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Divorce in the Old Testament: Breaking the permanent covenant?

LeeEunAe 1

1이화여자대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This paper investigates the understanding of divorce in the Old Testament. This study applies a historical-critical method from a feministic perspective of the so-called ‘divorce law’ in Deuteronomy(Deut 24:1-4) and other texts that deal with the concept of ‘divorce’. Divorce refers to the end of a marriage relationship. In the Old Testament, marriage is often regarded as a covenant between husband and wife. In Genesis, marriage is a permanent covenant commanded by God(Gen 2:23). The purpose of the ‘divorce law’(Deut 24:1-4) is to forbid a woman's former husband to take her back to be his wife. Nevertheless, the text shows that divorce, like marriage, is possible in ancient Israelite society, and that the reasons for the divorce can be founded not only in a wife's sexual fault, but also in the change of heart of the husband. The woman with a ‘certificate of divorce’ was allowed to remarry another man. However, reunion with her former husband is explained as an abomination before God and as an act to bring sin upon the land. The legal institutions of marriage, divorce, and remarriage are interpreted now in terms of their cultic and theological meanings. In prophetic texts such as Hosea, Jeremiah, and Malachi, the marriage-divorce formula is used as a symbol to indicate the covenantal relationship between Yahweh und Israel. The adultery of Judah as a wife caused a breaking of the covenant, namely divorce with her husband Yahweh. However, God wants only the faithfulness of Israel. Malachi gives the Israelite living in the postexilic period the warning against divorcing his Jewish wife to marry a pagan wife. The concept of ‘divorce’ is discussed beyond the dimension of the legislation within the theological and ethical dimensions.

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