Chapter 10 : Marriage

The subject of marriage as such, the practice of polygamy to the extent of up to four wives, and the practice of timed or temporary marriage in Islam have come under fire from outside observers. It is of utmost interest to note the Biblical legislation on these issues. Ali (1988:139a-140a) defends temporary marriage and polygamy. In Islam marriage is a contractual agreement between two parties. A man may contract up to four full, dowered, simultaneous marriages. Divorce is also allowed. Concubinage or limited contracts are also permitted, even with the limitation of time. Adultery is punishable according to Islamic law by death. There is no ideal of celibacy in Islam, and marriage and reproduction are a foremost duty.

From the very beginning the Bible seems to support Islamic values. Genesis 1:28A is the first direct divine command to human beings in the Bible. It is the command to reproduce. Reproduction is a divinely appointed duty and not a matter of choice. To choose not to reproduce is to disobey the divine command. Human reproduction is reaffirmed by direct command in Genesis 8:17; 9:1,7; and 35:11.

Marriage is instituted by holy example with a ritual marriage formula spoken by the man in Genesis 2:23-24. The text in Genesis 3:16 relates specifically to the situation of Eve and cannot be generalised. Eve is placed under the rule of her husband because of her role in mediating the temptation to him. This is not evidence of the subordina­tion of the wife in general. On the contrary, the list of subordinates in Exodus 20:10 does not mention the wife as a subordinate, which suggests that she is on an equal status with her husband. The sorrow of conception is a prophecy of the tragedy of Cain and Abel. The prophecy is given to prepare Eve for what will be an insupportable horror, and as such is a grace. The text does not imply that Eve is being punished with the pain of childbirth, rather she is being warned that her child would later cause her sorrow.

Genesis 4:19 is the first example of polygamy in the Bible, and it is the example of a wicked person. The list of generations in Genesis five give holy examples of people carrying out the command to reproduce. Genesis 16:2 is the first case of multiple marriage by a righteous person. By holy example Abraham institutes multiple marriage under the condition that it is agreeable to the first wife and for the purpose of carrying out the command to reproduce in the case of a barren wife. The example also provides the possibility of marriage by purchase, since Hagar is said to be a handmaid of Sarah. She was not provided with a dowry.

Although no new example is given in the Biblical story of Lot in Genesis nineteen, there are passages which can be misunderstood. In verse eight, Lot offers his daughters to the men of Sodom in lawful marriage in his judgement against their attempted homosexual rape. In so doing he gives a positive injunction for marriage, rather than deliver­ing his daughters up to degradation. In Genesis 19:31-38, the details show clearly that Lot did not accept incest. The fact that the daughters in the story give Lot wine to hide their plan indicates clearly that they knew their father would not agree to the arrangement. In verses thirty-three and thirty-five the expression `he perceived not' shows that Lot is blameless. Thus the story does not condone such behaviour. Nevertheless, assuming that legislation at the time of Lot was somewhat less than what we now possess, the actions of the daughters of Lot should not be judged on the basis of our greater knowledge. Their motivation was not degraded. It was a misguided attempt at obeying the basic command to reproduce. The lesson of the experience is to show us to what lengths a human being can go when he depends on his own judgement or the judgement of other human beings in determining what is right and wrong. The story of the daughters of Lot confirms the need for divine guidance.

Genesis 20:12 raises again the issue of incest, stating that Sarah and Abraham were children of the same father. This does not necessarily mean that they were from the same biological father. It could very well mean that they were from the same ancestor on the father's side. In many cultures there is no distinction in terms between siblings and parallel cousins. The use of the word father in Semitic languages is very broad indeed. Two men are known to have been called the father of Abraham, and only one of them can have been his biological father. Terah is known from Genesis 11:27 et al., while Azar is known from the Qur'an 6:75 et al. There is no reason to assume that Abraham and Sarah were biological siblings, whereas there is every reason to assume they were not.

At this point we come to the issue of limited marriage or concubinage. The texts of the Bible can be classified in three groups: those spoken by God Himself and thus giving direct divine commands; those describing the holy example of prophets and other human beings with God-given authority to serve as such holy examples; and finally those texts describing the behaviour of ordinary people whose example we might not follow. Obviously the first category is normative, whereas the last is not. The second category also has a certain degree of normative value.

In principle we could be certain that concubinage is meant only for those texts where the word `Pilegesh' occurs. This word is of uncertain origin. It is used once in the Bible in Ezekiel 23:20 to refer to the male partner in such a relationship. The word is thus both masculine and femi­nine without a change in form.

The first mention of concubinage in the Bible as that of Nahor in Genesis 22:24. There is another concubine mentioned by name in Genesis 36:12, Timna who was the concubine of Eliphaz, son of Esau. Both of these men were devout, although not holy examples.

But even the use of the word `Pilegesh' does not guaran­tee that true concubinage is meant. Genesis 25:6, from the example of Abraham, gives us the only specific regulation characterising concubinage, that is, that the children of concubines do not inherit from the father. Therefore the use of the word `Pilegesh' in Genesis 35:22 is a loose application of the word to a slave wife whose children did inherit and who was taken as a wife specifically for the purpose of bearing children. This text, however, is doubtful in any case, and should not be used. In 1 Chronicles 1:32, the word `Pilegesh' refers to Keturah, the third wife of Abraham. The Genesis text is ambiguous about this marriage, and it is certain that the marriage was not specifi­cally contracted for producing children. The Genesis text does not state whether Keturah's children inherited with Ishmael or whether they were given gifts with the children of Abraham's other concubines.

There are no texts of direct, God-given revelation that refer to concubinage as such, although many texts of legislation must refer to marriage of all types. We shall have to turn to the two lower categories of texts to find an indication of the Bible attitudes towards marriage of pleasure.

Abraham is the first holy example of concubinage in the Bible. By holy example concubmage is stated for Abraham in Genesis 25:6. The word appears here in the plural, indicating that Abraham had more than one concubine. One difference between wife and concubine is stated: the children of the wife inherit, while those of the concubine are given gifts at the father's discretion. This is the one characteristic limitation of concubinage which the Bible states. It otherwise seems to assume that concubinage is well-known and needs no further description.

The extensive marriage description in Genesis twenty ­four adds little legislation. Genesis 24:4 suggests by holy example that relatives are preferable mates than non­relatives, but the real sense of the text may be a distinction between worshipers of God and idolaters. Genesis 24:53 institutes the dowry by holy example. Although it appears from verse fifty-eight that Rebecca consented eagerly to the marriage, verse fifty-one goes so far as to suggest that the decision for the marriage was made by the male guardians, that is father and brother. Genesis 24:65 indicates the wearing of a veil in the presence of the bridegroom before marriage. The matters of male guardians and the veil are not established by holy example, since the personages referred to are not authoritative.

By holy example in Genesis 25:21, Isaac makes suppli­cation to God for his wife's barrenness. Almost all preceding legislation is confirmed by the holy example of Jacob's marriages in Genesis 29:15-30:24. Jacob had two dowered wives and two slave wives. No concubines are mentioned. The only new problem of legislation is the marrying of sisters. This practice is contradicted by direct divine command in Leviticus 18:18. We must therefore re­examine the text. Laban is the father of Leah and Rachel, the two sisters who married Jacob. Our English usage of the word father may be leading us astray, for the Semitic usage is much broader and may well refer to a common male ancestor, the living leader of the clan to which both women belong as sisters. Since this is precisely as likely on the basis of the word usage as our first, normal assumption, we must choose the meaning of living male ancestor instead of biological father, because it permits a reconciliation with law. The same phenomenon explains the matter of Abra­ham and Sarah.

By holy example in Genesis 34:15 it is prohibited for a guardian to consent to the marrying of a believer woman to an uncircumcised man.

The incestuous relation reported in Genesis 35:22, at least on the basis of the Masoretic signs, seems to be a textual corruption. It may be a gloss in explanation of Genesis 49:4. It is serious because of its implication of one of the sons of the prophet, but is a text purporting to be the words of a human rather than a quotation from God. If the text is accepted, then Genesis 49:4 would clearly state the behaviour to be unacceptable.

The levirate, or responsibility of the next of kin for the widow, is instituted by holy example in Genesis 38:8-11. The responsibility includes producing children in the name of the deceased. The story of Tamar in Genesis 38:13-26 is another example of a misguided attempt to obey the command to reproduce. Just as in the story of the daughters of Lot, subterfuge on the part of Tamar leaves Judah guiltless of incest. The action of Tamar only serves again to emphasise how the attempt to obey God without taking divine guidance into consideration will eventually lead astray.

Judah's behaviour in this story must be examined. In verse twenty-six, Judah recognises his fault in not giving his third son Shelah to Tamar as the law of levirate demanded. When Judah learns that the unknown woman with whom he has contracted a marriage is his daughter-in-law, he has no more marital relations with her. It appears that Judah consistently applies marriage legislation except in denying Tamar to Shelah, for this is the only fault he acknowledges. We must therefore look for the legal basis of Judah's relations with Tamar. Verses 16-18 describe the negotia­tions between Judah and Tamar. These are ordinarily understood as the negotiations between a man and a prostitute. If Judah thought that Tamar was a prostitute, which is not certain, it does not imply that he did not marry her. We have already seen from verse twenty-six that Judah does not acknowledge having made a negotiation of prostitution. He condemns prostitution in his judgement of Tamar. We know also that Judah, as one of the twelve sons of Jacob, is a holy example. We must therefore conclude that Judah was contracting a marriage dowry. The sons of Tamar are therefore not illegitimate, despite the fact that the marriage was terminated when Judah learned who his wife was. The termination of the marriage is not described in detail. We do not know if it was terminated by divorce, by shortening a contract of concubinage, or by the lapse of the time of contract. This is possibly an example of concu­binage, as it is not certain what kind of contract Judah made with Tamar.

Legislation on marriage continues in Exodus 20:14, which is a part of the decalogue and thus has more validity than any other passage, since it was spoken directly by God without the mediation of a prophet. Exodus 20:14, reiter­ated in Deuteronomy 5:18, prohibits sexual activity outside contracted marriage for married people. The foundation of this command seems to be a concern with the right of children to know with certainty the identity of both biological mother and father. It thus implies the prohibition of adoption which distorts such identity through hiding or changing the name. It also implies the prohibition of artificial insemination by secret or anonymous donors. The command reveals nothing about the permanence of marriage or the number of marriage partners. The com­mand is reconfirmed in Leviticus 18:20.

Exodus 21:7-11 adds detailed legislation in explanation of marriage by purchase instead of marriage by dowry. Verse seven states that marriage by purchase may be contracted only through the father of the bride. This prevents slave trade. Verse seven prohibits temporary marriage through purchase. This prevents prostitution of daughters by fathers. Verse eight permits divorce by redemption. Divorce by selling the wife to another partner or trader is forbidden. Only the father may redeem. Verse nine permits purchase of a wife to the son of the purchaser, in which case the wife has the rights of a daughter. Verses ten and eleven relate to the taking of another wife. Power to take another wife by either purchase or dowry is on three conditions: the first wife must retain her original level of food, clothing and marital rights. Diminution of any of these three gives her the right of free divorce, without obligation to return the redemption money to her husband.

Exodus 21:22-25 refers to accidental injury to a pregnant woman by an outside party. Injury resulting in miscarriage must be compensated according to the demands of the husband and judges. Injury to the woman must be pun­ished by the infliction of the same injury on the perpetrator. `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' relates to the case of injury to a pregnant woman.

Exodus 22:16-17 refers to fornication, that is sexual activity between a man and unmarried woman. In such a case, the man is obliged to endow the woman as wife. He is obliged to give the full dowry of virgins, even if the father of the woman refuses to give her to him in marriage. Leviticus 18:6-20 lists the degrees of relationship prohibited for marriage: father, mother, father's wife, sister being either daughter of mother or father, son's daughter or daughter's daughter, father's sister, mother's sister, father's brother, father's brother's wife, son's wife, brother's wife, wife's daughter, wife's son's daughter, wife's daughter's daughter, wife's sister simultaneously.

Leviticus 19:20-22 relates to sexual relations between a man and another man's purchased wife. There is no death penalty for either: the woman must be scourged and the man to give a trespass offering consisting of a ram. Leviticus 19:29 prohibits prostituting one's daughter. Leviticus 20:10-12,14,17 provides penalties for certain sexual acts. Adultery, or sexual activity between a man and the wife of another, demands the death penalty for both parties. Sexual activity with one's father's wife or one's daughter-in-law demands death for both parties. Marriage to a woman and her daughter demands death by burning for all three parties.

Ostracism is the penalty for marrying sister or half-sis­ter. Leviticus 20:19-21 provide childlessness as the penalty for marrying father's or mother's sister, uncle's wife, or brother's wife.

Leviticus 21:7,9,13-14 relates to the reproduction of Israelite priests, descendants of Aaron. Verses 7, 13-14 require that the priest marry only a virgin. Verse nine provides the penalty of burning to death with fire for the daughter of a priest who engages in illicit sexual activity.

Numbers 5:11-31 provides for the case of adultery in which there is no witness. The ritual curse identifies and in itself punishes the woman who has committed adultery without witnesses to the crime.

Numbers twelve raises another point of holy example on the part of Moses. Moses took a second wife beside Zipporah, who was a Midianite, a descendant of Abraham and Keturah. His second wife was an Ethiopian. Aaron and Miriam opposed the marriage, either out of misguided jealousy for Zipporah, racism, or opposition to polygamy.

Racism and opposition to polygamy are charges too serious to level at Aaron and Miriam without very strong evidence. Although most modern Western minds balk at polygamy, this is merely a cultural prejudice. The Bible supports polygamy through both direct command and holy example. In the case of the levirate it may even be a duty. There is no support for polyandry, however, probably because of the concern for the right of children to know the identity of both biological father as well as mother. Moses apparently married the Ethiopian woman while Israel was camping at Hazeroth (Numbers 11:35). It is possible that this marriage was one of concubinage, although there is no other evi­dence for this than the intimation that it may have been motivated by the desire for temporary pleasure rather than bearing children.

Deuteronomy 7:3-4 prohibits marriages between believ­ers and unbelievers, whether male or female. Deuteronomy 17:4-7 regulates the death penalty for sexual crimes. The penalty is death by stoning. Two men or one man and two women are needed as witnesses to invoke the death penalty. The witnesses must be first in carrying out the execution.

Deuteronomy 17:17 prohibits multiple marriage for the king. This should not mean that the king may not have the same privileges in marriage as the commoner. What may be forbidden is the making of treaties with foreign powers sealed by marriage. The problem still remains, however, since by holy example Solomon did this extensively.

Deuteronomy 20:7 prohibits participation in war to the betrothed whose marriage is not yet consummated. Deu­teronomy 21:10-14 regulates marriage to a captive of war. Verses twelve and thirteen determine one month of mourning, with head shaved and nails pared, before the consummation of marriage. Divorce of the captive demands that she be given freedom. A divorced captive may not be sold.

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 refers to accusation of non-vir­ginity at marriage. If one claiming to be a virgin marries and is found not to be a virgin, she is to be stoned. If her husband makes a false claim against her and she produces the proof of her virginity, the husband must pay a hundred pieces of silver to the father and relinquish the right of divorce.

Deuteronomy 22:22-27 reaffirms the death penalty for adultery for both parties. The woman is not punished, however, if the crime happened in the countryside where her cries for help could not be heard. Deuteronomy 22:28­29 refers to the case of rape of an unmarried woman. The man must give a dowry of fifty pieces of silver, the dowry for virgins, and relinquish the right of divorce. Deu­teronomy 22:30 reaffirms the prohibition of marrying one's father's wife. Deuteronomy 23:17 reaffirms the prohibition of prostitution.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 regulates divorce. A man may divorce the wife by giving a bill of divorcement. She is then free to marry another. The former husband may not remarry her if she has been married after his divorcing her.

Deuteronomy 24:5 provides that a man may not go out to war or be charged with any business for one year after the consummation of marriage.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10 regulates the details of the levi­rate. If a man dies childless, his next of kin is responsible to marry his wife and the first-born is named as the heir of the one who has died without children. Escape from this responsibility requires legal intervention. The wife must testify to the refusal of the man to marry her before witnesses, and if he maintains refusal, she must take off his shoe and spit in his face.

At this point all of the legislation has been presented. There are of course many holy examples in support of it. In 1 Samuel 1:10-11 Hanna by holy example reaffirms supplication in case of barrenness. She clarifies the legisla­tion by the use of a vow of the Nazirite for the hoped for child, by which the hair should not be shaved.

In 2 Samuel 6:20-23, by holy example David punishes his wife Michal by permanently withdrawing conjugal rights from her without divorcing her, in punishment for disrespect to her husband. In 2 Samuel 11 we have the holy example of David and its abrogation by the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12. The betrothed wife of Uriah was divorced by Uriah so that he could participate as a hero in the wars, on the basis of Deuteronomy 20:7, or the consummated marriage of Uriah to Bathsheba was forfeited by divorce for the same reason on the basis of Deuteronomy 24:5. David contracted a marriage with Bathsheba in the meantime. Knowing of the intent of Uriah to remarry her after the war, there was disagreement between David and Bathsheba on which of them should inform Uriah of the marriage. Neither was willing to do so, and the situation led to David's willingness to concede to Uriah's desire to be placed in a position where he could attain military glory, hoping that his death would relieve them of the necessity of revealing the new marriage to him. Because of the ques­tionable motivation involved, this behaviour was struck out of holy example by revelation through the prophet Nathan. The general use of this text for facile forgiveness of adultery and murder is not a valid interpretation. Such interpretation would invalidate the law, which provides the death sen­tence for both murder and adultery. Nathan's words in 2 Samuel 12:9 should be viewed as hyperbole in presenting the case to the king.

2 Samuel 13:13 suggests the possibility of marriage be­tween brother and half-sister, in conflict with Leviticus 18:11. This may represent ignorance on the part of Tamar, or more likely, the vain attempt to talk her assailant out of rape. Although marriage and relations outside marriage are dealt with in the other prophetic writings, even in the case of Hosea no new holy example or direct divine revelation appear. The rest of the examples of concubinage can be briefly mentioned.

In judges 8:31, we find that Gideon had a concubine by holy example, who bore a son, Abimelech, who was the first king in Israel.

In 2 Samuel 5:13, by holy example David contracted concubinage as well as normal marriage with many women. 2 Samuel 15:16 refers to ten women who were David's concubines. The same group of women is mentioned in 2 Samuel 16:21-22 and 20:3. Another group of David's concubines is mentioned in 2 Samuel 20:3. David's concu­bines are mentioned again in 1 Chronicles 3:9.

In 1 Kings 11:3, by holy example Solomon contracted marriage with seven hundred women and concubinage with three hundred. The surprising number of wives here is of course not normative. The Bible places no restriction on the number of wives. The limitation of four wives is one of the few new legislations of the Qur'an.