1902 Encyclopedia > Hosea


HOSEA, the son of Beeri. the first in order of the minor prophets. The name Hosea ($?_, LXX. 'OoV, Vulg. Osee, and so our English version in Bom. ix. 25) ought rather to be written Hoshea, and is identical with that borne by the last king of Ephraim, and by Joshua in Num. xiii. 16, Deut. xxxii. 44. Of the life of Hosea we know nothing beyond what can be gathered from his prophecies. That he was a citizen of the northern kingdom appears from the whole tenor of the book, but most expressly from i. 2, where " the land," the prophet's land, is the realm of Israel, and vii. 5, where " our king" is the king of Samaria. The date at which Hosea flourished is given in the title, i. 1, by the reigning kings of Judah and Israel. He prophesied (1) in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah ; (2) in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. As Jeroboam II. died in the lifetime of Uzziah, these two determinations of the period of Hosea's prophetic activity are not strictly coin-cident, and a question arises whether both are from the same hand or of equal authority. There is no doubt that the date of Jeroboam II. applies to chaps, i. and if, which were written before the downfall of the dynasty of Jehu (i. 4), and while the nation was still enjoying the prosperity that distinguished Jeroboam's reign. On the other hand, it seems equally certain that chaps, iv.-xiv. are in their present form a continuous composition dating from the period of anarchy subsequent to that king's death. Thus it seems natural to suppose, with Ewald and other scholars, that the name of Jeroboam originally stood in a special title to chaps, i., ii. (or to these along with chap, iii.), which was afterwards extended to a general heading for the whole book by the insertion of the words " of Uzziah .... and in the days of." As Hosea himself can hardly be supposed to have thus converted a special title into a general one, the scholars who take this view suppose further that the date by Judaean reigns was added by a later hand, the same perhaps which penned the identical date in the title to Isaiah. On this view the Judsean date merely expresses knowledge on the part of some Hebrew scribe that Hosea was a contemporary of Isaiah. The plausibility of this hypothesis is greatly increased by the fact that there does not appear to be anything in the book of Hosea that is clearly as late as the reign of Hezekiah. On the contrary, the latter part of the book seems to have been written before the expedition of Tiglath Pileser against Pekah in the days of Ahaz. In that war Gilead and Galilee were conquered and depopulated (2 Kings xv. 29), but Hosea repeatedly refers to these districts as still form-ing an integral part of the kingdom of Israel (v. 1, vi. 8, xii. 11; contrast Micah vii. 14). Assyria is never referred to as a hostile power, but as a dangerous ally, from which some of the godless Ephraimites were ready to seek the help which another party expected from Egypt, but which in truth was to be found only in Jehovah (v. 13, vii. 11, ! viii. 9, xii. 1, xiv. 3). This picture precisely corresponds with what we read in 2 Kings xv. of the internal dissen-sions which rent the northern kingdom after the fall of the house of Jehu, when Menahem called in the Assyrians to help him against those who challenged his pretensions to the throne. Under Pekah of Israel, and Ahaz his contem-porary in Judah, the political situation was altogether changed. Israel was in alliance with Damascus, and Assyria made open war on the allies (2 Kings xvi.). This new situation may be said to mark a crisis in the history of Old Testament prophecy, for to it we owe the magnificent series of Isaiah's Assyrian discourses (Isa. vii. seq.). But the events which stirred Judaean prophets so deeply have left no trace in the book in which Hosea sums up the record of his teaching. He foresees that captivity and desolation lie in the future, but even in his last words of pathetic exhortation he speaks to a nation which looks to Assyria for help and victory (xiv. 3). The received chronology of the kings of Judah and Israel is notoriously precarious, and a comparison of the Assyrian monuments and eponym lists with the Biblical, data makes it probable that the period from the accession of Zachariah, son of Jeroboam II., to the fall of Samaria must be shortened by as much as twenty years, and that the interregnum which is commonly supposed to have followed Jeroboam's death must also be cancelled. This correction may be held to remove one difficulty in the title of our book, which on the current chronology assigns to Hosea some sixty years of prophetic activity. On the other hand, most Assyriologists agree that the expedition of Sennacherib, which fell in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah (2 Kings xviii. 13), took place in 701 B.C. In that case Hezekiah did not come to the throne till after the fall of Samaria (722-719), which the book of Hosea predicts as a future occurrence (ch. xiii. 16)—another argument against the authority of the title. There is still, however, a large element of uncertainty in the reconstruction of Hebrew chronology by the aid of the monuments. One date bear-ing on our book may be taken as certain, viz., the war of Tiglath Pileser with Pekah in 734, and, according to our argument, Hosea committed his prophecies to writing before that year. A more exact determination of the date of the book has been sought by comparing viii. 9, 10, with the statement on the monuments that Tiglath Pileser received tribute from King Menahem (Minhimmi) of Samaria in 738 B.C. That Minhimmi of the monuments is the Menahem of the Bible there seems no good reason to doubt, in spite of the objections of Oppert and G. Sndth. But it cannot be assumed that tribute was paid by him in 738 for the first time. The narrative in 2 Kings xv. 19 seems to indicate that the relations of Menahem to Assyria began earlier in his reign, perhaps not long after his acces-sion, which may be dated with probability c. 750 B.C.

To sum up, the first part of Hosea's prophetic work, corresponding to chaps i.-iii., lay in the years of external prosperity immediately preceding the catastrophe of the house of Jehu in or near the year 750. The second part of the book is a summary of prophetic teaching during the subsequent troublous reign of Menahem, and must have been completed before 734 B.C. Apart from the narrative in chaps i.-iii., to which we shall presently recur, the book throws little or no light on the details of Hosea's life. It appears from ix. 7, 8, that his prophetic work was greatly embarrassed by opposition, " As for the prophet, a fowler's snare is in all his ways, and enmity in the house of his God." The enmity which had its centre in the sanctuary probably proceeded from the priests (comp. Amos vii.), against whose profligacy and profanation of their office our prophet frequently declaims—perhaps also from the degenerate prophetic guilds which had their seats in the holy cities of the northern kingdom, and with whom Hosea's elder contemporary Amos so indignantly refuses to be identified (Amos vii. 14). In chap. iv. 5 Hosea seems to comprise priests and prophets in one condemna-tion, thus placing himself in direct antagonism to all the leaders of the religious life of his nation. Under such circumstances, and amidst the universal dissolution of social order and morality to which every page of his book bears testimony, the prophet was driven to the verge of despair(ix. 7),and only the sovereign conviction of Jehovah's infinite love and tender compassion to His people, even in their faithlessness and sin, upheld him in the sure hope of the final repentance and restoration of Israel, which finds such exquisitely pathetic expression in the closing sentences of his prophecy. The hypothesis of Ewald, that he was at last compelled by persecution to retire from the northern kingdom, and composed his book in Judea, rests mainly on an improbable exegesis of several passages, and derives no valid support from the fact that the prophet, to whom the ideal unity of all the tribes of Jacob and the legitimate sovereignty of the house of David are cardinal doctrines, follows the house of Judah with constant interest and growing acquaintance with its internal condition.

The most interesting problem of Hosea's history lies in the interpretation of the story of his married life (chaps, i.-iii.). We read in these chapters that God's revelation to Hosea began when in accordance with a divine command he married a profligate wife Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. Three children were born in this marriage and received symbolical names, illustrative of the divine purpose towards Israel, which are expounded in chap. i. In chap, ii. the faithlessness of Israel to Jehovah, the long-suffering of God, the moral discipline of sorrow and tribulation by which He will yet bring back His erring people and betroth it to Himself for ever in righteousness, love, and truth, are depicted under the figure of the relation of a husband to an erring spouse. The suggestion of this allegory lies in the prophet's marriage with Gomer,- but the details are worked out quite independently, and under a rich multi-plicity of figures derived from other sources. In the third chapter we return to the personal experience of the prophet. His faithless wife had at length left him and fallen, under circumstances which are not detailed, into a state of misery, from which Hosea, still following her with tender affection, and encouraged by a divine command, brought her back and restored her to his house, where he kept her in seclusion, and patiently watched over her for many days, yet not readmitting her to the privileges of a wife.

In these experiences the prophet again recognizes a parallel to Jehovah's long-suffering love to Israel, and the discipline by which the people shall be brought back to God through a period in which all their political and religious institutions are overthrown. Throughout these chapters personal narrative and prophetic allegory are interwoven with a rapidity of transition very puzzling to the modern reader; but an unbiassed exegesis can hardly fail to acknowledge that chaps, i. and iii. narrate an actual passage in the prophet's life. The names of the three children are symbolical, but Isaiah in like manner gave symbolical names to his sons,'embodying prominent points in his prophetic teaching (Shear-jashub, Isa. vii. 3, comp. x. 21; Maher-shalal-hash-baz, viii. 3). And the name of Gomer bath Diblaim is certainly that of an actual person, upon which all the allegorists, from the Targum, Jerome, and Ephrem Syrus downwards, have spent their arts in vain, whereas the true symbolical names in the book are perfectly easy of interpretation. That the ancient inter-preters take the whole narrative as a mere parable is no more than an application of their standing rule that every-thing in the Biblical history is allegorical which in its literal sense appears offensive to propriety (comp. Jerome's proem to the book). But the supposed offence to propriety seems to rest on mistaken exegesis and too narrow a con-ception of the way in which the Divine word was communicated to the prophets. There is no reason to suppose that Hosea knowingly married a woman of profligate character. The point of the allegory in i. 2 is plainly infidelity after marriage as a parallel to Israel's departure from the covenant God, and a profligate wife (D'JW nB>K) is not the same thing with an open prostitute (roll). The marriage was marred by Gomer's infidelity; and the struggle of Hosea's affection for his wife with this great unhappiness—a struggle inconceivable unless his first love had been pure and full of trust in the purity of its object —furnished him with a new insight into Jehovah's dealings with Israel. Then he recognized that the great calamity of his life was God's own ordinance and appointed means to communicate to him a deep prophetic lesson. The recognition of a divine command after the fact has its parallel, as Wellhausen observes, in Jeremiah xxxii. 8.

This explanation of the narrative, which is essentially Ewald's, has commended itself to not a few recent expositors, as Valeton, Wellhausen, and Nowack. It has the great advantage of supplying a psychological key to the conception of Israel or the land of Israel (i. 2) as the spouse of Jehovah, which dominates these chapters, but in the later part of the book gives way to the personification of the nation as God's son. This conception has, indeed, formal points of contact with notions previously current, and even with the ideas of Semitic heathenism. On the one hand, it is a standing Hebrew usage to represent the land as mother of its people, while the repre-sentation of worshippers as children of their god is found in Num. xxi. 29, where the Moabites are called children of Chemosh, and is early and widespread throughout the Semitic field (cf. Trans. Bib. Arch., vi. p. 438; Jour, of Phil., ix. p. 82). The combination of these two notions gives at once the conception of the national deity as husband of the land. On the other hand, the designation of Jehovah as Baal, which, in accordance with the antique view of marriage, means husband as well as lord and owner, was current among the Israelites in early times (see BAAL), perhaps, indeed, down to Hosea's age (ii. 16). Now it is highly probable that among the idolatrous Israelites the idea of a marriage between the deity and individual worshippers was actually current and connected with the immo-rality which Hosea often condemns in the worship of the local Baalim, whom the ignorant people identified with Jehovah. For we have a Punic woman's name, PJQntJTlN, "the betrothed of Baal" (Euting, Punische Steine, pp. 9, 15), and a similar conception existed among the Babylonians (Herod., i. 181, 182). But Hosea takes the idea of Jehovah as husband, and gives it an altogether different turn, filling it with a new and profound meaning, based on the psychical experiences of a deep human affection in contest with outraged honour and the wilful self-degradation of a spouse. It can hardly be supposed that all that lies in these chapters is an abstract study in the psychology of the emotions. It is actual human experience that gives Hosea the key to divine truth. Among those who do not recognize this view of the passage, the controversy between allegory and literalism is carried on chiefly upon abstract assumptions. The extreme literalists, of whom Dr Pusey may be taken as the modern representative in England, will have it that the divine command justified a marriage otherwise highly improper, and that the offensive circumstances magnify the obedience of the prophet. This is to substitute the Scotist and Neo-Platonic notion of God for that of Scripture. On the other hand, the allegorists, who argue that God could not have enjoined on His prophet a mar-riage plainly improper and fitted to destroy his influence among the people, are unable to show that what is repulsive in fact is fit subject for a divine allegory. A third school of recent writers, led by Hengstenberg, and resting on a thesis of John Smith, the Cam-bridge Platonist, will have it that the symbolical action was trans-acted in what they allow themselves by a contradictio in adjecto to call an objective vision. This view has been adopted by Fair-bairn (Prophecy, ch. v. sec. ii.). The recent Continental literature of the controversy is catalogued by Nowack in his Commentary, p. xxxvi.

It was in the experiences of his married life, and in the spiritual lessons opened to him through these, that Hosea first heard the revealing voice of Jehovah (i. 2). Like Amos (Amos iii. 8), he was called to speak for God by an inward constraining voice, and there is no reason to think that he had any connexion with the recognized prophetic societies, or ever received such outward adoption to office as was given to Elisha. His position in Israel was one of tragic isolation. Amos, when he had discharged his mission at Bethel, could return to his home and to his friends; Hosea was a stranger among his own people, and his home was full of sorrow and shame. Isaiah in the gloomiest days of Judah's declension had faithful disciples about him, and knew that there was a believing remnant in the land. Hosea knows no such remnant, and there is not a line in his prophecy from which we can conclude that his words ever found an obedient ear. For him the present condition of the people contained no germ or pledge of future amendment, and he describes the impending judgment, not as a sifting process (Amos ix. 9, 10) in which the wicked perish and the righteous remain, but as the total wreck of the nation which has wholly turned aside from its God. In truth, while the idolatrous feasts of Ephraim still ran their joyous round, while the careless people crowded to the high places, and there in unbridled and licentious mirth flattered themselves that their many sacrifices ensured the help of their God against all calamity, the nation was already in the last stage of internal dissolu-tion. To the prophet's eye there was " no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land—nought but swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and adultery; they break out, and blood toucheth blood "(iv. 1, 2). The root of this corruption lay in total ignorance of Jehovah, whose precepts were no longer taught by the priests, while in the national calf-worship, and in the local high places, this worship was confounded with the service of the Canaanite Baalim. Thus the whole religious constitution of Israel was undermined. And the political state of the realm was in Hosea's eyes not more hopeful. The dynasty of Jehu, still great and powerful when the prophet's labours began, is itself an incorporation of national sin. Founded on the bloodshed of Jezreel, it must fall by God's vengeance, and the state shall fall with it (i. 4, iii. 4). This sentence stands at the head of Hosea's predictions, and throughout the book the civil constitution of Ephraim is represented as equally lawless and godless with the corrupt religious establishment. The anarchy that followed on the murder of Zachariah appears to the prophet as the natural decadence of a realm not founded on divine ordinance. The nation had rejected Jehovah, the only helper. And now the avenging Assyrian is at hand. Samaria's king shall pass away as foam on the water. Fortress and city shall fall before the ruthless invader, who spares neither age nor sex, and thistles shall cover the desolate altars of Ephraim. But the ultimate theme of all prophecy is not judgment but redeeming love, and the deepest thought of every Hebrew seer is the sovereignty of Jehovah's grace in Israel's sin. Hosea could discern no faithful remnant in Ephraim, yet Ephraim in all his corruption is the son of Jehovah, a child nurtured with tender love, a chosen people, whose past history declares in every episode the watchful and patient affection of his father. And that father is God and not man, the Holy One who will not and cannot sacrifice His love even to the justest indignation (chap. xi.). To the prophet who knows this love of Jehovah, who has learned to understand it in the like experience of his own life, the very ruin of the state of Israel is a step in the loving guidance which makes the valley of trouble a door of hope (ii. 15), and the wilderness of tribulation as full of promise as the desert road from Egypt to Canaan was to Israel of old. Of the manner of Israel's repentance and conversion Hosea presents no clear image, nay, it is plain that on this point he had nothing to tell. The certainty that the people will at length return and seek Jehovah their God and David their king rests, not on any germ of better things in Israel, but on the invincible supremacy of Jehovah's love. And so the two sides of his prophetic declaration, the passionate denuncia-tion of Israel's sin and folly, and the not less passionate tenderness with which he describes the final victory of divine love, are united by no logical bond. The unity is one of feeling only, and the sob of anguish in which many of his appeals to a heedless people seem to end, turns once and again with sudden revulsion into the clear accents of evangelical promise, which in the closing chapter swell forth in pure and strong cadence out of a heart that has found its rest with God from all the troubles of a stormy life.

Traditions about Hosea.—Beeri, the prophet's father, is identified by the Rabbins with Beerah (1 Chron. v. 6), a Reubenite prince carried captive by Tiglath Pileser. This view is already expressed by Jerome, Quoest. in Paralip,, and doubtless underlies the statement of the Targum to Chronicles that Beerah was a prophet. For it is a Jewish maxim that when a prophet's father is named, he too was a prophet, and accordingly a tradition of R. Simon makes Isa. viii. 19, 20 a prophecy of BeM (Kimchi in too.; Leviticus Rabba, par. 15). According to the usual Christian tradition, how-ever, Hosea was of the tribe of Issachar, and from an unknown town, Belemoth or Belemon (pseudo-Epiphanius, pseudo-Dorothens, Ephrem Syr., ii. 234 ; Chron. Pasch., Bonn ed., i. 276). As the tradition adds that he died there, and was buried in peace, the source of the story lies probably in some holy place shown as his grave. There are other traditions as to the burial-place of Hosea. A. Jewish legend in the Shalshelet haqqabala (Carpzov, Inlrod., pt. iii. ch. vii. § 3) tells that he died in captivity at Babylon, and was carried to Upper Galilee, and buried at nS¥, that is, Safed (Neubauer, Giog. du Talmud, p. 227); and the Arabs show the grave of Neby 'Osha, east of the Jordan, near Es-Salt (Badeker's Palestine, p. 337 ; Burckhardt's Syria, p. 353).

Literature.—Of the older commentaries on Hosea which have been fully catalogued by Rosenmiiller in his Scholia, it is sufficient to name, as books still practically useful, Le Mercier's Latin anno-tations, embodying a translation of the chief rabbinical expositions, and the English commentary of E. Pococke, Oxford, 1685, which is not surpassed in learning and judgment by any subsequent work. Among recent expositions the most important are those in Ewald's Propheten, Bd. i. (2d ed., Gottingen, 1867 ; Eng. trans., London, 1876); Hitzig's Kleine Propheten (3d ed., Leipsic, 1863); Eeil's Kleine Propheten (Leipsic, 1866; Eng. trans., Edinburgh, 1868); Pusey's Minor Prophets, London, 1860 ; Reuss's Bible, part ii. (Paris, 1876) ; the Speaker's Commentary, vol. vi. (by Huxtable, London, 1876) ; Heilprin's Historical Poetry, vol. ii. (New York, 1880); and the separate publications of Simson (Hamburg and Gotha, 1851), Wiinsche (Leipsic, 1868), and Nowaek (Berlin, 1880). The last gives a list of recent Continental commentaries and mono-graphs, to which may be added Houtsma's " Bijdrage " (Theol. Tijdsch,., 1875, p. 55 sq.). The English commentary of Williams (London, 1866) is of little importance ; Schmoller's commentary in Lange's BibehoerJc (1872; Eng. trans., 1874) is adapted for homi-letical purposes. The theology of Hosea is ably discussed by Duhm, Theol. der Propheten (Bonn, 1875), with which an essay by Smend (Stud. u. Krit., 1876) may be advantageously compared.

Texts and Versions.—The best edition of the Massoretic text is that with notes by S. Baer (Leipsic, 1878). From the great facsimile of the Codex Babylonicus Petropolitanus Hosea and Joel have been separately published (St Petersburg, 1875). The most recent helps to the use of the YSS. are Nestle's appendix to the 6th edition of Tischendorf s Septuagint (Leipsic, 1880), Lagarde's edition of the Targum from the Cod. Reuch. (Leipsic, 1872), Ceriani's facsimile editions of the great Ambrosian MSS. of the Syro-Hexaplar (Milan, 1874) and Peshito (Pars iii., Milan, 1879), and Field's Hcxapla (vol. ii. 1870). An Arabic version directly translated from the Hebrew was published by Schroeter from a Bodleian codex in Merx's Archiv, 1869. A convenient and accessible edition of the Hebrew text of Hosea, with Targum and Rabbinical commentaries, is H. v. d. Hardt's reprint (Gottingen, 1775) of R. Stephen's Paris text of 1566. (W. R. S.)


Some writers, including Dr Pusey, claim a later date for the hook, identifying Shalman in x. 14 with Shalmaneser IV., the successor of Tiglath Pileser. This identification is altogether arbitrary. If Beth-ATbel is Arbela beyond Jordan (Onom., ed. Lagarde, p. 88), the reference, as Schräder has shown (Keilinschr. und A. T., p. 283), may be equally well to Shalmaneser III., or to a king Shalamanu of Moab, who appears on the monuments as a tributary of Tiglath Pileser.
See on the whole chronology of the period, Schräder, Keilin-schriftenund A. T., Glessen, 1872 ; là.,Keilinschriften und Geschichtsforschung, ibid., 1878; G. Smith, Assyrian Eponym Canon, London,
1875 ; Wellhausen's artiele in Jbb. f. Deutsche Theol., 1875. pp. 607 sq. ; Oppert, Salomon et ses Successeurs, Paris, 1877.

3 Theodoras Mops, remarks very justly, KOÍ TÍ> 6vop.a KaX rbv Trartpa Ae-yet, us /xíj irAátr/ia tytKóv TÍ OSKOÍTI TÍ» \zy6p.tvov, tcrTopla 5e aXwd^s T£V Trpayfj-dray.

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