A Jealous God and Divine Domestic Violence

A Jealous God and Divine Domestic Violence December 2, 2011

Daniel McClellan, in a post about a doctoral thesis defense related to the concept of “the jealous God,” included this image:

What reaction does it provoke in you? Doesn’t it suggest that at times religious believers, including some of the Biblical authors, have depicted God as reflecting some of our worst human characteristics?

If a human husband said that to his wife, we would classify it as domestic violence. And rightly so. It reflects a view of the wife as property, and the husband as her lord and owner with sovereign rights to inflict punishment on one who has “stolen” from him his exclusive right to “sow his seed” in a “field” that is his property. And despite the fact that some still claim to want “Biblical marriage,” the truth is that even most conservative Christians practice something very different than what constituted marriage in Biblical times. And to the extent that God is depicted in the Bible as divine husband of Israel, as marriage is rethought, so too must this Biblical metaphor be.

Fidelity is something that we can all still appreciate today, I presume: No one disputes that it is painful to be cheated on. But jealousy that is obsessive, possessive, controlling and selfish is something that we are trying desperately to recognize as a serious problem, and get people to move away from.

Presumably an image of God who would himself commit assault and battery against his wife is one that it is crucial to examine critically and rethink.

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  • Elbryanlibre

    So regardless of the metaphors/analogies used in the OT, should God care about the idolatry of his people? If so then what metaphors and analogies do you think He or the writers should have used instead to picture his feelings about the idolatry of his people?

  • I’ve read compelling arguments that God’s OT jealousy is, in reality, the jealousy of bronze age Judean kings and priests, who wanted to create a power base around the temple of Jerusalem and away from rival temples in other cities and rural “high place” altars throughout the region.

    Is this a reasonable two-cent version of Finkelstein and Silberman’s “The Bible Unearthed” or the conclusions of documentary hypothesis scholars?

    • Gary

      “Is this a reasonable …. or the conclusions of documentary hypothesis scholars?”…From what I read, this is so….D consolidates power in one temple, in one location. But it doesn’t say the location. Since the rivalry was between North (Israel) and South (Judea), and the writers of D were probably supporters of the North, but the winners and final redactor were from the South, Jeruslem won. Aaron priests won. Divide was originally caused by the North supporting the tribal leaders, and tribal muster for an army, and South supporting the king and a professional army. Saul wipes out northern priests because they support David. David appoints two high priests in the temple, one from the North, one from the South (tries to mitigate). Solomon banishes the northern priest, since the northern priest supported the wrong person, not Solomon as king. Solomon puts the screws on the North, by taxing them and not the south with one month labor out of 12 per year, gives away some of the northern tribes land to Lebonon to get lumber for the temple, and builds all his fortresses and massive building projects in the south, ignoring the north. Result, north falls to the Assyrians. Sourth survives for awhile longer. Gospel according to Richard Friedman. I’d be interested in what the experts have to say about that, especially James, since I haven’t ever read about his opinion on the documentary hypothesis.

  • Gary

    Train of logic…
    Premise, The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one.
    Therefore, they think the same way.
    Premise, God is unchanging.
    Therefore God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit are the same in both OT, NT, and current times.
    So litmus test for validity of words in Bible:
    Place Jesus in the position of mouthing the words of God from the OT. If it makes sense, valid. If it doesn’t make sense, invalid.

    God’s OT jealousy – invalid. It is a power play by the writers of the bible, in particular, the priests, who had the most to gain by keeping both the people, and the leadership, coming to them. How else do you explain priests using, effectively, a pair of dice to determine guilt of innocence. Or cleansing by having a priest put lambs blood on your right thumb, right ear lobe, and right big toe. Dah! As Homer Simpson would say.

    You can rationalize all you want, but you can’t explain it. So I rationalize in the most logical way I can.

  • Pf

    First of all, the jealousy language is a reflection of the views of the culture. God was seen in anthropomorphic terms, something that has declined over time as people learn more about the world.

    But it also points out how contradictory are teachings about god are if we actually take the time to think about it. We are taught that God loves us unconditionally, but he will punish us with eternal torment if we don’t follow him or accept Jesus as savior or seek other gods, however you want to frame it. But “love me or else” is the very embodiment of conditional love.

  • @ccab71d7f599e94f2fe37ba3eb85654f:disqus , it definitely seems to be the view of most Hebrew Bible scholars I’ve read that the notion of God as jealous owes a lot to a small number of key religious revolutionaries in the 8th-6th centuries – Hosea (viewing religion through the lens of his failed marriage) may have been a key player, as were perhaps Hezekiah and/or Josiah, although the precisely relation between textual and archaeological sources about these religious changes is still a matter of ongoing discussion and debate.