For those who believe in a Biblical Cosmological origin story, we can trace the birth of our very existence to the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament, as it hits chapter one, verse 26. It reads, “And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth,” and is followed by verse 27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God create he him; male and female created he them” (Bible.com). So, what was God’s first commandment to his people? According to this text, it was quite simple – be fruitful, and multiply. God had given us everything from cattle, to birds, etc., even the whole earth, under this one request. By chapter two of Genesis, God has created Adam and a woman (Eve), and offers the following insight to close the chapter: “… shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Bible.com). Objectively speaking, this is just about the entirety of light that is shed on the topic of marriage in these first two chapters of Genesis. The subjective meaning that religious peoples, whether Jewish, Christian, or more, have thereafter interpreted from whatever the original version of this text was intended to convey, has set the stage for each of their modern religious stances on matrimony.
As contradictory to the rather indefinite nature of the Old Testament, modern religious tradition regarding marriage and reproduction that has stemmed from Biblical Cosmology is quite contradictory. The most fundamental arguments regarding reproduction and use of modern technology differ nearly completely among two predominant Biblical people, both the Jewish peoples and the Christians (Catholics specific to this blog post). InDonum Vitae, an instruction manual for respect regarding human life through the lens of Catholicism, issued in 1987, there is a clear message against ulterior methods of reproduction beyond the more traditional route. Via interpretation of the Bible, the writers of Donum Vitae interject, “the procreation of a new person, whereby the man and the woman collaborate with the power of the Creator, must be the fruit and the sing of the mutual self-giving of the spouses, of their love and of their fidelity” (Donum Vitae). In italics, the writers further describe the fidelity spoken about as a between the spouses in the unity of marriage, and involving only reciprocal respect of their right to become a father and a mother only through each other.
Interestingly enough, Susan Martha Kahn’s book Reproducing Jews, which she wrote in the year 2000,actually offers a contradictory opinion on reproduction, through the lens of Judaism. The interesting twist is apparent – both beliefs are supposedly deduced from the Old Testament. Through ethnographic studies, Kahn concludes that by the Jewish teaching, “… genes are not the determinant of relatedness; nowhere in this belief more in evidence than in the fact that Jews are now deliberately reproduced with non-Jewish genetic material” (Reproducing Jews). By way of this, the focus turns the womb of the mother, and how genetically Jewish the woman might be. From the most basic commandment of “be fruitful and multiply, come two arguments that are rather conflicting.
The origin of these differences can be due to the very progression of time itself. According to various accounts, the Old Testament can range back to anywhere close to about 3,000 years ago. Say that is the case – Donum Vitaewas written about 2970 years after the Bible’s conception, with Reproducing Jews13 years behind that. The sheer amount of years that have passed, historical events that have occurred, and change that has progressed the entirety of the human race in that time is unprecedented. Taking this all into consideration, the events that have occurred to the groups we knew to then be the Jewish and Christian peoples are so drastically different, they almost surely prompt entirely different subsets of ideals and interpretations as they are reflected today. This is not even considering the fact that Christianity has yet to be conceived if we are basing our timing on the assumption that the Old Testament was devised Before Christ. Even in the past 2000 years, the number of separate events that have fundamentally defined each group of people are jaw-dropping.
If we are talking about Catholicism and Judaism, the dichotomy is simple – each group has split their own way, and created a culture that has nurtured a set of beliefs, separate from each other, which each represent what they believe to be the best fit interpretation of Genesis and the word of God. Any number of events that happened across these group’s timelines could account for interpretations, whether it be as far back as Moses freeing the Israelites from Egypt, or many thousands of years later during the Protestant Reformation, etc. Each group has a unique story that has been uniquely shaped over time due unique circumstances, and each hold a unique view point and set of beliefs based on their own unique justifications.
Regarding an ethnographic approach to understanding this discrepancy between religions, one is almost certainly able to better understand a culture by personally delving into its inner workings rather than simply viewing its most basic religious texts. Culture is a summation of many factors, religion included. Understanding religious texts can generate some sort of important understanding of a religious culture, but for it to truly be understood one must involve themselves it in to a further extent. Ethnography can answer the questions that most readings can’t.