Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, pp. 75 et seq.
  • For Arabic parallels: idem, Kinship and Marriage, 1885, pp. 42 et seq.;
  • Buhl, Die Socialen Verhältnisse d. Israeliten, pp. 47, 93;
  • Bertholet, Die Stellung d. Israeliten und der Juden zu den Fremden, 1896;
  • Hastings, Dict. Bible, s. Foreigners;
  • Cheyne, Ency. Bibl. s. Aliens.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Aliens'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​a/aliens.html. 1901.
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