The first instance of polygamy/bigamy in the Bible was that of Lamech in Genesis 4:19: “Lamech married two women.” Several prominent men in the Old Testament were polygamists. Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, and others all had multiple wives. In 2 Samuel 12:8, God, speaking through the prophet Nathan, said that if David’s wives and concubines were not enough, He would have given David even more. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (essentially wives of a lower status), according to 1 Kings 11:3.
Women’s behavior was extremely limited in ancient times, much as the women of Afghanistan during the recent Taliban oppression. They were:
Unmarried women were not allowed to leave the home of their father without permission.
Married women were not allowed to leave the home of their husband, without permission.
They were normally restricted to roles of little or no authority.
They could not appear in public venues.
They had to be doubly veiled when they left their homes.
Genesis 1:27 to 3:24
In the first creation story (Genesis 1:27) God is described as creating man, both male and female at the same time: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” 2 This might be interpreted as implying equality between the two genders.
But in the second creation story, (Genesis 2:7) God formed only a man: “…the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Realizing that he needed a helper (Genesis 2:18), God marched all of the animals past Adam (Genesis 2:19-20) looking for a suitable animal. Finding none suitable, God created Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs. The term “helper” has historically been interpreted as implying an inferior role for Eve, although some modern interpreters believe that the word can mean a companion of equal status. “…the Hebrew word translated “helper” is used twenty-one times in the Old Testament: twenty of these cases refer to help from a superior.” (3) In Genesis 2:27, Adam later asserts his authority over Eve by naming her: “…she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” In ancient times, one was believed to have authority over a person or thing by naming it.
A man could marry (literally “become the master of the woman“) as often as he desired. In Genesis 4:19, Lamech became the first known polygamist when he took two wives. Subsequent men who took multiple wives included: Esau with 3 wives; Jacob: 2; Ashur: 2; Gideon: many; Elkanah: 2; David: many; Solomon: 700 wives of royal birth; Rehaboam: 3; Abijah: 14. Jehoram, Joash, Ahab, Jeholachin and Belshazzar also had multiple wives.
A Father Could Make His Daughters Prostitutes
Genesis 19:8: The men of Sodom gathered around Lot’s house, and asked that he bring his two guests out so that the men can “know” them. This is frequently interpreted as a desire to gang rape the visitors, although other interpretations are possible. Lot offers his two virgin daughters to be raped instead: He is recorded as saying: “I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes.” Yet, even after this despicable act, Lot is still regarded as an honorable man, worth saving from the destruction of the city. Allowing one’s daughters to be sexually assaulted by multiple rapists appears to be treated as a minor transgression, because of the low status of the young women. A man could divorce his wife and she would have no access to money or her children – that is why so many turned to prostitution. Prostitutes were stoned: a no-win-win situation for women.
Woman as Property
Exodus 20 & 21: This is perhaps the most misogynistic pair of chapters in the Bible. A number of verses describe a woman as the property of her father. At marriage, her ownership was transferred to her new husband:
Exodus 22:16-17: The first seventeen verses of Exodus 22 deal with restitution in case of stealing, or damage to, a person’s property. Verses 16 and 17 deal with the case of a man who seduces a virgin. This was viewed as a property offense against the woman’s father. The woman was expected to marry the seducer. If her father refused to transfer ownership of his daughter to the seducer, the latter was required to required to pay money to her father. The money would be in compensation for the damage to the father’s property – his daughter. It would be difficult for a non-virgin to marry.
Final comment: We have to view the Bible in its historical context and with the writers’ limitation with regard to science, health and technology. When most of the Bible was written, people lived in tents or caves.