Multiply Wives 

Multiply Wives Mohammed ibn Abdallah
Munster Communards Polygamous Bishops?
Demographics The Rabbis

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Multiply Wives

The Bible warns the king of Israel not to "multiply wives:"

  • “Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.
  • “But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.
  • “Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.”

  • (Deuteronomy 17:15-17)

The Angel Standing in the Sun, by Joseph Mallord William Turner

As should be apparent, this injunction was honored in the breach; Solomon multiplied wives, and indeed his heart was turned away from the living God:

  • “But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites;
  • “Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love.
  • “And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.”

  • (1 Kings 11:1-3).

Some readers perform an interpretive hand-stand of deducing what the law forbidding to 'multiply wives' can have meant, from Solomon's performance. But this is backwards: the law says what it says. Is it not possible Solomon simply flouted it?:

"Lev. Rab. 19: 2. R. Simeon taught:
"The Book of Deuteronomy ascended and prostrated itself before the Holy One, blessed be He, saying to Him: “Lord of the Universe, Solomon has uprooted me and made of me an invalid document, since a document out of which two or three points are void is entirely void, and King Solomon sought to uproot the letter yod out of me:. . .it is written, ‘Neither shall he multiply wives to himself’ and he has multiplied wives to himself;. . .The Holy One, blessed be He, answered: “Go! Solomon will be eliminated and a hundred like him, but not even a single yod that is in thee shall ever be made void.”
(quoted it, Young, Brad H. (1995-09-01). Paul the Jewish Theologian: A Pharisee among Christians, Jews, and Gentiles (Kindle Locations 3355-3362). Baker Book Group.)

Other Bible-readers also have perceived a gap between theory and practice:

"The Shoddy-Wall-Builders who went after Precept — Precept is a Raver of whom it says, 'they shall surely rave' (Mic. 2:6) — they are caught in two traps: fornication, by taking two wives in their lifetimes although the principle of creation is 'male and female He created them' (Gen. 1:27) and those who went into the ark 'went into the ark two by two' (Gen. 7:9). Concerning the Leader it is written 'he shall not multiply wives to himself (Deut. 17:17). . ." (The Damascus Document, The Dead Sea Scrolls, Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., & Edward Cook, p. 55)

The "Shoddy-Wall-Builder," i.e. the Pharisees, are simply wrong on this point of law. Some see an explicit permission for polygamy given in Deuteronomy 21:15:

  • “If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated:
  • “Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn:
  • “But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.”

  • (Deuteronomy 21:15-17)

It is not stated, nor clear, whether any divorce has intervened; it would be understandable if the "hated" wife were divorced, and also understandable why the man would be more devoted to his current family and more inclined to favor them. Divorce was explicitly permitted by Moses. However, it might also be a case of polygamy. Like all other law codes, the law of Moses posits the existence of all manner of conditions, without necessarily endorsing them, such as robbery, murder, rape, and slavery. However since the discussion indicates no punishment for the circumstance of having "two wives," the rabbis long perceived that the law permits polygamy. King Herod the Great had up to ten wives, though not all at the same time, given his penchant for executing them: "She also frequently reproached Herod’s sister and wives with the ignobility of their descent. . .Now those wives of his were not a few; it being of old permitted to the Jews to marry many wives, and this king delighting in many; all which hated Alexander, on account of Glaphyra’s boasting and reproaches." (Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book I, Chapter 24, Section 2, p. 1365). Josephus elsewhere remarks, ". . .for it is the ancient practice among us to have many wives at the same time." (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVII, Chapter 1, Section 2, p. 1058). And certainly, from the time of the patriarchs, this had been common practice.

Incidentally, a study of Herod's life goes far to showing the unsavory underside of polygamy: "Now as for his fortune, it was prosperous in all other respects, if ever any other man could be so, since, from a private man, he obtained the kingdom, and kept it so long, and left it to his own sons; but still in his domestic affairs he was a most unfortunate man." (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book I, Chapter 33, Section 8). He was unfortunate indeed, and not only as a result of his own paranoia. He was paranoid it's true, but sometimes even if you are paranoid, they really are plotting against you! The intrigues and jealousies which rage in polygamous families led the siblings to plot and intrigue against one another, and Herod got caught up in their schemes, leading him to murder his wife and several of his children. It didn't work out all that well for the patriarchs, either; remember Joseph sold into slavery, because of the envy which thrives in this environment. And did multiplying wives work out for David, when his son Absalom turned rebel? The Bible offers a perspective of clear-eyed realism on this point. Polygamy and domestic peace are not compatible.

There has never been a society where all or most men held multiple wives; think about it, there are roughly equal numbers of men and women. Where would the excess women come from, from Mars? In a state of society in which it is still possible to raid neighboring tribes to capture wives, this might be done, but not in a settled community. Instead, rich older men hog the available women, depriving poor young men of the opportunity of marrying, and, from pressure to find more marriageable women, the age of consent gets driven down into the pre-teen years. It is difficult to tell how prevalent polygamy was in first century Israel; it is mentioned on occasion in the Talmud, for instance,

"The manager of the house of Agrippa the king asked R. Eliezer:. . .I, for example, who have two wives, one in Tiberia and one in Ziporeth, and have also two booths, one in Tiberia and one in Ziporeth, may I go from one Succah to the other, and my duty shall be fulfilled?" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VII, Section Moed, Tract Succah, Chapter II, Kindle location 29031.)

Though minority communities like the Essenes and the Christians disapproved, the majority Pharisees/Rabbis approved; still, it does not seem to have been all that common.

Polygamy was not compatible with Jesus' teaching on marriage, which severely restricts even divorce:

"The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." (Matthew 19:3-6).

Notice creation envisioned 'twain' becoming one, not larger numbers. The thought that this new teaching could co-exist happily with polygamy would leave a situation where a divorced man who remarries is an adulterer: "And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." (Matthew 19:9). . .but not the man who keeps both in the stable. This would be odd indeed, because it would make the divorce the sole cause of the adultery. In other words, a man could have two wives, and divorce the first. If he then remarried, he would be an adulterer with the new wife, but not with the remaining one of the first pair. To get around the Lord's teaching, the man would need only to postpone the divorce until he had finalized the remarriage, and then he's in the clear. This would a bizarre outcome, however.

In spite of the impossibility of reconciling polygamy with the Lord's directives on marriage, certain enthusiasts have squared that circle, including the designers of the Munster Commune, who instituted a communist theocracy which included the practice of polygamy. The practice of the patriarchs, who were God's friends, was taken to overrule the Lord's own teaching of His people. Truly the Munster Communards cannot be accused of exaggerating the 'Red Letter' words of the Bible:

“Why, then, 'have you so wildly violated this estate, against God’s word and common order, and taken one wife after another?'. . .“Why should we be denied what was permitted to the patriarchs in the Old Testament?” Jan responds.”
(Arthur, Anthony (2011-04-01). The Tailor-King (p. 173). St. Martin's Press. Kindle Edition.)

Joseph Smith was another who preferred the patriarchs' practice on this matter to New Testament teaching. It seems may have been a sociological reason: from the start, more women than men were willing to believe in his prophetic vocation, so the Mormon community was unbalanced by gender. It also seems that this roguish fellow, who searched for buried treasure by gazing at peep-stones in his hat, liked to seize an opportunity when he saw one, and a community who hung upon his every word as the very words of God were ripe for plucking.

The patriarchs were saved, not by works, but by faith: "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness." (Genesis 15:6). Taking men whose lives were not exemplary as exemplars, while having heard and discarded clear teaching to the contrary, does not show faith but unbelief.


Mohammed ibn Abdallah

This self-proclaimed prophet, who is sometimes, for instance by Dante Alighieri, considered as a Christian schismatic, allowed the faithful up to four wives. He allowed himself quite a few more than that. Mohammed expresses mystification at those among the faithful who scruple to do that which he did, which plainly is allowed given his near familiarity with God's commands:

"Narrated 'Aisha:
"The Prophet did something as it was allowed from the religious point of view but some people refrained from it. When the Prophet heard of that, he, after glorifying and praising Allah, said, 'Why do some people refrain from doing something which I do? By Allah, I know Allah more than they.'" (Sahih Bukhari Volume 9, Book 92, Number 404).

Go figure.

Divide and Conquer

Polygamy worked out about as well for him as it does for others, though of course it is women who are on the receiving end of the greater part of the insults and injustices which go along with this system. As Aisha's mother realized, a polygamous home is a nest of vipers whose rivalry wrecks reputations and blights happiness:

"She relied 'My little daughter, don't let the matter weigh on you. Seldom is there a beautiful woman married to a man who loves her but her rival wives gossip about her and men do the same.'" (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 495).

A polygamous marriage is a zero-sum game, where even the material resources enjoyed by one wife are wrested out of the hands of another.

Like the Mormons, the Muslims imagine their institution of polygamy is part of the constitution of heaven: "Afterwards he advanced to the fort with the Muslims and was struck by a stone and killed, never having prayed a single prayer. . .The apostle, who was accompanied by a number of his companions, turned towards him and then turned away. When they asked him why, he said, 'He has with him now his two wives from the dark-eyed houris.'" (The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, A. Guillaume, p. 519). These seem to be something like the Stepford Wives.


Women's Rights

Molnar, The Patriarch Abraham

Munster Communards

The situation of the German town of Munster, as it developed during the radical Reformation, was very nearly akin to Jim Jones' Jonestown, with crazy people running the show. For a time polygamy was not only permitted but mandatory for the inhabitants of this coercive socialist utopia. Upon making polygamy mandatory, the Munster communards found themselves obliged also to criminalize 'quarreling,' because one half the human race did not take naturally to polygamy and fell to quarreling, which was made a capital crime. Rather ominously, this same group also did away with money, as Pol Pot would later do:

"'For not only have we put all our belongings into a common pool under the care of deacons, and live from it according to our need; we praise God through Christ with one heart and mind and are eager to help one another with every kind of service. And accordingly, everything which has served the purposes of self-seeking and private property, such as buying and selling, working for money, taking interest and practicing usury … or eating and drinking the sweat of the poor … and indeed everything which offends us against love – all such things are abolished amongst us by the power of love and community.'" (Anabaptist pamphlet sent in October 1534, quoted in Murray N. Rothbard, 'Messianic Communism in the Protestant Reformation,' an except available on

As Libertarian Murray Rothbard insightfully notices, the elimination of private property did not yield an egalitarian society, but ensured only that the ruling elite controlled all the wealth. Polygamy turned out to be more popular with the male segment of the population than with the female, quelle surprise. It is difficult to fathom how the Munster Communards derived their coercive wealth-sharing from a New Testament pattern which is plainly described as non-coercive: "While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" (Acts 5:4), nor how they justified a reign of terror in the name of love, nor how they saw fit to impose upon new covenant believers a system not compatible with Jesus' marriage teaching, and which was never mandatory even upon those patriarchs who practiced it, nor anywhere commended even in the Old Testament, rather, "Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. . .Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth." (Proverb 5:15-18).

The Anabaptists, the 're-baptizers,' who taught believer's baptism as do contemporary Baptists, were brutally and mercilessly persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants. Some of their number argued forcefully and eloquently in favor of religious tolerance. But when their numbers reached a tipping point in the city of Munster, they expelled the remaining Catholics and Lutherans from the city, into the teeth of a winter storm. Jan Matthias had wanted to kill them. What right had they to evict these lawful residents and confiscate their possessions? The persecuted turned persecutor, just as soon as opportunity offered. And a movement that was heading in the direction of radical egalitarianism reversed field, discarding the elected town council form of government they had inherited in favor of monarchy under 'King Jan' van Leyden. This party, a comely youth with a penchant for breaking into dance at inappropriate times, lopped off heads, or let them remain, at his whim. Thank goodness his arbitrary misrule did not last a thousand years as projected, but for less than two: “'There they are!” he cried; 'those are the men who boasted that they have come from Münster to preach the Thousand-Year Kingdom of King Jan!'” (Arthur, Anthony (2011-04-01). The Tailor-King (p. 127). St. Martin's Press. Kindle Edition.). This personage claimed to be no less than the new David: “Dusentschur took a sword and handed it to Jan, saying that with that sword Jan would rule until God himself took it from him. He commanded Jan to bend his head and anointed him with oil, declaring that Jan was the true inheritor of the throne of the great King David.” (Arthur, Anthony (2011-04-01). The Tailor-King (pp. 109-110). St. Martin's Press. Kindle Edition.). German society, a steeply gradated hierarchy just emerging from feudalism, was scandalized by his humble origins as an illegitimate child and tailor's apprentice; how had he leap-frogged from the bottom of the pile to the top, over all the intervening gradations? One could wish he had taken from Moses, not polygamy, but a concern for the rule of law and due process. If he had done so, then Munster could take its place in the history of the progress of the gospel, rather than in the history of mass lunacy.


Polygamous Bishops?

Some people think they find permission for polygamy in an unexpected place, Paul's teaching on the marital status of bishops:

"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife [μιας γυναικος ανδα], vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach..." (1 Timothy 3:2).
"For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly." (Titus 1:5-6).

The Munster Communards planted their flag here first: “Jan cleverly refers Corvinus to Paul’s assertion that a bishop should be the husband of one wife. 'This implies that laymen must have had more than one; otherwise, why would the bishop be specifically limited? There you have your text.'” (Arthur, Anthony (2011-04-01). The Tailor-King (p. 173). St. Martin's Press. Kindle Edition.)

These verses are in competition with "sell that thou hast, and give to the poor" for the most imaginative exegesis by modern readers: "The Greek text literally reads 'a one-woman man.' That phrase doesn't refer to marital status at all but to his moral character regarding his sexual behavior." (John MacArthur, Divine Design, p. 145). Actually 'husband of one wife' is every bit as literal a translation as 'one-woman man,' because γυνη means both 'wife' and 'woman,' just as ανηρ means both 'husband' and 'man.' The early church authors thought these verses meant that a divorced and remarried man could not be a Christian pastor. What with the prevalence in the pulpit today of divorced and remarried men, it has been discovered it doesn't mean that. What then does it mean?

'Elders' and 'bishops' are the same office in the New Testament, though they would later be pried apart into a hierarchy. Some people explain these verses by saying that, because there were so many Christian men in the church who had multiple wives (polygamy, they say, being very common in those days), Paul wants elders selected from that subset of men in the church who had only one wife at the moment. They say this verse has nothing to do with divorce, only polygamy. There were in fact many places in the world where polygamists could be found, even Palestine, where Herod the Great had married, and murdered, multiple wivess. Polygamy was the long-standing custom of Persia, then governed by Parthia: "They marry each one several lawful wives, and they get also a much larger number of concubines." (Herodotus, Histories, Volume I, Book I, Chapter 135). Germany, India, Arabia, and many other far-flung places practiced this custom.

Early church interpretation of this passage gives no support to such theories: “Such a one a bishop ought to be, who has been the 'husband of one wife,' who also has herself had no other husband, 'ruling well his own house.'” (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 2, Section 1, Chapter II, p. 785, ECF_0_07). 'Herself,' not 'themselves;' in this author's mind, the requirement is symmetrical, and is anyone claiming polyandry was common? Nevertheless, can this 'one wife at a time' interpretation possibly be sustained? Was polygamy really all that common in the areas where Paul travelled?

Tacitus draws a dividing line between the civilized world and the barbarians, saying of the Germans, "Almost alone among barbarians they are content with one wife, except a very few among them, and these not from sensuality, but because their noble birth procures for them many offers of alliance." (Tacitus, Germania, 18 Kindle location 143). This however is an overstatement; the Greeks and Romans were not, in fact, the only monogamists in the world, Herodotus includes traditional Egyptians in the fold: "All these are customs practiced by the Egyptians who dwell above the fens: and those who are settled in the fen-land have the same customs for the most part as the other Egyptians, both in other matters and also in that they live each with one wife only, as do the Hellenes. . ." (Herodotus, Histories, Book II, Chapter 92).

The Greeks and Romans were aware of these customs amongst the barbarians:

"It is a Median custom to select the bravest person as king, but this does not generally prevail, being confined to the mountain tribes. The custom for the kings to have many wives is more general, it is found among all the mountaineers also, but they are not permitted to have less than five. In the same manner the women think it honorable for husbands to have as many wives as possible, and esteem it a misfortune if they have less than five." (Strabo, Geography, Book XI, Chapter XIII, Section 11, p. 266)

Polygamy, if not universal outside the sphere of Graceo-Roman civilization, was at the very least widespread. Geographer Pomponius Mela describes African nomads who practice polygamy:

"Although, being scattered all over in family groups and without law, they take no common counsel, still, because individual men have several wives and for that reason more children than usual (both those eligible to receive an inheritance and those not eligible), they are never few in number." (Pomponius Mela, Description of the World, Book 1, Section 42, p. 47).

But Paul didn't go to any of those places to preach! The places he went, and where Timothy and Titus were likely to go, practiced monogamy and had done so for a long time. Custom and law in the marriage arena were modelled after the practice of Athens and Rome, not these other regions. The Macedonian successors to Alexander, whether from having 'gone Persian' after conquering that empire or through native custom, practiced polygamy, as had Alexander himself. When Marc Antony, who already had a Roman wife, went native and married Cleopatra, it was a first:

"Moreover, in marrying several wives, Demetrius did not break through any custom, for he only did what had been usual for the kings of Macedonia since the days of Philip and Alexander, and what was done by Lysimachus and Ptolemy in his own time; and he showed due respect to all his wives; while Antonius, in the first place, married two wives at the same time, which no Roman had ever dared to do before, and then drove away his own countrywoman and his legitimate wife to please a foreigner [Cleopatra], and one to whom he was not legally married." (Plutarch's Lives, Comparison of Demetrius and Antonius, Chapter IV, Kindle location 4664).

We hear, "In fact, while other men within the culture often had more than one wife, the apostles allowed men to rise to leadership only if they limited themselves to one wife (1 Tim. 3:2)." (J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity, Kindle location 4415). Within what culture? There was no room in Roman law, which held sway over a considerable chunk of the globe, for multiple wives, though divorce was permitted. Some parts of the empire, including Palestine, were allowed to retain their own laws, but the Romans were proud of their laws and imposed them wherever possible. Under these laws, a man had only one lawful, wedded wife at a time; whatever other women he might have dealings with, their children could not be registered as his citizen-offspring. Certainly some people saw little real difference between the widespread immorality of married men and actual polygamy. Marc Antony, criticized for his practice of plural marriage, defended himself vigorously: "In a startlingly frank letter, Antonius asked Octavian, 'What's come over you? Do you object to my sleeping with Cleopatra? She is my wife! And it isn't as if this were anything new — the affair started nine years ago! And what about you? Are you faithful to Livia Drusilla? My congratulations if, when this letter arrives, you have not already been to bed with Tertullia or Terentilla or Rufilla or Salvia Titisiena — or all of them.'" (Cleopatra the Great, Joann Fletcher, p. 278; see Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Augustus, Chapter LXIX). While certainly Octavian's adulterous ways were despicable, legalizing such immorality is not an advance but a retreat, and the Romans were right to disapprove. The fact that many married men of the present day are unfaithful to their spouses is not quite the same thing as polygamy. The law gave no recognition to plural marriage.

Paul's category: "the husband of one wife," would have struck his readers as a novelty, though the inverse category: 'the wife of one husband,' was familiar to them. The 'univira,' or wife of one husband, was an honored figure at Roman weddings. She was not a woman who was married to only one man at the moment, but a woman who had been married to only one man, cumulatively:

"Women who had been content with a single marriage used to be honored with a crown of chastity. For they thought that the mind of a married woman was particularly loyal and uncorrupted if it knew not how to leave the bed on which she had surrendered her virginity, believing that trial of many marriages was as it were the sign of a legalized incontinence." (Valerius Maximus, 'Memorable Doings and Sayings,' Book II.1).

By extending the category to men as well, Paul eliminates the double standard that was rife in the sexual morality of the pagans; the pagans expected fidelity and chastity from women, from men not so much. As explained by the Pythagorean author Perictyone, "In a becoming manner she should bear any stroke of fortune that may strike her husband, whether he is unfortunate in business, or makes ignorant mistakes, is sick, intoxicated, or has connection with other women. This last error is granted to men, but not to women, since they are punished for this offense." (Perictyone, On the Harmony of a Woman, Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie, Kindle location 5067). The rationale for the double standard is offered by the French author Montesquieu, ". . .because the children of the wife born in adultery necessarily belong and are an expense to the husband, while the children produced by the adultery of the husband are not the wife's nor are an expense to the wife." (Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, Kindle location 7097). Whatever was the Graceo-Roman rationale, Paul does not endorse it.

Subsequent to Paul, even pagans praised the ideal of male fidelity: "He [Cato] married Atilia, the daughter of Soranus, and this was the first woman with whom he came together, but not the only woman, like Laelius the companion of Scipio; for Laelius was more fortunate in having known during his long life only one woman and that his wife." (Plutarch's Lives, Life of Cato, Chapter VII). Although the idea was not altogether new; while in the first century, divorce was common in the Roman empire, and indeed every kind of sexual immorality (as in our own day), Romans remembered the early years of their Republic in an idealized way as the home on earth of marital fidelity:

"From the founding of the city [Rome] down to its five hundred and twentieth year there was no case of divorce between man and wife. Sp. Carvilius was the first to put his wife away for cause of barrenness. Although he was thought to have a tolerable reason for so doing, he did not escape criticism, because they considered that even desire for children ought not to have been placed ahead of conjugal loyalty." (Valerius Maximus, 'Memorable Doings and Sayings,' Book II.1).

Neither was monogamy a new idea introduced by Rome in the Greek-speaking areas where Paul spread the gospels. With the exception of a period when war had depopulated the city, Athenian law generally allowed a man to register as a citizen-son only the offspring of his marriage with a free-born citizen wife: "For this is what living with a woman as one's wife means—to have children by her and to introduce the sons to the members of the clan and of the deme, and to betroth the daughters to husbands as one's own." (Demosthenes, LIX, Against Neaera, Section 122). Any other offspring he might have with any other woman was, not a citizen, but an illegitimate child deprived of civil rights. Consequently, a man had only one lawful wife at a time. Divorce was allowed, but not multiple concurrent wives. Which is not to say there were no cases of bigamy, such as occur in contemporary America; case law reflected such: "As to the case also, that happened in the memory of our fathers, when the father of a family, who had come from Spain to Rome, and had left a wife pregnant in that province, and married another at Rome, without sending any notice of divorce to the former, and died intestate, after a son had been born of each wife, did a small matter come into controversy, when the question was concerning the rights of two citizens, I mean concerning the boy who was born of the latter wife and his mother, who, if it were adjudged that a divorce was effected from a former wife by a certain set of words, and not by a second marriage, would be deemed a concubine?" (Cicero, On Oratory, Book 1, Chapter XL).

In most cases Jewish rivalry and emulation against the pagans would have produced no good result, as Hebrew morality was higher than that of the pagans; however, in this one case, the pagans had contrived to avoid the jealousy and scheming inherent in polygamy. And the concept of one spouse is a rare, but beautiful thing to us as to Martial: "Five sons, as many daughters Juno gave me; the hands of all closed my eyes. And rare honor fell to my wedded lot: one spouse alone was all that my pure life knew." (Martial, Epitaph, Epigrams, Book X, LXIII, Kindle location 6039, Complete Works of Martial).

One can find exceptions to monogamy in Rome and Athens, but they are almost such as to prove the rule: "Pericles many years before, when he was at the height of his power and had children born to him, as we have related, of legitimate birth, proposed a law that only those born of an Athenian father and mother should be reckoned Athenian citizens. But when the king of Egypt sent a present of forty thousand medimni of wheat to be divided among the citizens, many lawsuits arose about the citizenship of men whose birth had never been questioned before that law came into force, and many vexatious informations were laid. Nearly five thousand men were convicted of illegitimacy of birth and sold for slaves, while those who retained their citizenship and proved themselves to be genuine Athenians amounted to fourteen thousand and forty." (Plutarch, Life of Pericles, Chapter XXXVII, Plutarch's Lives, Volume I, p. 196). Pericles begged for an exception in his own case, owing to the death of his legitimate children, and this plea "touched the hearts of the Athenians so much that they thought his sorrows deserving of their pity, and his request such as he was entitled to make and they to grant in common charity, and they consented to his illegitimate son being enrolled in his own tribe and bearing his own name." (Plutarch, Life of Pericles, Chapter XXXVII, Plutarch's Lives, Volume I, p. 197). But Pericles was a much respected, famous politician; it was not generally the case that an illegitimate child could be enrolled as a citizen! This was the law, and it leaves no room for polygamy. Athens is only one place to be sure, but not an uninfluential or out of the way one.

Sometimes people slide into this interpretation with the best of intentions. Their beloved pastor gets divorced, through no fault of his own (it's always through no fault of his own). Paul's instructions do not specifically exclude a divorced man, but only remarriage. But then the lonely pastor gets remarried. These people ought to say, 'We are making a compassionate exception in this case rather than obeying Paul's instructions to the letter,' before they start off down a journey of fantasy anthropology. Polygamy would not have been common in Paul's Greek-speaking churches. These people's native understanding of law and justice was that monogamy was the social norm, and Paul cannot have preached to them the Pharisaic tolerance for polygamy, given Jesus' own teaching on marriage. The idea that Paul only meant to exclude practicing polygamists is not a viable interpretation, in places where the civil law excluded polygamy.



Roughly the same number of baby boys as baby girls are born, absent sex-selection abortion. If a 'prophet' proclaims, as Joseph Smith once did, that a man must have three wives to enjoy celestial exaltation, then where are the extra females to be found? Are there three times more women than men? Nature herself counsels monogamy! What happens then, inevitably, is relentless downward pressure on the age of first marriage of the female half of humanity. Mohammed ibn Abdallah and Joseph Smith, great exponents of polygamy, both found themselves marrying very young girls, and the modern Mormon fundamentalists who get into trouble with the law on this account are simply following their well-worn and indeed inevitable trail. At first Mormon polygamy was a closely-held secret, with only the leadership indulging in the practice, which they indignantly denied before their own strait-laced rank and file. But then the cat was out of the bag. . .and younger and younger girls were deemed marriageable:

"Mormon men started taking on wives at a frantic rate. Apostle Wilford Woodruff observed in 1856, 'All are trying to get wives, until there is hardly a girl fourteen years old in Utah, but what is married, or is just going to be.'" (Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven, p. 206).

In a stable, peaceful society, the net result of allowing the practice of polygamy is the formation of a class of angry young men, because, as the 'price' of brides gets bid up, impecunious males cannot compete for wives with affluent older men, and so the poorer young men must defer marriage. In what social settings does polygamy actually work, and why would it ever be found if it produces only misery and failure? If there is a surplus of females, as appears to have been the case with the early Mormons, then this practice succeeds in sopping up the excess. Reportedly, more women than men began following Joseph Smith's new revelation, which presented both a problem, and an opportunity.

A state organized so that a foreign military elite holds power, like in the early Muslim empire, can benefit from polygamy. When we look back on ancient history, we see sweeping migrations of people groups across the continents. Scythians, Huns, Cimbri, march on like plagues of locusts. Where were they going, and why? What set them in motion? It may be famine or disease, or simple over-population. The ghost of Malthus stalks the ancient world, because when a tribe grows too numerous to be supported by their home territory, they must expand. Except there is nowhere unoccupied. Part of the motivation for the Romans to conquer the northern barbarians was to lock them in place, because otherwise Rome was obliged periodically to defend its borders against the Gauls, the Cimbri, and other groups who were looking for a home. The winners of these struggles end up in possession of the turf. The losers end up as a question mark, with historians wondering just exactly who they were, because there is no people group in the world today answering to that description.

Men who practice polygamy can leave astonishing numbers of descendants, as did Brigham Young. They say that doing genetic testing in the Near East leads to the discovery that Genghis Khan left monumental numbers of lineal descendants, I'll let you guess how. In Darwinian terms, this is how you win: you leave more descendants. Polygamy can be an accelerant in this process. The Copts were the Egyptians, conquered by the Arabs. Most states restrict immigration, but a state governed by foreigners can throw the gates open wide to their own favored group. An early policy of toleration can help to get a foot in the door. The Arabs had grown too populous for their desert wastes, and so they came, making up at first a minority, the ruling elite, a military and governmental layer atop the larger native population. Helped by polygamy, these folks reproduced faster than did the native Egyptians, who at the starting point were overwhelmingly Christian. By now the Christians are down to 10% of the Egyptian population.

Look today at St. Augustine's Carthage: you will find no Christian church in existence, unless to accommodate European transients. The church is extinct in Tunisia. Partly this happened because of voluntary or semi-voluntary conversion after the Muslim invasions, partly this happened because of forced conversion or pogroms and repressions; Muslim attitudes toward 'infidels' hardened as time went on, and their early toleration faded. But partly it's just demographics. Large numbers of Arabs moved in post-conquest. The population had already undergone convulsions owing to the influx of the Vandals and Berbers. Probably for a long time, as with the Egyptian 'Copts,' the church was simply the native Tunisians. As time went on, there were fewer and fewer of those.

"Islam also grew later on because Muslim regimes encouraged the immigration of fellow believers from other lands, who quickly outnumbered the older, native populations. Although religious change is commonly discussed in terms of conversion, it is often a matter of population transfer rather than of the transformation of personal convictions. As in the Americas following the Spanish and Portuguese conquest, converting an area to a new faith does not necessarily mean securing the allegiance of the whole people. Rather, the older inhabitants can be expelled, or are outnumbered and diluted by newer population stocks."
(Jenkins, John Philip (2008-10-16). The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died (p. 31). HarperCollins.)

All these factors work together to reduce a great people down to nothing but a memory, with barbarians camped out amidst the ruins. Polygamy accelerates the trend toward population change. One stroke of genius, and what the Huns never managed to pull off, is that the Arabs convinced so many people that conquest by them meant salvation.

People debate whether the instructions for holy war in the Koran were intended by Mohammed as a permanent way of life for Muslims, at least until world conquest was achieved, or whether holy war is intended as an adventitious and occasional resort when the Muslim community faces persecution and determined armed opposition, as it did from the Quraysh. One clue might be provided by the allowance for polygamy, an institution which undeniably works better for a warrior caste on the move than for a peaceful, settled society.


The Rabbis

The Rabbis permitted a man to marry up to eighteen wives, more even that Mohammed ibn Abdallah allowed:


In this as in other points, they were far from the heart of God. Rabbi Jesus' teaching, and they twain shall be one flesh, leaves no room for the superfluous seventeen.

It was not until the medieval period that this situation was rectified: "He [Gershon b. Jehudah] decreed, on pain of excommunication, and without revocation or qualification, that polygamy be prohibited to every Israelite (see App. No. 13), and only monogamy should be legal, and as long as the first wife lives, it is prohibited to add to her another, in the capacity of wife or concubine." (Michael L. Rodkinson, History of the Talmud, Volume 19, The Babylonian Talmud, Kindle location 75749). Why did it take so long?: "About 1000, among other edicts, he [Gershom of Mayence] forbade the practice of polygamy. . ." (Abram Leon Sachar, A History of the Jews, p. 185). That's hard to say, but by this point it was little practiced.