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Altes Testament


Macintosh, A. A.


Hosea. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary.


Edinburgh: Clark 1997. XCIX, 600 S. 8. Lw. £ 39.95. ISBN 0-567-08545-7.


Kevin J. Cathcart

The publication of another volume in The International Critical Commentary (ICC) series is most welcome. Until now the only Old Testament commentary in the series to have appeared is that on Jeremiah (2 vols) by W. McKane. In the old ICC, the commentary on Hosea was prepared by W. R. Harper and published in 1905. As the editors of the ICC point out, "new evidence now available, as well as new methods of study" can be incorporated in forthcoming volumes.

In this new commentary on Hosea, Dr. A. A. Macintosh, President of St John’s College, Cambridge, gives us the fruits of his many years of labour. He has kept "something of the traditional divisions of the ICC in the hope that the commentary may be useful to different sorts of readers" (IX). Each verse is translated from the Hebrew and detailed notes justifying the translation are provided. Then there are more general comments on each verse, followed by a section marked Text and Versions. The commentary is very clearly written and the detailed linguistic and textual notes are more manageable than those in Harper’s commentary in the old ICC.

In the preface of the book, M. tells us: "My priority has been to attempt an accurate account of the meaning of Hosea’s words; for on this, it seems to me everything else depends" (IX). As all Old Testament scholars know, this is a daunting task, for the text of Hosea is notoriously difficult to understand and translate in a fair number of places. This reviewer believes that quite a number of difficulties in the text of Hosea are due to scribal error. Some texts may have been deliberately tampered with to remove references to non-Israelite gods or religious practices. In M.s view, the difficulties of the book are due to "our unfamiliarity with the prophet’s language and dialect" (LIII). However, he concedes that there are "no immediately obvious indications of a northern dialectal usage" (LIV). Among the forms M. expects in such a dialect are the relative particle s for ’sr and st, "year" for snh. In his discussion of the possible influence of Aramaic, which he rejects, he writes: "If the Samaria Ostraca reveal forms which are close to those occurring in Aramaic (e. g. st, ’year’ for snh), such forms are not immediately apparent in Hosea’s writings" (LIX). However, it should be pointed out that the Aramaic form for "year" in the eighth century and for many centuries after was snh. M. finds that the clearest evidence for the dialectal character of the language of Hosea is to be found in his Vocabulary" (LVI) and at the end of the volume there is an appendix on "The Vocabulary of Hosea", with a list of words which "display some peculiarities vis-a-vis Standard Biblical Hebrew". Hebraists and semitists will find many of the proposals quite controversial. The author has used extensively the work of ibn Janah, as well as Rashi, ibn Ezra and Kimchi, but, as a matter of policy (a reference to James Barr’s views is given to support it), he prefers to give much less weight to the modern "comparative philology" approach and particularly to suggestions based on Ugaritic and Akkadian. This is a pity. Let us take one or two examples from the commentary. The view of L. Kohler that tiros is the Canaanite term equivalent to yayin is indeed suspect. Therefore the discussion of the words yayin wetiros in Hosea 4.11 would benefit from a reference to the Ugaritic parallel pair yn//trt in KTU 1.114, lines 3-4, 16. In the discussion of possible etymologies for the name Diblaim (12-13), some confusion has arisen concerning phonetic correspondences. Arabic and Ugaritic d correspond to Hebrew z and Aramaic d, but not to Hebrew d.

In a section on form and style, M. accepts that there are forms of speech in Hosea’s oracles whose Sitz im Leben is the law court (cf. the forensic sense of rib in 4.1 and 12.3). However, he is unhappy with Wolff’s assignment of many of Hosea’s sayings to a variety of forensic categories. Rather he strives to alert the reader of the book of Hosea to the particular character of the prophecies, pointing out, for example, that the "consummate artistry serves ... to emphasise the radical unity of purpose that exists between Hosea and his God" (LXIII); and making the observation that passages of the book have a "deeply meditative tone" (LXIII). In his remarks about Hosea’s similes for Yahweh, particular mention is made of Hos 13.7 f. where Yahweh in his anger is compared to a lion, a leopard, and a she-bear. Mention might have been made of the curses in the Aramaic Sefire inscriptions I.A.30-33; II A.9 which list these same animals. The dismissal of the meaning "moth" for ’as in Hos 5.12 is surprising. In the commentary on this verse on p. 207 M. writes: "The difficulty arises that a moth is not appropriate as a scourge of human beings". Note, however, that in the curses in Sefire I.A.30-33, the moth and the louse (ss wqml) follow snake, scorpion, bear and panther as devourers.

The section of the introduction on the composition of the book of Hosea is very good. M.s view of ch. 1 is that it "appears to be essentially personal and retrospective in character (even if it is the work of a redactor)" and he regards ch. 3 as "an Ichbericht or first person memorandum by the prophet himself" (LXVI). (There is an excursus on Hosea’s marriage on pp. 113-126). He is of the opinion that "the words which Hosea delivered publicly are reflected and predominate in chapters 2 and 4-8" (LXVI). They are not however, the ipsississima verba of the prophets. He surmises that a distinction can be made between private and personal elements and those which were proclaimed publicly, although they have been fused in the literary composition. He is convinced that Hosea is the author and composer of most of the contents of the book, admits there may have been assistance by a personal scribe, and recognises the contributions of redactors. The redaction took place in Judah where Hosea’s work had been taken after the fall of Samaria. Redactional elements are found in 1.7; 3.5; 4.5; 4.15; 5.5; 6.11a; 6.11b; 9.4; 10.11; 11.10; 12.1; 12.3. Most of them are dated in the seventh century B. C. and only a few regarded as exilic or post-exilic. According to M., we have in the literary work which bears his name, the prophet Hosea’s interpretation of the decline of the Northern Kingdom. It is probably Hosea’s thinking after he had withdrawn from his public ministry c. 733 B. C.

Macintosh’s book is a major contribution to the study of Hosea. Scholars will be indebted to the author for the clarity with which he has explored many difficult issues.