Stranger and Sojourner (in the Old Testament)



1. Legal provisions

(1) Principles

(2) Rules

2. Relation to Sacrifice and Ritual

3. Historical Circumstances



1. Marriage

2. Exclusion of Some Races from the Assembly


Four different Hebrew words must be considered separately: (1) ger, the American Standard Revised Version "sojourner" or "stranger"; (2) toshabh, the American Standard Revised Version "sojourner"; (3) nokhri, ben nekhar, the American Standard Revised Version "foreigner"; (4) zar, the American Standard Revised Version "stranger."

I. The Ger.

This word with its kindred verb is applied with slightly varying meanings to anyone who resides in a country or a town of which he is not a full native land-owning citizen; e.g., the word is used of the patriarchs in Palestine, the Israelites in Egypt, the Levites dwelling among the Israelites (De 18:6; Jg 17:7, etc.), the Ephraimite in Gibeah (Jg 19:16). It is also particularly used of free aliens residing among the Israelites, and it is with the position of such that this article deals. This position is absolutely unparalleled in early legal systems (A. H. Post, Grundriss der ethnologischen Jurisprudenz, I, 448, note 3), which are usually far from favorable to strangers.

1. Legal Provisions:

(1) Principles.

The dominant principles of the legislation are most succinctly given in two passages: He "loveth the ger in giving him food and raiment" (De 10:18); "And if a ger sojourn with thee (variant "you") in your land, ye shall not do him wrong. The ger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were gerim in the land of Egypt" (Le 19:33 f). This treatment of the stranger is based partly on historic recollection, partly on the duty of the Israelite to his God. Because the ger would be at a natural disadvantage through his alienage, he becomes one of the favorites of a legislation that gives special protection to the weak and helpless.

(2) Rules.

In nationality the freeman followed his father, so that the son of a ger and an Israelitess was himself a ger (Le 24:10-22). Special care was to be taken to do him no judicial wrong (De 1:16; 94:17; De 27:19). In what may roughly be called criminal law it was enacted that the same rules should apply to gerim as to natives (Le 18:26, which is due to the conception that certain abominations defile a land; Le 20:2, where the motive is also religious; Le 24:10-22; see SBL , 84 ff; Nu 35:15). A free Israelite who became his slave was subject to redemption by a relative at any time on payment of the fair price (Le 25:47 ff). This passage and De 28:43 contemplate the possibility of a stranger's becoming wealthy, but by far the greater number of the legal provisions regard him as probably poor. Thus provision is made for him to participate in tithes (De 14:29; 26:12), gleanings of various sorts and forgotten sheaves (Le 19:10; 23:22; De 24:19-20,21), and poor hired servants were not to be oppressed (De 24:14).

2. Relation to Sacrifice and Ritual:

Nearly all the main holy days apply to the ger. He was to rest on the Sabbath (Ex 20:10; 23:12, etc.), to rejoice on Weeks and Tabernacles (De 16:1-22), to observe the Day of Atonement (Le 16:29), to have no leaven on the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Ex 12:19). But he could not keep the Passover unless he underwent circumcision (Ex 12:48). He could not eat blood at any rate during the wilderness period (Le 17:10-12), and for that period, but not thereafter, he was probihited from eating that which died of itself (Le 17:15; De 14:21) under pain of being unclean until the even. He could offer sacrifices (Le 17:8 f; Le 22:18; Nu 15:14 f), and was subject to the same rules as a native for unwitting sins (Nu 15:22-31), and for purification for uncleanness by reason of contact with a dead body (Nu 19:10-13).

3. Historical Circumstances:

The historical circumstances were such as to render the position of the resident alien important from the first. A "mixed multitude" went up with the Israelites from Egypt, and after the conquest we find Israelites and the races of Palestine living side by side throughout the country. We repeatedly read of resident aliens in the historical books, e.g. Uriah the Hittite. According to 2Ch 2:17 f (Hebrew 16 f) there was a very large number of such in the days of Solomon, but the figure may be excessive. These seem to have been the remnant of the conquered tribes (1Ki 9:20 f). Ezekiel in his vision assigned to gerim landed inheritance among the Israelites (47:22 f). Hospitality to the ger was of course a religious duty and the host would go to any lengths to protect his guest (Ge 19:1-38; Jg 19:24).

II. The Toshabh.

Of the toshabh we know very little. It is possible that the word is practically synonymous with ger, but perhaps it is used of less permanent sojourning. Thus in Le 22:10 it appears to cover anybody residing with a priest. A toshabh could not eat the Passover or the "holy" things of a priest (Ex 12:45; Le 22:10). His children could be purchased as perpetual slaves, and the law of the Jubilee did not apply to them as to Israelites (Le 25:45). He is expressly mentioned in the law of homicide (Nu 35:15), but otherwise we have no information as to his legal position. Probably it was similar to that of the ger.

III. The Nokhri Ben Nekhar.

The nokhri or ben nekhar was a foreigner. The word is far wider than those considered above. It covers everything of alien or foreign character regardless of the place of residence. By circumcision a foreign slave could enter into the covenant with Abraham. Foreigners were of course excluded from the Passover (Ex 12:43), but could offer sacrifices to Israel's God at the religious capital (Le 22:25). The Israelite could exact interest of them (De 23:20) and the payment of debts in cases where an Israelite debtor was protected by the release of De 15:3. Moses forbade the appointment of a foreigner as a ruler (De 17:15, in a law which according to Massoretic Text relates to a "king," but in the preferable text of Septuagint to a ruler generally). Later the worship of God by foreigners from a distance was contemplated and encouraged (1Ki 8:41-43; Isa 2:2 f; Isa 56:3,6 f; etc.), while the case of Naaman shows that a foreigner might worship Him abroad (2Ki 5:17). A resident foreigner was of course a ger. The distinction between these three words is perhaps best seen in Ex 12:43,45,48 f. in the first of these verses we have ben nekhar, used to cover "alien" generally; in the last the ger is contemplated as likely to undergo a complete naturalization; while in Ex 12:45 the toshabh is regarded as certain to be outside the religious society.

1. Marriage:

In the earlier period marriages with foreigners are common, though disliked (e.g. Ge 24:3; 27:46 ff; Nu 12:1; Jg 14:3, etc.). The Law provides for some unions of this kind (De 21:10 ff; compare Nu 31:18), but later Judaism became more stringent. Moses required the high priest to marry a virgin of his own people (Le 21:14); Ezekiel limited all descendants of Zadok to wives of the house of Israel (44:22); Ezra and Nehemiah carried on a vigorous polemic against the intermarriage of any Jew with foreign women (Ezr 10:1-44; Ne 13:23-31).

2. Exclusion of Some Races from Assembly:

Deuteronomy further takes up a hostile attitude to Ammonites and Moabites, excluding them from the assembly of the Lord even to the tenth generation, while the children of the third generation of Edomites and Egyptians could enter it (23:3-8 (Heb 4:1-16-9)). From 1 Ki 9:20,21,24; 1Ch 22:2 we learn of the existence of foreign quarters in Israel.

IV. The Zar.

The remaining word zar means "stranger" and takes its coloring from the context. It may mean "stranger in blood," e.g. non-Aaronite (Nu 16:40 (Hebrew 17:5)), or non-Levite (e.g. Nu 1:51), or a non-member of some other defined family (De 25:5). In opposition to priest it means "lay" (Le 22:10-13), and when the contrast is with holy, it denotes "profane" (Ex 30:9).


Harold M. Wiener

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