Next installment! This is going to be the one with by far the most donkey dicks, eating shit, and drinking piss, if that interests or disinterests you. I'm not judging. (Well, I'm judging a little, but hey, it's the Bible so it's all clean and wholesome, right?)
So, today we're going to be talking about the women in Nevi'im/The Prophets. When we're talking about Prophets in reference to the Hebrew Bible, the books we're talking about are Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel (the major prophets), and Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Zechariah, Haggai, and Malachi (the minor prophets). One notable book that isn't on that list is Daniel. Although Daniel does contain passages that the author obviously intended to be read as prophetic, it isn't considered a book of prophecy by Jewish authorities, and never was as far as I can tell.
Since we covered the women in Genesis last time, you might think we'd go through the rest of the Torah today, but honestly, most of the stories of the women in the rest of it aren't found in the Torah, they're found in the Midrash. For women like Miriam, sister of Moses, or Zipporah, his wife, there's very little besides their names listed in the Torah, but there's a wealth of interesting stories in the Midrash. The laws of Moses also don't really cover women or women's rights that often, they're almost all directed at men, especially in terms of the pronouns and verb tenses used. The only law (or I suppose, omission from the laws) I'd point out in particular is that while there is a long list of people who you can't have sex with and most of them are what you'd expect (mother, mother-in-law, step mother, daughter-in-law, and so on), one group that is missing from the list is "daughter by a woman who is not your wife." The daughter of your wife is on the list, which includes both her daughters by you and any daughter by a previous marriage or whatever, but not the daughter of your concubine or slave, which I think is an interesting omission in a time where those arrangements would have been fairly common. That's not to say that Hebrew men were having sex with their illegitimate daughters, it's just not on the list of sins found in the Bible.
I'm not going to have time to run through the history of when the books we're examining today were written or by whom; instead, I'm going to be talking about the themes that run between the books. If you want more information about the books, please watch "History of the Old Testament with Christine Hayes" in my saved playlists if you want to watch it on youtube, or it's also available for download on iTunes if you visit oyc.yale.edu
and search for "RLST 145".
So on to Isaiah. The first woman in the book is in chapter 7. This is where you get the commonly misquoted "a virgin shall conceive" line that Christians often quote around Christmas. I'm going to give you the entire prophecy so we can discuss it:
Isa. 7:7 thus saith the Lord GOD: It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. 8 For the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people; 9 And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah's son. If ye will not have faith, surely ye shall not be established.' 10 And the LORD spoke again unto Ahaz, saying: 11 'Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God: ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.' 12 But Ahaz said: 'I will not ask, neither will I try the LORD.' 13 And he said: 'Hear ye now, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to weary men, that ye will weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 Curd and honey shall he eat, when he knoweth to refuse the evil, and choose the good. 16 Yea, before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings thou hast a horror of shall be forsaken. 17 The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father's house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria.'
So the context was that the city was under siege. Isaiah went to the king and told him "hey, in 65 years, you're going to have total relief from your enemies, and both the kings who are besieging the city right now will be dead before the kid this woman here will have is weaned." Then in chapter 8, the kid is born:
3 And I went unto the prophetess [note: I think this is supposed to be "woman of the prophesy" as in "the woman Isaiah pointed to in the last chapter", not "woman who prophesied"]; and she conceived, and bore a son. Then said the LORD unto me: 'Call his name Maher-shalal-hashbaz. 4 For before the child shall have knowledge to cry: My father, and: My mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be carried away before the king of Assyria.' ...7 Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them...the king of Assyria and all his glory; and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks; 8 And he shall sweep through Judah overflowing as he passeth through he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel.
This theme of "have kids and their names will be used as prophetic tools" idea is also used in Hosea:
the LORD said unto Hosea: 'Go, take unto thee a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry; for the land doth commit great harlotry, departing from the LORD.' 3 So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim; and she conceived, and bore him a son. 4 And the LORD said unto him: 'Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will visit the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 And it shall come to pass at that day, that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.' 6 And she conceived again, and bore a daughter. And He said unto him: 'Call her name Lo-ruhamah; for I will no more have compassion upon the house of Israel, that I should in any wise pardon them...8 Now when she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived, and bore a son. 9 And He said: 'Call his name Lo-ammi; for ye are not My people, and I will not be yours.'
So, from a "women in the books" point of view, it's pretty cut and dry: Men have big interpersonal and international conflicts and go on great campaigns and make great presentations and do lots of cool and often bizarre stuff: Isaiah goes and talks to kings; Jonah gets thrown over the side of a boat and swallowed by a fish; Jeremiah buys a new belt, buries then retrieves it; in Isaiah 36, an Assyrian official named Rab-shakeh goes and talks to the king and officials of Jerusalem and basically offers them a peace treaty (the nobles will suffer a bit, but the average man will be able to go back home) and yells at the "average Joe" from the city IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE that if the officials don't take his offer, Average Joe's will be ones who are going to be eating shit and drinking piss; and the women in the books.....have kids. None of the individual women mentioned in the Prophets have any kind of interesting adventures. In fact, they're usually being used as nothing more than props in men's stories. In Amos 7, for example, the prophet Amos is having a fight with the priest Amaziah, and Amos says to Amaziah
16 Now therefore hear thou the word of the LORD: Thou sayest: Prophesy not against Israel, and preach not against the house of Isaac; 17 Therefore thus saith the LORD: Thy wife shall be a harlot in the city...and thou thyself shalt die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of his land."
However, as you can see from the passage in Hosea, there is another way that women are alluded to: as a metaphor for the Israelite kingdoms. The other nations, when they are personified, are for the most part personified as a man, as in:
Isa. 15:1-2 The burden of Moab. For in the night that Ar of Moab is laid waste, he is brought to ruin; for in the night that Kir of Moab is laid waste, he is brought to ruin. 2 He is gone up to Baith, and to Dibon, to the high places, to weep; upon Nebo, and upon Medeba, Moab howleth...
But when the prophets are speaking about the kingdom of Israel, they overwhelmingly personify the kingdom as a woman, and characterize both the good and bad things that happened to the kingdom as a lover's spat between God and the nation. Like we already saw in Hosea, the bad things Israel did were personified as actions of a woman against her husband. I say "kingdom" because when most of the texts were written there was only one kingdom--Judah--and the kingdom of Israel was a distant memory, so the inhabitants of Judah appropriated the name for their own people, but some passages, like Ezekiel 23, do separate the two.
Here are some choice verses from that chapter, because it is really rich in its imagery:
4 And the names of them were Oholah the elder, and Oholibah her sister; and they became Mine, and they bore sons and daughters. And as for their names, Samaria is Oholah, and Jerusalem Oholibah. 5 And Oholah played the harlot when she was Mine; and she doted on her lovers, on the Assyrians, warriors....8 Neither hath she left her harlotries brought from Egypt; for in her youth they lay with her, and they bruised her virgin breasts; and they poured out their lust upon her. 9 Wherefore I delivered her into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the Assyrians, upon whom she doted...11 And her sister Oholibah saw this, yet was she more corrupt in her doting than she, and in her harlotries more than her sister in her harlotries. 14 And she increased her harlotries; for she saw men portrayed upon the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed with vermilion, 15 girded with girdles upon their loins, with pendant turbans upon their heads, all of them captains to look upon, the likeness of the sons of Babylon, even of Chaldea, the land of their nativity. 16 And as soon as she saw them she doted upon them, and sent messengers unto them into Chaldea. 17 And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their lust; and she was polluted with them, and her soul was alienated from them.19 Yet she multiplied her harlotries, remembering the days of her youth, wherein she had played the harlot in the land of Egypt. 20 And she doted upon concubinage with them, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue [semen] is like the issue of horses. 21 Thus thou didst call to remembrance the lewdness of thy youth, when they from Egypt bruised thy breasts for the bosom of thy youth.
God then goes on to say in that chapter that since the people of Judah have "played the harlot" by choosing other gods, he will sell them into slavery. This theme also appears in other passages, like:
Isa. 50:1 Thus saith the LORD: Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, wherewith I have put her away? Or which of My creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities were ye sold, and for your transgressions was your mother put away. 2 Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is My hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, at My rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness; their fish become foul, because there is no water, and die for thirst. 3 I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.
and in Zephaniah 3:
1 Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city! 2 She hearkened not to the voice, she received not correction; she trusted not in the LORD, she drew not near to her God. 3 Her princes in the midst of her are roaring lions; her judges are wolves of the desert, they leave not a bone for the morrow. 4 Her prophets are wanton and treacherous persons; her priests have profaned that which is holy, they have done violence to the law. 5 The LORD who is righteous is in the midst of her, He will not do unrighteousness; every morning doth He bring His right to light, it faileth not; but the unrighteous knoweth no shame. 6 I have cut off nations, their corners are desolate; I have made their streets waste, so that none passeth by; their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, so that there is no inhabitant. 7 I said: 'Surely thou wilt fear Me, thou wilt receive correction; so her dwelling shall not be cut off, despite all that I have visited upon her'; but they betimes corrupted all their doings.
and in Hosea:
4 Plead with your mother, plead; for she is not My wife, neither am I her husband; and let her put away her harlotries from her face, and her adulteries from between her breasts; 5 Lest I strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born, and make her as a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst. 6 And I will not have compassion upon her children; for they are children of harlotry. 7 For their mother hath played the harlot, she that conceived them hath done shamefully; for she said: 'I will go after my lovers, that give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink.' 8 Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and I will make a wall against her, that she shall not find her paths. 9 And she shall run after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them, and she shall seek them, but shall not find them; then shall she say: 'I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now.' 10 For she did not know that it was I that gave her the corn, and the wine, and the oil, and multiplied unto her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.
Even Amos, which is probably the earliest of the books of Nevi'im and refers to Israel as an independent kingdom from Judah, talks about the nation of Israel as a virgin.
1 Hear ye this word which I take up for a lamentation over you, O house of Israel: 2 The virgin of Israel is fallen, she shall no more rise; she is cast down upon her land, there is none to raise her up. 3 For thus saith the Lord GOD: The city that went forth a thousand shall have a hundred left, and that which went forth a hundred shall have ten left, of the house of Israel. 4 For thus saith the LORD unto the house of Israel: Seek ye Me, and live; 5 But seek not Beth-el, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beer-sheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Beth-el shall come to nought.
Gilgal, Beer-sheba. and Beth-el were all cities in the northern kingdom. What he seems to be saying here is to seek God from your own homes, not in any of the cities, including not to seek him in Jerusalem, because destruction was going to fall on the cities. However, I believe the addition of Amos to the Biblical canon was probably done in part by people who wanted to cement that it was Jerusalem in the southern kingdom, not any of the cities of the north, where God could be sought.
All these passages, though, contain a ray of hope: although God will destroy, he will not destroy utterly; although he will punish and exile her, he will also bring her back. Often the language of reconciliation is the the same as the language used in the message of punishment.
So going back to Hosea, where the children (Jezreel, Lo-Ammi, and Lo-Ruhamah) signified God's anger, the reconciliation passage reverses their names:
2:1 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass that, instead of that which was said unto them: 'Ye are not My people', it shall be said unto them: 'Ye are the children of the living God.' 2 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint themselves one head, and shall go up out of the land; for great shall be the day of Jezreel. 3 Say ye unto your brethren: 'Ammi'; and to your sisters, 'Ruhamah.'
Isa 54:1 Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear, break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail; for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD. 2 Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitations, spare not; lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes. 3 For thou shalt spread abroad on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall possess the nations, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited. 4 Fear not, for thou shalt not be ashamed. Neither be thou confounded, for thou shalt not be put to shame; for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and the reproach of thy widowhood shalt thou remember no more. 5 For thy Maker is thy husband, the LORD of hosts is His name; and the Holy One of Israel is thy Redeemer, the God of the whole earth shall He be called. 6 For the LORD hath called thee as a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit; and a wife of youth, can she be rejected? saith thy God. 7 For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great compassion will I gather thee. 8 In a little wrath I hid My face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have compassion on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer.
Isa. 26:17 Like as a woman with child, that draweth near the time of her delivery, is in pain and crieth out in her pangs; so have we been at Thy presence, O LORD. 18 We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the land; neither are the inhabitants of the world come to life. 19 Thy dead shall live, my dead bodies shall arise--awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust--for Thy dew is as the dew of light, and the earth shall bring to life the shades.
This kind of language of a dead land and a dead people coming back to life and being restored was probably a big part of the hopefulness that characterized the post-exilic Jews, people who had been carried away from their homes to a strange land and then in part restored to their homeland, as well as to comfort those who were still in captivity. Where many other conquered nations simply adopted the gods of their conquerors, at least some Jews, a "remnant" as it were, managed to hold onto monotheism in the hopes that it would one day be worth it, that their suffering would be repaid. It was this kind of tenacious devotion to the principle that made it survive this long, where many other religious texts and traditions have faded into the mists of time. Remember, this was something that was happening most of the time to everyone in the region. This happened to the followers of Moloch and the Ba'al worshiping Philistines just as much as it happened to the Jews, but they didn't maintain their cultural and religious identity as well as the Jews did, which is at least a good portion why their religions aren't alive today. This sort of imagery of God as a husband, not a master or unreachable ethereal being, and of the Jewish people collectively as a wayward bride, not as a people who stumbled on a certain god's habitat, appealed to people on a very deep emotional level. That's not to say the message of the passages is true, but it is certainly powerful.
Edit: I cleaned it up a little and took out some extraneous parts and parts I managed to paste in twice.