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THE BITCH HAD IT COMING TO HER: Rhetoric and Interpretation in Ezekiel 16

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Ezek. 16:35-43 describes the punishment invoked upon personified Jerusalem for breach of covenant. Virtually all modern scholars maintain that the description is modelled on real life punishments for adultery in ancient Israel. This paper argues that the role played by Jerusalem's metaphoric lovers, who participate in the punishment rather than, as adulterers themselves, being subject to it, proves that the dominant interpretation of the passage is untenable. The paper proposes that the rhetorical dynamics of the passage have been a powerful influence in leading scholars to maintain this demonstrably false position. This proposal is illustrated by examining how scholars focus their ire solely on personified Jerusalem as adulteress, while at the same time exonerating the male lovers. Interpreting the punishment in this fashion conforms to the passage's rhetorical strategy of creating a unified, male-identified subject position that uses sexual difference to focus the reader's fury solely on the woman. The text accuses personified Jerusalem of the covenant infractions of apostasy and im68 proper foreign alliances, and invokes punishments that are standard for these crimes. The commentators, on the other hand, deleteriously influenced by the rhetorical dynamics of the passage, put personified Jerusalem to death for the enormity of her sexual offenses. This inappropriate literalizing of the sexual language of the vehicle of the metaphor has resulted in an erroneous interpretation of the passage.

Affiliations: 1: University of Winnipeg


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