A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Hosea. ICC.

By A. A. Macintosh
Edinburgh : T&T Clark (1997). xcix + 600 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
9.2 (Fall 1998) : 243-245

A. A. Macintosh is President of St. John’s College, Cambridge. He is one of those very accomplished English commentators who has only a B.D. but whose scholarship surpasses that of most Americans with a Th.D. His volume on Hosea in the ICC continues that series’ history of scholarly contributions to biblical studies. This volume replaces W. R. Harper’s Amos and Hosea (1905) in the old series of ICC. It is more conservative than Harper’s volume, especially in matters of textual criticism (cf. lxxiv-lxxxiii, 109-10). Macintosh observes that many past textual emendations were based upon an assumption of the corrupt state of the MT rather than upon the more accurate assessment that the problems are often due to contemporary scholars’ ignorance of the author’s language or dialect (liii). That improvement alone commends the volume to conservative exegetes.

ICC as a series assumes that the reader’s working knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin as well as a knowledge of the fundamentals of some of the cognate languages (Akkadian, Ugaritic, Syriac, and Arabic). Macintosh’s scholarly treatment extends to the intricacies of rabbinic materials (e.g., xliv-xlv, 90). Unfortunately, he omitted the following conservative commentaries from the Bibliography (xix-xli): David Allan Hubbard, Hosea-Jonah in TOTC (InterVarsity, 1990) and Douglas Stuart, Hosea: An Introduction and Commentary in WBC (Word, 1987). The detailed introduction to the Book of Hosea (li-xcix) contains an up-to-date discussion of the northern dialect theory and the potential presence of Aramaisms in Hosea (liv-lxi). Macintosh’s liberal theological stance and historical criticism comes to the fore in his discussion of the composition of the Book of Hosea (lxv-lxxiv). He believes that the book represents a later literary rendition (by Hosea or later editors) of Hosea’s oral prophecies (lxvi). The whole discussion of Hosea’s state of mind and musings suffers from a lack of theological evaluation with regard to biblical inspiration (lxvi-lxx). Ultimately, Macintosh opts for a history of the book that involves Judean redactors adapting and appropriating Hosea’s prophecies for use in the southern kingdom (lxx-lxxiv, 19, 25-26, 108-12). Of course, that position presupposes similar redactions of other pertinent pericopes. An example would be the author’s opinion that the Lord’s election of His people was “narrowed to Judah following his rejection of the Northern Kingdom” (25). Such a view would hold to a late date for Gen 49:10 as well.

One of the greatest contributions of the volume is in the author’s skill in weaving the historical background into the interpretation of the Book of Hosea. The introductory section on historical background (lxxxiii-lxxxvii) is but the first of many pleasant and informative incursions into the setting of Hosea’s life and ministry (cf. 18, 20, 35 n. 16, 194-98, 428-30). A table of dates related to Hosea provides the reader with a ready reference for the significant details of that history (xcviii-xcix). Macintosh provides helpful grammatical observations (e.g., the first annotation on 2:4 [39]) and pertinent linguistic discussions (e.g., Hebrew idioms involving particular parts of the body [fourth annotation, 39]).

It is a delightful surprise to find a commentator who is willing to specify his arguments for or against any particular interpretation (e.g., the crux in 2:2 [31- 38]; cf. also, 59-60). Whether or not one agrees with the conclusions, it is helpful to have such detailed interpretative information. No detail, in fact, is beyond Macintosh’s attention. The reader will find comments on everything from the ancient use of thorns to block human passage along footpaths (51) and the taste of grapes dependent upon ancient agricultural technologies (74 n. 11) to the interpretative contribution of the Massoretic accents (93, 343).

Macintosh’s excursus on Hosea’s marriage (113-26) admits to the lack of sufficient information within the text itself but proceeds to argue that Gomer’s infidelities are best understood as post-marital and all the children as Hosea’s. The author describes the various views and presents responses to each. He could have reached the same conclusions without positing that the account was organized and expanded by a later redactor.

The weakness of the volume is in its equal lack of detail when it comes to theology. The discussion of the opening formula of the book (“the word of Yahweh which came to Hosea”) is inadequate because it neglects the theological implications for divine revelation, biblical prophecy, and inspiration (1-5). It is also disappointing to find a gravely inadequate treatment of a crux like 11:1 with its implications for the NT use of the OT (436-39). A similar lack of adequate discussion of the NT quotation of a passage in Hosea occurs in the commentary on 13:14 (546-49).

The format of the commentary proper is typical of contemporary technical commentaries. The author’s verse-by-verse translation of the text is followed by technical annotations keyed to words in the translation by means of superscript letters. The annotations include matters of grammar and translation. The exegesis follows in a larger and more readable typeface. Lastly, textual critical notes come under the heading “Text and Versions.” An excursus regarding the problem of Hosea’s marriage concludes the author’s treatment of chap. 3 (113-26).

The specialized appendix on the vocabulary of Hosea (585-93) provides readers with a valuable resource for the study of the book. A Scripture index, however, would have made the volume a more complete resource. A peculiarity of this commentary is the absence of capitalization in reference to the Bible (“the bible,” 5, 102). Problems in editing include the omission in the Bibliography of the significant work by Williamson on Jezreel, even though it is cited in the text (e.g., 15 n. 27).

Although the volume presents a perfect example of the extremes of redaction criticism (cf. lxxii-lxiv) and is far from a conservative theological viewpoint, it should not be ignored. Every exegete dealing with the Book of Hosea should avail himself of the valuable information provided in Macintosh’s work.