West Semitic Tales of Divine Cuckolds: Biblical Marriage Metaphors and the Elkunirša Myth (CTH 342)

The Elkunirša myth (CTH 342), a Hittite text of probable West Semitic derivation, is a tale of divine marital unfaithfulness, spousal violence, reconciliation, and revenge. This presentation compares the myth with the marriage metaphors of Hosea, Jeremiah, and especially Ezekiel, in which YHWH is husband and Israel (or one of its subregions) is his wife. While the marriage metaphors are not monolithic, many share peculiar plot points with the Elkunirša myth, such as child murder, the involvement of adulterers in the punishment of the adulteress, and spousal reconciliation following extreme violence. The comparative approach yields insights into both the Elkunirša myth and the biblical texts. With roots dating to even before its editio princeps, the Elkunirša myth has long been read as an example of the folkloric “Potiphar’s Wife” motif, in which a married woman forcefully propositions a man but upon his refusal then feigns that he is the sexual aggressor. I argue that the shared plot points between the marriage metaphors and the Elkunirša myth demonstrate that the myth does not follow the “Potiphar’s Wife” motif, and, in centrally featuring reconciliation, is in fact quite distinct from the motif and much more similar to the metaphors. The marriage metaphors themselves are similarly better understood in light of their mythic counterpart. Scholars sometimes speak of “breakdown” in the biblical marriage metaphors or of “intrusion” of the target domain (e.g., historical wartime violence) into imagery of the source domain (e.g., YHWH punishing his wife). However, through comparison with the Elkunirša myth, I demonstrate that some of the most problematic “breakdowns” in the metaphors can be read as plot points in coherent extended-metaphor narratives, especially when the narratives are recognized as mythological themselves.