Tough Questions Answered

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  • What Role Does Polygamy Play in Islam? Part 1

    Posted By on October 22, 2014

    Islam What Role Does Polygamy Play in Islam? Part 1We’ve already seen, from William Tucker, in his book Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human, how polygamy breeds violence. The largest religion in the world that endorses polygamy is Islam. Tucker takes a look at how polygamy and Islam have interacted.

    Through the Koran and the Hadith (thousands of pages of commentary by people who knew Mohammed), Islam regulates the daily life of the believer as few religions have ever done. Among these rules are rules governing polygamy. Mohammed sanctioned the practice, but tried to limit it by prescribing that a man could take only four wives and had to support all equally.

    He did not, however, abide by this rule himself. All told, Mohammed had an estimated thirteen wives, with perhaps eleven at one time. His inner circle also took numerous wives.

    Tucker then asks the key question: “What happens in a society, like Islamic society, where men at the top can accumulate multiple wives and men at the bottom are left with nothing?”

    The answer:

    Well, holy war, jihad, was part of Islam from the beginning. After conquering the Middle East and North Africa, Muslim armies pushed into sub-Saharan Africa and the Caucasus in search of slaves. In the West, slavery was about work. When Western merchants shipped slaves to the New World, male slaves outnumbered females two to one. In Islamic countries, female slaves outnumbered male slaves by the same ratio. These “slaves” were in fact extra wives and concubines.

    Even the steady supply of women slaves from conquered lands did not solve the problem. Tucker continues:

    Despite the supply of women from conquered provinces, there was always a shortage, and the most common reaction of lower-caste Islamic men deprived of women became the desert retreat where dissident sects plotted the overthrow of the regime.

    Of these perhaps the most extraordinary was the “Assassins,” a Shia sect founded in Egypt in the eleventh century that became the scourge of rulers all over the Islamic world. The Assassins established themselves in the Castle of Alamut, a mountain redoubt in northern Persia that is still difficult to reach today. There they set up an early version of al Qaeda, training young recruits to plant “sleeper cells” around the Middle East and insinuate themselves into the circles of the prominent officials they wanted to assassinate.

    The famous traveler and explorer, Marco Polo, in 1273, described what he saw when he passed through this same area:

    The Old Man kept at his court such boys of twelve years old as seemed to him destined to become courageous men. When the Old Man sent them into the garden in groups of four, ten or twenty, he gave them hashish to drink. They slept for three days, then they were carried sleeping into the garden where he had them awakened.

    When these young men woke, and found themselves in the garden with all these marvelous things, they truly believed themselves to be in paradise. And these damsels were always with them in songs and great entertainments; they received everything they asked for, so that they would never have left that garden of their own will.

    And when the Old Man wished to kill someone, he would take him and say: “Go and do this thing. I do this because I want to make you return to paradise.” And the assassins go and perform the deed willingly.

    Tucker puts this into perspective:

    So began the familiar Islamic pattern: young men with very little hope of rising in society are offered enlistment in a dissident sect that sanctifies violence, promises revolution, and offers martyrs a prize of seventy-two virgins. This is how polygamous societies end up at war with their neighbors.

    A shortage of women means a volatile male population. Lower-status males are either turned into eunuchs or formed into slave armies (the Mamluks of Egyptian history) or molded into assassins and terrorists and sent off to holy war. Seventy-two virgins await in heaven— a reward it should be noted, that does not have any particular appeal to the female half of the population.

    More on Islam and polygamy in part 2 of this post.

    How Do Palestinian Names Lend Credence to the Gospels?

    Posted By on October 20, 2014

     How Do Palestinian Names Lend Credence to the Gospels?Are the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life rooted in first century Palestine or are they legendary accounts written more than a hundred years later? What of the so-called apocryphal gospels (e.g., Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Judas) that also claim to be true accounts of Jesus’s life? A few biblical scholars claim that the apocryphal gospels deserve as much attention as the four canonical gospels.

    Biblical scholar Craig Hazen, in a blog post, brings to our attention new archaeological evidence that bolsters the authenticity of the canonical gospels and undermines the authenticity of the apocryphal gospels. What is this new evidence that roots the canonical gospels firmly in the first century?

    Over the last decade, a new area of research has confirmed that the writers of the Gospels did indeed have the kind of intimate and detailed knowledge of life in that time and place. And this new research comes from an in-depth study of personal names.

    In 2002 an Israeli scholar by the name of Tal Ilan did some seemingly boring work that has yielded some important dividends for New Testament authentication. She sorted through documents, engravings, scraps of papyrus, ossuaries and the like from the time period surrounding Jesus and the apostles in order to make a list of over 3,000 personal names — along with whatever bits of information she could find about those names. It was as if she were compiling a phone book from ancient trash heaps.

    So what? How could this list of ancient names have anything to do with the historical authenticity of the Gospel accounts?

    Because of her work, it became possible for the first time to find out what personal names were the most popular during the time of Jesus and how those names were used. Why is this important? Well, if the Gospel writers really had no solid contact with the characters in the stories, if they were writing decades later and had never visited the lands about which they were writing, getting the names right would be unlikely to the point of impossible.

    Hazen offers this example to drive the point home:

    It would be as if a person who had never set foot out of California were attempting to write a story about people living in Portugal 60 years ago and the writer perfectly captured all the details of the personal names of the day without traveling, without the Internet, without encyclopedias or libraries. Clearly, guesses and intuitions about Portuguese names from over a half-century earlier are exceedingly unlikely to match the real situation on the ground.

    So how does Ilan’s list match the names used in the four New Testament Gospels?

    But this new research shows that the Gospel writers were “spot on” in regard to the popularity, frequency, proportion and usage of personal names in the text of Scripture, indicating very deep familiarity with life in the exact area and timeframe of Jesus and his earliest followers. British New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham did some exhaustive work correlating New Testament names . . .  with the list of 3,000 names compiled by Ilan and concluded the following:

    • The Gospels were nearly perfect in how they captured the frequency of names among Palestinian Jews of the time. For instance, Ilan’s list of the 10 most popular names matched rank for rank the list of the most frequent names in the Gospels and Acts. This is an extraordinary confirmatory correlation.
    • By contrast, if you examine the most popular Jewish names in a different region (such as Egypt) at the time, the list is dramatically different. The pattern of names does not match what we know the pattern to be in Palestine.
    • Also by contrast, if you examine the names that appear in the Apocryphal Gospels (such as the Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Judas), you discover that the frequency and proportion of names in these writings do not match what we know to be true of names from the land and time of Jesus. Hence the Apocryphal Gospels do not have the ring of authenticity with regard to personal names and are rightly called into question.

    Fascinating results! If you want to learn more about these names, I would recommend reading Richard Bauckham’s book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, How Do Palestinian Names Lend Credence to the Gospels? where he provides a lot more detail.

    What Are the Advantages of Monogamy?

    Posted By on October 10, 2014

     What Are the Advantages of Monogamy?William Tucker, the author of Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human What Are the Advantages of Monogamy?, quotes extensively from Joseph Henrich of the University of British Columbia, Robert Boyd of UCLA , and Peter Richerson of UC Davis, from a published article entitled “The Puzzle of Monogamous Marriage.” The article first notes the following paradox:

    The anthropological record indicates that approximately 85 per cent of human societies have permitted men to have more than one wife (polygynous marriage), and both empirical and evolutionary considerations suggest that large absolute differences in wealth should favour more polygynous marriages. Yet, monogamous marriage has spread across Europe, and more recently across the globe, even as absolute wealth differences have expanded.

    The authors contend that

    norms and institutions that compose the modern package of monogamous marriage have been favoured by cultural evolution because of their group-beneficial effects—promoting success in inter-group competition. In suppressing intrasexual competition and reducing the size of the pool of unmarried men, normative monogamy reduces crime rates, including rape, murder, assault, robbery and fraud, as well as decreasing personal abuses.

    By assuaging the competition for younger brides, normative monogamy decreases (i) the spousal age gap, (ii) fertility, and (iii) gender inequality. By shifting male efforts from seeking wives to paternal investment, normative monogamy increases savings, child investment and economic productivity. . . . Polygynous societies engage in more warfare.

    According to the authors,

    The 15 per cent or so of societies in the anthropological record with monogamous marriage fall into two disparate categories: (i) small-scale societies inhabiting marginal environments with little status distinctions among males [i.e. hunter-gatherers] and (ii) some of history’s largest and most successful ancient societies.

    Tucker explains what this means:

    In other words , Western European, American, and East Asian societies live in relative peace and prosperity because they honor and enforce monogamous marriage, as did the earliest human societies . Meanwhile, the reason other societies remain relatively poor and plagued by internal violence is because they have reverted to polygamy and continue to practice it.

    Henrich, Boyd, and Richerson go on to summarize the civilizing benefits of monogamy:

    1. The pool of unattached men is reduced so that they do not form a potentially disruptive residue in society.

    2. Crime is reduced since most crimes are committed by unmarried males. (In addition, longitudinal studies show that fewer crimes are committed by the same men when they marry.)

    3. Political coups and factional fighting become less common because there are fewer single men willing to enlist in rebel armies.

    4. Society becomes more productive because men work more when they are married.

    5. Children do better because men invest in them instead of using their resources to obtain more wives.

    6. Spousal relations improve because men and women are more dedicated to each other instead of merely entering an economic/ reproductive relationship.

    7. Child marriages disappear and the age gap between husbands and wives narrows. There is reduced inequality between men and women and spousal abuse declines.

    8. Young women are no longer hoarded and sequestered by their families in order to protect the value of the brideprice. Marriages become elective and more stable.

    Will Gay Marriage Weaken Monogamy?

    Posted By on October 8, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    how is my marriage affecting you Will Gay Marriage Weaken Monogamy?William Tucker, in his book Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human Will Gay Marriage Weaken Monogamy?, argues that the weakening of monogamy in modern America is cause for great concern. He goes to great lengths to show that monogamy is what makes us human, and is what has allowed western civilization to flourish.

    Tucker explains:

    From an evolutionary standpoint, gay marriage is a non-starter. It is only a few decades old and has played no part in evolutionary or human history. Whether it emerges as a symbol of a society’s respect for marriage or a symbol of its undoing remains to be seen.

    Tucker is unsure of whether gay marriage will support or undo monogamy, but he asks gay marriage proponents to consider the following:

    The important thing for supporters of same-sex marriage is to draw a stark line between acceptance of gay marriage and acceptance of an “anything-goes” attitude toward marriage, which says that it makes no difference whether people tie the knot or live in sin, whether they marry a man and a woman or marry two wives or three wives (because polygamy is always lurking at the edge of these discussions), or whether they marry their dog or their cat or a favorite lampshade.

    Far more fundamental than the issue of same-sex marriage is that we arrive at a biological, anthropological, and historic understanding of the role that monogamy has played in the evolution of human society.

    This is a real problem for gay marriage supporters. Most of them cannot articulate principled reasons why people should not live in sin, marry multiple spouses, or marry their dog or cat. In other words, they have been so busy arguing for gay marriage that they have made no effort to guard traditional marriage.

    Tucker believes that this is a colossal mistake. His view, supported by plenty of evidence throughout his book, is that the loss of traditional monogamous marriages will be a catastrophe for human civilization. Without monogamy, violence and warfare become far more common. That is not a condition any of us want to live in.

    How Are Polygamy and Warfare Related?

    Posted By on October 6, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    41X2ysLCTbL. SY344 BO1,204,203,200  How Are Polygamy and Warfare Related?William Tucker, in his book Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human How Are Polygamy and Warfare Related?, makes the case that polygamy and warfare are inextricably linked. Tucker writes:

    The hallmark of a polygamous society is that there is always a shortage of women. The Nash Equilibrium is upset and men compete more aggressively for women, since there are never enough to go around.

    What is the Nash Equilibrium?

    Nash’s thesis, still the mainstay of all game theory, says that a system can reach an equilibrium without maximizing the interest of every individual player. This occurs when the system reaches a point where each player has achieved the best outcome they can under the existing rules. For a large heterosexual group with the same number of males and females, monogamy satisfies Nash Equilibrium. Each player has optimized his or her outcome under the rules of the existing system. More to the point, the only way any individual can improve his or her outcome is by breaking the rules. But this causes other kinds of disruption and works to the disadvantage of the entire group. It can be prevented by other members constantly enforcing the rules.

    So how do polygamous societies deal with the deficit of women available for marriage?

    In organized polygamous societies the problem is resolved by having men buy their wives. The “brideprice” is the hallmark of a polygamous society, whereas the dowry— an extra incentive attached to an older or unattractive daughter— is the hallmark of a monogamous society. There are no “old maids” in a polygamous society, since women can become second or third or fourth wives of powerful men.

    In his 1981 book, A Treatise on the Family, Nobel Prize– winning economist Gary Becker argued that families of young women become the biggest supporters of polygamy because they possess an inherently scarce resource. Love matches and independent liaisons are frowned upon because they risk reducing the brideprice. In order to preserve their market value, young women must be veiled or sequestered and kept out of contact with young men. Because of the difficulties in finding brides, older men with lesser means are forced to look among younger and younger cohorts. Child marriages become common. Given the degree of sexual inequality and the great age differences that result, the personal bond between husbands and wives is not strong and there is very little companionate marriage.

    So where does warfare enter the picture?

    For primitive tribes, however, there is always one way of resolving this dilemma— raiding neighboring villages for their women. Academic anthropologists often have great difficulty dealing with this. In Marriage, Family, and Kinship, a book published in 1983 by the Human Area Relations Files at Yale University, for instance, Melvin and Carol R. Ember conducted a study that looked for correlations between polygamy and male-female imbalances. “[I]t appears that the cross-cultural evidence is consistent with the old notion that polygyny may generally be a response to an imbalanced sex ratio in favor of females,” they wrote.

    What creates the imbalance? “It appears that an imbalanced sex ratio in favor of females may be produced by warfare that results in a high mortality rate for males.” They parsed the data looking for correlations between high rates of warfare and polygyny and sure enough, there it was. “[W]e find that a high male mortality rate in warfare is fairly strongly associated with polygyny. . . . In sum, it seems that the cross-cultural evidence presented here is consistent with the theory that societies with a high male mortality in warfare are generally likely to have an imbalanced sex ratio in favor of females and, presumably for that reason, are likely to practice polygamy.”

    The Embers argue that “warfare kills a lot of men and leaves a surplus of women. The only way to make sure everyone is married is to allow polygamy.” Tucker believes the causal relationship posited by the Embers is exactly backwards.

    Societies that are polygamous to begin with go to war precisely because they have created an imbalance by letting each man take more than one wife. This creates a demand for more women that can only be resolved by stealing women from other tribes. Thus warfare and polygamy become mutually reinforcing.

    Which Came First, Polygamy or Monogamy? Part 2

    Posted By on October 3, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt

    polygamy Which Came First, Polygamy or Monogamy? Part 2In part 1, we saw that monogamy was the original marital practice of ancient humans. Monogamy, however, came under attack when the hunter-gatherers came under attack.

    What led to the demise of hunter-gatherers?

    The problem that led to the near-extinction of hunting-and-gathering cultures was their inability to support large population densities. The “carrying capacity” of any given landscape for a hunting culture is about one person per square mile. A settled agricultural society can support anywhere up to one hundred times that. As a result, since the Neolithic Revolution of ten thousand years ago, hunting-and-gathering groups have been constantly crowded off the land by even the most primitive agriculturalists.

    The concept of primitive hunter-gatherers exhibiting “cave man” like behavior toward women is actually backwards. Tucker explains that

    despite the popular conception of “the Cave Man” as a fierce and uncouth barbarian who practiced “marriage by capture,” hitting women over the head and dragging them back to his lair, in fact the hunting-and-gathering lifestyle seems to be relatively peaceful and equitable. Rather it was early agriculturalists who became fierce and warlike, constantly raiding neighboring villages, engaging in headhunting, torture of enemies, and even cannibalism. . . .

    And herein lies the great paradox at the beginning of visible human history. It is the earliest settled agricultural people that have become warlike while the earlier hunter-gatherers seemed much more content to pursue their hunting and live at relative peace with their neighbors. Why? Because the earliest agricultural societies reverted to polygamy after almost 5 million years in which monogamy seems to have prevailed.

    What are the consequences of the Neolithic Revolution that begun in the eastern Mediterranean region about ten thousand years ago?

    Nomadic hunter- gatherers began settling down in permanent encampments and gradually gave up hunting for agriculture. The hybrid grains— wheat, millet, rye— were invented and soon enough food could be grown to support larger and larger populations. This agricultural revolution also appears to have occurred in the Indus Valley and in China as well, radiating outward in each case. It still continues today as the last remaining hunting-and-gathering tribes are gathered into the folds of sedentary civilization.

    What were the results as far as marriage customs and the relations between the sexes are concerned? There were two major trends, which will be the subject of most of the rest of this book:

    1) As the accumulation of greater wealth became possible, inequalities became more pronounced. One obvious and readily available inequality was that a man could take more than one wife. Some societies— the vast majority of cultures, according to the anthropologists— succumbed to this pattern. Others, however, eventually legislated against it, creating the very artificial situation where, even though there may be vast differences in wealth between individuals, a man can still take no more than one wife. This distinction ended up drawing a bright red line between primitive tribes and advanced civilizations.

    2) The relationship between the sexes changed. With hunting-and-gathering, there was a very even division of labor between the sexes. As another conclave summoned in 1980 called “Woman the Gatherer” would establish, 60 to 70 percent of the food intake in hunting-and-gathering societies actually comes from women’s activities. Meat is only the preferred food . This creates a balance between the sexes that makes monogamy a very productive enterprise.

    With the adoption of agriculture, however, things changed. In some cultures, men eventually took it up and became productive. In others, however, they have disdained farming as “women’s work” and contribute only occasional labor such as clearing land. . . . [T]he economic balance between the sexes that fosters monogamy was upset.

    The parallels to the biblical Book of Genesis are striking. In Genesis, the first humans are monogamous. It is only after sin has entered the world that polygamy starts to become widespread. The Bible portrays polygamy as the cause of numerous instances of violence, conflict and strife among the Patriarchs and the kings of Israel.

    Which Came First, Polygamy or Monogamy? Part 1

    Posted By on October 1, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    polygamy Which Came First, Polygamy or Monogamy? Part 1According to William Tucker, in his book Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human Which Came First, Polygamy or Monogamy? Part 1, human beings were hunter-gatherers for thousands of years before settling down in larger population groups and becoming agricultural societies around 10,000 years ago.

    Over the last couple hundred years, as anthropologists have discovered and studied ancient hunter-gatherer people-groups that still exist today, the evidence is over-whelming: they are monogamous. Tucker writes:

    As explorers pushed farther into the forgotten corners of the world, however, they discovered a few remaining tribes that were still practicing hunting-and-gathering— the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, the Pygmies of Central Africa, the Aborigines of Australia. This led to an astonishing revelation. All turned out to be monogamous!

    The monogamy of hunter-gatherers leads to an amazing egalitarian ethic among their groups. Tucker quotes Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson:

    In general , hunter-gatherer people evince some of the most delightful and admirable ethics found anywhere. They may possess only a few rough and worn objects and little food beyond what is about to be eaten, but whatever one individual has is usually shared. People cooperate, and they promote cooperation. When one man tries to make himself better than his fellows, he is scorned, so that no one can become the “big man” or a petty tyrant over others. Hunter-gatherer societies are capable, anthropologists agree, of an “extreme political and sexual egalitarianism.”

    So how did polygamy arise among human populations?

    Apparently, it was the invention of agriculture and the accumulation of property and permanent wealth that had caused primitive agriculturalists to take up polygamy, as wealthier men began to acquire more women. By the 1930s, European anthropologists such as A. R. Radcliffe-Brown were arguing that polygamy was in fact a backsliding, arriving only after hunter-gatherer norms had broken down. With the loss of communal hunting, male members could now be excluded from the tribe without great consequence.

    When wealthier men no longer needed to collaborate and cooperate with less wealthy men, they started taking more women. Polygamy was the result.

    In part 2, we will take a more in-depth look at what caused the demise of the hunter-gatherers and why the practice of monogamy came under attack.

    Why Monogamy?

    Posted By on September 29, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt

     Why Monogamy? Why Monogamy?
    My friend, Wes, has again recommended to me a great book which I just finished. The book is called Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human Why Monogamy? and is written by William Tucker. Here is Tucker explaining what he is going to tackle in the book:

    The premise from which we will work is simple. Human monogamy— the pair-bonding of couples within the framework of a larger social group— is not entirely a natural institution. This is attested by the observation that 95 percent of all species are polygamous. Where monogamy has been adopted in nature, it usually involves pair-bonded couples living in isolation in a challenging environment.

    Birds pair off within a larger group, which is why in matters of romance we often feel more affinity with them than we do with our fellow mammals; while 90 percent of bird species are monogamous, 97 percent of mammal species are polygamous and individual pair-bonds are almost unknown. Only the beaver and a few others practice monogamy.

    Monogamy, then, is not the rule in the natural world, but is the exception. So why was monogamy ever adopted by human beings when most of the animal world is polygamous? Tucker explains that

    in almost all species, males spend most of their time fighting among themselves for access to females. The unique social contract of monogamy— a male for every female , a female for every male— lowers the temperature of sexual competition and frees its members to work together in cooperation. It is at this juncture that human societies— even human civilizations— are born.

    Tucker spends much of his time in the book defending the hypothesis that monogamous human societies experience greater peace and less violence than polygamous societies. He notes, however, that there is an ever-present danger that monogamy will vanish.

    Unfortunately, monogamy does not sustain itself “naturally.” It requires rules —rules that must be continuously enforced by the members practicing it. Moreover, the benefits of monogamy are not distributed equally. There are clear winners and losers, and there will always be pressure against the system from individuals who are dissatisfied with it. Yet any society that responds too enthusiastically to these grievances or decides that the system is no longer worth defending will find itself slipping back into an older social order where male competition is far more intense and the peace of civilization is difficult to maintain.

    Why is it that monogamy fosters peace while polygamy fosters violence?

    All this can be illustrated with some simple arithmetic. In any animal or human population, there will always be approximately the same number of males and females. When it comes to mating, then, there should be a male for every female and a female for every male . Without the restrictions of monogamy, however, the more powerful males will collect multiple females, leaving the lowest status males with none.

    When this happens in nature, the unattached males usually wander off alone to lives that are “nasty , brutish, and short,” or else congregate in a “bachelor herd” where they engage in endless status competitions until one or more emerge as strong challengers to the reigning alpha males. A titanic battle then ensues and if the challenger wins he takes over the “pride,”“pod,” or “harem” of females (there is a name in almost every species). He becomes the new alpha and gets to sire progeny.

    So the results of polygamy are that lower status males will be unable to mate because the females have all been claimed by the higher status males. What happens if monogamy is practiced?

    Monogamy presents a different picture altogether. If every male is guaranteed a mate, then the losers are high-status males. Their breeding opportunities are curtailed. The winners are lower-status males, who are no longer thrust into exile but are given the opportunity to mate.

    There are winners and losers on the female side as well. The winners are high-status females who now have exclusive access to a high-status male instead of having to share him with other females. This is particularly important if the male is a provider. A high-status female who can lay exclusive claim to the efforts of a high-status male provider tremendously increases her chances of raising successful offspring.

    At the same time, the fortunes of low-status females are severely constricted by monogamy. They no longer have access to high-status males, either genetically or provisionally, but must be contented with the resources of an inferior, low-status male.

    These same lessons can be applied to human civilizations, argues Tucker.

    Although all this may seem transparent, its application to the workings of societies both contemporary and historic produces remarkable insights. First of all, it poses the question, how did monogamy ever evolve if high-status males are the biggest losers? After all, it is usually high-status males that dominate a social group and set the rules.

    Second, it explains why the predominant pattern in many former civilizations—that of Ancient Egypt or Imperial China, for instance— was polygamy at the top while monogamy prevailed among the common people. The rulers of most ancient civilizations were unabashed in taking multiple wives and consorts— even whole harems. In a few instances— the Ottoman Empire, for example— this stark inequality became so pronounced that the society became basically dysfunctional. On a smaller scale, the same pattern holds in Islamic societies today.

    The important point is this. Although monogamy is manifestly a more equitable and successful way to organize a society, it is always under siege and forever fragile. It requires rules that must be upheld by its members. If a society becomes lax or indifferent about upholding its norms, the advantages will quickly unravel— as we are plainly witnessing in the America of today.

    Tucker continues, in his book, to provide loads of evidence and argumentation about the pros of monogamy and the cons of polygamy, as illustrated by a variety of human societies, large and small. In future blog posts, I will dig out some of the key arguments and evidence from the book. Stay tuned.

    Does God Have Plans to Prosper You? Part 2

    Posted By on September 26, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    c11583ce18977fb3a4ad0b8edbd2537b Does God Have Plans to Prosper You? Part 2In part 1, we started looking at how we misread Jer 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” In part 2, we pick up with the second way we misread this verse.

    What is the second way we misread Jer 29:11?

    Herein lies the second way Western readers misread the passage: we unconsciously turn the us into me. We understand the object of the sentence, you, to mean “each one of you individually.” We then read Jeremiah 29:11 as, “I know the plans I have for you, Brandon.”

    But remember that Israel was a collectivist culture. They understood the object of the sentence, you, to mean “my people, Israel, as a whole.” If God meant each Israelite individually, then the promise is nonsense before the words are fully out of God’s mouth.

    We must teach every new student that the “plans to prosper you” involved the killing and enslavement of thousands of individual Israelites (2 Kings 24-25), who might dispute the promise “not to harm you.” Moreover, Jeremiah 29:4-7 indicates that God’s blessing extended to Israel’s enemies, the nations in which the Israelites were living as exiles.

    Yet through all this, God prospered Israel. He didn’t spare them from exile. He prospered them in spite of their condition of exile. Certainly many individuals languished without prospering, without the prospect of a bright future. Enslavement and suffering were their plight. The promise may not apply to me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to us.

    Given the context, it’s clear that Jeremiah is not promising each individual Israelite that they would not suffer. He is promising something different. What is the third mistake?

    Third, we Westerners tend to microwave this verse. That is, we fast-forward the outcome. God does indeed prosper his people. About seventy years later, they are returned to the land with blessing.

    Most Western Christians who quote this verse would not be happy to acknowledge that the plans God has for his people may not be clear for two generations. Worse, the two intervening generations may endure all manner of hardship. To acknowledge this is to admit that the payoff doesn’t include me and renders the text irrelevant to me. It also offends our sensibility, discussed in a previous chapter, that promises (rules) must apply to everyone equally all the time.

    So how should we apply this verse to our lives today? The authors offer an answer to that question:

    To avoid misapplication, we should determine what the text meant then before we try to apply it to ourselves now. We suggest a better interpretation of Jeremiah 29 runs something like this: even though Israel is in the condition of exile, God will prosper them by prospering those who enslave them (Jer 29:7). Someday he will deliver them from exile, but that will happen well in the future. Until then, Israel is to rest assured that God is at work for their deliverance, even when he does not appear to be.

    The application of this interpretation is broader and profounder than our typical misreading. Remember that the New Testament describes Christians as living in a state of exile. We are “foreigners and exiles” (1 Pet 2:11), members of “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (Jas 1:1), whose “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Like the Israelites in Jeremiah 29, the church is “God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout” the world (1 Pet 1:1).

    A more likely application of Jeremiah 29:11, then, is that God is working to prosper his church. Though at times it appears the church cannot resist its enemies—whether hostile governments or worldviews or the unfaithfulness of its own people—God is committed to making it grow, like the mustard seed. He has promised the total consummation of his church. But until that day, we labor faithfully, knowing that God is working his purposes for his church, of which each of us is a part but not the focus.

    Does God Have Plans to Prosper You? Part 1

    Posted By on September 24, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    c11583ce18977fb3a4ad0b8edbd2537b Does God Have Plans to Prosper You? Part 1One of our favorite verses is Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Unfortunately, we typically wrench this verse totally out of its original context and misapply it to ourselves.

    E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien attempt to set us straight with a careful analysis of this verse and its context. Below is their extended discussion of this verse from their book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible Does God Have Plans to Prosper You? Part 1.

    The context of the passage is undisputed. The inhabitants of Jerusalem were on the brink of disaster. The Babylonians were knocking at the door. Death and slavery were best-case scenarios. God had miraculously delivered Jerusalem from the Assyrians about a hundred years earlier: “That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!” (2 Kings 19:35).

    Some self-proclaimed prophets were predicting God would do this sort of thing again. God sent Jeremiah to set the nation straight, to break the bad news. There would be no miraculous rescue this time. Even so, God did add that he had plans to ultimately prosper and not to harm his people. That is usually as far as our students get.

    So what is the problem? Didn’t God have plans that he did indeed accomplish?

    Your authors are 100 percent certain that God had plans and he accomplished them, just as he intended. The passage itself reminds the reader, “Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command” (2 Kings 24:3). But we think that this verse is commonly misread in three ways.

    First, Western readers tend to ignore the context. The city of Jerusalem was captured, looted and burned. The king, Zedekiah, didn’t fare better. “They killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon” (2 Kings 25:7).

    It may be that we ignore the context because it doesn’t apply to us. We noted above that we are prone to ignore passages we consider irrelevant to us. What could be less relevant than the fate of Zedekiah and his sons? Surely we shouldn’t expect a similar fate. The general context of exile, too, seems irrelevant.

    To us, the context of Jeremiah 29:11 feels like little more than a plot detail or filler to highlight the main point, which is a direct promise to us. And this promise is indeed most relevant. For what is it that we want? We want direction: wisdom in choosing a career or finding a spouse or handling an unruly child or an uncooperative colleague.

    I (Randy) bought a house just months before the housing collapse. My wife and I prayed about it. Surely, God has a plan to prosper us and our (underwater) house.

    So the first problem is that we read this verse in isolation instead of in the context of the surrounding passage. As Greg Koukl likes to say, “Never read a Bible verse!” Always read the passages that come before and after, in addition to the single verse you want to read.

    We will look at the second and third ways we misread this verse in part 2. We will also find out how we should apply this verse to our lives today.

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