A Critique of Hosea 4:1-14 in the NET Bible

Here I reproduce a sample passage from the NET Bible, with some critical comments. The passage (Hosea 4:1-14) was selected at random. For comparison, I put next to it the same verses from a more literal version, the English Standard Version. The Hebrew text (for which I give only the consonants) conforms to the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, unemended. —M.D.M.

שמעו דבר־יהוה בני ישראל כי ריב ליהוה עם־יושבי הארץ
כי אין־אמת ואין־חסד ואין־דעת אלהים בארץ

NET Bible

English Standard Version

1 Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites! 1

For the LORD has a covenant lawsuit 2 against the people of Israel. 3

For there is neither faithfulness nor loyalty in the land,

nor do they acknowledge God. 4

1 Hear the word of the LORD, O children of Israel,

for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.

There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,

and no knowledge of God in the land;

Here the word רִיב is translated "covenant lawsuit" in the NET Bible, but the word in itself does not mean "covenant lawsuit," it means "accusation, lawsuit, controversy." The following verses clearly indicate that the accusation concerns Israel's violations of her covenant with God, so there is no need to insert the word "covenant" in the text next to "lawsuit." In Micah 6:2 this word רִיב occurs in the same kind of context, where the Lord is again bringing suit against Israel, but there the NET Bible translators have been content to render it "accusation." The lengthy footnote here (which is repeated at 12:2) is gratuitous. It does not contain information needed for an understanding of the word in this context. The word "accusation" is quite sufficient.

There is no need for the paraphrastic rendering "people of Israel" at the end of the second line. The footnote indicates what is actually written in the Hebrew text—"inhabitants of the land"—but it does not explain why a literal rendering of this phrase does not appear in the text, as it does in Joel 1:2. The referent is the same: the "the sons of Israel" are "the inhabitants of the Land" (who could fail to see this?), but the expressions are not equivalent. Hosea uses the phrase "inhabitants of the land" because his accusation has to do with how the sons of Israel have corrupted themselves in the land that God gave to their fathers, by adopting the religious customs of the original inhabitants of the land (i.e. the Canaanites), and consequently God will bring foreign enemies (the Assyrians) into their land to punish them (cf. 9:3, "They shall not dwell in the LORD's land"). And so "the people of Israel" is not a good rendering for יושבי הארץ "the inhabitants of the land" here.

"Faithfulness" is a good rendering for the Hebrew word אמת ('emet) in this context, but "truth" (KJV) or "honesty" (JPS) are perhaps better, because this is the word used to describe true and honest testimony (cf. Prov. 14:25 and Jer. 42:5), and the accusation of "swearing and lying" (i.e. false swearing) in the immediately following verse seems to be a continuation of the charge that there is no truth in the land. A later prophet elaborates on this same indictment in Jeremiah 9:3-9.

The ESV's "steadfast love" is probably better than "loyalty" for חסד (chesed), although it is difficult to convey the sense of this word in an English translation. It refers to the reliable love and devotion that rises to the occasion whenever a covenant relationship must be maintained or strengthened. We should have been given a footnote here about the word חסד.

The translator has rearranged the clauses in the last two lines, so that "in the land" follows "loyalty." The Hebrew says, "there is no 'emet or chesed, or da'at of God in the land." Apparently the translator agreed with the NIV translators that "acknowledgement" is the sense of the word דעת (da'at) here, but he was not willing to write such an akward phrase as "acknowledgement of God in the land" (the NIV rendering), so he supplied a subject and used the verb "acknowledge" instead of the noun "acknowledgement," and found a place for the phrase "in the land" by attaching it to the previous words. But this is all very questionable. It ruins the poetic parallelism of the lines, and it is doubtful that the word דעת means "acknowledgement" here instead of carrying its usual sense of "knowledge." The standard lexicons (both BDB and Koehler-Baumgartner) do not even give a sense "acknowledgement" for this word. Hosea goes on in this chapter to speak of the general ignorance about God among the people. It is not the failure to "acknowledge" God in some general way which has led to the apostasy of the people; it is the lack of knowledge, the failure to know what they ought to know about their God and his commandments. See verse 6 below (in the ESV), and compare Isa. 5:13, "Therefore my people are gone into captivity, for lack of knowledge," Mal. 2:7, "the priest's lips should preserve knowledge, and [the people] should seek the law at his mouth," Jer. 4:22 "For my people are foolish, they know me not; they are sottish children, and they have no understanding; they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge."

אלה וכחש ורצח וגנב ונאף פרצו ודמים בדמים נגעו

2 There is only cursing, lying, murder, stealing, and adultery.

They resort to violence and bloodshed. 5

2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;

they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.

In verse 2, the words "there is only" have been supplied by the translator in order to make a separate sentence with the series of infinitives represented by "cursing, lying, murder, stealing, and adultery." But this series of infinitives (used absolutely, for emphasis) should probably be understood as the subject of the finite verb פרצו "they break through" (cf. the NRSV, "Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out"). If the subject of the verb is understood to be the people of Israel, the preceding infinitives should be rendered as a conditional clause: "in swearing and lying," etc., they break forth.

The word אלה should probably be understood in the sense "taking an oath" here instead of "cursing," because it seems that in this verse Hosea is enumerating violations of the Ten Commandments, and the "swearing" would relate to the prohibition against empty oaths in the second commandment. In combination with "lying" (a violation of the ninth commandment) it would refer to false swearing (cf. the JPS translation). The word אלה is used for both "swearing an oath" and "cursing" because taking an oath involved a statement of curses to be suffered by the one breaking the oath (e.g. "if I break this promise, may the LORD punish me"). Hosea refers to such an oath, in which the name of the LORD is lightly invoked, in verse 15 of this chapter; and in 10:4 the word אלה clearly refers to false swearing. See also the usage in Jeremiah 7:9, where the same five sins are mentioned together.

The hackneyed phrase "they resort to violence" is a poor translation of פרצו. Those who "resort to violence" are using violence as a last measure, but that is far from Hosea's meaning here; he means to say that the outbreak of sinful behavior (not only violence, but everything mentioned here) has become habitual and ordinary.

In the final clause of the verse, the rendering "and bloodshed" gives us only half as much as the Hebrew says— "bloodshed follows bloodshed." A footnote here informs the reader of this, but why should we not have "bloodshed follows bloodshed" in the text?

על־כן תאבל הארץ ואמלל כל־יושב בה
בחית השדה ובעוף השמים וגם־דגי הים יאספו

3 Therefore the land will mourn,

and all its inhabitants will perish. 6

The wild animals, 7 the birds of the sky,

and even the fish in the sea will perish.

3 Therefore the land mourns,

and all who dwell in it languish,

and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens,

and even the fish of the sea are taken away.

In verse 3, "the wild animals" gives the general sense of בחית השדה, but it ruins the poet effect intended by the syntactical repetition, "the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky, the fish of the sea," all of which are parallel to the human "inhabitants of the land," sharing their fate (cf. the same idea in Jer. 12:4). The translator has rendered both אמלל and יאספו as "perish," which gives the general idea but fails to express the precise meaning of either. The word אמלל means "grow weak, whither, languish." The footnote here should say "Heb. languish," not "or languish." Probably the more accurate rendering is given in the footnote here because the translator did not want to use such literary words as "languish" in the text. The word יאספו means "they are gathered and removed" (ESV "taken away") by death or by harvesting.

אך איש אל־ירב ואל־יוכח איש ועמך כמריבי כהן

4 Do not let anyone accuse or contend against anyone else: 8

for my case is against you priests! 9

4 Yet let no one contend,

and let none accuse,

for with you is my contention, O priest.*

*Or for your people are like those who contend with the priest.

In verse 4 the words אך איש אל־ירב ואל־יוכח איש are badly translated. The adverb אך "only, yet" is not represented at all in the translation, but it is important to the logic of the verse. Here it is contrastive in sense ("yet"), indicating that this sentence is in contrast to what precedes. The Berkeley version expresses it well: "Even at that, let no one enter complaint." Despite all the "lying, murder, stealing," etc., the Lord wants all the aggrieved parties to be silent now. "Do not let anyone accuse or contend against anyone else" is a misleading translation of the subsequent words because it gives the impression that the Lord is telling some responsible party not to allow others to raise accusations in some venue. A strictly literal translation of this sentence is, "a man shall not contend against nor rebuke a man," and the verbs should be understood as jussives (imperatives, in the third person): "Let not a man contend against nor rebuke a man," i.e., "I forbid any man to bring a charge," etc. It is not an instruction to some responsible person, it is a statement directed against all hearers who might be inclined to accuse one another in the courts of the land. The reason is, God is accusing them all, including the judges, of disobedience to his Law, and this charge preempts all quarrels that they have with one another. Here again a footnote gives the obviously corrrect interpretation, as if it were just another option. We see the same mishandling of the jussive in verse 15, "do not let Judah become guilty." It seems impossible that the translator would have failed to recognize the jussive tense here. Probably he was trying to express its force without using the English "Let not ...", because this was seen as archaic English, which he is trying to avoid. But there is no other way to express the jussive in English.

"For my case is against you priests" is based upon a conjectural emendation of the Hebrew, as the very helpful "tc" footnote explains. This is one of the more plausible emendations that have been adopted by translators in the past century, and it may well be correct. We notice that the ESV also adopts it. However, a certain amount of caution is in order. The NET Bible translator leans heavily on this emendation for his interpretation of nearly everything in verses 4 to 7. Without the emendation, the line reads "for your people are like those who contend with the priest," and verses 4 to 7 are most naturally understood as being addressed to the whole nation. Under this interpretation "I reject you from being a priest to me" in verse 6 might be understood as a repudiation of the "kingdom of priests" (cf. Exod. 19:6, 1 Pet 2:9, Rev. 1:6, 5:10, 20:6, and the commentary of C.F. Keil on this passage).

The NET Bible represents the singular vocative "O priest" as if it were plural, "you priests." The "tn" note explains that the singular here is translated "priests" because it is taken to be a "collective singular." Doubtless it is. No one is likely to think that a particular priest is being addressed in this passage. Unfortunately, the "tn" note implies that the translators of the KJV, NASB, and NRSV, in which the Hebrew singular form is translated with a singular form in English, understood the singular as referring to one particular priest ("perhaps the high priest"). The translators of the KJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NRSV, ESV, etc., did not imagine any such thing; rather, they simply translated the word literally, and they took it for granted that the reader is able to see that the singular form has a collective sense here. Does the annotator also think that these other translators supposed that some particular prophet is being referred to in verse 5, because they have translated the singular "prophet" literally? Or does he imagine that the translators who give a literal translation of Psalm 14:1 ("the fool has said in his heart ...") think that David is referring to some particular fool? Obviously this is not the case. But a candid explanation for the NET Bible's elimination of all such singulars (i.e. "we eliminated all the collective singulars because we thought you couldn't understand them") would only insult the intelligence of the reader, and so we are given this misleading and rather silly note.

וכשלת היום וכשל גם־נביא עמך לילה ודמיתי אמך

5 You stumble day and night,

and the false prophets stumble with you;

You have destroyed your own people! 10

5 You shall stumble by day;

the prophet also shall stumble with you by night;

and I will destroy your mother.

In verse 5 the translator has ruined the poetic parallelism by turning "You shall stumble by day, / and the prophet will also stumble with you by night" into "You stumble day and night, / and the false prophets stumble with you." It is hard to see what the translator thinks is gained by this shuffling of the clauses. There is no explanatory note for it. But when the text is presented in poetic lines, as it is here, we expect the translation to reflect the lines in the Hebrew, and also to exhibit the reasons for those lines—the parallelistic structure of the Hebrew verses.

The last line of verse 5 ("You have destroyed your own people!") is based upon another conjectural emendation of the Hebrew, but unlike the one at the end of the preceding verse, this one has little to commend it. The "tc" note asserts that a "2nd person masculine singular form וְדָמִית (vedamit, “and you have destroyed”) is ... reflected in Jerome’s Vulgate," but this seems to be a factual error. The Vulgate here has a verb in the first person: tacere feci matrem tuam, "I have made thy mother to be silent," and this cannot be seen as a reflection of the reading adopted by the NET Bible. An error of transcription in which עמך "your people" is changed to אמך "your mother" is inherently improbable, especially in this context, and so the conjectural emendation עמך does not have much going for it. Besides, there does not seem to be any pressing need for an emendation here. "Your mother" is a poetic way of referring to the nation of Israel, as in 2:2, 5, and Hosea goes on to speak of the punishment that will overtake the whole nation. So for several reasons we cannot agree with the annotator's statement that the text "should probably" be emended according to his conjecture.

Regarding emendations to the text of Hosea in general, a note at 1:1 states that problems in its text are "virtually unparalled in the OT," so that "in numerous cases, the MT [Masoretic text] readings are so difficult morphologically, syntactically, and contextually that conservative conjectural emendations are necessary to make sense of the text," and "with this in mind, the present translation of Hosea must necessarily be viewed as only preliminary." However, we do insist that conjectural emendations should be conservative (i.e. cautious), and limited in their effect. The interpretation of surrounding verses which are in themselves quite intelligible should not be controlled by an emendation of some difficult spot in the passage. Emendations should be adopted only when necessary to make sense of the text. The present translation does not confine itself to these limits. The translator does not use emendations very cautiously, and he bases his interpretation of surrounding verses upon them.

נדמו עמי מבלי הדעת
כי־אתה הדעת מאסת ואמאסאך מכהן לי
ותשכח תורת אלהיך אשכח בניך גם־אני

6 You have destroyed 11 my people

by failing to acknowledge me!

Because you refuse to acknowledge me, 12

I will reject you as my priests.

Because you reject 13 the law of your God,

I will reject 14 your descendants.

6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;

because you have rejected knowledge,

I reject you from being a priest to me.

And since you have forgotten the law of your God,

I also will forget your children.

In verse 6 "You have destroyed my people by failing to acknowledge me!" is unacceptable. The translator has run off on an interpretive tangent, prompted, it seems, by the conjectural emendation adopted in the preceding line ("You have destroyed your own people"), and according to the erroneous interpretation of דעת in verse 1. The Hebrew plainly says, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." There is no good reason to add to this all the interpretive baggage that we see here. The translator's note here is even more misleading, because it asserts that the verb in this Hebrew sentence — נדמו, which is a Niphal form — can have the meaning "they have destroyed." This is incorrect. The Niphal is passive or reflexive in sense, not active. In order to get "they have destroyed" the translator must either adopt a conjectural emendation or stand very loosely to the Hebrew. And the note fails to mention that the Hebrew reads "for lack of knowledge."

Verse 6 continues with "Because you refuse to acknowledge me," whereas the Hebrew reads, "Because you reject (or despise) the knowledge (הדעת)." In the last two lines of the verse, the translator persists in using the word "reject," though the Hebrew here reads "forget," as indicated in the footnote. The Hebrew verb (שכח) is accurately translated "forget" in 2:13, 8:14, and 13:6, so why not here? This seems to be the translator's way of emphasizing the word "reject" in the preceding line, by carrying it into the following line, repeating it twice. He wants to dwell on the accusation and punishment of rejection. But the prophet himself does not put such emphasis on "reject"—he moves on from that to talk about the complacent ignorance of those who have forgotten his Law. This "ignorance" theme of the passage is also muted by the absence of the word "knowledge" in the translation. The fact that the prophet here refers to the torah of God (a body of knowledge) and a forgetting of it should have led the translator to reconsider his translation of דעת. The prophet demands more than a mere "acknowledgement" of God. Israel did acknowledge God's existence. The problem is, they did not know him or his Law.

The word rendered "your descendants" at the end of verse 6 is בניך, literally "your sons," and this does not necessarily refer to the descendants of the priests. If the prophet is addressing the nation, it should be understood as referring to the sons of Israel — "the children of the national community, regarded as a mother" (Keil, p. 53). Here it seems that "your sons" is used as a rhetorical parallel to "your mother" in verse 5.

כרבם כן חטאו־לי כבודם בקלון אמיר

7 The more the priests increased in numbers,

the more they rebelled against me.

They have turned 15 their glorious calling into a shameful disgrace!

7 The more they increased,

the more they sinned against me;

I will change their glory into shame.

In verse 7 the prophet writes, כרבם כן חטאו לי "as they were multiplied [or became great], so they sinned against me." The translator inserts "the priests" as the subject of this sentence (as does the NIV), without informing the reader of it in a note. This interpretation may be correct, but perhaps not. It could be understood as referring to the people of Israel.

In the third line of verse 7 there is another departure from the traditional Hebrew text, as indicated in the "tc" note. Unlike the others, this one is not wholly conjectural, because it has some documentary support; but the note does not explain why it has been adopted.

חטאת עמי יאכלו ואל־עונם ישאו נפשו

8 They feed on the sin offerings of my people;

their appetites long for their iniquity!

8 They feed on the sin* of my people;

they are greedy for their iniquity.

*Or sin offering

The translator has failed to note Hosea's deliberately ambiguous use of the Hebrew word חטאת, which may mean "sin" or "sin offering," not only here but also in 8:13, 9:9, and 10:8. In 13:12 the word is translated "punishment" without a note.

והיה כעם ככהן ופקדתי עליו דרכיו ומעלליו אשיב לו

9 I will deal with the people and priests together: 16

I will punish them both for their ways,

and I will repay them for their deeds.

9 And it shall be like people, like priest;

I will punish them for their ways

and repay them for their deeds.

The Hebrew והיה כעם ככהן, lit. "And it shall be, like people, like priest," is wrongly translated here. In this construction, where the preposition כ "like" is repeated in consecutive words, the first word is ordinarily the subject, and the second is the thing to which it is being compared. And so we should translate the sentence, "The people will be as the priest" (cf. the Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon under כ, sense 1, and Brown-Driver-Briggs p. 454). The NET Bible gives a very paraphrastic rendering which fails to indicate that "the people" is the subject, and matters are made worse by the "tn" note, which quotes the NAB's erroneous rendering, "The priests shall fare no better than the people." It should have quoted the more correct JPS rendering, "the people shall fare like the priests; I will punish it [i.e. the nation] for its conduct." The ESV and other literal versions that use the traditional rendering "like people, like priest" are no better, because English readers will interpret this as if the priest is the subject, by analogy with the English proverb "like father like son," in which the son if the subject ("the son will be like the father").

ואכלו ולא ישבעו הזנו ולא יפרצו כי־את־יהוה עזבו לשמר
זנות ויין ותירוש יקח־לב

10 They will eat, but not be satisfied;

they will engage in prostitution, but not increase in numbers;

because they have abandoned the LORD

by pursuing other gods. 17

11 Old and new wine

take away the understanding of my people. 18

10 They shall eat, but not be satisfied;

they shall play the whore, but not multiply,

because they have forsaken the LORD

to cherish 11 whoredom, wine, and new wine,

which take away the understanding.

"Engage in prostitution" is too specific for the Hebrew verb זנה, which refers to an immoral woman's sexual misbehavior in general. It does not specifically refer to prostitution. The traditional rendering "play the whore" expresses the sense of it best, and it is also preferable on stylistic grounds. "Engage in prostitution" is not only inaccurate, it is unpoetic, even bureaucratic in tone. It is the sort of language one associates with a police report. When the prophets of Israel used זנה in reference to the people, as Hosea does here, they are using it metaphorically: God's people "play the whore" when they worship other gods. This should be obvious to readers of Hosea, who in the first three chapters of his book makes use of this metaphor in an especiallly striking way. Strangely, the translator has suppressed an instance of the metaphor entirely with his rendering "by pursuing other gods" in the fourth line of verse 10. As the "tn" note explains, the NET Bible translator has departed from the traditional verse-division by construing the first word in verse 11 (זנות, "fornication") as the object of the infinitive verb in verse 10, לשמר. But this verb certainly doesn't mean "by guarding" here, as the note asserts. The verb שמר ordinarily means "attend to." (The "cherish" of the RSV and ESV is an attempt to convey the emotional nuance of the word.) This is the word frequently used in the biblical expressions, "keep the commandments," "observe the festival," etc. In the same manner לשמר זנות means "to attend to fornication," as if it were a law or important custom, not "guard" it. A staightforward literal translation of the clause is, "they have forsaken the LORD to attend to fornication." The NRSV has "they have forsaken the LORD to devote themselves to whoredom." In the context this is to be understood in the same religious sense as "play the whore" in the second line of the verse, and a literal translation which preserves the metaphor is not hard to understand. Also, the "tn" note should have mentioned the major alternative rendering, in which verse 10 ends with the infinitive: "they have stopped giving heed to the LORD. Harlotry, wine, and new wine take away the understanding" (NASB, cf. also the KJV, NKJV, and ASV).

עמי בעצו ישאל ומקלו יגיד לו
כי רוח זנונים התעה ויזנו מתחת אלהיהם

12 They consult their wooden idols,

and their diviner’s staff answers with an oracle.

The wind of prostitution blows them astray;

they commit spiritual adultery 19 against their God.

12 My people inquire of a piece of wood,

and their walking staff gives them oracles.

For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray,

and they have left their God to play the whore.

In verse 12, "the wind of prostitution blows them astray" is a very inadequate rendering of the third line, כי רוח זנונים התעה. Hosea says that a "spirit of whoredom (i.e. an evil spirit of idolatry) has caused them to wander." The word התעה is a Hiphil form of the verb תעה, which in its physical sense means "he wandered about." The Hiphil makes it a causative, "made him wander about." The image here is not of someone being "blown" somewhere, as by a wind, but of someone who has lost his way under the influence of a misleading "spirit." Readers might have been helped by a study note explaining that when Hosea refers to a "staff" in the second line he is referring to the ancient practice of divination (called rhabdomancy) in which people would throw sticks on the ground and assign some oracular significance to the positions in which they fall. A superstitious traveller might use his staff for this purpose (hence the ESV rendering), in order to decide what way he should go. That רוח, ruach, does not mean "wind" but a supernatural "spirit" here is also made evident by the parallelism in the line, כי רוח זנונים התעה ויזנו מתחת אלהיהם, in which the clauses are chiastically arranged so that the ruach is antithetically parallel to "their God" ('elohim).

על־ראשי ההרים יזבחו ועל־הגבעות יקטרו
תחת אלון ולבנה ואלה כי טוב צלה
על־כן תזנינה בנותיכם וכלותיכם תנאפנה

13 They sacrifice on the mountaintops,

and burn offerings on the hills;

they sacrifice 20 under oak, poplar, and terebinth,

because their shade is so pleasant.

As a result, your daughters have become cult prostitutes,

and your daughters-in-law commit adultery!

13 They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains

and burn offerings on the hills,

under oak, poplar, and terebinth,

because their shade is good.

Therefore your daughters play the whore,

and your brides commit adultery.

In verse 13 the translator of the NET Bible gives "have become cult prostitutes" as a rendering for the word תזנינה, a form of the verb זנה, which means simply "play the whore," as we noted above. This translation is even more specific than the "engage in prostitution" given in verse 10, and so it is even more unwarranted linguistically. Moreover, it assumes that cultic prostitution was practiced in Israel. A "study note" at 2:5 asserts that "I will seek out my lovers" in that verse is a statement that "alludes to the practice of sexual rites in the Canaanite fertility cult which attempted to secure agricultural fertility from the Canaanite gods." This idea seems to be the basis for various paraphrastic and interpretive renderings in the translation of Hosea. But there is no solid evidence for the idea that "fertility rites" involving "cultic prostitution" were pacticed anywhere in the ancient Near East. See Eugene J. Fisher, "Cultic Prostitution in the Ancient Near East? A Reassessment," Biblical Theology Bulletin 6 (1976), pp. 225-36, and Karel Van Der Toorn, "Prostitution (Cultic)," in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), pp. 510-513. Van Der Toorn writes, "Prostitutes operating as it were in the shadow of the temple ... existed in ancient Israel. However, any links between the latter and a hypothetical fertility cult, it need hardly be said, belong to the domain of speculation" (p. 511). We might also raise a question about the tense of the verbs here. תזנינה and תנאפנה are imperfects, and in Hebrew the imperfect is often used to talk about an action in the future: "therefore your daughters will play the whore, and your brides (or daughters-in-law) will commit adultery." The NET Bible's "have become" is not an appropriate rendering of the imperfect. The Hebrew word כלות probably should have been translated "brides" here, not "daughters-in-law," although it can mean either.

לא־אפקוד על־בנותיכם כי תזנינה ועל־כלותיכם כי תנאפנה
כי־הם עם־הזנות יפרדו ועם־הקדשות יזבחו
ועם לא־יבין ילבט

14 I will not punish your daughters when they commit prostitution,

nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery.

For the men consort with harlots,

they sacrifice with temple prostitutes.

It is true: 21 “A people that lacks understanding will come to ruin!”

14 I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore,

nor your brides when they commit adultery;

for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes

and sacrifice with cult prostitutes,

and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.

In the clause "the men consort with harlots" the NET Bible follows the interpretation usually found in Bible versions and commentaries, but the reader should be told that the word "men" has been supplied by the translator. There is no word for "men" in the Hebrew text here, and so an interpretation that puts emphasis on that word in the English is probably wrong. The subject of the sentence is a pronoun: הם, "they." Probably with this pronoun Hosea is referring to the people of Israel in general, the "people without understanding" condemned in the last line. "Consort" is not a good translation of יפרדו. The word means "they go apart." The preposition עם can mean "together with" or "like." So the meaning of this sentence may be, "They all go apart (from me) like harlots, and they sacrifice (to other gods) like prostitutes," continuing the metaphor of the people who have broken their covenant with the LORD by "playing the whore" with other gods. And for a punishment that fits the crime, God will allow their own brides to be unfaithful, and their daughters will play the whore with impunity. With this degradation of their women "a people without understanding shall come to ruin."

Concluding Observations

I conclude with some general observations about this passage in the NET Bible.

1. The translator often gives a questionable interpretation of the text, or an unnecessarily paraphrastic rendering, instead of a literal rendering. The desire to produce something new is evident.

2. Some of the emendations of the Hebrew text are unnecessary, and the translator puts too much weight on these emendations in his translation of the surrounding verses. He seems to be hazarding interpretive ramifications from the emendations.

3. There are some factual errors in the notes, and the notes sometimes fail to give a reason for the renderings and emendations, or even to mention renderings which have a better claim to accuracy or suitability in the context.

As I stated above, this passage was chosen at random. I simply opened the book to it and began there. It was my intention to examine a complete chapter, but I encountered so many problems that I decided to end this critique at verse 14. I do not claim that this passage fairly represents the entire version, and I have some reason to think that the problems noted here are especially bad in the translation of Hosea. But the editors cannot escape responsibility for problems caused by an incautious handling of the text by saying in a note that the translation "must necessarily be viewed as only preliminary." The problems noted here do not arise from the nature of a tentative effort; they seem to arise from a lack of carefulness and good judgment, combined with a desire to be innovative.

Michael Marlowe
August 2006

NET Bible Notes for Hosea 4:1-14

1 tn Heb “sons of Israel” (so NASB); KJV “children of Israel”; NAB, NRSV “people of Israel.”

2 tn The noun רִיב (riv, “dispute, lawsuit”) is used in two contexts: (1) nonlegal contexts: (a) “dispute” between individuals (e.g., Gen 13:7; Isa 58:1; Jer 15:10) or (b) “brawl; quarrel” between people (e.g., Exod 17:7; Deut 25:1); and (2) legal contexts: (a) “lawsuit; legal process” (e.g., Exod 23:3-6; Deut 19:17; 21:5; Ezek 44:24; Ps 35:23), (b) “lawsuit; legal case” (e.g., Deut 1:12; 17:8; Prov 18:17; 25:9), and (c) God’s “lawsuit” on behalf of a person or against his own people (Hos 4:1; 12:3; Mic 6:2; HALOT 1225-26 s.v. רִיב). The term in Hosea refers to a covenant lawsuit in which Yahweh the suzerain lodges a legal case against his disobedient vassal, accusing Israel and Judah of breach of covenant which will elicit the covenant curses.

3 tn Heb “with the inhabitants of the land” (so KJV); NAB, NASB, NRSV “against the inhabitants of the land.”

4 tn Heb “there is no truthfulness nor loyalty nor knowledge of God in the land.” Here “knowledge of God” refers to recognition of his authority and obedience to his will.

5 tn Heb “they break out and bloodshed touches bloodshed.” The Hebrew term פָּרַץ (parats, “to break out”) refers to violent and wicked actions (BDB 829 s.v. פָּרַץ sense 7; HALOT 972 s.v. פרץ sense 6.c). It is used elsewhere in a concrete sense to describe breaking through physical barriers. Here it is used figuratively to describe breaking moral barriers and restraints (cf. TEV “Crimes increase, and there is one murder after another”).

6 tn Or “languish” (so KJV, NRSV); NIV “waste away.”

7 tn Heb “the beasts of the field” (so NAB, NIV).

8 tn Or “Let no one contend or accuse.”

9 tc The MT reads וְעַמְּךָ כִּמְרִיבֵי כֹהֵן (ve’ammekha kimrive khohen): “And your people [are] like those who contend against the priest.” This is reflected in the LXX and the versions; however, it is syntactically awkward and makes little sense in context. Several textual critics suggest emending the text to read וְעִמְּךָ רִיבִי כֹהֵן (ve’immekha rivi khohen): “My contention is with/against you, O priest!” This involves (1) the revocalization of עַמְּךָ (“your people”) to עִמְּךָ (“with/against you”) and (2) positing dittography (a letter written twice instead of once) of כְּ (kaf) between original וְעַמְּךָ רִיבִי to create וְעַמְּךָ כִּרִיבִי (MT). The BHS editors suggest that the MT is corrupt and should be emended. However, the editors of the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project retain the MT reading with a “B” rating. Likewise, the English translations are split: (1) KJV “for thy people are as they that strive with the priest”; NASB “for your people are like those who contend with the priest”; NIV “for your people are like those who bring charges against a priest”; (2) RSV “for with you is my contention, O priest”; NJPS “for this your people has a grievance against [you], O priest!”; TEV “my complaint is against you priests”; CEV “My case is against you, the priests!”

tn The singular noun כֹּהֵן (cohen, “priest”) may be understood as a singular of number (so KJV, NASB, NRSV), referring to a singular individual (perhaps the high priest); however, it is more likely that it functions as a collective singular, referring to the priesthood as a whole (e.g., 4:7-10, so NAB, NCV, TEV, NLT, CEV). Collective singular forms alternate with plural forms throughout the oracle against the priests in 4:4-10.

10 tc The MT reads וְדָמִיתִי אִמֶּךָ (vedamiti ’immekha, “and I will destroy your mother”), and is followed by most English versions; however, the text should probably be emended to וְדָמִית עַמֶּךָ (vedamit ’ammekha, “and you have destroyed your own people”). The 2nd person masculine singular form וְדָמִית (vedamit, “and you have destroyed”) is preserved in several medieval Hebrew mss and reflected in Jerome’s Vulgate. For discussion in favor of the MT reading, see D. Barthélemy, ed., Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 5:232.

tn Or “and I will destroy your mother” (so NASB, NRSV).

11 tn Heb “they have destroyed” or “my people are destroyed” (so KJV, NIV, NRSV).

12 tn Heb “Because you reject knowledge”; NLT “because they don’t know me.”

13 tn Heb “have forgotten”; NAB, NIV “have ignored.”

14 tn Heb “forget” (so KJV, NRSV); NLT “forget to bless.”

15 tc The MT reads אָמִיר (’amir, “I will change, exchange”; Hiphil imperfect 1st person common singular from מוּר, mur, “to change, exchange”). However, an alternate scribal tradition (tiqquneh sopherim, that is, an intentional scribal change when the Masoretes believed that the received consonantal reading was corrupt) preserves the reading הֵמִירוּ (hemiru, “they have exchanged”; Hiphil perfect 3rd person common plural from מוּר). This alternate scribal tradition is also found in the Targum and reflected in the Syriac Peshitta. Several translations follow the MT: KJV, RSV, NASB “I will change their glory into shame” and TEV “I will turn your honor into disgrace”; however, others adopt the alternate tradition: NRSV “they changed their glory into shame” and NIV “they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful.” For discussion in favor of the MT reading, see D. Barthélemy, ed., Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 5:232.

16 tn Heb “And it shall be, like people, like priest” (so ASV); NAB “The priests shall fare no better than the people.”

17 tn Heb “by guarding harlotry.” The present translation assumes that the first word of v. 11 in the Hebrew text is to be taken with the infinitive at the end of v. 10 (so also NAB, NIV, NCV, NRSV).

18 tn Heb “take away the heart of my people.” The present translation assumes that the first word of v. 12 in the Hebrew text is to be construed with the noun at the end of v. 11 (so also TEV, CEV, NLT).

19 tn Heb “adultery.” The adjective “spiritual” is supplied in the translation to clarify that apostasy is meant here.

20 tn The phrase “they sacrifice” is not repeated in the Hebrew text here but is implied by parallelism; it is provided in the translation for the sake of clarity.

21 The words "it is true" are supplied in the translation to indicate that this is a conclusion drawn on the preceding behavior. Cf. NAB "So must a people"; NRSV "thus a people"; TEV "As the proverb says, 'A people.'"