The Ten Commandments
A book by Joseph Lewis
The Seventh Commandment
... chapter continued from previous file ...
Is it a violation of this Commandment to commit adultery in a dream? There is ample evidence in the Bible that such an act was given serious consideration and condemned as "unclean," the Biblical word for being ritually taboo. I quote Leviticus, Chapter 15, verses 16 and 17:
|16. And if any man's seed of copulation go out from him, then he shall wash all his flesh in water, and be unclean until the even.|
If this quotation is a condemnation of dream pollution, then every potent man and every woman with a healthy libido has been guilty of violating this Commandment. Not all dreams have sexual motives, yet it cannot be denied that dreams of a sexual nature are of erotic origin, and are often the fulfillment of desires experienced during waking hours. I quote Deuteronomy, Chapter 23, verses 9 to 11:
9. When the host goeth forth against thine enemies, then keep thee from every wicked thing.
10. If there be among you any man, that is not clean by reason of uncleanness that chanceth him by night, then shall he go abroad out of the camp, he shall not come within the camp:
11. But it shall be, when evening cometh on, he shall wash himself with water: and when the sun is down, he shall come into the camp again.
This is a recognition by the Bible writer of the prevalence of erotic dreams among soldiers as a result of prolonged continence. The taboo of "uncleanness" associated with its manifestation is indicative of the fear of pollution in matters concerning sex, and the necessity for purification.
Celibates notoriously have erotic dreams, as is proved by their diaries and confessions. Married men and women who have practiced continence for some time reveal their subjection and complete surrender to the erotic impulse while asleep. Sexually repressed unmarried women and sexually unsatisfied married women habitually have erotic dreams. In the dream state they can be completely abandoned to their passions, and invariably their phantom partners explore their sexual regions and stimulate their erotic zones in a manner not experienced while awake. What their husbands and lovers fail to give them while awake, these creatures of the night bring them in the painful but inexpressible ecstasy which their unsatisfied libido craves. It is not uncommon for a married woman utterly unaware of any attraction for a man to dream of having relations with him. Equally stimulating are the sexual congresses with phallic symbols. While dreaming, women have had violent sexual intercourse with snakes and other objects representing the male organ. [*110]
Even among primitive peoples, erotic dreams have their meaning and significance. The Papuans believe that before a young girl begins to menstruate, she dreams that the moon in the shape of a man has intercourse with her. [*111]
Men dream of harems where seductive women are as plentiful as fruit in an orchard and where convention and restrictions are unknown. Men known to be wholly devoted to their wives who would no more think of committing adultery than they would think of robbing a bank have confessed to having experienced coitus in dreams with women of their acquaintance and unknown women.
It is equally common for a woman, especially after having experienced some unpleasantness with the opposite sex, to dream of being in a remote part of the earth wholly unfamiliar to her, and surrounded by men she has never seen before. After selecting the man she wants, she experiences the most violent love-making, in a manner heretofore unknown, climaxed by an orgasm of inexpressible joy. [*112]
There is no accounting for the eerie figures of sexually stimulated imagination which take form, nor for the manner or shape in which they appear.
Among primitives it is believed that erotic dreams are due to their god's desire to copulate with them. From this belief, evidently, comes the superstition that many children are begotten of God. [*113]
The waking imagination of man has never been able to equal the realities of dreams. In no realm of the unconscious is this so evident as in the activities of sexual conduct. The freedom of action from both legal and social barriers, the choice of partners, the lack of convention, the disregard for the presence of others, the force and vitality of the orgiastic climax are certainly equal to the conscious activities of men and women. While in the dream state, these performances and the emotional responses and physical reactions are identical in results with those experienced and performed during waking hours, the only difference being the consequences! If such acts in the awakened state are violations of this Commandment, in what category is one to place those committed in the dream state?
Adultery and the Varied Sexual Customs of Mankind
We know that morality is subject to the process of evolution and that standards of morality vary according to climate, culture and condition of the people. We also know that because of the complicated sex mechanism and the great functional differences between man and woman, every conceivable variety of sexual conduct has been practiced by the peoples in the different inhabited areas of the earth. What relationship do these varied forms of sexual conduct bear to this Commandment? Why is adultery condemned in some communities as the most heinous of offenses, while in other communities it is as unheeded as myriad other forms of physical action? Does the economic value of a woman enter into the evaluation of her sexual behavior? Is sexual purity measured for its pecuniary value, or for its virtue? Does the fear of blood pollution discount the value of woman's chastity? Is adultery condemned because of its effect on the husband, the family, the tribe or the community? If adultery is condemned, is it because of private or public concern?
Professor James Henry Breasted warns us that "it is important to bear in mind the now commonly accepted fact that in its primitive stages, religion had nothing to do with morals as understood by us today." [*114]
In early Hebrew tribal life, the woman who went to her grave unmarried was disgraced. It was her duty to marry and bear a son, in the hope that he would prove the much longed-for Messiah who would lead his people to salvation. Yet the girl who was not a virgin was denied the privilege of marriage.
That the morality of the Bible is based on a most primitive code of sexual conduct is illustrated by the following passage from Deuteronomy, Chapter 22, verses 13 to 21:
13. If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her,
14. And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid:
15. Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel's virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate:
16. And the damsel's father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her;
17. And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter's virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.
18. And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him;
19. And they shall amerce him in a hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.
20. But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel:
21. Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die; because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.
But if the signs of virginity are fraudulent and the "tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel," what happens if she "play the whore in her fathers house"? She "shall be stoned with stones that she die." In other words, death was to be the penalty for unchastity. Does this not show that Biblical morality belongs in the same category as that of other primitive tribes that likewise determined the bride's sexual purity by the cloths on her marriage bed which showed signs of her virginity?
Among the Mandigos the blood-stained sheet of the marriage bed is carried through the streets of the village for all to see. A similar practice prevails among the Kulngo Negroes of the French Sudan. In Southern Celebes the "proofs of virginity" are exhibited to the guests on a silver plate. In other places the cloth is examined by a jury of matrons. Among the Bedawi it used to be the rule to leave the bloodstained cloth bearing "proofs" of the bride's virginity on a lance in the middle of the village for several days. In some instances it was hung out of a window; in others it was carried from house to house. Among the nobles of the Line Islanders, proof of virginity is required on marriage.
In Tonga the nuptial mat was paraded from house to house.
In Greece and Sicily the bride's nightgown was left hanging from her window for several days. In some provinces of Peru the mother publicly deflowers her daughters before witnesses of the marriage contract.
The defloration of the brides of kings was an occasion for great public demonstrations. [*115] When Charles V of Spain married Isabel of Braganza, the "proofs"? of her virginity were solemnly exhibited for inspection to the assembled grandees.
The sexual purity of women has always exercised a peculiar fascination over men. The prayer of a vestal virgin was supposed to be able to arrest a thief in his flight. In the story of Claudia, a ship bearing the image of the mother of the gods had been stranded in the Tiber. A vestal virgin attached her girdle to its prow and with her virgin hand drew the ponderous mass which strong men had sought in vain to move. [*116]
According to the Chinese legend, on which perhaps the story of the virgin birth of Jesus was based, when but one man and one woman lived on the earth, the woman refused to sacrifice her virginity even to people the globe. The gods, honoring her purity, granted that she conceive beneath the gaze of her lover's eyes, and thus a virgin mother became the parent of humanity. [*117]
Christianity regarded virginity as woman's greatest possession. It is the Christian belief that if a girl dies a virgin, she is more likely to be blessed in heaven for her purity. In fact, we have innumerable instances where sexual purity has become such a fetish that fathers have murdered their daughters for fear that they would become polluted by sex contact.
In some primitive tribes, chastity is regarded as woman's greatest virtue. Among the East African Takue, the seducer of a girl generally pays with his life. The Baziba look on illegitimate intercourse as a serious offense. If the crime is discovered, both the man and the woman are bound hand and foot and thrown into the water to drown. In Dahomey a man who seduces a girl is forced by law to marry her. In Persia an unmarried girl who gave birth to a child would be killed.
The Karaya, a Brazilian tribe, consider sexual intercourse out of wedlock a serious offense to be severely punished, sometimes even by death. [*118] The Algerian Berbers do not tolerate sexual relations out of wedlock. In Morocco a bride who is found not to be a virgin is frequently sent away by her husband, and in some tribes she is killed by her brother. Illegitimate children are generally killed together with the mother. [*119] Among the Hindus, female inconstancy is considered abominable. Prostitutes are looked on as the most degraded of the human race. In the Avesta, the religious book of Zoroastrianism, it is written: "Any woman that has given up her body to two men in one day is sooner to be killed than a wolf, a lion or a tiger." In Greece the chastity of an unmarried girl is anxiously guarded. [*120]
Yet the existence of the hymen is no guarantee of sexual purity. The ignorant belief that it is has undoubtedly been the cause of much unmerited suffering. A girl may be perfectly chaste and yet have a ruptured hymen, sometimes without her knowledge, due to a strenuous athletic life.
The Privilege of the First Night
Even where virginity was demanded of the bride, the taboo associated with spilling the first blood in the act of defloration was at times so strong among certain tribes that it was performed by priests or others specially appointed for such tasks.
When the Philippine Islands were discovered, it was found that virginity in girls was a hindrance to marriage, and that men made it a profession to deflower girls at the age of puberty. Among the Todas of the Nilgiris, in Southern India, a man of strong physique, generally from another clan, spends one night with a girl for the purpose of deflowering her just before she matures. If she waits until after the signs of her puberty, it is considered a disgrace. The women of Nayar beg the men to deprive them of their virginity because otherwise they are unable to secure a husband.
When a young woman of the Queensland tribes shows signs of puberty, two or three men take her away, and she has to submit to intercourse with all. After this, she is considered eligible for marriage. [*121] In our society, this would be condemned as the most vicious kind of rape and severely punished; but in certain communities it is an accepted common occurrence.
Chinese women paid Buddhist priests to deflower their daughters before marriage. This was usually done when the girls were from seven to nine years of age. [*122] In Tibet and in Portugal, women gave their children to strangers to be deflowered. On the coast of Malabar, if a girl died with her maidenhood, some male member of the family deflowered her before her burial for fear that she would be denied the benefits of an afterlife. [*123]
The king of Tenasserain permitted his bride to be deflowered by a white man. In fact, it was regarded as a great benefit when it was performed by a stranger. [*124]
This taboo takes different forms in different communities. When a Nasamonian marries, says an authority, it is the custom for the bride to lie with all the guests in turn, and each, when he has had intercourse with her, gives her some present which he has brought with him. In the Balearic Isles, the oldest friends lie with the bride first. A similar custom prevails among the savages of Australia, where the bridegroom seldom has his bride to himself until two or three nights after the wedding ceremony. Briffault suggests that the widespread custom of giving all male guests at the wedding night the right to kiss the bride, or dance with her, is merely a symbolic farewell to her days of freedom. [*125]
In Morocco the best man is present when the bridegroom has relations with the bride and claims his share of the pleasure. Other customs among them are not fit to mention. [*126]
The Kamchadal bridegroom who finds his wife a virgin is greatly put out. He fears to be the first to have intercourse with her because of the taboo against spilling blood, and secures the services of the priest to perform the act. [*127] In Guatemala, and among the Arawaks, it was customary for the high priest to spend the first night with the bride. The Samorin must not cohabit with his bride until the chief priest has done so, because the "first fruits" of her nuptials must be a holy oblation to the god she worships. The priest acts as the god's representative. [*128]
The kings of Uganda and of Calicut demanded virginity of their brides, but at their own request had them deflowered by proxy, for fear of the taboo of spilling blood.
The first communion, now performed as a rite of the Catholic Church, is said to be a survival of the deflowering of a maiden by the priests in early times. [*129] In the Talmud also, we read that the virgin, before going to her husband, must sleep with the Taphsar. [*130]
It was not until 1642, in Catalonia, that the privilege of the first night as belonging to the clergy was abolished. Until that time the priest either enjoyed the first embrace or passed over the peasants in bed as a symbol of his right. [*131]
The Bishop of Amiens was prevailed on to abolish the custom of demanding a large sum from the bridegroom for the privilege of having conjugal relations with his wife for the first three nights. [*132]
Undoubtedly, the custom which demanded the privileges of the first night with the peasant's bride is a survival of the marriage customs of primitive societies in which priests enjoyed this privilege for many and varied reasons associated with deflowering. When priests lost power over the people due to the decline of superstition, the secular rulers usurped, wherever possible, the privileges which the priests had enjoyed through fears and taboos. As a result of this, the deflowering of the bride by the lords of the manors continued for some time, although it occasionally met with serious opposition, and was one of the contributing causes of the downfall of medieval feudalism. Le droit du Seigneur existed in parts of France until the eve of the French Revolution.
In ancient Ireland it was not only a king's right but his duty to deflower brides before they were handed over to their husbands; and King Conchobarn is praised in an ancient record for his punctilious devotion to duty in having destroyed the virginity of every maid in Ulster. Among the Guanches of the Canaries, it was a matter of considerable anxiety to the bridegroom that the services of a prince of royal blood should be obtained to deflower his bride, for unless a prince could be persuaded to bestow this favor on him, his children would be regarded as bastards and the marriage would be null and void. [*133] If the woman became pregnant, her child was considered of noble heritage. The children born from relations with her husband were considered commoners. [*134] When one of the great lords of Goa married, it was the custom for him to take his bride to the sovereign and ask him to sleep with her the first three nights.
This custom was widely prevalent throughout medieval as well as primitive times. Histories of Scotland record that King Evenus III enacted a law which authorized his successors to lie with every bride before her husband could approach her. This law remained in force for more than a thousand years. When the custom was abolished, the bridegroom had to pay a tax for the privilege of the first night with his bride. [*135]
How are we to judge the standard of sexual acts when among certain peoples it was the custom for even fathers to deflower their daughters? When a Singhalese gave his daughter in marriage, he first slept with her himself on the ground that he had a right to the first fruit of the tree he had planted! [*136]
Just as there are societies where virginity is demanded as a sign of purity, there are also communities where it is of no consideration in evaluating a woman.
Among the Point Barrow Eskimos there is a complete absence of what we consider a moral feeling in relations between the sexes, and promiscuous sexual conduct is taken as a matter of course even among children. [*137] In the Solomon Islands female chastity is practically unknown, and for two or three years after a girl becomes eligible for marriage she distributes her sexual favors among all the young men of the village. Virginity in a bride has little value to the Kamchdales, and among the Bakongo a woman's honor is measured by the price she costs.
Among the Yakuts and the Tshi-speaking peoples of the Gold Coast, chastity per se is of no great importance. It is maintained only because it is the duty of a daughter not to diminish her father's property value in her. Where there is no expectation of selling her, he is little concerned with her sexual indulgences. [*138] In British Central Africa scarcely any girl remains a virgin after the age of five. [*139] Yet, among many of these same people, a woman who shows her face to a stranger is condemned as being guilty of adultery. This is considered the most immoral act she could perform and is often punished by death.
Among the North American Indians a slightly different rule prevails. Here an unmarried girl may indulge in promiscuous relations with members of the tribe, but no inducement could tempt her to have relations with an outsider, particularly a white man. The Missouri Indians consider one of the duties of hospitality to provide visitors with temporary wives, but these must be representatives of other nations. At the present day, among the Indians of the Utah reservation, where complete promiscuity exists, the women refuse to have sexual relations with members of other tribes or with white men. More severe is the rule of the Caribbean races of the Mosquite Coast. Here sexual relations among them are unrestricted, but any woman having relations with one outside the tribe is condemned as an adulteress and put to death. The Masai, whose organized prenuptial love is notorious, will beat a woman to death who has sexual intercourse with a European. [*140] The Munda Kols severely punish a girl who is seduced by a Hindu, whereas intercourse with a man of their own people is regarded by most of them as a matter of course. Among the Barolongs, death was formerly inflicted on anyone who had intercourse with a European. [**141]
Free sexual intercourse prevails among the young of West African Pangwe, and if the trial proves satisfactory it generally leads to marriage. [*142] A similar custom, we are told, prevailed in Scotland and was known as "handfasting." At public fairs men would select female companions, with whom they cohabited. At the end of the year they would either marry or separate. The same custom, in a slightly different form, prevailed in Ireland and Wales. [*143]
Among the New Zealand aborigines, a girl's sexual conduct before marriage is her own affair. However, after marriage she remains faithful to her husband. So ingrained is this sentiment of fidelity that girls who submit to strangers for temporary entertainment permit no other men to possess them during that period. Unrestricted license before marriage and fidelity after marriage prevail also among the Land and Sea Dayaks.
Among the Poggy Islanders, cohabitation between unmarried persons is neither a crime nor a disgrace. The girl who has many lovers is much in demand as a wife; the one who had more experience before marriage is considered the more faithful after marriage. Marco Polo noted that in Tibet the more tokens a girl carried around her neck from her lovers, the more sought after she was as a wife. The Brames reckon it a special merit if their wives are noted for their numerous lovers. [*144]
In certain parts of British East Africa a pregnant girl is considered more desirable for marriage, and among the Bagas-Foreh, in French Guinea, a young woman cannot hope to find a husband unless she has two children old enough to walk. [*145] They regard a girl who is still a virgin as having no desirable qualities that attract a man.
In Runiana it is desirable for a young woman to cohabit with as many men as possible within a short time. The Hawaiians regard it as a meanness for a man or woman to refuse a solicitation for sexual gratification. The young girls of Madison's Island, of the Marquesas, are the wives of all who can purchase their favors, and a handsome daughter is considered a blessing by her parents because she brings them wealth. [*146]
Among certain tribes sexual conduct is a matter of indifference. They look upon the sex act as of no more significance than any other physical function.
In primitive customs, especially in the realm of sexual morality, it is discovered that even modesty is of recent origin. The years can be counted since the time that the genital organs were covered from the gaze of the opposite sex.
Among the Negritos of the Andaman Islands, copulation takes place anywhere, in the presence of men, women or children. The Fuegians have no inhibitions against performing the sexual act in public. In Tahiti, copulation used to take place in public, and it was stated that the ladies of the court watched with complete unconcern. It is said that such scenes are quite frequent among the Maori even today. The Indians of New Mexico cohabit in public. The Botocudos are perfectly indifferent to the presence of relatives or friends when performing the sex act. [*147]
In many savage tribes where there are no taboos associated with sex, the sexual act is considered an amusing sport when indulged in by children. Like their elders, they give presents before hiding themselves in the bushes and imitating them in copulation. [*148]
Among the Bantu Kavirondo, the bridegroom performs the first act of intercourse with his bride in the presence of women and girls; and among the Lower Congo people, the act is witnessed to see that the husband is potent. If he is unable to consummate the act, the marriage is dissolved. [*149] In Sweden and Teutonic countries, until quite recent times, the bride and bridegroom undressed before the guests and went to bed in their presence before they would depart. [*150]
There exists also in primitive societies what has been called "hospitality prostitution." Among the Kacookja, a man going away for some time hands his wife over to a friend, who is entitled to cohabit with her. A guest of the Assains (an Arab tribe living in the south of Kortium) is given a house and a woman for the time that he remains with the tribe. Among certain tribes it is considered the height of courtesy for the chief of the tribe to offer his wife to strangers as a gesture of good will. [*151]
The Sioux Indians, in order to show friendship to those they love, offer their wives to them. To refuse is an insult. But if the friend should seek the wife on another occasion without the husband's consent, he would be killed. Other tribes do likewise. The choicest females are offered as a mark of gracious hospitality to strangers, but none dare take a woman without previous consent. [*152]
Among the Maori it was a point of hospitality, when a strange chief of high rank paid a visit, for the host to send his guest a temporary wife or wives. In British Columbia, the temporary gift of a wife is one of the greatest honors that can be bestowed upon a guest. The Eskimos also considered it an act of generous hospitality. [*153] In Melanesia, a husband may offer his wife to a friend as an expression of hospitality. The Koryaks consider it the height of effrontery if a friend refuses to share his wife or daughter. In Madagascar, a missionary barely escaped being murdered because he refused to accept the wife of one of his native acquaintances. It was considered the greatest of insults. [*154]
Among the Bakunta, on the shores of Lake Edward, a woman after marriage was expected to admit any of her husband's friends to her favors. It is the source of great pride to rich men, who possess many wives, to entertain numerous guests of their clan and provide each one with a separate hut and a wife.
Among the Gilyak, the younger brother is permitted during the husband's absence to have sexual relations with his wife. [*155] The same is true in Eastern Tibet and Sikkim. Among other tribes, the brothers, each in turn, enjoy the wife of the eldest, and in many instances the wife selects those who are to cohabit with her. [*156] Sometimes, when a woman is married to one man and desires another, she is permitted the embrace of both. [*157]
The Negroes of Angola exchanged wives to break the monotony of life. The Eskimos of Fury and Kekla Straits, when on a fishing or sealing excursion for any length of time, often exchange wives as a matter of friendly convenience. [*158]
When two tribal brothers of the Darling tribes of New South Wales have quarreled and wish a reconciliation, one sends his wife to the other's camp and a temporary exchange is effected. [*159]
Among the Eskimos of Bering Straits it is quite common for two men in near-by villages to agree to become bond-fellows. This permits them the use of each other's wives. It is said that when this agreement prevails, the children, unable to know who their father is, consider one another brothers and sisters. In Repulse Bay it is the usual thing for friends to exchange wives for a week or two. Very often wives are so exchanged that each woman goes from man to man until she has passed through the hands of all. [*160] In the Malay Peninsula, during the rice harvest, the men of the Jakun tribes exchange wives. [*161] Even today in our own country one often hears of men exchanging wives while away together on vacations.
Fidelity and Unfaithfulness
In some societies conjugal fidelity applies only to the woman. There are, however, some primitive tribes not blessed with the divine knowledge of the Decalogue who prove interesting exceptions to this rule. Not only do we find that the husband and wife are loyal and faithful to each other, but both are equally punished for disloyalty.
The Igorots of Luzon are so strictly monogamous that if either husband or wife were guilty of sexual indiscretion, the guilty one could be compelled to leave the hut forever. Adultery is practically unknown among the Abipones. [*162]
Among the Sakai, punishment for adultery is death. [*163] Although sexual freedom is prevalent before marriage among the Semangs, a high degree of faithfulness is observed by both partners after marriage, and seldom does a married man have relations with another man's wife. [*164]
The Maori execute a woman who has committed adultery. Similar punishment prevails among the Caribs. In Tahiti, the wife guilty of adultery must die. Among many North American tribes, the punishment for a woman guilty of adultery consisted in cutting her hair -- a frightful disgrace in itself -- or amputating the ears, lips or nose, and sometimes a beating. The punishment prevailing in Mexico for the woman guilty of committing adultery is death by stoning. Married women in ancient Peru who were found to be unfaithful were killed. A similar rule prevailed among certain tribes in Brazil.
At Cumae, in the Campagna, the adulterous woman was stripped and exposed to the insults of the crowd, after which she was ridden on an ass through the city and remained dishonored forever after.
Although to people today nothing is more abhorrent than incestuous relations between members of the same family, yet if such relationships prevailed as a marriage institution, it is certainly within the province of this study to mention incest in conjunction with this Commandment. Incestuous unions were far more common than most people imagine and are not uncommon even today.
Until the middle of the last century in France, some fathers lived in concubinage with their daughters. Lugaid, the supreme king of Ireland, married his mother, and a king of Leinster had his two sisters as wives. It is stated that the Pharaohs and Ptolemies married their sisters. [*165] This gave rise to the expression that "princes and dogs know no relationship."
Sarah was Abraham's half sister, and did not Lot commit incest with his daughters?
The Caribs have no prohibition against sons marrying their mothers or fathers marrying their daughters. Among the Piojes of Ecuador, a widow often takes her son to replace the deceased husband, and a widower his daughter on the death of his first wife. [*166]
Among the Eastern Tinne of North America, many instances are recorded of marriages between brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters, and mothers and sons. The Southern Indians of the Tinne stock gave their daughters to their sons after they have cohabited with them. Among the Banyoro of Central Africa, men marry their sisters and daughters. In the harem of King Warus, there were found not only his sisters and nieces, but his own daughters.
In the Marshall Islands, as well as among tribes of the Solomon Group, incestuous unions have not been infrequent, and the Kalangs believe that if a mother and son live together, it will lead to prosperity and riches. Among numerous small, isolated tribes, brothers and sisters marry. [*167]
In any discussion of morality, incest deserves as serious consideration as adultery. Why did not this Commandment prohibit incest as well, since it is more reprehensible biologically and morally than the other?
A Provincial Taboo
The different forms of mating which prevail throughout the world are as varied as are other forms of conduct. While monogamy is the strict rule in one place, polygamy is the standard in another, and polyandry the custom in still another. [**168] While some communities make marriage a lifetime institution, in other places men can divorce their wives with no more difficulty than writing "a bill of divorcement." Some do not consider marriage of any more concern than eating or plowing together, while others look upon it as a "divine" indissoluble institution. Prostitution or promiscuous sexual relations prevail in nearly all communities and among all tribes, but whereas promiscuity is the rule in some places, it is the exception in others. Whereas adultery is condemned with death in one community, it is looked upon with indifference in another, while still another community regards it as sport for the pleasurable outlet of a complicated and mysterious physical function. In one place the wife of a man is jealously guarded with his life, while in another place it would be considered the greatest insult if you refused his wife as your bedfellow while you were a guest. While the mores of one community consider virginity a woman's most valuable possession, in another community no value whatsoever is placed on chastity, and in some communities it is actually considered a detriment. In one place an unmarried girl is free to indulge sexually with as many men as she desires, but once married she belongs exclusively to her husband; in another place all members of the tribe may enjoy the sexual pleasure of another's wife, although while unmarried it was incumbent upon her to be chaste. In certain places women are as cheap as vegetables, yet it would provoke bitter condemnation if one of the women had sexual intercourse with a man outside the tribe.
In one community, copulation may take place only at certain times of the month or year; in another, in the secrecy of a dark corner; in yet another, in the open fields at planting time; and in still other communities, without regard to time or place.
As society advances, as the rights of woman become more established, as her status as a chattel diminishes, the whole tenor of woman's sexual behavior is regarded in an altogether different light. Certainly no woman will be stoned to death in a civilized society for an act of unfaithfulness. Today adultery is sometimes committed as a means of emancipation. Court records abundantly prove that many women commit adultery in order to furnish evidence to secure a divorce from perpetual slavery in an unhappy marriage. In New York State alone, adultery is the only legal ground for divorce. (It is a primary ground in all other States except South Carolina, which grants no divorces on any ground.)
In view of the great variety of sexual customs through which man has passed, and the great divergencies of sexual acts he has experienced in his process of moral evolution, it becomes increasingly curious as to why such a Commandment as "Thou shalt not commit adultery" was made one of the important parts of the Decalogue.
The failure of this Commandment to specify all the sexual acts contrary both to nature and to the welfare of society is a matter of serious omission. It gives rise to the thought that there must have been some particular reason why only adultery was mentioned and why all the sex acts definitely antisocial and detrimental to the individual and to society alike were left unmentioned. There was a definite reason why abnormal sex manifestations were not included in this Commandment, and there was a very definite purpose for the specific mention of adultery only.
This Commandment was no more intended to guard the sanctity of the home, or to serve as a rule for the purity of sexual conduct, than were the previous ones formulated for the purposes for which they are mistakenly taken to apply today.
The ethics of personal sexual conduct up to the time of the Biblical Hebrews had not yet evolved universally to that state of morality which condemned adultery as an act of moral misbehavior. It was still associated with sinful implications.
This Commandment was a prohibition not founded on morality. It was a TABOO based upon sympathetic magic. It became part of the Decalogue for the same reason as the previous ones.
A precept claiming infallibility should certainly possess the universality of the law of gravitation and the perfection of the arithmetical table. If it fails to possess these undeviating qualities, its imperfection is self-evident and its value either greatly diminished or useless. The evidence presented here raises the question as to whether a rule governing sexual conduct can be dogmatically applied to all people of the earth, in all communities, under all circumstances and conditions, at the same time. The facts we have already adduced prove the utter impossibility of such a rule. The conclusion is inevitable that this Commandment was a provincial precept for a particular tribe of people, and was never intended to be an infallible moral guide in the realm of sexual behavior.
And so we ask: Is adultery a sin? Or is it a violation of a certain standard of sexual conduct? Or is it a wrong perpetrated by one partner an another? Or is it merely an act of unfaithfulness? We shall find the answer in the superstitious beliefs which prevailed among primitive tribes of the cultural level of the Biblical Hebrews.
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