Accepting the Bible as the authoritative revelation of the will of God, this project set out to make a hermeneutically sound and contextually valid investigation of the passages and pericopes related to polygamy. Linguistic, grammatical, theological, historical, and cultural contexts were taken into account in order to determine which interpretation of the texts under consideration proved to be the most reliable based on the weight of evidence. The writings of Ellen G. White were given serious consideration throughout this study. In addition, the many books, articles, and unpublished documents related to a biblical perspective on polygamy, as produced by Christians, Jews, and Muslims, were critically assessed and discussed. However, accepting the Bible as the final norm, none of these extra-biblical sources was given any authority over the text of Scripture itself. Following an examination of the original institution of marriage in Eden and the form of marriage evident at the flood, the following Old Testament passages were sequentially analyzed: Exod 21:7-11, Lev 18:18, Deut 17:17, Deut 21:15-17, Exod 22:16, 17 and Deut 22:28, 29, Deut 25:5-10, Gen 38, Ruth 4, and Ezek 23:1-49. The accounts of the marriages of the antediluvians, Lamech, Abraham, Jacob, Esau, Moses, Gideon, Elkanah, David, Solomon, and Joash were examined. After a discussion of passages from Matt 19 and 22, Acts 15, 1 Cor 7, 1 Tim 3, and Titus 1, a synopsis of the principles arising from the research was made. Based on these biblical principles, missiological implications for a sound policy on polygamy were outlined.
The abstract of Hofreiter’s DPhil thesis on the subject, published by OUP, reads:
The thesis investigates the interpretation of some of the most problematic passages of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, i.e. passages involving the concept or practice of herem. The texts under consideration contain prima facie divine commands to commit genocide as well as descriptions of genocidal military campaigns commended by God. The thesis presents and analyses the solutions that Christian interpreters through the ages have proposed to the concomitant moral and hermeneutical challenges. A number of ways in which they have been used to justify violence and war are also addressed.
For the patristic and early medieval eras the thesis aims to be as comprehensive as possible in identifying and analysing the various interpretative options, while for later periods the focus lies on new developments. In addition to offering the most comprehensive presentation of the Wirkungsgeschichte of herem texts to date, the thesis offers an analysis and critical evaluation of the theologico-hermeneutical assumptions underlying each of the several approaches, and their exegetical and practical consequences. The resulting analytical taxonomy and hermeneutical map is an original contribution to the history of exegesis and the study of the interplay between religion and violence.
The cognitive dissonance herem texts cause for pious readers is introduced as an inconsistent set of five propositions: (1) God is good; (2) the bible is true; (3) genocide is atrocious; (4) according to the bible, God commanded and commended genocide; (5) a good being, let alone the supremely good Being, would never command or commend an atrocity. If proposition (4) is assumed, at least one of the deeply-held beliefs expressed in the other four must be modified or given up.
The introduction is followed by four diachronic chapters in which the various exegetical approaches are set out: pre-critical (from the OT to the Apostolic Fathers), dissenting (Marcion and other ancient critics), figurative (from Origen to high medieval times), divine-command-ethics,(from Augustine to Calvin) and violent (from Ambrose to Puritan North America). A concluding chapter presents near contemporary re-iterations and variations of the historic approaches.