Polygamy was anciently and still is a prevailing custom in the East (comp. of the Persians, Strabo, 15:733; Herod. 1, 135; 3, 88: Rhode, Heil. Sage, p. 443; of the Indians, Strabo, 15:714; of the Medes, 11:526; of the Getae, 7:297; see also 17:835; on the Egyptians, see Herod. 2, 92; comp. Died. Sic. 1, 80; Hengstenberg, Mos. p. 210 sq.), which stands in close connection with the great fruitfulness of Eastern women; and some have tried to show that it is connected with a preponderance of female births (Mariti, Reis. p. 14), but this is denied by Burdach (Physiol. 1, 403 sq.) and the most recent authorities. Even the Mosaic law did not forbid polygamy (Polygymy), which, indeed, existed among the Israelites from the beginning of their nation (Ge 28:9; Ge 29, passim; 37:2; 46:10), but seems to be expressly permitted (De 21:16 sq.; Ex 21:9 sq.; Le 18:18); and there are several direct instances under the law (Jg 8:30), and more indirect ones (10:4; 12:9, 14), of polygamy, or at least bigamy, chiefly in the time of the Judges. Yet the lawgiver had certainly placed difficulties in the way of polygamy by many remarkable directions (comp. the Koran, 4:3, which allows a Mussulman but four wedded wives, without, however, limiting the number of his concubines!). The Mosaic law aimed at mitigating rather than removing evils which were inseparable from the state of society in that day. Its enactments were directed
(a.) To the discouragement of polygamy; this object was forwarded by the following enactments:
(1.) The castration of young men, which is usually associated with polygamy, was forbidden (De 23:1), and thus attendants in the harem were not easily to be obtained; while marriageable women might reasonably expect each to obtain a separate husband.
(2.) Every act of sexual intercourse rendered the man unclean for a day (Le 15:18), which, with a considerable number of women, each of them having her peculiar claims upon him, would have been very burdensome.
(3.) The favoring of one wife among several was forbidden (Ex 21:8 sq.), and the man was required to perform his marriage obligations in equal measure to every wife. This limitation also would be oppressive to many. Besides all this, the mutual jealousy of the several wives of one man, which is the inevitable consequence of polygamy (1Sa 1; 1Sa 2 sq.; 2Ch 11:21), renders home life unpleasant (Niebuhr, Beschreibung, p. 73 sq.). The same reason keeps some Turks from polygamy now (D'Ohsson, 2, 366 sq.; Volney, 2, 360 sq.). The result was that most Israelites contented themselves with a single wife (see Pr 12:4; Pr 19:29; Pr 31:10 sq.), or at most took one or two concubines in addition. The same appears to have been the case with the ancient Egyptians (Wilkinson,
Anc. Egyptians, 2, 62 sq.). In the age following the Captivity monogamy appears to have prevailed (comp. Tobit 1, 11; 2, 19; 8:4, 13; Susan. 29, 63; Mt 18:25; Lu 1:5; Ac 5:1). It became acknowledged, too, as a prescriptive obligation, although the doctors of the law still held to their old canon, that a man might marry wives at pleasure hundred if he would-provided that he had means of support for them. Hence we cannot in 1Ti 3:2; Tit 1:6, think of a simultaneous polygamy (comp. Vesperce Gronig. [Amster. 1698], p. 125 sq.), although it must be confessed that Paul's expressions, taken alone, most naturally bear this interpretation. The Talmudists insist that no Jew can have more than four wives at once, and a king, at most, but eighteen (Otho, Lex. Rabbin. p. 528 sq.; see esp. Selden, Jus. Nat. et Gent. 5, 6; Buxtorf, Sponsal. p. 47 sq., in Ugolino, Thesaur. vol. 30; Michaelis, Mos. Rit. 2, 171 sq.; Jahn, I, 2, 235 sq.; comp. Selden, De Polygamia. bk. 7:in his Otia theol. p. 349 sq.). According to De 17:17, kings were forbidden to take many wives; but in spite of this prohibition they (as e.g.David, 2Sa 5:13; Solomon, 1Ki 11:3; Rehoboam, 2Ch 11:21; Abijah, 13:21, and others; and so Herod the Great, Josephus, Ant. 17, 1, 3) had large harems, for whose service they procured eunuchs in foreign lands. SEE HAREM.
(b.) The second object of the Mosaic regulations on the subject was to obviate the injustice frequently consequent upon the exercise of the rights of a father or a master. This was attained by the humane regulations relative to a captive whom a man might wish to marry (De 21:10-14), to a purchased wife (Ex 21:7-11), and to a slave who either was married at the time of his purchase, or who, having since received a wife at the hands of his master, was unwilling to be parted from her (21, 2-6), and, lastly, by the law relating to the legal distribution of property among the children of the different wives (De 21:15-17). These provisions embrace two quite distinct cases.
(1.) The regulations in Ex 21:7-11 deserve a detailed notice, as exhibiting the extent to which the power of the head of a family might be carried. It must be premised that the maiden was born of Hebrew parents, was under age at the time of her sale (otherwise her father would have no power to sell), and that the object of the purchase was that when arrived at puberty she should become the wife of her master, as is implied in the difference in the law relating to her (Ex 21:7) and to a slave purchased for ordinary work (De 15:12-17), as well as in the term amdh, "maid-servant," which is elsewhere used convertibly with "concubine" (Jg 9:18; comp. 8:31). With regard to such it is enacted
(1) that she is not to "go out as the menservants" (i.e. be freed after six years' service, or in the year of jubilee), on the understanding that her master either already has made, or intends to make her his wife (ver. 7);
(2) but, if he has no such intention, he is not entitled to retain her in the event of any other person of the Israelites being willing to purchase her of him for the same purpose (ver. 8);
(3) he might, however, assign her to his son, and in this case she was to be treated as a daughter, and not as a slave (ver. 9);
(4) if either he or his son, having married her, took another wife, she was still to be treated as a wife in all respects (ver. 10); and, lastly, if neither of the three contingencies took place (i.e. if he neither married her himself, nor gave her to his son, nor had her redeemed), then the maiden was to become absolutely free without waiting for the expiration of the six years or for the year of jubilee (ver. 11).
(2.) In the other case (De 21:10-14) we must assume that the wife assigned was a non-Israelitish slave; otherwise the wife would, as a matter of course, be freed along with her husband in the year of jubilee. In this case the wife and children would be the absolute property of the master, and the position of the wife would be analogous to that of the Roman contubernalis, who was not supposed capable of any connubium. The issue of such a marriage would remain slaves in accordance with the maxim of the Talmudists, that the child is liable to its mother's disqualification (Kiddush. 3, 12). Josephus (Ant. 4:8, 28) states that in the year of jubilee the slave, having married during service, carried off his wife and children with him: this, however, may refer to an Israelitish maid- servant. SEE CAPTIVE.
(c.) The third object of the Mosaic statutes on this subject was to bring divorce under some restriction; and this was effected by rendering divorce a formal proceeding, not to be done by word of mouth as heretofore, but by a "bill of divorcement" (De 24:1), which would generally demand time and the intervention of a third party, thus rendering divorce a less easy process, and furnishing the wife, in the event of its being carried out, with a legal evidence of her marriageability: we may also notice that Moses wholly prohibited divorce in case the wife had been seduced prior to marriage (22, 29), or her chastity had been groundlessly impugned (22, 19).
(d.) The fourth object, which was to enforce purity of life during the maintenance of the matrimonial bond, forms the subject of one of the ten commandments (Ex 20:14), any violation of which was punishable with death (Le 20:10; De 22:22), even in the case of a betrothed person (De 22:23-24). SEE ADULTERY.
The practical results of these regulations may have been very salutary, but on this point we have but small opportunities of judging. The usages themselves to which we have referred, remained in full force to a late period. We have instances of the arbitrary exercise of the paternal authority in the cases of Achsah (Jg 1:12), Ibzan (Jg 12:9), Samson (Jg 14:20; Jg 15:2), and Michal (1Sa 17:25). The case of Abishag, and the language of Adonijah in reference to her (1Ki 1:2; 1Ki 2:17), prove that a servant was still completely at the disposal of his or her master. Polygamy also prevailed, as we are expressly informed in reference to Gideon (Jg 8:30), Elkanah (1Sa 1:2), Saul (2Sa 12:8), David (2Sa 5:13), Solomon (1Ki 11:3), the sons of Issachar (1Ch 7:4), Shaharaim (1Ch 8:8-9), Rehoboam (2Ch 11:21), Abijah (2Ch 13:21), and Joash (2Ch 24:3); and as we may also infer from the number of children in the cases of Jair, Ibzan, and Abdon (Jg 10:4; Jg 12:9,14). It does not, however, follow that it was the general practice of the country: the inconveniences attendant on polygamy in small houses or with scanty incomes are so great as to put a serious bar to its general adoption, and hence in modern countries where it is fully established the practice is restricted to comparatively few (Niebuhr, Voyage, p. 65; Lane, 1, 239). The same rule holds good with regard to ancient times: the discomforts of polygamy are exhibited in the jealousies between the wives of Abraham (Ge 16:6), and of Elkanah (1Sa 1; 1Sa 6); and the cases cited above rather lead to the inference that it was confined to the wealthy. Meanwhile it may be noted that the theory of monogamy was retained, and comes prominently forward in the pictures of domestic bliss portrayed in the poetical writings of this period (Ps 128:3; Pr 5:18; Pr 18:22; Pr 19:14; Pr 31:10-29; Ec 9:9). The sanctity of the marriage- bond was but too frequently violated, as appears from the frequent allusions to the "strange woman" in the book of Pr 2:16; Pr 5:20, etc., and in the denunciations of the prophets against the prevalence of adultery (Jer 5:8; Eze 18:11; Eze 22:11).
In the post-Babylonian period monogamy appears to have become more prevalent than at any previous time; indeed, we have no instance of polygamy during this period on record in the Bible, all the marriages noticed being with single wives (Tob. 1, 9; 2, 11; Susan. 29, 63; Mt 18:25; Lu 1:5; Ac 5:1). During the same period the theory of monogamy is set forth in Ecclus. 26, 1-27. The practice of polygamy nevertheless still existed; Herod the Great had no less than nine wives at one time (Josephus, Ant. 17, 1, 3); the Talmudists frequently assume it as a well-known fact (e.g. Ketub. 10, 1; Yebam. 1, 1); and the early Christian writers, in their comments on 1Ti 3:2, explain it of polygamy in terms which leave no doubt as to the fact of its prevalence in the apostolic age. Michaelis (Laws of Moses, 3, 5, § 95) asserts that polygamy ceased entirely after the return from the Captivity; Selden. on the other hand, that polygamy prevailed among the Jews until the time of Honorius and Arcadius (cir. A.D. 400), when it was prohibited by an imperial edict (Ux. Ebr. 1, 9). SEE MARRIAGE.