The Misnamed Metaphor: A Study of the Root ZNH and its Connotations in the Harlotry Metaphor
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The Tanach may be labeled as a love story- the tale of the love between Israel and her God. The prophet Jeremiah’s poetic statement “So said God, ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown’” (2:2) demonstrates the tenderness between the lovers. Yet Israel’s attitude towards God swings from passionate worship to stubborn desertion as her religious faith waxes and wanes. The role of the Jewish prophet is to guide Israel in her pursuit of a positive relationship with God. When Israel sins throughout Nevi’im and Ketuvim the prophet of the age is there to offer assistance which often calls for rebuke. One of the harshest reproaches is an extended metaphor in which Israel is portrayed as a sinning Zonah. The metaphor appears in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea primarily with minor appearances in other books of Nevi’im and Ketuvim. The root of the word used to describe Israel is ZNH, which is commonly translated to mean harlotry or prostitution. The verses dedicated to criticism utilizing the imagery of Israel as a Zonah are therefore a part of what scholars have long named the “Harlotry Metaphor.” However, intratextual analysis of the appearance of the root ZNH throughout Tanach, and consideration of academic Biblical research reveals that the term “Harlotry Metaphor” is too limited. It zeroes in on a particular translation of the ZNH as harlotry, while ignoring the more prominent general meaning of ZNH. This thesis reconsiders ZNH as a general deviation from an ideal of religious, social, and familial norms. In this metaphor Israel is not a harlot, but rather she is a woman either causing others to stray or deviating herself from a predetermined path and a set of expectations.
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