Marriage Metaphors in the Prophets
The Hebrew prophets sometimes imagine the relationship between God and Israel, his chosen people, to be that of husband and wife. At a simple level this may seem inoffensive, but the way the metaphor is used and the terms in which it is expressed have caused unease for some readers and outright condemnation from others.
How do the Hebrew prophets use marriage metaphors?
The prophet Ezekiel gives the clearest account of the marriage metaphor. In
How can Queer Theory help us read the marriage metaphor?
Queer Theory evolved in the 1990s, most notably from the work of Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Its theorists have argued that gender is not a natural given but a highly artificial system that relies, in Butler’s words, on a “stylized repetition of acts”—a system of “performativity” that results in a rigid distinction between male and female and the impression that the only “natural” form of sexual expression is heterosexuality. Butler and others also argue that faults inevitably occur in this endlessly rolling conveyor belt. One task of the queer theorist is to discover and expose these “necessary failures” in order to demonstrate the frailty of the whole system.
Since the 1960s there has been much discussion about the function and effect of metaphor. It can be argued that metaphor produces an interactive effect on the two parties involved: to say that God is a married man not only influences our picture of God, but also, conversely, changes our picture of man; it divinizes marriage and in so doing divinizes heterosexual relations. From a feminist standpoint this divinization of marriage is objectionable enough since it sanctifies an unequal partnership. Without disputing this, queer theorists can add a further dimension. They seek out “necessary failures” in the metaphor. For instance, a male reader may feel comfortable with the idea that God is a male suitor, but the metaphor actually reverses the man’s cultural expectations. The text actually puts the male reader in the role of the lustful and treacherous wife of God. If that is not enough, he must face the prospect, according to both Jeremiah (