Cultural Settings

My husband and I were reading Hosea today, and I found a little passage that got me thinking:

“how long will it be ere they attain to innocency?” (Hosea 8:5–second half of the verse)

In Christian culture, and by extension, Western culture, innocence is something that, once lost, cannot be regained. I believe it comes from the value placed on virginity and being “childlike.” I think it is akin to the concept of “original sin”–that we should long for the time before we had free will, a time that cannot return.

But Hosea indicates that he operated in a different cultural context. In his world, innocence can be regained. It does not appear to be synonymous with “naivete” or “inexperience;” it is more along the lines of the Western legal concept of innocence. It means that you aren’t doing anything you shouldn’t be doing. Even the criminal may regain his innocence, in that context, if he renounces his wickedness and commits to a righteous life. Provided he has taken the appropriate steps to atone for his wrongdoings, his past is between him and his Creator.

To compare it to the implications of virginity, Western culture associates virginity with purity (the “blushing bride”). But, in the TaNaKh, virginity is simply a woman’s proper state before she marries. Indeed, consummation is the primary event in solemnizing the marriage.

All of this goes to a larger point. It is popular today to try to do a “modern reading” of scripture, to translate it and read it so that it speaks to a modern context. I am aware of a Christian translation that deliberately removed historical context in an effort to make scripture more “timeless.” But the TaNaKh, as much as it speaks to every generation and every place, is also specific to a past time and place.

How can we speak of the Exodus without an understanding of ancient slavery, for example? Today, in America, slavery has not existed as such (at least in a publicly sanctioned sense) for 150 years. How can I explain bondage in Egypt to my son, who has no contact with any such institution? A common theme throughout the TaNaKh is the reciprocity of the Covenant. When we do not hold up our end of the bargain, He does not bless us. A similar reciprocity must exist in understanding that covenant. We do not need to go anywhere to get or find the Law. It is nearby and readily understood. However, we must make the choice to read and understand it. Doing so requires us to try to put ourselves in the context of the Scripture, not the other way around. I should not apply to Hosea 8:5 the connotation my cultural context applies to the word “innocence.” Rather it is my responsibility to read carefully and develop an understanding for what Hosea meant in his use of that word.

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