Tag Archives: Jews

The Bible in and as History: Hosea

The major prophhosea_and_gomerets are gone, and now we have the rapid-fire, often easily readable in a day minor prophets.  We start with with the Book of Hosea.

We have very little information about Hosea, the book of Hosea, or external references to it.  From it’s internal context it’s believed to have been written by ‘Hosea’ a man from the Northern Kingdom of Samaria.  It’s historical context makes many assume it was written in the 8th Century BCE, probably from within Judah, after the fall of Samaria’s Capital.

As a quick reminder, ‘Israel’ separated into the two states of Judah and Samaria.  Samaria, at least in the biblical context, is largely painted as a kingdom that fell away from God.  Embraced the worship of other gods, such as the Canaanite sky-god Baal.

The book of Hosea is sort of broken down into two parts.  The first is basically an autobiographical metaphor of sorts.  God commands Hosea to marry a ‘promiscuous woman’.  He has a son with this woman, she continues her ‘harlotry’ and than he divorces her.  The context of marriage within 8th century Judah and Samaria is instructive.  Like most pre-modern cultures, Marriage is a contractual arrangement, functionally between families.  The patriarchal structure of these ancient societies means men are expected to have dominion over their wives, and their wives are suppose to be obedient.  The analogy here to God and Israel is obvious.  In this metaphor Israel, or specifically Samaria in this instance, is the wayward wife.  ‘Whoring’ with other gods and violating the covenant.

The remainder of Hosea is prophecy regarding the destruction of Samaria for it’s failure to return to God.  Some in rather Graphic detail.  13:16 for example talks of infants being dashed to pieces and pregnant women being gutted.  Though this is a little more visceral than some of what has come before it’s in a very similar tradition, and a motif repeated over, and over, and over again.  Obedience to God equals good stuff, disobedience equals destruction.

Hosea’s place in later history has a couple of interesting facets; Obviously it has usages in a variety of theologies.  It justifies notions such as negative things in life being a consequence of sin, both in personal and national terms.  It’s quoted and references in the new testament as prophesying Jesus, though as with most such usages the link is tenuous.  Hosea is pretty obviously speaking from the context of his time and about a return of Samaria, the largest of the two Israelite communities, into the fold of the particular worship Hosea advocates.  Still it’s important to recall that theology isn’t about historical reconstruction.  New theologies often use old theologies in new ways to justify themselves.  The Chinese Scholars of the 19th century, for example, utilizing millenia old Confucian texts to justify radical shifts towards modernism.  Or Protestant reference to ‘early Christians’ or indeed particulars aspects of the bible during and after the reformation.

So we should go through these pretty quickly, the next is Joel.  Interestingly I’m actually getting ahead of myself in reading terms here, so I might do more than one post a week, which was my initial goal.

 

 

 

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The Bible in and as History: Ruth

Well that was a bit different.

This week I attend to the shortest book I’ve read thus far, and to a bit of a jump in the biblical text in the Book of Ruth.  Now and important note as I looked into information about this book is that in the Jewish Tradition it comes much later, with the other ‘Hagiographies’ and is traditionally between Songs and Lamentations.  It’s an interesting shift and I’ll have to see how it plays out when I get back to those particular books and see what I think reasons might be for the shift.  Time-wise it certainly seems placed within the historical narrative, though unlike previous books it’s a very narrow parable.  A single story that has moral lessons obviously but comes across as a more personal story than those that have come before.  Granted there is a genealogy connecting Ruth to King David at the end(a figure we haven’t actually encountered yet obviously), but over-all this felt much more like a short story than part of a historical narrative.

In short, a Woman named Naomi goes into the land of the Moabites, along with her husband and two sons.  The sons get married, and long-story short the men all die.  After a while of living with the Moabites, Naomi decides to go back to the land of her people, and tells her two daughters in law to return to the houses of their mothers and get remarried.  One reluctantly leaves, the other, the titular Ruth, begs to stay with her mother in law and travels with her to the land of the Israelites.

Ruth ends up gleaming(that is gathering grain and such from a field already reaped) on a piece of land owned by a relative of her Father-in-Law, one Boaz.  Hearing about her devotion to her mother in law, he supports her efforts.  In biblical law of course if a woman’s husband dies nearby relatives are suppose to marry her.  Long story short, Naomi hatches a plan and because of Ruth’s virtue, Boaz marries her.

As I said, this has a much tighter focus than any book has so far.  Even when people have been personally ‘brought up’ before, they are usually in relation to historical events or grand mystical narratives(like Moses or most of Genesis).   Ruth is a simple moral parable, a story about a woman who is faithful to her mother-in-law, and thus to her husband and more importantly, her husbands family and people.  The simple observation is that it’s a story about how ‘outsiders’ may become good Jews.  That Ruth’s moral commitment to her adoptive family is demonstrative of her virtue.  It’s an interesting contrast with some of the more subtle earlier messages we’ve been getting on this subject, such as the scheaming of Delilah, or elements of the various on-going conquests.

Because it’s so short I have little to say about it really.  Though it is important historically as the afore-mentioned parallel.  From what I understand, within Jewish circles the story and book have great importance with regards Jews by conversion, and this has obviously become a more prominent element in more modern times.  As the Diaspora meant that Jews existed surrounded by communities of Gentiles, inter-marriage was an obvious occurrence, and problem in so far as the fear of assimilation had to play on the mind of community leaders, even as it does in some circles today(observe the interesting furor when the present Isreali Prime Ministers son was supposedly dating a non-jew).  Ruth has impact in so far as it presents a narrative that suggests the outsider can become part of the community.

Anyways, with Ruth done it’s back to lengthier reading and to the first of the Hebrew Bible books that Christians routinely break up; Samuel 1!

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