Upon the advice of a friend, I read The Prophets by Abraham Joshua Heschel today. Here is one fascinating part:
O Lord, Thou hast deceived me,
And I was deceived;
Thou art stronger than I,
And thou hast prevailed.
~Jeremiah 20: 7
This standard rendition misses completely the meaning of the text and ascribes to Jeremiah a pitiful platitude ("Thou art stronger than I"). The proper rendition of Jeremiah's exclamation would be:
O Lord, Thou hast seduced me,
And I am seduced;
Thou hast raped me
And I am overcome.
The meaning of this extraordinary confession becomes clear when we consider what commentators have failed to notice, namely, the specific meaning of the individual words. The striking feature of the verse is the use of two verbs patah and hazak. The first term is used in the Bible and in the special sense of wrongfully inducing a woman to consent to prenuptial intercourse (Exod. 22:16 [H. 22:15]; cf. Hos. 2:14 [H. 2:16]; Job 31:9). The second term denotes the violent forcing of a woman to submit to extranuptial intercourse, which is thus performed against her will (Deut 22:25; cf. Judg. 19:25, II Sam. 13:11). The first denotes seduction or enticement; the second, rape. Seduction is distinguished from rape in that it does not involve violence. The woman seduced has consented, although her consent may have been gained by allurements. The words used by Jeremiah to describe the impact of God upon his life are identical with the terms for seduction and rape in the legal terminology of the Bible.
These terms used in immediate juxtaposition forcefully convey the complexity of the divine-human relationship: sweetness of enticement as well as violence of rape. Jeremiah, who like Hosea thought of the relationship between God and Israel in the image of love, interpreted his own involvement in the same image. This interpretation betrays an ambivalence in the prophet's understanding of his own experience.
The call to be a prophet is more than an invitation. It is first of all a feeling of being enticed, of acquiescence or willing surrender. But this winsome feeling is only one aspect of the experience. The other aspect is a sense of being ravished or carried away by violence, of yielding to overpowering forced against one's own will. The prophet feels both the attraction and the coercion of God, the appeal and the pressure, the charm and the stress. He is conscious of both voluntary identification and forced capitulation.
(Volume I, pages 113- 114)
In light of this, consider John Donne's "Holy Sonnet XIV."
Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
The terminology is beautifully similar, of course. Most people who read this poem initially recoil- Donne is requesting that God "ravish" him because at the moment he is lost within the clutches of His Enemy; this of course suggests Satan, his own dark desires- certainly something of that ilk. But the entire poem operates off of that extremely suggestive imagery- and lo! It's not, as we're always taught, unique to Donne. Neither can you who protested find it inappropriate anymore...since it shows up in Tanakh! *cackles*
Who's against John Donne now?