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lows that the commandment in question (though in fact it is no commandment at all, as has been shown) contains nothing against polygamy, either in the way of direct prohibition or implied censure ; unless we are to suppose that the law of God, as delivered by Moses, was at variance with his prior declarations; or that, though the passage in question had been frequently inspected by a multitude of priests, and Levites, and prophets, men of all ranks, of holiest lives and most acceptable to God, the fury of their passions was such as to hurry them by a blind impulse into habitual fornication ; for to this supposition are we reduced, if there be anything in the present precept which renders polygamy incompatible with lawful marriage.
Another text from which the unlawfulness of polygamy is maintained, is Lev. xviii. 18. neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.' Here Junius translates the passage mulierei unam ad alteram, instead of mulierem ad sororem suam, in order that from this forced and inadmissible interpretation he may elicit an argument against polygamy. In drawing up a law, as in composing a definition, it is
necessary that the most exact and appropriate words should be used, and that they should be interpreted not in their metaphorical, but in their proper signification. He says, indeed, that the same words are found in the same sense in other passages. This is true; but it is only where the context precludes the possibility of any ambiguity, as in Gen. xxvi. 31. juraverunt vir fratri suo, that is, alteri, 'they sware one to another.' No one would infer from this passage that
Isaac was the brother of Abimelech; nor would any one, on the other hand, entertain a doubt that the passage in Leviticus was intended as a prohibition against taking a wife to her sister; particularly as the preceding verses of this chapter treat of the degrees of affinity to which intermarriage is forbidden. Moreover this would be to uncover her nakedness, the evil against which the law in question was intended to guard; whereas the caution would be unnecessary in the case of taking another wife not related or allied to the former ; for no nakedness would be thereby uncovered. Lastly, why is the clause in her life time added ? For there could be no doubt of its being lawful after her death to marry another who was neither related nor allied to her, though it might be questionable whether it were lawful to marry a wife's sister. It is objected, that marriage with a wife's sister is forbidden by analogy in the sixteenth verse, and therefore a second prohibition was unnecessary.
I answer, first, that there is in reality no analogy between the two passages ; for that by marrying a brother's wife, the brother's nakedness is uncovered ; whereas by marrying a wife's sister, it is not a sister's nakedness, but only that of a kinswoman by marriage, which is uncovered. Besides, if nothing were to be prohibited which had been before prohibited by analogy, why is marriage with a mother forbidden, when marriage with a father had been already declared unlawful? or why marriage with a mother's sister, when marriage with a father's sister had been prohibited ? If this reasoning be allowed, it follows that more than half the laws relating to incest are unnecessary. Lastly, whereas the prevention of enmity is alleged as the principal motive for the law before us, it is obvious, that if the intention had been to condemn polygamy, reasons of a much stronger kind might have been urged from the nature of the original institution, as was done in the ordinance of the Sabbath.*
A third passage which is advanced, Deut. xvii. 17. is so far from condemning polygamy, either in a king, or in any one else, that it expressly allows it; and only imposes the same restraints upon this condition which are laid upon the multiplication of horses, or the accumulation of treasure; as will appear from the seventeenth and eighteenth verses.
Except the three passages which are thus irrelevantly adduced, not a trace appears of the interdiction of polygamy throughout the whole law; nor even in any of the prophets, who were at once the rigid interpreters of the law, and the habitual reprovers of the vices of the people. The only shadow of an exception occurs in a passage of Malachi, the last of the prophets, which some consider as decisive against polygamy. It would be indeed a late and postliminous enactment, if that were for the first time prohibited after the Babylonish captivity which ought to have been prohibited many ages before. For if it had been really a sin, how could it have escaped the reprehension of so many prophets who preceded him? We may safely conclude that if polygamy be not forbidden in the law, neither is it forbidden here; for Malachi was not the author of a new law. Let us however see the words themselves as translated by Junius, ii. 15. Nonne unum effecit ? quamvis reliqui spiritus ipsi essent: quid autem unam? It would be rash and unreasonable indeed, if, on the authority of so obscure a passage, and one which has been tortured and twisted by different interpreters into such a variety of meanings, we were to form a conclusion on so important a subject, and to impose it upon others as an article of faith.* But whatever be the signification of the words nonne unum effecit, what do they prove ? are we, for the sake of drawing an inference against polygamy, to understand the phrase thus—did not he make one woman? But the gender, and even the case, are at variance with this interpretation ; for nearly all the other commentators render the words as follows : annon unus fecit? et residuum spiritus ipsi ? et quid ille unus? We ought not therefore to draw any conclusion from a passage like the present in behalf of a doctrine which is either not mentioned elsewhere, or only in doubtful terms; but rather conclude that the prophet's design was to reprove a practice which the whole of Scripture concurs in reproving, and which forms the principal subject of the very chapter in question, v. 11-16. namely, marriage with the daughter of a strange god; a corruption very prevalent among the Jews of that time, as we learn from Ezra and Nehemiah.*
* But they were to look back to the first institution; nay rather why was not that individual institution brought out of Paradise, as was that of the Sabbath, and repeated in the body of the law, that man might have understood it to be a command?' Doctrine, &c. II. 29.
* Though the words of this difficult clause are rendered very variously by the different commentators, yet, with the exception of Grotius, who explains the passage with reference to the origin of souls ex traduce from our natural parents, nearly all agree in considering it as an argument against polygamy. The interpretation which Milton seems to prefer, is suggested by Tirinus and Menochjus. See Poole's Synopsis in loc.
With regard to the words of Christ, Matt. v. 32. and xix. 5. the passage from Gen. ii. 24. is repeated not for the purpose of condemning polygamy, but of reproving the unrestrained liberty of divorce, which is a very different thing ; nor can the words be made to apply to any other subject without evident violence to their meaning. For the argument which is deduced from Matt. v. 32. that if a man who marries another after putting away his first wife, committeth adultery, much more must he commit adultery who retains the first and marries another, ought itself to be repudiated as an illegitimate conclusion.f For in
* It wrought so little disorder among the Jews, that from Moses till after the captivity, not one of the prophets thought it worth the rebuksing; for that of Malachi well looked into will appear to be not against divorcing, but rather against keeping strange concubines, to the vexation of the Hebrew wives.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, II. 61. He that reads attentively will soon perceive, that God blames not here the Jews for putting away their wives, but for keeping strange concubines, to the profaning of Judah's holiness, and the vexation of their Hebrew wives, v 11. and 14. Judah hath married the daughter of a strange god : and exhorts them rather to put away their wives whom they hate, as the law permitted, than to keep them under such affronts. And it is received, that this prophet lived in those times of Ezra and Nehemiah (nay by some it is thought to be Ezra himself) when the people were forced by these two worthies to put their strange wives away. So that what the story of those tiines, and the plain context of the 11th verse, from whence this rebuke begins, can give us to conjecture of the obscure and curt Ebraisms that follow, this prophet does not forbid putting away, but forbids keeping, and commands putting away according to God's law, which is the plainest interpreter both of what God will, and what he can best suffer.' Tetrachordon, II. 146.
+ The original of this sentence affords no satisfactory sense. “Id ejusmodi est profecto, ut argumentum ipsum pro adulterio sit protinus repudiandum.' The fondness for that play upon words which is so characteristic of Milton, and of which, as has been already observed (see p. 17.)