The Rabbi with a Billion Backs

Ok, this is probably one of the most random articles I’ve read in a long time. So strange, in fact, that it’s virtually like something out of “The Beast with a Billion Backs” (the latest Futurama offering, in case you didn’t know).

I should say, before I start, that I do realise this is an article from the Daily Mail and probably isn’t a shining example of investigative journalism. Nonetheless, I want to make a wider point which I will come onto shortly.

I won’t go into the details of the article (it’s worth a read, even if just to make you slap your forehead and go “WTF?”). I just can’t quite believe those women are comfortable with the arrangement – do they have so little self-respect?!

The strangest thing about the story, though, is that he is apparently a ‘Messianic Jew’ (i.e., a Jew who believes Jesus Christ was the Son of God). But then he goes and says things like this:

‘God was telling me I was a king. Not the Messiah, as has been suggested, but a Messiah. What God was showing me was that I would have a significant role in a Jewish revival, that a true nation of Israel would rise up and the world as we know it today was going to be severely judged.

“A” Messiah? Hmmmmmmm… not quite sure that one works! But it gets worse.

And so from this Philip came up with the idea of making these women without heads his wives. He would be their head, their protector – their ‘husband’.

He found passages in the Bible which seemed to give the all-clear. So was this the guiding hand of God, or a terrific scam by someone who wanted to have sex with lots of women?

And then goes on to deny that it’s a scam, saying “I’m not that clever!”. Hmmmm once again (about the scriptural support for polygamy, that is).

The problem with the Bible is that it actually doesn’t explicitly condemn polygamy. For example, it seems to be allowed in Exodus 21:10. But, Genesis 2 seems to be pretty clear: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Not his “wives” – but “wife”. Jesus affirmed this in Matthew 19.

The hard part for me is, why were David and Solomon not condemned for the wives and concubines? Solomon had about 700 wives and 300 concubines! That’s a ridiculous number, to be honest. But it’s not condemned… as such: “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been” (1 Kings 11:3-4). [Interesting side note: look at Deuteronomy 17:17]

So, Solomon’s heart was turned to other gods by his wives – but having that many wives doesn’t seem to be frowned upon.

The best answer I can come up with at the moment is that those times were different – they lived by slightly different rules. Poloygamy itself wasn’t a big issue at the time – although the original plan for marriage was always for a man to have one wife (and a woman one husband), at that time – because of the people’s hardness of heart – God had bigger fish to fry.

I don’t really know, to be honest, that’s my best guess at the moment. But any comments are welcome!

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2 thoughts on “The Rabbi with a Billion Backs

  1. Well he must have more faith (and energy) than I have, one woman is quite enough to be getting on with.

    ‘Not his “wives” – but “wife”‘ – I’m sorry but this one doesn’t really support your argument. Deriving meaning from the presence or absence from the plural or not is a stretch too far.

    The Matthew 19 passage can be read both ways, the polygamist can argue that as long as he does not divorce his wives, then they all become inseparable parts of his flesh.

    It seems to be hinted at in the article, that the polygamist understands the relationship between himself and his wives through the passages (such as Isaiah 54, Revelation 21, 2 Corinthians 11 and several other places in Paul) that describe the Church as a bride for the lamb of God. So does the polygamist see his wives as a church?

    If so then he is making a common mistake in biblical interpretation, which is deriving conclusions from the wrong end of the analogy.

    An easy way to understand this is to look at Oxes (e.g. Luke 14:5), when Jesus talks about an Ox, it does not mean all Christians need to own an Ox, he is just using it as an example for his wider point.

    When Paul says that Christ is the head of the church like a husband is to his wife; Paul is providing insight into the role of Christ using the analogy of the marriage structure of the day; Paul is not saying anything about how one should organise a marriage, men do not have to be the head and the bride is not a plural church (if it was then the polygamist would have men as his wives too).

    So what is the right way to approach this topic?

    Well for me, the hermeneutical key to understanding the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments is the pericope about wineskins (Mark 2, Matt 9, Luke 5). Once you understand the wineskins then you see there are many related passages in the new testament that work in a similar way.

    It is quite clear that Jesus and Paul explicitly deprecate parts of the Old Testament (i.e. the fasting, circumcision, food laws, and so on), while modifying/updating other parts, while keeping a third set the same. So the result is clear, one must put the new wine in the new wineskins i.e. one must not shy away from the newness of the gospel.

    Once you accept the newness of the gospel, you understand that all uses of the old testament, must be verified with the new testament. If there is not a passage (or preferably several passages) in the new testament that validate your argument, then you cannot use it. [This leads us to a second hermeneutical key, but I’ve cut that out because this comment is way too long, we can save that for another comment.]

    So in the Old Testament, some patriarchs have multiple wives, while some others have a single wife. Is polygamy validated by the New Testament? No because there is not support for polygamy in the New Testament, and is strongly discouraged by Paul, 1 Timothy 3:2, 1 Timothy 3:12, Titus 1:6 – only one wife at a time.

    Note this passage is often misread to mean that divorcees cannot serve, this is not what it says, (εἶναι μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα νηφάλιον – he must be the husband of one wife), the NIV’s insertion of ‘but’ is perhaps adds to the confusion, however there is no past meaning in the Greek at all. The idea that divorcees cannot serve also makes very little sense considering the idea of complete forgiveness found elsewhere in Paul.

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