< Polygamy

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Removed until corroborated or made npov at the very least:

In mammals, proportion of sizes between males and females correlates with number of females that one male copulates with.

This criterion, as applied to humans, suggests that 2-4 wives per man (small polygyny) are natural state, and polyandry is completely unnatural.

Muslim limit of 4 wives per man is an argument that might confirm this result.


Naturalistic fallacy

We've achieved NPOV in the main page, I think, but at the cost of what amounts to a brief dictionary definition.

Regarding the correlation of male-female sizes and the number of partners that are involved in mating, I believe that Jared Diamond discusses this subject at some length in one of his books (maybe "The Third Chimpanzee", but I don't remember for sure). Examples among primates include gorillas, where the size difference is so great between the sexes that the males basically maintain harems. I am not so sure about the 2-4 wives part, though. Diamond argues that humans have a natural inclination towards mild polygamy, correlated with the slightly greater size of human males to human females. What I don't know is whether this theory is widely accepted or not, but it Diamond offers an evolutionary explanation for it. So perhaps one could cite Diamond in this article and mention that this is what he has argued regarding the subject.

So waddaya think? Have I managed to retain NPOV while expanding the dictionary definition? --the Epopt

Polygynous societies are about four times more numerous than monogamous ones. In 1994, Theodore C. Bergstrom noted in his paper "On the Economics of Polygyny" (U. Mich. Center for Research on Economic and Social Theory, Working Paper Series 94-11) that "Although overt polygamy is rare in our own society, it is a very common mode of family organization around the world. Of 1170 societies recorded in Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas, polygyny (some men having more than one wife) is prevalent in 850."

I find the above puzzling, and I would like some confirmation that the conclusion, "Polygynous societies are about four times more numerous than monogamous ones," is one to which most anthropologists would subscribe. Here are some relevant questions:

  • What percentage of people in the world at present have more than one spouse? (This is surely at least as important a statistic as the percentage of polygamous "societies.")
  • How is "society" definied in Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas?
  • Are modern industrial societies included in Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas, and according to the atlas, how many of them are there? How many of such societies are polygamous? (Surely that's of interest to people who consider their peers to be members of industrial societies as opposed to pre-industrial societies.)
  • What time period does the study consider?
  • What percentage of men in a society must have more than one wife in order for the society to be considered polygynous? Is Utah a "society" and would it be counted polygynous today just because it has a handful of polygamists?

Without answers to questions like this, the above quote really looks like pseudoscience. If you're going to make dramatic claims, in order for them to square with the neutral point of view policy, you've got to supply the relevant context.

--Larry Sanger

I deleted the following text because I found it both inaccurate and offensive:

The sometimes spectacular numbers of wives of many of the patriarchs indicates that the prohibition does not originate within those religions, however. Rather, they conformed to the Greco-Roman culture of monogamous marriage and concubinage while it was dominant, and never revered to their original practices.

I also changed the sentence prior to the above text to say that all branches of Christianity and Judaism forbid polygamy at this time. If there are exceptions, they would certainly be worth noting. I know that there were some Jews in the vicinity of Yemen or somewhere on the Arabian Peninsula who were polygamous for a time, in keeping with the surrounding culture, but I don't believe they are still. Please correct me if I'm wrong on that point.

Until the Yemenite Jewish community emigrated to Israel in the 1950s in Operation Magic Carpter (yes, that was its real name!) they still practiced polygamy. They no longer do so, as Israeli law forbids polygamy.

As for Christians, they have never accepted polygamy, with the possible exception of the Church of Latter-day Saints, depending on whether you number them among the Christians. In any case, even the LDS no longer accept the practice.

There are non-LDS Christian polygamists. I think they mainly got the idea from the LDS though. (Yes, many of them live in Utah.) -- SJK
I found this at http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/stu/dcann/polygamy.htm (emphasis added): "The Latter-Day Saint Church originated in the "Burned-over District" of Western New York State where several religious revival movements experimented with different familial structures. Lawrence Foster noted that "Nearly all the new religious groups in the area were involved to some extent with unorthodox marriage ideals and practices. Such movements as the Shakers and the Oneida Perfectionists were only the tip of the iceberg of dissatisfaction with prevailing marriage, family, and sex roles" (1981: 131)." This URL also makes a case for early Christian and Jewish practice (from a Muslim standpoint, no less): http://www.islamicity.com/mosque/w_islam/poly.htm

As for "the patriarchs", some specific evidence would be in order. In Christianity, patriarch is the term used by the Eastern Orthodox to designate their highest ranking bishops. In that church, bishops are generally prohibited from having even one wife, much less several. If the author is referring to a few isolated Old Testament examples, it is very evident that not everything done by every Old Testament figure was exemplary. Their practice was not always in alignment with their beliefs or teaching.

It should be noted that the Israelies, and later rabbinic Jews, who followed the Tanach (Old Testament) came away with the impression that the ideal relationship was one man and one woman, and that marriages with more than one woman were _not_ the best thing. Thus, even before rabbinic Judaism as we know it today came into existence, polygamy was discouraged and not widely used. The Israelite Kings, of course, often had as many wives as they could! In the rabbinic Jewish era, one notes that of the thousands of people written about in the Talmud less than a handful had more than one wife.


I'd agree with all this Wesley except the idea of 'beliefs or teaching' - I don't remember what the law has to say about multiple wives; certainly multiple wives are common in the pre-Sinaitic Old Testament (and it does us no good to deny it) and were common in the royal family until well after Solomon, at least. I'm not sure when the last reference to a plural marriage of a Jew in the O.T. occurs. Certainly they HAD given up the practice in the (loosely named) 'intertestamental' period, but why that happened I have no idea. Jesus's evidence (divorce provided for only because of the hardness of your hearts) is certainly late, and not entirely apposite. --MichaelTinkler
Ashkenazi Jews kept polygamy as an option until around the year 1000 CE, even though it wasn't widely practiced before then. After that time, it was outlawed.
interesting! Where abouts was that? I've never run into any references to Jewish wives at all, let alone multiple ones, in Francia in the early medieval period. I've read lots of the material on the Jews (there are several good articles on the Jews in the Carolingian empire by A(llen? I forget how he spells his name) Cabaniss, but I don't remember ever reading about more than one wife (and I forget the name of her husband - he was a deacon at Charlemagne's court who converted to Judaism - quite a scandal). --MichaelTinkler
Michael: That sort of stuff, about the deacon, really fascinates me. I'd be interested to know what lead a medieveal Catholic to convert to Judaism. Is he just some oddity, or were there many others? I suppose this calls for Famous Christians who converted to Judaism in the Medieveal Period! (I can hear you screaming already... :-) -- SJK
In that case I will *never* tell you his name (which I can't remember at the moment anyway). He was extremely unusual, at least in my reading I've never come across another. He left Francia for Spain, married, etc. I'll look around. (later) Best I can do from home and via the internet is that it is Allen Cabaniss. It *might* be in the book on Agobard of Lyon (subject and title). I'll try to keep it in mind, though I don't think we have any of our books in our little library here, and I'm not going to Cornell for anything for a while. --MichaelTinkler

Article says:

Polygamy is currently prohibited by almost all Jewish and Christian groups, a relatively recent change from the canon law of their early centuries.

Firstly, I've never head of the term "canon law" being applied to Judaism. I might be wrong, but I believe it is a purely Christian term. (There is no exact equivalent to Christian canon law in Judaism, but the closest thing would be halakah.) Secondly, canon law isn't a term that applies to all Christians either -- it is used mainly by the Catholics and the Orthodox and some of the more ecclesial Protestants. A lot of Protestant churches don't use the term at all.

Finally, while polygamy was certaintly allowed in early Judaism, I'd like to see some evidence for it being permitted in early centuries of Christianity. I'm pretty sure that mainstream Christianity has never allowed it. -- SJK

Prove that something didn't exist? A quixotic quest! Yoicks, and away! --The Epopt
Hmmm - the typical discussion of what you seem to be calling polygamy in the early church centers around 'husband of one wife' - which is a matter of serial monogamy rather than polygamy. The question most discussions of marriage in the early church that I've read (Tertullian, Augustine, etc. - it's not something that interests me much until the 10th century and talk about sacraments) concerns if someone who has been married ONCE can be allowed to REMARRY. Certainly they thought that no priest or deacon should, and weren't even sure if laypeople should. On another point, be very cautious about making statements based on positive laws - they neither prove the existence of the crime nor do they prove its stamping out. I have no idea about those popes and proclamations against polygamy - they may have been talking about something very specific, but nowhere in the Roman Mediterranean was polygamy practiced by the 'civilized'. Concubinage and whoring around, sure, but more than one wife at a time was not legal under Roman law. --MichaelTinkler
Ah. De Bono conjugali is written against Jovinian, who was a believer in total virginity. In fact, it's Augustine's defense of marriage (as practiced by the Romans). I've just finished teaching the Confessions, where there's all the material about how his relationship with the unnamed concubine was inadequate based on intention. O.K., I'm looking at it now. He's talking about remarriage. For instance:
17. That marriage can take place of persons first ill joined, an honest decree following after, is manifest. But a marriage once for all entered upon in the City of our God, where, even from the first union of the two,the man and the woman, marriage bears a certain sacramental character, can no way be dissolved but by the death of one of them. For the bond of marriage remains, although a family, for the sake of which it was entered upon, do not follow through manifest barrenness; so that, when now married persons know that they shall not have children, yet it is not lawful for them to separate even for the very sake of children, and to join themselves unto others. And if they shall so do, they commit adultery with those unto whom they join themselves, but themselves remain husbands and wives. Clearly with the good will of the wife to take another woman, that from her may be born sons common to both, by the sexual intercourse and seed of the one, but by the right and power of the other, was lawful among the ancient fathers: whether it be lawful now also, I would not hastily pronounce. For there is not now necessity of begetting children, as there then was, when, even when wives bare children, it was allowed, in order to a more numerous posterity, to marry other wives in addition, which now is certainly not lawful. For the difference that separates times causes the due season to have so great force unto the justice and doing or not doing any thing, that now a man does better, if he marry not even one wife, unless he be unable to contain. But then they married even several without any blame, even those who could much more easily contain, were it not that piety at that time had another demand upon them. For, as the wise and just man, who now desires to be dissolved and to be with Christ, and takes more pleasure in this, the best, now not from desire of living here, but from duty of being useful, takes food that he may remain in the flesh, which is necessary for the sake of others; so to have intercourse with females in right of marriage, was to holy men at that time a matter of duty not of lust.
He's talking about the Old Testament patriarchs, not about his contemporaries. He's avoiding casting judgement on them, but it clearly makes him feel queasy. --MichaelTinkler

Michael: I agree with you. The passage in question, as I interpret it, shows that he didn't like it, but couldn't completely condemn it because of the OT patriarchs. I doubt that the permissibility of polygamy was little more than a theoretical question for him, since almost no one in that area at that time practiced it. Certaintly any early Christian who tried to practice polygamy would have been ejected as one of loose character, and they'd simply say the OT case doesn't apply anymore. -- SJK

yep, pretty much. So, now I want references to the so-called 'first' condemnations of polygamy so that I can read those, too. --MichaelTinkler

And where did the Luther thing come from? He is either speaking rhetorically (as is typical for him) or he is, once again, speaking of sequential marriages. This article may need a subhead for 'serial polygamy'. The actual practice of polygamy in Luther's time was identified with the millenarian movements (like that in Muenster) which he explicitly condemned - folks who sound remarkably like David Koresh). I have to admit that I'm prejudiced. I've read too much history to believe any of your examples that many-wives-at-the-same-time (rather than serial polygamy) was EVER condoned by any orthodox or even mildly heterodox Christian. It just won't fly. --MichaelTinkler