Julia M. O’BRIEN. Micah: Wisdom Commentary, Volume 37, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press (Michael Glazier Book), 2015. Pp 141, $30.96 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8161-9 978-0-8186-2 (ebook). Reviewed by James ZEITZ, Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, Texas 48207.
Julia O’Brien’s commentary on Micah—part of the new Wisdom Commentaries series on all 54 books of the Bible—is a feminist scholarly critical approach that presents the original historical contexts of books and authors in conversation with the modern world: especially the world of women. An editorial feature is the insertion of grey-background essays, commentaries, poems, and other data concerning women that are indirectly related to the scholarly commentaries. The Wisdom “project” will eventually include online material. There are currently four commented books available (in: wisdomcommentary.org)
Each Wisdom volume begins with an “Editor’s Introduction to Wisdom Commentary” by Barbara E. Reid, O.P. and is followed by the author’s introduction. Thus in Julia O’Brien Introduction: “Putting Micah in Context” she sets out her feminist agenda and, in seeking Micah’s historical context, she distinguishes the Eighth century context of Micah’s original speeches, just before the Babylonian exile from the later additions. Following Ben Zvi she places the composition of the book in Persian period. Noting that many scholars focus on the text itself—that resonates with the modern reader—rather than its original context, she opts to combine the two approaches: interpret the book in the social-cultural context of Yehuda (a province of Persia) but see how the text resonates in “real people”, including herself as a white middle-class academic living in the United States. Modern postcolonial studies enable her to examine the “existential realities of communities living under empire …that do not exclude the trauma of war yet extend to…what it means to live as a subject people” (p.123). Another part of her introduction, the “Aesthetics of the Book” summarizes Micah’s structure and particular poetic techniques. As a part of the “meaning-making process” they can shape what we think the text means today. In the section on Micah’s “gendered language” she summarizes feminist scholars’ criticism of sexist images that characterize cities and the Hebrew forms for “lame” and “afflicted as feminine and the powerful (leaders and YHWH as warrior) as masculine, yet concludes there is enough ambiguity in Micah’s language and message that modern readers can find themselves within his imagery, especially Micah’s “emotive language” that challenges injustice (see Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”?)
Throughout her commentary, O’Brien focusses on structures of power that stem from Micah’s world as well as his images: thus Micah 7 (and Micah 4), the speech of Daughter Jerusalem, is a woman’s voice, but “not necessarily a woman’s perspective” (p.124). Feminists point out that even the notion of the sin of pride may be a masculine idea: women “face the opposite temptation: to never claim their own worth and needs.” (According to Valerie Saiving). Gender assumptions mold Mic 4 regarding the present and future of Zion (feminine participles for 4:6 “I will assemble the lame; then masculine pronouns for future strength (“the Lord will reign”, v.7)
Overall, this scholarly commentary summarizes important commentaries on Micah (frequently: Ehud Ben Zvi, Marvin Sweeney: The Twelve Prophets) as well as a large number of aspects of the cultural worlds of Persian and Israel on the role of women in the ancient world. There are frequent clarifications of Hebrew words (and their gender!) and comparisons with parallel books of the Persian period (Ezra, Nehemiah). The main asset, however, is the woman’s voice. O’Brien cites and assesses other feminist commentators; points out genders of Hebrew words; critiques the patriarchal world of the original prophet and the time when the book was composed. This offsets modern interpretations of Micah that use texts uncritically to justify male domination and a violent God. [An editorial lapse: the text of Mic 7:14-20 on p.114 is entitle “Mic 1:1-15”]As a “world in front of the text” reading of Micah thus serves to translate the authors’ original intentions: understand Judah’s sufferings, give hope for the future: Zion that will arise and be a beacon for the world—for a more egalitarian world that still suffers from gender inequality.