Terence E. FRETHEIM. Reading Hosea-Micah: A Literary and Theological Commentary. Reading the Old Testament. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2013, pp 224. $32.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-57312-687-8. Reviewed by Nicholas R. WERSE, Baylor University, Waco, TX 76706.


Fretheim’s volume supplies the first of two commentaries on the Book of the Twelve in the Smyth & Helwys “Reading the Old Testament” commentary series. The “Reading the Old Testament” commentary series aims to provide “cutting-edge research” to a broad audience ranging from “specialists in the field to educated laypeople” (1). The series focus on the final form of the text accounts for the limited engagement with compositional and textual critical issues within this commentary.  Fretheim briefly notes, for example, the LXX and MT different canonical orderings for the first six books in the Twelve, yet draws no conclusions on priority or why differing orders might exist. Fretheim tends to approach these six prophetic works as unified compositions recognizing minimal possibilities for editorial updating (e.g. Judean updates in Hosea, and Amos 9:11-15).

Following a brief introduction, Fretheim’s volume divides into six chapters corresponding to the six prophetic writings under consideration. Each chapter supplies a general introduction to the prophetic book, followed by a section by section (as opposed to verse by verse) commentary. Staying true to the subtitle of the commentary, Fretheim’s introduction to each prophetic text focuses on the literary and structural analysis of the text, along with an assessment of key themes. The books with superscriptional ties to specific historical periods (Hosea, Amos, and Micah), additionally receive brief overviews of the historical contexts into which the superscriptions place them. The commentary section of each chapter provides literary, rhetorical, and thematic analyses coupled with corresponding theological reflections.
The strength of Fretheim’s commentary is clearly the theological insights and reflections drawn from his literary and rhetorical assessment of the text. At times, Fretheim presents interpretive possibilities from multiple angles in such a way that illuminates for the audience the broad range of theological implications one must consider within the text. This approach, for example, allows him to navigate the difficult interpretive concerns of Hosea’s familial metaphors in Hos 1-3. He writes, “the marital/parental imagery has both a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ in its reference, and readers are invited to think in terms of how the Hosea-Gomer marriage/children is like or unlike the relationship between God and Israel” (21). His theological reflections, furthermore, move beyond the consideration of textual representations of God to include how such metaphors translate for modern audiences and the theological place select texts have held in Christian thought.

Two broader conversations in Book of the Twelve scholarship were notably absent from Fretheim’s commentary. First, in his brief introduction Fretheim recognizes the emerging investigation of unifying literary features across the individual prophetic writings within the Book of the Twelve. He intentionally chooses, however, to limit his assessment to the six prophetic writings as individual compositions, yet expresses the hope that his commentary will still prove valuable to the broader consideration of the Twelve as a book. Fretheim recognizes the occasional link between these first six books within the Twelve (e.g. how Amos 9:12 prefigures Obadiah) and some common themes across texts (e.g. the Day of the Lord), but in keeping with his initially defined intentions, he does not return to this conversation in his commentary.

Second, although Fretheim provides strong literary and rhetorical assessment of the texts, his commentary includes only minimal engagement with issues of intertextuality (or perhaps better termed “literary influences”) in the books of Joel and Obadiah. His treatment of similarities between texts are primarily limited to thematic parallels, with only minimal recognition of quoted or duplicated utterances across multiple texts. Although primarily operating from a synchronic perspective, there is one instance in which his assessment of such duplicated material betrays inconsistent diachronic conclusions. In his introduction to Joel, Fretheim suggests that Joel 4:16 [3:16] draws from the earlier Amos 1:2, but later in his commentary on Amos 1:2 he suggests both texts may result from dependence upon common hymnic languagE.

The literary and theological strengths of Fretheim’s work are well suited for the intentions of the “Reading the Old Testament” commentary series. His clear and organized writing style makes this volume accessible to non-specialist and specialists alike. His insightful theological reflections, furthermore, makes this volume especially beneficial for those approaching the text with modern faith and practice in mind. The limited engagement with select broader scholarly conversations and secondary literature, however, raises the question of the degree to which specialists will find this volume “cutting-edge” for their purposes. Yet this critique by no means suggests that Fretheim’s commentary has nothing to offer to specialists as well.