Yes, I chose that headline for its shock value. But there is some truth to it. Read on.
I just finished reading God and Sex by Michael Coogan. Coogan is director of publications for the Harvard Semitic Museum and professor of Religious Studies at Stonehill College. His book explores what the Bible really has to say about sexuality and gender relations within the context of its culture and time.
It provides an interesting counterpoint to those who claim Biblical authority for the concept that marriage is between “a man and a woman.”
These claims are often made with a reference to Adam and Eve, the first couple. (“Not Adam and Steve.”) But the Bible never reports a marriage ceremony took place for Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve are therefore not a good example of how the Bible defines “marriage.”
“I am sometimes asked by relatives and students to suggest biblical passages for use at their weddings, Coogan wrote, “but few are appropriate. The Song of Solomon is too erotic—not to mention that the lovers are not married. Most text concerning married couples are permeated with patriarchalism. Many major biblical characters had more than one wife. Because biblical views on marriage originated in societies whose mores were in many ways different from ours, biblical models do not necessarily inform either our practice or our theory of marriage.”
Marriage, as we understand it today, as a romantic union between two partners, was not what Biblical authors would understand marriage to be.
Marriage was a property arrangement— and the property was the woman. The marriage contract was between two men—the father of the bride-to-be and the groom. (Hence my headline.) The father sold the daughter for a bride-price to a man, who might have been a close relative. (Jacob married his cousins Leah and Rachel, and one of Esau’s wives was his cousin.)
The husband might go on to marry another wife or two. Abraham had three wives, Jacob had four, his brother Esau had five, Gideon had many. Marriages were arranged and were often between one rather old man and a “woman” who was just past puberty, such as Joseph, aged 92, and Mary, aged 14.
Not even the most conservative Biblical literalist is out there arguing that we should, in keeping with Biblical tradition, sell our 14-year-old daughters to be one of the multiple wives of her first cousin, a senior citizen. (When we hear stories about religious sects that engage in such behavior we consider it to be shocking and abusive.)
Opponents of same-sex marriage can make their case that a more inclusive definition of marriage flies in the face of their cultural traditions, and that those cultural traditions are important and worth upholding. One argument that they can not make legitimately, however, is that the “one man one woman” model of romantic marriage is mandated by— or the cultural norm in— the Bible.