AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). © W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Place in the Canon. | Historical Background. | Structure and Contents. | Date and Authorship. | Hosea's Domestic life. | The Man and his Message. | The Hebrew Text and the Septuagint. 


The book of Hosea always occupies the first place among the Twelve Prophets, and its general position varies with that of the latter. Thus, in the Hebrew Bible it comes immediately after Ezekiel. In the Septuagint it is the first of the Prophets. In the Peshitta it stands next to Isaiah. And in the Vulgate, followed by modern versions, it is placed next to Daniel. It owes this position mainly to the fact that it is the longest of the Twelve, but partly, possibly, to the theory that Hosea was the first of them in chronological order.


The activity of Hosea falls within the lifetime of Isaiah, and the background of external politics is the same for both prophets.

In northern Israel the time was one of utter confusion. The great age of the successful Jeroboam ii was over, and Israelite prosperity was rapidly fading. Shallum assassinated Jeroboam's son, Zechariah; Menahem assassinated Shallum. This king won a temporary security by submission to Tiglath-pileser in 738BC, but Pekah murdered his son, Pekahiah, in the interest of the anti-Assyrian party. Pekah perished in a vain attempt to stem the tide of Assyrian advance, and the greater part of his kingdom was organized into Assyrian provinces. His successor, Hoshea, revolted after a nine-year reign, and was put to death by Shalmaneser v, who succeeded Tiglath-pileser in 727BC. Samaria was then besieged, and fell after a three-years' resistance (721BC) and the kingdom of Israel came to an end.


The book seems to contain two collections of oracular matter, one of which is a good deal longer than the other. The first is introduced by a biographical passage (type B), [See above, p.228 f.] and the second by a chapter in which the prophet describes his own experiences (type C). [See above, pp.229 ff.]

The first section comprises chs.i-ii.

In i.2-9 we have an account of Hosea's domestic history from the pen of a third party, who describes his marriage and the birth of his three children.

To this has been appended a short oracle, in i.10-ii.1 (Hebr.ii.1-3), describing the happy future that awaits Israel. It may be a good deal later than Hosea, for the names in ii.1 suggest that it was written for its present position, and the substance points rather to a period after the fall of Jerusalem in 586BC.

The little collection that follows includes verses 2-5 (Hebr.4-7) (a mutilated oracle), 6-7 (Hebr. 8-9), 8-13 (Hebr. 10-15). All these are messages of condemnation and of doom, but in the rest of the collection we have promises of forgiveness and restoration. These are contained in the following verses (the numeration in the Hebrew Bible is two higher than the RV throughout this chapter): verses 14-15, 16-17 (fragmentary and, probably, worked over before its inclusion in the collection), 18-20, 21-23 (apparently the end only of a rather longer passage). Some scholars reject these and other passages on the ground that Hosea could not have held out any hope for his people. This, however, seems to be an assumption which it is difficult to justify, and there is nothing else in these pieces (except perhaps in verse 23) which suggests the work of a later prophet. We may note the fact that the collector has placed these happier utterances at the end of his collection in accordance with a principle, which is abundantly illustrated in the Old Testament.

The second, and much longer, collection, is introduced by the prophet's own account of his marriage. The relation between chs.i and iii will be referred to, later. Again we note a happy expansion at the end. This (verse 5) is probably the work of a Judaean scribe some time between the fall of Samaria (721BC) and that of Jerusalem (586BC).

Ch.iv contains six or seven pieces, or fragments. Verses 1-3 (probably the latter part of verse 3 is a later expansion) are followed by 4-6 (of which the opening is corrupt and unintelligible), 7-11 (mutilated at the beginning), 12-13a, 13b-14 (mutilated at the end), 15 (a later addition by a Judaean scribe, apparently a good deal later than Amos), 16-19 (where the text is extraordinarily corrupt, though not necessarily hopeless).

Ch.v.1-7 gives us one of the longest continuous sections in the book, and is followed by two oracles in v.8-9 and 10-14.

Chs.v.15-vi.3 suggests an extract from some current Liturgy, and there is no need to reject it as some scholars do. seems to be closely attached to the foregoing. forms an independent whole.

Ch.vii appears to contain the following pieces: verses 1-2, 3-6, 7-10 (placed after the preceding owing to the mention of the "oven"), 11-12, 13-14 (probably mutilated at the end), 15-16.

In ch.viii we have verses 1-3 (mutilated at the beginning), 4a (an isolated fragment), 4b-7, 8-10, 11-13.

Ch.ix contains seven oracles or oracle fragments: verses 1-4, 5-6, 7-9, 10, 11a (the last two are mere fragments), 11b-15 (of this the opening words have not been preserved), 16-17.

In ch. x we have verses 1-2, 3-4 (regarded as a late insertion by some scholars, though it must belong to the age of the monarchy), 5 (an isolated fragment), 6-8, 9-10 (the beginning only of this oracle has been preserved), 11-13a, 13b-14 (here we seem to have the beginning and end of two separate oracles, which have been telescoped in our text), to which a prose note has been appended, at some time before the end of the Judaean monarchy, in verse 15.

It is not impossible that a fresh collection opens with ch. xi. The main theme of the first two collections was the apostasy of Israel, the "wife" of Yahweh. Here the people become His sons. This is especially brought out in the first Piece, xi.1-3. This is followed by verses 4-6, with an addition in verse 7 taken from some other utterance of Hosea's, 8-11, 12-.1 (in the MT xi.12 is counted as the first verse of ), 2-6, 7-10 (of which the beginning and end have not been preserved), 11-13 (again incomplete at both ends), 14 (an isolated fragment).

Ch.i is commonly divided into two parts at the end of verse 11, but metrical and other considerations make the following analysis more probable: verses 1-3, 4-6, 7-8, 9-11, 12-14c, 14d-16 (something has been lost at the beginning).

Ch.xiv has aroused more discussion than any previous oracular section. Many editors would deny Hosea's authorship, mainly on three grounds:

  1. it offers hope for the future, which Hosea would not have done;
  2. a compiler always tried to find a hopeful passage to place at the end of his work;
  3. there are words and phrases which do not occur elsewhere till long after the time of Hosea.

The first two are of little importance, since we must allow a prophet to change his tone with altered circumstances, and the fact that a compiler found a hopeful section for the conclusion of the book does not prove that this section was not the work of Hosea. The later words and phrases are not numerous, though verse 7 seems to be dependent on Pss.xxxvi.9 and lxv.11, 12. We should, however, note that the passage has a distinctly liturgical form, and may have been cited by Hosea and modified by a later age. In verses 1-3 the officiating priests' appeal to Israel to repent, and in verses 4-7 the people respond. Verses 8 and 9 are isolated sentences that a compiler - or even a scribe - has appended to the whole.


It is clear that the work of Hosea is to be placed during the last generation of the existence of the Northern Kingdom. The earliest suggestion of a definite date is to be found in viii.9, which may well refer to the tribute paid by Menahem to Tiglath-pileser in 738BC. There is no direct reference to the fall of Samaria, though it is clear that the prophet often felt the calamity close at hand. If, however, we accept some of the more hopeful passages as original, we may conjecture that they were uttered after 721BC, when the kingdom, so obnoxious to Hosea, had vanished, and there might be hope of a spiritual new beginning.

There are two classes of passages, which have awakened the suspicions of commentators. One is that already mentioned, in which the prophet looks forward to the possibility of a brighter future. These occur usually at the end of sections or of collections, and may be the additions of a later age. This, however, does not necessarily follow, and the evidence does not justify us in dogmatically asserting that they are not the work of Hosea himself. The other class is that in which Judah is mentioned. Here we must face the possibility, even the probability, that southern scribes have deliberately modified the text to make it fit their own community, or have inserted such sentences as xi.12b, which contrast the fidelity of Judah with the apostasy of the north. Apart from these two classes of passage, there is little, if anything, which modern scholars would deny to Hosea.

The date of the compilations seems quite uncertain.

We have occasional hints of an exilic, or of a post-exilic, date, especially in the Judah passages, and that suggests that the oracles were not formally collected till long after the time of Hosea.

The corrupt state of the text, and the mutilated condition of a great many of the separate pieces, are also indications of a fairly long period between the utterance or the words and their inclusion in collections. Jeremiah seems to have been acquainted with the work of Hosea, but it does not follow that the book or even the individual collections therein, had reached the form in which we have them now.

Probably we shall not be far wrong if we assign the actual compilations to the exilic or post-exilic age.


The problem of Hosea's marriage has aroused a great deal of discussion in recent years, and numerous attempts have been made to reconstruct the actual course of events.

The primary sources are chs.i and iii; and some of the oracles, especially those contained in ch.ii, have been used to supplement the prose narratives.

We may briefly indicate several of the views that have been held:

  1. It has been maintained that the whole story is symbolical, and that it does not represent historical fact. This is rendered improbable by certain details, particularly the name Gomer.
  2. The narrative in ch.i has been held to be historical, and ch.iii allegorical - a position for which there seems to be no good ground, unless we are to assume that all C passages in the prophets are due to later Midrash.
  3. The two have been combined, and it has been held that, after the birth of the third child, Gomer left her husband and fell ultimately into slavery, whence she was purchased by Hosea and taken again to his home. This has been popularized by the brilliant exegesis of Sir George Adam Smith, and English readers know this form of the story best. On the other hand, it has been maintained, especially by those who have taken into account the difference in type between the two chapters, that ch.iii is a more intimate account of the actual marriage, emanating from the prophet himself.

A further question is as to whether Gomer was innocent at the time of her marriage, and whether, if she were not, Hosea was aware of her character. The language of i.2 and iii.1 seems definitely against the former view, though it might be explained as prophetic. A literal acceptance is extremely difficult, especially in view of Hosea's obvious repugnance to the sexual immoralities prevalent in Israel. This might be met psychologically by the suggestion (probably sound) that Hosea suffered from sex-obsession, which drove him into the thing of which he had the greatest horror. It might be defended also on religious grounds by the supposition that Gomer was originally a temple prostitute. This would explain Hosea's feeling that his marriage was a religious act, and would offer a reason for several of the details preserved in ch.iii.

Even the conjugal infidelity of Gomer is not to be deduced with certainty from the narratives of chs.i and iii. The names of the two younger children have been interpreted as implying this, and a further argument is to be seen in the use of the word "adulterers" in iii.1. But the word used here may have a wider significance than that implied in the English rendering, and the names Lo-ruhamah and Lo-ammi, like those of Isaiah's children, may be signs merely for Israel, with no reference to their father's home-life.

But even if this were true, we have no right to assume that these two fragments of narrative give us the whole of Hosea's story. On the contrary, there was much in his domestic experience that profoundly influenced his thought and feeling, though there is no direct account of it. Ch.xi surely implies that Hosea suffered, not only from a faithless wife, but from ungrateful and rebellious children. So also, even though Gomer's adultery may not be actually mentioned in the prose narratives, it is difficult to understand Hosea's message and teaching except on the theory that she was false to him, and fell back into her old ways. We should beware of reading too much into the connexion between chs.i and ii, but we are probably justified in assuming that the oracles contained in ch.ii - and elsewhere -are based on bitter experiences that befell Hosea after the events described in chs.i and iii.


Modern psychological science has helped us to see that we have in prophecy the emergence of elements from the subconscious, facilitated-indeed made possible - by the peculiar psychic state that made the prophet what he was. In other words, what the prophet said and did was the expression of that real basic personality, of which he himself was often unaware. Like many another great soul in the history of man's religion (we may, not unfairly, cite Tertullian and Augustine as examples), Hosea was, at any rate in his youth, subject to what recent psychology would call a "sex-complex". Such natures as his have a peculiar intensity and passion which run through all their life, and often, when duly "sublimated", give them an extraordinary power and impressiveness. In Hosea we have the struggle between the subconscious obsession and the purity of conscious thought resulting in his involving himself in the thing he most hated. Seen from another point of view, (that which the prophet himself may have more nearly realized) he seems to have felt that the supreme act of surrender to the will of God was to take the step most horrible to him, and to bind his life to that of a woman belonging to the class he most loathed. More simply still, he found himself swept away by an overwhelming love for a woman who belonged to a class against which his better nature revolted, and, in his love, he found a reflection of that which Yahweh-bore to Israel, faithless and disgusting as she was. It was an awful thing to Hosea that he should so love Gomer, but Yahweh was immeasurably nobler and purer than he, and Israel stood on a lower moral level than the erring woman to whom he gave himself. So, in the agony of his own spirit, and in the deathless love he knew, he found an image of the heart of God, broken by the constant rejection of His love, and by the endlessly repeated apostasies of His beloved people.

That is, in fact, all that we know of Hosea, and all that we need to know. Of his life outside his own home we have no record whatever. We are told the circumstances in which his various oracles were delivered, but we hear nothing of the reception accorded to them. We know that he was unheeded by his people, but that we learn, not from the book of Hosea, but from the fact that Israel went her way to ruin.

In later life, as it seems, the loving passion, which consumed the prophet, was directed as much to his children as to his wife. Yet they too proved a crushing disappointment, and once more he realized the meaning of divine sorrow over human sin.

Hosea's poetic style is characteristic of the man. In spite of the mutilation, which so many oracles have suffered, and the grave corruptions of the text, we can recognize in his verse the staccato quality of utterances forced from the man by intense emotion. This often makes the meaning obscure, but, in Hosea, the literal sense is always subordinate to the feeling that the poetry expresses. His metaphors are taken less from life and Nature than those of Amos and Jeremiah, and his language is much more that of a townsman than is theirs.

Hosea was not oblivious to the evils that called forth the denunciations of his predecessor, Amos, and of his contemporaries, Isaiah and Micah.

He was aware of social injustice and has much to say of political folly.

To him, as to Isaiah, close association with foreign peoples involved apostasy, and it was the religious shortcomings of the nation on which his attention was fixed. The cultus was evil - sheer Baalism - and he was the first, as far as we know, expressly to condemn the bull-worship at Bethel.

But, above all things, Hosea insisted on Yahweh's demand for Love.

For its lower manifestations he uses the common term 'ahabhah, but his favourite word expresses a higher "sublimated" type - Hesedh. Here we have a term that defies translation. It is love always in the light of some definite relationship-husband-wife, parent-child, God-worshipper. It has, therefore, an element of duty in it, and from this side is better represented by the Latin pietas than by any other rendering. But it is more than pietas, for it has a far deeper emotional content; it may be the love of the higher to the lower, or of equals to one another, as well as that of the inferior to the superior. It implies, too, always a full recognition of the nature, rights, and demands of personality, and, in one of its aspects, may be described as consecration to personality. It goes deeper than the justice that Amos required; it is a fundamental quality of soul which serves as a spring and motive for all right action in personal relationships.

For Israel Hosea saw little hope.

There are passages (of disputed authorship, as we have seen) that suggest the possibility of repentance and restoration. But the former was an indispensable condition of the latter, and, if it were lacking, the people's ruin was inevitable. It was better that the nation should cease to be than that it should continue as it was.

Yahweh loved Israel with a passion so great that, while He would restore her if she would allow Him, He would yet, if need be, destroy her utterly.


There is no book in the Old Testament, which has suffered more from textual corruption than Hosea.

There is hardly a single verse of which the reader can be sure that it has not been more or less altered, generally by accident. A large part of the text, as it stands, is meaningless, though good sense can often be obtained by very slight changes. Illustrations may be seen in iv.4, 5, vii.5, ix.6, 7, 8, x.10, xi.4, 7. Sometimes additions have been made by later scribes, e.g. in ii.4, ix.9, i.6, xiv.4, 5.

The text before the Septuagint translators was hardly better, though a superior reading is sometimes suggested, as in ii.20, v.15, viii.10, x.10, and the worst corruptions must have taken place before the divergence of the two lines of tradition.