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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

There’s No Polyandry in the Bible – or - What’s Good for the Goose Isn’t Necessarily Good for the Gander


I was reading from Luke 20: 27 – 40 this morning – in preparation for preaching on Sunday - and my mind, troublemaking reprobate that it is, sent me off exploring a tangent that won’t be any part of my sermon. In the text, Jesus is confronted by the Sadducees, a Jewish group that Luke describes as not believing in the resurrection of the dead, with a question about the consequences of Levirate Marriage in the resurrection.

“Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died.  In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

And instead of reading Jesus’ response, that voice in my head supplied a new one, “Jesus answered them and said, “In the resurrection the question will not be ‘whose wife will the woman be?’ for they will all be her husbands.”  Ha! I thought, that will shock them; Jesus advocating for polyandry.

 I know. I know.  It’s terrible. But the more I try to silence that loudmouth inside my brain, the worse he gets. So I explored the idea a little just to shut him up.

There is nothing in the bible about polyandry- a woman marrying more than one husband. Technically this is covered by the term polygamy – but we usually use that word in the traditional sense of a man having more than one wife.  The term for that would be polygyny. 

The OT is full of polygyny.  The closest we get to polyandry in the NT is this hypothetical woman who has her husbands serially rather than concurrently (which seems to be acceptable), and the condemnation in Romans 7: 2- 3.  Judaism and Christianity and Islam have historically allowed polygyny, but polyandry is rarely mentioned – and then only to condemn it.

In the OT there are three connected stories that lead right up to polyandry but God intervenes before that line can be crossed. In Genesis 12 Abram (not yet Abraham) gives his wife, Sarai (not yet Sarah) to the Pharaoh, and again in Genesis 20 Abraham gives his wife Sarah to Abimelech, king of Gerar.  Later, in Genesis 26, Isaac follows his father’s example and gives his wife, Rebekah, to Abimelech, king of Gerar[i] – but in each of these three cases God intervenes – by punishing the Pharaoh and Abimelech – before the illicit relationships can be consummated.  There seems to be an almost irrational fear of even accidentally allowing Sarah or Rebekah to be married to more than one man at the same time.[ii]

But why isn’t there the same aversion to polygyny?   Why was it acceptable (if not exactly celebrated) for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, et al. to have multiple wives and concubines?  And why is there a celestial freakout if we even get close to polyandry?   Is it just the power of sexism in patriarchal societies?  Is there something more?

Polyandry is pretty rare around the world and throughout history  so it’s not just a biblical aversion.  I’m not much of a sociologist, so I am ill equipped to answer these questions that my rotten brain has thrown me. 





[i] These may or may not have been the same person… I would guess that one story has been told more once with differing casts of characters.

2 comments:

  1. Don't over think it. It's ancient human morality. Lather, rinse, move on.

    ReplyDelete

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