Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 August 2010
It has not been the objective of this book to argue that the culture of ancient Palestine was an island, free from the influence of other groups. My goal has instead been to propose that something other than foreign influence best explains why one aspect of this area's culture and society, the exchange of marriage gifts, changed so markedly over the course of several centuries. While it is true that all groups are influenced – through trade, through direct contact, or through conquest and invasion – by the ideas and practices of other cultures, it is also true that all groups develop and change along a path that is in some way unique to their own society. The movement along this path is a slow one involving the intersection of multiple features, multiple aspects of social structure and culture. Changes in Israelite marriage gifts, and in Israelite marriage, cannot be understood apart from changes in other aspects of ancient Israelite society because the exchange of marriage gifts did not in actuality stand apart from these features. By effecting inchoate marriage, these gifts were part of what constituted kinship structures and social alliances. By serving as a mode of devolving property, they were part of larger inheritance patterns. By redistributing and/or concentrating wealth, they were part of the formation and maintenance of social strata. Thus, as Goody argues, they must be examined together with these other aspects of social structure.