Did Hosea know Genesis?

The prophet Hosea knew some stories like those we find in Genesis and Exodus. This is no surprise to the people who believe that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. I suppose you could imagine that Hosea had all five long scrolls.

I have been reading a 2008 dissertation for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary by Derick D. Bass, “Hosea’s Use of Scripture: An Analysis of His Hermeneutics”. Bass argues that Hosea is full of references to the Pentateuch and that he knew the text pretty much as we have it.

I will talk about why I am not convinced. But first let me deal with the date of Hosea. Hosea wrote in the eighth century before Christ. I am aware that this has been questioned. There is a strong trend in scholarship today to say that the Hebrew Bible was mostly “constructed” after the Babylonian exile. Hosea is a problem for this view—but not if Hosea itself was constructed in or after the exile.

My response is that this theory is a unwarranted. Scholars have rightly argued that Isaiah founded a school of writing prophets and that everything after chapter 39 is a post-exilic extension of his prophecies. But there is a clear seam between 39 and 40. What we call Second Isaiah refers to events at the end of the exile involving Persia and King Cyrus.

In Hosea there is no such seam. To get any kind of a reference to post-exilic events you have to read them in. So to adopt the model of Isaiah and his school and apply it to Hosea, in my opinion, goes way beyond the evidence. Hosea definitely refers to eighth century events.

It is beyond my ability to go through all of Bass’s arguments. I appreciate much of what he writes. My problem is that he uses allusions. Now scripture is capable of using direct quotes from documents. Jeremiah 26:18 is very specific, “Micah of Moresheth, who prophesied during the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, said. . .” (NRSV). Nowhere does Hosea say, “Moses, who wrote the Torah, said. . .”

What Bass finds are mostly allusions.

A verse that casual readers may mistakenly assume is about Genesis is Hosea 6:7, which says in many translations, “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant. . .” People jump to the conclusion that Hosea is taking up the Adam and Eve story, the story of the Fall in Genesis 3. However, Adam here is not a person, but a place. Adam’s pronoun is “there” not he. It should be “at Adam”, not “like Adam”.

There was a place near where the Jabbok flows into the Jordan named Adam (Joshua 3:16). Bass recognizes that the verse is about the place, but he still thinks it also alludes to the Fall.

Gilead is a city of evildoers,
tracked with blood (NRSV).

In context, I don’t believe it does. I believe that all the geographical references in Hosea 6:7-10 are to things that happened recently in about the year -740. The most obvious one is Hosea 6:8:

Pekah son of Remaliah, his captain, conspired against him with fifty of the Gileadites, and attacked him in Samaria, in the citadel of the palace along with Argob and Arieh; he killed him, and reigned in place of him (NRSV).

This seems obscure until you read it alongside 2 Kings 15:25:

So Hosea is referring to the assasination of king Pekahiah. Gilead is a contemporary eighth century geographical place.

In the next verse, 6:9, we hear that a gang of priests committed murder on the road to Shechem. Bass sees another allusion, here to the Genesis 34 slaughter of the people of Shechem by Levi and Simeon. I doubt Hosea has anything but a very specific recent event in mind. He says in 6:10 that he has seen a “horrible thing”. It sounds like he is actually experiencing trauma, and not from having read Genesis.

So, again, the place names in this oracle all seem to refer to eighth century headline news. We don’t know what happened at Adam. They broke the covenant. If this is like the events mentioned in the next verses, it was something well-known to Hosea’s hearers.

We do know that Hosea knew some stories that are now in Genesis and Exodus. He, like Amos before him, was engaged in harsh dialogue with the Bethel priesthood. His knowledge of the Jacob stories (Hosea 12) probably came from the founding narrative of Bethel. But he twisted it a little.

He doesn’t seem to draw on any one of the documentary theory documents. The story of Jacob’s birth as a twin is J. Most of the rest of it (wrestling with God or an angel, meeting God at Bethel, and serving for a wife) are in what documentary scholars call E. However there is that odd piece in 12:4 about Jacob weeping and begging. Hosea didn’t get that from anything in Genesis.

This was probably from an oral tradition centered at the Bethel shrine.

What intrigues me more is the evidence that Hosea knew the creation story that now appears in Genesis 1. In 2:18, Hosea speaks of “the wild animals”, “the birds of the air” and “he creatures that crawl on the ground”. Again in 4:3 he speaks of “the  wild animals”, “the birds of the sky”, and “the fish in the sea”.

This is more than an allusion to Genesis 1:26. This shows that Hosea is incorporating the actual wording of Genesis 1 into his oracles.

The very interesting thing about this is that, while Hosea seems to know an ancestor story that is different from the non-P sources of the Pentateuch, he seems to know precisely the Priestly hymn of creation. Hosea had worshiped somewhere (Bethel? Shechem? Jerusalem?) where the congregation was led to recite the equivalent of Genesis 1.

About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
This entry was posted in Ancient Israel, Bible, Genesis, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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