Manumission and Bridewealth Contract

Language: Akkadian
Medium: Clay tablet
Size: 43 centimeters long
5 centimeters wide
Length: 22 lines of writing
+ inscription on seal
Genre: Manumission & Marriage Contract
Approximate Date: 14th cent. BCE?
Place of Discovery: Ugarit acropolis,
Ras Shamra, Syria
Date of Discovery: 1936
Archaeological Director: Claude Schaeffer
Current Location: Musée National d'Alep
Aleppo, Syria
Excavation number: RS 8.208
Publication: PRU 3:110-11

(adapted from Thureau-Dangin 1937:253-54)
(Adapted from Finkelstein 1969:546)
iŠ-tu úmi an-ni-i
On this day
a-na pa-ni awîle Ši-bu-ti
before witnesses
IGil-be-en râbis bît fŠarra-ti
Gilben, supervisor of the queen's palace,
amta-Šu i-na fBîtete-a
his slave, from the women of his harem;
ù AŠ ta-ba-ak
and by pouring
Šamna a-na qaqqadi-Ša
oil on her head
ù ú-za-ak-ki-Ša
he has set her free.
ki-i-me-e e-li-Ši za-ku-ti
"Just as I am separated from her,
ki-i za-ki-at e-li-ia
she is separated from me
a-na da-ri-it-ti
in perpetuity."
Ša-ni-tam IBu-ri-ai-nuawil na-mu-ú
Furthermore, Burianu, the laborer,
i-hu-uz-Ša a-na aŠŠati-Šu
has taken her for his wife.
ù it-ta-Ši 20 kaspa
And 20 [pieces of] silver
IBu-ri-ia-nuawil mu-ut-Ša
Burianu, her husband,
ù it-ta-din-Šu
has placed
a-na qàtépl IGil-be-en
into the hands of Gilben.
pân IdSin-da-lu
Witness: Sindalu
pân ITub-bi-ia-nu
Witness: Tubianu
pân IZa-lu-wa-nu
Witness: Zaluwanu
pân IŠu-ub-am-mu
Witness: Shubamu
abankunuk IGil-be-en
Seal of Gilben
ur-ra Še-ra IBu-ri-ia-nu
If tommorrow or the next day Burianu
la i-qar-ri-ib a-na fE-li-ia-wa
does not approach Eliawa . . .
The reading of line 6 is problematic, both in terms of Akkadian signs/Sumerograms as well as interpretation. My thanks to Duane Smith for bringing this to my attention. Smith suggests reading the last phrase as "household of women," referring to some kind of skilled professional, referred to in the Alalakh IV texts.

1. Compare and contrast this slave release contract with the Israelite regulations concerning slave release in Exodus 21:1-11, Leviticus 25:39-46, and Deuteronomy 15:12-18. (See Dandamayev 1992:62-65)
2. Compare and contrast how slavery functioned in ancient Babylon, Israel, Ugarit, Greece, Rome, and the U.S.
3. What would motivate a slave-owner in the ancient world to release a slave? (See Bartchy 1973:88-91)
4. Why were ritual actions and ritual declarations necessary? Why were these carried out before witnesses?
5. What is the difference between dowry, indirect dowry, and bridewealth? What are the functions of bridewealth in traditional societies? (See Hanson 1989:13-15).
6. The document leaves unstated the consequences of Burianu refusing to consummate the marriage to Eliyawa. What would the consequences likely have been?
7. What conclusions might one draw from the fact that Burianu paid Gilben in silver rather than with livestock, pottery, or the like?

Bartchy, S. Scott. MALLON CHRESAI: First-Century Slavery and the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:21. SBL Dissertation Series 11. Missoula, Mont.: Scholars, 1973. Reprinted, Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2003.
Dandamayev, Muhammed A. "Slavery (ANE)." In Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman, 6:58-62. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Dandamayev, Muhammed A. "Slavery (OT)." In Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman, 6:62-65. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Finkelstein, J. J. "Documents from the Practice of Law." In Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, edited by James B. Pritchard, 542-47. 3d ed. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969.
Goody, Jack. "Bridewealth and Dowry in Africa and Eurasia." In Bridewealth and Dowry, by Jack Goody and S. J. Tambiah, 1-58. Cambridge Papers in Social Anthropology, 7. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1973.
Goody, Jack. The Oriental, the Ancient, and the Primitive: Systems of Marriage and the Family in the Pre-Industrial Societies of Eurasia. Studies in Literacy, Family, Culture, and the State. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990.
Grosz, Katarzyna. "Dowry and Brideprice in Nuzi." In Studies on the Civilization and Culture of Nuzi and the Hurrians, edited by M. A. Morrison and D. I. Owen, 161-82. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1981.
Hanson, K. C. "Slavery (ANE & OT)." In International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 4:539-42. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.
Hanson, K. C. "The Herodians and Mediterranean Kinship. Part III: Economics." Biblical Theology Bulletin 19 (1989) 10-21.
Hanson, K. C. "BTB Reader's Guide: Kinship." Biblical Theology Bulletin 24 (1994) 183-94.
Harrell, Stevan, and Sara A. Dickey. "Dowry Systems in Complex Societies." Ethnology 24 (1985) 105-20.
Schlegel, Alice, and Rohn Eloul. "Marriage Transactions: Labor, Property, Status." American Anthropologist 90 (1988) 291-309.
Thureau-Dangin, F. "Trois Contrats de Ras-Shamra." Syria 18 (1937) 245-55 [esp. 248, 253-55].

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Last Modified: 2 October 2015