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Jeroboam, Hosea and Jesus: Israelite Theology?

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  • Bob Schacht
    What on earth did Jeroboam have in mind by making the Golden Calves ? The Deuteronomist historian paints an image of him that might be compared with Darth
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 24, 1998
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      What on earth did Jeroboam have in mind by making the Golden "Calves"? The
      Deuteronomist historian paints an image of him that might be compared with
      Darth Vader: evil incarnate. But a critical review of his actions (Anchor
      Bible Dictionary) suggests a very different picture: his reforms were
      intended as a return to old traditions and practices, a departure from the
      "alien" Jerusalemite religion that had been imposed on them by the Davidic
      state. Jeroboam had a problem: how to establish religious legitimacy apart
      from Jerusalem and its temple. Did Solomon have a Temple? Very well, let us
      restore the temples at Bethel and Dan. After all, Dan's priesthood claimed
      descent from Moses (Judges 18:30). Did Solomon's Temple have an Ark with
      Cherubim? Very well, let us have our own iconography, using Aaronite "calf"
      images: "They were probably nothing more than pedestals on which YHWH was
      supposed to have stood, but the polemics of Yahwistic prophets made these
      out to be idols made for worship." If Levites can't be trusted as priests
      because of their allegiance to Jerusalem, we'll find other priests. And
      Jeroboam's observance of the Fall Festival, the Feast of the Ingathering,
      on the 15th day of the *eighth* month instead of the Davidic 15th day of
      the *seventh* month is a reversion to pre-Davidic northern calendar. Only
      to the Deuteronomist did this constitute paganism. Jeroboam probably
      thought of himself as a Yahwist reformer!

      Hosea, northern prophet to the northern kingdom, disagreed. He had the
      Deuteronomist's view of Jeroboam's reforms. However, a careful review of
      his theology (Anchor Bible Dictionary) reveals some interesting Northern
      twists that uncannily foreshadow significant elements in the thinking of
      John the Baptist and Jesus. (I am getting my data from the ABD, but the
      interpretation is my own, except where indicated otherwise.) Hosea's
      theology "stands firmly in the ancient Mosaic tradition of the
      *conditional* covenant, a tradition having its greatest influence in the N
      kingdom. Fundamental to this theological tradition is the understanding
      that the validity of the covenant was conditional on the faithfulness of
      the covenant partners." Compare this with John the Baptist in Matthew 3:9-10,

      9 Do not presume to say to yourselves,
      'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I
      tell you, God is able from these stones
      to raise up children to Abraham.
      10 Even now the ax is lying at the root
      of the trees; every tree therefore that
      does not bear good fruit is cut down and
      thrown into the fire.

      In Hosea's Yahwistic view, Israel (i.e., the northern kingdom) had fallen
      into apostasy as a result of Jeroboam's reforms. But "In accordance with
      Deuteronomist covenant theology, the repentance of the offender would bring
      forgiveness and life." One must "repent and sow righteousness in order to
      reap the fruits of _hesed_" (10:12) [_hesed_ = "loyalty"]. Again compare
      John the Baptist in Matthew 3:7-8,

      7 But when he saw many Pharisees
      and Sadducees coming for baptism, he
      said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who
      warned you to flee from the wrath to
      8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

      Knowledge (yd') and loyalty (_hesed_) are two key theological concepts in
      Hosea. Loyalty relates back to the conditional covenant theology. And
      "knowledge" is not an abstract intellectual thing; to Hosea it was the kind
      of intimate knowledge (the verb yd') symbolized by marriage, and the Hosea
      scroll is replete with allusions to this knowledge through his use of his
      marriage to Gomer as a metaphor. Jesus exemplified intimate knowledge, too,
      by his frequent reference to God as Abba (Daddy). This is an idea that
      deserves further exploration.

      Furthermore, "It is for good reason that Hosea is often called the prophet
      of love.... Love, indeed, is the central theme that unifies the book." So,
      too, love is central to the teaching of Jesus: The two greatest
      commandments, upon which all the law and the prophets are supposed to hang,
      are about love. The first is love of God-- which echoes one's duty under
      the covenant relationship. The second is love of neighbor. In John 13,

      34 I give you a new commandment,
      that you love one another. Just as I have
      loved you, you also should love one
      35 By this everyone will know that you
      are my disciples, if you have love for one

      Finally, an important subtext in Hosea is that of healing:

      NRS Hosea 6:1 "Come, let us return to
      the LORD; for it is he who has torn, and
      he will heal us; he has struck down, and
      he will bind us up.
      2 After two days he will revive us; on the
      third day he will raise us up, that we
      may live before him....

      11 For you also, O Judah, a harvest is
      appointed. When I would restore the
      fortunes of my people,
      NRS Hosea 7:1 when I would heal Israel,

      Now, Jesus does not often explicitly cite Hosea, except possibly for the
      above-quoted 6:1-2. However, perhaps the reason he does not directly quote
      Hosea is that these concepts (Loyalty, Knowledge, Repentance, Love, and
      God's power to heal) are commonplace in Israelite theology more than in
      Judean theology.

      "Is it not extraordinary to the point of being a miracle, that so loose
      and ill-constructed a narrative in an antique translation of a dubious
      text should after so many centuries still have power to quell and
      dominate a restless, opinionated, overexercised and undernourished,
      twentieth-century mind?"
      Malcolm Muggeridge _Jesus Rediscovered_ (1969),
      writing about the KJV New Testament
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