Building an Old Testament Library: Hosea–Malachi

Pamela J. Scalise

When written together on one scroll—as they have been since at least the Hellenistic period—the Book of the Twelve minor prophets is of similar length and scope to the other latter prophets collections (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel). Although an interest in reading the assembled minor prophets as a single book has occupied scholars for a few decades, the practice has had little influence on commentary writing. Most of the commentaries listed below give some attention to the passages that are cited in the NT.

The new commentary on Hosea, by J.A. Dearman in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT; Eerdmans, 2010) is a treasure of information, analysis, and theological reflection. Dearman thinks the book had reached its final form in the eighth century and exerted influence on subsequent prophets, especially Jeremiah, as a written document. Dearman’s 408 pages (including indexes) deal with all facets of the book’s interpretation and include several insightful excurses. The work of D.K. Stuart in the Word Biblical Commentary (WBC; Word, 1987) interprets Hosea as applying the covenant requirements and covenant curses found in Deuteronomy. In the New International Biblical Commentary, E. Achtemeier’s Minor Prophets I (NIBC; Hendrickson, 1996) has fewer pages for her comments on Hosea, but she addresses issues of text, translation, and poetic technique as well as the logic of each passage. The subsections of the commentary often end with a paragraph about the relationship of the passage to its biblical context, including the NT.

Joel has frustrated its interpreters over basic introductory issues of date and structure, as well as its “fit” within OT theology. All three of the commentaries recommended here settle on a post-exilic date, and describe Joel’s learned use of earlier prophetic materials. The work of L.C. Allen (NICOT; Eerdmans, 1994) provides a narrative in which a locust plague signals the impending judgment Day of YHWH, the people heed the prophet’s call to repent, judgment is averted for the time being, but the prophet also communicates the salvation and blessing yet to come. The work of J. Barton in the Old Testament Library (OTL; Westminster John Knox, 2001) identifies the book as a source of comfort and consolation, for God is in control and will act “in God’s own good time” (36). Since Joel lacks the usual prophetic indictments for sin, J.L. Crenshaw’s contribution to Anchor Bible (AB; Doubleday, 1995) reads the book as, in part, a reflection on the relationship between guilt and disaster.

Commentaries on Amos explain in various ways how a prophetic ministry of accusation and judgment on the northern kingdom resulted in a book that opened a door of hope for the southern kingdom. The work of D.K. Stuart in the WBC argues that Amos’ message is grounded in the covenant, especially as expressed in Deuteronomy. Judgment and hope for both kingdoms are reminders of “old truths” from the Pentateuch (288). Although the most memorable passages in the book are condemnations of injustice and oppression, the work of J. Jeremias (OTL; 1998) calls attention to the book’s theology rather than its social criticism. According to his analysis, the book reached its final form in the post-exilic period as a summons for the elect to repent and return to God.

The multi-book commentaries by L.C. Allen, J. Barton, and D.K. Stuart give adequate coverage for the 21 verses of Obadiah. Each of them discusses the phenomenon of Oracles Against the Nations as well as Obadiah’s particular message about the Day of the Lord. They all explain why divine judgment on Edom fits Israel’s historical circumstances and theology.

The genre of Jonah—historical report or some sort of didactic narrative—is the first question that many readers ask about this unusual book. Evangelical commentators come down on both sides (e.g., D.K. Stuart—historical, L.C. Allen—a parable). Allen explains his reasoning carefully, with many references to the history of the discussion. Stuart, in an earlier work, ruled out parable, allegory, and midrash. The work of J. Limburg (OTL; 1993) points out the 14 questions asked in the narrative as one reason for calling the book a “didactic story.” All three commentaries conclude that the book’s readers should come to know God as merciful toward all creation. Limburg adorns his volume with descriptions of Jonah in art and translations of some extra-biblical texts from Jewish, Muslim, and Christian sources.

The setting of Micah’s ministry during the Assyrian crisis and invasion of Judah at the end of the 8th century is generally accepted, but the structure of the book remains a challenge. L.C. Allen discerns a concentric structure amid the “apparent jumble” of the book’s parts. He classifies the individual sections as expressions of distress, doom, and hope that are short-term, long, or longer. At the center stands the messianic text in 5:1-6. Allen describes the significance of hope for a new king in the 8th century BC as well as the NT’s claim of its fulfillment in Jesus. The work of F.I. Andersen and D.N. Freedman’s final collaboration (AB; 2000) eschews theological reflection in favor of literary analysis, but is, nevertheless, a rich source of information for interpreters (as are their AB volumes for Hosea [1980] and Amos [1989]).

Nahum is a book of judgment against Nineveh, the final capital city of the Neo-Assyrian empire. The work of J. Goldingay and P.J. Scalise in Minor Prophets II (NIBC; 2009) characterizes the book as resistance literature, from the human side, and as assurance that YHWH, the God of love, will rescue people from violent oppressors. Goldingay succinctly answers the usual charges against Nahum: nationalism, violence, and damaging use of the harlot image. The work of J.M. O’Brien in the Abingdon Old Testament Commentary (AOTC; Abingdon, 2004) reiterates these charges and warns against accepting the book’s celebration of violence and portrayal of women.

The prophets Habakkuk and Zephaniah were near contemporaries during the Babylonian crisis, yet the books are quite different in form and message. The work of J. Goldingay (Minor Prophets II) compares the structure and content of Zephaniah to the book of Isaiah, including warnings and promises to Judah and Jerusalem, announcements about other peoples, and promises and warnings for Judah and other nations. He also describes the book’s intense poetry. Goldingay’s commentary on Habakkuk in the same volume calls attention to the lack of chronological pointers. Readers of the book are supposed to learn along with Habakkuk to wait in faith for God’s pattern of acting in the world to work out. In addition to the usual abundant information about background, grammar, philology, literary structure, and bibliography, F.I. Andersen (AB; 2001) begins his commentary with a description of Habakkuk’s spiritual struggle, which he manages to survive by faith.

Ezra 6:14 reports the success of Haggai and Zechariah in persuading the Jews in Persian Yehud to rebuild the temple. But the associated prophecies of restored wealth, prestige, and monarchy in Haggai were not fulfilled in the 6th century. The work of P.A. Verhoef (NICOT; 1987) looks to the second coming of Christ for their ultimate fulfillment and explains the declining material blessings of the Jerusalem temple community as a result of their subsequent disobedience. Goldingay’s emphasis in the aforementioned work (Minor Prophets II) in the NIBC is different. The rebuilt temple was essential to God’s dealings with Israel in the world, and Haggai’s words prompted and interpreted that achievement.

The authoritative reference commentaries on Zechariah are the two volumes in the AB by E.M. and C.L. Meyers (1987, 1993). The work of B.G. Webb in The Bible Speaks Today (InterVarsity, 2003) connects the message of Zechariah to Jesus and the NT gospel by means of their common focus on the kingdom of God. In the aforementioned work (Minor Prophets II), P.J. Scalise describes Zechariah as a unified composition that guides God’s people to survive under foreign powers in faithfulness and hope.

The following three commentaries on Malachi share a similar understanding of the message of the book, but differ in length and detail. Faithfulness in mundane matters, within the covenant, will preserve the people for participation in the blessings of the Lord’s return. The work of A.E. Hill continues the Anchor Bible (1998) tradition of presenting a history of interpretation and range of proposed solutions for each exegetical issue. The work of P.A. Verhoef (NICOT) is also useful as a reference for matters of text, grammar, literary structure, and message. The briefer treatment of Malachi by P.J. Scalise (Minor Prophets II) includes additional notes on the most difficult parts of the Hebrew text.

Posted Apr 01, 2011