Macintosh, A.A. Hosea. International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1997. ix + 600 pp. $69.95. ISBN 0-567-08545-7.
This volume by Macintosh, President of St. John’s College, Cambridge, is a new addition to the prestigious ICC (International Critical Commentary) series. This is another one of the replacement volumes in that series that began to appear several years ago. The original work on Hosea was done by W.R. Harper in combination with the commentary on Amos and was published in 1905.
In keeping with the traditional strengths and focus of the series, Macintosh concentrates on the linguistic issues of this prophetic book. The language of Hosea has always been a challenge to scholars, who often have considered the solution to lie in the notion that what we actually possess is a corrupted text. In contrast, Macintosh would suggest that “it now seems likely that they [i.e., the linguistic difficulties] are due rather to our unfamiliarity with the prophet’s language and dialect. Since Hosea is the only prophet from the Northern Kingdom whose written words have come down to us, it is not surprising that this should be the case” (p. liii). The author offers a detailed discussion of the peculiarities of the book’s language (pp. liv-lxi), as well as an informative appendix on the unique vocabulary of Hosea. The latter is an eight column classification, providing such information as possible meanings, biblical parallels, roots, cognates, and category of rarity (pp. 585-93).
This concentrated interest in solving the lexical quandaries of Hosea led Macintosh to consult several well known rabbinic commentators ( such as Rashi, ibn Ezra, and Kimchi), in particular the tenth/eleventh century rabbi Abu ’I-Walid Marwan ibn Janah. This dependence on rabbinic sources is evident throughout the commentary, which is replete with references to the rabbis, and is a special feature of Macintosh’s study.
Macintosh posits that the prophetic message is aimed at unmasking and denouncing syncretistic Yahwism, which had been corrupted by the official state religion and Canaanite influences. Yahweh, however, was not to be reduced to a deity committed to preserving the monarchy nor to be confused with the fertility god Baal. The accompanying idolatry and promiscuity were to bring the nation to ruin and destruction. The only hope for the people lay with a correct understanding of the singular god of the Exodus and Wilderness, whose love for his people was mirrored in the marital experience of the prophet (pp. lxxxvii-xcvii).
The author’s positions on several classic points of debate would be of interest to those consulting this volume. First, in relationship to the issue of composition and authorship, Macintosh holds that this book was from the beginning a literary composition and that it comes substantially from the hand of the prophet himself (pp. lxv-lxxiv). He does not deny the presence of some redactional work by disciples or even later by others who desired to actualize his message for another time. Nevertheless: Whatever the precise circumstances [of the book’s making its way to Judah], the massive unity of purpose which has been detected in the work is most naturally attributed to a single mind and a single author; and, if he was assisted in his endeavor by such a person or persons..., then they knew that mind and author so well that their contribution will have served only to promote the unity of purpose that was his” (p. lxx).
An extensive excursus on the prophet’s marriage appears after the commentary on chapters 1-3 (pp. 113-26). Macintosh’s view is that the command to marry a “wife of promiscuity” (1:2) is proleptic of Gomer’s subsequent behavior after the marriage to Hosea and was added by the redactor of Hosea’s message retrospectively to describe his marital experience. The presentation of his perspective is supplemented by a summary of the principal other scholarly positions.
Lastly, mention should be made of his understanding of haqqedeshot (4:14), which he translates as “cult-women” (pp. 157-60). While a growing consensus questions the existence of cult prostitution as formerly understood as some sort of sympathetic imitative intercourse in order to secure fertility, Macintosh follows a middle course. He believes that, although sexual activity was probably not a formal component of the rituals celebrated at the high places, these women’s “presence at the sanctuaries... and their inclinations rendered them willing partners in the orgiastic practices described” (p. 158). Some of this wording might raise the eyebrows of some feminist commentators.
There is a wealth of helpful information in this commentary. Of course, not all will agree with some of Macintosh’s views. The strongest contributions lie especially in the linguistic questions and in some of the author’s theological reflections. Perhaps the greatest weakness would be in the lack of interaction with some feminist concerns about the possible patriarchal ideology of the text. One would have also appreciated a more extensive author index and the inclusion of an index of biblical and extra-biblical sources.