Every now and then it's good to give some attention to the gems on our extensive backlist. Here is a post concerning a book that has just been made available again both in paperback and PDF -- namely, Alice A. Keefe’s original and provocative study of Hosea’s (in)famous marriage metaphor, Woman’s Body and the Social Body in Hosea.
This work takes on an entrenched tradition of interpretation, exposing its androcentric and confessional determinants, and draws on a socio-literary approach to reread Hosea’s female sexual imagery and to rethink the brunt of his prophetic critique. An excellent choice for graduate level courses in biblical studies, Keefe’s showcases the fruitful impact of interdisciplinary approaches in biblical interpretation as well as demonstrating the difference which a feminist approach can make in the study of one very important text.
As is well known, Hosea’s figure of Israel as an adulterous wife who chases after her “lovers” has routinely been read as a polemic against popular participation in a syncretistic “fertility cult” in eighth century Israel. The dominant reading of this metaphor posits that the prophet is upset because the people are worshipping deities immanent in nature in order to secure the fertility of the soil, rather than putting their trust in the transcendent “Lord of history,” Yahweh. Further, many 20th century scholars argue that this “fertility cult” may have included rituals of sacred prostitution designed to evoke or magnify the divine powers which ensure the fertility of the soil, and that Hosea’s lascivious wife may have been a participant in such rituals. But recent advances in our understanding of Hosea’s social and religious contexts have rendered this dominant interpretation untenable. It is no longer credible to imagine a simple polarity Canaanite fertility religion and Yahwistic “faith,” and any clear evidence for rituals of sacred prostitution has been found to be lacking. But further, Keefe unpacks how this dominant reading has been shaped by the reflexive association of women and female sexual imagery with sin, sex, temptation, and the lure of the “natural,” associations which developed centuries later and were not familiar in Hosea’s time.
As an alternative frame for interpretation, Keefe reads Hosea’s metaphor of the nation/land as an adulterous woman in the context of the symbolic association between sexual transgression and social violence found elsewhere in biblical literature and argues then that Hosea’s “wife of promiscuity” points to the structural/social violence which accompanied the expansion of royal estates and the boom in “agribusiness” in Hosea’s time. Highly readable and well-argued, Woman’s Body and the Social Body in Hosea offers an engaging entree to the methodological sea-change that has transformed biblical studies in recent decades. Its deconstructive and constructive moves draw upon the fruits of social scientific approaches to ancient Israel in tandem with methods of close reading and attention to intertextual clues. It takes the reader into the contested arena of feminist biblical criticism and challenges the argument that woman is always a symbol of the “other” in biblical literature. But most importantly, this work provides a powerful lesson in the indeterminacy of readings. Rather than claiming to have finally found the “right” reading of Hosea’s marriage metaphor, Keefe’s purpose is to show how readings are conditioned by readers. She shows how a feminist interpretive lens has the power to disturb entrenched “male stream” readings and open up new perspectives on the meaning of female sexual imagery in biblical literature.
"With interpretive and methodological sensitivity, Keefe provides an instructive case study in the changing dynamics of biblical interpretation in recent decades and the ways they open new possibilities for reading a particular text with a troubled interpretive past. The book is a gift to students and professors looking for a way to explore emerging sociological readings of prophetic texts such as Hosea 1—3 or to illustrate the wide-ranging impact that sociological, intertextual, and feminist approaches can have on biblical interpretation and the underlying—often under-examined—assumptions at work within it." –Brad E. Kelle, Point Loma Nazarene University (author of Hosea 2: Metaphor and Rhetoric in Historical Perspective [SBL Academia Biblica 20; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005])
"This sociohistorical analysis of Hosea provides a compelling challenge to traditional interpretations of the marriage metaphor and sexual imagery in Hosea 1 and 2. Keefe shows that, rather than signaling cultic apostasy, Hosea's troubled marital relationship represents ancient Israel's serious political, social, and economic problems. With astute awareness of the poetics of Hosea's language and of the material realities of his day, she provides a fresh and powerful new understanding of this eight century BCE prophetic book." --Carol Meyers, Duke University (author of Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).