Love and Violence is an English translation of Baumann's exhaustive analysis of physical and sexual violence imagery in the metaphorical marriage covenant between YHWH and Israel, originally published in German in 2000. Throughout the author determines whether the prophets' use of images to communicate YHWH's punishment or abandonment of an unfaithful Israel such as rape, sexual violation and public humiliation can be separated from more positive aspects of the marital covenant. Elements of Baumann's hermeneutic—concern with relationships between the sexes, the prevalence of sexual violence in biblical and contemporary marriage and war, and the need to protect the dignity of women through critical analysis of dangerous and affirming biblical texts—speak to the importance of this work beyond the scope of biblical exegesis.
Baumann acknowledges the breadth of ongoing scholarship in this area of prophetic biblical literature, as evidenced by her comprehensive references to notable biblical exegetes and Ancient Near East scholars. Her well-organized text, however, offers two important contributions. First, rather than focus on a particular prophetic book, she provides a detailed chronological analysis of sexual violence imagery in eight: Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Lamentations, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, and Malachi. Her approach features comprehensive semantic analysis, as well as Ricoeurian social-historical interpretation of the metaphorical imagery, which first explains the metaphors in their ancient contexts and then interprets them for contemporary readers. Her method surveys the particular images and metaphors for marriage and sexual violence used in each prophetic book, discusses existing feminist interpretations, and then situates the marriage imagery in the larger context of each book. The end result is a sweeping—and disturbing—portrayal of the prevalence of sexual violence to convey God's desire for an intimate and faithful covenantal relationship.
Second, rather take the more traditional feminist approach and explore women's metaphorical identity as adulterers and harlots, as the unfaithful Jerusalem or the exiled Zion, Baumann examines the implications of YHWH's identity as the perpetrator of violence. For example her analysis of Ezekiel, which Baumann sees as the "Climax of Marriage Imagery" (Chapter 8), grapples with YHWH's punishment for infidelity, exacted through public shaming, gang rape and stoning. Applying her method of interpretation she explains that imagery of sexual violence would not necessarily have been an upsetting feature of spousal relationships or ethnic conflicts for the communities of the prophetic texts. However, she rightly notes that such violence has dramatic influence upon communities ahead of the text, struggling to overcome similar dismissive attitudes toward domestic violence in marriages and sexual violence in military conflict. To that end, she encourages an awareness of the dynamics of sexual violence in the two worlds of the text and challenges previously-held notions of the God of the Old Testament.
Baumann's book features three main strengths in addition to that of achieving her main objective, namely to systematically interpret the implications of sexual violence in the marital covenant imagery. First, her analysis is simultaneously exegetical and historically critical. She thoroughly situates notions of marriage as well as sexual abuse within marital relationship within the larger context of gender relationships in the Ancient Near East in general and Hebrew culture specifically. This social-historical analysis effectively explains the context and content of the marriage metaphors, thus unpacking more complete and accurate contemporary interpretations. Second, her use of Ricoeur's method assists the reader in understanding metaphors as a literary mechanism in biblical texts and in developing possible strategies for interpretation in a way that fuses the horizons of the texts. This allows her to underscore the affective component of the violent imagery which colors YHWH's relationship with the people of the covenant, and protects its unsettling, scandalous and irreconcilable content. She suggests outrage as a possible response to these texts, but unfortunately does not elaborate on it. Finally, her refusal to separate YHWH's unsettling activity as a sexual aggressor or perpetrator from more loving and life-giving prophetic imagery allows these images to maintain their disturbing message, perhaps in a way unintended by their authors. One such message would highlight the ways in which contemporary societies often fail to recognize and condemn perpetrators of violence, whether by erroneously assuming that sexual punishment can control behavior, that sexual abuse is an unavoidable expression of inevitable gender inequality, or that domestic violence is a private expression of a desire for intimacy, faithfulness, and love. Baumann's exacting analysis of these sacred texts is to be commended for interjecting the reality of sexual violence into contemporary religious and social consciousness.