The Marriage of the Prophet Hosea

Today my students will study the prophet Hosea in my course, “The Minor Prophets.” When I teach Hosea, my students spend a whole quarter going chapter by chapter and verse by verse through the book of Hosea. I do so because this great prophet of the Northern Kingdom had a message to the people of Israel that, I believe, it is still relevant for today’s modern day syncretistic society in which we live. Today, however, we will study Hosea only in this class. I still have ten more minor prophets to cover before the quarter is over.

The prophet Hosea is recognized as one of the greatest prophets of the eighth century B.C., along with Amos, Micah, and Isaiah. He was a prophet of the Northern Kingdom during and after the reign of Jeroboam II.

According to the introduction to his book, Hosea was the son of Beeri. However, nothing is known about his family, the place where he was born, nor the place where he preached. Hosea was the only classical prophet from the Northern Kingdom. He probably preached in the capital city of Samaria and maybe also at Bethel.

The superscription to Hosea’s book indicates that the prophet preached in the days of Uzziah, King of Judah (783-742) and in the days of Jeroboam II, King of Israel (786-746). Although we do not know the precise dates of Hosea’s ministry, the possible reference to the Syro-Ephraimite War in 5:8-14 would place Hosea in Samaria around 733 B.C. Hosea ministered during the chaotic last days of Israel before the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C.

Hosea came to his vocation through a tragic experience in his life. This experience gave Hosea’s message its characteristic shape. Whenever one studies the book of Hosea, one is fascinated by the events related to his marriage to Gomer. Hosea and Gomer had three children; two sons and one daughter were born out of their marriage.

Although it is impossible for me in this post to provide a detailed study of Hosea, his time, and message, I will review some of the problems related to the interpretation of his marriage and some of the views proposed by scholars to understand God’s command to Hosea.

According to the book, God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute. The New Jerusalem Bible reads:

“Yahweh said to Hosea, ‘Go, marry a whore, and get children with a whore; for the country itself has become nothing but a whore by abandoning Yahweh’” (Hos. 1:2 NJB).

Scholars are divided on how to interpret God’s words to Hosea. The issue is whether the narrative describing God’s command to his servant Hosea should be understood as Hosea’s actual experience or a story composed to illustrate a spiritual truth.

Those who give a spiritual meaning to the story do so in order to avoid the moral problem of God commanding a prophet to marry a prostitute. As John Calvin said, “How could he expect to be received on coming abroad before the public, after having on himself such a disgrace.”

Many evangelical Christians do not accept the literal interpretation of the text because they find it morally objectionable that God would command Hosea to marry a prostitute who would be unfaithful to him and then command Hosea to remarry the same woman after she became an adulterous woman.

Those who accept the narrative as the actual experience of the prophet do so because it is consistent with the prophet’s message to Israel and the actual condition of the nation.

Proposed Solutions

Three views have been proposed which are compromises to the actual, historical view.

1. The Proleptic View

This view seeks to avoid the moral problem the marriage would have created for Hosea. This view says that God told Hosea to marry Gomer. Gomer was a pure woman before marriage. After her marriage to Hosea she became a prostitute. Thus, looking back, when God told Hosea to marry Gomer, he realized that God was asking him to marry a prostitute.

2. The Spiritual Harlotry View

This view proposes that the harlotry of Gomer was spiritual, that is, Gomer was an idol worshiper. This view says that God commanded Hosea to marry a woman who worshiped idols.

3. The Cultic Functionary View

This view proposes that God commanded Hosea to marry one of the women who served as a Baal priestess in the temple. Gomer would be a woman who served among the cultic prostitutes but was not a common prostitute.

Proposed Views on the Marriage of Hosea

The following are some views proposed by scholars in order to deal with the moral issues raised by Hosea’s marriage to a prostitute. Although several scholars will be named, for the sake of space, a full bibliography will not be provided at this time.

Gerhard von Rad. Von Rad says that the prophetic symbolism behind the marriage makes reconstruction impossible.

Walter Harrelson. Harrelson says that Gomer lapsed into prostitution after marriage.

T. H. Robinson. Robinson believes that Hosea married a sacred prostitute.

Robert Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer believes that Gomer’s harlotry was spiritual unfaithfulness to God, that is, idolatry.

Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas believes that Gomer was not Hosea’s wife, only a concubine.

Hugo Gressman. Gressman believes that Hosea’s marriage was only a literary device to convey a message.

E. W. Hengstenberg. Hengstenberg believes that this marriage never occurred.  The marriage was only a vision or a dream of the prophet.

Jerome and John Calvin. Both Jerome and Calvin believe that Hosea’s marriage is only a parable to illustrate the sins of Israel.

Jewish Rabbis. Many Jewish Rabbis believed that the marriage is only an allegory invented by Hosea to illustrate the love of God.

Yehezkel Kaufmann. Kaufmann believes that the marriage of Hosea was a stage play.

James Newsome and C. Hassel Bullock. Both scholars believe that the marriage was an actual experience in the life of the prophet, that is, Gomer was a prostitute before marriage.

In his book The Prophets, Abraham Heschel provides several reasons why all these interpretations, except the literal view, should be rejected because the biblical text portrays an actual event in the life of Hosea. Heschel defends the literal reading of Hosea’s marriage for the following reasons:

1. “What is morally and religiously objectionable in actual practice becomes no more defensible by being presented as vision or parable.”

2. “No indication is given by the prophet that this is a vision or a parable and not fact.”

3. “The name Gomer bath Diblaim yields no symbolic significance.”

4. “The literal view suits the realism of early prophecy better than the supposition that it is a product of literary imagination.”

5. “It would be strange for Hosea to tell such a story of his wife if false or, if he were unmarried about himself.”

6. “A real experience such as this furnishes the best explanation of Hosea’s message—it was the outcome of the suffering of his own heart.”

I agree with Newsome and Bullock that the marriage was an actual experience in the life of the prophet, that is, Gomer was a prostitute before marriage. The fact is, as it is stated in Hosea’s own words, at the command of God, Hosea married a common prostitute and fathered three children with her. Each child was given a symbolic name to illustrate the depths of Israel’s sin and rebellion.

Many Christians reject this interpretation because they cannot believe that God would actually command his servant to marry a woman of ill repute, a prostitute. Such an act would be repugnant to many people. It is for this reason that scholars have proposed different ways to understand God’s command to Hosea. However, as Newsome wrote: “It was precisely the shocking nature of Hosea’s action, when matched to the shocking nature of his words, which caused his oracles to be remembered and preserved.”

I do not know how my students will react today in class to the shocking nature of Hosea’s marriage, but I know we will have a good discussion on this interesting topic.

How do you interpret Hosea’s marriage? Leave a comment and let me know your views.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

Other Posts on Hosea:

 God’s Torah in the Book of Hosea

Metaphors and Similes in the Book of Hosea

How Much Did Hosea Pay for His Wife?

Hosea 4:4: God’s Exhortation to Ministers

 

This entry was posted in Book of Hosea, Gomer, Hosea and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to The Marriage of the Prophet Hosea

  1. Jim says:

    nice work buddy

    Like

  2. Craig Baugh says:

    Minor Prophets course? You don’t by any chance teach a short course or extension course on the Minor Prophets, do ya (like 3 weeks or so)? I tried taking Minor Prophets from Jack Lewis at Harding School of Theology back in 1983. They needed at least five students to sign up for the course. They only got something like three!! Not a real inspiring student population when they wouldn’t take a couirse from a renowned OT scholar cuz they’re afraid it will affect their GPA. So, I never got my class on the Minor Prophets. I would love taking your class, but moving and attend Northern Baptist is out of the question at my age.

    Like

    • Claude Mariottini says:

      Craig,

      It is sad that you were unable to study the Minor Prophets. Maybe seminary students are reluctant to study the Old Testament because they believe its message is “old.” The message of the Old Testament is as relevant today as it was in the days of the early church. I do not teach a class on the Minor Prophets online.

      Claude Mariottini

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  3. Linda Hoover says:

    I, too, believe the marriage of Hosea and Gomer to be real. While I am no scholar, I have come to believe that God’s word most often means exactly what it says … literally.

    Like

    • Claude Mariottini says:

      Linda,

      Thank you for your comment. Some people are afraid to take Hosea at his word, but I believe this is the only way to interpret what he said about his marriage.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  4. Zach Malott says:

    I love this article because it provides new scholarship along with established views. I hold to the literal marriage format for exactly the reasons you state above. The meaning of Hosea is quite clear in that regard.

    Like

    • Claude Mariottini says:

      Zach,

      Thank you for your comment. Hosea is clear in what he says. Maybe on another occasion I will discuss Hosea’s children. Their name also provides additional background on Hosea’s marriage.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  5. Ruud says:

    I have always seen Hosea’s experiences as real. (In the light of Jesus, who was not affraid to interact with prostitutes, this story becomes less strange, isn’t it?)
    How did your students react?

    Like

    • Claude Mariottini says:

      Ruud,

      Amazingly enough, all of them agreed with the literal view. Maybe they were afraid to disagree with me, but they are free to do so.

      Thank you for visiting my blog.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

      • Ruud says:

        Did they ever have heard of the other views. I haven’t…

        Like

      • Claude Mariottini says:

        Ruud,

        Of course, they did. I always present all views on a controversial issue. My students do not have to agree with my views to pass my courses.

        Claude Mariottini

        Like

  6. Hi Claude. Great to see you blogging again. I thought I made a comment here, but it must not have gone through.

    The Minor Prophets was one of my favourite OT classes. I also take the literal view of understanding. However, it also adds to the discussion about what does it mean for God to actually join two people in marriage.

    Is it actually more then two people coming together with a ceremony officiated by the state or clergy.

    Like

    • Claude Mariottini says:

      Craig,

      Thank you for your comment. I enjoy blogging, but my academic work required me to take some time off from blogging.

      I love teaching the prophets because their message inspire pastors today to be prophetic in their preaching. You have a good point about the marriage issue. I have some ideas about how to answer your comment, but I need to think about the implication of what I will say. I may write a post on this issue at a later time.

      Thank you for visiting my blog.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  7. Wellington King says:

    Dear Prof. Mariottini,

    Thank you for the interesting blog post. I have, unfortunately, not had a chance to read any of these scholars on this topic.

    Is “’The name Gomer bath Diblaim yields no symbolic significance’” essentially an argument from silence? That it “yields no symbolic significance” for us today does not necessarily mean it did not yield symbolic significance for all or part of the original audience. I would think that we lack the North Kingdom equivalent of Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss and the Simpsons and Young and the Restless.

    “[S]ay[ing] that the prophetic symbolism behind the marriage makes reconstruction impossible” does not seem to address the moral issues per se. Does Gerhard von Rad say this to address them?

    Where and why does St. Thomas say that Gomer was a concubine?

    Thank you,

    Wellington King

    Like

    • Wellington,

      The reason the name Gomer has no symbolic significance is because the name is not a Hebrew name. Maybe the name is Canaanite in origin. The name would have a symbolic meaning if it was directly related to Hosea’s marriage or message, just like the symbolic names of his three children.

      The many interpretations given to Hosea’s marriage are attempts at dealing with the moral issue. So is the idea that Gomer was Hosea’s concubine. As a concubine, she would not be his main wife, but only a secondary wife.

      Although the moral issue remains, it is better to take the text at its literal meaning, that is, that Hosea married a common prostitute.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  8. progy says:

    Thank for your nice article.It has enlightened me a lot especially on scholarly circles concerning the marriage of Hosea.My opion is Hosea acted it on stage as a dramma to illustrate God’s love.

    Like

    • Progy,

      Thank you for your comment. I apologize for the delay in answering your comment. My blog was out for several days for repairs.

      Some have seen Hosea’s marriage as a drama or a play. However, I do not believe that such interpretation of the prophet’s marriage has any historical foundation. To illustrate the depth’s of Israel’s apostasy, Hosea had to present a credible message that would convey God’s truth to a rebellious people.

      Thank you for visiting my blog.

      Claude Mariottini.

      Like

  9. proud river says:

    both hosea and gomer were cultic prostitutes and hosea changed his ways after the calling. Gomer did not changed as hosea so it was hosea’s aim to convince her to be his wife.thats why he had to ransom her

    Like

    • Proud River,

      Thank you for your comment. I apologize for the delay in answering your comment. My blog was out for several days for repairs.

      Your understanding of Hosea’s marriage to Gomer is contrary to everything the book of Hosea teaches. Hosea was not a cultic prostitute. He was called to preach against the sexual practices occurring in the cultic places of the North.

      Thank you for visiting my blog.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  10. erinshelby says:

    What ideas or evidence supports the Proleptic View that Gomer was not a prostitute until after the marriage? Verse 2 of the NIV version describes her as “a wife of whoredom” while the NIV calls her a “promiscuous woman”. Any thoughts?

    Like

    • Erin,

      The Proleptic View is a way for conservative scholars to deal with the moral implication of what God said to Hosea. In their view, it would be impossible to think that God told the prophet to marry a prostitute. There is no biblical evidence for such a view. Those who accept this view have proposed it in order to avoid the moral problem caused by Hosea’s marriage to a prostitute.

      Thank you for visiting my blog.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

    • Erin,

      The Proleptic View was developed by people who have problems with the moral implication of what God told Hosea to do. To these people, God would never tell Hosea to marry a prostitute. There is no biblical support for the Proleptic View. It is only a theory developed in order to deal with the moral problem posed by Hosea’s marriage.

      Thank you for visiting my blog.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  11. Pingback: The Legacy Of Gomer And Hosea Lives On

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s