"You shall not commit adultery" -- Exodus 20:14
I am listening to the book-on-CD version of The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. I am about half-way through and so far I recommend it. It is informative and entertaining. Basically, it is about a year in Jacob's life where he tries to live a whole year in accordance with all biblical teachings. Some of God's laws are downright perplexing, especially as you go through the Pentateuch, and especially for Christians, or maybe I should say especially for non- Orthodox Jews. I have tried to communicate some of my confusion in my blog entry "Eat Pig", but the food laws are not necessarily even the strangest of the rules and regulations gave gave his people. And, in fact, my point of "Eat Pig" has more to do with the fact that Christians tend to ignore old-testament laws than the fact that the old-testament laws seem strange.
But, some of the rules that A.J. is following in his book do seem strange.
When God commands, "You shall not commit adultery", it is not strange at all. I think just about everyone with some sort of moral compass believes adultery is wrong. And, truth be told, like most of God's laws, following the no adultery commandment is for your own benefit. When it comes right down to it, all of God's commandments have little to do with what is good for God. He made rules for us for our own good. It is a lot like the rules we as parents give to our children. Only, on a much bigger scale. That is part of what worries me about the ham and bacon ban.
Anyway, while listening to the book, I learned something that surprised me. It probably should not have surprised me, but nonetheless, I was shocked to learn that in the Israel of the Pentateuch Bible, adultery for a man means sex with another married woman. A woman is not allowed to have relations relations with any man other than her husband, but a man is allowed to have make love with any woman as long as she is not married to (owned by) another man.
It makes sense. It seems that everyone back then had several wives and concubines, and God never seemed to have a problem with that. Yes, it was a double standard, but it was a socially acceptable and God-sanctioned double standard. And certainly, ancient Israelites do not have a monopoly on sexism.
I do not have a problem with sexism. I order my wife to not have a problem with it either.
So, when God told Moses the commandment, I assume God knew that he was talking not only to Moses but to all of Israel. He picked the word "adultery" when his audience understood the word to mean what it did at the time. In other words, he was commanding men to not have sex with married women and had no problem with married men fooling around with women not their wives as long as these women did not belong to someone else.
This is potentially freeing information. Here I was working under the impression that the rules for me were the same as they were for my wife. Apparently, God supports my right to have more than one woman. I asked my wife last night if I could have a concubine for Christmas. I carefully explained the old-testament definition of adultery, and pointed out that great biblical men like Abraham, Issac, and Jacob had many women in their lives. Not only did they each have several concubines, but most of them had more than one wife. The logical conclusion to the whole thing is that God wants me to have many women, or at least has no problem with the possibility.
So, when I asked my wife if I could have a concubine, do you want to guess what she answered? Apparently, she is not as God-fearing as I would like my possession (I mean wife) to be. Don't worry, I'll get over it.
In case you cannot guess, a summary of her answer would be "NO!" And in case you are wondering if maybe she just has already something else in mind for my gift and just does not want to get me a concubine for Christmas, the answer is no concubines whatsoever at anytime past, present, or future whether or not the concubine is given to me by her or anyone else or even if I find one of my own. There will be no concubines.
Please don't tell my wife this, but quite honestly, I do not want a concubine. I certainly do not want a second wife. I have enough of a problem understanding and controlling wife #1. For some reason, I just had a vision of Thing 1 and Thing 2 from Cat in the Hat (otherwise known as Candy Cane Hat Cat) running amok through my house with hair curlers and rolling pins. Running about with big bumps, jump, and kicks. Oh the things they would bump! Oh the things they would hit! This is not to mention all the other kinds of bad tricks.
I would not like it, not one little bit. Sure, it would be nice to have two women to cook my dinner and wash my dishes, but can you imagine the downside? Think of twice as many honey-do's. Actually, it probably is honey-do's squared rather than double the honey-do's. Think of every time I say or do something stupidly offensive (it might surprise you to know that this happens once and awhile) getting twice (or squared) the rebukes. Think of nagging squared. And, twice as many birthday's, anniversaries, gifts, flowers, chick flicks, and shopping trips. And, crying! There would be twice as many women crying (usually for some reason that I would be unable to understand), which would almost certainly be an exponential increase in the amount of crying. I am getting a headache just thinking about it. It was probably easier back in the day when the man basically owned his women and the women knew their place, but let's face it: those days do not exist anymore. Or at least they do not exist in my household.
So, I suppose the "freeing" information is not quite as "freeing" as I first thought.
Don't worry, I'll get over it.