According to this

The origins of marriage

The first recorded evidence of marriage ceremonies uniting one woman and one man dates from about 2350 B.C., in Mesopotamia. Over the next several hundred years, marriage evolved into a widespread institution embraced by the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans. But back then, marriage had little to do with love or with religion. When did religion become involved?

As the Roman Catholic Church became a powerful institution in Europe, the blessings of a priest became a necessary step for a marriage to be legally recognized. By the eighth century, marriage was widely accepted in the Catholic church as a sacrament, or a ceremony to bestow God's grace

I also have heard this from other sources, that marriage was a non religious institution in the begining.

But according to this,

The 4,000-Year-Old Sumerian Love Poem and the Sacred Ritual of Marriage

Historians say the words were recited by a bride of Sumerian King Shu-Sin, fourth ruler of the Third Dynasty of Ur, who reigned between 2037 and 2029 BC, and used as a script for a ceremonial recreation of the sacred marriage.

According to the Sumerian belief, it was a sacred duty for the king to marry a priestess every year in order to make the soil and women fertile. The ritual of sacred marriage involved the re-enactment of the union of two deities, usually Inanna/Ishtar and Dumuzi/Tammuz. Thus, the priestess represented Inanna, the goddess of fertility and sexual love, while the king represented Dumuzi, on the eve of their union.

Here they talk about sacred ritual, beliefs, gods, and this happened between 2037 and 2029 BC. So there are only 300 years between 2029/2037 BC and 2350 BC, in a period of time where I doubt there were many scriptures refering to the nature of marriage, where marriage could have been a non religious thing.

Is there any written evidence stating marriage wasnt a religious institution in its origins?

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    Why do you assume it is one or the other? That it is the same across cultures and times? Why do you assume there is a bright line distinction between religious and secular? My understanding of early history does not support that distinction. I also wonder if it makes sense to compare the ritual marriage of a priest to normal marriage. – Mark C. Wallace Aug 26 '20 at 0:20
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    Too much uncertainty in this question due to the number of civilizations and cultures that have existed everywhere. – gktscrk Aug 26 '20 at 6:28
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    (1) There seems to be an assumption that marriage was invented somewhere first and then spread, which is faulty. Virtually every culture has its own marriage since time immemorial, with different levels of religiousity (2) In many historical cultures, everything had religious elements. Making a contract involved sacred rites. Moving houses required priest blessings. Opening a store needed sacrificial offerings. So were all these religious institutions? Then so was marriage. Or was the society just superstitious in general, and marriage not inherently more religious than breakfast? – Semaphore Aug 26 '20 at 6:57
  • Vtc as far too wide geographically /culturally/chronologically. Autre temps, autre mores. – TheHonRose Aug 26 '20 at 12:25
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    @Pablo Your question is not, in fact, binary. In your analogy, the sky is black at night, grey when cloudy, and orange during sunsets. Criticisms about the extended scope is very valid, as is the fact that "religious institution" isn't an unambiguous term. You should address these issues rather than react with such hostility as in your now deleted comments. – Semaphore Aug 26 '20 at 12:47

I'm going to assume the question, like most people who bring up questions relating the two these days, is referring to only "pair-bonded" (strict) monogamous relationships.

The thing is, such relationships aren't really universal even today. There are definitional disagreements over the issue, but its been argued that only about a sixth of modern cultures feature that kind of relationship, although most have some kind of overt nod to one. The relationship mentioned in that Sumerian poem certainly wasn't of that ilk (marrying a new person every year obviously begs the question what happened to the wives from the previous years)

History actually isn't going to be of much help for us here, as both Religion and monogamy appear to be at least as old writing. You might think Archeology isn't a lot of help either, as neither preserve very well, but it does have a surprising amount to tell us.

We do have evidence of Neanderthal religious practice, and I believe haven't yet found any good evidence from earlier hominids, so its possible it was an early innovation of Homo Sapiens over previous hominid ancestors. Certainly the later wave of Cro-Magnon people were practicing some form of it right up to the dawn of the historical record, as they have left their idols and stone ceremonial structures strewn all over.

As for monogamy, there is some evidence that humans and other primates that practice it have hormonal differences that show up as skeletal differences. I'm not sure how well-accepted that is, but some anthropologists used that to study old hominid finds, with the result that it appeared that human pair-bonding is quite recent indeed. Our (quasi?) religious Neanderthal predecessors didn't do it, nor our more direct ancestors, the early Cro-Magno people.

Pair-bonding, in a broad sense, is universal among humans, but it is not known when the transition from a promiscuous mating system to a stable bonded one occurred. The persistence of marked levels of skeletal dimorphism in Homo until the Middle Pleistocene (e.g. [14]), combined with genetic evidence indicating that male population size (ancestral to people today) was low compared with females' until the spread of agriculture [46], implies that human-like pair-bonding was not common until late in human evolution.

Now a historian will tell you that effectively agriculture = writing = civilization.

So we don't (and perhaps can't) know, but it looks likely that pair-bonded monogomy and religion followed very different human development paths starting from very different places, and the only modern relation between them is coincidental.

  • "the question what happened to the wives from the previous years": Bluebeard. – gktscrk Aug 26 '20 at 6:27

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