Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 18 (2018) - Review

Gruber, Mayer I., Hosea: A Textual Commentary (LHBOTS, 653; London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2017). Pp. 560. Hardcover. US$169.29. ISBN: 9780567671752.

This is a stand-alone commentary and the product of years of research on the part of a scholar now retired. It is indeed a textual commentary. The author proceeds verse by verse through the book of Hosea, providing translation and then commentary on matters of philology, textual criticism, historical context, literary style, etc. The Masoretic text of Hosea and the ancient versions offer stiff challenges for the interpreter and Gruber brings the reader with him as he engages texts, modern translations (frequently the New Jewish Publication Society English Version, 1985), lexica, rabbinic and medieval Jewish sages, and a wide range of modern scholars.

Gruber proposes that the book of Hosea is the product of a ninth-century prophet from the reign of Jehu, plus an eighth-century prophet (“Second Hosea”) from the time of king Menachem, and a dozen or so glosses accrued over a period of time in Judah, where the text was preserved after the fall of Samaria. In this he is following a line of interpretation going back to Y. Kaufmann and H. L. Ginsberg.[1] More particularly, Hos 1–3 is from the ninth century prophet and Hos 4–14 from the years 743–737, before the onslaughts of Tiglath-Pileser III against Damascus and northern Israel in 734–732. This dating for the eighth-century Hosea draws heavily on the work of H. Tadmor.[2]

The Judahite glosses in the book are ways that anonymous prophets update an authoritative text for later readers. There are several types of these glosses (pp. 27–31). In several instances, where the MT has the word-pair Ephraim and Judah (5:12, 13, 14; 6:4; 10:11), Gruber posits that an original text had Ephraim and a yod representing Israel, but was later misunderstood as an abbreviation for Judah. Similarly, there are two instances where he suggests that the hypothetical yod abbreviation for Israel is deliberately used to make an updated point about Judah (12:1c, 3a). Additionally, there are instances where a reference to Judah “interrupts” the prophet's train of thought regarding Israel (4:15; 5:5; 6:11; 8:14).

Given his conclusion about dating the book, the author describes the chronological data provided in the superscription as “inappropriate” (p. 69). Neither first nor second Hosea carried out his prophetic duties during the reign of Jeroboam II. One or more of the Judahite glosses may have originated during the reign of Hezekiah in the aftermath of Samaria's fall to the Assyrians, as well as later in Judah's history.

Gruber is keen to demonstrate nuance and specificity in his translations and historical reconstruction. In his translation, he will sometimes include a parenthetical or bracketed comment to bring out the implications he has discerned and will subsequently explicate. On numerous occasions in his comments, he will also develop a point and then refer back to it elsewhere in the book. While this will send the reader back and forth in the commentary, it does provide the author a way to show connections in the book's contents and his assessment of them. For example, he proposes that the verb זנה and its cognates in Hosea are a synonym for adultery and he returns to this proposal multiple times. One can make a good case for this at some points (e.g., 4:13), but the metaphorical charges of harlotry/prostitution against Israel are not all easily subsumed under the category of adultery. He also opposes any connection to sacred prostitution, which he has long regarded as a scholarly myth. This is thus more than a philological matter. It is also related to his historical reconstruction of the eighth-century cultural context. Gruber concludes that Second Hosea does not polemicize against Baal worship as did his ninth century predecessor. Second Hosea does polemicize against idolatry and the calves at Bethel, etc, but the prophet's use of זנה and נאף is primarily directed against the adultery and promiscuity of married Israelite men. The prophet, he suggests, is the first writer in the OT/HB to hold men and women to the same standard of marital faithfulness (p. 220). Interestingly, but not persuasively, he claims that זנה in 4:18b means “imbibe alcoholic beverages.”

The author has an engaging style of presentation on matters. He cites the modern parallel of “sex tourism” to explain the promiscuity of Israelite men consorting with prostitutes during festival seasons and pilgrimages (pp. 370–74). In 2:16 Israel is pictured as a woman taken on a second honeymoon “screaming out at the moment of orgasm” (p. 151). Regarding God's covenantal commitment to Israel and the analogy with marriage, Gruber describes the covenant analogously as a “Roman Catholic marriage, which cannot be dissolved” (p. 154), rather than a Jewish or Protestant marriage.

Regarding the reference to David in 3:5, he thinks it is plausibly set in the ninth-century and reflects First Hosea's view of a desired reunion of the two kingdoms, although he recognizes that many interpreters regard it as an addition from the time of Hezekiah or even later in Judahite history. It should be noted that the attribution of chs. 1–3 to the ninth century is not defended or developed to the extent that the attribution of chs. 4–14 is to the reign of Menachem. It is not at all clear from his presentation why the prophecy against the House of Jehu in 1:4 should be denied to the reign of Jeroboam II or his son Zechariah. If the reference to the “blood of Jezreel” refers to the slaughter undertaken by Jehu in the ninth century (cf. 2 Kgs 9), which is plausible, a reckoning for it against Jehu's descendants in the eighth century follows Deuteronomistic comment (2 Kgs 10:30–31; 15:12) and sits well with the other eighth century data in the book of Hosea.

His historical assessments can be quite precise. Hosea 7:3–7, for example, refers to the fate of three kings: Zechariah, Shallum and Menachem. Hosea 5:13 and 10:4 critique the attempt of Menachem to bring in Tiglath-Pileser III as a counterweight to a Judahite attack on Israel. Shalman in 10:14 refers to Shalmaneser III and his defeat at Arbela, not a defeat of Israel by Shalmaneser (or whoever is Shalman) at Beth Arbel.

The print and the layout of the volume are well-done overall, given the complexity of the various languages employed. There are, of course, some typos and mistakes. Page 43, for example, has Jothan rather than Jotham, and p. 180 refers to Hos 3:9 rather than to 3:5. One oddity, however, in the print format: references to Hebrew and Aramaic are given in transliteration, while Greek texts are provided in a Greek font.

J. Andrew Dearman, Fuller Theological Seminary

[1] Yehezkel Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel: From Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), 368–77; H. L. Ginsberg, “Hosea, Book of,” in Cecil Roth (ed.), Encyclopedia Judaica (New York: Macmillan, 1972), 9:547–58. reference

[2] Hayim Tadmor, “The Historical Background of the Prophecies of Hosea,” in Menehem M. Haran (ed.), Yehezkel Kaufmann Jubilee Volume (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961), 84–88 (in Hebrew). reference