After a brief overview of the social context and role of marriage and sexuality in Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures, the chapter traces the impact of the Genesis creation narratives, positively and negatively, on how marriage and sexuality were seen both in the present and in depictions of hope for the future. Discussion of pre-marital sex, incest, intermarriage, polygyny, divorce, adultery, and passions follows. It then turns to Jesus’ reported response to divorce, arguing that the prohibition sayings should be read as assuming that sexual intercourse both effects permanent union and severs previous unions, thus making divorce after adultery mandatory, the common understanding and legal requirement in both Jewish and Greco-Roman society of the time. It concludes by noting both the positive appreciation of sex and marriage, grounded in belief that they are God’s creation, and the many dire warnings against sexual wrongdoing, including adulterous attitudes and uncontrolled passions.
The Hebrew Bible is sometimes understood as the source of a ‘traditional’ Judaeo-Christian approach to marriage and sexual practice. A comprehensive examination reveals, however, that biblical assumptions about sex, gender, and kinship are complex and internally diverse. Some of these assumptions stand in tension with traditional Jewish and Christian norms for marriage and sexual activity. This essay reviews such matters as the biblical vocabulary for, and representations of, marital relations; the status of women in households organized around fathers; the role of polygyny; differing standards for the sexual conduct of husbands, wives, and concubines; intermarriage and inter-ethnic sexual relations; prostitution; the use of sex and marriage within male contests for power and honour; the use of sexual and marital images in representations of Israel’s relationship to God; and the attitudes towards sex and gender found in less frequently read books of the Bible such as the Song of Songs.