Weddings in the Bible were lavish, noisy
and costly, with lots of gifts and
plenty of eating and drinking - much
Some things don't change.
An ancient wedding
It's frustrating, but there is no actual description of a wedding in the Bible.
The wedding at
Cana is the nearest we get, but is doesn't tell us anything
about the ceremony, clothing or gifts.
The parable of the Ten Virgins
gives us a peek into one of the customs leading up to the wedding, but
that is about all.
Everyone at the time knew how weddings were celebrated, so no-one
bothered to describe them. The reader has to be a detective, looking at the clues and reconstructing the event.
Here are some extracts from the Bible that tell us what an ancient wedding was like:
The groom wore
a crown or garland on his head: 'Look, O daughters of Zion, at King Solomon, at the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding...' (Song of Solomon 3:11) and 'as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland...' (Isaiah 61:10)
The groom was
accompanied by a group of his friends and relatives: 'When the people saw Samson (going to his wedding) they brought thirty companions to be with him.' (Judges 14:11)
The procession of men to the bride's house was neither quiet or sedate: 'They looked out and saw a tumultuous procession with a great amount of baggage
(this would be gifts for the bride and her family); and the bridegroom came out with his friends and his brothers to meet them with tambourines and musicians...' (1 Maccabees 9:39)
Meanwhile, the bride was waiting, attended by a retinue of friends and female relatives - see the story of the Ten Wise and Ten Foolish Maidens in Matthew 25:1-13.
She was lavishly dressed in the best her family could afford, and wore jewelry on her head, arms, shoulders and feet: 'the princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes; in many-colored robes she is led to the king' (Psalms 45:13) and 'and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels... (Isaiah 61:10)
Her face was completely covered with a veil, which would stay in place all through the wedding festivities; it would only be removed when the young couple went to the bridal chamber: 'how beautiful you are, my love, how very beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil...'
It was this veil which allowed Laban to trick Jacob; he put the plain, unloved Leah
in a heavy veil, so that Jacob could not see that she was not beautiful Rachel, and
so tricked Jacob into marrying the plain sister - see this story at BIBLE WOMEN: RACHEL
The bride wore heavy
make-up. The woman described in the Song of Solomon has 'lips like a crimson thread' and 'cheeks like halves of a pomegranate' behind her veil. (Song of Solomon 4:3-4)
The bride was taken in procession to her new husband's house: 'in many colored robes she is led to the king; behind her the virgins, her companions, follow. With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king.' (Psalms 45: 14-15). This sort of procession is still common in the Middle East today.
The bride was carried under a canopy painted with gold crescents; later the newly married pair would sit under this canopy during the festivities.
There was a great feast, which could several days. In Matthew's gospel (22:2) this takes place at the groom's house. In other instances it happens at the house of the bride.
The honeymoon lasted for seven days: it was stipulated that
Jacob must spend this period of time with his new, unloved wife Leah even though, at the end of the seven days, he would marry
The bride was of course expected to be a virgin. After the wedding night her parents collected the bed linen stained with the blood from her broken hymen. This was proof that the girl had been a virgin when she married, and could be used as evidence in any disputes that might later arise.
Another sour note: after the period of the Second Temple, weddings were held on a Wednesday so that an aggrieved husband, finding his bride was not a virgin, could go to court and lodge a complaint on Thursday, when the courts were still open.
Weddings in the Bible were lavish, noisy and costly - much as they are today. The bride and groom both wore expensive clothing, and were the center of attention. Guests and family were expected to give gifts to the young couple, and the families of the bride and groom also had obligations. Marriages were arranged, but most people lived in villages or towns and almost certainly knew their future spouse already.
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