In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Book of Hosea

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • History of Research and Bibliography
  • Annotated Translations and Brief Commentaries
  • Historical Studies
  • Redaction Critical Studies
  • Textual Studies
  • Gender Studies
  • Literary Studies
  • Ecological Studies
  • Religious and Theological Studies
  • Hosea and the Book of the Twelve
  • Hosea and Other Old Testament Books

Biblical Studies Book of Hosea
Carol Dempsey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0248


The book of Hosea, a minor prophet, is part of the Book of the Twelve. A highly complex and rhetorically rich text, the book’s backdrop is the rise of the Assyrian Empire in the mid-8th century BCE. Assyria became Israel’s greatest threat. The five kings mentioned in the book’s superscription help to frame a significant period in Israel and Judah’s history. The relationship between the two kingdoms began to disintegrate after the death of Jeroboam and Uzziah around 746 BCE. Tensions culminated in the Syro-Ephraimite War (734–732 BCE). Aggression by Israel/Ephraim and Syria against Judah forced Judah’s king to enter into an alliance with Assyria for the purpose of military aid. Judah survived the war but had to pay a heavy tribute to Assyria which soon depleted Judah’s economy. Under the leadership of King Hezekiah, Judah eventually freed itself from Assyria three decades later. Judah simply refused to pay the tribute which caused consequences especially for Jerusalem that painstakingly survived the siege of Sennacherib in 701 BCE. Dating the book is difficult because of its long history of transmission and redaction, with the latter stages reflecting both an exilic and postexilic setting, though some scholars argue that the final text has an entirely postexilic setting. The text is attributed to Hosea, though authorship remains uncertain. The collection of prophetic proclamations originated in the northern kingdom of Israel and was later transmitted to Judah after the Assyrian conquest. The book’s proclamations describe a world fraught with idolatry, apostasy, and other transgressions. The poet also deals with the injustices and poverty of his day. All of these dimensions of the book come to life through striking metaphorical language and imagery. Several metaphors and images come from the natural world and reflect agriculture and husbandry; others come from war. Contrasting the warfare imagery is the tender maternal/paternal image of a God who remembers caring for Israel as a child. Hosea 1–3 features an extended metaphor: Hosea’s wife’s infidelity parallels Israel’s infidelity to God. The style and tone of the book shift from threat to consolation, from frustration to compassion, and from impatience to understanding on God’s part. The poet depicts Israel’s God anthropomorphically, anthropocentrically, and androcentrically. The portrait reflects a vivid religious imagination that seems to be influenced by the poet’s social times, political agenda, and the composition of the audience for whom the book is written and to whom the proclamations are addressed.

Introductory Works

Dempsey 2000 and Leclerc 2007 provide substantial introductions to Hosea with attention to the book’s historical, literary, theological, and hermeneutical components. Matthews 2012 draws on archaeology and ancient Near Eastern texts to provide an understanding of the economic and social forces at work in Hosea’s life and message. Petersen 2002, Redditt 2008, and Sweeney 2005 all offer a succinct introduction to the book of Hosea in the context of the Book of the Twelve.

  • Dempsey, Carol J. “Hosea.” In The Prophets: A Liberation-Critical Reading. By Carol J. Dempsey, 153–159. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000.

    Provides an analysis on the historical, literary, theological, and contemporary hermeneutical interplay of ideas in the book of Hosea, and focuses on selected texts that provide a vision of harmonious and interdependent relationships among God, humankind, and the natural world. Insights gained from hermeneutical considerations on harmonious relations in the book of Hosea open the door for fresh thought and conversation.

  • Leclerc, Thomas L. Introduction to the Prophets: Their Stories, Sayings, and Scrolls. New York and Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2007.

    Provides a brief introduction to the times of the prophet, the prophet’s biographical information and location, the date and structure of the book, and then examines in various passages themes inclusive of marriage and covenant, justice and worship, judgment, divine compassion, fertility, and various traditions present in the book, as well as Hosea in later traditions. Offers an excellent foray into the key points in Hosea.

  • Matthews, Victor. “Hosea.” In The Hebrew Prophets and Their Social World. 2d ed. By Victor Matthews, 89–98. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012.

    Draws on archaeology and ancient Near Eastern texts to examine the message of Hosea in its historical and geographical context. Explores important aspects of the economic conditions and social forces that influenced Hosea’s life and message and explains why prophets served an integral purpose in the development of ancient Israelite religion.

  • Petersen, David L. The Prophetic Literature: An Introduction. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002.

    Discusses Hosea in the context of the Book of the Twelve and succinctly highlights the contributions that the following methods have made to the study of the book: form criticism, redaction criticism, tradition history, and literary and social-world analyses. Also highlights the book’s major theological issues.

  • Redditt, Paul L. Introduction to the Prophets. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2008.

    Focuses on Hosea in the context of the Book of the Twelve and gives particular attention to the theme of impending divorce between God and Israel as a result of Israel’s infidelity to its relationship with God. Provides a wonderful discussion on the problems raised by a study of Hosea, especially with regard to the book’s metaphorical language and its theology.

  • Sweeney, Marvin A. The Prophetic Literature. Interpreting Biblical Texts. Nashville: Abingdon, 2005.

    Explores the book of Hosea in its Book of the Twelve context. Structured according to the prophet’s speech cycles, the study provides a concise analysis of the text with particular emphasis on the historical events that the text reflects.

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