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Battered Love

Renita Weems’ theological essay, “Battered Love,” explores the motivations and impact of those texts in the Hebrew Prophets which depict violence, humiliation, sexual assault and murder involving women.  While her subject matter carries great potential for emotional reaction, Weems methodically asserts her rationale for why such disturbing accounts of women exist in our Bible, what they meant to the authors when written, and what resonance they have now. There are three key elements to her elucidation of the accounts. First and foremost, the repeated “just punishments” of wanton sluts and disobedient wives represent metaphors for man’s relationship with God, in the context of when the texts were created.  Secondly, these images had guaranteed appeal to the authors’ audiences as they were tied in to the laws and customs of the day.  Battered LoveFinally, the depictions, despite their alleged irrelevance to our culture today, bear resemblance to a shocking array of clearly misogynistic overtones found in anything from advertisements to media images to the disproportionate percentage of victims of violent crimes being women. 

A common metaphor used at the time the Old Testament was written was that of a nation being a woman and God being her master.  It is no surprise, then that the pet metaphor for the relationship between God and Israel is that of a man and his wife.  Such a connotation provides a tableau for all manner of laws and instances to be explained.  Countless crimes and oversights on the part of man can be likened to a disobedient or flagrantly unworthy wife; likewise, God’s wrath can be interpreted as justification for all manner of cruelties in the name of punishment.  The crimes, somehow, are never as luridly illustrated as the retributions, which range from the humiliation of having one’s genitals publicly exposed to rape to stoning to slow death by thirst to having one’s nose cut off. All in the name of what is right and in the realm of love. “Commentators frequently note the ways in which elaborate descriptions of naked, battered women’s bodies function in the prophecies of Hosea, Jeremiah and Ezekiel as a poetic device for discussing divine punishment and social anarchy .” Essentially, what one encounters is a constant reinforcement of the dynamic where the weaker, subservient entity (the woman to the man, the nation to the deity) is the only one that can do wrong and the entity in power is the only one that can justly mete out atrocity in retaliation.  “God, then, is not a harsh, cruel, vindictive husband who threatens and beats his wife simply because he has the power to do so.  He is himself a victim, because he has been driven to extreme measures by a wife who has again and again dishonored him and has disregarded the norms governing marriage relations .”

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