The introduction to Hosea, chronologically the first of the 'minor prophets' (known as such because of their brevity not lack of weight), says that he prophesied c750-25 but there is no reference to any of the catastrophic events in his Northern Kingdom which led to its disintegration in 722 BC. The period he describes saw Samaria in a period of great prosperity which only emphasised the differences between the rich and poor, an identical message to the partly contemporaneous Amos who wrote before him even though the order of the Bible reverses them.

The book is generally divided into two parts:

  1. Chapters 1-3 The 'Marriage' with Gomer. From the time of St. Jerome this has widely been understood as an allegory for the unfaithfulness of Israel but even before the Reformation there were exegetes who saw it as historical. that tendency has become more widespread in Protestant circles. The Old Testament is replete with allusions to "adultery" as a symbol for religious idolatry; but the literal interpretation might account for a post Mediaeval near obsession with sexual sin.
  2. Chapters 4-14 which are concerned with a more detailed explanation of unfaithfulness, scandalously spearheaded by the priestly and political classes. There are obvious references to the political intrigues which saw King Zechariah assassinated after reigning for six months (748 BC) by Shallum who reigned for only one month before he was in turn murdered by Menahem who reigned until 738.

Hosea is highly emotional and cryptic. The brokenness of expression makes some passages obscure, not helped by the corrupted text. There are probably some later, interpolated, passages.

The teaching, emphasising monotheism and justice for the poor, resembles Amos but there is much more emphasis on the evils of idolatry.

KC iii/08

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