Tuesday, March 8, 2011

what do we do with a god that rapes?

this has unsettled me since I read jeremiah closely for last night's older testament class. there are multiple violent images but it is this one that nags at me:

20 Look up and see
those who are coming from the north.
Where is the flock that was entrusted to you,
the sheep of which you boasted?
21 What will you say when the LORD sets over you
those you cultivated as your special allies?
Will not pain grip you
like that of a woman in labor?
22 And if you ask yourself,
“Why has this happened to me?”—
it is because of your many sins
that your skirts have been torn off
and your body mistreated.
23 Can an Ethiopian[a] change his skin
or a leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good
who are accustomed to doing evil.

24 “I will scatter you like chaff
driven by the desert wind.
25 This is your lot,
the portion I have decreed for you,”
declares the LORD,
“because you have forgotten me
and trusted in false gods.
26 I will pull up your skirts over your face
that your shame may be seen—
27 your adulteries and lustful neighings,
your shameless prostitution!
I have seen your detestable acts
on the hills and in the fields.
Woe to you, Jerusalem!
How long will you be unclean?”

this is the NIV version of verses from jeremiah chapter 13. I've quoted it at length to give the passage I want to point to some context.

here, the prophet speaks for yahweh and likens israel and judah to a bride who has whored herself and must be punished. I've some difficulties with that, but those can be put aside. yahweh can be said to be speaking in the abstract, and as literature I can accept that.

but it is here, in verse 22, that I have questions: "And if you ask yourself, 'Why has this happened to me?'—it is because of your many sins that your skirts have been torn off and your body mistreated." my NRSV renders that final word as "violated." the phrase in the hebrew, according to my strong's concordance, translates to aqeb chamac "your heels have been exposed," apparently a euphemism for great violence, probably rape (in jeremiah 22 the famous "do no wrong or violence to the alien" uses the same word chamac).

it is 4 verses later that we come to what gives me great pause: "I will pull up your skirts over your face that your shame may be seen" (my NRSV adds "myself" between the 1st 2 words.

is this a god who is threatening rape on israel? at the very least, since the identity of who is doing the violence in both 22 and 26 is left ambiguous, is this a god who is abetting rape?

to be fair, this is not yahweh speaking but it is jeremiah who says he is speaking for yahweh. and there are not a few references elsewhere in the older testament, and esp in jeremiah, in which chamac is used to suggest a more general violence than rape. however, there really is no getting around the violation being described in 22 and 26 is rape or at least some violence done when the (woman's) skirts are lifted. even if it is a metaphorical rape made because yahweh's people have disobeyed yahweh, is this a god threatening rape? (and I would argue that god's use of it as metaphor is even more damning to our modern ears, as what's the difference between yahweh and an emotionally abusive, threatening partner?)

if yahweh is threatening rape, even metaphorically, is this a god we should trust, let alone worship? is the god of the older testament so time-bound in that place and period that that god has nothing in common with us? 2500 years later, does a book that suggests this resonate with us?

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