Essay on Polygamy
Polygamy is That state, in which a Man has two or more wives, or a Woman has two or more husbands, at the same time. The question to be answered is this, Was Polygamy lawful under the Old Dispensation ? As the Old Dispensation embraced two periods—the Patriarchal, and the Levitical—this inquiry naturally resolves itself into two others : 1. Was Polygamy lawful to the Patriarchs ? 2. Was Polygamy lawful under the Levitical Code ? Each of these questions claims, and shall receive, a distinct answer.
I. Was Polygamy lawful to the Patriarchs ? 
It will be conceded by all, that, under the Patriarchal Dispensation, there is no express permission of Polygamy, on record. Previous to the promulgation of the Levitical Code, there is no law or dictum relating even remotely to the subject, except the Great Original Law Of Marriage, found in Genesis, ii. 24, " Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh." The import of this Law will be sought hereafter. It is sufficient to remark, here, that it certainly does not contain a permission of Polygamy.
If, then, it can be shown that Polygamy was lawful to the Patriarchs, the evidence must be derived from their Practice. In examining lhi$ point, however, we must distinctly remember, that the question before us is not, Whether Polygamy was permitted, by the customs or laws of the tribes, among whom the Patriarchs lived? but, Whether Polygamy was permitted by the Law of God ?—The beat human laws authorize, and the best men sanction, conduct, which is directly prohibited by the Divine law. To argue what the Law of God is, from the Practice of men, even of the best men, seems, therefore, a hazardous course, in any case; but especially in the case in question. None of the Patriarchs lived in a regular state of society, governed by established laws ; but each was the head of his clan—a petty chieftain, acknowledging no superior. The surrounding chieftains, also, as well as the tribes whom they governed, all practised Polygamy. With these things in view, let us see what the Practice of the Patriarchs actually was, on this subject, both before and after the Deluge.
1. Adam was placed in a situation, in which Polygamy was neither lawful, nor possible.
2. No one of the Antediluvian Patriarchs, from Adam to Noah, in the line of Seth, is mentioned as a polygamist.
3. The same is true of Noah and his three sons.
4. The first polygainist on record was Lamech, the fifth in lineal descent from Cain ; and, as the Introduction of Polygamy into this world is an important event, we will examine the account given of it by Moses. The passage containing it is found in Genesis, iv. 19, 23 and 24. As the Hebrew manuscripts have no Notes of interrogation, the original is equally susceptible of the two following translations:
1st. " And Lamech took unto him two wives, Adah and Zillah. And Lamech said unto his wives, ' Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech : For I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If Cain shall be avenged seven fold, truly Lamech, seventy and seven fold." This is the common version; '• -<i <
2d. "And Lamech took unto him two wives, Adah and Zillah. And Lamech said unto his wives, ' Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech. Have I slain a man to my wounding, or a young man to my hurt ? If Cain shall be avenged seven fold, truly Lamech seventy and seven fold."
If we take the former version as the correct one, then the first polygamist was a murderer ; and when his two wives expressed their apprehensions lest vengeance should fall upon him for his crime, he consoles them with the reflection, that God had threatened seven fold vengeance on any one who should kill Cain. But this abrupt and most incongruous version is obviously erroneous. Moses does not intimate that Lamech had been guilty of murder, nor that his wives had any apprehension on account of it. Nor, if Lamech had been guilty of murder, would he have had any right to suppose that God would inflict on the man, who should kill him, eleven times as exemplary vengeance, as on the slayer of Cain. The only act charged on Lamech by the historian, is his Polygamy ; and when his two wives ex-pressed their apprehensions, lest, for this, some one would kill him, he might well reply, " Adah and Zillah, hear my voice ; ye wives of Lamech, hearken to my speech. Have I slain a man to my wounding, or a young man to my hurt? If God shall avenge Cain seven fold, truly Lamech seventy and seven fold." His crime then, obviously, was his Polygamy. In either case, however, Polygamy was introduced into the world under very bad auspices.
5. The second and only remaining account of Polygamy before the Deluge is found in Gen. vi. 1—7, " And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of
the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the eons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were fair, and they took them wives of all whom they chose. And the Lord said, 'My spirit shall not always strive with man.' There were giants in the earth, in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children unto them, the same became mighty men, which were of old, men of renown. And God saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually; and it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man, whom I have created, from the face of the earth."—The fact, that Polygamy became general, or that men took them wives of all whom they chose, is here obviously assigned as the cause of that universal corruption and violence, which occasioned the Deluge. These are the only two examples of Antediluvian Polygamy.
6. After the Deluge, no mention is made of the practice of Polygamy among the descendents of Hani or Japhet, though their genealogies are given; nor had any of them such a number of children, as to indicate his possession of several wives.
7. No example of polygamy is mentioned in the ten successive patriarchs in the line of Shem, from Shem to Terah the father of Abraham ; nor does the number of their children lead us to suppose that either of them had more than one wife.
8. Nahor, Abraham's brother had a concubine; but we are not told, whether during the life of his wife, or after her death.
9. Abraham had one wife, Sarah, who had no children. "Ano Sarah said unto Abraham, 'I pray thee go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her.'" This connection was no part of Abraham's plan of life. It was occasioned by Sarah's strong desire to have children, whom she could call her own. It was temporary intercourse with a bondwoman ; and ceased as soon as Hagar had conceived. The issue, as Paul tells us, was not legitimate, or entitled to inherit the property of Abraham. That Abraham—himself originally an idolater, and living in the midst of idolaters, who not only practised polygamy, but every other species of impurity—in despair also of any issue from Sarah, should have had views of marriage so far loose and incorrect, as to yield to such a proposal from his wife, is not surprising ; but it furnishes no evidence of the lawfulness of Polygamy. Abraham's marriage with Keturah did not occur until seven years after the death of Sarah. If this extemporaneous connection of Abraham with Hagar proves the lawfulness of any thing, it proves merely that a husband who was childless might lawfully, with the consent of his wife, connect himself temporarily with his female slave ; but obviously, this is not Polygamy.
10. Isaac had but one wife.
] 1. Esau, " that profane person," had three wives. " And Esau said in his heart, ' The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob.'"
12. Jacob, while in the family of Laban, lived among idolaters, who practised polygamy. Laban and his children were idolaters, yet polygamy was no part of Jacob's plan of life. Leah was put upon him by a fraud, to Avhich he must submit, or hazard the loss of Rachel. He likewise told his father several direct falsehoods, and with extreme cruelty defrauded Esau of his birthright.
13. Lot, the twelve sons of Jacob, Amram, Moses, Aaron, Eleazar, Joshua, Caleb, and many others, who lived during the period in question, had each but one wife. On the supposition that polygamy was lawful, this fact cannot be explained.
We have, then, the practice of the Patriarchs on this subject before the flood, in the example of Lamech, and that of the Apostates who filled the earth with violence; and in that of Esau, and that of Jacob after the flood : four instances during the first two thousand seven hundred years of the world. In this statement of facts we find strong presumptive evidence that the Patriarchs did not regard Polygamy as lawful. Let us now inquire whether it was not expressly forbidden.
The Great Original Law of Marriage, with the occasion of its promulgation, is thus recited in the second chapter of Genesis: "And the Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone : I will make an help-meet for him'—And the Lord God brought the woman unto the man, and Adam said, ' This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man'— Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife ; and they shall be one flesh."
The comment of our Saviour on this Law, in the 19th of Matthew, will help us to explain it. The Pharisees, tempting him, inquired, " Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife, for every cause."—To this he replied, " Have ye not read, that He who made them at the beginning, made them male and female; and said,— ' For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto 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."
The following remarks on this Law, may show on what footing Marriage was placed under the Old Dispensation.
1. The words—" For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh"—were not, as some have supposed, the words of Adam, but were uttered by God. The language of Christ is, " He who made them at the beginning, said, ' For this cause,'" &c. The Maker of of Adam, therefore, and not Adam, said this; and the thing uttered was not a prediction of Adam, but a command of God.
2. This is the Great Original Law of Marriage binding on the whole human family. It was not a part of any Ceremonial Law, or of the National Law of Israel; but was promulgated at the original institution of marriage, to the first parents of mankind, as the representatives of the whole race. Men and women about to contract marriage were the only beings, and the very beings on whom it was binding. By the terms of it, Adam and Eve were personally exempted from its operation ; since they were already married, and Adam had no father or mother, whom he could leave. It was made, therefore, for their Posterity; and since, in its binding force on them, there are no restrictions or limitations, it was clearly given to bind the whole human family. On this point the comment of Christ is express. The Jews inquired of him,— Whether it was lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause ?—In his reply, he admits that Moses, for the hardness of their hearts, allowed divorces in certain cases; but asserts that in the beginning it was not so. He then declares,
that, except in the single case of incontinence, it is not lawful for a man to put away his wife, and marry another; and assigns four reasons for it. (1.) The fact, that God originally created but one man and one woman, and joined them in marriage; and thus expressed his own pleasure that marriage should subsist between one man and one woman. (2.) That at the time when God instituted marriage, he declared " For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh." (3.) That that is the reason why two married persons are no more twain, but one flesh. (4.) That all who are united in marriage, are joined together by God.—Here, then, is an express recognition of this law. as the Original Law of Marriage ; as in force from the beginning; as in full force under the Levitical Dispensation, amended as it was in a single point— that relating to divorces; and, in consequence of the express repeal of that amendment by Christ himself, except for one cause, as in force with that exception, in all its original extent under the Christian Dispensation.
3. This Law in the very terms of it, as well as according to the comment of Christ, is an absolute prohibition of Polygamy. It is so in the terms of it. It declares that lawful marriage, as appointed by God, is the connection for life between twain or two, one man and one woman, and that when they are married they cease to be twain, and are one flesh. It also declares that the man who is thus united to a woman in marriage, shall cleave unto her as his wife. Before, with filial affection, he clave unto his parents as a son, and acknowledged them only; and now, with conjugal affection, he is directed as a husband to cleave unto his wife, language is capable of but one interpretation. If he is connected with any other woman, he ceases to cleave to his wife, and makes himself one flesh with a stranger. " What, know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot, is one body ?" The same is equally true, if the conneclion with the stranger were to be preceded by the forms of marriage. Any connection with another woman is leaving his wife, and ceasing to cleave to her, in the very point which the law respects. So obviously is this the only interpretation, that this very language is customarily used in the marriage ceremony, when a promise is exacted from the parties, that they will be faithful to each other.
This is equally evident from the comment of Christ. After admitting that Moses permitted Divorces, and assigning the reason for it, he first declares that the Original Law of Marriage did not permit them; and then, with a single exception,abrogates the Mosaic permission. The Original Law did not allow of divorce in any case. He allows it in one—that of incontinence. With this exception, he places the Law of Marriage on its original footing; and declares, in language which cannot be misunderstood, its real force and meaning—" He who putteth away his wife, except for incontinence, and marrieth another, committeth adultery." But in what does the adultery, thus committed by the husband consist 1 Not in the mere putting away. That might be cruelty, but it is not adultery. Not in the mere marriagecontract. If he had stopped at that, there would have been no adultery—It consisted in the fact, that, having one wife, he marries and has intercourse with another; before the first is dead or lawfully divorced. By the Original Law of Marriage, therefore, as thus explained by Christ, the man, who having a wife, marries another, before the first is lawfully divorced, is guilty of adultery. But every polygamist does this: every polygamist therefore is guilty of adultery. Of course Polygamy, according to the Original Law of Marriage, is adultery.*
- The declaration of our Saviour—" Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for incontinence, and marry another, committeth adultery,"—is a sad comment on the laws respecting adultery in some of our Statute-books. According to the laws of some of the States, unlawful intercourse, between a married woman and a married or single man, is adultery; whereas unlawful intercourse, between a married man and a single woman is merely fornication. In other words, they declare that a married man cannot commit adultery, but with a married woman. Let us compare this with the express declaration of Christ, "Whosoever putteth away his wife, except for incontinence, and marrieth another, committeth adultery." In what does the adultery consist ? Not, as we have just seen, in the putting away of the first wife ; nor in the contract with the second. These are unlawful, but they are not adultery. Obviously it consists in the intercourse with the second. Why is that intercourse adultery ? Not because it is proceded by a contract. That contract, Christ pronounces ipso facto void. It consists in the fact, that the man, at the time of that intercourse, is lawfully married to a wife. He, then, who being lawfully married to a wife, has intercourse with another woman, is, according to Christ, guilty of adultery.
This conclusion is so direct, that a plain man might naturally wonder, why our laws should be as they are. The true reason is this: Our legislatures are composed exclusively of Men, and chiefly of married men, or of men who intend to marry. Of course, in the personal purity of married women, each member feels a lively interest, because he is resolved at all hazards, to guard the purity of his own wife. Intercourse with a married woman must therefore be punished with a heavy hand. But how many are there, in those august bodies, who feel, each as lively an interest in His own purity, as in that of his wife ? "Indeed!" says the law-maker "that alters the case." Our legislatures contain so many members, who are determined at all hazards not to be restrained in their libertinism ; so many others, to whom wholesome laws, relating to licentiousness, might prove occasionally inconvenient ; and so many others who are habitually civil to vice, when it does not " pick the pocket, nor break the leg;" that we can expect no laws on this subject which are not of a Mohammedan character.
To set this point in its proper light, we will suppose a Legislature of Jlaritd Women assembled to make laws for one of the States, and actually enacting that unlawful intercourse, between a married man and
A passage from Malachi should here be added, as it explains the reason of the scriptural constitution of marriage. In Mai. ii. 10—16, the prophet reproves the Israelites, with extreme severity, for their numerous divorces, and for their infidelity and cruelty to their wives. In verses 14 and 15, he declares, " The Lord hath been witness, between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hath dealt treacherously ; yet she is thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did he not make One ? Yet had he the residue of the spirit ? And wherefore One ? That he might seek a godly seed." In other words, in the original constitution of marriage, God made one woman only, and united her to Adam, and thus appointed Marriage to be the union of one man with, one woman. He was able to have made more: why then did he create but One '? Because he foresaw, if more than one woman were created and given to Adam ; in other words, if Polygamy, and not Marriage, were established ; that a godly seed would be impossible. This is a plain declaration therefore that God forbad the Human race to practise Polygamy, because of its immoral tendency.
The Original Law of Marriage, then, prohibited Polygamy to mankind; and no repeal of that law, partial or total, is on record, under the Patriarchal Dispensation. Hence, it was then in force; and the fact, that it was violated by Jacob and Esau, by Lamech, and by the Apostates whose crimes provoked the Deluge, has been fully accounted for, without the least necessity of supposing that it had experienced either a temporary suspension, or an abrogation.
a woman whether single or married, should be punished as adultery : but that such intercourse, between a married woman and a single man should be mere fornication. What wordscould express the abhorrence of our existing legislators, at such shameless profligacy. Would they not pronounce such a body of females just fit for the purlieus of a brothel?
II. Was Polygamy Lawful under the Levitical Code? 
We have seen that the great Original Law of Marriage was binding on the whole human family, and that that law absolutely prohibited Polygamy. The question then arises, was that law repealed, as to its operation on the Israelites, by the Levitical Code 1
That a single section of it, that which prohibited divorces, was repealed, is admitted. The repealing statute, however, acknowledged the general law to be in full force. Those, who contend that Polygamy was lawful to the Israelites, are then fairly called upon to point out the statute in the Levitical Code, which repealed that part of the Original Law of Marriage that forbad Polygamy. In reply to this call, three passages, beside Lev. xviii. 18, the one in controversy, have been adduced, as containing direct or implied permissions of Polygamy: those are Exodus xxi. 7—11; Deut. xxi. 15—17; and 2 Samuel xii. 7,8. We shall give each a distinct examination.
The first of these passages is as follows: Ex. xxi. 7. " And if a man sell his daughter to be a maid servant, she shall not go out as the men-servants do. 8. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed. To sell her to a strange nation, he shall have no power; seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. 9. And if he hath betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. 10. If he take him another wife, her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage shall he not diminish. 11. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall he let her go out without money."
The mere English reader would suppose, from this passage, that the Hebrew master was authorized to buy a female servant, to betroth her, to have connection with her, and then refuse to marry her ; that he might then betroth her to his son, if he had one of the proper age ; and that for this treatment he was required, either to send her back to her father without money, or to keep her in his own house, and render her the requisite food, clothing, and sexual intercourse. Before we admit all this, we must give the passage a close examination.
This version of the passage contains three palpable mistakes. The first is found in the eighth verse, where the English translators, by following the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew, have omitted the small but most significant particle not, and thus totally perverted the meaning of the original. In Hebrew, the word K'bi answering to not, in English, stands immediately before ft*]?"1, rendered betrothed. This reading is supported by all the manuscripts consulted by Kennicott, except one, and by all the manuscripts and editions of the Samaritan Pentateuch. It is likewise recognized in the Hebrew-Samaritan, Syriac, and Persian versions, and in that of Arias Montanus. The Arabic version also sanctions it; rendering the passage, " If it displease her master to take her to wife, let him see that she is redeemed ;" as does the Vulgate also—" If she displease the eyes of her master, to whom she had been entrusted, he shall send her back." In the same manner, the modern version of Augusti and De Wette—" Wenn sie dem Herrn missfallt, dass er sie nicht fur sich bestimmt"—" If she displease her master, so that he does not betroth her to himself," The true rendering of the 8th verse therefore is, " If she please not her master, so that he does not betroth her to himself, he shall suffer her to be redeemed. To sell her unto a strange nation he shall not have power, seeing he hath rejected her."
The second mistake is in the 10th verse, in the passage, " If he take unto him another wife." The word wife is italicized in our version, because there is no word corresponding to it in the Hebrew. It ought not to have been foisted upon the English version, because it makes a false impression; implying that the first woman was also his wife, and therefore that he had two wives at the same time: whereas, the 8th verse expressly declares that he had refused even to betroth her. Had it been rendered, " If he marry another," it would have conveyed the precise meaning of the Hebrew, viz. If he marry another woman instead of her.
The third mistake is also found in the 10th verse, in the passage—" her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish." The word FlFW, here rendered duty of marriage, occurs, in this form in no other place. Different lexicographers derive it from 515, to dwell, and from tt53>, to toil, to suffer, and in Pihel, to humble. The first of these words, 5U, to dwell, is obsolete as a verb; but, as a noun with a formative >3, llSJa, denoting dwelling, habitation, it occurs frequently. The other word tl55, denoting in Pihel, to humble, is used eleven times in connection with !"!ffl!$, a woman, but always as a verb. In seven of these, Gen. xxxiv. 2; Deut. xxii. 24; 2 Sam. xiii. 12,14, and 22; and Lam. v. 11, it denotes to humble by ravishing; and in four, Deut. xxi. 14; Ezek. xiii. 12,14, 22, it denotes to humble by illicit intercourse. In no other case, has it any allusion to the commerce of the sexes,and in these eleven instances only to unlawful commerce. If then we derive it from this word, it is impossible to render it duty of marriage. Surely that, which, when doing as a verb, is unlawful intercourse, cannot, when done and turned into a noun, be regarded as lawful wedlock. If we derive it from 515, to dwell, there is no connection between that word and duty of marriage ; nor does any derivative from it refer remotely to the commerce of the sexes. The only other derivative from that word signifies uniformly dwelling, habitation; and the word in question occurs only here.
The weight of authority in the versions, is wholly against this rendering. The three words rendered food, raiment, and duty of marriage, are rendered by Walton, in the Polyglott, as follows :—In the Samaritan Text, "alimentum, operimentum, et habitationem," food, raiment, and habitation:—In the Samaritan version by a single phrase comprehending these three— " vita ejus necessaria," her necessaries of life:—In the Syriac version by " alimentum, indumentum, et accubitum"* food, clothing, and lodging:—In. the Vulgate, by "providebit puellcE nuptias, et vestimenta, et pretium pudicitice," a rendering which precludes the supposition, that she had been married to her master, and at the same time directs him to procure for her marriage with another man. The Targumj the Septuagint, and the Arabic version, agree substantially with the English translation; the Arabic version, however, is little more than a translationof the Septuagint.
That the word in question ought not to be rendered duty of marriage, is therefore obvious for the following reasons.
- Jlccubitus means either Sitting, or reclining, at table, or Lying down far sleep. As food has been already mentioned, it must here mean the latter, i. e. lodging.
1. As the girl was not married, and the master, because he disliked her, would not even betroth her, the duty of marriage was impossible. Any sexual duty, rendered in those circumstances, must have been the duty of illicit intercourse.
2. No derivation of the word, as well as no use of the word, or of any cognate word in any other case, will associate with it the idea of lawful intercourse by marriage : it having no refererence to any commerce of the sexes, but what is unlawful.
3. The weight of authorities is wholly against the rendering.
4. The other rendering, viz. habitation, lodging, is the natural rendering of a noun derived from the verb iWi to dwell, and the actual rendering of another noun derived from the same verb ; has the weight of authorities in its favour ; and is consistent with the declaration in tbe eighth verse, that the girl was not betrothed, as well as with common decency.
The whole passage, thus corrected, will read as follows:
7. And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the men-servants do. 8. If she please not her master, so that he does not betroth her to himself, then he shall suffer her to be redeemed: (i. e. when the opportunity of establishing her in marriage has arrived :) to sell her unto a strange nation, he shall have no power ; seeing he hath rejected her himself. 9. And if he betroth her to his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. 10. If he marry another person, he shall furnish her with food, clothing, and lodging, (or tht necessaries of life.) 11. And if he do not furnish those three, he shall let her go out free, without money.
The verbS3>p?, in the seventh verse, rendered sell, according to Gesenius, usually denotes to receive a marriage portion for. The master by paying it to the father, had a right to the services of the daughter as a maid-servant, and if he were a single man, to marry her: the right of choice on the part of females not being known in the East. If the master was married, or chose not to marry her himself, he had a right, if she was of the proper age, to betroth her to his son, without paying an additional portion. If neither of these were done, her friends, by paying back the portion received, had a right to redeem her, and to marry her to another man. If she was not redeemed, and her master chose not to marry her, and married another woman, he was bound to furnish her with the customary food, clothing, and lodging ; and, on failure of these, she was at liberty to go back to her friends unredeemed.
This passage, therefore, contains no sanction of Polygamy, and no permission of the gross immorality and cruelty apparently authorized by the English translation. The second passage, which has been supposed to authorize Polygamy, is found in Deuteronomy xxi. 15—17. 15. "If a man have two wives, one beloved and the other hated, and they have borne him children, both the beloved and the hated; and the first-born be hers that was hated. 16. Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, he may not make the son of the beloved first-born, before the'^ son of the hated, which is indeed the first-born. 17. But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the first-born, 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."
The argument here used is this:—Moses here legislates on the case of a man who has two wives at the same time: But he could not lawfully legislate upon that which might not lawfully exist: To have two wives at the same time, was therefore lawful.—Or, to state it in the Latin of the schoolmen, " Q,ui disponit de consequenti, \. e. de jure inter liberos polygamornm, ille etiam vult antecedens, i. e. polygamiam.'"
For a moment we will admit, for the sake of argument, the major of the syllogism, viz. that Moses here legislates upon the case of a man who has two wives at the same time. Let us then test the minor by a parallel case. In Deut. xxiii. 18, it is said, " Thou shall not bring the hire of a harlot into the house of the Lord thy God, for any vow." Taught then by the schoolmen, we thus argue—Moses here legislates upon the wages of a harlot, and therefore supposes that harlots will receive the wages of prostitution : But he could not legislate upon that which might not lawfully exist: To be a harlot and earn the wages of prostitution, were therefore lawful. This conclusion sounds oddly, when we read the remainder of the verse, " For this is an abomination unto the Lord;" or the preceding verse, " There shall be no harlot of the daughters of Israel."
Let us test this principle by another case. By the common law of England, if an illegitimate son is born, and the parents subsequently marry, and have a legitimate son ; the latter, who is called mulier-puisne, has a right to the inheritance. But if, after the father's death, the older son, who is styled bastard-eignS, enters on the estate, and enjoys it till his death, and dies seized thereof leaving issue male, that issue shall inherit the estate; and the legitimate son and his heirs are forever barred of their right to it. The reasoning of the schoolmen, applied to this case, would be as follows: " Qui disponit de consequent!, i. e. de jure inter liberos scortorum, ille etiam vult antecedens, i. e. scortationem." This conclusion would light up a smile, even on the face of a logician.
But the question now presents itself, does Moses here legislate upon the case of a man who has two wives at the same time? That our translators themselves thought otherwise, and that they actually wrote "If a man have had," and not, " If a man have," and that the word had was omitted by some mistake, is highly probable from the fact, that they say in the same verse,—" and the first-born be hers that was hated," not, " hers that is hated:" evidently intimating that she (the first wife) was dead, at the time referred to.
To put this question at rest, however, I will cite the various versions of the Polyglott.
Septliagint. 'E«» $t yitana.1 (not y/»w»T«/)—Kx.i rcxao-n
m-atSas (not r/xr*r<») *. T. A. If there have been to a man two wives, and they have borne him sons, <fcc.
Vulgate. Si habuerlt homo uxores duas, et peper~ erint, ei filios ? If a man have had two wives, and they have bornp, &c.
Arias Montanus. Cum fuerint viro duae uxores, et pepererint filios : When a man has had two wives, and they have borne, &c.
Samaritan Text. Cum fuerint viro duae uxores, getmerintque filios.
Samaritan Version. Cum fuerint viro duae uxores, genuerintque filios.
Targum. Si fuerint viro duas uxores, et pepererint ei filios. Syriac Version. Cumquefuerint alicui duee uxores, et pepererint, <fcc.
Arabic. Et cumfuerint viro duae uxores, et ambee genuerint filios.
I will only add, that the words rendered have had, and have borne, both in the original and in all the translations, are in the same tense, and refer to events that have already taken place. Moses, therefore, does not here legislate upon the case of a man, who has two wives at the same lime, but upon the case of a man who has had two wives in succession, the second after the decease of the first. And there was an obvious necessity of his legislating upon this precise case ; for the first wife, who was hated, was dead, and the second wife, the favourite, was alive, and, with the feelings of a stepmother, would urge her husband to make her own son the heir, This passage, then, furnishes no evidence that Polygamy was lawful, under the Levitical code.
The third passage which has been supposed to sanction Polygamy, is a part of the message from God, delivered by Nathan to David, after his conduct to Uriah, in 2 Sam.xii. 7, 8: "I anointed thee King over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; I gave thee thy master's house and thy master's wivea into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah ; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things." That this message furnishes no such sanction, will be obvious, I think, from the following considerations.
1. The only wives which Saul is said to have had, were Ahinoam, the mother of Michal David's wife, and Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, who was his concubine. According to this supposition, God authorized Pavid to marry his wife's mother, a species of incest expressly threatened by the Levitical Law with burning alive. David also married Michal, the daughter of Ahinoam, when he was quite young. Her very age, therefore, precludes the supposition that he afterwards married the mother.
2. Though David's wives are repeatedly enumerated, after the death of Saul, yet there is no intimation that the wives of Saul were among them, or that he had married them.
3. David delivered the two sons of Rizpah to the Gibeonites, to be hung up at Gibeah, an event not very likely to have taken place, if he had made her his wife.
4. The phraseology, " I gave thee thy master's house (family) and thy master's wives into thy bosom," obviously means nothing more than that God, in his providence, gave David, as King of Israel, the possession of every thing that was Saul's,—his wives and all that he had : a fact, which gave edge to the reproof, " wherefore, then, hast thou killed Uriah, the Hittite, and taken his wife to be thy wife ?"
5. Had Absalom, who actually connected himself with ten of his father's concubines, ultimately succeeded in his treason; and, after the firm establishment of his throne, had he provoked, by a crime similar to that of David in the case of Uriah, a similar reproof; it might have been said to him as truly as to David, (even if we admit that David married the wives of his father-in-law,) " I anointed thee King over Israel, and delivered thee out of the hand of David ; and I gave thee thy father's house, and thy father's wives into thy bosom :" for God expressly foretold to David, that Absalom would thus connect himself with his wives : (2 Sam. xii. 11:) yet who, from this fact, would have supposed that Absalom's incestuous Polygamy with his father's wives was lawful?" This passage, then, furnishes no evidence of the lawfulness of Polygamy. The history itself furnishes conclusive evidence that David never was actually married to the wives of Saul. If, however, in spite of that evidence, it be contended that he was, still it was a case of incest expressly prohibited, under the penalty of being burned alive ; and if this be an allusion to it, it is an allusion to it simply as an event of providence.
The Levitical code, therefore contained no express repeal of that part of the Great Original Law of Marriage, which prohibited Polygamy, unless it is contained in the disputed passage of Leviticus xviii. 18. That passage will be examined on its own merits hereafter.
We shall now inquire, whether the Practice of the Israelites proves that Polygamy was permitted by the Levitical Code; or, in other words, that the Original Law of Marriage had been repealed.
As the conduct of the best men falls far below the perfect standard of the Divine Law; it is obvious that it must be an unsafe criterion, from which to determine what the Law of God is. Especially unsafe must it be, to determine this from the conduct of licentious and profligate men; much more, if these men, live in an irregular, unsettled state of society, and are amenable to no human laws; still more, if they are possessed of absolute power; and most unsafe of all must it be, to argue from the conduct of such men, in such circumstances,— not what the Law of God is, in a case otherwise unknown, but—that an Express and Universal law, standing on the pages of the Divine statute-book, to bind the Human Race, has been repealed. With these things in view, we will examine the actual Practice of the Israelites. Gideon, the third Judge of Israel, and a military
chieftain, had many wives, and one concubine, and seventy-one sons. We are also told, that he set up an image in Ophrah his city; that all Israel went thither a whoring after it; that it became a snare to Gideon and his family ; and that Abimelech, the son of his concubine, assassinated all but one of the children of his wives.
Jair, the fifth Judge of Israel, had thirty children. This is not conclusive evidence that he had more than one wife; and much less that he had more than one at a time. A citizen of North Carolina, a few years since, petitioned the Legislature of that state for exemption from taxes, because his wife, then living, had borne him twenty-nine children, most of whom he had educated. One other case has been reported to me in this country, in which the same married pair had thirty children. That Jair should have had as many, by two successive wives, would have been in no respect surprising.
Ibzan, the seventh of the Judges, had thirty sons and thirty daughters. This was unquestionably a case of polygamy.
Abdon, the ninth Judge of Israel, had forty sons, and was doubtless a polygamist.
Samson, the tenth Judge of Israel, after his lawful wife at Timnath had been given to another, associated with a harlot at Gaza, and afterwards with another in the valley of Sorek. But this was not polygamy.
Elkanah, a man in private life, and a good man, had two wives. We are told however that he lived "in those days when there was no king in Israel, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes." His history, also, is chiefly made up of the distress, brought upon his family, by his polygamy.
It is said of the children or descendents of Uzzi, the grandson of Issachar, that they practised polygamy. They also lived, when " every man did that which was right in his own eyes." Their polygamy is assigned as the reason, why they were numerous, compared with the other families of the tribe. It was of course singular, and did not prevail generally, either in Issachar, or in Israel.
Saul, the first king of Israel, had a wife and a concubine. He was judicially cut off for his wickedness.
David, the second king of Israel, had eight wives and numerous concubines. In this conduct he transgressed an express law, which forbad the king of Israel, to multiply wives unto himself. He was a good man, yet his life was deformed by various crimes of a very gross character. It is said, however, that he is styled the man after God's own heart, and that his conduct is declared to have been acceptable to God, except in the case of Uriah. This language, however, must be interpreted with many qualifications ; for he was guilty of gross ingratitude and falsehood to Achish and of falsehood to Ahimelech; and was sorely punished for the direct violation of an express law in numbering Israel.
Solomon, the third king of Israel, had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. This was an outrageous violation of the same express law against the multiplication of wives. " And it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart ofter other gods, and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God." These two cases no more prove the law against polygamy to have been repealed, than they prove the law against the king's multiplying wives unto himself to have been repealed.
Rehoboam, the fourth king of Israel and the first king of Judah, had eighteen wives and sixty concubines; " and he forsook the law of the Lord, and all Israel with him."
Abijah, the second king of Judah, had fourteen wives; " and he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him."
Ahab, the eleventh king of Israel, had numerous wives, and seventy sons: " And Ahab did evil, in the sight of the Lord, above all that were before him in Israel."
Jehoram, the fifth king of Judah, and the son-in-law of Ahab, had several wives; " And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, like as did the house of Ahab, and he wrought evil in the eyes of the Lord. And he caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit fornication, and he compelled Judah thereto."
It is alleged that Joash, the seventh king of Judah, and the grand-son of Athaliah, had two wives at the same time; and that the account given of this fact in 2 Chron. xxiv. 2, 3, furnishes a strong presumption in favour of the practice—" And Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. And Jehoiada took for him (iJD,) two wives; and he begat sons and daughters." The following remarks may serve to explain this passage. The Hebrew word *7, rendered for him, means alike either/or him, or for himself. The Rabbins render the passage, " And Jehoiada took unto himself (i. e. married) two wives, and begat sons and daughters;" and they insist that he married them in succession. This, if the passage refers to Jehoiada, is probable; for the language implies nothing more, than that he had two wives, without specifying when; and there is no instance on record of polygamy in a priest. If we suppose that Jehoiada took two wives for Joash, and both at the same time; still the language here used will not prove polygamy to have been sanctioned by the law of God. It does not follow from the declaration, that " Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, all the days of Jehoiada;" for, in the parallel passage in Kings, we are told, that Joash refused to abolish idolatry, during the days of Jehoiada. It is also said of David, that he did that which tens right in the sight of the Lord, except in the matter of Uriah ; yet by this language, apparently so universal, as we have just seen, k was not intended to justify his falsehoods to Ahimelech and Achish, or his disobedience to an express statute in numbering Israel. Of the better class of the kings of Judah, it is also said, that they did that which was right in the sight of lite Lord, during their reigns; and yet the prophets have recorded their numerous sins. The phrase, therefore, means only, that their conduct was generally acceptable to God; but furnishes no evidence of the lawfulness of any one specific act. The fact too that Jehoiada took two wives for Joash, if it was a fact, does not prove this point. Athaliah and her son Amaziah had introduced a universal corruption of morals into Judah, and had made idolatry the religion of the court and of the nation. Jehoiada endeavoured to restore the worship of the true God ; yet during the king's minority, he did not take away the high places, nor put down idolatry except at Jerusalem. That, in such a state of things, he should have yielded, in this point, to the king's wishes, when he was forced to yield in points of so much more consequence, will excite no surprise, and can furnish no evidence that polygamy had been sanctioned by the law of God. Zedekiah, the last king of Judahj had several wives. " Neither did Zedekiah hearken unto the words of the Lord." He was dethroned for his disobedience.
These, if I mistake not, are all the instances of polygamy on record among the Israelites. They amount, if we include Joash, to only thirteen single instances, beside that of the children Uzzi, in a period of more than twelve hundred years. That these cases prove that the law of God permitted polygamy, is argued on four different grounds, which we will now examine.
1. From the number of those who practised polygamy. The actual number on record, we have seen, is thirteen single instances, beside that of the children of Uzzi, in a period of more than twelve hundred years. But it cannot surprise any one that in a period of that length, and in a nation so corrupt, thirteen instances of polygamy should have occurred ; when, during that period, many more instances of murder, adultery, and idolatry, are on record: or that, of these thirteeen instances, twelve should have been of persons possessed of absolute power; when Gideon, and Solomon, and" nineteen of the kings of Israel, and twelve of the kings of Judah, in all thirty-three persons possessed of absolute power, were publicly and habitually idolaters: or that Elkanah and the children of Uzzi, private individuals, are recorded as polygamists; when not only Micah, and his mother, and the Levite his priest, were idolaters, but the children of Dan publicly established idolatry and an idolatrous priesthood, from the days of Micah until the captivity; when sacrifices to idols in groves and high places continued in Israel, from the days of Jeroboam until the captivity of the ten tribes; and in Judah from the time of Solomon, with scarcely an exception, until the deportation into Babylon.
Were the reasoning, thus applied to the Hebrew history, to be adopted in any other case, it would lead to singular results. The nations of Europe, during the last twelve hundred years and upwards, have professed to be Christians, and to respect the Laws of God. Yet, were a prophet of God to write the history of any one of them during that period, not excepting that of Rome itself, of its popes, cardinals, and bishops, he would detail —not thirteen, but—thirteen hundred instances of open, acknowledged, long-continued, multifarious, and yet unpunished adultery. Yet this does not prove, that the Law of God forbidding adultery has been repealed, nor even that it is authorized by the laws of those countries. Were a Mohammedan to visit Italy, and to find the systems of cicisbeism and nepotism pervading its gentle and noble families, and even the court and palace of His Holiness, and the former system regularly recognized in marriage contracts; were he to visit Austria, and to find numbers of her princes and nobles maintaining each his eastern haram, and her Prime Minister for the last twenty-five years bestowing office as the price of beauty ; and were he to discover that the crime, for which the Cities of the Plain were destroyed by a storm of fire, was most notoriously and impudently prevalent throughout Austria, Italy, and France; he might be ready to exclaim, " Why the Bible is no better than the Koran!" yet, while we could not deny his facts, we should all be ready to question his logic. Nay, were a prophet honestly to detail the occurrences of the last thirty winters at our own capital, i. e. for the fortieth part of twelve hundred years, if we did not find in the record more than thirteen instances of known unpunished adultery, as well as of bribery, his book would greatly raise the reputation of our native land.
2. From the Character of those who practised polygamy. It will hardly be insisted that Saul, Rehoboam, Abijah, Ahab, Jehoram, Joash, and Zedekiah had sufficient weight of character, to prove all that they did to be justifiable. Gideon's setting up and maintaining an idol at Ophrah, and seducing the Israelites to Idolatry, is at least a suspicious circumstance in his case. The fact, that Solomon's wives turned his heart from God, and led him to erect high places to idols, is no very strong circumstance in his favour, or in favour of polygamy. We know of Ibzan and of Abdon, only that they were Judges possessed of absolute power, and that they practised polygamy. We know also of the children of Uzzi merely that they practised polygamy, just as we know of the children of Dan merely that they practised idolatry. The character of David did not justify his conduct with Ahimelech or Achish, with Bathsheba or Uriah. Elkanah was a good man, yet not a better man than Abraham. Yet the character of Abraham does not prove his falsehoods to Abimelech and Pharaoh to be in accordance with the Law of God; neither, therefore, does the character of Elkanah prove his polygamy to be in accordance with that Law.
3. From the fact that no Punishment was inflicted on polygamists by the Government.
Nhie of the thirteen single instances were instances of Absolute Monarchs, whom no earthly tribunal could call to an account, or punish, for their conduct; and three of the remaining four were those of Judges, or Military Chieftains—men equally absolute with the Monarchs of Israel. That of Elkanah, and those of the children of Uzzi, occurred, as we have seen, in times when " every man did that which was right in his own eyes," or, in other words, had no one to call him to an account. In each of the instances, therefore, punishment was wholly out of the question.
Other crimes, however, not less heinous than this, and expressly forbidden, also escaped punishment. Though Abimelech, Saul, Doeg, David, Joab in repeated instances, Ahab, Zimri, Athaliah, Joash, and many others, were guilty of murder ; Gilead, Samson, the wife of the Levite, Hophni, Phineas, David, and Absalom, of adultery; Amnon of rape; Gideon, Micah, his mother, the Levite who lived with him, and the Danites who robbed him, and their descendents for successive generations, Solomon, Jeroboam and his eighteen successors on the throne of Israel, as well as Rehoboam and eleven more of the kings of Judah, were guilty of idolatry; and the body of the two nations in numberless instances apostatized, and worshipped the gods of the surrounding countries; yet, in no one of these instances, was the sentence of the law inflicted by the government, on any individual. Yet surely this fact furnishes no evidence that murder, adultery, rape, and idolatry, were permitted, either by the laws of Israel, or the law of God.
4. From the fact, that no Censure is pronounced on those who practised Polygamy by the scriptural writers. We have already seen that the Original Law of Marriage universally forbad it; that Malachi severely censures the conduct, and declares that God forbad it to Man because of its demoralizing efficacy, and that Christ pronounces every one, who practises it, an adulterer. We have also seen that Polygamy is assigned as the cause of that general corruption and violence, which occasioned the Deluge ; and that either Lamech, the first polygamist was a murderer, or that his polygamy, the first transgression of the Law of Marriage, was the reason why his wives apprehended, that he would be put to death. In the instances of Jacob and Elkanah, it is exhibited as one of the principal causes of the misfortunes of their lives. In that of Jacob also, Reuben his eldest son defiled Bilhah one of his father's concubines ; and what Jacob's feelings were on the occasion we may learn from his dying address to Reuben more than forty years .afterwards: " Reuben, thou art my first-born : unstable as water, thou shall not excel, because thou wentest up to thy father's bed ; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch." In the case' of Gideon we are told, that Abimelech, the son of his concubine, assassinated sixty-nine out of seventy of the children of his wives. In the case of David, Amnon, the son of one of his wives, committed a rape on Thamar, the daughter of another ; while Absalom, the brother of Thamar, killed Amnon, and then expelled David from his throne, and violated his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel. Of the wives and concubines of Solomon, it is expressly said, that they turned his heart away from God. And in the cases of Saul, Rehoboam, Abijah, and Ahab, the general character of each is described as dreadfully wicked, and their polygamy is mentioned as one of the incidents of their lives.
The supposition, that those, who practised polygamy, are not censured for it, in the Scriptures, is therefore an entire mistake. Yet it is true, that various instances are recorded, in which the individuals mentioned are not censured at the time. If, then, there be any force in this argument, it grows out of the truth of the general principle, that whatever actions are recorded in the Scriptures, without any direct censure at the time, are lawful. So far, however, is this principle from being true, that, with the single exception of the crime of idolatry— an exception growing out of the peculiar enormity of the crime, which was direct High-treason against Jehovah, as the acting Governor of Israel,—it is the customary mode of the scriptural writers, in recording crimes, simply to mention them as actions or events which occurred, without expressing an opinion as to the character of these actions. This is the natural methodj[of recording such actions in a book like the Bible ; in which the great general principles, which stamp the character of actions, are previously and distinctly established, and therefore considered as known. This is often true indeed, even in the case of idolatry. The idolatry of Terah. that of Laban and Rachel, that of Gideon, and that of Micah, of his mother, and of the Levite his priest, are simply mentioned as facts, without a comment. As to the idolatry of the Danites, which continued to the time of the captivity, all that is said is, that " the children of Dan set up the graven image of Micah, in the city of Dan ; and Jonathan the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons, were priests to the tribe of Dan, until the day of the captivity of the land ; and they set up Micah's graven image, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh." When the sacred historians inform us that Noah was guilty of intemperance ; that Abraham uttered a known direct falsehood to Abimelech, and another to Pharaoh, both, at the imminent hazard of his wife's purity ; that Isaac, under similar circumstances, did the same to Pharaoh ; that Lot offered his two daughters to the men who surrounded his house; that he was twice guilty of drunkenness ; that his two daughters successively made him drunk, and were then guilty of incest with their father ; that Jacob, at the instigation of Rebekah his mother, told repeated falsehoods to Isaac, and that he defrauded Esau of his birthright and his blessing; that Laban deceived and defrauded Jacob, by substituting Leah for Rachel; and that Jacob in his turn defrauded Laban, in his management with regard to the cattle ; that Rachel stole her father's idols, and then told him a direct falsehood to escape detection ; that Esau collected an armed force, to take away Jacob's life ; that the sons of Jacob sold Joseph into Egypt, and then told a wilful falsehood to their father, under circumstances of the most aggravated filial impiety ; that Judah was guilty of lewd ness with Thamar, not knowing her, and Thamar of known incest with her father-in-law; that Reuben committed adultery and incest with Bilhah his father's concubine ; that Gilead was guilty of lewdness with a harlot; that Samson was guilty of repeated adulteries ; that Joab killed his brother Asahel; and that David told a direct falsehood to Ahimelech, and another to Achish ;—these various events, as well as many of a similar nature in subsequent parts of the Scriptures, are recorded simply as event?, without any comment at the time; and almost all of them, without any comment afterwards. But does this fact prove that intemperance, lying, incest, fraud, prostitution, idolatry, adultery and murder, were lawful ?—If not, neither does the fact, that Polygamy is not in every case censured at the time, prove that Polygamy was lawful.
It may not be improper to mention, in this place, a remarkable example of this nature. In Lev. xxxiii. 33, 34, the Israelites were commanded to dwell in booths seven days every year at the feast of tabernacles, throughout their generations for ever. Yet we are told by Nehemiah that, from the days of Joshua (B. C. 1446) to his days, (B. C. 444,) or 1002 years, it was wholly neglected. Yet not a word of censure, for this neglect, has escaped those, who wrote the history of that long interval.
From these considerations, it is evident, if I mistake not, that no solid argument, in favour of the lawfulness of Polygamy to the Israelites, can be derived, either from the Number, or the Character, of those who practised it, or from the fact that they escaped Punishment from the government, or Censure from the scriptural writers. Were the principle, indeed, once settled, that it is lawful to determine what the law of God is, from the conduct of any class of men whatever, and from the fact that that conduct is recorded without censure by the scriptural writers ; when we remember the falsehoods of Abraham to Abimelech and Pharaoh, of Isaac to Pharaoh, of Rebekah and Jacob to Isaac, of Laban to Jacob, of Rachel to Laban, of the eleven patriarchs to Jacob, of Ehud to Eglon, of Jael to Sisera, and the manner in which her conduct is spoken of by Deborah, of David to Achish and Ahimelecb, and of Elisha to the host of Benhadad, (2 Kings vi.. 19.) at the very time when he beheld the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire, and had just wrought a miracle in smiting the whole Syrian army with blindness; and reflect that these various instances of known direct falsehood are all recorded without censure by the sacred writers ;—we should have far stronger evidence, that the Law forbidding wilful falsehood was repealed under the Patriarchal and Levitical Dispensations, than we can find of the repeal of the Law of Marriage, in the account which they give of the practice of polygamy.
The result of our inquiry then is this, that Polygamy was universally forbidden to mankind by the Great Original Law of Marriage; that no evidence of any repeal of that law, so far as it prohibited Polygamy, is found in the scriptures; and of course that Polygamy was unlawful both to the Patriarchs, and to the Israelites. I will now subjoin a few considerations, confirming these conclusions.
1. The fact, that the Other Species of Polygamy—
that in which one woman has two or more husbands
was unlawful in Israel, proves that the Original Law of Marriage, forbidding Polygamy, was in full force under the Levitical Code. That that peculiar species of Polygamy was unlawful in Israel, will doubtless be admitted; yet, should it be denied, the proof is at hand. In Deut. xxiv. 1—4, it is said, that a wife, after she has received a bill of divorcement from her husband, " may go and be another man's wife." Of course, previous to her receiving such a bill, it was unlawful for her to go and be another man's wife, i. e. to have two husbands at the same time. But, if it was unlawful for a woman in Israel to have two husbands at the same time, some law had forbidden it. I then ask, What was that law ? —The Levitical Code contains a law, forbidding a married woman to have adulterous intercourse with another man ; but it contains no law, prohibiting conjugal intercourse or connexion by marriage—that is, no law, of which those whom I oppose can here avail themselves. The prohibition, in Levit. xviii. 18, " Neither shall thou take a wife to her sister in her lifetime, to vex her"— according to the construction of it, for which I propose to contend, in the ensuing Essay—Neither shall thou take one wife to another, in her life-time, to vex her— does, indeed, expressly forbid a man to have two wives ; and therefore may be regarded as, by implication, forbidding a woman to have two husbands. But this obviously cannot be alleged by those, who deny this construction. I call on them, then, to point out the law,
which rendered the latter species of polygamy unlawful ; but this they cannot do, for no such law exists, except the Original Law of Marriage. That law, therefore, was in force under the Levitical Code. But if that law forbad a woman to have two husbands ; with still greater certainty did it forbid a man to have two wives ', because its prohibitory clause affects men, expressly ; while it affects women only by implication. That clause is—not, " Therefore shall a woman leave her father and mother and cleave unto her husband;"* but— " Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife." And, as we have seen that it forbids a woman to have two husbands, at once; a fortiori therefore, does it forbid a man to have two wives at once. This fact then proves that the Original Law of Marriage, so far as it forbad polygamy, was in force in all its length and breadth under the Levitical Code.
2. The same thing is evident from the fact, that Polygamy was expressly prohibited, by Moses, to the future kings of Israel. Deut. xvii. 17, " Neither shall he (the future king) multiply wives unto himself; that his heart turn not away."
It has been publicly suggested byan individual not now in the desk, that the word multiply, has as extensive a meaning in this passage, as it has in the preceding verse— "But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses "—-It is said that, as the future monarch is not, by this verse, restricted to one horse ; so he is not, by the next, to one wife ; and that he is clearly allowed to keep at least as many wives as horses. My only reply to this suggestion shall be this—The mind, which
- If it had been, who would have questioned that it forbad a woman to have two husbands at once.
could first engender such a sentiment, and then charge it to the Spirit of God, shall receive it back again, untouched, into the pollution from which it came forth.
The prohibition, given to the monarch to multiply wives, either had a definite meaning, and restricted him within given limits ; or it had no meaning at all. If the Original Law of Marriage was in force in Israel, this prohibition had a definite meaning. If it were a fundamental law of England, where polygamy is unlawful;—"The king shall not multiply wives unto himself;"—it would clearly prohibit the king from marrying more than one wife ; for any increase above the authorized number^ is multiplication ; and the same, on this supposition, was true in Israel. But if that law was not in force in Israel, I ask, What law limited the number of wives, which might be lawfully taken, either by king or subject.
The Rabbinists indeed allege, that David had 14 wives and 18 concubines; and insist, because he was a good man, that this was theultimatum, beyond which the monarch might not lawfully go. No one, however, at the present day, will pretend, that, by any enactment, the lawful number of the monarch's wives is limited to two, or three, or to the Mohammedan number/oMr,orto six or eight, to ten or twenty. But if the lawful number was not definitely settled, the king might well ask the prophet, who suffered him to take twenty, and who came to reprove him because he was about to take the twentyfirst,—11 What! is it multiplying wives to take twenty-one, when it is not multiplying them to take twenty! If then this prohibition was not absolutely nugatory, and in effect prohibited nothing; the Original Law of Marriage was in force in Israel.
If Polygamy was unlawful to the nation at large ; still there were the best reasons in the world, for recording a particular express prohibition of it to the future monarch. The surrounding nations all practised polygamy. Their kings had, each his haram ; and each prided himself in the number of his wives and concubines. The monarch of Israel was absolute, independent of the nation whom he governed, and amenable only to God. Though the people at large had been forbidden to practise polygamy, still, from the example of surrounding kings, from the power and wealth of the monarch, and the passions of the human breast, there was the strongest reason to fear that, notwithstanding the general law, he would " multiply wives unto himself," and thus corrupt himself and the nation. In this point of view, the command appears most merciful; and the histories of Saul, David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah and Ahab, prove, that it was most necessary; for even this
additional and express command did not secure their obedience.
This restriction on the king was certainly intended to have force and efficacy ; because it was a law of God. But we have seen, that, if it did not limit the king to one wife, it did not limit him at all; and of course had no binding force. The king, then, was forbidden to practise polygamy, if the people were not. If then we suppose polygamy to have been lawful to the nation at large ; where was the propriety of forbidding it to the king? It did not lie in the fact that it was unlawful in itself; for in itself it was as lawful to the monarch as to his subjects. The monarch was certainly as able, as his subjects, to maintain numerous wives, and provide for them as he ought. The heart of the monarch was no more liable to be turned away, by the practice of polygamy, than the heart of a subject. I agree, " it hath cast down many wounded, yea many strong men have been slain by it;" but, while this is the best of all reasons for prohibiting it universally, it is a very bad one for confining the prohibition to kings. To prohibit the king from an innocent, and, if we may judge from the history of Saul, David, Solomon, and several of their successors, & favourite practice; when not only the neigh* bouring monarchs, but his own subjects were allowed to indulge in it; would have been to create an unnecessary and odious distinction. It was exhibiting him, in point both of actual privilege, and of claims to personal con< fidence, as below the level of the people at large. It was in effect to say—" Neither shall the king practise polygamy, because it will turn away his heart; but all his subjects may practise it, because it will not turn away their hearts !" The fact, that he saw his princes, his nobles, and even his peasants, lawfully possessing all that heart could wish, while himself was limited to a single object; would of course have prompted him, if not restrained by religious principle, to the indulgence of wild and roving passion. Such a restriction, therefore, could not have been laid on the monarchs of Israel, without being also laid upon their subjects.
3. If Polygamy was not forbidden by the Original Law of Marriage, to the Patriarchs and Israelites ; neither is it forbidden under the Christian Dispensation. Polygamy has been supposed to be forbidden, in the New Testament, in the six following passages—Mat. v. 31, 32; Mat. xix. 3—9; Mark x. 2—12; Luke xvi. 18; Bphesians v. 31; and Cor. vii. 1, 2. The first five of these passages are all alike. They are all founded on, and appeal to, the Original Law of Marriage, and merely explain the binding force of that law upon mankind: they forbid what that forbad, and allow what that allowed ; and if that did not forbid Polygamy, neither dd they. As to the passage in Corinthians, " Now concerning the things ye wrote unto me,—It is good for a man not to touch a woman : Nevertheless, to avoid incontinence, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband ;" I remark, 1. That every man has his own wife, and every woman her own husband, as truly in polygamy as in marriage; and 2. That the Apostle expressly declares, that he speaks the paragraph of which this is a part, by permission, and not by commandment, and that it is himself that speaks it, and not the Lord. Of course it is merely advisory ; and cannot be regarded as a law restraining the rights of mankind in the article of marriage, within narrower limits than had previously existed for four thousand years, and binding by its authority the whole human race. No alteration of a General I jaw of God was ever introduced by a passage in a writer, declared by himself to be mere private advice. The only remaining passages in the New Testament, alluding to this subject—1 Tim. iii. 2, " A bishop must be the husband of one wife;" and 1 Tim. iii. 12, "Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife f—so far as they have any bearing upon it, seem to imply, that all except bishops and deacons may be the husbands of more than one wife; and so direct did this implication seem to the dignitaries of the Greek Church, that, in order to rebut it, they enacted, that neither bishop nor deacon, if he had the misfortune to lose his wife, should ever be permitted to marry a second. They allude, however, doubtless, to the fact, that some of the converted Heathens had several wives; and enjoin that no one, who had more than one, should fill the office of bishop or deacon. If then polygamy was lawful, under the Patriarchal and Levitical dispensations, it is equally so under the Christian.
4. Wherever marriage is spoken of in the scriptures as a state, it is always spoken of as the union of one man with one woman; and in language utterly inconsistent with the supposition, that more than one of either sex could be lawfully united with one of the other. This is true, alike, of both Testaments. A few examples will show the common current language of the whole Bible.
Gen xxiv. 3, 4, " And I will make thee swear unto me, by the LORD, the God of Heaven and the God of Earth, that thou shall not take a wife to my son, of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; but thou shall go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac." Abraham's design, in thus adjuring Eleazer, was to prevent Isaac from marrying a Canaanitish woman. The fact that Isaac should marry a woman of Padan-Aram, he evidently regards as complete security, against the dreaded connection. But if Polygamy had been lawful, it would have been no security whatever. Isaac was heir to princely possessions, and could easily have maintained many wives. In these circumstances, had Polygamy been lawful, his father, in order to prevent all hazard of connection with the women of Canaan, would have directed Eleazer to bring—not a wife, but—as many wives as Isaac would probably wish to include in his family establishmsnt. From the fact, that he regarded Isaac's marriage with one wife of Padan-Aram as effectual security against future marriages with women of Canaan, it is evident, that Polygamy was not then regarded as lawful.
Deut. xxviii. 54, 58, " His eye shall be evil towards the wife of his bosom."—"Her eye shall be evil towards the husband of her bosom? These are a part of the curses, denounced against the Israelites as a nation, to take effect upon them, during the long progress of their history, whenever they should become disobedient and rebellious. The husband and wife here mentioned are any husband and wife, who should thus disobey. The language is accommodated to the actual laws and state of society in Israel, not only as they were in the age of Moses, but as they were to be in every succeeding age. It describes marriage, as it actually finds it, and finds it universally prevalent—-as the union of one husband with one wife—as a union, in which the husband has the wife of his bosom ; and the wife, the husband of her bosom. In a country, where a man may marry but one wife, this language has meaning; but suppose that a Turk were threatened, that on the commission of a given offence, he should lose the wife of his bosom ; would he not instinctively ask, " which of them will you take ?—I have four !" Must not the law, in order to have point and exactness, threaten him with the loss—either of one of his wives, or—of the women of his haram ? Here then Moses, or rather God himself, when making laws relative to marriage, as it then existed, and as it would lawfully exist in Israel in successive generations, not only represents each husband as having one wife, and each wife as having one husband; but uses language, which could have no meaning, in a country where Polygamy was general or lawful.
Psalm cxxviii. 3, " Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine, by the side of thy house: thy children, like oliveplants round about thy table." The Israelites, probably more than any other people, regarded numerous children as a blessing. Thus, in the preceding Psalnij it is said— " Lo, children are an heritage from the Lord, as arrows
in the hands of a mighty man. Happy is the man, that hath his quiver full of them." This idea is fully recognized, in the passage quoted above, in which the Psalmist is describing the happiness of the man, who feareth the Lord. But, if writing for a country, in which Polygamy was customary, instead of saying, " Thy wife shall be a fruitful vine," he would have said, " Thy icives shall be as fruitful vines." It would present no very flattering prospect to a good man, who had twenty wives, to tell him, that, as the reward of his fearing the Lord, one of them should be fruitful. " What!"—he would instinctively rejoin, and with no little meaning,—•" and shall the other nineteen be barren "
Prov. v. 15, 18, 19 " 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. Let her be as the loving hind, and the pleasant roe ; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times, and be thou always ravished with her love." Solomon tells us, that these are part of the instructions, which David his father gave him, when he was young-, to regulate his conduct I admit, that David had numerous wives and concubines ; yet, as one of the inspired penmen, he has taught nothing but pure morality and exalted piety. J ask then every one, who has read the preceding directions, whether they could have sense or meaning, if addressed to a man, living where Polygamy was lawful and customary ? Had they been actually addressed to an Israelitish nobleman, who, by divine permission, had married a haram of twenty wives; with what force would he have replied in David's own language— " Which of my cisterns or which of my wells, which of my fountains or which of my wives ; with Adah or Zillah, with Abigail or Rachel, with Haggith or Maachah, with Hannah or Rebekah, with Achsah or Deborah, with Sarah or Bathsheba, with Milcah or Michal, with Anah or Delilah, with Mary or Ruth, or which ? In short, could these directions be possibly obeyed by the man, who had so many other wives, beside the wife of his youth. Could her breasts satisfy him at all times, when, during most of his time, he was lawfully and necessarily devoting himself to the other women of his haram ? Could he be always ravished with her love, when usually she was supplanted by her rivals ? Would not obedience to these directions have been a gross abuse and injury to his other lawful wives ? Jer. v. 8, " They were as fed horses, in the morning : every one neighed after his neighbour's wife." The prophet is here describing in glowing terms, the general lewdness of the Israelites, and their multiplied adulteries, No illustration of the subject could have been more forcible, than the image which he actually presents; and Jeremiah can rarely be accused of letting his representations lag behind the reality. Surely, then, if Polygamy had been customary, he would have said, " Every one neighed"—not "after his neighbour's wife"—but "after his neighbour's wives," or " his neighbour's haram." In a town, where each householder had as many wives as he could maintain, it would be no very striking proof of universal profligacy, that all the wives but one, in each family were not only unpolluted, but un-neighedafter.
Jer. vi. 11, " I will pour the fury of the Lord upon the children abroad, and upon the assembly of young men together; for even the husband with the wife shall be taken ; the aged with him that is full of days." As the prophet intends by this language to denote the comprehensive extent of the divine fury, had Polygamy been lawful, he must have said,—"the husband with his wives." He could not have intended to intimate that, under a most sweeping desolation, all the wives but one, in each family, should escape.
Mai. ii. 14, " The Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously; yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth!"—In this chapter Malachi obviously intends to reprove the Israelites for their general infidelity to the marriage vow ; yet I appeal to the common sense of every reader, that his language would have neither force nor meaning, if addressed to a nation of polygamists. If a Mohammedan priest were to read this reproof, in a Turkish mosque, it would not be intelligible ; and were the book of Malachi to be read by a Turk, he would at once conclude, that, among the Jewri, it was not lawful to have more than one wife.
Math. xix. 29, " And every one, that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundred fold and shall inherit everlasting life."
Luke xiv. 26. " If any man come to me, and hate
not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren and sisters, he cannot be my disciple."
These two passages were addressed to the Jews, a* mir Saviour found them, living' under the laws of Moses. The conduct, to which this high reward is promised, is the cheerful surrendry of every thing dear and valuable, for the sake of the Saviour. The word, used in each case, denotes the entireity of the sacrifice. Thus, brethren, and sisters, and children, and houses, and lands denote all one's brethren, and sisters, and children, all one's houses and lands ; since the surrendry of a part of any one kind would have been unavailing, without a surrendry of the residue. Each word here used is intended, therefore, to express a* many things of the given kind, as the persons addressed could be supposed to possess. Where they could have several, the plural is used ; where only one, the singular. As they could have but one father, but one mother, and but one wife, each of these is in the singular ; as they could have more than one of each of the other things mentioned—brethren, sisters, children, houses, lands, —they are all in the plural. Had Christ said, " If you forsake not your brother, and sister, and child, and house, and land," the language would obviously have been defective ; for it would have implied that forsaking one brother, or sister, or child, or house, or one piece of land, was enough, and that the remainder of each might be preferred to Christ. Butwhenhesays, "If you forsake not your father, and mother, and wife," there is no such defect; because each word, though in the singular, is all of the kind, that any individual could possess or forsake. Surely a Jew could have no merit in preferring the Saviour to one wife, if he loved his other wives more than the Saviour. It is plainly impossible, therefore,
that Christ should have used this language, had he been surrounded by an assembly of polygamists. i
These passages are a few, taken from a great number found in every part of the Bible. They show the customary phraseology of the scriptural writers, and are susceptible of but one construction. They exhibit an account of lawful wedlock, as it actually existed in every period of biblical history, among the Patriarchs, the Israelites, and the Jews. The writer or speaker, in every instance, lakes his countrymen and their marriages 'is he found them. Every reader will at once say, that such an account of the subject could not possibly have been written respecting a state of society, in which Marriage was Polygamy. It presupposes, that Marriage is in itself, and was, as it actually existed, the union of one man with one woman. It never explains the duties of a state of polygamy, nor supposes it to exist It is an account of Marriage, just as it exists in Christian countries, and utterly irreconcileable with such a state of Marriage, as exists in Turkey, and in Southern Asia.
At the same time, the Bible does not contain a solitary example of an opposite use of language. The few instances of Polygamy, on record, are simply mentioned as events that occurred, and are recorded in precisely the same manner, as the sacred writers customarily record other transgressions of law. To a fair unbiassed mind, this fact of itself will, I think, appear absolutely conclusive.
We thus find, as the result of our inquiries, that the Original Law of Marriage forbad Polygamy to mankind ; that no repeal of that law is found in the Scriptures ; and that Polygamy was not lawful, either among the Patriarchs, or under the Levitical Code.
There is, however, as we contend, one passage more relating to the subject, which we have not yet examined, —Lev. xviii. J 8, " Neither shall thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness beside the other, in her life-rime."—This passage, it will be recollected, is regularly resorted to, to prove marriage with the sister of a deceased wife to be lawful. And when, in opposition to that construction, we contend that this passage is simply a prohibition of Polygamy, and is precisely equivalent to—Neither shall thou take one icife to another in her life-time, to vex her—we are regularly met with the Objection, that Polygamy was actually lawful among the Israelites, and of course that this construction is erroneous. The other construction of the passage,—Neither shall thou take a second wife, who is the sister of thy first wife, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness beside the other, in her life-time ; although thou mayest take one, irho is not her sister, as that will not vex her; and her sister also, after her death—is, if correct, a full and explicit permission of polygamy. This passage will be minutely examined, in the progress of the subsequent Essay; and when we come to the examination, I hope it will be distinctly remembered, that the Scriptures (this one passage out of the question) furnish decisive evidence that Polygamy was unlawful; and that if the lawfulness of Polygamy is to be proved, the evidence must be derived from this one passage alone. Thus, we shall be able to examine this much controverted text, on its own merits, and to investigate the Law of Incest, without entangling it with the lawfulness or unlawfulness of Polygamy.
- The address of David to Solomon begins Prov. iy. 4, in the middle of the verse, and is carried on in one continuous discourse, through that and the five following chapters: ending with the close of Chapter ii. This fact, I believe, has escaped the notice of Commentators. It is worthy of observation, as it refutes an argument, which has been derived from the abrupt commencement of Chapter i,, to prove that Solomon did not write much of the latter part of the book. That abrupt commencement is owing to the fact, that the discourse of Solo> roon if there resumed.