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Polygynist Marriages in the Bible

Path: Behaviour change and sustainability Bible Polygynist Marriages

Plural marriage was not uncommon in Israel

Not only did the patriarchs and great men of Israel have more than one wife, but it is clear that other lesser individuals did so as well. At least 10 individuals are recorded in the Bible as having had more than one wife:

Judges 8:30 - Gideon, a man highly favored of the Lord, had three score and ten sons and many wives.
Judges 9:5 - Jerubbaal had seventy sons, which would be impossible without polygyny.
Judges 10:3-4 - Jair, a judge in Israel, had thirty sons.
Judges 12:13-14 - Abdon, a Judge in Israel, had forty sons.
I Sam 1:1-2 - Elkanah had two wives. His son, Samuel, was a great prophet, and judge in Israel. He was born, and lived under the special favor of God.
1 Chron. 4:5 - Ashur, the father of Tekoa, had two wives.
1 Chron. 8:8 - Shaharaim had two wives.
2 Chron. 11:21 - Rehoam had eighteen wives and three score concubines.
2 Chron. 13:21 - Abijah married fourteen wives.
2 Chron. 24:3 - Jehoida, the priest of God, took two wives.

Plural marriage is not recorded as something exceptional or strange, but as rather ordinary and commonplace.

Abraham Married 3 Women

The first patriarch that the Bible shows in a plural marriage relationship is Abram (Abraham).

In Genesis 11:29 we find the account of Abraham being married to Sarai (Sarah):

And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife [was] Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. However, Sara(i/h) was barren and had no children. To alleviate this situation and provide an heir for her husband, Sara(i/h) gave her husband a second wife:

"And Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian,…and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife;" (Gen. 16:3)

The Lord was evidently not displeased for in speaking of the child of this polygynous marriage he said, "I will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget and I will make him a great nation;" (Gen 17:20). He also blessed Abraham exceedingly shortly after the second marriage.

In addition to the marriage to Hagar, Abraham also took another wife:

Again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah. (Genesis 25:1)

Thus, Abraham had three wives: Sarah, Hagar, and Keturah. Abraham, considered in the Bible to be the "friend of God", was held up by both Jews and Christians as the example of a good and faithful life.


Moses Married 2 Women

Moses, after fleeing Egypt, was in the land of Midian. There "he sat down by a well" where "seven daughters" of the "priest of Midian" "came and drew water". (Exodus 2:15-16). After protecting these daughters from some attackers, Moses became a house guest "and Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter." (Exodus 2:21)

However, we find that Moses did not just marry this Midianite woman named Zipporah. We do not know the name of his second wife, but we know it happened because the scriptures say " he had married an Ethiopian woman." and this marriage was of concern for some unstated reason to his sister. (Numbers 12:1).

Thus Moses was married to at least two women.

King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines

(1 Kings 11:3) "And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart."

There was a difference between a wife and a concubine in the Bible. The wives had dowries, while concubines did not have dowries. Israelites men commonly acknowledged their concubines. They, the concubines, enjoyed the same rights in the house as legitimate wives.

In Judaism, concubines are much like a mistress staying in house. The mistress (concubine) was much like a wife, often with a marrage contract, but without a clause specifying a divorce settlement.

Jacob Married 4 Women

Abraham's Grandson was Jacob. He served Laban seven years for Rachel, but Laban deceived him, and Leah became his wife instead. So he served another seven years for Rachel. He married them both and they were both wives. The account of this service, Laban's deception and the two marriages can be found in Genesis 29:18-35 and 30:3-12.

In addition one can also read about how each of these wives had a handmaid and Jacob was given each of these handmaids as concubines and they also had children by him. Thus Jacob had four wives according to scripture. Jacob was renamed Israel by the Lord and by each of these four women, he had children. In all, from these four wives, he had 12 sons who became the Patriarchs of the 12 Tribes of Israel.

The sons who obtained the most significant blessings were Judah and Joseph. Judah was the son of the first wife, Leah and Joseph was the son of the second wife, Rachel.

King David Married At Least 4 Women

David, king of Israel took Abigail and Ahinoam, "and they were also both of them his wives;" (1 Sam. 25:42-43). Then he "took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem;" (2 Sam. 5:13). With two wives and concubines (plural), he at this time had at least 4 wives.

The Bible later says that "David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite;" (1 Kings 15:5). In this passage we have an assurance that David done right in taking all his wives and concubines, except in one instance, for which he was severely chastised. In the case of Uriah the Hittite, David committed adultery with his wife, and then had Uriah killed in the Battlefield. This was adultery and murder and it was condemned by the Lord, but his prior marriages were, according to the Bible, approved as "right in the eyes of the Lord".


The African American Experiences is a collection of Black Studies to understand the Past, Present and Future of the People called African American!

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