Did Jews Practice Polygamy in the Time of Jesus?

Jesus made no specific mention of polygamy in the Bible.
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Though we know from the Jewish Bible that many of the ancient Jews practiced polygamy, there is no specific mention of the practice in the New Testament, which documents the life and times of Jesus Christ. Because the practice was specifically outlawed by Rabbi Gershorn in the 11th century, we can assume that Jews had been taking multiple wives until this point. However, we do not have sufficient evidence to prove that it occurred during the life of Christ.

1 What is Polygamy?

Polygamy is the practice of taking more than one spouse. Because women were not allowed to take more than one husband at a time, it would be best to refer to the practice of the ancient Jews as polygyny, which means that a man takes more than one wife. Both marital arrangements today are illegal in many countries.

2 Polygyny in the Jewish Bible

Many of the kings and tribal leaders whose lives were recounted in the Jewish Bible practiced polygyny. It was seen as a way to protect women who were not allowed to hold their own property. The book of Deuteronomy expressly states that it is a man's responsibility to marry his brother's widow to provide for her after his death.

3 Polygyny in the New Testament

Though Jesus does not specifically mention the practice of taking many wives, he does uphold the laws and teaching of the Jewish Bible. During a sermon in Galilee, he said, "“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. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."

4 Rabbi Gershorn's Decree

In the early 11th century, Rabbi Gershorn B. Judah issued a decree, which prohibited polygamy among the Jews. Because this happened several hundred years after the death of Jesus Christ, we can assume that many Jewish men were still taking more than one wife. Jewish polygyny lasted in Spain until the 14th century, but has died out since.

Lindsey Landis has more than seven years of combined writing, editing and marketing experience in the book publishing and media industries. She holds a journalism bachelor's degree from Indiana University and studied art history at the Universita di Bologna in Italy. Landis currently works at the Chicago Reader and manages her own author development services company.