Purity is about two things, control and manipulation. Once upon a time, before DNA and the old fashioned paternity tests, ‘purity’ was a very big deal if there were lands and titles to be inherited. The only way a family could guarantee that the bloodlines of the ‘father’ continued through the son was to make sure the mother was not fooling around with anyone but father. It was a practical solution for a very real, and very serious problem.
Lands and titles were always passed through the father, unless a woman was fortunate enough to be born in some enlightened culture like Scotland, where they were just so glad to get a living off-spring that legitimacy, if the inheritance were being passed through the mother’s family, did not matter all that much. A woman can still choose to wear her maternal or paternal tartan.
I wear the Glencoe MacDonald tartan. Any woman with an ounce of the holy land in her blood understands how important it is to maintain her maternal tartan. Celtic women were fortunate, and liberated from the start. They had no problems stripping naked, painting themselves blue, and fighting alongside the men. Purity was optional. In a rather ironic twist, with the exception of Billy Graham and Pat Robertson, how many evangelicals are descended from ancestors from holy land? Very few. You might want to notice how many come from ancestral nations where women were not as liberated as they were in Scotland.
So, a wife’s purity was important, until at least the heir and spare were born. Then it was optional, depending on her relationship with hubby, his frequent absences, and the availability of lusty stable hands and masters of the horse. Victoria had her Johnny Brown and Catherin de Valois had her Owen Tudor. Daughters, who were a commodity like something traded on the market today, were expected to guard their purity with their life. Indeed, their very lives and security, as well as the security of a home, title or even a kingdom might depend on it.
That is the historical importance of purity. It had nothing to do with religion. It had everything to do with lineage, families, inheritance and titles. If a man were to marry a ‘maid’ and realize she wasn’t technically a ‘maid’, depending on his temperament and the era her lapse could end in her death, the destruction of her family, and of their fortune. When Hamlet was telling Ophelia to get thee to a nunnery, he was not telling her to go to a convent, he was telling her to go to ply her trade in a whore house. He was calling her a prostitute. So, she took her own life. Her reputation forever destroyed, she had no hope for the future, other than in a whore house.
Nothing about the original idea of purity had overtones of devotion to a woman’s father. Most fathers could have cared less about their daughters. Very few were like William Marshal of England (an ancestor of mine) who was as devoted to his daughters as his sons. He demanded they be educated the same as his sons, be allowed to choose their mate, choose their fate in life, inherit, and demanded that their daughters and their daughter’s daughters and so forth and so on be allowed to do the same. It is a heritage the women in my family hold quite dear.
In the Bible, purity is about the wholesomeness of the world around a person. It was about leprosy, clean, unclean, proper foods to eat, and what was contaminated and what wasn’t. Pure was a matter of life and death, contagion and not being infected with something. It was also about the purification process of of gold and silver. Gold was required to be pure in religious worship. Women were not. Daughters were not.
“… In addition to Klawans’ results, she further establishes a third version of impurity that applies largely to the post-Ezra era: a “genealogical ”, by which the descendants of mixed marriages between Israelites and Gentiles were affected. She considers this the most serious impurity, since it was irreversible and permanent. This concept is based on the assumption that gentile ancestry itself was, so that it could not be erased or… at all. That is why those who had married and fathered children with foreign women had no choice but to send them away. This was irreparable, and anyone afflicted had to be expelled from the community if it was to avoid the dire consequences which would otherwise come upon the entire population. Hayes makes one point of contention: Ezra spoke in terms of holiness, not purity: his innovation was to take the scriptural notion that priests were a“holy seed” and extend it to the entire Israelite community. The point was not that Gentiles were unclean, but that marriage with a Gentile produced tainted offspring…”
Today, though, pure is a matter of control.