Unwed and Pregnant in Ancient Israel?



In our time and culture, unwed mothers are a common and (mostly) accepted reality of life. Unsurprisingly, that was not the case in first century Israel.

Jewish women in ancient Israel were passed from one male authority (their fathers) to another (their husbands) at a very young age. Most were betrothed by the time they were thirteen and married by fourteen. With such early marriages, premarital sex was most likely not common, but it did happen as we can see by the laws set in place in the Old Testament and the punishments meted out for breaking them:

If a man marries a girl who is claimed to be a virgin, and then finds that she is not, “they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her father’s house and there her townsmen shall stone her to death” (Deut. 22:20)

If a man has relations within the walls of a city with a maiden who is betrothed, “you shall bring them both out to the gate of the city and there stone them to death.” (Deut. 22:23) but if they were in the open fields, “the man alone shall die”, because if it was in the open fields, “though the betrothed maiden may have cried out for help, there was no one to come to her aid.” (Deut. 22:25-27)

If the maiden in question is not betrothed, the punishment is different. “The man who had relations with her shall pay the girl’s father fifty silver shekels and take her as his wife, because he has deflowered her. Moreover, he may not divorce her as long as he lives.” (Deut. 22:29)

As you can see, the status of betrothal was almost identical to the status of a married woman. A betrothed woman who lay with a man that was not her intended husband, was punished as if she had committed adultery.

Mary of Nazareth, unwed and pregnant, knew the punishment she faced—stoning. She had nothing but the story of an angel to tell her parents and Joseph, the man she had promised to marry.  Joseph would have been well within his rights—even within his duty—to expose her sin and witness her execution.

It was only with the intervention of an angel and Joseph’s own faith-filled acceptance of the angel’s message, that saved both Mary’s life and the life of her unborn baby, the Incarnation of God.

Mary knew exactly what she would face in her home and community after she said her faith-filled “Let it be done to me according to your word” to the visiting angel. And still, she said yes. She trusted that God would take care of her, and he did, through her holy husband Joseph.


What happened to unwed pregnant girls in first century Israel? http://www.stephanielandsem.com/?p=1108

Unwed and Pregnant in Ancient Israel. What did Mary face when she said ‘Yes’ to God? http://www.stephanielandsem.com/?p=1108


What do you think would have happened if the Angel had come to a girl in these modern times? What would a modern Joseph have done?







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14 Responses to “Unwed and Pregnant in Ancient Israel?”

  1. LeAnne Hardy | December 9, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    I heard an Advent sermon in Kenya saying that Joseph could have said (as most African men would), this child is not my blood. Why should I take responsibility? Who know how he may turn out with an unknown father? But God said, Joseph, this is my son and I am asking you to care for him. The application of the sermon was that God may be asking you to raise a child that is not your blood and adopt one of the many Kenyan children in need of a family. There was also a baby dedication that day complete with offerings of fruits, vegetables, live goats and chickens for the orphanage Christmas, carried in with singing, dancing and great jubilation. Several of the dedicated children had been adopted, including one in the pastor’s family. A moving service I will never forget.

  2. melanie | February 7, 2016 at 8:01 pm #

    Angels know that our marriageble age isn’t the same as it was in biblical times.

  3. melanie | February 7, 2016 at 8:13 pm #

    The angel Gabriel would have been knock out if he came to 14/15 year old Mary during this century.

  4. mandy | September 26, 2016 at 4:56 pm #

    Study ancient Israel betrothal. And although girls can get marry at 12;it does mean all were. Jewish girls were seldom force into marriage. How old was Mary? Well for one thing she wasn’t in her 20s when she had Jesus, but no where near at 12-14 years old, maybe 14-18 years of age.

    • Mandy A Jones | November 20, 2017 at 10:45 pm #

      I meant say that I’ve study ancient Israel Betrothal.

  5. Lucifuge | March 27, 2017 at 10:48 am #

    Little slut and the bastard of lies…..hey everybody I’m saved because I accept the torture and crucifixion of another to save my own soul, I’m moral……hmmmm I wonder why aliens haven’t landed

  6. Mandy | August 7, 2017 at 4:26 pm #

    Actually most ancient Jewish girls got married around 15 or 16.
    You should read Everyday Life In Bible Time by Arthur W. Klinck. Go to chapter 8 on that page.

  7. Mandy | August 7, 2017 at 4:46 pm #

    You also want to read these. All these sources support that all or most Jewish girls got married in their mid teen years. They’re all under Google books. 12 must have been the ideal age,but not the actual age of marriage in ancient Israel.
    Marriage and Family in the Biblical Times,by Ken M.Campbell

    Jewish Marriage In The Antiquity, by Michael Satlow

    Women’s Evangelical Commentary: New Testament, by Dorothy Kelley Patterson, Rhonda Harrington Kelley



  8. Steve | October 22, 2017 at 10:53 pm #

    Did ancient Jews not also ostracize unmarried adult men? So how exactly did unmarried Jesus somehow convince all the other Jews to follow him if he wasn’t married? I firmly believe that Mary of Magdalene wasn’t some whore that followed him around but his wife.

    • Stephanie Landsem | October 23, 2017 at 11:19 am #

      Hi Steve and thanks for the question. No, adult married men were not uncommon and certainly not ostracized in this time period. In fact, they often were teachers or rabbi who attracted followers and taught them. There are plenty of competing theories about Mary Magdalene, one of the most valid being that she was a woman of wealth, perhaps a widow, and that Jesus cured her of an illness. She, along with Jesus’ mother and some other holy women, traveled with Jesus and his followers, caring for them and learning from him.

  9. Mandy A Jones | November 20, 2017 at 10:25 pm #

    Sorry if I went over board. I sometimes forget ( after months) that I already posted a comment. Please forgive me. Anyway should check ou the new sources I gave you. It suggest that jewish girls married a little later.


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