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Israel's Baby: The Horror of Childbirth in the Biblical Prophets

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image of Biblical Interpretation

Using verbal threats and graphic images of destruction, the biblical prophets employed a rhetoric of horror to terrify their audience. Modern theories about the genre of horror provide insight into the prophets' rhetoric. They elucidate the nature of biblical horror and the objects that provoke horror, as well as the ways texts work to elicit horror from their audience. This paper examines the image of the laboring woman within the context of the prophets' horror rhetoric. This image captures the physical and emotional experience of Israel awaiting Babylonian conquest and conveys the irony and futility of Israel's situation. The image also serves as a strategy of cross-gender identification, common in the horror genre, which asks a predominantly male audience to identify with a female character. This strategy reveals the essential elements of biblical horror—fear and shame—and uses these elements to motivate wayward Israel to repent. By identifying with the birthing woman, Israel will come to recognize its physical and emotional vulnerability, the futility and disgrace of its situation, and strive to reform.

Affiliations: 1: Jewish Theological Seminary of America


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