Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hosea: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, summarize it in my own words, and occasionally give some commentary.  I will also include biblical artwork by famous artists.

“If any female feels she need anything beyond herself to legitimate and validate her existence, she is already giving away her power to be self-defining, her agency.”  
—Bell Hooks, Feminism is for Everybody

The book of Hosea tells the story of a prophet (named Hosea) who lived and prophesied from the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam (786-746 B.C.E.)  The main theme of Hosea’s prophecy is to criticize and condemn Israel for their idolatry, which mainly has to do with their political alliances with Egypt and Assyria.  From a political perspective, these alliances were understandable foreign policy, meant to ensure the nation’s survival.  But from Hosea’s religious perspective, these alliances meant a lack of trust in God, and a breaking of Israel’s covenant with God.  Thus, destruction and desolation are foreseen.

Hosea does not let the “idolatrous” leaders of Israel give their side of the story, which would probably have gone something like, “Dude, Hosea, we are making these alliances for purely political reasons, so we won’t be destroyed.”  Hosea isn’t really interested in the real complexities of ancient middle eastern geo-politics.  He is interested in fidelity to divine law.  This is probably why Hosea is an eccentric prophet, and not an actual leader.

As with Ezekiel and other prophets, Hosea is told to do some allegorical performance art, which is meant to reinforce his message.  Unfortunately, Hosea’s performance art doesn’t just affect him.  He is told by God to marry a prostitute named Gomer, whom he actually buys, like a slave, which should give you a sense of the cultural misogyny which dominated Hosea’s world.  Men could buy women.

Hosea and Gomer by Barry Moser

This marriage is meant to illustrate God’s (i.e. Hosea’s) relationship with faithless Israel (i.e. Gomer).  Unfortunately, again, Hosea never gives Gomer’s side of the story.  Was she really a prostitute?  What circumstances drove her into this profession?  What were her real economic options in a world where men could buy women?  Instead, Hosea repeatedly employs disturbingly misogynist language to refer to both his wife and his country.  He uses the words whore, whoring, and whoredom (creative!) to refer to Gomer and Israel.

Not only is poor Gomer forced into this “allegorical” street theater, her children are as well.  Hosea and Gomer’s children are also meant to symbolically represent God’s broken relationship with Isreal.  They name their daughter Lo Ruhamah (which means “No Mercy”) and their son Lo Ammi (which means “Not my people”).  Nice.  I’m sure these kids suffered mercilessly at the hand of bullies.

While, from a 21st century perspective, we may be rightly disturbed by the scary, misogynist God we find in Hosea, and the seemingly cruel street theater He makes His prophet undertake, it must also be understood that Hosea saw his purpose as a redemptive one.  Amidst all the judgment and misogynistic epithets, Hosea ultimately presents a message of restoration for Israel and Gomer.  “Come, let us return to the Lord,” he says, “for it is He who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and He will bind us up.”

Ultimately, Hosea’s vision of God is similar to one we find throughout the prophets.  Yahweh is a God of both judgment and mercy.  A God who wounds and heals.  A God of justice and compassion.   I would be very interested to hear a modern feminist’s take on the book of Hosea.  A prostitute woman with no voice or agency is “saved” by a religious man.  I can only imagine the field day that feminists like Bell Hooks, Betty Friedan, or Adrienne Rich would have deconstructing this book.  As a feminist myself (i.e. one who believes in equality between men and women), I am disturbed by the language Hosea uses, and the conspicuous lack of a female voice in the text.

"Hosea and Gomer" by Cody F. Miller

Interestingly, one of my favorite bands, Pedro the Lion, did a song about the book of Hosea called "Of Minor Prophets and Their Prostitute Wives."  Check it out...

1 comment:

  1. I find it disturbing that God is seen as being like an abusive husband, who at one moment proclaims his overwhelming love for his "wife" (Israel) and the next moment is threatening horrible treatment of "her" such as beating her to a pulp naked in front of the public. Is this really the kind of love God has for "His" convenanted people, or for people in general? I fear that the impulses of immature, selfish, violent men are being portrayed as the transcendent and noble, all-encompassing love of God.