Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Brief History of Marriage

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Brief History of Marriage

Article excerpt

The British House of Commons voted to approve same-sex marriage Tuesday. The issue deeply divides the ruling Conservative Party, as well as the Church of England. The church accepts same-sex civil unions as a legal institution but opposes gay marriage, which church leaders say undermines the sacred place of marriage in society. Was marriage originally a legal or a religious institution?

A legal institution, mostly. Marriage developed independently in hundreds of human civilizations, so it's difficult to pinpoint history's first marriage or even the society that first conceived of marriage as an institution.

Early Sumerian marriage agreements, which date to the third millennium B.C., are among the oldest records relating to marriage. The couples swore an oath to a series of deities in a small number of agreements, but most of the records contain no mention of gods or religion, suggesting that the Sumerians viewed weddings as legal events. The terms of marriage were decidedly contractual, including specific worldly punishments for cheating. (The penalty for male infidelity was 10 shekels in alimony to the jilted wife. If the wife strayed, she would be strangled and dumped into a river.) There is no indication that someone who violated the marriage agreement suffered the eternal wrath of Shamash and Marduk, or that those deities took a personal interest in strong marriages.

The ancient Hebraic take on marriage is difficult to ascertain. Scholars have argued for years over whether to translate the Old Testament word describing a marriage agreement as "contract," which is a simple agreement between two parties, or "covenant," which includes an additional vow to God. One of the difficulties is that the Old Testament uses the same word to describe both God's relationship with the Israelites and a husband's promise to his wife. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.