Joshua 15:17: Was the Marriage of Othniel and Achsah Lawful?

Verse 17:[1] And (Judg. 1:13; 3:9) Othniel the (Num. 32:12; Josh. 14:6) son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, took it: and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife.

[Othniel, the son of Kenaz and the younger brother of Caleb,עָתְנִיאֵ֥ל בֶּן־קְנַ֖ז אֲחִ֣י כָלֵ֑ב] [They render it variously.] The son of Kenaz and the brother of Caleb (thus the Latin, Vatablus, Drusius, Masius). But this marriage was prohibited by law, Leviticus 18; 20, if not manifestly, at least obscurely and tacitly, with conclusive reasoning, inasmuch as the law prohibits the paternal aunt, likewise the maternal aunt, likewise the wife of the paternal uncle,[2] to be taken to wife: for those are related by a connection of equal nearness with the daughter of a brother (Masius). Responses: 1. Therefore, some thus translate it, the son of Kenaz, who was in turn the brother of Caleb (thus the Septuagint [in Codex Vaticanus (Masius)], Jonathan, Syriac, Arabic, Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Castalio, thus the Vulgate on Judges 1:13). Whereby it happens that Othniel and Achsah are cousins; for whom it was not unlawful to be joined in matrimony. 2. If you should translate it, the son of Kenaz and brother of Caleb, it is well-attested in the Sacred Scripture that kinsmen are called brethren (Masius). Here some have it kinsman, or relation (Junius and Tremellius, Vatablus, Drusius, Lapide, Masius, Piscator). Nahmanides on Numbers 10 observes these adjectival names, as he calls them, which are put in the last place in constructions of words of that sort, are to be referred to that of which principal mention is made in that oration: just as in Isaiah 37:2, יְשַֽׁעְיָ֥הוּ בֶן־אָמ֖וֹץ הַנָּבִֽיא׃, Isaiah, son of Amoz and a prophet, not son of the prophet Amoz; in Jeremiah 28:1, חֲנַנְיָה֩ בֶן־עַזּ֙וּר הַנָּבִ֜יא, Hananiah, son of Azur and a prophet; and in Numbers 10:29, לְ֠חֹבָב בֶּן־רְעוּאֵ֣ל הַמִּדְיָנִי֮, Hobab, the son of Raguel and a Midianite. You will said that in Judges 1 Othniel is called the younger brother of Caleb, whereby a comparison is made among the children of one parent. But that is not so: indeed, he is called younger, who became a new husband and son-in-law of that other, because Caleb was eighty-five years old at that time (Masius). Now, that Othniel was not the brother of Caleb properly so called, is manifest from this, that Caleb is everywhere called the son of Jephunneh, but Othniel everywhere the son of Kenaz; and so it is most likely that Caleb and Kenaz, the father of Othniel, were brothers (Bonfrerius on Judges 1:13).

Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, etc.: Objection. This marriage was unlawful. Answer. No; for it was not Othniel, but Kenaz, who was Caleb’s brother; and besides, the word brother is commonly used for any kinsman; and that Caleb was not properly Othniel’s brother sufficiently appears, because Caleb is constantly called the son of Jephunneh; and Othniel, the son of Kenaz here, and 1 Chronicles 4:13.

[1] Hebrew: וַֽיִּלְכְּדָ֛הּ עָתְנִיאֵ֥ל בֶּן־קְנַ֖ז אֲחִ֣י כָלֵ֑ב וַיִּתֶּן־ל֛וֹ אֶת־עַכְסָ֥ה בִתּ֖וֹ לְאִשָּֽׁה׃

[2] Leviticus 18:12-14.

1 thought on “Joshua 15:17: Was the Marriage of Othniel and Achsah Lawful?

  1. Matthew Henry: ‘The place was bravely taken by Othniel, a nephew of Caleb, whom probably Caleb had thoughts of when he made the proffer, Joshua 15:17. This Othniel, who thus signalized himself when he was young, had long after, in his advanced years, the honour to be both a deliverer and a judge in Israel, the first single person that presided in their affairs after Joshua’s death. It is good for those who are setting out in the world to begin betimes with that which is great and good, that, excelling in service when they are young, they may excel in honour when they grow old.

    Hereupon (all parties being agreed) Othniel married his cousin-german Achsah, Caleb’s daughter. It is probable that he had a kindness for her before, which put him upon this bold undertaking to obtain her. Love to his country, an ambition of honour, and a desire to find favour with the princes of his people, might not have engaged him in this great action, but his affection for Achsah did. This made it intolerable to him to think that any one should do more to win her favour than he would, and so inspired him with this generous fire. Thus is love strong as death, and jealousy cruel as the grave.’

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