Author Topic: Polygamy in the Bible  (Read 16847 times)

Marshall_Hahn

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Polygamy in the Bible
« on: June 14, 2012, 11:29:38 AM »
I recently ran across an article by Rev. Lionel Windsor, an Australian Anglican minister studying at Durham (great name for an Anglican minister, what?) on the topic of Polygamy.  The full article can be found here:  http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2012/06/polygamy-in-the-bible-a-sordid-tale/
Since this has come up several times on this board, I thought it worthwhile to post it here.  I believe he does a good job of saying what I have attempted to argue concerning the Biblical view of polygamy.  See what you think. 
A portion is given below:


The problem, of course, is that the BibleĖeven the Old TestamentĖis not really a book of commandments and morality tales. The Bible does of course contain commandments, and lots of narratives. But hardly any of the narratives are about morally upright heroes who keep Godís commandments. Most of the narratives are about Godís actions and plans to save immoral human beings. Most of the human characters in Bible stories (even some of the most faithful ones) are morally dubious at best; in fact, many of their activities are downright sordid. Youíre not supposed to read these stories as direct examples for your own life; youíre meant to read them to understand Godís actions in the midst of a tragic human history.

It is true that the stories will also teach us something about Godís moral order. But we donít usually discover this moral order simply by reading the stories as if they were straightforward examples to emulate today. Like many good stories, the Bibleís stories can communicate deep moral truths without needing to resort to explicit commandments. Indeed, stories are often more morally powerful when there is no explicit moralising. Think of a movie like Schindlerís List, a powerful story telling us about one of the darkest moments in Western history. Now imagine, at the end of the movie, as youíve been hit with the human horror of the holocaust, just before the credits, a commandment comes up on the screen: ďThe director would like to point out (in case you missed it) that you should not be racist.Ē Not only would this be unnecessary, it would destroy the power of the story.

Something similar happens when it comes to the Bible and polygamy.
...
 Off the top of my head, here are some of the stories about polygamy in the Bible:

■The first polygamist, Lamech, calls a family conference so he can boast about his inordinate vengeful violence. Heís clearly not a nice man (Gen 4:19-24).
■Jacob has two wives and two concubines, a situation which creates family heartbreak, envy and, ultimately, attempted murder (Gen 29-37).
■Gideon has many wives and many sons (Judges 8:30). This results in civil war and wholesale slaughter in Israel (Judges 9).
■David has a seemingly insatiable appetite for women. He has many wives (2 Sam 5:13), and in the end steals another manís wife and murders him (2 Sam 11-12). The resulting, big family was not a happy one: they ended up committing incestuous rape (2 Sam 13) and rebellion which almost destroyed Davidís kingdom (2 Sam 14ff).
■Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. They led his heart away from the Lord, and led to the break-up of his kingdom (1 Kings 11:3-4).
The stories tell the story all by themselves, donít they? Polygamy, according to the Bible, is a disaster.


Marshall Hahn

pearson

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Re: Polygamy in the Bible
« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2012, 02:32:20 PM »

I recently ran across an article by Rev. Lionel Windsor, an Australian Anglican minister studying at Durham (great name for an Anglican minister, what?) on the topic of Polygamy.  The full article can be found here:  http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2012/06/polygamy-in-the-bible-a-sordid-tale/

A portion is given below:


The problem, of course, is that the BibleĖeven the Old TestamentĖis not really a book of commandments and morality tales. . . .Youíre not supposed to read these stories as direct examples for your own life; youíre meant to read them to understand Godís actions in the midst of a tragic human history. . . .

The stories tell the story all by themselves, donít they? Polygamy, according to the Bible, is a disaster.



I was with Rev. Windsor right up until the end of his essay.  I think he's quite correct to note that the Bible is not a book of commandments and morality tales, that the leading figures of the OT tend to be moral scoundrels, and that we are ill advised to enshrine those scoundrels -- and their practices -- as contemporary models for moral rectitude.  That's all good stuff.

But his argument at the end seems to be that the destruction that accompanies all these biblical stories, from Lamech to Jacob to Gideon to David to Solomon, is caused by polygamy.  It seems far more likely that polygamy is only incidentally, and not causally, connected to these "disasters."  I'm reminded of the old story:
 
There is this man who drinks whisky and soda and ends up with a terrible hangover the next day.  So the next time, he guzzles gin and soda and again ends up with a terrible hangover the next day.  Finally, he decides to try  vodka and soda and once again wakes up the next day with a miserable hangover.   The problem, he concludes, is that he has been drinking entirely too much soda; after all, that's the common ingredient in all his hangovers.

In like manner, it looks like the source of these biblical "disasters" lies elsewhere, and not with polygamy.

Tom Pearson   

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Polygamy in the Bible
« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2012, 04:17:46 PM »

I recently ran across an article by Rev. Lionel Windsor, an Australian Anglican minister studying at Durham (great name for an Anglican minister, what?) on the topic of Polygamy.  The full article can be found here:  http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2012/06/polygamy-in-the-bible-a-sordid-tale/

A portion is given below:


The problem, of course, is that the BibleĖeven the Old TestamentĖis not really a book of commandments and morality tales. . . .Youíre not supposed to read these stories as direct examples for your own life; youíre meant to read them to understand Godís actions in the midst of a tragic human history. . . .

The stories tell the story all by themselves, donít they? Polygamy, according to the Bible, is a disaster.



I was with Rev. Windsor right up until the end of his essay.  I think he's quite correct to note that the Bible is not a book of commandments and morality tales, that the leading figures of the OT tend to be moral scoundrels, and that we are ill advised to enshrine those scoundrels -- and their practices -- as contemporary models for moral rectitude.  That's all good stuff.

But his argument at the end seems to be that the destruction that accompanies all these biblical stories, from Lamech to Jacob to Gideon to David to Solomon, is caused by polygamy.  It seems far more likely that polygamy is only incidentally, and not causally, connected to these "disasters."  I'm reminded of the old story:
 
There is this man who drinks whisky and soda and ends up with a terrible hangover the next day.  So the next time, he guzzles gin and soda and again ends up with a terrible hangover the next day.  Finally, he decides to try  vodka and soda and once again wakes up the next day with a miserable hangover.   The problem, he concludes, is that he has been drinking entirely too much soda; after all, that's the common ingredient in all his hangovers.

In like manner, it looks like the source of these biblical "disasters" lies elsewhere, and not with polygamy.


Actually, there are very few "good" characters in the OT. Nearly everyone has flaws. Cain killed Abel and it had nothing to do with their marriage status.


In addition, I don't recall that the Bible ever attributes the patriarchs' and kings' problems to polygamy. When marriages have caused problems it wasn't the number of wives, but the religion of the wives that led their husbands astray. Thus Ezra commands all Jewish men to get rid of their foreign wives.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2012, 06:57:38 PM by Brian Stoffregen »
"The church Ö had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Marshall_Hahn

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Re: Polygamy in the Bible
« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2012, 05:49:31 PM »
I believe the point of his essay is to point out that nowhere in the Bible is polygamy blessed or endorsed by God (contrary to the assertions made at times on this board and elsewhere).  That there are other bad things going on in the lives of the people involved is certainly true.  But the overwhelmingly negative consequences associated with polygamous relationships point to the conclusion that, as he puts it, "polygamy is a disaster." 
As to the soda drinker, there are non-polygamous relationships in Scripture which are held up as examples - Adam and Eve being the most prominent - which would be analogous to the soda & whisky drinker laying off the whisky and waking up clear-headed.

Marshall Hahn

Ken Kimball

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Re: Polygamy in the Bible
« Reply #4 on: June 14, 2012, 06:16:57 PM »

I recently ran across an article by Rev. Lionel Windsor, an Australian Anglican minister studying at Durham (great name for an Anglican minister, what?) on the topic of Polygamy.  The full article can be found here:  http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2012/06/polygamy-in-the-bible-a-sordid-tale/

A portion is given below:


The problem, of course, is that the BibleĖeven the Old TestamentĖis not really a book of commandments and morality tales. . . .Youíre not supposed to read these stories as direct examples for your own life; youíre meant to read them to understand Godís actions in the midst of a tragic human history. . . .

The stories tell the story all by themselves, donít they? Polygamy, according to the Bible, is a disaster.



I was with Rev. Windsor right up until the end of his essay.  I think he's quite correct to note that the Bible is not a book of commandments and morality tales, that the leading figures of the OT tend to be moral scoundrels, and that we are ill advised to enshrine those scoundrels -- and their practices -- as contemporary models for moral rectitude.  That's all good stuff.

But his argument at the end seems to be that the destruction that accompanies all these biblical stories, from Lamech to Jacob to Gideon to David to Solomon, is caused by polygamy.  It seems far more likely that polygamy is only incidentally, and not causally, connected to these "disasters."  I'm reminded of the old story:
 
There is this man who drinks whisky and soda and ends up with a terrible hangover the next day.  So the next time, he guzzles gin and soda and again ends up with a terrible hangover the next day.  Finally, he decides to try  vodka and soda and once again wakes up the next day with a miserable hangover.   The problem, he concludes, is that he has been drinking entirely too much soda; after all, that's the common ingredient in all his hangovers.

In like manner, it looks like the source of these biblical "disasters" lies elsewhere, and not with polygamy.

Tom Pearson   
Would the moral be: If you're sinless you can get away with polygamy?  ;)     Like you can get away with drinking soda, unless of course it has sugar in it and you're in NYC! 

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Polygamy in the Bible
« Reply #5 on: June 14, 2012, 07:07:25 PM »
I believe the point of his essay is to point out that nowhere in the Bible is polygamy blessed or endorsed by God (contrary to the assertions made at times on this board and elsewhere).  That there are other bad things going on in the lives of the people involved is certainly true.  But the overwhelmingly negative consequences associated with polygamous relationships point to the conclusion that, as he puts it, "polygamy is a disaster." 
As to the soda drinker, there are non-polygamous relationships in Scripture which are held up as examples - Adam and Eve being the most prominent - which would be analogous to the soda & whisky drinker laying off the whisky and waking up clear-headed.


Adam and Eve are the example? The ones who brought sin and death into the world? The ones who blame everyone else for their problems? And for the biblical literalists, they let their children marry each other!


While polygamy is not blessed, neither is it cursed. Had God disapproved of the marriages (and other relationships) he certainly could have brought punishment to those involved, like he did with David and Bathsheba's first born child. (Actually God was being graceful. The law called for the death of David and Bathsheba. Their son dies in their place.) Or, God could have done something similar as he did through Ezra with the foreign wives and demand that the Jewish men give up their extra wives and slaves and concubines. There is certainly much more God could have done to indicate disapproval of polygamy and the other sexual relationships we read about in scriptures.


In addition, some of the polygamists are held up as the heroes (even with their flaws) of Israelite life and religion: Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, etc.


Consider the patriarchs. Abraham had children by a slave, by his wife, by a second wife, and by concubines.
Isaac has children by his wife.
Jacob has children by both his wives and both their slaves.
There is nothing to indicate that one was more moral or more righteous than the others.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2012, 07:15:56 PM by Brian Stoffregen »
"The church Ö had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

peter_speckhard

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Re: Polygamy in the Bible
« Reply #6 on: June 14, 2012, 09:44:19 PM »
We're all seemingly forgetting the greatest commentary ever on the nature of OT polygamy. I speak, of course, of runaway slave Jim's eloquent discourse to Huck Finn on the folly of the so-called wise King Solomon and his many wives.

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Re: Polygamy in the Bible
« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2012, 11:23:33 PM »
On to the New Testament and some charming thoughts from St. thomas Aquinas: Question 65 On Polygamy from the Summa Theologica:

"Now marriage has for its principal end the begetting and rearing of children, and this end is competent to man according to his generic nature, wherefore it is common to other animals (Ethic. viii, 12), and thus it is that the "offspring" is assigned as a marriage good. But for its secondary end, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. viii, 12), it has, among men alone, the community of works that are a necessity of life, as stated above (Question 41, Article 1). And in reference to this they owe one another "fidelity" which is one of the goods of marriage. Furthermore it has another end, as regards marriage between believers, namely the signification of Christ and the Church: and thus the "sacrament" is said to be a marriage good. Wherefore the first end corresponds to the marriage of man inasmuch as he is an animal: the second, inasmuch as he is a man; the third, inasmuch as he is a believer. Accordingly plurality of wives neither wholly destroys nor in any way hinders the first end of marriage, since one man is sufficient to get children of several wives, and to rear the children born of them. But though it does not wholly destroy the second end, it hinders it considerably for there cannot easily be peace in a family where several wives are joined to one husband, since one husband cannot suffice to satisfy the requisitions of several wives, and again because the sharing of several in one occupation is a cause of strife: thus "potters quarrel with one another" [Aristotle, Rhet. ii, 4, and in like manner the several wives of one husband. The third end, it removes altogether, because as Christ is one, so also is the Church one. It is therefore evident from what has been said that plurality of wives is in a way against the law of nature, and in a way not against it."
Pete Garrison, STS

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Re: Polygamy in the Bible
« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2012, 12:48:47 AM »
I believe Luther would not entirely condemn the idea of Polygamy, based on his interpretation of scripture and bound conscience.  It seems clear from the Church's tradition, that polygamy was never accepted or practiced among Christians, but I can understand how one could logically argue (the false idea) from scripture alone, that polygamy could be allowed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther#Bigamy_of_Philip_of_Hesse

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygamy_in_Christianity

"I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter." (Luter, Martin. De Wette II, 459, ibid., pp. 329-330).

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Re: Polygamy in the Bible
« Reply #9 on: June 15, 2012, 01:53:43 AM »
I believe Luther would not entirely condemn the idea of Polygamy, based on his interpretation of scripture and bound conscience.  It seems clear from the Church's tradition, that polygamy was never accepted or practiced among Christians, but I can understand how one could logically argue (the false idea) from scripture alone, that polygamy could be allowed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther#Bigamy_of_Philip_of_Hesse

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygamy_in_Christianity

"I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter." (Luter, Martin. De Wette II, 459, ibid., pp. 329-330).

Sadly, I cannot locate the reference tonight, but I recently read that Luther's proposal to Philip of Hesse about bigamy was not out of the theological ballpark of his time. Pope Clement VII made the same recommendation to Henry VIII at the time he was seeking to divorce Catherine so he could marry Anne Boleyn. I had never read that before.

Lou

jeric

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Re: Polygamy in the Bible
« Reply #10 on: June 15, 2012, 12:41:11 PM »
Peter:  "Accordingly plurality of wives neither wholly destroys nor in any way hinders the first end of marriage, since one man is sufficient to get children of several wives, and to rear the children born of them. But though it does not wholly destroy the second end, it hinders it considerably for there cannot easily be peace in a family where several wives are joined to one husband, since one husband cannot suffice to satisfy the requisitions of several wives, and again because the sharing of several in one occupation is a cause of strife: thus "potters quarrel with one another" [Aristotle, Rhet. ii, 4, and in like manner the several wives of one husband."


It might well be said that "one husband cannot suffice to satisfy the requisitions of" one wife.  Facetious or not, I think the Mormon experience (which I do not raise as exemplary) might shoot a hole in "the Philosopher's" argument.

Richard Johnson

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Re: Polygamy in the Bible
« Reply #11 on: June 15, 2012, 01:23:38 PM »
I believe Luther would not entirely condemn the idea of Polygamy, based on his interpretation of scripture and bound conscience.  It seems clear from the Church's tradition, that polygamy was never accepted or practiced among Christians, but I can understand how one could logically argue (the false idea) from scripture alone, that polygamy could be allowed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther#Bigamy_of_Philip_of_Hesse

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygamy_in_Christianity

"I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter." (Luter, Martin. De Wette II, 459, ibid., pp. 329-330).

Sadly, I cannot locate the reference tonight, but I recently read that Luther's proposal to Philip of Hesse about bigamy was not out of the theological ballpark of his time. Pope Clement VII made the same recommendation to Henry VIII at the time he was seeking to divorce Catherine so he could marry Anne Boleyn. I had never read that before.

Lou

I've never read that before either, so I've been looking through my library and haven't found much. Apparently this is based on the fact that Cardinal Cajetan had argued that polygamy was not contrary to Scripture; but to say that Clement (or even Cajetan) recommended bigamy to Henry as a solution may be overstating the case. It seems to have been clearly against canon law.

Unfortunately what seems to be the most thorough discussion of this is in an old journal to which I can't get access on the internet. Next time I'm at an academic library, it will be on my list to look up.
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

Team Hesse

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Re: Polygamy in the Bible
« Reply #12 on: June 15, 2012, 04:17:03 PM »
I believe Luther would not entirely condemn the idea of Polygamy, based on his interpretation of scripture and bound conscience.  It seems clear from the Church's tradition, that polygamy was never accepted or practiced among Christians, but I can understand how one could logically argue (the false idea) from scripture alone, that polygamy could be allowed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther#Bigamy_of_Philip_of_Hesse

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygamy_in_Christianity

"I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter." (Luter, Martin. De Wette II, 459, ibid., pp. 329-330).

Sadly, I cannot locate the reference tonight, but I recently read that Luther's proposal to Philip of Hesse about bigamy was not out of the theological ballpark of his time. Pope Clement VII made the same recommendation to Henry VIII at the time he was seeking to divorce Catherine so he could marry Anne Boleyn. I had never read that before.

Lou

I've never read that before either, so I've been looking through my library and haven't found much. Apparently this is based on the fact that Cardinal Cajetan had argued that polygamy was not contrary to Scripture; but to say that Clement (or even Cajetan) recommended bigamy to Henry as a solution may be overstating the case. It seems to have been clearly against canon law.

Unfortunately what seems to be the most thorough discussion of this is in an old journal to which I can't get access on the internet. Next time I'm at an academic library, it will be on my list to look up.

I spent some time looking last night through the volumes of history I have been tackling lately. The closest I found was that Clement VII was not the man of backbone needed at the time. He was afraid of offending either Henry or Charles V. When Henry declared his divorce, Charles V demanded that Henry be excommunicated, Clement responded with "are you willing to enforce that by invading England?" Charles backed down. It was not easy times...

But I do remember someone commenting that Luther was not that far removed from the spirit of the times because "Clement VII made basically the same proposal to Henry VIII when he decided to divorce Catherine to marry Anne Boleyn." Wish I could find the reference....

Thanks for your interest. I would like to have this correct.

Lou

Linda

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Re: Polygamy in the Bible
« Reply #13 on: June 17, 2012, 12:23:33 PM »
God revealed his will for mankind by creating Adam and Eve.  God only saved a small number of monogamous, heterosexual couples from perishing in the flood.  God could have ordered things differently, but He didn't.

If my layman's understanding of what the Bible says on this situation is inaccurate, I would appreciate any correction.

Linda

Marshall_Hahn

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Re: Polygamy in the Bible
« Reply #14 on: June 17, 2012, 02:38:11 PM »

Sadly, I cannot locate the reference tonight, but I recently read that Luther's proposal to Philip of Hesse about bigamy was not out of the theological ballpark of his time. Pope Clement VII made the same recommendation to Henry VIII at the time he was seeking to divorce Catherine so he could marry Anne Boleyn. I had never read that before.

Lou

I've never read that before either, so I've been looking through my library and haven't found much. Apparently this is based on the fact that Cardinal Cajetan had argued that polygamy was not contrary to Scripture; but to say that Clement (or even Cajetan) recommended bigamy to Henry as a solution may be overstating the case. It seems to have been clearly against canon law.

Unfortunately what seems to be the most thorough discussion of this is in an old journal to which I can't get access on the internet. Next time I'm at an academic library, it will be on my list to look up.

It seems to me that the extent to which these proposals - or semi-proposals - did not solve anything, but merely made things worse would buttress Rev. Windsor's argument. 

Marshall Hahn