God’s Battered Wife

A student in my class on Paul’s letters had a very thought-provoking reaction to the summary of Israel’s experiences wandering in the wilderness in 1 Corinthians 10:6-12. There a series of actions in violation of the Law are listed, and the punishments that resulted. For this student, the text was a description of how each time the Israelites did something displeasing to God, God got violent with them. Israel in these stories, the student suggested, seems like “God’s battered wife”, being smacked around whenever he found her displeasing.

What do you make of this reaction? Our views about the appropriateness of violence and corporal punishment have certainly changed since the ancient world. What does it mean to take this changed context seriously when reading accounts such as this one? Is this just another instance, like the passages that claim God ordered genocide (and assisted with its carrying out), that the simplest solution is to repudiate what the Biblical author has written? What are the different possible ways of addressing the concerns raised by this student’s reaction?

We also reached that neglected verse from this letter, 1 Corinthians 8:2: “If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know as he ought”.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04144487212639973542 Bryan L

    I guess it can sound like that if you appeal to the particular metaphor of marriage. If instead another metaphor is used and Israel is seen as God’s a son (which is used of Israel in the Exodus account) then instead of smacking his wife around he is disciplining his child. I think then it would be helpful to see why and in what contexts the metaphor of marriage is used of Israel (it seems often to be about their unfaithfulness or purity) and to see if that metaphor is appropriate in this context or if another one would do better (like son); and also to be careful not to apply a corporate metaphor to individuals–the way people do when they talk about being ‘in love’ with Jesus and then appeal to the church as his bride as justification for individuals using this language that is corporate in nature.Thanks for the thought provoking thoughts.Blessings,Bryan L

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11659031096782543291 Christopher Heard

    Have you read, or recommended to your student, Battered Love by Renita Weems? It treats the same theme in the prophets, and might be a good “next step.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I wasn’t aware of the book, Chris – thanks for the suggestion!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03126711689901268060 Quixie

    Bryan:There are many occasions in the Hebrew Scriptures in which the relationship between God and the people of Israel is spoken of as that between a groom and a bride, and Jesus is quoted as having said much the same, so I find the former metaphor to be a bit more pertinent in this case.”What do you make of this reaction? Our views about the appropriateness of violence and corporal punishment have certainly changed since the ancient world. What does it mean to take this changed context seriously when reading accounts such as this one? Is this just another instance, like the passages that claim God ordered genocide (and assisted with its carrying out), that the simplest solution is to repudiate what the Biblical author has written? What are the different possible ways of addressing the concerns raised by this student’s reaction?“This is a topic that Spong addresses at length in a book called “The Sins of Scripture” and Elisabeth Schüssler-Ross in one called “Scripture and the Rhetoric of Empire“.I think one can accept that the texts do indeed and explicitly make some doozy proclamations and descriptions that are definitely of a lesser god—at least lesser than any god my limited mind can remotely conceive of, anyway. We can accept that the scriptures are rife with such reflections of the developing nomadic, patriarchal, visceral and often violent culture which produced them—some of it is downright barbaric— . . . and not condemn them or dismiss it all as intrinsically “immoral” or what-have-you just because of these limitations. I have seen that kind of approach from certain atheist camps and they annoy me just as much as they annoy you guys, I’m sure.But the student is justified in making that connection, I think (if he’s not just being a combative “atheist” of the kind I mention). I guess it would depend on his tone of voice. In the context of a real-time classroom, it would be easier to tell whether it came from a place of mockery or from a place of honest inquiry. If he’s in earnest, it’s a valid comparison to draw, though.Ó

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Today’s quote of the day seems to me to be a helpful, honest way of addressing this sort of issue from the perspective of faith.


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