A Review of The Book of Hosea. By Andrew Dearman.
Eerdmans, 2010. (Available in Australia at Koorong Books)
Sadly, the Old Testament is often neglected by Christians, and the Minor Prophets do not get a very good run either. And some of these books are simply quite difficult to unpack for various reasons, with the book of Hosea being no exception. Thus we have tended to avoid such books.
With this in mind I commend to you this fine new commentary on Hosea. It is always rewarding to find a new volume in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament series. Only around a dozen OT books remain to be covered by NICOT.
This is the newest volume to come forth from the conservative/evangelical commentary series. Earlier commentaries on Hosea from this perspective have included the quite helpful volumes by Stuart (WBC, 1987), Hubbard (TOTC, 1989), McComiskey (1992), Garrett (NAC, 1997), and Smith (NIVAC, 2001).
Of course the massive Anchor Bible commentary by Andersen and Freedman remains the most comprehensive and detailed, but it may not be to everyone’s liking, since it is especially heavy on philology, linguistic and textual matters, but not quite as strong on theological issues. The 700-page effort, penned 30 years ago, is still invaluable, but it is nice to see it now supplemented by Dearman’s volume.
Similar things can be said about the nearly as massive volume by Macintosh (ICC, 1997). It too is amazingly substantial and detailed, but also somewhat weak on theology. Thus this new volume of just over 400 pages may be the best on offer in terms of a careful interaction with the Hebrew text along with solid theological considerations.
Dearman is a Texas-based professor of Old Testament who has also penned a commentary on Jeremiah/Lamentations (NIVAC, 2002). He is well placed to take on the book of Hosea, having written numerous works on the OT and the prophets.
In this volume he spends 70 pages on introductory matters. As to origin and transmission, he argues that “little or nothing in the book itself requires a date later than the end of the 8th century B.C.” Yet “we have more evidence with which to work than with many other preexilic books”.
As to its historical background, “Internal clues to the book put the vast majority of the prophecies in the mid-8th century, ca. 760-720 B.C., with Israel, not Judah, as the primary audience addressed by Hosea”.
Concerning the actual commentary, English transliterations of the Hebrew are used, as per the NICOT format. Especially difficult portions of the text (of which there are many) are often discussed in greater detail in either numerous excurses or in ten appendices.
Consider the theologically and morally difficult issue addressed in the opening chapters: Yahweh’s command to Hosea to marry a prostitute. Much ink has been spilt on this, and Dearman takes us through the various options which have been proposed.
He spends a fair amount of time looking at the various issues in need of resolution, and the many options put forward. What kind of literature makes up these first three chapters? How much metaphorical and symbolic language is being used here? Did Hosea know she was a prostitute when he married her?
These and numerous other perplexing questions arise here. Dearman judiciously covers the ground, weighing up pros and cons. On the question of whether Gomer is the same as the unnamed adulteress in 3:1, for example, Dearman examines the possibilities, and sides with the view that she is one and the same woman.
On the profound passage on Yahweh’s exuberant love for a wayward Israel (Hosea 11:1-11) Dearman includes two lengthy excurses in his commentary on these 11 verses. Taken together, he paints a clear picture of the contrasting message of this passage.
Yahweh is right to pronounce judgment on a disobedient and unfaithful Israel, but as a wounded husband and father, he cannot put away his beloved forever. Dearman nicely weaves these seemingly contradictory themes together here, letting the text speak in its fullness.
And along the way of course he notes the various textual and linguistic difficulties, the hermeneutical problems associated with the heavy use of poetry in the book, and the various issues of the books’ historical and cultural setting. As with most of the NIC volumes, he offers a really helpful blend of the various components needed for a solid and incisive commentary.
As mentioned, some of the earlier, shorter commentaries on Hosea have been quite helpful indeed. This is a welcome addition to the growing library of conservative/evangelical OT commentaries. It should long serve as a standard work on this important OT book.