1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hosea

HOSEA, the son of Beērī, the first in order of the minor prophets of the Old Testament. The name Hosea (ֵהוֹשֵׁע, LXX. Ὠσηέ, Vulg. Osee, and so the English version in Rom. 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[1] 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 (i) 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. The dates indicated by the title, which may be regarded as editorial, are, for the four kings of the southern kingdom, 789–740, 739–734, 733–721 and 720–693 B.C. respectively; and, for Jeroboam II., 782–743 (cf. Ency. Bib. col. 797–798). The book itself, however, plainly belongs to the period prior to 734 B.C. since, in that year, (a) the Syro-Ephraimitic war began, to which there is here no reference, nor is Assyria yet the open foe it then became; (b) Gilead became Tiglath-Pileser’s (2 Kings xv. 29), whereas it is here described as still part of the territory of Israel (vi. 8; xii. 11; cf. the included place-names of v. 1). On the other hand, the prophet connects with the birth of his eldest child the approaching fall of the house of Jehu (i. 4), thus anticipating the death of Jeroboam II. in 743, and the period of anarchy which followed (2 Kings xv.). Thus the prophetic work of Hosea may be dated, with practical certainty, as beginning from some point previous to 743 and extending not later than 734.[2] This is corroborated by the general character of the book. Of its two parts, i.-iii. reflects the wealth and prosperity of the reign of Jeroboam II., whilst iv.-xiv. contains frequent references to the social disorder and anarchy of the subsequent years.

The first part of Hosea’s prophetic work, corresponding to chs. i.-iii., lay in the years of external prosperity immediately preceding the catastrophe of the house of Jehu in or near the year 743. The second part of the book is a summary of prophetic teaching during the subsequent troublous reign of Menahem, and, perhaps, that of his successor, Pekahiah, and must have been completed before 734 B.C. Apart from the narrative in chs. 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 gilds 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 ch. iv. 5 Hosea seems to comprise priests and prophets in one condemnation, thus placing himself in direct antagonism to all the leaders of the religious life of his nation. He is not less antagonistic to the kings and princes of his day (vii. 3-7, viii. 4, viii. 10 Septuagint, x. 7-15, xiii. 11).[3] In view of the familiarity shown with the intrigues of rulers and the doings of priests, it has been conjectured that Hosea held a prominent position, or even (by Duhm) that he was himself a priest (Marti, p. 2).

The most interesting problem of Hosea’s history lies in the interpretation of the story of his married life (chs. 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 ch. i. In ch. ii. the faithlessness of Israel to Jehovah (Yahweh), 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 multiplicity 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 Yahweh’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 chs. 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 Ephraem Syrus downwards, have spent their arts in vain, whereas the true symbolical names in the book are perfectly easy of interpretation.[4] That the ancient interpreters take the whole narrative as a mere parable is no more than an application of their standing rule that everything 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 conception of the way in which the Divine word was communicated to the prophets.[5] 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 (אשת זנונים) is not the same thing with an open prostitute (זונה). 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 Yahweh’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 Jer. xxxii. 8.

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 Yahweh (i. 2).[6] 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 declensions 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.

As already stated, this prophecy falls into two clearly distinguished sections,[7] the former (i.-iii.), already dealt with, accounting for the general standpoint of the latter (iv.-xiv.). It is not possible to make any convincing subdivisions of this latter section (cf. G. A. Smith, i. p. 223) which is best regarded as a series of separate discourses on certain recurrent topics, viz. (a) the cultus, (b) the social disorder and immorality, (c) political tendencies (alliance with either Assyria or Egypt sought).[8] In regard to each of these topics, the attitude of the prophet involves the discernment of present guilt, and the assertion of future punishment. 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 dissolution. 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 Yahweh, 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 Yahweh, the only helper. And now the avenging Assyrian[9] 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.

In our present book of Hosea, this condemnatory judgment on contemporary Israel culminates in a chapter of appeal for penitence, with promise of divine forgiveness. The question of the authenticity of this and of other “restoration” passages[10] forms the chief problem for literary criticism presented by the book.[11] Amongst the more recent commentators, Davidson, G. A. Smith and Nowack regard Hosea xiv. as written by the prophet, though the second admits its chronological misplacement and the third its later expansion. On the other hand, it is altogether rejected by Cheyne, Wellhausen, Marti and Harper. These claim that the passage reflects the later standpoint of completed punishment, and is therefore inconsistent in the prophet who anticipates that punishment. But the case is different from that of the epilogue to Amos, since Hosea’s personal experience covers forgiveness as well as discipline (Marti consistently, though without ground, rejects this experience also). There seems, therefore, to be no sufficient evidence for denying thoughts of restoration to Hosea, whilst it is highly probable that such passages would be amplified in a later age. Indeed, the importance of these passages for the interpretation of Hosea is apt to be overrated, for, as one of those rejecting them remarks, though Hosea “promised nothing,” yet he “contributed a conception of Yahweh which made such a future not only possible but even probable” (Harper, p. cliii.). We may therefore read the closing chapter as, at least, the explicit statement of a hope implicit in Hosea’s teaching.

Hosea could discern no faithful remnant in Ephraim, yet Ephraim in all his corruption is the son of Yahweh, 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 Yahweh, 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 Yahweh their God rests, not on any germ of better things in Israel, but on the invincible supremacy of Yahweh’s love. And so the two sides of his prophetic declaration, the passionate denunciation 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.

The strongly emotional temperament of Hosea suggests comparison with that of Jeremiah, who like himself is the prophet of the decline and fall of a kingdom. The subsequent influence of Hosea on the literature of the Old and New Testaments is very marked. Not only is it seen in the conception of the relation between God and His people as a marriage, which he makes current coin (cf. Marti, p. 15), but still more in the fact that his conception of the divine character becomes the inspiration of the book of Deuteronomy and so of the whole canon of Scripture. “In a special degree, the author of Deuteronomy is the spiritual heir of Hosea.”[12]

Recent Literature (where references to older works will be found): Cheyne, “Hosea” in Cambridge Bible (1884); W. R. Smith, The Prophets of Israel,2 with Cheyne’s introduction (1895); G. A. Smith, “The Book of the Twelve,” i., in The Expositor’s Bible (1896); Nowack, Die Kleinen Propheten (1897); Wellhausen, Die Kleinen Propheten3 (1898); Smend, Alttest. Religionsgeschichte,2 pp. 204 f. (1899); Davidson, art. “Hosea” in Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, ii. pp. 419 f. (1900); Marti, art. “Hosea” in Ency. Biblica, ii. c. 2119 (1901) (a revision of the original article by W. R. Smith, in the Ency. Britannica, partially reproduced above); Marti, Dodekapropheton (1903); W. R. Harper, “Amos and Hosea” in Inter. Critical Commentary (1905) (with copious bibliography).  (W. R. S.; H. W. R.*) 

  1. Traditions about Hosea.—Beērī, the prophet’s father, is identified by the Rabbins with Beērah (1 Chron. v. 6), a Reubenite prince carried captive by Tiglath-Pileser. This view is already expressed by Jerome, Quaest. in Paralip., and doubtless underlies the statement of the Targum to Chronicles that Beērah 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 Beērī (Ḳimcḥi in loc.; Leviticus Rabba, par. 15). According to the usual Christian tradition, however, Hosea was of the tribe of Issachar, and from an unknown town, Belemoth or Belemon (pseudo-Epiphanius, pseudo-Dorotheus, Ephraem 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, Introd., pt. iii. ch. vii. § 3) tells that he died in captivity at Babylon, and was carried to Upper Galilee, and buried at צפת, that is, Safed (Neubauer, Géog. du Talmud, p. 227); and the Arabs show the grave of Nebi ’Osha, east of the Jordan, near Es-Salt (Baedeker’s Palestine, p. 337; Burckhardt’s Syria, p. 353).
  2. The supposed reference of viii. 9-10 to the tribute paid by Menahem to Tiglath-Pileser (2 Kings xv. 19), and dated, on the monuments, 738 B.C., depends on a corrupt text: read v. 10 with Septuagint.
  3. Some scholars hold that his attack is directed against the very principle of monarchy (Nowack, p. 8; Smend, p. 209: “Hosea rejects the kingship in itself”; Wellhausen, p. 125: “The making of kings in Israel is for him, together with the heathen cultus, the fundamental evil”). This view depends on a disputed interpretation of the reference to Gibeah (x. 9; cf. ix. 9); and on the words: “I give thee kings in mine anger, and I take them away in my wrath” (xiii. 11), which may refer to the rise and fall of contemporary kings (cf. Marti, ad loc.). In any case, as Wellhausen himself says (p. 132): “He does not start from a dogmatic theory, but simply from historical experience.”
  4. Theodorus Mops. remarks very justly, καὶ τὸ ὄνομα καὶ τὸν πατέρα λέγει, ὡς μὴ πλάσμα ψιλόν τι δοκοίη τὸ λεγόμενον, ἱστορία δὲ ἀληθὴς τῶν πραγμάτων.
  5. This explanation of the narrative, which is essentially Ewald’s, is now generally accepted. 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 Yahweh, 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 representation 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. 438; Jour. of Phil. ix. 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 Yahweh 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, 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 immorality which Hosea often condemns in the worship of the local Baalim whom the ignorant people identified with Yahweh. For we have a Punic woman’s name, ארשתבעל, “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 Yahweh 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.
  6. Davidson (D.B. ii. 422) remarks that “it was not his misfortunes that gave Hosea his prophetic word. Israel’s apostasy was plain to him, and he foreshadowed her doom in Jezreel, the name of his first child, before any misfortunes overtook him. At most, his misfortunes may at a later time have given a complexion to his prophetic thoughts.” Wellhausen (p. 108) objects to the emergence of the call from the experience, on the ground that the name given to the first child gives no indication that Hosea had yet reached his specific message, the infidelity of his wife and of Israel, though it shows him already as a prophet. Marti (p. 15) agrees with Davidson in making the order (a) call, (b) marriage and birth of three children, (c) comprehension of the significance of the marriage for himself and for Israel. The statement made above must be interpreted of Hosea’s specific message from Yahweh, as recorded in his book.
  7. Marti disregards this generally accepted division, arguing that (a) i.-iii. was not written earlier than iv.-xiv., (b) iii. is not Hoseanic, (c) ii. is much more akin to iv.-xiv. than to i.-iii. (Comm. p. 1; cf. Enc. Bib. 2123 n.3). He holds that another wife, not Gomer, is intended in iii., which is an allegory referring to Israel, as Gomer referred to Judah. His arguments are not convincing.
  8. So, practically, Davidson, D.B. ii. p. 423 seq., where the detailed references will be found.
  9. This is too definite for the data; cf. Davidson, l.c. “Hosea has no clear idea of the instrument or means of Israel’s destruction. It is ‘the sword’ (vii. 16, xi. 6), the ‘enemy’ (viii. 3, v. 8-9); or it is natural, internal decay (vii. 8-9, ix. 16), the moth and rottenness (v. 12).”
  10. e.g. i. 10–ii. 1, ii. 14 f., iii. 5, v. 15–vi. 3, xi. 10-11.
  11. Apart from glosses and minor alterations, the only other critical problem of importance is that of the references to Judah scattered throughout the book (i. 7, iv. 15, v. 5, v. 10 f., vi. 4, 11, viii. 14, x. 11, xi. 12). There is no inherent improbability in some mention of the sister kingdom; but some of the actual references do suggest interpolation, especially i. 7, where the deliverance of Judah from Sennacherib in 701 b.c. seems intended. Each case, as Wellhausen implies, is to be considered on its merits. On these and other suspected passages, cf. Cheyne, Intro. to W. R. Smith’s Prophets of Israel, pp. xvii.-xxii.; Marti, p. 8; Harper, p. clix.
  12. Driver, Deuteronomy, p. xxvii.