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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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The Levirate Law.—The divine origin of marriage, and the primitive state of the institution, are clearly recorded in the instance of the first human pair (), whence it appears that woman was made after man to be 'a helper suited to him.' The narrative is calculated to convey exalted ideas of the institution. It is introduced by a declaration of the Lord God, that 'it is not good that the man should be alone' (); of the truth of which Adam had become convinced by experience. In order still further to enliven his sense of his deficiency, the various species of creatures are made to pass in review before him, 'to see what he would call them; on which occasion he could behold each species accompanied by its appropriate helper, and upon concluding his task would become still more affectingly aware, that amid all animated nature there was not found an help meet for himself.' It was at this juncture, when his heart was thus thoroughly prepared to appreciate the intended blessing, that a divine slumber, or trance, fell upon him—a state in which, as in after ages, the exercise of the external senses being suspended, the mental powers are peculiarly prepared to receive revelations from God (;;; ). His exclamation when Eve was brought to him shows that he had been fully conscious of the circumstances of her creation, and had been instructed by them as to the nature of the relation which would thenceforth subsist between them. 'The man said, thisstime, it is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; this shall be called woman, for out of man was this taken.' The remaining words, 'for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they (two) shall be one flesh,' which might otherwise seem a proleptical announcement by the historian of the social obligations of marriage, are by our Lord ascribed to the Divine agent concerned in the transaction, either uttered by Him personally, or by the mouth of Adam while in a state of inspiration. 'Have ye not read that He that made them at the beginning, made them male and female, and said, for this cause,' etc. (). It is a highly important circumstance in this transaction, that God created only one female for one man, and united them—a circumstance which is the very basis of our Lord's reasoning in the passage against divorce and remarriage; but which basis is lost, and his reasoning consequently rendered inconclusive, by the inattention of our translators to the absence of the article, 'He made them a male and a female, and said, they shall become one flesh; so that they are no more two, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.' 'The weight of our Lord's argument,' says Campbell, 'lay in this circumstance, that God at first created no more than a single pair, one of each sex, whom he united in the bond of marriage, and, in so doing, exhibited a standard of that union to all generations.' The apostasy introduced a new feature into the institution, namely, the subjection of the wife's will to that of her husband (; comp. ). The primitive model was adhered to even by Cain, who seems to have had but one wife (). Polygamy, one of the earliest developments of human degeneracy, was introduced by Lamech, who 'took unto him two wives' (; circa 3874 B.C.). The intermarriage of 'the Sons of God,' i.e. the worshippers of the true God, with 'the daughters of men,' i.e. the irreligious (B.C. 2468), is the next incident in the history of marriage. They indulged in unrestrained polygamy 'they took them wives of all that they chose.' From this event may be dated that headlong degeneracy of mankind at this period, which ultimately brought on them extirpation by a deluge (). At the time of that catastrophe Noah had but one wife (), and so each of his sons (). Pursuing the investigation of the subject according to chronological arrangement, Job next appears (B.C. 2130) as the husband of one wife (; ). Reference is made to the adulterer, who is represented as in terror and accursed (). The wicked man is represented as leaving 'widows' behind him; whence his polygamy may be inferred (). Job expresses his abhorrence of fornication (), and of adultery (), which appears in his time to have been punished by the judges (). Following the same arrangement, we find Abraham and Nahor introduced as having each one wife (). From the narrative of Abraham's first equivocation concerning Sarah, it may be gathered that marriage was held sacred in Egypt. Abraham fears that the Egyptians would sooner rid themselves of him by murder than infringe by adultery the relation of his wife to an obscure stranger. The reproof of Pharaoh, 'Why didst thou say, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way' (), affords a most honorable testimony to the views of marriage entertained by Pharaoh at that period, and most likely by his court and nation. It seems that Sarah was Abraham's half-sister. Such marriages were permitted till the giving of the law (). Thus Amram, the father of Moses and Aaron, married his father's sister (), a union forbidden in .

The first mention of concubinage, or the condition of a legal though subordinate wife, occurs in the case of Hagar, Sarah's Egyptian handmaid, whom Sarah, still childless, after a residence of ten years in Canaan, prevailed on Abraham, apparently against his will, to receive into that relation (), which was however considered inviolable (;;;;; ). The vehement desire for offspring, common to women in the East, as appears from the histories of Rebecca (), of Rachel (), of Leah (), and of Hannah (), seems to have been Sarah's motive for adopting a procedure practiced in such cases in that region in all ages. The miseries naturally consequent upon it are amply portrayed in the history of the Patriarchs (;;; ).

Lot does not appear to have exceeded one wife (). The second equivocation of the same kind by Abraham respecting Sarah elicits equally honorable sentiments concerning marriage, on the part of Abimelech, king of Gerar (; , etc.), who, it appears, had but one proper wife (; see also ). Perhaps Abraham relied on the ancient custom, which will shortly be adverted to, of the consent of the 'brother' being requisite to the sister's marriage, and thus hoped to secure his wife's safety and his own. In ancient times the parents chose wives for their children (;; ); or the man who wished a particular female asked his father to obtain her from her father, as in the case of Shechem (B.C. 1732;; comp. ). The consent of her brothers seems to have been necessary (;;;; comp.; ). A dowry was given by the suitor to the father and brethren of the female (; comp.; ). This, in a common case, amounted to from 30 to 50 shekels, according to the law of Moses (comp.; ). Pausanias considers it so remarkable for a man to part with his daughter without receiving a marriage-portion with her, that he takes pains, in a case he mentions, to explain the reason. In later times we meet with an exception (). It is most likely that from some time before the last-named period the Abrahamidæ restricted their marriages to circumcised persons (; comp.;;;; Josephus, Antiq. xi. 8, 2; xii. 4, 6; xviii. 9, 5). The marriage of Isaac develops additional particulars; for beside Abraham's unwillingness that his son should marry a Canaanitess (; comp.;;;;;; ), costly jewels are given to the bride at the betrothal (), and 'precious things to her mother and brother' (); a customary period between espousals and nuptials is referred to (); and the blessing of an abundant offspring invoked upon the bride by her relatives ()—which most likely was the only marriage ceremony then and for ages afterwards (comp.; ); but in , the father places his daughter's right hand in the hand of Tobias before he invokes his blessing. It is remarkable that no representation has been found of a marriage ceremony among the tombs of Egypt. The Rabbins say that among the Jews it consisted of a kiss (). It is probable that the marriage covenant was committed to writing (;; ); perhaps, also, confirmed with an oath (). It seems to have been the custom with the patriarchs and ancient Jews to bury their wives in their own graves, but not their concubines (). In , Abraham, after the death of Sarah, marries a second wife. Esau's polygamy is mentioned; (B.C. 1760). Jacob serves seven years to obtain Rachel in marriage (); and has a marriage feast, to which the men of the place are invited (; comp.; ). Samson's marriage feast lasts a week (; B.C. 1136; comp. , etc.); in later times it lasted longer (). The persons invited to Samson's marriage are young men (); called 'sons of the bride-chamber,' . Females were invited to marriages (), and attended the bride and bridegroom to their abode (); and in the time of Christ, if it was evening, with lamps and flambeaux (). In later ages the guests were summoned when the banquet was ready (), and furnished with a marriage garment (). The father of the bride conducted her at night to her husband (; ). The bride and bridegroom were richly ornamented (). In Mesopotamia, and the East generally, it was the custom to marry the eldest sister first (). By the deception practiced upon Jacob in that country, he marries two wives, and, apparently, without anyone objecting (). Laban obtains a promise from Jacob not to marry any more wives than Rachel and Leah (). The wives and concubines of Jacob and their children travel together (); but a distinction is made between them in the hour of danger (; comp. ). Following the arrangement we have adopted, we now meet with the first reference to the Levirate Law. Judah, Jacob's son by Leah, had married a Canaanitish woman (). His first-born son was Er (). Judah took a wife for him (). Er soon after died (), and Judah said, to Onan, 'Go in unto thy brother's wife, Tamar, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.' 'Onan knew that the offspring would not be his.' All these circumstances bespeak a pre-established and well known law, and he evaded the purpose of it, and thereby, it is said, incurred the wrath of God (). It seems, from the same account, to have been well understood, that upon his death the duty devolved upon the next surviving brother. No change is recorded in this law till just before the entrance of Israel into Canaan (B.C. 1451), at which time Moses modified it by new regulations to this effect:—'If brethren dwell together (i.e. in the same locality), and one of them die, and leave no child, the wife of the dead must not marry out of the family, but her husband's brother or his next kinsman must take her to wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother, and the first-born of this union shall succeed in the name of his deceased father, that his name may be extant in Israel;' not literally bear his name, for Ruth allowed her son by Boaz to be called Obed, and not Mahlon, the name of her first husband (, yet see Josephus, Antiq. iv. 8, 23). In case the man declined the office, the woman was to bring him before the elders, loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in, or, as some render it, before his face, by way of contempt (. Josephus understands in the face, Antiq. v. 9, 4), and shall say, 'So shall it be done unto the man that will not build up his brother's house; and his name shall be called in Israel, the house of him that hath his shoe loosed,' quasi Bare-sole! It does not appear that the original law was binding on the brother, if already married; and we may well believe that Moses, who wished to mitigate it, allowed of that exception. The instance of Ruth (B.C. 1245), who married Boaz, her husband's relation, exhibits the practice of the law under the Judges. Boaz was neither the father of, nor the nearest relation to, Elimelech, father-in-law to Ruth, the wife of Mahlon, and yet he married her after the refusal of him who was the nearest relation (; Ruth 3; Ruth 4).

It should seem, from the instance of Potiphar's wife, that monogamy was practiced in Egypt (). Pharaoh gave to Joseph one wife (). The Israelites, while in Egypt, seem to have restricted themselves to one. One case is recorded of an Israelite who had married an Egyptian woman (). The giving of the law (B.C. 1491) acquaints us with many regulations concerning marriage which were different from the practices of the Jews while in Egypt, and from those of the Canaanites, to whose land they were approaching (). There we find laws for regulating the marriages of bondmen (), and of a bondmaid, (). The prohibition against marriages with the Canaanites is established by a positive law (). Marriage is prohibited with any one near of kin, 'of the remainder of his flesh' (). A priest is prohibited from marrying one that had been a harlot, or divorced (). The high-priest was also excluded from marrying a widow, and restricted to one wife (). Daughters who, through want of brothers, were heiresses to an estate, were required to marry into their own tribe, and, if possible, a kinsman, to prevent the estate passing into another family (; ). The husband had power to annul his wife's vow, if he heard it, and interfered at the time (). If a man had betrothed a wife, he was exempt from the wars, etc. (; ). It was allowed to marry a beautiful captive in war, whose husband probably had been killed (, etc.). Abundance of offspring was one of the blessings promised to obedience, during the miraculous providence which superintended the Theocracy (;;;; ); and disappointment in marriage was one of the curses (;; comp.; ). A daughter of a distinguished person was offered in marriage as a reward for perilous services (; ). Concubinage appears in Israel (B.C. 1413) (). The violation of a concubine is avenged (). Polygamy (). The state of marriage among the Philistines may be inferred, in the time of Samson, from the sudden divorce from him of his wife by her father, and her being given to his friend (), and from the father offering him a younger sister instead (). David's numerous wives (). In Psalms 45, which is referred to this period by the best harmonists, there is a description of a royal marriage upon a most magnificent scale. The marriage of Solomon to Pharaoh's daughter is recorded in; to which the Song of Solomon probably relates, and from which it appears that his mother 'crowned him with a crown on the day of his espousals' (; ). It would appear that in his time females were married young (; comp. ); also males (). An admirable description of a good wife is given in . The excessive multiplication of wives and concubines was the cause and effect of Solomon's apostasy in his old age (). He confesses his error in Ecclesiastes, where he eulogizes monogamy (; ). Rehoboam took a plurality of wives (); and so Abijah (), and Ahab (), and Belshazzar, king of Babylon (). It would seem that the outward manners of the Jews, about the time of our Lord's advent, had become improved, since there is no case recorded in the New Testament of polygamy or concubinage among them. Our Lord excludes all causes of divorce, except whoredom (), and ascribes the origin of the Mosaic law to the hardness of their hearts. The same doctrine concerning divorce had been taught by the prophets (;; ). The apostles inculcate it likewise (;;; ); yet St. Paul considers obstinate desertion by an unbelieving party as a release (). Our Lord does not reprehend celibacy for the sake of religion, 'those who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake' (; comp.; ). Second marriages not condemned in case of death (). Mixed marriages disapproved (; ). Early marriage not recommended (). Marriage affords the means of copious illustrations to the writers of Scripture. The prophets employ it to represent the relation of the Jewish church to Jehovah, and the apostles that of the Christian church to Christ. The applications they make of the idea constitute some of the boldest and most touching figures in the Scripture.





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Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Marriage'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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