'You Shall Know Yahweh': Divine Sexuality in the Hebrew Bible and Beyond
Bernthal-Hooker, Alan William
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
The relationship between the chief Israelite deity Yahweh and his people is often figured in terms of the so-called ‘marriage metaphor’, by which Yahweh is husband and Israel wife. The sexual language used to describe Yahweh’s body and his attitude towards Israel is taken to be a convenient method to outline the thoughts, feelings and expectations Yahweh has of his people in terms of religious practice. However, this has led to various interpretations in which divine sexuality in itself has been labelled ‘pagan’, an activity which Yahweh supposedly ‘transcends’. The aim of this thesis is to question these interpretations. In the first part, an examination of other ancient West Asian literature from Sumer, Ugarit and Egypt, each depicting divine sexuality in stark terms, is completed in order to set a historical mark by which the biblical texts themselves can be judged. In the second, a selection of biblical passages is examined: some from the texts which are structured by the marriage metaphor (as from Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah) and others not (texts about bones, temples, urination, circumcision and loins). Ultimately, one discovers that Yahweh is in fact embroiled within sexuality, whether in the marriage metaphor or not, rather than transcendent above it and that Yahweh’s body, described in heavily masculine terminology throughout the Bible, while indeed sexualized, phallic and perhaps even penised, is nevertheless, ambiguous, liminal or ‘multigendered’ as to the features of his body. It is argued that this does not impede Yahweh’s masculinity but may even work to strengthen it.
PhD in Theology