Polygamy Inspires False Religion

“From the beginning” (cf. Matthew 19:8) of the first book of the Bible, human fulfillment is presented as being realized when a man sees in woman a true and equal partner with whom he can share his life and total self (Gen 2:20,23) and the two become one flesh (Gen 2:24), exclusively committed to each other and needing no other to be complete.[1]  It is not hard to notice that Adam is presented as having only one wife.  Nor is it difficult to perceive that he is presented as being fulfilled and completed living in communion with Eve.  Man’s origins are inseparable from man presented as a monogamous being.

Genesis Paints a Poor Picture of Polygamists

evecreation.jpgIn fact, it is not hard to notice that everyman from the time of Adam until the time of Lamech (of the line of Cain) takes only one wife.  The Book of Genesis is very clear about Lamech’s deviation[2] as Lamech of the line of Cain is the first one of whom it is stated, “Lamech took two wives” (Gen 4:19), and then the Scriptures present Lamech as being a proud murderer as well (Gen 4:23-24).  More to the point, the Genesis narrative — using Lamech as its starting point — implicitly blames the Flood on the acceptance of Lamech’s practice of polygamy by God’s covenant family in Seth (line of the “sons of God”).  In fact, the very next time someone is presented as taking more than one wife (“sons of God” taking as many wives as they chose), the Lord decides to cleanse the world (Gen 6:3,7-8) and is grieved by man’s wickedness (Gen 6:5-6).

Presented for the first time, Lamech is not just a murderer, but a deviant in the sexual sphere who later commits murder more heinous than his forefather Cain.  He is the symbol of self-centered love.  He is the first occurrence of the Old Testament pattern: “They have committed adultery and blood is on their hands” (Ezek 23:37).[3]  Relevant to the discussion of implicit biblical condemnation of polygamy (Lamech’s two wives) is the connection between the descendants of Lamech of the line of Cain (sons of men) and the descendants of Lamech of the line of Seth (sons of God).[4]  For, too often, recent biblical scholars have missed that these two family lines have been set in opposition — and with allegorical significance — and so such scholars misinterpret the texts concerning the correct identity of the “sons of God”[5] (Gen 6:2,4), especially when they cling exclusively to form or historical critical analysis and view the “sons of God” as possibly divine beings taken from the myths of other ancient cultures.[6]

Before the Flood which ultimately kills it off, the line of Cain ends in the immediate children of Lamech (the polygamist).  It is these children who are the only ones listed as the founders or “ancestors” (Gen 4:20-22) of certain ways of life.  “Mysteriously,” the listing of Cain’s line — aside from naming the wives of Lamech — is all men, but it ends on a woman, “Naamah.”  Why her brothers are listed is clear…to let us know of what they are the exemplars.  So, why is “Naamah” listed without us being told that of which she is the exemplar?  Or is it implicit?

Deficiencies in the Jerome Biblical Commentary

The Jerome Biblical Commentary explains how the brothers’ names are related to what they founded.[7]  However, and despite noting two paragraphs later “a definite connection exists between J’s Cain list and P’s Seth list,”[8] concerning “Naamah” it records: “The significance of Naamah (na’amah, ‘lovely,’ ‘gracious’) is unexplained.”[9]  Herein shows a deficiency with adherence to the JEDP theories and exclusive reliance upon historical critical methods.  Such adherence seems to have disabled commentators from recognizing that the name “Naamah” (who is the daughter of the polygamist Lamech) is the allegorical connection between “daughters of man” and the “sons of God” and God deciding on the Flood.  In fact, her name can be translated “beautiful,” since persons who are lovely and gracious are described as beautiful.

The passage immediately before the passage when God decides on the Flood states: “the sons of God saw how beautiful the daughters of man were, and so they took for their wives as many of them [polygamy] as they chose” (Gen 6:2)[10].  Seeing how “beautiful the daughters of man were” is a direct reference to the “Naamahs” of Cain’s line all over the earth; the very name means “lovely” and “gracious” and men seeing these qualities saw “beauty” that they sensually desired.  Laying aside reason — and so abandoning God whose image and likeness made them capable of reason — they took “for their wives as many of them [the ‘Naamahs’] as they chose.”

However, there remained children of an opposing Lamech, children who kept to the proper worship of God and love of neighbor and who were the descendants of Seth, as opposed to Cain.  These are the men who “invoke the LORD by name” (Gen 4:26) and in this familiarity are considered the “sons of God.”  Some in this line of Seth “walked” so closely with God that God took them to Heaven before natural death (Gen 5:24) or waited until after their death before punishing the world (Gen 5:27).[11]  Should they abandon God, then no other line of men would be left that pleased God or “knew” the LORD or could serve as the cultural container that would be needed for the Messiah.

Sadly, God is betrayed eventually by most of the line of Seth.  These “sons of God” chose to follow the “flesh” instead of the “spirit” and become polygamists (cf. Gen 6:2).  However, the son of Lamech (line of Seth), Noah, finds favor with God (Gen 6:8).  The good Lamech is marked by the number 777 (Gen 6:31) to show he belongs to the covenant of God and is intimate family with the Almighty.  Thus, Lamech’s child Noah will be spared from the Flood along with only the line of his descendants.

One might rightly ask, “What was it that caused Noah to find favor with God?”  Surely, Lamech being Noah’s father has much to do with it as the Lord blesses the generations of those that fear Him (Deut 5:10).  However, and additionally, there is something that might go easily missed in the whole account.  Notice that the other “sons of God” are taking as many wives as they want, but the son of the man marked with the sign of the covenant “777” has only one wife and his sons only have one wife each (1 Pet 3:20).[12]  This line of Lamech continues, while the line of Lamech (“took two wives” (Gen 4:19)) is ended with the flood.

Additional Comment on “Sons of God”

In his critique of other misleading scholarship, Miguel Miguens defends against false postulations that the morality found in the Old Testament was culturally conditioned.  After demonstrating time and again that the “Bible itself claims that in sexual matters it marks a sharp reaction to the cultural milieu of the surrounding peoples,”[13] Miguens goes on to demonstrate a kind or running stream of morality behind various biblical stories which are found in specific condemnations in Leviticus or Exodus.  He sees in the Exodus 34:16 passage: “you shall not take Canaanite wives for your sons,” a law which is behind the blame expressed in the case…of the punishing Flood.”[14]  He seemingly views the new “sons of God” as Israel rescued from Egypt and the “daughters of man” as the pagan and idolatrous Canaanite women who will cause the “sons of God” to apostasize.  In other words, the Flood, as presented in Miguens article was not specifically about polygamy, but God’s family apostasizing by mixing with women who kept foreign gods; whether they took one wife from the Canaanites or many.  Nevertheless, his point deserves explicit development.

The very essence of “taking Canaanite wives” in its first appearance after the Flood by God’s covenant line (Esau) automatically entails polygamy (Gen 26:34) and violation of God’s family line; therefore, the rightful “son of God” will lose the line of blessing (Gen 26:35; Gen 27:34-37) and it will transfer to Jacob who is only later tricked into polygamy.  The theme of sexual sin leading to apostasy is repeatedly echoed as in Ezekiel’s prophecy, “For they have committed adultery and blood is on their hands” (Ezek 23:37).  Here Ezekiel is referring to spiritual adultery with God and betrayal of the covenant, but this spiritual adultery takes place due to Canaanite wives.  Canaanite wives necessarily entail polygamy and polygamy in practice is automatically a violation of authentic marital fidelity.  Polygamy denies the equality of the sexes founded upon the image and likeness of God which males and females both bear equally.  Once a man learns acceptance of infidelity within his sexual practice, it is not much of a step to take infidelity into his religious practice of worship and drift from his original fidelity to God.  This reinforces the point that the Flood is inseparable from polygamy and triggered when God’s human family line adopted the false religion of those who did not “invoke the LORD by name” (Gen 5:26 right worship and imaging of God) and who do not keep to an upright and properly formed conscience (cf. Rom 1:24-32).

It is further demonstrated that the root cause of the Flood entailed polygamy by an even closer analysis of the sixth chapter of Genesis and Naamah’s mother and brother.  The “beautiful…daughters of Man”[15] (Gen 6:2,4), typified and exemplified in “Naamah” (Gen 4:22), have children from unions with the “sons of God” and the children were “heroes of old, the men of renown” (Gen 6:4).  The “men of renown” are people who make their name great instead of God’s…the men who are feared instead of healthy fear of God.  They were obviously not “heroes” in God’s sight, or God would have spared them the Flood.  Thus, they must have been men who made a name for themselves by killing others, like their maternal grandfather Lamech who bragged that his name would be feared: “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (Gen 4:24).  It is also evidenced that the “men of renown” were murderers by examining God’s covenant that followed the Flood and his concern that their practice be stopped (cf. Gen 9:6).  Curiously, with what did the “men of renown” kill so many men and cause such fear?

The answer is found right before “Naamah” is listed.  The name listed before her as her brother, is: “Tubalcain, the ancestor of all who forge instruments of bronze and iron” (Gen 4:22); bronze and iron, the very dress and weapons of warriors.[16]  Brother and sister, Tubalcain and Naamah, representatives of the weapons of war and the women to fight over; they were both born of the second wife of Lamech, “Zillah” (Gen 4:20,22).  In an allegory, one could not more clearly state that the offspring of Lamech’s polygamy was the acceptance and continuation of murder and adultery.  Lamech is clearly shown to have two wives, before it is revealed that he became a hardened murderer.  As Tubalcain and Naamah are the continuation of Lamech’s unrepentant line within the polygamist union of Zillah, and as the line of men (Cain) is ended with them, it is clear the Flood is sent to end what the line of Lamech began and to punish the “sons of God” who began to accept multiple wives and murder as evidenced in their children becoming “men of renown”…men who seek to be worshipped in place of God.

Side-note on the Patriarchs and Kings

Finally, in light of the polygamy of the patriarchs and kings David and Solomon, is it only incidental that the Bible ties polygamy to Lamech’s murderous ways?  Why does God only specifically speak of murder by name after the Flood (Gen 9:6) and not polygamy?  Part of the apparent silence is due to respect for the patriarchs and kings, lest their children writing these stories seem to overtly attack and so dishonor their parents and origins.  Additionally, Christ had not yet come to override Moses’ tolerations (cf. Mt 19:8) of neglect of the intended order…an order that Christ demanded be re-established.  However, Moses and the other inspired authors still implicitly condemn the polygamy of their forefathers by showing its ill effects.

Polygamy amongst the patriarchs, though tolerated, is placed in a condemning light.  It causes nothing but problems for Abraham and Sarah when he takes Hagar due to Sarah’s prompting and Hagar is never really considered equal to a wife.  Polygamy occurs with Jacob because he was tricked[17] (so, seemingly forgivable), yet it leads to problems of favoritism and Joseph’s half-brothers selling Joseph into slavery.  Of note is the fact that Isaac — who most perfectly prefigures Christ as the child of promise — never has more than one wife.[18]

Most likely reflecting on chapters four and six of Genesis and the apostasies of the kings of Judah, the future Pope, Cardinal Wojtyla commented:

The books of the Old Testament provide sufficient evidence that…(polygamy) is in practice conducive to the treatment of women by men as [sex] objects…and so at once degrades women and lowers the level of morality amongst men.  We need only remember the story of King Solomon.[19]

This pattern of the lowering of the “level or morality amongst men” was exactly the pattern with Lamech of Cain and later the “sons of God.”  It is the disappointing pattern in King David’s fall from holiness, beginning with the adulterous affair with Bathsheeba, continuing in polygamy, and finally culminating in bloodshed — not only of Uriah, but in the fratricidal warfare of David’s sons.

There is a reason that adultery, whether it is found in polygamy or divorce and ‘remarriage’ (serial polygamy), leads to the lowering of “the level of morality amongst men.”  It is discovered within the failure to fulfill the vocation to love and in the violation of the personalistic norm, the violation of which hardens the heart into treating people like objects instead of persons.  Polygamy is a serious violation of fidelity, wounds the soul of the one who practices it, and insults God as it denies the image and likeness of God which makes women equal to men.  Polygamy inspires giving false honor to God when practiced by those claiming to ‘know’ him.

[1] See: Miguens, Manuel, “Biblical Thoughts on Human Sexuality,” in Human Sexuality in Our Time, ed. George A. Kelly, Boston: St.Paul Editions, 1979,  pp.110-111.[2] Maly, Eugene. “Genesis” in R.E. Brown et al. Jerome Biblical Commentary. 1st ed. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall Inc, 1968, 7-46, at 14.[3] I am indebted to Steve Wood, founder of St. Joseph’s Covenant Keepers, for this insight.

[4] Maly, “Genesis,” p. 14.

[5] Sutcliffe, E.F. “Genesis.”  in Bernard Orchard et al. A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1953, 177-205, p.189 (j)

[6] Clifford, Richard and Roland Murphy, “Genesis”  R.E. Brown et al. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall Inc, 1990, 8-43, at 14.

[7] Maly, “Genesis,” p.14.

[8] Maly, “Genesis,” p.14.

[9] Maly, “Genesis,” p.14.

[10] New American Bible, St. Joseph ed. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1986.

[11] Methusaleh’s death coincides with the Flood as measured by the numerology.

[12] I am indebted to Mark Key for this insight.

[13] Miguens, “Biblical Thoughts,” p.103.

[14] Ibid., pp.106-7.

[15] The underlying assumption is that Genesis shifts the opposition of the worldly line of Cain and the heavenly line of Seth with the opposition of the “daughters of man” (Cain) and the “sons of God” (Seth).

[16] See: Sutcliffe, “Genesis,” pp.188-89.  Here-in the author claims Lamech’s brag in Gen 4:23-4 is actually a claim to more sophisticated “forged” weapons and thus the family secret passed to his son.

[17] The additional concubinage of his wives’ servants is in the same category of Sarah’s prompting of Abraham.  Notice how the “lowering of the level of morality” gets worse amongst his sons and grandsons; i.e. slaughter over Dinah, Reuben with Billah, Judah seeking prostitution, Onan and his brothers, etc….

[18] The real meaning of Exodus 34:16 as mentioned by Miguens might be found in Gen 26:35 where Rebecca is deciding to shift the covenant from Esau who took two wives.  Notice how Canaanites and polygamy are tied together in Gen 26:34.

[19] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993, p.212

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  • Warren Jewell

    And, after all, does it take more than one ‘beautiful mother’ to make the man?

    I believe it was in quoting of an old Muslim wise man that I read, to paraphrase, that a man considering a second wife ‘simply must place his wife and his mother in the same kitchen for a week’. It would seem that the result would be to BEG for mercy from his own libidinous appetites.

  • Warren Jewell

    By the way . . . Muslim polygamy is so demeaning of women that in the throes of shari’a any local “marryin’ man” imam can grant a temporary marriage, thereby obviating the probable infidelity and/or prostitution involved.

    Plus, to me, in secret thoughts, it seemed that any one woman could harness a whole herd of ‘husbands’ far more easily than one man could find harmony with two wives. (Though, of course, why would she want to bother? Are not sons born to her enough of such ‘chest-less’ whiners? Her sons, could be of ‘as-yet’ chest-lessness – her flock of husbands likely more chronic of condition.)

  • elkabrikir

    Thanks for the scripture study. I’m always amazed when somebody illumines the scriptures for me and makes the connections necessary for love of God and growth in holiness.

    I did wonder about the polygamy of the Patriarchs, so thanks for the explanation.

    I also like the “serial polygamy” terminology regarding divorce and remarriage.

    Even while in the trenches of marriage and not feeling lovey-dovey sometimes, I marvel at the mystery of Christian marriage. Marriage itself inspires me to greatness despite my failures.

  • ekbell

    I completely agree with this statement However, Moses and the other inspired authors still implicitly condemn the polygamy of their forefathers by showing its ill effects.

    I’m remembering reading scripture as a impressionable child and that the main message I received from the accounts of polygamy was that (leaving aside considerations of morality) it was a bad idea due to natural human jealousy.

    This meant that when I encountered the advocates of ‘free love’, open marriage and polyamory as a young adult, I automatically discounted such ideas as naive and unworkable.