Battered Love: Marriage, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew Prophets

Weems, Renita J. Battered Love: Marriage, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew Prophets. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.

UnknownBattered Love: Marriage, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew Prophets is an engaging introduction to the use of violent sexual imagery in the biblical books of Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Renita J. Weems conducts a textual analysis and wrestles with this metaphor from a womanist perspective, using traditional readings of the text, such as historical and social-scientific methods, as well as newer approaches, such as gender criticism, literary studies, and ideological analyses. The intended audience is acquainted with Hebrew Bible academic research; however, its introductory approach makes it accessible to budding scholars.

In her first chapter, Weems first shows how metaphors function and then how the Hebrew Prophets used metaphors to communicate otherwise complex concepts of God. In the next chapter, Weems explains how metaphors are specific to their sociohistorical contexts and how the marriage metaphor fit in the Hebrew prophets’ patriarchal context. Weems builds her textual analysis by interpreting these metaphors within this patriarchal context and explaining how hypothetical audiences heard and understood these metaphors in chapter three. In her fourth and final chapter, Weems grapples with this metaphor for modern readers and attempts to show how a Christian may find value within the metaphor-filled text while simultaneously rejecting the violent sexual imagery.

As Alice A. Keefe argues in her book review of Battered Love, Weems’ work is a refreshing look at these metaphors from a womanist perspective that “embrace[s] the ambiguity of experience[s].”[1] Weems does not fall into the traditional and outdated pattern of looking at these texts simply from a historical critical approach. Instead, Weems addresses the ethical and moral problems of these texts from an oppressed person’s perspective and questions in which ways these sacred texts can be valuable to modern audiences.

While Keefe finds Weems’ “analysis of ancient Israelite attitudes toward women and women’s bodies” lacking,[2] I think Weems proficiently articulates how such an analysis is of limited use because of the lack of historical data and is unnecessary for her project. I do, however, disagree with Weems’ repurposing of patriarchal texts. Weems in thorough is her articulation that sexually violent metaphors are harmful and dangerous for modern readers. Yet she refuses to reject these metaphors altogether, arguing that if current readers “rethink the language we have inherited from the past and… reinvest that language with values and visions that will ennoble human life today, then the marriage metaphor may be helpful.”[3] While this practice may be possible and practical in some Christian communities, I do not think it is universally helpful, especially for victims of violence. Therefore, Weems should leave open the option to reject patriarchal texts when she articulates how the metaphor can function within modern contexts.

Overall, Battered Love is a valuable introductory text for those concerned with the sexually violent metaphors of the Hebrew Prophets. Weems respectfully holds in tension the theological value of the Hebrew prophets and the ethically and morally abhorrent metaphor used to illustrate God’s character. In this way, she is a helpful read for other Christians struggling with similar tensions of biblically based faith and social liberation. While I do not think Weems goes far enough in her view of potential modern responses to said metaphors, she has started a very important conversation that must continue if Christianity is going to stay relevant in a society more engaged with women’s issues.

[1] Alice A. Keefe, “Battered Love: Marriage, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew Prophets by Renita J. Weems,” review of Battered Love: Marriage, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew Prophets, by Renita J. Weems, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 118, No. 1, Spring, 1999, 139.

[2] Ibid., 140.

[3] Renita J. Weems, Battered Love: Marriage, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew Prophets, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 113.

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