Polygamy according to Christianity
- :al-Hajj Ahmad H. Sheriff
In Exodus (chap.21, ver.10) it is stated:-
The Christian writers say that "monogamy (i.e., marrying one wife only) is the divine ideal. The Creator constituted as a union between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:18-24; Matt. 19:5; 1 Cor. 6:16) He preserves the number of males practically equal to the number of females." ( The Westminster Dictionary of Bible, 1944 edition)
We will talk about this supposed equal numbers of males and females later on. Here I would like to quote from the Bible where God addresses David in the following words:- "And I gave thee (David) thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the House of Israel and of Judah." (11 Sam. 12:8)
How is it that God Himself gave him his `master's wives' if His intention was to keep the `one man with one woman' rule. Even in the seventh generation after Adam we find that "Lamech took unto him two wives" (Gen. 4:19); Abraham had three wives; Jacob had two wives besides concubines; Moses did not forbid it, instead he brought Laws to regulate it, as has been mentioned in the previous heading.
Christians try to overcome these difficulties implying that the previous prophets had made a mistake in marrying more than one wife. But the insurmountable difficulty faces them in the case of Moses. This is because Moses had brought a Law from God, and if it was God's intention to make marriage a `union between one man and one wife,' Why did 1le give Moses regulations about polygamy? The above-mentioned Dictionary of Bible tries to gloss over this difficulty by saying, "Moses, who was correcting abuses, not suddenly abolishing them, did not forbid polygamy, but discouraged it."
It is a claim which cannot be justified, because Moses himself married two wives: one.
was Zipporah, daughter of Jethro (known in Islamic language as Shu'ayb), the other was a Cushite woman whom Moses married in the second year of the sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness. (Num. 12:1)
There is no mention anywhere in the scriptures or any other writing that Zipporah was not alive at that time.
So far about Moses and the Prophets before him. Now we come to the prophets who came after this supposed `discouraging.' We find that polygamy continued to be practised even after the time of Moses, as by Gideon, Elkanah, Saul, Rehoboam and countless others. For the details, see Judge. 8:30; I Sam. 1:2; II Sam. 12:8; 21:8.
Prophet "David took him more euncubines and wives out of Jerusalem." (II Sam. 5:13). Prophet Solomon "had seven hundred wives, princesses and three hundred concubines." (I Kings, 11:3)
Now we come to the period after the ministry of Jesus Christ. S.V. Mir Ahmad Ali writes in his translation of the Holy Qur'an:- "It has often been asserted that Christianity interdicted polygamy, and made monogamy obligatory on all. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
"Ameer Ali, speaking of the general prevalence of polygamy among all nations, remarks:- 'And so it was understood by the leaders of Christendom at various times that there is no intrinsic immorality or sinfulness in plurality of wives. One of the greatest fathers of the Christian Church (St. Augustine) has declared that polygamy is not a crime where it is a legal institution of a country, and the German reformers, even as late as the sixteenth century, allowed and declared valid the taking of a second or even a third wife, contemporaneously with the first, in default of issue, or any other cause.' (Ameer Ali, Life and Teachings of Mohammad, p.220; and Mohamedan Law, vol.1I, p.23)
'When Christianity made its appearance in Rome, history shows that polygamy was recognised and the early Christian Emperors seem to have admitted its validity.' Says Ameer Ali: -
'The Emperor Valentiniah II, by an Edict, allowed all the subjects of the Empire, if they pleased, to marry several wives; nor does it appear from the ecclesiastical history of those times that the Bishops and the heads of the Christian churches made any objection to this law. Far from it, all the succeeding Emperors practised polygamy, and the people generally were not remiss in following their example.
Even the clergy often had wives. This state of the laws continued until the time of Justinian, who ... resulted in their embodiment in the celebrated laws of Justinian. `But these laws owed little to Christianity, at least directly.' The greatest adviser of Justinian was an atheist and a pagan. Even prohibition of polygamy by Justinian failed to check the tendency of the age.' "
(Ameer Ali,Life and Teachings of Mohammad, pp.222-223) *
It should be mentioned here that Justinian was in the thirteenth century of Christian era, it means that up to thirteenth century there was no prohibition of polygamy in Christianity, at all.
The following paragraphs from An Apology for Mohammed and the Koran (by John Davenport) show clearly that polygamy was not frowned upon by the Christian leaders up to * S.V. Mir Ahmed Ali, Foot-Note no.499.
at least the sixteenth century:- "St. Chrysostom, speaking of Abraham and Hagar, says, `These things were not then forbidden.' So St. Augustine observes that `there was a blamesless custom of one man having many wives, which at that time might be done in a way of duty, which now cannot be done but from licentiousness, because, for the sake of multiplying posterity, no law forbad a plurality of wives.
"Boniface, Confessor of Lower Germany, having consulted Pope Gregory, in the year 726, in order to know in what cases a husband might be allowed to have two wives, Gregory replied, on the 22nd November of the same year, in these words - `If a wife be attacked by a malady which renders her unfit for conjugal intercourse, * (See Grotius, De Jure, vol.i, p.268, note).
the husband may marry another, but in that case he must allow his sick wife all necessary support and assistance.'
"Many works have been published in defence of polygamy even by writers professing Christianity. Bernardo Ochinus, General of the Order of Capuchins, published, about the middle of the sixteenth century, dialogues in favour of the practice, and about the same time appeared a treatise on behalf of a plurality of wives; the author, whose real name was Lysarus, having assumed the pseudo one of Theophilus Aleuthes.
"Selden proves, in his `Uxor Hebraica,' that polygamy was allowed not only among the Jews, but likewise arnong all other nations. "But the most distinguished defender of polygamy was the celebrated John Milton, who, in his A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, (p.237 et seq.) after quoting various passages from the Bible in defence of the practice, says, `Moreover, God, in an allegorical fiction (Ezekiel, xxiii), represents Himself as having espoused two wives, Aholah and Aholiah, a mode of speaking which Jehavoh would by no means have employed,
especially at such length even in a parable, nor, indeed, have taken upon himself such a character at all, if the practice which it implied had been intrinsically dishonourable or shameful.' "On what grounds, then, can a practice be considered as so dishonourable or shameful which is prohibited to no one even under the Gospel; for that dispensation annuls none of the merely civil regulations which existed previously to its introduction ...
"Lastly, I argue as follows, from Hebrews, xiii. v.4:- Polygamy is either marriage, fornication or adultery. The Apostle recognises no fourth state. Reverence for so many patriarchs who were polygamists will, I trust, deter every one from considering it as fornication or adultery, for `wheremongers and adulterers God will judge,' whereas the patriarchs were the objects of his especial favour, as he himself witnesses.
If, then, polygamy be marriage properly so called, it is also lawful and honourable: according to the same Apostle., ` marriage is honourable in all and the bed underfiled.' " (An Apology for Mohammed and the Koran, pp.157-159) John Milton has earlier written in the same book (A Treatise On Christian Doctrine) as follows:-
"In the definition which I have given (i.e. of marriage) I have not said, in compliance with the common opinion, `of one man with one woman,' lest I should by implication charge the holy patriarchs and pillars of our faith, Abraham, and the others who had more than one wife at the same titnc, with habitual fornicahon and adultery, lest I should be forced to exclude from the sanctuary of God as spurious the holy offspring which sprang from them, yea, the whole of the sons of Israel, for whom the sanctuary itself was made.
For it is said (Deut. 23:2): `A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of Jehovah, even to his tenth generation.' Either, therefore, polygamy is a true marriage or all children born in that state are spurious; which would include the whole race of Jacob, the twelve holy tribes chosen by God.
But as such an assertion would be absurd in the extreme, not to say impious, and as it is the height of injustice, as well as an example of most dangerous tendency in religion, `to account as sin what is not such in reality,' it appears true that, so far from the question respecting the lawfulness of polygamy being trivial, it is of the highest importance that it should be decided." (pp.231-232)
Adapted from the book: "Why Polygamy is Allowed in Islam?" by: "al-Hajj Ahmad H. Sheriff"
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