08 February 2019

BOOK: John WITTE, The Western Case for Monogamy over Polygamy [Law and Christianity] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015). ISBN 9781107499171, £ 37.99

(Source: CUP)

We did not yet report on this publication on monogamy in the Western tradition in Cambridge’s Law and Christianity series, which was published in 2015.


For more than 2,500 years, the Western tradition has embraced monogamous marriage as an essential institution for the flourishing of men and women, parents and children, society and the state. At the same time, polygamy has been considered a serious crime that harms wives and children, correlates with sundry other crimes and abuses, and threatens good citizenship and political stability. The West has thus long punished all manner of plural marriages and denounced the polygamous teachings of selected Jews, Muslims, Anabaptists, Mormons, and others. John Witte, Jr carefully documents the Western case for monogamy over polygamy from antiquity until today. He analyzes the historical claims that polygamy is biblical, natural, and useful alongside modern claims that anti-polygamy laws violate personal and religious freedom. While giving the pro and con arguments a full hearing, Witte concludes that the Western historical case against polygamy remains compelling and urges Western nations to hold the line on monogamy:

·         The first comprehensive history of attitudes toward polygamy in the West, from biblical times until today
·         Includes detailed case studies of polygamist prosecutions in early modern Europe and nineteenth-century America
·         Provides valuable tools for the study of polygamy including definitions of plural marital unions and a detailed background on Biblical, Talmudic, Greek and Roman law


John Witte, Jr, Emory University, Atlanta
John Witte, Jr is Robert W. Woodruff University Professor and Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, Atlanta. A world authority in legal history, he has directed twelve major international projects on democracy, human rights, religious liberty, marriage, family, and children. He has lectured throughout the world and published twenty-seven books, including, recently, Christianity and Human Rights: An Introduction (Cambridge, 2010) and The Sins of the Fathers: The Law and Theology of Illegitimacy Reconsidered (Cambridge, 2009).


1. From polygamy to monogamy in ancient Judaism
2. Monogamy versus polygamy in the early church
3. Polygamy in the laws of state and church in the first millennium
4. The medieval case for monogamy over polygamy
5. Polygamous experiments in early Protestantism
6. The Calvinist case against polygamy and its civil law impact
7. The English case against polygamy: theology, politics, and the early modern common law
8. The early modern liberal case for polygamy
9. The Enlightenment liberal case against polygamy
10. The American case against polygamy.

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