Heir (some form of the verb יָרִשׁ, to possess; Gr. κληρόνομος, a receiver by lot). The Hebrew institutions relative to inheritance were of a very simple character. Under the patriarchal system the property was divided among the sons of the legitimate wives (Ge 21:10; Ge 24:36; Ge 25:5), a larger portion being assigned to one, generally the eldest, on whom devolved the duty of maintaining the females of the family. SEE BIRTHRIGHT. The sons of concubines were portioned off with presents (Ge 49:1 sq.), but this may have been restricted to cases where the children had been adopted by the legitimate wife (Ge 30:3). But Jacob made the sons whom he had by his concubines heirs, as well as the others (Ge 49:12-27). Moses laid no restrictions upon the choice of fathers in this respect; and we may infer that the sons of concubines, for the most part, received an equal share with the other sons, from the fact that Jephthah, the son of a concubine, complained that he was excluded from his father's house without any portion (Jg 11:1-7). Daughters had no share in the patrimony (Ge 31:14), but received a marriage portion, consisting of a maid-servant (Ge 29:24,29) or some other property. As a matter of special favor they sometimes took part with the sons (Job 42:15). The Mosaic law regulated the succession to real property thus: it was to be divided among the sols, the eldest receiving a double portion (De 21:17), the others equal shares: if there were no sons, it went to the daughters (Nu 27:8), on the condition that they did not marry out of their own tribe (Nu 36:6
sq.; Tob. 6:12; 7:13), otherwise the patrimony was forfeited (Josephus, Ant. 4, 7, 5). If there were no daughters, it went to the brother of the deceased; if no brother, to the paternal uncle; and, failing these, to the next of kin (Nu 27:9-11). In the case of a widow being left without children, the nearest of kin on her husband's side had the right of marrying her, and, in the event of his refusal, the next of kin (Ru 3:12-13): with him rested the obligation of redeeming the property of the widow (Ru 4:1 sq.), if it had been either sold or mortgaged: this obligation was termed מַשׁפִּט הִגּאֻלָּה ("the right of inheritance"), and was exercised in other cases besides that of marriage (Jer 32:7 sq.). If none stepped forward to marry the widow, the inheritance remained with her until her death, and then reverted to the next of kin. SEE WIDOW. The object of these regulations evidently was to prevent the alienation of the land, and to retain it in the same family: the Mosaic law enforced, in short, a strict entail Even the assignment of the double portion, which under the patriarchal regime had been at the disposal of the father (Ge 48:22), was by the Mosaic law limited to the eldest son (De 21:15-17). The case of Achsah, to whom Caleb presented a field (Jos 15:18-19; Jg 1:15), is an exception; but perhaps even in that instance the land reverted to Caleb's descendants either at the death of Achsah or in the year of Jubilee. The land being thus so strictly tied up, the notion of heirship, as we understand it, was hardly known to the Jews: succession was a matter of right, and not of favor-a state of things which is embodied in the Hebrew language itself, for the word יָרִשׁ (A.V. "to inherit") implies possession, and very forcible possession (De 2:12; Jg 1:29; Jg 11:24), and a similar idea lies at the root of the words אֲחֻזָּה and נֲחִלָה, generally translated "inheritance." Testamentary dispositions were, of course, generally superfluous: the nearest approach to the idea is the blessing, which in early times conveyed temporal as well as spiritual benefits (Ge 27:19,37; Jos 15:19). It appears, however, that eventually the father had at least the right of expressing his last wishes or will in the presence of witnesses, and probably in the presence of the heirs (2Ki 20:1). The references to wills in the apostle Paul's writings are borrowed from the usages of Greece and Rome (Heb 9:17), whence the custom was introduced into Judaea: several wills are noticed by Josephus in connection with the Herods (Ant. 13, 16, 1; 17:3, 2; War, 2, 2, 3).
With regard to personal property, it may be presumed that the owner had some authority over it, at all events during his life-time. The admission of a slave to a portion of the inheritance with the sons (Pr 17:2) probably applies only to the personality. A presentation of half the personality formed the marriage portion of Tobit's wife (Tob. 8:21). A distribution of goods during the father's lifetime is implied in Lu 15:11-13: a distinction may be noted between οὐσία, a general term applicable to personalty, and κληρονομία, the landed property, which could only be divided after the father's death (Lu 12:13).
There is a striking resemblance between the Hebrew and Athenian customs of heirship, particularly as regards heiresses (ἐπίκληροι), who were, in both nations, bound to marry their nearest relation: the property did not vest in the husband even for his life-time, but devolved upon the son of the heiress as soon as he was of age, who also bore the name, not of his father, but of his maternal grandfather. The object in both countries was the same, viz. to preserve the name and property of every family (Smith, Dict. of Class. Ant. s.v. Epiclerus). SEE INHERITANCE.
In Col 1:15, Christ is called "the first-born of every creature," i.e. "the heir of the whole creation," as in Heb 1:2 he is called the "heir of all things." Believers are called "heirs of the promise," "of righteousness," "of the kingdom," "of the world," "of God," "joint heirs" with Christ, inasmuch as they are partakers of the blessings which God bestows upon his children, implying admission to the kingdom of heaven and its privileges (Ga 3:29; Heb 6:17; Heb 11:7; Jas 2:5; Ro 4:13; Ro 8:17), and finally possession of the heavenly inheritance (Joh 17:22-24; Re 3:22). SEE ADOPTION.