Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 August 2010
In the Introduction to this book, I provided brief, but widely agreed upon definitions of bridewealth, dowry, and indirect dowry in order to make possible the taxonomic discussions of Chapters 1 and 2. It is now appropriate and necessary to address not just what such marriage gifts are in a very strict sense, but what they do – that is, why societies even bother giving such prestations to begin with. Only by answering the latter question can one explicate the shifting emphasis from bridewealth, the most commonly mentioned prestation in preexilic sources, to dowry, the marriage gift that was unquestionably predominant in the postexilic period. Since the inception of anthropology as a discipline, ethnographers and other anthropologists have devoted much energy to the study of marriage and kinship, and in doing so have quite often discussed and interpreted the gifts surrounding marriage. In fact, no other discipline has generated so much analysis of these gifts, and so it is not only fitting but productive to look to anthropology in order better to understand the changes in marriage gifts in ancient Palestine.
Unsurprisingly, anthropologists have approached the study of marriage gifts from very different perspectives, both methodological and otherwise. For example, while some have approached marriage gifts within the wider context of ritualized gift-giving, many if not most others have examined such gifts within the context of marriage, and through that lens, of kinship and social alliances.