The story of Hosea’s marriage to Gomer has been a source of debate among students of the Bible. God called Hosea to take “a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom” as a sign that the land had committed “great whoredom” by forsaking the Lord. In obedience to God, Hosea went and took Gomer to be his wife and she bore him three children: two sons and one daughter. Hosea’s children were given symbolic names to reflect God’s judgment upon the sins of the people of Israel.
After Gomer left Hosea, whether by divorce, by becoming the legal wife of another man, or by becoming a temple prostitute is a matter for another study. In this post, I am assuming that the second woman in chapter 3 is Gomer and that God asked the prophet to return to his wife and redeem her.
After Gomer left Hosea, God came a second time to Hosea and told the prophet to take his wife back: “The Lord said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress’” (Hosea 3:1). In obedience to God’s command, Hosea went and bought her for “fifteen shekels of silver, a homer of barley, and a lethech of barley” (Hosea 3:2).
The purpose of this study is to ascertain how much Hosea paid for his wife. The problem with verse 2 is the repetition of the word “barley” and the use of the word “lethech.” The word “lethech” (לתך) is a hapax legomenon, that is, it is a word which occurs only once in the Old Testament, here in Hosea 3:2.
Because of this unique use of the word “lethech” in Hosea, the versions differ on the translation of verse 2:
“So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver and a homer of barley, and a half-homer of barley” (JPS).
“So I bought her for fifteen pieces of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley” (NAB).
“Then I hired her for fifteen shekels of silver, a homer of barley, and a lethech of barley” (TNK).
The three translations above are variations of the same idea contained in verse 2. The JPS translation assumes that the lethech is a half of a homer. The NAB and the TNK assume that the homer and the lethech are different terms for dry measures but do not assume their value.
The translation of the Septuagint assumes a different reading for the text.The Septuagint reads: “So I hired her to myself for fifteen pieces of silver, and a homer of barley, and a flagon of wine.”Instead of “a lethech of barley,” the Septuagint has “a flagon of wine.”
Several English versions have chosen to follow the Septuagint:
“So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver, a homer of barley and a skin of wine” (NJB).
“So I bought her back for fifteen pieces of silver and about five bushels of barley and a measure of wine” (NLT).
“So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer of barley and a measure of wine” (NRS).
The problem with the translation proposed by the Septuagint is that it has no manuscript evidence for the inclusion of “a flagon of wine” to the text. The Greek translation may reflect the inability of Jewish scholars in Alexandria to recognize the meaning of the word “lethech” in the second century B.C.
In his Friday Culture Word Study, Duane Smith at Abnormal Interest said that in the West Semitic usage, all uses of the word “lethech” “seem to apply to grain.”In his translation of the verse, Duane proposes another meaning for “lethech.”He translated the verse as follows:
“So I bought her for myself with fifteen shekels of silver and a homer of barley (that is) and a measure of barley.”
Duane proposes that “a lethech of barley” is a gloss on “a homer of barley,” that is, that “either at the time of composition or later someone felt the need to explain that a ‘homer’ of barley was a ‘measure’ of barley.”
In his article on “Weights and Measures,” published in The Anchor Dictionary of the Bible, Marvin A. Powell discusses (p. 6:904) the decimal structure of the homer.He also said that according to the Mishnah, the lethech was half a homer.
The price Hosea paid for his wife was significant.The reason for the payment was because she probably had become the legal property of another man or because she was being redeemed from service as a cult prostitute.
As for the price Hosea paid for his wife, the amount seems to correspond to the price paid for a slave according to the law of the goring ox: “If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver” (Exodus 21:32).According to Leviticus 27:4, thirty shekels of silver was also the value of a woman when calculating the fulfillment of a vow.
Since Hosea paid half of the price in silver and half in grain, it is possible that he did not have enough silver to pay the price asked for his wife, thus he paid half of the price in silver and half of the price in kind.According to Powell, the price paid by Hosea “suggests that the underlying homer had 10 parts and the letech (sic) 5, i.e., 15 ephah, and that 1 ephah = 1 shekel.”Thus, 1 homer was equal to 10 shekels.Since Hosea only had 15 shekels of silver, he also gave a homer and a lethech of barley, which was the equivalent to the 15 shekels of silver which he lacked.
NOTE: For other studies on the book of the prophet Hosea, read my post Studies on the Book of Hosea.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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