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Romney’s 3000 years: Take it on faith

Ever since the SJC made its historic ruling in favor of granting the benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples, Governor Mitt Romney has repeatedly premised his opposition on a one-phrase mantra: "3000 years of recorded history." Many have wondered about that phrase, intoned so robotically (Romney’s Today appearance was especially Munster-like). What exactly is he referring to? Did something especially historic or sacramental happen in 997 BC?

In a word, no. But telling the governor might upset his entire worldview, so let’s keep it between us. Three thousand years ago, Confucius was writing odes. The Anasazi tribe was coming into prominence in the American Southwest. And Persians, men and women alike, were experimenting with makeup. But nothing especially new was happening with marriage. It was what it had been for hundreds of years in the cultures that offered it: a transaction by which a woman was sold, bartered, or offered as a gift, becoming the property of a man (and often, upon his death, the property of his family).

But, as anyone experienced with Christian fundamentalism can tell you, it seems likely that our governor has in mind the writing of the Bible. It is common among fundamentalists — such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which Romney is a member — to cite the Bible as marking the dawn of recorded history, because it deals (literally, it is presumed) with the world’s creation, the first humans, and the flood, as written by people believed to have lived comparatively soon thereafter.

But there are logistical problems in making such a claim. The oldest books of the Bible are the first five, the Pentateuch, lifted wholesale from Judaism. Unfortunately for the governor, the Pentateuch is too old: 3000 years ago, those books had already been in existence for 500 years. Most of rest of the Bible is younger than 3000 years (by as much as a millennium), and there is no specific book that has been dated to the time in question. Song of Solomon is set in roughly that era — but surely the governor knows that Solomon was the ultimate polygamist, with 700 wives, many married in political gambits and others swapped in land deals.

Thirty-five hundred years? Three thousand? Two thousand? Whatever. Even if we generously give the governor the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s just sloppy with his biblical timeline, a bigger issue remains: claiming that recorded history begins with the Bible is bogus.

In fact, the first written histories were composed by the Sumerians. Six thousand years ago — a couple of millennia before Moses — the Sumerians recorded the Gilgamesh epic, complete with a pre-Noah flood and an ark of their own, thank you very much. (This news, by the way, can be very upsetting to a fundamentalist. I was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist, and let me assure you that Gilgamesh came as a terrible blow.) And what do you know? Marriage was recorded way back then too: pity the poor brides on their way to their weddings, handed over to the unruly young king for sex.

So what does it all mean? Best-case scenario: Governor Romney is ignorant of the history of his own Bible and was just winging it based on his demonstrably unexamined faith. Worst-case scenario: he actually does want to defend marriage as practiced circa 997 BC — requiring one man to buy or be given one or more women, who become his collateral for future political deals and real-estate transactions.

Issue Date: November 28 - December 4, 2003
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