Philobiblon: An independent-minded woman

Friday, December 17, 2004

An independent-minded woman

Today I met Mitbahiah, a 6th-century BC Jewish woman living in southern Egypt. She lived in a remarkably egalitarian world: "a woman could readily divorce her husband, with or without his consent. From other documents, we know that a woman could exercise this right by "standing up in congregation and merely declaring 'I divorce my husband'."

Mitbahiah, who seems to have been a shrewd investor, also had a full economic life; lending money to her father that was eventually partially repaid by the transfer of a house. She also did rather well out of her three marriages, the middle of which was outside her community, to an Egyptian official. She got to keep all of the wealth she had taken into the union, and half of his when she left, after less than 12 months.

From Al-Ahram Weekly, via The Head Heeb, a fascinating occasional blog by a scholar studying Jewish history.


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