Tag Archives: book review

Reconsidering the Date and Provenance of the Book of Hosea (Review)


The importance of the date and provenance (ie. origin) of biblical books can hardly be underestimated. In many cases, though not always, the task of interpretation can significantly be aided or impeded by one’s understanding of a book’s background. The time and social situation from which a text arises largely informs the purpose of its author(s)/compilers. Prophetic literature is no exception.

James M. Bos in the recent publication of his doctoral dissertation, Reconsidering the Date and Provenance of the Book of Hosea, seeks to move the clock forward on the traditional date of the book of Hosea. While the “older paradigm” thought Hosea to be an 8th century composition, Bos argues that the book in reality is the product of the Persian period (6th/5th century).

Following an introduction, surveying some older approaches to the background of Hosea, though lacking in my opinion, the book includes five chapters outlining the pillars on which Bos substantiates his argument. These five strands of data set forward for a Persian date include: 1) The level of literacy, or the lack-there-of, in ancient Israel 2) The anti-monarchial ideology of the book; 3) Hosea’s polemic against other centers of worship; 4) The presence of an exile-return theme; and 5) The use of Israelite’s past traditions.

In these five chapters, Bos concludes that the book of Hosea was composed not by an 8th century prophet, but rather, by the Jerusalemite priesthood in the Persian province of Yehud as political propaganda. The book then served to establish priestly authority over against the provincial governor with whom they shared power (164).

While the book asks many of the right questions regarding background and textual issues, the conclusions drawn are predicated upon questionable premises. Bos himself concedes that no one individual argument may persuade all readers of a Persian date, but believes that the collective force of the chapters renders the traditional date no longer feasible (32). While there is not room here to engage each individual argument, I will briefly address two points that I found particularly unpersuasive.

Many of Bos’ conclusions rest on his understanding of literacy in 8th century Israel. Bos maintains that there existed a standardized system of writing that was controlled by the governing institutions. Scribes were trained in the king’s court and produced documents under the authorization of the monarchy. Bos questions whether a government would train and authorize a scribe as critical as Hosea. But if this model of ancient literacy is not shared by the reader, many of the book’s arguments are left without sure footing. It must be noted that though literacy in the ancient world is indeed a difficult issue, not all scholars accept Bos’ reconstruction. Others, such as Alan Millard, are more optimistic about a wider degree of literacy in Israel.

A second point that I found problematic was the discussion of Hosea’s use of Israelite traditions such as covenant and exile. Bos includes a discussion of the date of Deuteronomy, which he relegates to the Second Temple period. While many may point to the recovery of the Book of the Law in 2 Kings 22 as evidence for an early form of Deuteronomy, Bos is skeptical about the historicity of Josiah’s reforms altogether. With a late date of Deuteronomy, Hosea, who references the terms of the covenant, must be a late composition. Again, for the latter to be legitimate one must accept the former. If Deuteronomy, or at least the Deuteronomistic tradition, is visible in the reform movement under Josiah Bos’ argument falls flat.

Regarding the exile theme, Bos states that the situation expressed in Hosea more closely matches that of the Persian period over against the 8th century. Yet this claim largely ignores other early prophetic works that discuss exile themes (of course, Bos would date these works later as well). I find this unacceptable. For those interested in the exile theme, I recommend the massive doctoral dissertation (779 pgs.) written by Thomas R. Wood entitled, The Regathering of the People of God: An Investigation into the New Testament’s Appropriation of the Old Testament Prophecies Concerning the Regathering of Israel (2006). Wood traces the theme of exile from the pre-exilic period, through the Second Temple period, and beyond.

In conclusion, though I found myself at odds with many of Bos’ conclusions, I am thankful for the opportunity to rethink many of my unchallenged assumptions. There is nothing like a fresh perspective to sharpen your own thinking.

boo ole miss

I must also say, and this should have been expressed up front, that Bos now teaches at the rival university (Ole Miss.) to my Alma Mater (Mississippi State University). Though I endeavored an objective review, such deep-seated tensions cannot be entirely suppressed. I hope this did not drive me to be overly critical. But in all seriousness, this book would best serve more advanced students of prophetic literature, pushing them to rethink issues in the older paradigm. Though the thesis may not be persuasive, one will certainly have a clearer perspective as a result.


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Review of When God Spoke Greek (Blog Tour)


This is the second stop of a blog tour on T. Michael Law’s book When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible (see here). Thanks to Oxford University Press for providing a review copy, as well as to Brian LePort for organizing the tour. Due to the nature of this project, this review will be confined to chapters three and four of the book.


I remember traveling to Colorado as a young boy for a family ski trip. The beauty and majesty of the Rocky Mountain ridgeline left me breathless. One thing that I found striking was how distance changed my perception of the great mountains. The further away I was from the snowcapped peaks, the fewer mountains there seemed to be. Yet the closer I came to the mountains the clearer I saw that what appeared to be one massive rock formation was in fact a multitude of smaller mountains. Perspective changes everything.

When one looks at study of the Hebrew Bible, a similar reality is apparent. From a wide-angled perspective, the Hebrew Bible appears to be a uniform collection of canonical books, but upon closer inspection the complexities of the discussion come to the fore. One area in particular is the formation of what would later emerge as the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament canon itself. Interestingly, while everyone looks at the same evidence, interpretations differ, and in some cases are contradictory.

This paradox becomes clear when one approaches these two chapters of Law’s book. While many may  have preconceived notions about the place and purpose of the Septuagint, Law offers what may be to some an alternative perspective. This review will first detail the contents of each chapters. Secondly, several questions will be posed to further the discussion of how the book may better serve its readers.

Chapter 3

Chapter three asks the question “was there a Bible before the Bible?” In short, Law says no. To support this answer Law presents evidence of textual diversity/plurality from the early witnesses. The result of this situation is a Judaism without strict textual boundaries until the close of the Hebrew canon in the 2nd century CE.

Law surveys the forms of Hebrew Scripture attested by Hebrew manuscripts, the Septuagint (LXX), Dead Sea Scrolls, and Samaritan Pentateuch (S.P.), each with underlying Hebrew texts from which they were translated/edited. Each of these traditions, says Law, testifies to variant literary editions (ie. textual traditions).  In light of these manuscripts, especially those from the Judean Desert, Law contends that scholars are forced to abandon older assumptions about the homogenous nature of the textual transmission of the Hebrew Bible.

Law cites the varied manuscript evidence from Qumran and surrounding sites, as well as many examples of significant differences among the other textual traditions. Though contradictions and inconsistencies are of great concern to modern readers, Law states, peoples of the ancient world had no such concern (31).

It must be noted that the “textual diversity” found at Qumran is absent from surrounding sites (aligning instead with the Masoretic tradition). Though Law tips his hat to this phenomenon, he discounts its interpretive value. He reasons that the quantity of manuscripts outside Qumran (25 total) is not a large enough sample from which to draw meaningful conclusions.

Law also acknowledges the careful scribal practices of the Masoretes in the medieval period, frequently alluded to by more conservative scholars, but argues that it is illegitimate to project these scribal tendencies upon the earlier textual data. While the Masoretic Text (MT) does indeed evidence an ancient tradition, Law states that it consists of only one such tradition. The reality of the textual climate prior to the 2nd century CE was “characterized by plurality, not uniformity” (22). To disagree with this reality is to put the proverbial buggy of one’s formulated conclusions, so to speak, before the horse of the textual data.

Chapter 4

Chapter four turns the corner to the Septuagint as a translation. Law reminds the reader that the translators of LXX did not invent the art of translation, but contributed to a well-established practice in the ancient world. Yet the LXX is not  just another work of antiquity. Rather, the innovation of the LXX was to bring the work of translation to the realm of formal religion, a feat not previously undertaken (35).

As to the origins of the Greek translation, Law retains a tentative posture in light of the circumstantial evidence. He postulates a 2nd century BCE date for the latest Greek Pentateuch could have been composed based on linguistic features of the text and citations by later authors. The text itself betrays an Egyptian origin, most likely Alexandria.

Law discusses the Letter of Aristeas, which is a 2nd century BCE legend regarding the origin of the Septuagint. While certainty eludes scholars, one purpose of the narrative that Law presents is to affirm the authority of the Septuagint by rewriting the story of the Exodus (36). The resultant translation as told in the Letter of Aristeas is not simply a new edition of Torah, but rather “a new revelation” (37).

An analysis of the internal components of the LXX leads Law to conclude that the translators of the Greek Pentateuch were “moderately educated, Hellenized Jews in Alexandria” (40). Yet, this position too is held tentatively. Sure footing, Law states, is found not in hypothetical reconstructions of the Septuagint’s origins, but rather in the early reception of the text (42).

Comments and Questions 

This summary should provide readers with an overview of Law’s argument. The book itself is well written. It is as readable as it is scholarly. As any author can affirm, transferring the complexities of academic discussions to a more popular audience is no easy task. But Law presents his argument in a fresh and engaging way. Though I am left with several lingering questions, I can concur with the 21st century philosopher (formerly known as) Jay-Z that while the book may have 99 problems (not really), Law’s presentation ain’t one.

Several early responses have been released at this point (see here for example), so I will not rehash these points of critique with which I am in large agreement. Yet I do wish to raise a couple of questions that may allow the book a better servant to its readers.

First, would not the clarity of the book (geared to a more popular audience) benefit from a more careful treatment of terminology? While jarring phrases like “before the Bible, there was no Bible” (19) may have a strong rhetorical effect, they may miscommunicate the fact of the matter. The novice reader may be left with the impression that early Judaism operated as a literary free-for-all, with every, and any, religious text welcomed as equally authoritative. While this may indeed be Law’s intention, this conception blurs the continuity (if any!) between text and canon. Perhaps clarifying what exactly is meant by “Bible,” “canon,” and “scripture,” may better serve readers.

Second, could the reader not be helped by a more balanced presentation of state of Old Testament scholarship? Certainly Law represents a major position regarding textual plurality in ancient Judaism, but it is not the only voice in the conversation. Other scholars have proposed alternative theories to this view, favoring a greater degree of continuity. For example, in opposition to the plurality of literary editions, some scholars have argued for the preservation of a Temple Text, conservatively transmitted. If correct, this theory would offer an answer to the question of continuity with the later MT. While there may have been certain cases of free translations, a stable text was always in transmission. While some of these monographs are found in the “Further Reading” section at the back of the book, brief mention in the chapter may better orient the reader to the conversation.

Lastly, and perhaps most significant, is a question regarding the format of the book: are endnotes really the best option for any book ever? The use of endnotes can be a great challenge to many readers in turning to the back of the book 30 times in chapter three and 26 times in chapter four. I recognize that many of these decisions are outside the control of the author, but this review would be incomplete, as always, without my stereotypical lament of this point.

In conclusion, this book would best serve either students who have knowledge at an introductory level in LXX scholarship, or those who plan to further explore the field. I fear that novice readers may inadvertently be misled if this is the only book on the subject they read. Hopefully, readers will make use of the “Further Reading” section, which is subdivided by subject. The resources included are invaluable for entry into the world of the Septuagint/Hebrew Bible. For those who are familiar with the debate, this book affords an engaging presentation of a major position. Law is to be commended for both of these well-researched and well-written chapters.


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A Discussion about the Unity of the Twelve


A couple days ago I mentioned a book that I had just discovered entitled Two Sides of a Coin: Juxtaposing Views on Interpreting the Book of the Twelve / the Twelve Prophetic Books. Though I haven’t had a chance to get my hands on it yet, I have found some helpful reviews (The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures and Review of Biblical Literature).

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The Latest Review of Biblical Literature

Apoc                       Text crit

The most recent edition of the Review of Biblical Literature contains a couple worthwhile reads. Though a 2011 volume on Hosea was reviewed, it does not make my list of suggestions. While the book claims to take a fresh literary perspective on the text of Hosea, this approach is coupled with a feminist and psychoanalytical perspective; a combination that does not generally win my interest.

But, two monographs that do look appealing are Frederick J. Murphy’s Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World: A Comprehensive Introductionas well as Textual Criticism and Dead Sea Scrolls Studies in Honour of Julio Trebolle Barrera: Florilegium Complutense edited by Pablo A. Torijano Morales and Andrés Piquer Otero. I have referenced Murphy’s work before, but am glad to see it reviewed by both Adela Yarbro Collins and by Marius Nel, both of whom have dealt extensively with apocalyptic literature. The volume on textual criticism, reviewed by Andrea Ravasco, has a list of contributors that is nothing less than stellar. In each case, the reviews provide helpful summaries of the books.

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The Right Doctrine from the Right Text


G. K. BealeHandbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012, 172 pp.

The New Testament’s use of the Old has been an increasingly popular area of interest in biblical studies. Throughout the diverse spectrum of scholarship, few Evangelicals have made as great a contribution as Greg Beale. Beginning with his 1984 book, The Use of Daniel in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature and in the Revelation of St. John, a revision of his doctoral dissertation, Beale has continued to blaze a trail in the study of the New Testament’s use of the Old, with his most recent addition, a Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, which seeks to outline a methodology for identifying and understanding Old Testament quotations and allusions in the New.

The book, consisting of seven chapters, begins by surveying the introductory issues in the New Testament’s use of the Old, concluding that the New Testament authors display various degrees of awareness of literary and historical contexts of referenced OT passages (12). This conclusion, supported by lengthy bibliographic entries, is evident throughout the remainder of the book as Beale argues for a contextual understanding of OT citations and allusions.

Central to any discussion of the NT’s use of the OT is a discussion of typology, which Beale defines as “the study of analogical correspondences among revealed truths about persons, events, institutions, and other things within the historical framework of God’s special revelation, which, from a retrospective view, are of a prophetic nature and are escalated in their meaning” (14, removed italics). He follows this definition by providing warrants for identifying an OT type, viewing the cyclical nature of biblical narratives as intrinsically forward-looking, which allows for the development of a type in the OT itself. The second chapter continues the discussion of chapter one by defining other significant terms, such as allusion and echo.

The third chapter forms the heart of the book, outlining a ninefold approach for studying an OT reference in the New, beginning with the New and Old Testament contexts. After these contexts have been thoroughly studied, Beale suggests surveying references to the OT passage in early and late Judaism, followed by a comparison of the relevant textual traditions (ie. LXX, DSS, Josephus, Philo, ect.). The remaining steps involve deciphering the NT author’s textual, hermeneutical, theological, and rhetorical use of the OT passage in its present context. Chapters four through six further expound the specifics of these latter steps of the process, together with examples clarifying the method and value of each. The final chapter of the book consists of an illustration of Beale’s ninefold approach that examines the use of Isaiah 22:22 in Revelation 3:7.

The usefulness of this book can hardly be stated for those seeking to rightly handle the Scripture, whether student, pastor, or laity. Beale’s clear writing style, in addition to the uncharacteristic conciseness of the book, makes the method accessible to a wide audience. Furthermore, Beale, while emphasizing the indispensable value of learning the biblical languages, formats the book in such a way that those not familiar with Hebrew and Greek are able to profit just as well from the work.

Yet, together with the method itself, one of the greatest contributions of this book is the organized bibliographic information throughout. With the discussion of each step, Beale points the reader to both primary and secondary sources, allowing the exegete to draw their own conclusion. Also, a hearty bibliography of general reference works on the New Testaments use of the Old may be found at the back of the book.

Beale is to be commended for this book, which outlines the methodology underlying much of his previous work in this field. Though the reader could gain much of the same information by studying the edited volume, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, the succinct procedure here is far more accessible. By employing the ninefold process, students may be better able to relate the contexts of New and Old Testament passages, building a genuine biblical theology that respects the unity and diversity present in the Scripture, for the ultimate purpose of knowing and loving the sovereign Lord of history.


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