In this volume Andrew Dearman presents us with a well-written explication of the book of Hosea. Hosea challenges commentators with difficulties in translation and corrupt readings, as well as ambiguous imagery. Thus, interpretive problems abound. But Dearman handles the issues well, taking his stand on particular issues and defending his views admirably. He treats text critical issues (always a thorny problem) with clarity.
When commentators evaluate Hosea, they often locate significant portions of the book in later eras, usually suggesting that editors added material to make the book relevant to a later audience of Judahites in exile. Since Hosea originally addressed his message to the northern state, it would be logical to assume that living literature would grow naturally in oral and written form as it was updated for later ages. Such is my assumption with the book. But all such evaluations are subjective, for biblical criticism is an art, not a science. Dearman swims against the current by assuming that the bulk of the book came from the prophet himself. He admits there would be some later additions, since Hosea was recorded in written form by scribes from Judah. But with the bulk of the text he argues, “little or nothing in the book itself requires a date later than the end of the 8th century B.C.”—a very subjective assumption in a subjective discipline. Thus this commentary fits into the NICOT series more comfortably, since many of the other volumes, though critical and scholarly, tend to be more conservative than mainstream scholarship. I would respond by saying that the natural phenomena in all literature is for texts to grow over the years in both oral and written transmission, so some burden of providing a cogent argument remains for both those who date oracles early and those who date them late.
Frequently the author provides the possible historical background for particular oracles. He offers brief but lucid explanations of the political machinations in the Assyrian Empire as well as describing the political scene in Israel and Judah throughout the commentary. There is also a short historical summary on pp. 21-29. Since he works with the assumption that the bulk of the work comes from the 730’s and 720’s, he offers suggestions from that particular historical context for the various oracles. He endeavors to view the book as somewhat of a narrative commentary of Israel’s past traditions (exodus, wilderness, etc.) and the present convoluted history of the northern state in its last days of existence. His suggestions usually provide a good interpretative sense for the oracles.
The true strength of the work is the fine theological evaluation and summary of Hosea’s thought (pp. 29-39). This section alone is worth consulting by someone seeking to craft a lecture on Hosea for an undergraduate class. His subdivisions in this section are “Narrative and Community,” “Israel is of YHWH’s Household,” and “Covenant and Marriage.” Under these topics we learn of Hosea’s “robust monolatry” (the demand for Israel’s exclusive allegiance to Yahweh), the importance of the concept of “love,” and the significance of “household” or familial imagery. Covenant is especially important as a unifying concept in the oracles, for even though the word occurs only in Hos 6:7 and 8:1, covenantal imagery pervades much of the book and is tightly intertwined with marriage imagery.
Commentaries by their very nature provide discourse on individual biblical passages and consequently offer a choppy or disjointed presentation. Dearman, however, has made his work more readable than most, the presentation flows more smoothly, and the commentary can be read as though it were a monograph. He is to be complimented for combining detail with lucidity.
Finally, the author is good about pointing out connections between Hosea and other portions of the Old Testament, and especially the usage of Hosea by New Testament authors. In general, the author seeks to explicate the meaning of Hosea’s message and his overall theology, which in the opinion of this reviewer makes the volume a very fine commentary.