Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 5 (2004-2005) - Review

Sarah J. Dille, Mixing Metaphors: God as Mother and Father in Deutero-Isaiah (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 398; Gender, Culture, Theory, 13; London/New York: T & T Clark International, 2004). Pp. xiii + 200. Cloth, US$ 105.00. ISBN 0-8264-7156-0.

            Dille examines five passages in Deutero-Isaiah in which she finds explicit or implied parental metaphors: Isa 42:8-17; 43:1-7; 45:9-13; 49:13-21; 50:1-3. She takes her methods in approaching these texts from the studies on metaphor of I. A. Richards, Max Black, and George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (p. 3). Richards is credited with foundational studies on metaphor as basic to language and with the standard terminology of “vehicle” (a figure, here parental language) and “tenor” (the subject, here YHWH) in which metaphor is discussed (p. 5). From Black she takes an interactive view of metaphor, as creating meaning through the interaction of vehicle and tenor, the idea of “associated commonplaces,” ideas concerning the vehicle of a metaphor which are generally thought to be true in a particular culture, and the idea of “emphasis and suppression,” that the commonplaces of a culture which are associated with a vehicle present a particular view of the tenor (pp. 6-7). Dille credits Lakoff and Johnson with the idea of a metaphor as “conceptual structure,” organizing both experience and speech and the ideas of “entailments” as concepts which follow from metaphors, “metaphoric extension” as highlighting previously downplayed entailments, and their categories of “coherence vs consistency,”  emphasizing coherence as a quality of metaphors which, while logically inconsistent, share entailments (pp. 8-15).

            In Dille’s interpretation of texts, use of these theoretical studies of metaphor is not generally obtrusive, in part because the biblical interpreter will recognize in them justification for conventional methods of reading biblical texts. In particular, “associated commonplaces” justifies study of the wider use and meaning of metaphors in the Hebrew Bible and in ancient Near Eastern cultures, while “emphasis and suppression” labels the results of such study. Dille employs the concept of “coherence” to identify common entailments in a series of metaphors in the text of Deutero-Isaiah which do not display “consistency.” I shall return to this particular method below as demonstrating her one approach to the study of metaphor in these texts which I view as less than successful.

            The introductory chapter on method is followed by a chapter discussing kinship and birth in Deutero-Isaiah and in the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East. Dille looks at “associated commonplaces” of birth and parental relationships in these cultures, concluding with a discussion of YHWH as father and mother in the Hebrew Bible. Subsequent chapters each interpret parental metaphors in one text of Deutero-Isaiah and in the larger literary context of each text. Textual problems are presented and positions taken which can reasonably be justified by textual study. Similarly, where ambiguity exists Dille convincingly argues for her attribution of direct speech to one or another potential speaker. Her notes indicate an awareness of scholarly debate, although she does not always choose the most popular positions. In short, she exhibits a competent and interesting handling of these poetic texts.

            In chapter three, Dille discusses the metaphors of YHWH as divine warrior and as woman in labour in Isa 42:8-17. Both metaphors are studied in their wider and immediate contexts, looking at the extensive material in the Hebrew Bible presenting YHWH as the divine warrior and use of the metaphor of the woman in labour. Dille names “associated commonplaces” of the warrior and the woman in labour: pain, blood, panic of battle, threat of death, the unstoppable nature of battle and labour, vulnerability, a sense of constriction common to labour and siege warfare (pp. 67-68). For her, this suggests metaphoric “coherence,” that the metaphor of the warrior leads into the metaphor of the labouring woman. I think it preferable to interpret these metaphors for YHWH starting from the “associated commonplaces” of YHWH as divine warrior and of women in labour in biblical texts. Continuity is seen in the loud shouts given by both figures; these tend to emphasize the contrast between the victorious divine warrior and the woman in labour.

            Dille’s interpretations of the other four texts in their varying contexts demonstrate how each metaphor functions in the wider context of the book, not presenting a single view of YHWH as parent, but integrated into each passage to further the progress of thought in the context.

            By writing a book on parental metaphors for God, Sarah Dille participates in two current movements of biblical reinterpretation, namely that aspect of feminist biblical interpretation which aims to see God in more inclusive gender terms and present theological interest in the place of biblical metaphors in forming our view of God. I found her book both interesting and thought provoking with respect to these two currents of thought, as well as contributing to a better understanding of Deutero-Isaiah through study of these metaphors in their contexts.

Mary Louise Mitchell