Monday, November 21, 2011
available on Amazon and http://www.fifthestatepub.com
The Next Step In The Evolution of God and Man
In the beginning, the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then, the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then, it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise.
Christianity is no longer a spiritual state. It has become superficial and narcissistic, a diluted religion that has lost its roots of love and forgiveness. The church of the dark ages allowed no doubt or discussion, but condemned to hell all those who would challenge it. Modern Christianity is little better and has become so bogged down in doctrine and church laws that it is now legalistic and judgmental by nature and impudent in force. It eats reason alive by asking us to accept as truth things that have never happened – restoration of limb or life.
We are coming to a second Axial Age. We must. What it will entail, no one knows. While leaving the arena of the fatted, red-faced preacher yelling beratement, fear, and guilt to the congregation, we are rejecting the priestly protected pedophile. We now seek a higher path, an inner, personal path, and a mystical path. We will rid ourselves of our sedentary pride.
What is a mystic, and what is the meaning of “mystical”? To say glibly that religion will give way to the individual mystical experience serves no purpose if the term is not fully defined. Ah, but there’s the rub. Such a word is impossible to define since it is uttely deep, personal, and spiritual. We have no terms for the experience. We may define it, and still not fully understand it. So, let’s first define the terms as best we can, and then explore the writing of the mystics along with descriptions of their experiences so that we may gain insight into the future of human spirituality in the next Axial Age.
a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.
1 of or relating to mystics or religious mysticism : the mystical experience.
• spiritually allegorical or symbolic; transcending human understanding : the mystical body of Christ.
• of or relating to ancient religious mysteries or other occult or esoteric rites : the mystical practices of the Pythagoreans.
• of hidden or esoteric meaning : a geometric figure of mystical significance.
2 inspiring a sense of spiritual mystery, awe, and fascination : the mystical forces of nature.
• concerned with the soul or the spirit, rather than with material things : the beliefs of a more mystical age.
What is a Mystic and what is the Mystical Experience?
There was once a path that was above the organized church and the stone-heavy, lifeless doctrine. The Christian mystics, the desert fathers, and those who sought God without and beyond the rules forged it long ago. It is to this path I believe we will return. Thus, I wish to end this work with a discussion on Christian mysticism. Although I hold to the path of the Christian mystic, I leave open the possibility, and pray it is true, that all contemplative paths lead to a single destination. Whether Buddhist, Jew, or Christian, the inner and earnest search for God will lead us home.
It is possible the demise of contemplative worship in the West is a direct result of an ever-accelerating lifestyle of greed and selfishness. We now live in a world where there are more people living in greater personal isolation. We have turned away from intimate, face-to-face, conversations and replaced the eloquent, heart-felt letters of the past with sparse abbreviations of instant messaging. We text, Twitter, Facebook, and email snippets of thoughts, never becoming connected or close. Since it is more difficult to lie and cheat those we know, our society has begun to fall apart because our separation allows for ease of mutual destruction. Sadly, our lifestyle has influenced our worship, giving rise to drive-in churches and an ever-growing detachment from the deeper journey.
We seek entertainment, not connection. Our fast-food religion focuses on one or two exciting hours a week. There are no more voices crying in the wilderness, because the wilderness of the heart is left unexplored and there are none who dare venture into the dark regions of the soul where God awaits in the quiet, lonely darkness. Each church has substituted its own group of rules in place of the real journey and awakening. Like a committee following “Robert’s Rules of Order,” we try to live within the rules, but that does not allow us to meet the author. What shall we do?
The future of Christianity may lie solely in the mystical tradition, which demands a direct and personal relationship with God. Any hope of true salvation and personal growth in Christianity hinges on the depth of our relationship with God himself. The entire Christian faith is based on a direct and unique connection between the individual and God. In this aspect, Christianity is a mystical and dynamic faith. The Christian faith demands union and communion with the creator, wherein He teaches us, guides us, and loves us. Through gratitude, meditation, adoration, and prayer, we are joined with Him and transformed from within. Such love and transformation engendered by this relationship can reunite Christians with the power, grace, glory, and love meant for all who seek the living God.
With most people, and sadly, with most Christians, a crucial gap remains between God and man. We do not need more teaching of doctrine, law, or church tradition, or any social or moral message. We need a heart-to-heart dialogue with God. We need and long for a relationship with our creator in which He loves and teaches us as a father would a child. The modern church has forgotten the path to their father. It is still there, beneath the hedges of religion, rules, and pride. The hedges and briars of laws and church doctrine must be cleared away to find the path.
Matthew 5:3 Blessed [are] the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:4 Blessed [are] they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Matthew 5:5 Blessed [are] the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Matthew 5:6 Blessed [are] they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Matthew 5:7 Blessed [are] the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Matthew 5:8 Blessed [are] the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Matthew 5:9 Blessed [are] the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Matthew 5:10 Blessed [are] they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:11 Blessed are ye, when [men] shall revile you, and persecute [you], and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Matthew 5:12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great [is] your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
How have we gone from meekness and love to this modern mess where everyday church members leave more wounded than when they arrived?
The formula of the worship of today is equal parts of emotional gratification, superficial study of scripture, and adherence to rules of denomination. We have neglected the one thing that stands as the banner of Christianity - a relationship with God through Christ our Lord. The Christian faith is the only religion in which God seeks out man. God seeks to engage man in a relationship that is personal, emotional, and unique.
Arguably, the Jewish faith encourages a relationship of this type. However, in Christ, we have a God who has shed his heavenly state in order to seek out man. He extends his hand to us so we may know that He understands us. God demonstrates this by living as we live, suffering as we suffer, and experiencing life as only man can. He does this in order that He, might have compassion (a word meaning to suffer together) on us and empathy (meaning to feel the same thing) with us, so that we may know that He knows us and can have a personal relationship with Him. For, if God is omniscient, He would have already known what it was like to be man, but we could not have conceived of His knowledge.
In Christ, we have the hero-God-king who relinquished everything including His life in order to seek, love, and save His people. There is nothing left emotionally undone in this formula God has given us. It is in the church of today that the formula becomes incorrect. Denominationalism has supplanted Scripture, and following a set of rules has become more important than love and forgiveness. It is essential to seek and know God if we are to be changed by His love into His image. Only in this marvelous transformation can we hope to come close to doing what He has asked: “Love God with your whole being. Love your fellow man as yourself.” It is foolish to think that doctrine and Scripture could keep us on any path. If that were the case, Christ would have not needed to come or die. Theology serves to clarify ones’ beliefs in order that they may be articulated, but declaring a belief is not that same as living it.
We may become theologians, but to no avail. The study of theology does not serve to edify man. It seems arrogant to endeavor to study He who is omnipotent and omniscient. Learning scripture and points of doctrine serves to enhance our knowledge, but not our heart. We may seek to gain insight into God’s patterns and personality through study. This is admirable to a point; however, time may best be served by being in His presence. To know Him is always better than to study Him.
There are two states in a man’s life – to love, and a call to be loved. We seek unconditional love because only through this God-like love we rest assured of being accepted with all sins and shortcomings that haunt us every waking hour and as well as in our nightmares. It seems right that we would seek to deliver this kind of love to those closest to us such as our children, spouse, and friends. This kind of love flows from the heart of God through us to others.
During the 1300’s, a school of Christian mystics arose. From that school a book came to us as an explanation of the mystical life. “The Cloud of Unknowing,” written by a young man entering and practicing the life of a monk within the mystical community. The book gives us insight and instructions in this meditative life.
Simply stated, if something can be sensed, tasted, felt, smelled, heard, or seen, it is not God. All that can be imagined or experienced is not the creator, but only a creation. To find the creator, one must eliminate everything else from the mind and heart. What an agonizing path! Yet, this path is not unlike what some monks in other faiths and in vastly distant parts of the world choose to travel.
Thomas Merton was a Catholic monk of the Trappists order. In the 1950s, Merton became fascinated with mysticism and other religions. He came into contact with the Japanese scholar on Zen, Daisetz T. Suzuki (1870–1966), who was greatly responsible for introducing Zen Buddhism to the West. They corresponded, and subsequently, some of their writings became the essay collection "Zen and the Birds of Appetite”, a discussion of the similarities and differences between Zen Buddhism and Christianity. Gandhi was also influential upon Merton in saying that one can find the deeper roots of one’s own religious tradition by becoming immersed in other religions--and then returning “home” to see one’s own heritage in a transformed way, with a transformed consciousness.
On October 15, 1968, with Merton aboard, a jetliner lifted off the ground in San Francisco bound for Tokyo and the Asia beyond: Joy. We left the ground--I with Christian mantras and a great sense of destiny, of being at last on my true way after years of waiting and wondering and fooling around. ... May I not come back without having settled the great affair. And found also the great compassion, mahakaruna… I am going home, to the home where I have never been in this body. “ (Asian Journal, pages 4-5).
Merton would return to home, to Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky, very differently than when he headed east that day to a monastic conference in Bangkok, Thailand. Very different. Paradox, freedom, compassion, contemplation, emptiness and mysticism all played a role in Merton’s Asian homecoming. He began advocating for inter-religious dialogue, especially between Buddhists and Christians. Merton’s Catholicism had become more and more universal in its scope of possibilities for experiencing spiritual wisdom.
The Trappists were an order of monks focusing on living in a community of monks under the prescription “God Alone” and the motto “pray & work.” Their way of life had changed little over the past 700 years. In this harsh environment, Merton developed a contemplative mind. This contemplative attitude and practice would later link him, at the root level, with Buddhists that he met.
The 1950s was a time of crisis for Merton. He awoke to the notion that monastic life was not an isolated enclave of holiness, separate from and superior to other ways of life. Individuals in most churches, most denominations, and certainly most orders believe that their belief and way of life are superior. It is likely because of the heavy personal investment it takes to commit to those things.
Merton became involved in worldly affairs of war and suffering. He began writing on the social issues of nuclear proliferation and the Viet Nam War. His religious superiors forbade him from further engagement in such things. However, Merton felt compelled to share his views. He felt his insights gained through Christian mysticism were of value, and he might have something positive to say about suffering in the world.
This was the time of Vatican II and the church began to open up to the idea that there may be something beyond the church walls and ways. A decree from the holy meeting came down to the priests and people:
"The Church therefore has this exhortation for her sons: prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and cultures (NA 2)."
Merton plumbed the depths of his own mystical experience and found an ancient teaching that he started to take very seriously in his study of Buddhism. Ambrose, a 4th century Christian bishop of Milan, had said that “all that is true, by whomever it has been said, is from the Holy Spirit,” which can be related to the Buddhist Bankei’s “the farther one enters into truth, the deeper it is.”
In the preface to "Mystics and Zen Masters," Merton says that he has attempted not merely to look at these other traditions objectively from the outside, but in some measure at least, to try to share in the values and experience which they embody. In other words, he is not content to write about them without making them, as far as possible, “his own.” Merton was able to “see” Buddhism and to be a Buddhist. His contemplative knowledge and experience of mysticism resonated with the Buddhist meditative experience.
Call to mind the instructions given to the mystic in the book, “The Cloud of Unknowing.” If you clear from your mind everything that can be experienced or imagined, that which is left is God.
The great Zen Master, Dogen, said, "To study the Buddha Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, and to forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things." Thus, both types of meditation seek to clear the mind of everything and find what awaits us in the calm pool of our minds.
The mystics will tell you that this is not an easy path. As we clear the mind and reach toward God, again and again we get in our own way. In anguish, our soul cries out to God, but He does not answer. In despair, we sit alone and empty, in search of Him. We wish to die for Him. We wish to die to self. Our stubborn carnal hearts keep beating. We died because we cannot die. That is to say, we die inside through sin and sorrow because we refuse to die to self. We struggled to lay ourselves down and pick up His Cross, His glory, and His life in us. But the old man resists, fighting for each spiritual breath. This “not dying” is agony. We long for Him, waiting for Him with each breath we take, trying to get out of his way. Yet, no matter how we move ourselves, we are still in our own way.
The soul cries out, but God seems not to hear. Our hearts cry out for the beloved, but He cannot be found. We are poured out like water. Our hearts are like wax, melted and running away. We have waited for Him, prayed for Him, meditated on Him, beckoned Him, cried for Him, wept for Him, hurt for Him, and now we are in agony for Him. He is behind the Cloud. We cannot see Him nor can we feel Him. How can one who is everywhere be so far away? But He is. With prayer and desire, we beat against the Cloud, the wall that keeps us from God. We cannot get through the wall.
There is no night darker than this. Sorrow is a knife cutting the soul deeper and deeper, and so it becomes a bowl, capable of holding more joy when finally there is the joy of His coming. There is no night more sorrowful…but Joy cometh in the morning. We can do nothing but to await the Son. If we endure, this sorrow… this most deep and personal tribulation… will give way to patience and stillness.
LUK 21:19 In your patience possess ye your souls.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
From the upcoming book on Polygamy, due out in early 2012 -
“Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road.”
Among consenting adults, family should be a matter of choice, and the configuration thereof should be the choice of the family members.
At the writing of this book, according to some sources, there are approximately 50,000 people living in polygyny in the state of Utah alone. The number of people living in some form of polygamy in the U.S. is estimated at over 100,000. But there are other forms of plural marriages, which need to be defined before we begin.
Polygamy exists in three specific forms:
Polygamy - where a man has multiple simultaneous wives. This is specifically called polygyny.
Polygamy - where a woman has multiple simultaneous husbands. This is specifically called Polyandry.
Group marriage - where the family unit consists of multiple husbands and multiple wives. This is specifically called Polyamory.
Historically, all three practices have been found, but polygyny is by far the most common. Confusion arises when the broad term "polygamy" is used when a specific form of plural marriage is being referenced.
Within the context of polygamy, it is polygyny that has spread throughout the world, being propagated by the vehicles of religion, state, culture, and the heart’s desire.
Here, we must pause and think about how we view the boundaries of polygyny. Is the institution defined as a man having two wives? Most people practicing this type of marriage are legally married to only one woman. The other wives are taken in a spiritual marriage or a heart-felt commitment. Civilly the second marriage does not exist, unless it is viewed in the same way as common-law marriages. Is it considered polygyny if a married man keeps a woman as a lover? Does he have to support her? If a man marries two women in separate towns and neither are aware of the arrangement is that polygyny? In the U.S. that arrangement is termed bigamy and the perpetrator is far more likely to be prosecuted, since it is seen as a violation of state and federal laws. If one considers the situation wherein a man supports a lover, to whom he is committed and who his wife is unaware polygyny the number of cases would be amazingly high.
According to the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, approximately 50 percent married women and 60 percent of married men will have an extramarital affair at some time in their marriage. And since it is unlikely that the people having affairs are married to each other in every case, the current statistics on the percentage of married couples who cheat on each other means that someone is having an affair in nearly 80 percent of marriages. Most of these cannot be considered polygyny because of the brevity of the encounters. So, for clarification we will consider polygyny an arrangement where a man is committed to the well being, financial, physical, sexual, and emotional support of two or more women.
Polyandry is a practice where a woman has more than one husband at the same time. Fraternal polyandry was traditionally practiced among nomadic Tibetans in Nepal, parts of China and part of northern India, in which two or more brothers are married to the same wife, with her having equal sexual access to them. Polyandry is believed to be more likely in societies with scarce environmental resources, as it is believed to limit human population growth and enhance survival of the unit and especially the children. It is a rare form of marriage that exists not only among poor families, but also the elite.
Polymaory, or group marriage is a marriage where the family unit consists of more than one man and more than one woman, any of whom share parental responsibility for any children arising from the marriages. Group marriage is a form of non-monogamy consisting of multiple households or multiple marriages converging into a single support system, providing emotional, sexual, financial, and pysical support and resources to the members of the group.
Another possibility, which has been conceived in fiction (notably in Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress), is a line marriage, where a deceased or departing spouse in the group is continually replaced by another so that family property never becomes dispersed through inheritance.
The general term of Polygamy is used to define a practice where a man has more than one wife at the same time. Although the specific term of for this practice is polygyny, we will follow the common usage here and use the terms interchangeably. When polyandry or polyamory is meant we will define or identify those states separately.
Polygamy / Polygyny have existed since recorded history and practiced throughout the ancient Near East, the Far East, the Mediterranean empires, Europe and Britain as attested by royal archives of kings and Caesars and writings of ancient historians such as Moses, Herodotus, Demosthenes, Polybius, Strabo, Livy, Plutarch, Tacitus, Suetonius and Josephus. Besides legitimate marriage, temple prostitution and the spoils of war were the two most common sources of women for polygamous men. Records of explorers and missionaries in the Christian era confirmed the widespread practice of polygamy among native tribes in Africa and the Americas.
Several conditions may have precipitated the marital status and family structure. Polygamy was likely to have occurred in societies where warfare, famine, or other conditions depleted the number of available males. Those who survived warfare or were victors were considered more desirable mates. In certain religions, beliefs and guidelines urge followers to take more than one wife. The wives produce children, who are brought up in the religion of the father, promoting rapid growth of that particular religion. Thus, a county or government may encourage polygamy to repopulate. A religion may encourage polygamy to increase its numbers. A society may condone polygamy to better secure its continuation. Then, there is polygamy that occurs simply as a matter of the heart, where people wish to live together out of love and respect. Each of these has occurred and continues to occur in every nation in various forms.
In the United States, where there are laws forbidding polygamy, there remains well over 100,000 people risking arrest and prison by following their heart or faith. Across the globe the history, reasons, and practices vary immensely, but in every region of the planet, it continues.
There are three forces affecting the course of relationships: Religion, Culture, and Personal choice.
Patterns of religious occurrence worldwide
According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, of 1231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous. 453 had occasional polygamy, 588 had more frequent polygamy, and 4 had polyandry. At the same time, even within societies which allow polygamy, the actual practice of polygamy occurs relatively rarely. There are exceptions: in Senegal, for example, nearly 47 percent of marriages are multiple.
To take on more than one wife often requires considerable resources: this may put polygamy beyond the means of the vast majority of people within those societies. Such appears the case in many traditional Islamic societies, and in Imperial China. Within polygynous (polygamous) societies, multiple wives often become a status symbol denoting wealth, power, and fame.
The variety of practices is fascinating. It may help our general understanding to break down the history and various practices by religions and then by country of region. We will begin with an overview by religion.
In Buddhism, marriage is not a sacrament. It is purely a secular affair and the monks do not participate in it. Hence it receives no religious sanction. Forms of marriage consequently vary from country to country. It is said in the Parabhava Sutta that "a man who is not satisfied with one woman and seeks out other women is on the path to decline". Other fragments in the Buddhist scripture can be found that seem to treat polygamy unfavorably, leading some authors to conclude that Buddhism generally does not approve of it or alternatively that it is a tolerated, but subordinate marital model.
Until 1935 polygamy was legally recognized in Thailand. In Burma, polygamy was also frequent. It is still legally recognized but very rarely practiced in modern day and socially less acceptable in Burma. In Sri Lanka, polyandry was practiced (though not widespread) till recent times. When the Buddhist texts were translated into Chinese, the concubines of others were added to the list of inappropriate partners. In Tibet polyandry as well as polygamy (having several wives or husbands) was never regarded as having sex with inappropriate partners.
Tibet is home to the largest and most flourishing polyandrous community in the world today. Most typically, fraternal polyandry is practiced, but sometimes father and son have a common wife, which is a unique family structure in the world.
Other forms of marriage are also present, like group marriage and monogamous marriage. Polyandry (especially fraternal polyandry) is also common among Buddhists in Bhutan, Ladakh, and other parts of the Indian subcontinent.
Polygamy was practiced in many sections of Hindu society in ancient times. The Hindu god, Lord Krishna, the 8th incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu had 16,108 wives at his kingdom in Dwarka.
Marriage laws in India are dependent upon the religion of the subject in question. Although the Vedas and the Hindu religion itself do not outlaw polygamy, the terms under the Hindu Marriage Act has deemed polygamy to be illegal for Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs. Only Muslim men in India are allowed to have multiple wives, since they are governed under Sharia law.
Polygamy is allowed in Islam with the specific limitation. A man can have no more than four wives at any one time. The Qur'an clearly states that men who choose this route must deal with their wives justly. This is very much like the laws set down for Jewish men. If the husband fears that he cannot deal with his wives justly, then he should only marry one. Islamic scholars opine that the husband must tell the first wife if he wants to marry another. A husband doesn't necessarily need the permission of his first wife, but the first wife has the right to divorce if the husband re-marries without her liking. Women, on the other hand, are only allowed to marry one husband, although they are allowed to remarry after a divorce. Although many Muslim countries retain traditional Islamic Law, which permits polygamy, others have chosen to follow a more secular law, which do not condone polygamy. Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tunisia and Turkey prohibit polygamy.
According to traditional Islamic law, a man may take up to four wives, and each of those wives must have her own property, assets, and dowry. Usually the wives have little to no contact with each other and lead separate, individual lives in their own houses, and sometimes in different cities, though they all share the same husband.
As the Koran indicates (4:3), the issue of polygamy in Islam is understood in the light of community obligations towards orphans and widows. Islam, as a universal religion that is suitable for all times and places, cannot ignore these compelling obligations.
Islamic polygamy addresses the social problems of prostitution and extramarital affairs common in the West. Instead of cheating - infidelity is one of the top reasons for divorce in the West - Islam allows a man to marry more than one wife, with full recognition of the rights of both of them. The basic principle in Islam is that men are held responsible for their behavior towards women just as women are responsible for their behavior towards men.
In the modern Islamic world, polygamy is mainly found in Saudi Arabia, West and East Africa. In Sudan it is encouraged from the president because the female population is high). This points back to one of the main social pressures bringing about polygamy since war has decimated the male population.
Among the 22 member states of the Arab League, Tunisia alone explicitly prohibits polygamy. In many of the more secularized Arab countries, such as Egypt and Lebanon polygamy is frowned upon. Other countries including Libya, Pakistan, and Morocco require the written permission of the first wife if her husband wishes to marry a second, third, or fourth wife.
Multiple marriage was considered a realistic alternative in the case of famine, widowhood, or female infertility like in the practice of levirate marriage, wherein a man was required to marry and support his deceased brother's widow, as mandated by Deuteronomy 25:5–10. The practice was prevalent in the Torah. The purpose was to raise up children in the name of the deceased brother in order to continue his name, lineage and inheritance. Scholars believe that polygamy was widely practiced in the biblical era, not because the practice was revoked but because it required a significant amount of wealth to carry out.
The Torah includes a few specific regulations on the practice of polygamy, such as Exodus 21:10, which states that multiple marriages are not to diminish the status of the first wife (specifically, her right to food, clothing and conjugal relations). Deuteronomy 17:17 states that the king shall not have too many wives. The monogamy of the Roman Empire and its control and influence over the Jews may have been one of the causes of the diminishing view of polygamy. The social difference between the Romans and the Jews was the cause of two entries in the writings of Josephus describing how the polygamous marriages of Herod were permitted under Jewish custom.
Polygamy in Judaism
Polygamy existed among the Israelites before the time of Moses, who continued the institution without imposing any limit on the number of marriages a Hebrew husband could enter into.
The Jewish Encyclopedia states, “While there is no evidence of a polyandrous state in primitive Jewish society, polygamy seems to have been a well-established institution, dating from the most ancient times and extending to comparatively modern days.”
In later times, the Talmud, the body of Jewish civil and ceremonial law and legend comprising the Mishnah and the Gemara, restricted the number by the ability of the husband to maintain the wives properly. Some rabbis, however, counseled that a man should not take more than four wives. Polygamy was prohibited in Judaism by the rabbis, not God. Rabbi Gershom ben Judah is credited by forbidding polygamy in the 11th century outlawing it for a 1,000 years, a time frame that ended in 1987. His proclamation was directed to the Eastern European Jews, the Ashkanazi. The Mediterranean or Sephardic Jews continued to practice polygamy.
Will Durant, the author of “The Story of Civilization” states; “polygamy was practiced by rich Jews in Islamic lands, but was rare among the Jews of Christendom.” According to Joseph Ginat, professor of social and culture anthropology at the University of Haifa, polygamy is common and growing among the 180,000 Bedouin of Israel. Polygamy is becoming more common among Mediterranean Jews living in Yemen, where rabbis permit Jews to marry up to four wives. In modern Israel, where a wife cannot bear children or is mentally ill, the rabbis give a husband the right to marry a second woman without divorcing his first wife. This is in accordance with Jewish custom and provides the husband with needed support while he takes care of the first wife.
The church father Justin Martyr mentions that in his time Jewish men were permitted to have four or five wives, and Babatha was a Jewish woman who was a second wife.
Jewish polygamy clashed with Roman monogamy at the time of the early church.
When the Christian Church came into being, polygamy was still practiced by the Jews. It is true that we find no references to it in the New Testament; and from this some have inferred that it must have fallen into disuse, and that at the time of our Lord the Jewish people had become monogamous. But the conclusion appears to be unwarranted. Josephus in two places speaks of polygamy as a recognized institution: and Justin Martyr makes it a matter of reproach to Trypho that the Jewish teachers permitted a man to have several wives. Indeed when in 212 A.D. the “lex Antoniana de civitate” gave the rights of Roman Citizenship to great numbers of Jews, it was found necessary to tolerate polygamy among them, even when though it was against Roman law for a citizen to have more than one wife. In 285 A.D. a constitution of Diocletian and Maximian interdicted polygamy to all subjects of the empire without exception. But with the Jews, at least, the enactment failed of its effect; and in 393 A.D. a special law was issued by Theodosius to compel the Jews to relinquish this national custom. Even so they were not induced to conform.
Polygamy was not banned in the Jewish community until about 1000CE by Rabbi Gershom.
In the modern day, Rabbinic Judaism has essentially outlawed polygamy. Ashkenazi Jews have followed Rabbenu Gershom's ban since the 11th century. Some Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews (particularly those from Yemen and Iran) continue the practice in those countries where it is legal.
Israel has made new polygamist marriages illegal. Provisions were instituted to allow for existing polygamous families emigrating from countries where the practice was legal. Furthermore, former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Israeli columnist Greer Fay Cashman have come out in favor of legalizing polygamy and the practice of pilegesh (concubine).
Among Karaite Jews, who do not adhere to Rabbinic interpretations of the Torah, polygamy is almost non-existent today. Like other Jews, Karaites interpret Leviticus 18:18 to mean that a man can only take a second wife if his first wife gives her consent (Keter Torah on Leviticus, pp. 96–97) and Karaites interpret Exodus 21:10 to mean that a man can only take a second wife if he is capable of maintaining the same level of marital duties due to his first wife. The marital duties are food, clothing, and sexual gratification. Because of these two biblical limitations and because most countries outlaw it, polygamy is considered highly impractical, and there are only a few known cases of it among Karaite Jews today.
The New Testament does not specifically address the morality of polygamy. 1 Timothy, however, states that certain Church leaders should have but one wife: "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach" (chapter 3, verse 2; see also verse 12 regarding deacons having only one wife). Similar counsel is repeated in the first chapter of Titus. The admonition to have one wife is not, as some would have us believe, an edict against divorce, but an observation that a man married to multiple wives would not have time or resources to minister to members of a church.
In modern times a minority of Roman Catholic theologians have argued that polygamy, though not ideal, can be a legitimate form of Christian marriage in certain regions, in particular Africa.
Periodically, Christian reform movements that have aimed at rebuilding Christian doctrine based on the Bible alone (sola scriptura) have at least temporarily accepted polygamy as a Biblical practice. For example, during the Protestant Reformation, in a document referred to simply as “Der Beichtrat” (or "The Confessional Advice" ), Martin Luther granted the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, who, for many years, had been living "constantly in a state of adultery and fornication," a dispensation to take a second wife. The double marriage was to be done in secret however, to avoid public scandal. Some fifteen years earlier, in a letter to the Saxon Chancellor Gregor Bruck, Luther stated that he could not "forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict Scripture." ("Ego sane fateor, me non posse prohibere, si quis plures velit uxores ducere, nec repugnat sacris literis.")
"On February 14, 1650, the parliament at Nürnberg decreed that, because so many men were killed during the Thirty Years’ War, the churches for the following ten years could not admit any man under the age of 60 into a monastery. Priests and ministers not bound by any monastery were allowed to marry. Lastly, the decree stated that every man was allowed to marry up to ten women. The men were admonished to behave honorably, provide for their wives properly, and prevent animosity among them."
In Sub-Saharan Africa, there has often been a tension between the Christian churches' insistence on monogamy and traditional polygamy. In some instances in recent times there have been moves for accommodation; in other instances, churches have resisted such moves strongly. African Independent Churches have sometimes referred to those parts of the Old Testament, which describe polygamy in defending the practice.
Latter Day Saint movement
The history of Mormon polygamy began with Joseph Smith, Jr. receiving a revelation on July 17, 1831 that some Mormon men who were specifically commanded to do so would practice "plural marriage." This was later published in the Doctrine and Covenants of the LDS Church).
Despite Smith's revelation, the 1835 edition of the 101st Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, written after the doctrine of plural marriage began to be practiced, publicly condemned polygamy. In 1850 this scripture was used by John Taylor to quash Mormon polygamy rumors in Liverpool, England.
Polygamy was made illegal in the state of Illinois during the 1839–44 Nauvoo era when several top Mormon leaders, including Smith, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, took plural wives. Mormon elders who publicly taught that all men were commanded to enter plural marriage were subject to harsh discipline. On June 7, 1844 the Nauvoo Expositor criticized Smith for plural marriage. After Joseph Smith's murder by a mob on June 27, 1844, the main body of Mormons left Nauvoo and followed Brigham Young to Utah where the practice of plural marriage continued.
The waffling of the church on the subject on polygamy seems to be centered around the political and social pressures against polygamy in conservative America. The explanation of the modern LDS church regarding the purpose of polygamy is to point to the persecution of male members and thus the decline of the number on men in the newly formed LDS Church. The writings of Joseph Smith do not seem to bear this out. The first impetuous of the doctrine was based on the effort to re-establish pure and historical biblical doctrine, seeing as how polygamy was never spoken against in the New Testament. However, it did not decrease Smith’s urgency to establish the doctrine since he had been caught in affairs several times.
In 1852 Brigham Young, the second president of the LDS Church publicly acknowledged the practice of plural marriage through a sermon he gave. Additional sermons by top Mormon leaders on the virtues of polygamy followed. Controversy followed when polygamy became a social cause, writers began to publish works condemning polygamy. The key plank of the 1856 Republican Party platform was "to prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery". In 1862, Congress issued the Morill Anti-Bigamy act, which clarified that the practice of polygamy was illegal in all US territories. T
he LDS Church believed that their religiously-based practice of plural marriage was protected by the United States Constitution, however, the 1878 Supreme Court voted in unison in the case of Reynolds v. United States and declared that polygamy was not protected by the Constitution, based on the longstanding legal principle that "laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices."
Anti-polygamy legislation in the US led some Mormons to immigrate to Canada and Mexico. In 1890, LDS Church president Wilford Woodruff issued a public declaration announcing that the LDS Church had discontinued new plural marriages. The banning of an action by the authorities does not mean the populace will follow. The Smoot Hearing in 1904, documented that the LDS Church members continued practicing polygamy. The uprising from Congress and non-Mormons spurred the LDS Church to issue another Manifesto claiming that it had ceased performing new plural marriages.
In an act of self-preservation in 1910 the LDS Church began excommunicating those who entered into, or performed, new plural marriages. Even so, many plural husbands and wives continued to cohabit until their deaths. The last documented mainstream LDS polygamous marriage was the grandfather of current LDS apostle, Edward Eyring, and two distant cousins of Mitt Romney.
Enforcement of the 1890 Manifesto caused various groups to leave the LDS Church. These groups believed polygamy was biblical and religiously correct and they were determined to continue the institution. Polygamy among these groups persists today in Utah and neighboring states as well as in Canada.
Polygamist churches of Mormon origin are often referred to as "Mormon fundamentalist" even though the LDS Church has disowned them. Such fundamentalists often use a purported 1886 revelation to John Taylor John Taylor, the third president of the LDS Church, as the basis for their authority to continue the practice of plural marriage.
Polygamy by Country
In countries that do not permit polygamy, the practice is considered bigamy. The word itself indicates the marriage to two women at one time, but has come to mean marriage to two or more wives at once. Such laws usually exist to protect the rights of an unsuspecting second spouse and any children from the otherwise invalid marriage.
Polygamy existed all over Africa as an aspect of culture or/and religion. Plural marriages have been more common than not in the history of Africa. Many African societies saw children as a form of wealth thus the more children a family had the more powerful it was. Thus polygamy was part of empire building. It was only during the colonial era that plural marriage was perceived as taboo. Esther Stanford, an African-focused lawyer, states that this decline was encouraged because the issues of property ownership conflicted with European colonial interest. Polygamy is very common in West Africa. However, the diffusion of Islam to this region has counter-intuitively decreased the prevalence of polygamy in this region, due to restrictions on number of wives.
Polygamy is widespread inKenya, the most prominent individual being Akuku Danger who married over 100 wives.
Generally, Nigeria follows the pattern laid out by Islamic Law. After a BBC television interview with Mohammed Bello Abubakar, articles were published in newspapers around the world about his 86 wives and 170 children, and he faced the death penalty under Sharia law if he did not divorce 82 of them.
In South Africa, traditionalists commonly practice polygamy. The president, Jacob Zuma follows traditional African tribal culture and is also openly in favor of plural marriages, being married to three wives himself. He has a total of twenty children with these and two previous wives.
Sudanese President, Omar Hassan al-Bashir has encouraged multiple marriages to increase the population.
The Chinese culture of Confucianism permitted polygamy, and thus the practice of polygamy spread from China to Japan and areas that are now Vietnam. Before their modernizations, East Asian countries permitted similar practices of polygamy. The practice is now prohibited.
Polygamy, permitted under Islamic law, is present amongst some Muslims in South Asia.
Polygamy is illegal in India for Hindus and other religious groups under the Hindu marriage Act. It remains legal for Muslims under the terms of The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937, as interpreted by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.
Polygamy is generally quite rare in urban areas, and among the cosmopolitan middle classes because of the cost to maintain multiple wives.
Until polygamy was outlawed by King Rama VI, wealthy or upper-class Thai men were historically recognized to maintain mansions consisting of multiple wives and their children in the same residence. Among the royalty and courtiers in the past, wives were classified as principal, secondary, and slave. Today, the tradition of minor wives still remains, but the practice is different from that of the past. Due to the expense involved, minor wives are mostly limited to the wealthy men. While a "proper woman" must remain faithful to her husband, there were no equivalent rules in history mandating fidelity for the man.
Regardless of the historical acceptance, male polygamy or plural marriage is no longer legally or socially acceptable in the contemporary Thai society. However, the practice of having "minor wives" continues in modern days in secrecy from the "primary wife".
Almost all married Thai women today object to this practice, and indeed for many it has been grounds for divorce. Minor wives are viewed with contempt by the Thai society along the same lines of the western idea of a lover or home breakers.
During the Han Dynasty, it became unlawful for Chinese men to have more than one wife. However, throughout the history of imperial China, it had been common for the rich and influential Chinese men to have one wife and various concubines. Polygamy in China is considered to be a by-product of the tradition of emphasis on procreation and the continuity of the father's family name. Although the establishment of the Republic of China made it explicitly unlawful for a man to have multiple spouses/concubines, such legislation were generally not enforced, especially among the societal elites who were most likely to live such lifestyles. The most serious changes occurred during and after the Communist Revolution, where the tradition was considered backward and feudal. Polygamy was outlawed and severely punished. It is illegal in modern China to have more than one spouse for either sex. Polygamy is only usually seen in southwest China among Chinese minorities such as Tibetans.
In Hong Kong, polygamy was banned in October 1971. Some Hong Kong businessmen have concubines across the border in mainland China, but concubines do not have the legal or social status of wives and so this should not strictly be called "polygamy". Kevin Murphy of The International Herald Tribune reported the cross-border polygamy phenomenon in Hong Kong in 1995.
The traditional attitude toward mistresses is reflected in the saying: "wife is not as good as concubine, concubine is not as good as prostitute, prostitute is not as good as secret affair, secret affair is not as good as the affair you want but can't get".
Although there is a large number of polygamists living in the U.S. for the most part the relationships are not brought about by economic pressures or the societal pressures of a decreased male population. The influences bringing about the institution tend to be religious or the simple fact that men and women have rejected societies idea that there must be one and only one true love in life or way to express a relationship with loved ones.
David Friedman and Steve Sailer have argued that polygamy tends to benefit most women and disadvantage most men, under the assumption that most men and women do not practice it. The idea is firstly that many women would prefer half or one third of someone especially appealing to being the single spouse of someone that doesn't provide as much economic utility to them. Secondly, that the remaining women have a better market for finding a spouse themselves. Say that 20% of women are married to 10% of men leaves 90% of men to compete over the remaining 80% of women.
This same result of polygamy is used to justify it as a way to improve the genetic characteristics in a population, the logic being that women will generally tend to marry men of wealth and health. Intelligence has a high correlation with wealth, thus polygamy has the effect of increasing the intelligence inside the population that practices it.
Friedman uses this viewpoint to argue in favor of legalizing polygamy, while Sailer uses it to argue against legalizing it. If polygamy is practiced, as in the middle-east and Imperial China, by only the wealthy and elite and if we agree with the assumption that generally intelligence precedes status and wealth, and if we agree that these men will seek out the highest qualities in females to make their wives, it leaves us with a plain and obvious conclusion that the best genetic qualities will be concentrated in the top 30% of the population, leaving the bottom 70% with an imbalance of desirable qualities.
The idea of a male population of even 10% who are disenfranchised from sex or marriage may destabilize the society, leading to competition and violence, as it did in the U.S. polygamous sect previously discussed. With 30% of the population, under this manufactured scenario, being the brightest and most capable leaves the bottom 70% of the population to produce a less desirable offspring, since the mix of superior genetic traits would not be allowed to enhance the weaker traits.
This may lead to stratification within society. Were now we have a more homogenous mix of attributes and genetic traits, leading to an overall balance, in a polygamous society we would have the elite, wealthy and bright representing a ruling oligarchy, and the rest of society, which in time would become a lesser class.
Although one may easily argue the existence on such a class now, with the elite male welding power and being able to choose better mates, (and I would not disagree) the scenario brought about by polygamy would speed the process forward. The question is if the scenario of self-imposed eugenics is a good or bad prospect. In the eyes of many, it is not such a bad outcome. It is possible that the number of people choosing polygamy would be small enough it would not impact society at all. This is the conclusion of many leaders.
In the US, the Libertarian Party supports complete decriminalization of polygamy as part of a general belief that the government should not regulate marriages.
Individualist feminism and advocates such as Wendy McElroy also support the freedom for adults to voluntarily enter polygamous marriages.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, USA, is opposed to Utah's law against cohabitation.
Countries where polygamy is legal (including those where it is legal but limited):
Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, CAR, Comoros, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Myanmar, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, UAE, Western Sahara, Yemen, Zambia.
Looking at the Numbers
We have examined the possible effects of polygamy on gene pools and on the distribution of available females in a polygamous society. The facts were more than borne out in the recent self-destruction of a polygamist sect in the U.S. In this small sect, located in the southwest, men began taking more than one wife.
In true Orwellian style, the more established and politically connected men received their choice of brides. These men were almost invariably older and more politically tied to the leader, either through family lineage, support or money. As the number of available women decreased the older men begin excommunicating the younger male members in order to do away with competition and complaints. It did not take long before there was a noticeable lack of able manpower and an overpopulation of unhappy females. As the marriageable women of proper age were taken the men began to force younger and younger women into marriage. The feeding frenzy ended when pre-pubescent girls were forced to marry middle-aged men in the name of God, religion, and their leader.
The events outlined a microcosmic view, which would occur over time in the macrocosm of general society if there were no limits placed on institutions such as marriage.
Stanley Kurtz, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, defends the traditionally monogamous family structure by standing against the modern arguments increasingly being made by various intellectuals who call for de-criminalizing polygamy. Kurtz concluded, "Marriage, as its ultramodern critics would like to say, is indeed about choosing one's partner, and about freedom in a society that values freedom. But that's not the only thing it is about. As the Supreme Court justices who unanimously decided Reynolds in 1878 understood, marriage is also about sustaining the conditions in which freedom can thrive. Polygamy in all its forms is a recipe for social structures that inhibit and ultimately undermine social freedom and democracy. A hard-won lesson of Western history is that genuine democratic self-rule begins at the hearth of the monogamous family."
Kutz goes on to say: “It's getting tougher to laugh off the "slippery slope" argument — the claim that gay marriage will lead to polygamy, polyamory, and ultimately to the replacement of marriage itself by an infinitely flexible partnership system. We've now got a movement for legalized polyamory and the abolition of marriage in Sweden. The Netherlands has given legal, political, and public approval to a cohabitation contract for a polyamorous bisexual triad. Two out of four reports on polygamy commissioned by the Canadian government recommended decriminalization and regulation of the practice. And now comes Big Love, HBO's domestic drama about an American polygamous family.”
Kurtz goes on to explain that legalizing gay marriage will likely give way to laws allowing for polyamory and polygamy. He stands solidly against the “slippery slope” but not for the reasons one may think. Kurtz addresses the argument that making laws against certain types of unions flies in the face of democracy. The argument sates that in a democracy one should have the ability to choose how and in what family structure one lives. Kurtz points to the fact that almost without exception, where there is polygamy there is inequality and lack of democracy.
Kurtz argument may not hold up to scrutiny since the societies he speaks of are driven by the religious rule of Islamic law and not by a simple desire to have freedom of choice. Kurtz seems to believe that allowing polygamy will result in some type of religious takeover. One must keep in mind that religious belief is only one component in an array of reasons people may choose polygamy. However, Kurtz could be correct in his assumption that legalizing gay marriage could open the gates to the freedom of choice regarding polygamy, polyandry, and polyamory, as proven by the movement in Sweden and the Netherlands. It should be pointed out that Sweden and the Netherlands do not seem on their way to becoming oppressive or unjust societies any time soon.
Failure within any institution of marriage, be it monogamous or polygamous, does not speak to the institution itself, but to the failure of people. To believe otherwise would certainly condemn traditional marriage with its 52% failure rate. Monogamy is not dead. It simply does not work for some people. It should be one of several choices offered to the individual. The inability of people to use common sense, balance and self-control would prove equally disastrous for any relationship model. Greed, selfishness and lust can disrupt a traditional marriage as easily as a non-traditional one.
More Data to Consider
Both the Bible and the Koran speak of polygamy in very positive terms as mechanisms by which widows may be supported, loved and protected, and a system in which orphans may be nurtured and raised. Polygamy also balances out and corrects disturbances in populations brought about by war, famine, and catastrophe. Any time a population becomes deprived of males or females, institutions of polygyny and polyandry tend to emerge in order to save the society.
The number of women in the world exceeds that of men. The surplus is a result of men dying in wars, violent crimes, and women outliving men. The upsurge in homosexuality further confuses the issue. Before we count this group into our data we must discern if there is a great difference between the number of gays and lesbian. If there were little difference between the groups the numbers would cancel themselves out.
In 1993, a team at the Harvard School of Public Health reported that 6.2 percent of men and 3.6 percent of women reported a same-sex partner in the pervious five years. Marketing consultant Grant Lukenbill reports in his book Untold Millions that a 1993 survey of consumer behavior by Yankelovich Partners found that 5 percent of the men contacted identified themselves as gay men, and 6.4 of the women identified themselves as lesbians. A 1993 survey by the Louis Harris organization had results that were confusing, to say the least. They found that 3.8 percent of the men and 2.8 percent of the women had a same-sex sexual partner in the last year; and 4.4 percent of the men and 3.6 percent of the women had a same-sex partner in the last five years; but 1.8 percent of the men and 2.1 percent of the women reported a same-sex partner in the previous month. If we look at the data of all tests and attempt to come to a mean result, given the general allowance for error rate, it should be safe to disregard the gay population in the data since the gay and lesbian groups come close to canceling out.
Within the heterosexual world, where women outnumber men, there is a choice forced upon the women who wish to have a relationship or a child. Do they become the “other woman” or do they live without a relationship in loneliness? In a free society these choices should not be the only choices.
Bertrand Russell wrote, “And in all countries where there is an excess of women, it is an obvious injustice that those women who, by arithmetical necessity, must remain unmarried should be wholly debarred from sexual experience.” Polygamy, then, is the only responsible solution for this predicament.
In the U.S. extramarital affairs are widespread. This is made possible by a supply of willing women. They are willing because they are alone. There are growing numbers of unmarried women, 34 million of them are in the United States. One out of every five women today has no potential mate because there are simply not enough single men to go around. They are alone because of an undersupply of men. Because women tend to outlive men the situation for the women become worse as they age. Divorce has become a game of musical chairs since divorced men are much more likely than divorced women to remarry. Because it is a buyer’s market with the supply of women out stripping demand men tend to marry younger women. This further exacerbates the problem for older ladies. At this time there are more than twice as many single women as there are single men in their 40s. Women who divorce at 35 are likely to remain single for the rest of her life and the later in life she divorces the more likely she is to die unattached or with a lover who is legally married to another women. Few people wish to be alone but the modern woman may wish to retain greater autonomy, thus an increasing number of single women are opting for involvement with married men.
Adding to the problem is the number of women who are not financially maintained by a husband. In many cases this means there are more woman who have no insurance or health care of any sort. In multiple studies, a financial weight falls much heavier on the wife than the husband. After divorce the finances of the man improves over time, while the financial status of the women decreases. This is a cause of increased abuse and prostitution in the society as women fall victim out of necessity to tolerate conditions they would not in normal circumstances.
The problem of the unbalanced sex ratios can worsen during times of war. After the WWII there were over 7 million more women than men in Germany. Over 3 million were widowed due to the conflict. There were 100 men aged 20 to 30 for every 167 women in that age group. That is a very large discrepancy of 66% more women than men. Many of these women were exploited.
All of the conditions described above are what the Bible and the Koran endeavored to mitigate by allowing polygamy.
It is said that polygamy allows conformity to human nature. This should be determined on an individual basis. In general men desire sex more frequently than women and men desire more variety. Many scientists few this urge as a trait programmed in to better serve the perpetuation of the species as healthy men are chosen by multiple women to receive their traits and raise more robust offspring.
Overall, these differences seem to be a normal difference between the genders, although the degree of difference varies and thus there will be some women that have more desire than men. For those women polyandry may be the answer.
Because a pregnant women will be incapable to reproduction for up to a year, and men can continue to do their part in reproduction, a man is capable of keeping a large number of females pregnant and is so inclined as part of the primitive impulses to keep humanity growing. This is the internal directive of all creatures. Further, women may become infertile by the time they are 45 years of age, with ever increasing genetic errors found in children of women past the age of 36. Men can continue their reproductive part until overtaken by sickness or death.
A Look at the History
Around the world and throughout the ages Polygamy has been practiced. Over time laws formed governing the institution. Some laws protected the first wife against being simply replaced. If this were allowed to occur the benefits of polygamy would be lost to women, leaving only a man’s desire as the guiding force.
Many ancient societies offered protection to wives against a second wife or co-wife. The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi stipulated that in the absence of special circumstances (such as infertility, sickness or misconduct of the first wife), the existing wife first had to agree to the second union. Only among the Greeks and Romans was there any effort by civil authority to enforce monogamy for legitimate marriage. One Greek marriage contract reads, “It shall not be lawful for Philiscus to bring in another wife besides Appolonia.”
However, concubinage was universally practiced in all ancient societies as illustrated in the famous quote from Pseudo-Demosthenes (4th century BCE), "Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of our persons, but wives to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households." A concubine was not a legal wife, but a slave woman who lived with a man (often married) to provide regular sexual relations. Children of this type of union were not considered legitimate.
Polygamy was not only common among Jews in ancient times but was practiced in the apostolic era and the age of the church fathers. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian mentioned that the “ancient practice among us to have many wives at the same time” continued in his day. The church father Justin Martyr (110-165) mentions that in his time Jewish men were permitted to have four or five wives. His comment echoes the attitude of the Jewish Mishnah, codified in writing in the second century CE. Rabbinic scholars assumed the continuance of plural marriage and imposed rules for treatment of multiple wives and their children in estate matters. They even laid down that the maximum number of wives that a man may marry is eighteen based on the example of David, but in general they discouraged taking more than four or five wives for practical reasons. A man should not create a family he cannot support.
The famous 12th century Sephardic legal scholar, physician, and philosopher, Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) supported Talmudic tradition and reiterated laws regulating plural marriage in volume four of his Code called The Book of Women.
When Israel became a state in 1949, Gershom’s ban became legally binding on all Jewish residents. The only accommodation that was made allowed those who came to Israel with more than one wife to keep their family intact, but no new wives could be added. Yet some Sephardic Jews in Israel continued to take second wives in "underground" marriages performed by rabbis who oppose the legal ban.
Polygamy among Jews is not limited to Sephardim. Jews living in Yemen and Ethiopia practice polygamy under the belief that Israel's rabbis are wrong in their prohibition of plural marriage.
Another group of polygamists associating with Judaism are the "Black Hebrews," some 2,000 black Americans who emigrated illegally from urban Chicago to Israel in the early 1970s, claiming to be descendants of one of the (so-called) lost tribes of Israel.
Perhaps the first known Christian leaders to advocate plural marriage were Basilides and Carpocrates, early second century religious teachers in Alexandria, Egypt. They were condemned as heretics by the Church, more for their theology than their marriage beliefs
Tertullian (160 A.D.) wrote: "each pronouncement and arrangement is (the act) of one and the same God; who did then indeed, in the beginning, send forth a sowing of the race by an indulgent laxity granted to the reins of connubial alliances, until the world should be replenished, until the material of the new discipline should attain to forwardness: now, however, at the extreme boundaries of the times, has checked (the command) which He had sent out, and recalled the indulgence which He had granted."
The arrogance of some of the church fathers has always fascinated me. With polygamy continuing in the time of Jesus and the apostles, and with there acknowledgement of its existence but with no negative comment, save the admonition by Paul to limit marriage to one wife if one wished to serve the church, Tertullian purports to know the mind and intent of God more accurately than God’s own son and servants.
In the 3rd century, Eusebius of Caesarea, wrote the lost work "On the Numerous Progeny of the Ancients". This has been given as an example of plural marriage being reconciled with the ascetic life. But it is likely that the problem dealt with was the contrast presented by the desire of the Patriarchs for a numerous offspring and the honor in which, was held by Christians as their spiritual offspring...
A Brief History of Polygamy in Christianity
Although polygamy existed in the time of Jesus, he did not speak against it. Nowhere in the New Testament is the practice condemned or curtailed.
This statement is echoed by Father Eugene Hillman, who has proclaimed, ‘Nowhere in the New Testament is there any explicit commandment that marriage should be monogamous or any explicit commandment forbidding polygamy.”
As an accepted practice among ancient Jews polygamy would have been very familiar to the Jewish apostles. It would only be natural for the early congregations, consisting of mostly Jewish members, to include polygamous families. The New Testament does not handle polygamy forthrightly as the Old Testament, but there are a number of allusions or inferences regarding the practice.
When John the Baptist rebukes King Herod for committing adultery, the fact that Herod’s father just before that time lived with nine wives receives no censure.
In the parable of the ten virgins (Matt 25:1-13) there is no mention of the bride simply because the virgins are the brides. In fact, copyists of New Testament manuscripts recognized the straightforward meaning and added "and bride" to a number of manuscripts at the end of Matthew 25:1. As mentioned above in the quote from Maimonides, Jewish law permitted marrying multiple wives at the same time and no doubt some Israelite kings built their polygamous households in this manner.
In 1 Corinthians 5:1 Paul rebukes the church for tolerating a man’s immoral relations with his father’s wife, the same sin committed by Reuben who slept with his father’s wife, Bilhah (Gen 35:22). This kind of immorality did not exist among the immoral Gentiles, because incest was banned among the Greeks and Romans.
In 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 Paul likens the relationship of believers to the Lord as a marriage. The allusion Paul is drawing upon is that while the husband is polygamous; the wives are all monogamous to him. Each believer must be faithful to the Lord and not give his body to a harlot.
In 1 Timothy 3:2, 12, Paul restricts a minister to one wife, implying that polygamy was not uncommon among early believers.