The Urantia Book -- Part III. The History
PAPER 83: Section 5.
In the early history of marriage the unmarried women belonged to the men of
the tribe. Later on, a woman had only one husband at a time. This practice
one-man-at-a-time was the first step away from the promiscuity of
the herd. While a woman was allowed but one man, her husband could sever such
temporary relationships at will. But these loosely regulated associations
were the first step toward living
pairwise in distinction to living
In this stage of marriage development children usually belonged to the mother.
The next step in mating evolution was the group marriage. This communal
phase of marriage had to intervene in the unfolding of family life because
the marriage mores were not yet strong enough to make pair associations permanent.
The brother and sister marriages belonged to this group; five brothers of
one family would marry five sisters of another. All over the world the
forms of communal marriage gradually evolved into various types of group marriage.
And these group associations were largely regulated by the totem mores. Family
life slowly and surely developed because sex and marriage regulation favored
the survival of the tribe itself by insuring the survival of larger numbers
Group marriages gradually gave way before the emerging practices of polygamy
-- polygyny and polyandry -- among the more advanced tribes. But polyandry
was never general, being usually limited to queens and rich women; furthermore,
it was customarily a family affair, one wife for several brothers. Caste and
economic restrictions sometimes made it necessary for several men to content
themselves with one wife. Even then, the woman would marry only one, the others
being loosely tolerated as "uncles" of the joint progeny.
The Jewish custom requiring that a man consort with his deceased brother's
widow for the purpose of "raising up seed for his brother," was the custom
of more than half the ancient world. This was a relic of the time when marriage
was a family affair rather than an individual association.
The institution of polygyny recognized, at various times, four sorts of wives:
- The ceremonial or legal wives.
- Wives of affection and permission.
- Slave wives.
True polygyny, where all the wives are of equal status and all the children
equal, has been very rare. Usually, even with plural marriages, the home was
dominated by the head wife, the status companion. She alone had the ritual wedding
ceremony, and only the children of such a purchased or dowered spouse could
inherit unless by special arrangement with the status wife.
The status wife was not necessarily the love wife; in early times she usually
was not. The love wife, or sweetheart, did not appear until the races were considerably
advanced, more particularly after the blending of the evolutionary tribes with
the Nodites and Adamites.
The taboo wife -- one wife of legal status -- created the concubine mores. Under
these mores a man might have only one wife, but he could maintain sex relations
with any number of concubines.
Concubinage was the steppingstone to monogamy,
the first move away from frank polygyny. The concubines of the Jews, Romans,
and Chinese were very frequently the
handmaidens of the wife. Later on, as among
the Jews, the legal wife was looked upon as the mother of all children born
to the husband.
The olden taboos on sex relations with a pregnant or nursing wife tended greatly
to foster polygyny. Primitive women aged very early because of frequent childbearing
coupled with hard work. (Such overburdened wives only managed to exist by virtue
of the fact that they were put in isolation one week out of each month when
they were not heavy with child.) Such a wife often grew tired of bearing children
and would request her husband to take a second and younger wife, one able to
help with both childbearing and the domestic work. The new wives were therefore
usually hailed with delight by the older spouses; there existed nothing on the
order of sex jealousy.
The number of wives was only limited by the ability of the man to provide for
them. Wealthy and able men wanted large numbers of children, and since the infant
mortality was very high, it required an assembly of wives to recruit a large
family. Many of these plural wives were mere laborers, slave wives.
Human customs evolve, but very slowly. The purpose of a harem was to build up
a strong and numerous body of blood kin for the support of the throne. A certain
chief was once convinced that he should not have a harem, that he should be
contented with one wife; so he promptly dismissed his harem. The dissatisfied
wives went to their homes, and their offended relatives swept down on the chief
in wrath and did away with him then and there.