Woman, community and conflict: Rethinking the metaphor of female adultery in Hosea 1-2

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




James G. Williams


Bible, Religious history, Womens studies, Cultural anthropology

Subject Categories

Biblical Studies


This dissertation will argue that the dominant reading of female adultery in Hosea 1-2 as a metaphor for religious apostasy in a syncretistic fertility cult proceeds from an interpretative framework that spiritualizes the meaning of religion, uncritically imports Western assumptions about gender meanings, and presupposes the individual as the basic unit of human meaning. Reading within this interpretive frame, commentators generally agree that the great point of Hosea's female sexual imagery is the articulation of a theological position in which spirit is raised above matter. This dissertation will show that this conclusion is a product of hermeneutical premises which already presuppose the matter/spirit dichotomy, and will offer a very different reading of the metaphor by setting it within the context of an alternative interpretative framework that presupposes no such dichotomy.

Rather than reading Hosea's figure of the ' eset zenuni m ("woman of fornications") through the lens of stereotypical Western associations of woman with nature, sexual temptation and sin, this dissertation will read female sexual transgression in Hosea in light of the repeated association of sexual transgression and social violence which is found in the biblical narratives. Thus female adultery in Hosea will be read as a commentary upon the structural violence in Israelite society which accompanied the eighth century boom in agribusiness and attendant processes of land consolidation. Further, rather than reading Hosea's religious allusions against the background of scholarly fantasies concerning a popular fertility or sex cult, the religious issues relevant to Hosea 1-2 will be identified as relating to the disruption of the socio-sacral order of traditional highland life that accompanied the progressive transformation of Israel's subsistence economy into a commercial economy driven by interregional trade. From this perspective, Hosea's marriage metaphor will be reread as a family metaphor which draws upon the centrality of the family in traditional Israelite life as a way of speaking to the disintegration of that way of life brought about by the avaricious economic practices of Israel's elite establishment. Finally, the symbolism of woman in Hosea will be reconsidered in light of this rereading.


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