One of the benefits of the public stance I have taken regarding the Biblical positions of patriarchy and polygyny have been the number of people who have reached out to me with questions, support, or to share their story in how the Father opened their eyes in this challenging area. Currently, I am blessed to see the breadth of what the Father is doing as my connections and contacts now span the globe and cross multiple languages.
The recent video series on YouTube has been a particularly good connector with others, especially Torah teachers and keepers.
Benjamin, in a recent email conversation, shared some extremely insightful thoughts on rightly framing the argument. In his own words (and with his permission), here are the significant portions of one email:
In 1869, a Christian philanthropist named James Campbell published a book titled The History and Philosophy of Marriage: Polygamy and Monogamy Compared. Filled with incredible wisdom and thought into natural law as well as Scripture regarding the societal effects of monogamy and polygamy. (Technically, the author always refers to polygyny, but uses the umbrella term polygamy.)
In the the Mishnah’s fourth book of Damages, Tractate Sanhedrin, there is an interesting short discussion of how many wives a king may have.
But first, what is the Mishnah?
The Mishnah is a six-part code of descriptive rules formulated toward the end of the second century A.D. by a small number of Jewish sages and put forth as the constitution of Judaism under the sponsorship of Judah the Patriarch, the head of the Jewish community of Palestine at the end of that century.
The discussion is located in the second chapter of Sanhedrin, fourth section, clauses E-I.
2:4 E. He shall not multiply many wives to himself (Dt. 17:17) — only eighteen.
2:4 F R. Judah says, “He may have as many wives as he wants, so long as they do not entice him [to abandon the Lord (Dt. 7:4)]
2:4 G R. Simeon says, “Even if there is only one who entices him [to abandon the Lord] — lo this one should not marry her.”
2:4 H If so, why is it said, He should not multiply wives to himself?
2.4 I Even though they should be like Abigail [I Sam. 25:3]
When Martin Luther nailed his list of 95 theses to a church door in Germany in 1517, he ignited a debate that led to the Protestant Reformation. Reading over the list of 95 theses, nothing there was said about marriage.
Yet, the Protestant Reformation over the next 30 years generated enough theological pressure that the Roman Catholic prelates convened the Council of Trent to create the Catholic Counter-Reformation. This Council met from 1545 to 1563 over 25 sessions.
In the 24th session, in the year 1563, the prelates considered matrimony. The text is available at this location: Council of Trent, 1563, Session XXIV. I quote from the preamble and the first three canons issued by this session below.
When the Reverend Martin Madan wrote the first volume of his seminal work, Thelypthora, he took the time to consider the case of Boaz and the kinsman who was nearer to Ruth than he was. This is recorded in Ruth chapter four. He offers a succinct and common-sense analysis of why the kinsman refused. Let’s read Ruth 4:1-12 (NASB).
Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, so he said, “Turn aside, friend, sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2 He took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. 3 Then he said to the closest relative, “Naomi, who has come back from the land of Moab, has to sell the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech. 4 So I thought to inform you, saying, ‘Buy it before those who are sitting here, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if not, tell me that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am after you.’” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance.” 6 The closest relative said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, because I would jeopardize my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself; you may have my right of redemption, for I cannot redeem it.”7 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemption and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another; and this was the manner of attestation in Israel. 8 So the closest relative said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself.” And he removed his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. 10 Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today.” 11 All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. 12 Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the Lord will give you by this young woman.”
A common objection thrown up by those who argue against Biblical polygyny is the fact that in Biblical polygynous families, we see a lot of family difficulties and sometimes, outright pain. Setting aside the equally common rebuttal that in monogamous families, we see the same kind of pain, there’s something about the difficulties that polygynous families experience that naysayers are not considering, and quite possibly that’s due to a monogamy-only translator bias, as well as the all-too-human reflexive avoidance of pain.
Before we go into the weeds with the Greek-to-English translations, I want to note that a recent story broke about when a Tanzanian miner became an overnight millionaire when he sold two of the largest chunks of Tanzanite ever found in that African country. The BBC article that reported the find also mentioned that the miner had 4 wives and 30 children. The Fox News article that reported the same story linked to the same BBC article mentioned the 30 children but was silent on the 4 wives. This is an excellent current example of how discomfort with polygyny will lead to suppression of relevant facts.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.