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Of the eight types of marriages mentioned in the Bible, many were non-consensual and some would have involved continual rapes. The first two types shown in the above graphic are described here:
- Type 1: The standard nuclear family: God is recorded as promoting the this type of marriage in Genesis 2:18: Referring to Adam, "...the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him." (King James Version - KJV) "Help meet" also appears in the Jerusalem Bible. It is translated "helper" in many other translations (e.g. Amplified Bible, An American Translation, James Moffatt Translation, New American Standard Bible, New Century Version, New International Version, New World Translation, Revised Standard Bible, Young's Literal Translation.) TheLiving Bible, New Living Translation, and Today's English Version use a phrase like "a suitable companion to help him."
The original Hebrew word, when used to refer to humans, implies a partnership of two equals, rather than a relationship between persons of unequal status. "Co-worker" or "equal partner" might be a better translation. The Contemporary English Version, New American Bible, and Revised English Bible use the more accurate term "partner" indicating an equal status between Adam and Eve.
Genesis 2:24 describes how a man leaves his family of origin, joins with a woman. They consummate the marriage, and live as a couple. There were quite a few differences between the customs and laws of contemporary North Americans and of ancient Israelites. In ancient Israel:
- Inter-faith marriages were theoretically forbidden. However, they were sometimes formed most notably by Solomon.
- Children of inter-faith marriages were considered illegitimate.
- Marriages were generally arranged by family or friends. They did not result from a gradually evolving, loving relationship that developed during a period of courtship.
- A bride who had been presented as a virgin and who could not be proven to be one was stoned to death by the men of her village. (Deuteronomy 22:13-21) There appears to have been no similar penalty for men who engaged in consensual pre-marital sexual activity.
- Type 2: Levirate Marriage: The name of this type of marriage is derived from the Latin word "levir," which means "brother-in-law." It is called "yibbum" in Hebrew. This involved a woman who was widowed without having borne a son. She would be required to leave her home, marry her brother-in-law, live with him, and engage in sexual relations. If there were feelings of attraction and love between the woman and her new husband, this arrangement could be quite agreeable to both. Otherwise, the woman would have to endure what was essentially serial rapes with her former brother-in-law as perpetrator. Their first-born son was considered to be sired by the deceased husband. Before the details of conception were determined, such a belief made a lot of sense. It lives on in some version of Sharia law among Muslims which state that a woman can conceive any time up to seven years after engaging in intercourse.
In Genesis 38:6-10, Tamar's husband Er was killed by God for unspecified sinful behavior. Er's brother, Onan, was then required by custom to marry Tamar. Not wanting to have a child who would not be considered his, he engaged in an elementary (and quite unreliable) method of birth control: coitus interruptus. God appears to have given a very high priority to the levirate marriage obligation. Being very displeased with Onan's behavior, God executed him as well.
Ruth 4 reveals that a man would be required to enter into a levirate marriage not only with his late brother's widow, but with a widow to whom he was the closest living relative.
Deuteronomy 25:9-10 describes a process called "halizah" whereby a man can refuse to marry the widow in a levirate marriage. The widow spits in his face, and takes one of his shoes. He is humiliated from that time onwards by being referred to within his community as "the one without a shoe." As one might expect from the low status of women in ancient Hebrew society, there was no mechanism by which the widow could opt-out of a levirite marriage.
- Type 3: A man, one or more wives, and some concubines: A man could keep numerous concubines, in addition to one or more wives. These women held an even lower status than a wife. As implied in Genesis 21:10, a concubine could be dismissed when no longer wanted. According to Smith's Bible Dictionary, "A concubine would generally be either (1) a Hebrew girl bought...[from] her father; (2) a Gentile captive taken in war; (3) a foreign slave bought; or (4) a Canaanitish woman, bond or free." 2 They would probably be brought into an already-established household. Abraham had two concubines; Gideon: at least 1; Nahor: 1; Jacob: 1; Eliphaz: 1; Gideon: 1; Caleb: 2; Manassah: 1; Saul: 1; David: at least 10; Rehoboam: 60; Solomon: 300; an unidentified Levite: 1; Belshazzar: more than 1.
- Type 4: A male rapist and his victim: According to the New International Version of the Bible, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 requires that a female virgin who is not engaged to be married and who has been raped must marry her attacker, no matter what her feelings were towards him. A man could then become married by simply sexually attacking a woman that appealed to him, and paying his father-in-law 50 shekels of silver. There is one disadvantage of this approach: he was not allowed to subsequently divorce her. However, the King James Version and American Standard Version translate the same passages as having the man "lay hold on her" which seems to imply some sort of force was used that might be interpreted as rape. Youngs Literal Translation refers to the man catching her which also seems to involve force. Finally, the New Living Translation simply refers to the couple having intercourse. The original Hebrew seems to be ambiguous.
- Type 5: A man, a woman and her property -- a female slave: As described in Genesis 16, Sarah and Abram were infertile. Sarah owned Hagar, a female slave who apparently had been purchased earlier in Egypt. Because Hagar was Sarah's property, she could dispose of her as she wished. Sarah gave Hagar to Abram as a type of wife, so that Abram could have an heir. Presumably, the arrangement to marry and engage in sexual activity was done without the consent of Hagar, who had such a low status in the society of the day that she was required to submit to what she probably felt were serial rapes by Abram. Hagar conceived and bore a son, Ishmael. This type of marriage had some points of similarity to polygamous marriage, as described above. However, Hagar's status as a human slave in a plural marriage with two free individuals makes it sufficiently different to warrant separate treatment here.
- Type 6: A male soldier and a female prisoner of war: Numbers 31:1-18 describes how the army of the ancient Israelites killed every adult Midianite male in battle. Moses then ordered the slaughter in cold blood of most of the captives, including all of the male children who numbered about 32,000. Only the lives of 32,000 women - all virgins -- were spared. Some of the latter were given to the priests as slaves. Most were taken by the Israeli soldiers as captives of war. Deuteronomy 21:11-14 describes how each captive woman would shave her head, pare her nails, be left alone to mourn the loss of her families, friends, and freedom. After a full lunar month had passed -- about 29.5 days -- they would be required to submit to their owners sexually, as a wife. It is conceivable that in a few cases, a love bond might have formed between the soldier and his captive(s). However, in most cases we can assume that the woman had to submit sexually against her will; that is, she was continually raped.
- Type 7: Polygynous marriage: A man would leave his family of origin and join with his first wife. Then, as finances allowed, he would marry as many additional women as he desired and could afford. The new wives would join the man and his other wives in an already established household. Polygyny -- the marriage of one man and multiple women -- was practiced by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, until the practice was suspended, a least temporarily, in the late 19th century. It is still practiced by separated fundamentalist Mormon groups which have left and been excommunicated from the main Mormon church.
There are many references to polygynous marriages in the Bible:
- Lamech, in Genesis 4:19, became the first known polygynist. He had two wives.
- Subsequent men in polygynous relationships included:
- Esau with 3 wives;
- Jacob: 2;
- Ashur: 2;
- Gideon: many;
- Elkanah: 2;
- David: many;
- Solomon had 700 wives of royal birth along with 300 concubines;
- Rehaboam: 3;
- Abijah: 14.
- Jehoram, Joash, Ahab, Jeholachin and Belshazzar also had multiple wives.
- From the historical record, it is known that Herod the Great (73 to 4 BCE) had nine wives.
We have been unable to find references to polyandrous marriages in the Bible -- unions involving one woman and more than one man. It is unlikely that many existed because of the distinctly inferior status given to women; they were often treated as property in the Hebrew Scriptures.
- Type 8: A male and female slave: Exodus 21:4 indicates that a slave owner could assign one of his female slaves to one of his male slaves as a wife. There is no indication that women were consulted during this type of transaction. The arrangement would probably involve rape in most cases. In the times of the Hebrew Scriptures, Israelite women who were sold into slavery by their fathers were slaves forever. Men, and women who became slaves by another route, were limited to serving as slaves for seven years. When a male slave left his owner, the marriage would normally be terminated; his wife would stay behind, with any children that she had. He could elect to stay a slave if he wished to remain with his family.