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Opening clip: Loreena McKennit, “Marco Polo.”
Notes and references
General principles in understanding the Old Testament
- Unlike (parts of) the Book of Mormon, the books of the Old Testament were not written for our day, but for theirs. We today are not their original intended audience.
D&C 1:24- God speaks “unto [his] servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.”
- We read the Old Testament in translation, which means things are lost on several levels, word level, literary level, etc. Think of Elder Maxwell translated into another language. Ex. Jeremiah 1:11-12 “The word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’ And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree[ Heb. shaqed].’ Then the LORD said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over [ Heb. shoqed] my word to perform it.’” It’s a wordplay in Hebrew.
Hebrew Poetry- See Kevin Barney, “Understanding Old Testament Poetry” Ensign, June 1990. See here for a lengthy LDS treatment.
Further, see James Kugel, The Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and Its History; Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry; Adele Berlin, The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism.
- These are not primary first-hand documents, like the transcripts of general conference. Jeremiah and his scribe Baruch. Abinadi. Written word wasn’t primary for the Israelites, it was an oral culture. See Kerry Muhlestein, “From Clay Tablets to Canon: The Story of the Formation of Scripture,” in How the New Testament Came to Be: The Thirty-fifth Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, ed. Kent P. Jackson and Frank F. Judd Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 43–61.
These three principles together offer some help when we encounter something odd. We should ask, not why did it happen this way, but why was it passed down and written this way? Is there something historically or culturally significant here that the original audience knew that I don’t? Is there something lost in translation, that’s clearer in a modern translation or some study notes or commentary somewhere?
Northern prophet, called to the north. 8th century, before the Assyrians come.
732, capture Damascus, capital of Aram (Syria)
722-720 capture Northern Kingdom of Israel
701 capture whole southern kingdom of Judah, except for Jerusalem.
Book of Hosea
“The text is traditionally regarded as the most corrupt and poorly preserved of the Hebrew Bible.”- in “Hosea, Book of” Anchor Bible Dictionary, 3:292.
“The man bite the dog.” Does it make sense in context? Is it any kind of “good” English?
“Conjectural Emendation”- scholars change the underlying text to make sense of it. When the Hebrew is bad or funny, or it doesn’t make sense in context, they try to tease out how it might have read. They’re assisted in this by the ancient translations into Greek, Aramaic, and others.
Compare 1 Corinthians 15:55 (quoting the Greek translation) with Hosea 13:14. (The nouns differ slightly as well, but not my point here.)
Corinthians- “O death where is thy victory, o death where is thy sting?”
Hosea, “O death, I will be thy plagues, I will be thy destruction.”
The difference between these is switching two letters in Hebrew, ‘hy vs ‘yh. Somewhere along the way, the text got messed up.
Polytheism and lawsuits
Israelites wanted a “specialist” god, but this was idolatry and violated the covenant, which leads to God sending a prophet to act as his prosecuting attorney for violating the legal covenant.
4:1-2 KJV “Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.”
“controversey”= heb. rīb or “reeve”= JPS “has a case against”= NRSV “indictment”= NET “covenant lawsuit”
NRSV- “Hear the word of the LORD, O people of Israel; for the LORD has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. [Instead in v2, ] Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed.”
“From the extensive references in the Book of Hosea to Ephraimite (Israelite) Baal worship and other Canaanite practices, it is clear that the older crises of religious purity attested by the royally supported Baalite practices in the time of King Ahab, by Elijah’s victorious ordeal against the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:19–39), and by the bloody purges of Baalism conducted by Elijah and King Jehu (1 Kings 18:40; 2 Kings 10:18–29) continued to pervade popular religious practice in the north. Thus, in chapter 2, Hosea boldly rebukes Israel’s belief in the local Canaanite Baalim as a source of natural sustenance—and their rejection of their own historical Lord (vv. 7, 9, 15). Presumably some form of syncretism developed whereby Israel’s national-historical God was worshiped under the aspect of Baal in matters concerning nature and fertility (see Hos. 2:18–20). On this point the nation had to be dissuaded and reeducated (2:10–11, 23–24).”
- Michael Fishbane, JPS Bible Commentary, Haftarot, 553.
“Baal was attractive because he was a fertility deity, the “rider of the clouds” and bringer of rain. People believed that he was the deity who provided “the grain, the wine, and the oil,” the main benefits people expected from the worship of a god or goddess. Hosea insists to the contrary that YHWH is the deity who provides these goods. (Compare the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, where the conflict initially concerned the power to provide rain.)”
John J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible.
Hosea 12:7-8 “A trader, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress. Ephraim has said, “Ah, I am rich, I have gained wealth for myself.” So, there has come to be a focus on wealth, and in particular wealth gained through illicit means.
Reliance on Military
In 8:14 there is a multiplication of fortified cities, which goes along with the this in 10:13-14 “Because you have trusted in your power and in the multitude of your warriors, therefore the tumult of war shall rise against your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed.”
The Marriage Metaphor
“The way in which Hosea uses his wife and children as props for his message is troubling for the modern reader. Neither their welfare nor indeed the prophet’s own is treated as of any consequence… The prophet takes the common cultural assumptions [of the time] about the roles of husband and wife as his point of departure. On these assumptions, the adulterous wife could be humiliated and even put to death. It is not the purpose of Hosea 1–3 to say how husbands should treat their wives, faithful or otherwise. The prophet’s concern is to explain how YHWH reacts to Israel’s behavior. The use of human analogy is one of the most distinctive and appealing aspects of Hosea’s prophecy, but it runs the danger of making God conform to the cultural norms of the time. Should God behave like a jealous or outraged husband? Hosea was not unaware of the problem of using human analogies for God, as we shall see in our discussion of chapter 11, but he does not reflect on it in his use of the marriage metaphor. Moreover, there is always the danger that people may take the conduct ascribed to God as exemplary. If God can strip and expose Israel, may not a human husband punish an unfaithful wife in like manner? Hosea does not draw such a conclusion. He does not, as far as we can tell from the text, humiliate Gomer in public, much less have her condemned to death. But there is little doubt that the very negative use of female imagery in the prophets has contributed to negative stereotypes of women, and even to physical abuse, on occasion. Hosea’s imagery is not as extreme as what we find in Ezekiel, but nonetheless it calls for sensitivity in interpretation, and should not be used to justify abuse of women in any sense.”
-Collins again, 299-300.
Focus on repentance and atonement
14:4 “I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily, he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon”
One last thing
Hosea 6:6 “I desired mercy and not sacrifice, knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Quoted in Matthews 12:7, 9:14.
“Mercy” not really mercy.
“Mercy”= Heb chesed= “behavior that should arise from a personal relationship” i.e. because of the particular relationship you have with somebody, you should treat them in a certain way. OR, more concisely, “covenant loyalty” i.e. acting in a certain way because you have agreed to it in a covenant (which is a personal relationship).
OR, most simply, chesed=”faithfulness.” God wants faithfulness, not just the outer trappings of faithfulness. Do we ever focus excessively on outer appearances of faithfulness, even to the detriment of our actual faithfulness? I suspect we all do. It’s easier to appear faithful than actually be faithful. We need to cleanse the inner vessel, do some introspection.
“God does not delight in ritual sacrifice without the accompanying prerequisite moral obedience.” – Jewish Study Bible.