Traditional Marriage: One Man, Many Women, Some Girls, Some Slaves

Well, it’s been quite a whirlwind week for same-sex marriage, from North Carolina to Obama to Colorado—and, of course, to the many outraged conservatives concerned with preserving traditional marriage, i.e., the time-honored sacred bond between one man and one woman. Why, just last week, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said that marriage has meant just that for over five thousand years.

Huh?

Time to break out your Bible, Mr. Perkins! Abraham had two wives, Sarah and her handmaiden Hagar. King Solomon had 700 wives, plus 300 concubines and slaves. Jacob, the patriarch who gives Israel its name, had two wives and two concubines. In a humanist vein, Exodus 21:10 warns that when men take additional wives, they must still provide for their previous one. (Exodus 21:16 adds that if a man seduces a virgin and has sex with her, he has to marry her, too.)

But that’s not all. In biblical society, when you conquered another city, tribe, or nation, the victorious men would “win” their defeated foes’ wives as part of the spoils. It also commanded levirate marriage, the system wherein, if a man died, his younger brother would have to marry his widow and produce heirs with her who would be considered the older brother’s descendants. Now that’s traditional marriage!

Later Islamic and Jewish sources, unclear on these parameters (the prophet Muhammad, of course, had several wives), debated whether it is permissible for a man to marry a three- or four-year-old girl. St. Paul, meanwhile, said that marriage was a compromise between the ideal of celibacy and the unfortunate fact that people like to have sex. Fortunately, we pluralists can appreciate both those religious traditions which advise men to marry little girls and those which tell them not to marry anyone at all.

And of course, even until the present day, traditional marriage has meant arranged marriage. The notion that two adults would enter into a marriage on their own volition is a radical innovation in the institution of marriage, at most two hundred years old.

Oh, and let’s not forget that in Europe and North America, marriage was considered a commercial proposition first and foremost—not a romantic one. Princes married princesses not because of fairy tales, but because their parents had political alliances to consider. Further down the economic ladder, people married for a variety of biological, commercial, and genealogical reasons—but rarely for love. (See Stephanie Coontz’s excellent Marriage: A History for more.)

Oh, and that’s right, I almost forgot about interracial marriage, which in some parts of America was seen as a crime against nature and God up until the 1960s. (Of course, Moses himself was in an interracial marriage, but the anti-miscegenation crowd overlooked that inconvenient fact.) It’s easy today for the likes of Tony Perkins to say that this change was a minor one; but let’s remember that a century ago, African Americans were not considered fully human by religious conservatives. Interracial marriage—as much as it’s disgusting to even say so today—was seen as an unnatural marriage between different species.

Oh, wait a minute, I forgot the most laughable part of this whole ludicrous spectacle: that it’s the Mormon Mitt Romney who’s insisting that marriage has “always” been between one man and one woman. Right—except that Romney’s own great-grandfather had five wives, before the LDS church, under massive pressure and persecution, reversed its doctrine on polygamy.

So, let’s see if I can total all this up. Traditional marriage is one man with multiple wives, multiple concubines, wives conquered in war and wives acquired in levirate marriage, possibly including girls under the age of ten, but definitely not including anyone of a different ethnic group, in an arranged marriage with disposition of property as its purpose. That seems very different from “one man, one woman,” does it not?

Of course, it’s easy to say that marriage as an institution evolves—but then, if we admit that, we have to admit that sanctioning loving, same-sex unions is just another step in that evolution. Perhaps this is why the Tony Perkinses of the world simply ignore the Bible when it doesn’t suit their purposes, instead preferring to make pseudo-scientific (and wholly unsupported) claims about what’s best for children and society. The Bible’s truths are just too inconvenient.

JayMichaelson&ltjay@nehirim.orggt'

Dr. Jay Michaelson [@jaymichaelson] is Associate Editor of Religion Dispatches and the author of five books, most recently "Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment" (North Atlantic, 2013). He holds a J.D. from Yale and a Ph.D. in Jewish Thought from Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

  • Ryan

    Well I cant see the anti religious bias in this. And I definitely cant see the pro-homosexual bias. Certain people will do anything to push homosexuality on society.

    But what this author forgot to add is that homosexuality being wrong is not a just religious thing its apart of natural law. Throughout history, people have always known through nature that homosexuality is unnatural and wrong. Atheists have known this and before Christianity, Greek philosophers wrote about the dangers and evil of homosexual behavior.

    Even the worlds leading religious leader Pope Francis said he based his view against homosexuality on nature first before Christianity.

    How will you geniuses argue to the millions of nonreligious and atheists who are against homosexuality and homo marriage? Are you going to somehow twist the laws of Nature. How will you explain away that the main purpose of sexuality is procreation. That biologically men and woman were designed to be with each other. Even under evolution homosexuality makes no sense. Their would be no reason for evolution to allow it (it does not benefit us like procreation) and it biologically would not of lasted because homosexuals cant reproduce.

    Homosexuality is a behavior and therefore a choice. Their are many people who were once homosexual but are no longer. Many of them are in straight marriages now. Homosexual feelings are a mental disorder. Their are many sexual mental disorders such as pedophilia,incest or bestiality however its still the persons choice to act on them. Just because a person has homosexual feelings and thoughts does not mean they have to follow them and become a homosexual. Just like someome with pedophilia,incest or zoophilic thoughts/feelings does not have to follow them.

    And statistics show how homosexuality is dangerous. Homosexuals have higher rates of sexual diseases especially Aids which they created. This was proven by many sources such as the CDC. They have higher cancer rates,higher drug and alcohol intake,higher suicide rates,higher mental disease rates and many other things. And homosexuals have a much lower life expectancy for a reason! Not to mention they have hundreds of sex partners.

    Why on earth would anyone want to promote such a unnatural and dangerous lifestyle? You are just hurting humanity and hurting those whom you influence into this lifestyle. and the biggest problem is homosexuals will raise kids who will be mentally,physically and spiritually hurt. Because its proven by statistics that kids need a mother and a father. Because of the selfishness of homosexuals they hurt innocent children. And many people raised by homosexuals have come out and said how awful it was.

    But in the end homosexuals have the freedom to choose their lifestyle however they have no right to push it on the rest of society! And they have no right to redefine marriage. because by doing so you are not only opening a Pandora box which lead into other unnatural dangerous marriages and morals. But also promoting homosexuality and homosexual adoption which will also lead to lots of negative effects!

  • Ryan

    I already talked about why homosexuality is dangerous and know I will try to dissect this idiotic biased article.

    First of all from what I recall the Bible does not say its okay for everyone to marry multiple wives it was only few people because of certain events. And exodus laws like such as exodus 20 took place in very barbaric times. All of these Jewish laws were very merciful in comparison to the rest of world. If the true Christian laws were said than no one would of followed them and the Jewish people would of gone extinct thought being killed or losing their identity/faith.

    Here is an example from the new testament Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.

    Many people even say that God did not give the exodus laws instead he permitted Moses to be the one giving them. And Moses gave lenient ones because of the evil of the Jewish people and the times. And Moses as shown in the old testament was not okay with exodus laws but again gave them because the Jewish people were evil and the rest of society was much worse.

    Regardless in Christianity we are taught that Jesus Christ fulfilled the law. And now we are strictly taught that it is one man and woman not multiple woman.

    traditional marriage has always been between one man and woman talking about some very isolated incidents does not change that. And since Jesus Christ came it has not been allowed not even in isolated cases. And never has marriage between man and man been okay or allowed. Trying to say that certain people allowed bad stuff or did bad does not justify doing bad yourself!

    With your logic we can take anything bad or dangerous in history and use it to promote another similar or even different ideology. You could do the exact same thing with pedophilia or incest so should we allow pedophilia because some Jews had multiple wives?

    And traditional marriage has not always meant arranged marriage. their have been society’s in history earlier than 200 years! Many very old who have allowed non arranged marriage. And you make arranged marriage seem like a crime. Two people (man and woman) who are in a arranged marriage can and still do fall in love with each other. No one picks their family members like brothers and sisters but we still end up caring about them! Similar to people in arranged marriage who end up caring for each other.

    And this article totally misunderstands arranged marriages which still takes place today. Because arranged marriage throughout history did not always mean the man and woman getting married had no freedom of speech. Many,many times they actually got to pick whether or not they wanted to marry the person. A mother and father may advise the child to pick this man or woman but they still have a say.

    And just because princes married princesses because of commercial purposes does not mean everyone did this. How on earth would two poor people coming from poor families do this? Most of the people in Europe and North America did not mainly marry for commercial purposes. Off-course the amount of money a man made or was apart of the decision just like it is today. Ask any girl today if she would marry a guy who worked at fast food place or a doctor and they would pretty much always say doctor.
    However most people back than did not choose commercial purposes for the main purpose of marriage. Even though they did at times does not change the fact that the man and woman could still fall in love and had say in it.

    Regardless of the reason why someone chose marriage like coming from the same village or neighborhood. It does not change that those two people could still be happy. And does not change the fact that it was between a man and woman which is biologically normal. I don’t see why people not putting love first changes the definition of marriage. If people put such a high focus on love than as soon as love was gone for a little while, than they would leave each other.

    And If you want to base everything on love, than a daughter can sexually love her dad and marry him and you should have no problem with it. correct?

  • Ryan1

    Lastly if we went by your logic of marriage evolution, than marriage has evolved to something better than ever. Evolving solely into one man and woman. So if we allowed homosexual marriage we would be devolving. After these homosexuals cant even have their own children. And they have a very low life expectancy. Not to mention so many negative medical statistics. its similar if we now allowed an man to marry animal it would be devolving(this animal marriage is being debated in other countries).

    But lets say everything you said was correct in the end you did not give one non religious argument for homosexual marriage. You based your whole argument on attacking Christianity. And your Bible interpretation was very poor.

    What If I am an atheist, what will you tell me that changes natural law or negative statisticians of homosexual behavior. How can you prove to me that unnatural homosexual marriage is good for society or normal. How can you change the proven fact (and common sense) that a human child needs a mother and father. Point is you cant so you resort to attacking Christians to prove an invalid and idiotic point.

    If your parents were homosexual you would never exist!