Captive Virgins, Polygamy, Sex Slaves: What Marriage Would Look Like if We Actually Followed the Bible

Adam and Eve and SerpentLet me tell you a secret about Bible believers that I know because I was one. Most don’t actually read their Bibles. If they did, they would know that the biblical model of sex and marriage has little to do with the one they so loudly defend. Stories depicted in the Bible include rape, incest, master-slave sexual relations, captive virgins, and more. Now, just because a story is told in the Bible doesn’t mean it is intended as a model for devout behavior. Other factors have to be considered, like whether God commands or forbids the behavior, if the behavior is punished, and if Jesus subsequently indicates the rules have changed, come the New Testament.

Through this lens, you find that the God of the Bible still endorses polygamy and sexual slavery and coerced marriage of young virgins along with monogamy. In fact, he endorses all three to the point of providing detailed regulations. Based on stories of sex and marriage that God rewards and appears to approve one might add incest to the mix. Nowhere does the Bible say, “Don’t have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you.”

Furthermore, none of the norms that are endorsed and regulated in the Old Testament law – polygamy, sexual slavery, coerced marriage of young girls—are revised, reversed, or condemned by Jesus. In fact, the writer of Matthew puts these words in the mouth of Jesus:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke or a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law [the Old Testament] until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18)

The Law of which Jesus speaks is the Law of Moses, or the Torah, and anyone who claims the Bible as the perfect word of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God should have the decency to read the Torah carefully—and then keep going.

Polygamy is a norm in the Old Testament and accepted in the New Testament. Biblicalpolygamy.com has pages dedicated to 40 biblical figures, each of whom had multiple wives. The list includes patriarchs like Abraham and Isaac. King David, the first king of Israel may have limited himself to eight wives, but his son Solomon, reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived had 700 wives and 300 concubines! (1 Kings 11)

Concubines are sex slaves, and the Bible gives instructions on acquisition of several types of sex slaves, although the line between biblical marriage and sexual slavery is blurry. A Hebrew man might, for example, sell his daughter to another Hebrew, who then has certain obligations to her once she is used. For example, he can’t then sell her to a foreigner. Alternately a man might see a virgin war captive that he wants for himself.

In the book of Numbers (31:18) God’s servant commands the Israelites to kill all of the used Midianite women who have been captured in war, and all of the boy children, but to keep all of the virgin girls for themselves. The Law of Moses spells out a purification ritual to prepare a captive virgin for life as a concubine. It requires her owner to shave her head and trim her nails and give her a month to mourn her parents before the first sex act (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). A Hebrew girl who is raped can be sold to her rapist for 50 shekels, or about $580 (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). He must then keep her as one of his wives for as long as she lives.

A man might acquire multiple wives whether he wanted them or not if his brother died. In fact, if a brother dies with no children, it becomes a duty to impregnate his wife. In the book of Genesis, Onan is struck dead by God because he fails to fulfill this duty – preferring to spill his seed on the ground rather than providing offspring for his brother (Genesis 38:8-10). A New Testament story shows that the tradition has survived. Jesus is a rabbi, and a group of scholars called Sadducees try to test his knowledge of Hebrew Law by asking him this question:

Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” (Matthew 22:24-28).

Jesus is too clever for them and points out that in Heaven, that place of perfect bliss, there is no marriage.

Having a brother act as a sperm donor isn’t the only biblical solution to lack of offspring.  The patriarch Abraham is married to his half-sister Sarah, but the two are childless for the first 75 years or so of their marriage. Frustrated, Sarah finally says, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Her slave, Hagar, becomes pregnant, and then later Sarah does too and the story gets complicated (Genesis 16).  But that doesn’t stop Abraham’s grandson Jacob from participating in a competition, in which his two wives repeatedly send in their slaves to get pregnant by him, each trying to get more sons than the other (Genesis 30:1-22).

These stories might be irrelevant to the question of biblical marriage were it not that Bible believers keep telling us that God punishes people when he dislikes their sexual behavior. He disliked the behavior of New Orleans gays so much, according to Pat Robertson, that he sent a hurricane to drown the whole city – kind of like Noah’s flood. And yet, according to the Bible story, both Abraham and Jacob were particularly beloved and blessed by God.

The point is that marriage has changed tremendously since the Iron Age when the Bible was written. For centuries, concubines and polygamy were debated by Christian leaders – accepted by some and rejected by others. The nuclear family model so prized by America’s fundamentalist Christians emerged from the interplay between Christianity and European cultures including the monogamous tradition of the Roman Empire. As humanity’s moral consciousness has evolved, coerced sex has become less acceptable even within marriage while intertribal and interracial marriage has grown in acceptance. Today even devout Bible believers oppose sexual slavery. Marriage, increasingly, is a commitment of love, freely given. Gay marriage is simply a part of this broader conversation, and opposition on the part of Bible believers has little to do with biblical monogamy.

Since many Christians haven’t read the whole Bible, most “Bible believers” are not, as they like to claim, actually Bible believers. Biblical literalists, even those who think themselves “nondenominational,” almost all follow some theological tradition that tells them which parts of the Bible to follow and how. Yes, sometimes even decent people do get sucked into a sort of text worship that I call bibliolatry, and Bible worship can make a person’s moral priorities as archaic and cruel as those of the Iron Age tribesmen who wrote the texts. (I once listened, horrified, while a sweet, elderly pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses rationalized the Old Testament slaughter of children with the same words Nazis used to justify the slaughter of Jewish babies.)

But many who call themselves Bible believers are simply, congenitally conservative – meaning change-resistant. It is not the Bible they worship so much as the status quo, which they justify by invoking ancient texts. Gay marriage will come, as will reproductive rights, and these Bible believers will adapt to the change as they have others: reluctantly, slowly and with angry protests, but in the end accepting it, and perhaps even insisting that it was God’s will all along.

————-
More from the Bible at Awaypoint:
Mandrakes and Dove Blood:  Biblical Healthcare Anyone? 
If the Bible Were Law, Would You Qualify For the Death Penalty?
What the Bible Says About Rape and Rape Babies
Woman’s Hanging and Burning of Dog Biblical

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder - www.WisdomCommons.org.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Christianity in the Public Square, Musings & Rants: Christianity, Reproductive Health and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

49 Responses to Captive Virgins, Polygamy, Sex Slaves: What Marriage Would Look Like if We Actually Followed the Bible

  1. daniel says:

    great article. Genesis 19:15-30 is about something else though–just in case you want to fix the reference

  2. Mr Kwi says:

    How about Catholic bishops/priests sodomizing young boys in churches, yet the congregate to stop contraception. They are plain hypocrites

  3. John says:

    Refreshing readable clarity.

  4. Mike Wood says:

    Valerie,what an erudite article on religion,or the lack of it.I share your views and embrace your sentiments.Thank you .
    Regards

    Mike—-in England

  5. wds says:

    Thank you!!! As I continue my searching (at 66 going on 67 – you’d think I’d be a little closer) as to what “I” believe and not what I’ve been “told” to believe, this one article has provided such help.

  6. Mr jobi says:

    How about some bishops/priests cozying up young boys in churches, yet the congregate to stop contraception. They are plain hypocrites
    Reply

  7. Great article Valerie Tarico. Raised as a Missionary Baptist, I was required to read the Bible a number of times. My favorite quote, which was heard quite a bit during Summer Vacation Bible School, was “Now wait a minute”. True, parts of the Bible are beautifully written and can provide comfort in the darkest of time. But thou should not get it twisted(th)…that good book was written by a bunch of men…not like they have NEVER fallen victim of…fallibility, right?

  8. Gwen says:

    Hello. Yes, I am a Christian – I guess a modern one, you might say. I am not a loud-mouthed (or non-loud-mouthed) Republican nor am I a Pat Robertson type nor am I like any of the misguided false-speaking so-called Christians who pollute the name of Christianity. I don’t believe in other people telling women what to do with their bodies; I love my gay friends; I don’t think they’re going to hell for being gay. You’re right that a lot of Christians have not read their own Bibles. That said, there are many who have and continue to, who do follow the message that Christ gave. Furthermore, if you read the entire Bible over and over but fail to recognize what it refers to, fail to understand, or know what to take away from what you’re reading, then you really don’t know what you’re talking about either (that goes for Christians and non-Christian readers alike). You have to really study your Bible with scholarly knowledge to really know what is being said.

    “Stories depicted in the Bible include rape, incest, master-slave sexual relations, captive virgins, and more. Now, just because a story is told in the Bible doesn’t mean it is intended as a model for devout behavior. Other factors have to be considered, like whether God commands or forbids the behavior, if the behavior is punished, and if Jesus subsequently indicates the rules have changed, come the New Testament. ”
    ^ People say this all the time. Yes, the Bible speaks of these things, and as you say, if you take everything out of context and proclaim that since the Bible speaks of this then that’s what must be done, then it’s just irresponsible.

    “Furthermore, none of the norms that are endorsed and regulated in the Old Testament law – polygamy, sexual slavery, coerced marriage of young girls—are revised, reversed, or condemned by Jesus. In fact, the writer of Matthew puts these words in the mouth of Jesus:
    Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke or a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law [the Old Testament] until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18) ”
    ^ Do you know what the Matthew verses you listed mean? I’m not sure what the relevance is for bringing that to your article. Before Christ came to earth, you see in OT times that there are many prophecies prophesied about referring to the coming of the Christ who will “fulfill the Law.” He is saying He has come to be the lamb on the cross. You’re making an indirect reference by bringing that scripture to your topic when there is no real relevancy.

    You referenced a wiki link – respectfully I’d advise that if you what to bring credence to your article, you shouldn’t be using wikipedia as a source.

    With genuine respect, as I am not an uncivil person who chooses foolishly to slander folks who believe differently, I say this to you: if you used to find yourself one of the faithful and have fallen away, how much of a believer were you really, and how much did you even know your own faith? To know Christ, truly, is to be pierced in the heart with the recognition of His love. Few truly know that and walk away unbelievers. I know some people don’t appreciate it or feel offended, but I truly hope you don’t take offense to this: I will pray for you. I also hope you examine your own self and what you currently believe in or still believe in.

    • Patti says:

      Thank you Gwen for your words – I too am a Christian and a Catholic. But again, I too have my own mind and thoughts regarding the OT and the words of Jesus. It would seem that anyone can take what is writted and twist the words to make them justify their position. And yet, if one truly has experienced the love of Christ they know it isn’t necessary. There are no words that need to be spoken – actions are what will touch the heart and make the difference. And then, Christ’s love can be experienced through another – whether gay or straight……because the one great commandment besides the order to Love is to not judge – and it would seem that all religions have forgotten that one – or at least think they alone have that right. Again – thanks for your thoughts – From another Christian who loves the Lord. Patti

    • Frank Stein says:

      “You have to really study your Bible with scholarly knowledge to really know what is being said.”
      Can you please explain to me the scholarly explanation to: “Do not allow a sorceress to live.” -Exodus 22:18

      “People say this all the time. Yes, the Bible speaks of these things, and as you say, if you take everything out of context and proclaim that since the Bible speaks of this then that’s what must be done, then it’s just irresponsible.”
      You sound very knowledgeable on the apologies for the bible. Can you please tell me the context that makes it okay for the Holy Book to instruct on how to obtain, rape, control, beat, etc. slaves and never once mention that it even MIGHT not be okay to own people as farm equipment? By the way, this is not just an Old Testament thing I am referring to here, as you know, for Jesus Himself, “the gentle, meek and mild” also instructs specifically on how and when to beat your slaves. I think there is a reason people say these things “all the time,” because believers righteously persecute in the name of this book, yet don’t mention or follow equally contextualized scripture.

      “You’re making an indirect reference by bringing that scripture to your topic when there is no real relevancy.”
      The relevancy is to the common and therefore expected arguments that wave horrific nonsense from the bible away by claiming that it’s from the Old Testament and the New Testament has given a new law that replaces the Mosaic Laws. Which as I’m sure you know, is nonsense. It also tempts the throwing away of the Decalogue.

      “You referenced a wiki link – respectfully I’d advise that if you what to bring credence to your article, you shouldn’t be using wikipedia as a source.”
      You may not be aware, but Wikipedia is one of the most solid sources you can give, because it single-handedly provides multiple sources, that have been checked by multiple other people to make sure they are truly relevant and respectable. This is also just strange advice coming from someone who doesn’t give a single source in her response. Especially while talking about “the scholars.”

      “I am not an uncivil person who chooses foolishly to slander folks who believe differently”
      Well, I’m sure you don’t CHOOSE to do that, but I’m not sure that actually prevents you from doing just that.

      “if you used to find yourself one of the faithful and have fallen away, how much of a believer were you really, and how much did you even know your own faith?”
      Well now, this is a weak argument isn’t it. Especially on account of factually speaking, non-believers have been proven to know more about Christianity than Christians do.

      http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2010/09/why-do-atheists-know-more-about-religion/22880/

      Do you seriously want to claim that every single x-believer was never a “true believer?”

      “I will pray for you.”
      Please feel free to do this for me as I will not be offended. Admittedly, I won’t care though either.

    • You DO realize that most of the New Testament was allegedly written by ONE man who, by all research accounts, had some serious megalomania going on. He was in direct competition with Peter and Rome as to who got to set up the Jesus cult, right?

      As for using Wikipedia as a source: how precious of you to look down upon it. If you actually clicked on the link, you would discover that the article is annotated and has proper citations. In fact, most scholarly articles posted on Wikipedia are better researched and documented than those that appear in what is left of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Yeah, the truth is that regular encyclopedia pieces are written much the same way, as are the articles in academic journals. I know–as a grad student, I was “honored” with the task of proofreading the work of professors who lived and died by their publication record. Pretty much Wiki on steroids…

      Offering to pray for others is pretty damned obnoxious and makes you a bit of a poser.

    • Ben Hurr says:

      … Which Bible? The various books making up the Canon were written in wildly different settings, and had authors with wildly different concepts of GOD. These cannot be logically harmonized.

      Heck, we didn’t even have a Canon until a dude named Marcion went through the scroll library. His conclusion was that the OT GOD was not the same as the one taught by Joshua Ben Joseph. Marcion tossed out a ton of scrolls, picked ones he liked, and assembled it into the first real canon.

      Seriously. There are, offhand, three different Jesus in the New Testament. You have Josh “Normality Sucks” who taught the destruction of the family unit, anarchy, and armed violence against neighbours. Then there’s Joshua “The Righteous” who said that you have to be better at following rules than the dudes who teach them. Or “Gandhi” Jesus, who promote peacemaking, nonviolence, and generally not being a dick.

      Just sayin’.

    • Jo says:

      Good answer bro!

  9. My perception is (and I mean this without offense) is that the author’s intended audience is the ignorant thus has an agenda or the author is ignorant; I suspect the former.

    • No Smoking In Heaven says:

      Would you like to expand on that a little? Maybe, by offering how the author or “the author’s audience” is ignorant?

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  12. jimvj says:

    Another reprehensible passage is Numbers 5:11-31:
    If a man suspects his wife of infidelity, he takes her to the priest who makes her drink some “bitter water.” If she is guilty, her thighs will rot and her belly swell. If innocent, no harm done — the woman is free and will “conceive seed.” In any case, “the man shall be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity.”

    The outcome for a “guilty” wife is the same if she is pregnant or not! Which seems to imply that God performs abortions.
    There is no recourse for a wife who suspects her husband of infidelity.
    The main purpose for reporting his suspicions to a priest is to absolve the husband from “iniquity”!

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  14. Bible believer says:

    “Based on stories of sex and marriage that God rewards and appears to approve one might add incest to the mix.”
    Read Leviticus 18:5-29 (a law given after Set and after Abraham) Some verses you should note:
    6: ‘None of you shall approach any blood relative of his to uncover nakedness; I am the Lord.
    24: ‘Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled.
    28: so that the land will not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you.
    29: ‘For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who do so shall be cut off from among their people.

    In case you didn’t understand: Sex between two consenting adults that happens to be brother and sister is one of the sins that doom nations.

    • V.J. says:

      In other words, the Bible contradicts itself. (Like, constantly.) Okay, got it. God’s a little confused, forgets what He told us before and changes His mind. Thanks, Believer.

      • Bible believer says:

        The Bible doesn’t contradict it self. Humans are simply to stupid and ignorant to understand it perfectly. It may seem to contradict it self to those that don’t know all the facts or lacks understanding. Another source of “contradictions” in the Bible is that many will use their intelligence to avoid understanding the Bible as a part of their sinful rebellion against God. It seems like the last one is mostly to blame in your case as you needed all this time* to “get” (avoid understanding) what I wrote.

        * The date on you reply says 25th November but I didn’t get an email notification before today. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that wordpress was slow in notifying people about follow-up comments.

      • Ben Hurr says:

        @BB:
        Bull.

  15. Hi! says:

    hmm… if you included the historical and cultural context into your research, you might actually discover that leaving a violated woman unmarried would further scar her social status beyond any repair. I’m not saying the act of rape is good, but what is being encouraged here is the act responsibly after the mistake. Perhaps then, marrying your dead brother’s wife might actually be a viable way to provide and care for the widow’s physical and social well-being back then. Truth is that cultural norms now and then are totally different and one cannot blindly apply laws from the past to the present. A follower needs to be discerning and so does a critic.

    *Btw, just a side-note: Is there really any objective and intrinsic fault in polygamy vs monogamy? Or is it more of a choice strongly influenced by cultural norms? I believe there are still certain polygamous or matriarchal societies in the world today. Are they then an intrinsically flawed population?

    • Garth says:

      So you agree that the Bible may have been relevant in it’s own time and primitive culture, but is largely irrelevant today and should not be relied on for sound moral advice. The Bible has no more authority than Aesop’s Fables, another collection of stories that might prompt you to consider things from a certain perspective, but certainly containing no absolute mandate in and of itself. All is debatable.

      • Andrew says:

        There’s lots of sound advice in Aesops fables.And no one tells you you will go to hell if you don’t believe the stories of talking animals!

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  17. sue says:

    The trouble with fake Christians is the reality that genuine Christians exist and they know Scripture quite well. Few in number they are, bit guess what: they’re not going away, and all the atheistic blustering won’t make them.

    • Frank Stein says:

      Christians that “know scripture quite well” are called ex-Christians or liars. Those that know scripture quite well, know that it is simply unreliable in just about every way possible. The Bible is horrifically immoral, embarrassingly contradictory, blatantly wrong regarding every claim on the natural world and for the most part, wrong in its claims on history as well. Most atheists (including myself) don’t think that Christianity is every going to go away. However, this is only in the sense that there are still people that believe in fairies in the garden, that the world is flat, that big-foot exists, that the gods of Greek and Roman mythology are real, etc., etc., etc. Congratulations! You are correct in that there will always be some. By the way, my condolences on the drastic drop in numbers of Christians and the dramatic rise in non-belief; but all your blustering on articles written over a year ago isn’t going to change that, now is it?

    • Frank Stein says:

      The fact of the matter is Sue, study after study shows that atheists know more about the Bible than Christians do:

      http://www.pewforum.org/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey-Who-Knows-What-About-Religion.aspx

      This isn’t surprising though as most were Christian to begin with, then they actually read the Bible. Unless, are you implying that there are some “genuine Christians” that have some sort of proof that the supernatural claims in the Bible are true; or that say, the story of Lot, his wife and daughters throughout Genesis 9 is all morally good? If not, I don’t even know what you’re saying (or what you think you’re arguing against) and what’s worse is, I don’t think you do either. Do you think that all the ills and stupidity of what you call “fake Christians” is made better or a non-issue by the existence of your “genuine Christians”?

      • Frank Stein says:

        Oops. I meant Genesis 19 rather than Genesis 9; but really, almost any chapter will do.

    • Ben Hurr says:

      … What?

      So do you hold the OT as Divinely-inspired, given for Gentiles, or a bunch of pre-Christian, assyrian ancient claptrap? Which is it?

      Which Jesus do you follow? “Douche” Jesus, Pharisee Jesus, or Gandhi Jesus? Take your pick, get back to me later.

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  26. St Andrew says:

    Although not a theological scholar by any stretch of the definition, in my late teens/early twenties I thought myself a true believer and dedicated myself to reading the Bible cover to cover. By the end of it I was very, very confused and over the next decade gradually lapsed into an almost vegetative agnostic state. Spool forward twenty-odd years and the retirement of specialist at the high school where I was working led to my filling in as a teacher of “Religious & Moral Education'; although my field is English no special qualification was required for RME so it helped the school manage staffing cuts. This three-year period coincided with the 400th anniversary of the King James version, so it was agreed I would focus on the (often beautiful) language and poetic sensibility of the translation. My approach was to select different passages, let the kids read them, preferably aloud, then discuss their feelings, opinions and understanding of the text. In preparation I re-read large parts of scripture and consulted with more experienced RME teachers, who ranged from evangelical literalist/fundamentalists to a few who barely paid lip service to their faith but did not want to rock the boat. In almost all cases I was shocked by the lack of knowledge and reading of those who purport to follow scripture, much less teach it – some of them might as well have been working from ‘Christianity for Dummies’, for all the scriptural comprehension. It so happened my (agnostic) wife was studying comparative religions as part of her Open University so I became heavily immersed in religious discussion, reading and dissection of text. Sometime in the midst of all this deep spiritual study I experienced a wondrous epiphany: Religion is Politics.

    Providing unverifiable answers to unknowable questions that trouble all thinking beings serves many purposes – not least assuaging existential angst and helping to comfort grief – but organised religion has evolved primarily because it invests unquestionable power and authority in leaders, conferring divine authority on their land grabs, genocides and tyranny, accruing vicarious credit for good harvests and great battle victories – and simultaneously converting failures into yet greater power by pouring blame on apostates, non-believers or insufficient sacrifice from the congregation. Heads I win, tails you lose.

    This excellent article brilliantly pinpoints how females suffer from yet greater levels of enslavement justified by Biblical authority (“the slave of the slaves” as James Connolly said), to which she could add Koranic authority, the Torah and pretty much every other religious utterance since that first guy managed to convince his neighbours the sun might not rise unless they bowed down and worshipped it… on his command. A plague on all their houses, to paraphrase that great humanist Shakespeare.

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