Stranger and Sojourner

Burton Scott Easton



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; Jud 17:7, etc.), the Ephraimite in Gibeah (Jud 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.

2. Relation to Sacrifice and Ritual:

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; Jud 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.

1. Marriage:

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 (Hebrew 4-9)). From 1Ki 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 (Heb 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