I started thinking about dowries after watching an episode of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”. It was about this nomadic clan of Irish-American con artists and petty thieves. There was an arranged marriage between these two kids that was really just a scam because the father of the young bride-to-be owed money to the father of the young groom-to-be because of some caravans the former had stolen from the latter, so the latter had decided to go along with the whole wedding-slash-dowry idea to keep the thievery secret, because these two families were supposed to be comrades, partners-in-crime and all that. Of course Vincent O’Onofrio figured it all out, in that sly unseen way he always does, and the guy was arrested for killing his niece who was going to expose their secret to this anthropologist who was studying modern nomadic tribes…
Anyway. I guess it’s because I’m a little dyslexic, because before this I thought that the dowry was money or whatever given to the father of the bride from the groom, as payment for the bride, since a woman is the property of her father until she gets married, when she then takes her husband’s last name, effectively becoming his property.
But it’s the other way around, I guess—the dowry is given to the groom. What, is it like starting off money, the father helping out his daughter’s new owner? Kind of like how you pay a babysitter?
So I looked online. I came upon a resource I’ve come across before—Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. You may have come across it yourself—it’s actually a registered source on Dictionary.com. In any case, according to the Bible and its 1897 interpretive dictionary, the dowry was originally, quote, the “price paid for a wife”. More specifically, quote, “which the bridegroom offers to the father of his bride as a satisfaction before he can receive her.” An example from Genesis: Quote, “Jacob had no dowry to give for his wife, but he gave his services.”
So when—and more importantly, to me, anyway—why was this changed in the West?
I called my mom.
She recently got a Master’s Degree in Communications, with a focus in power structures and oppression. Her thesis was a critical analysis of “Sex & The City” through a lens of Foucault with critiques of patriarchy and consumerism. So I thought she might know something about this.
She’s been reading a lot about Islamic culture lately, because of her new Egyptian boyfriend. Apparently, in Islam, the dowry is given from the groom to the bride—because men are more financially sound, this is sort of an insurance in case of divorce or if the man dies or something.
She couldn’t shed any light on the Bible Dictionary finding, instead just going on one of her highly articulate outbursts about how the Bible wasn’t really THE BIBLE, that instead of Christianity taking over Rome, Rome took over Christianity, and those in power put together these writings and called it THE BIBLE, and how many gospels were left out, including Mary Magdalene’s, and how there’s no evidence that she was a prostitute, that this was made up in the 16th century because she was a single woman that hung around with men.
My mom might be the only truly postmodern person I know. She mind-phucks me every time.