Shepherd, Michael B. A Commentary on The Book of the Twelve. Kregel Exegetical Library; Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2018. 523 pp. Hb; $44.99. Link to Kregel Academic
Michael Shepherd is an associate professor of biblical studies at Cedarville University. He has previously published several articles and monographs, including Daniel in the Context of the Hebrew Bible (Peter Lang, 2009) and The Twelve Prophets in the New Testament (Peter Lang, 2011).
The introduction to this to this volume of the Kregel exegetical commentary series presents an argument for the unity of the Book of the Twelve, which is the motivation for the whole commentary. Shepherd previously published an article on the “Compositional Analysis of the Twelve” (ZAW 120 (2008): 184–193). He acknowledges the work of Paul House, The Unity of the Twelve (Sheffield: Almond, 1990), and two monographs by James D. Nogalski, Literary Precursors to the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 217; de Gruyter, 1993) and Redactional Processes in the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 218; de Gruyter, 1993) and his Smyth & Helwys commentary on the Book of the Twelve.
What sets Shepherd’s approach to the Book of the Twelve apart from other similar studies is that he is not interested in the redaction of the twelve minor prophets, but the compositional strategy of a single author drawing together various prophetic books into a single Book of the Twelve. He never refers to this person as an editor; for Shepherd, he is an author or a composer. The best analogy for his approach to the Book of the Twelve is the Book of Psalms. The book is a collection of individual psalms, but it clearly has an overall literary unity with clear theological themes connecting the parts, including superscriptions and seams.
Besides an analogy to the book of Psalms, Shepherd points to Sirach 49:10 as the earliest reference to the twelve minor prophets as a unit. Acts 13:40 and 15:15 also cite texts from minor prophets as simply “the prophets.” All early Jewish and Christian canonical lists count the Twelve as one book. Perhaps most compelling, the Masoretic text does not mark the center verse in the minor prophets, but one appears in Micah 3:12 as the middle verse of the Book of the Twelve.
Because of his interest in the unity of the Book of the Twelve, he is not interested in biographical details or the lives of the prophets. He makes no attempt to reconstruct the ministry of any individual prophet, and he does not spend much time at all setting the prophet into a particular historical context. For Shepherd, it is not a matter of a book’s historicity, but of the book’s “unique and revelatory depiction of things.”
For Shepherd, Hosea 3:4-5 is a programmatic statement for the entire Book of the Twelve: “For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward, the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.” He identifies two themes: God’s judgment of Israel and future messianic salvation. He argues Israel cannot be restricted to just the northern Kingdom in Hosea 3:4-5. Only the original Israel was united under their “Lord and God” and “David their king.” he considers this verse to be dependent on Jeremiah 30: 8-9 (23). This is intriguing, but there are differences. For example, Hosea anticipates Israel will “return and seek the Lord” (יָשֻׁ֙בוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וּבִקְשׁוּ֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵיהֶ֔ם) whereas Jeremiah has “serve the Lord” (וְעָ֣בְד֔וּ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיהֶ֑ם). The two verses use distinctly different verbs, although the phrase “the Lord their God and David their king” is the same. Even in English, this is not a quotation. I would be happier if he employed language like “this alludes to Jeremiah.” usually studies of intertextuality would question the direction of the illusion. Perhaps Hosea used Jeremiah, or Jeremiah used Hosea depending on when the books were written. Shepherd does not discuss these issues because it doesn’t matter. The author of the Book of the Twelve composed the book after all the prophetic books were written. It doesn’t matter whether Hosea predates Jeremiah because the author of the Book of the Twelve had all of this material available to him and he inserted the programmatic verse into Hosea 3:4-5.
Another question I have about this programmatic verse is its placement of three chapters in the Book of the Twelve. For Shepherd, the eschatological context of Hosea 3 created the “perfect opportunity for the composer” to introduce his program from Jeremiah 30:9. Hosea 3:4-5 looks beyond any return of the northern Kingdom of Israel from Assyria or even the return of Judah from Babylon. For Shepherd, the verse looks forward to the restoration of Israel’s lost blessings in the land at a future time when the people will seek both the Lord and David as their king. This cannot be historical David or a resurrected David, but a Davidic king who will build the temple and reign over an everlasting kingdom (53).
Shepherd suggests three criteria for identifying the activity of the final composer of the Book the Twelve. First, he identifies seams that connect the end of one book to the next. Second, in these seams he finds the development of a programmatic text for the Book of the Twelve, Hosea 3: 4-5. Third, when the first two criteria are both present, there is some evidence of dependence on the book of Jeremiah. Shepherd provides a list of each of the seams with a brief demonstration using the three criteria (34-36, with additional details in the exegetical commentary). Several examples will suffice for this review.
First, at the end of Joel, the “Lord dwells in Zion” (Joel 3:16 ET) and Amos begins with “the Lord roars from Zion” (Amos 1:2). Shepherd then suggests this seam alludes to Jeremiah 25:30, “The Lord roars from on high.” In addition, Jeremiah 25:15-26 is a judgment oracle on the nations (including Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Moab, and Ammon, five of the six nations mentioned in Amos 1:3-2:3).
Second, Amos 9:11-15 describes the restoration of the fallen tent of David. The future remnant will “possess Edom” (9:12). The book of Obadiah is entirely concerned with judgment on Edom. Amos’s restoration of the tent of David picks up on the programmatic statement from Hosea and includes both judgment and (future) salvation. Obadiah itself relies heavily on Jeremiah 49:7-22. This is a well-known literary dependence; Obadiah has a longer version, suggesting “the direction of dependence was from Jeremiah to Obadiah” (28). This means Amos 9:11-15 was added by the final author of the Book of the Twelve in order to connect the end of Amos to the beginning of Obadiah and to underscore his theology of judgment and future restoration. Shepherd says Amos 9:11-15 is “a prophecy of restoration unparalleled anywhere in the book of Amos” (200), and the phrase “restore the fortunes” is common in Jeremiah 29:14; 30:3; 31:23; 32:34; 33:7 (201).
One place where Shepherd’s theory for the unity of the twelve minor prophets may be helpful is an explanation of the origins of Zechariah 9-11, 12-14, and the book of Malachi. As is well known, each of these sections begins with the phrase “The oracle (מַשָּׂא) of the word of the Lord.” scholars often suggest that these three units circulated separately and were edited into the Book of the Twelve at a later date. Shepherd himself says “The book of Malachi is the third section to Zechariah 9-11 and Zechariah 12-14” (480).
The body of the exegetical commentary shows his method throughout. Since he is interested in the final form of the Book of the Twelve, there is no formal introduction for each book. There is no effort to set the book into an original historical context or offer any sort of “life of the prophet.” Each book is broken into individual units, usually full chapters. Sections begin with a new translation, with alternative translations in brackets citing the Targumim, Septuagint, Syriac, and Dead Sea Scrolls. Additional footnotes discuss syntactical or lexical issues. Shepherd’s exegetical commentary is a clear explanation of the Hebrew text, with no transliteration. Footnotes point to secondary literature and additional lexical or syntactical issues. Although this is a single volume on all twelve minor prophets, Shepherd’s exegesis is detailed. Occasionally, his commentary on individual books ends with a conclusion, or a section entitled “teaching and preaching” the book.
The final pages of the commentary are entitled “final thoughts on Teaching and Preaching the Twelve.” As expected, he recommends that anyone preaching or teaching a series on the Book of the Twelve should focus on the compositional strategy of the entire twelve minor prophets. He observes “arbitrary obsession with the application has become so out of hand that all the genres of the Bible have been flattened into one: that of a manual or a handbook for life” (512). He suggests “the drive to make scripture practical causes the reader to miss the vision of the book of the Twelve for Christ in his Kingdom Rather than giving our church is the full tour of the biblical text” (512).
Conclusion. Most scholars who study the minor prophets will be interested in Shepherd’s method for detecting seams between the books and his argument for the unity of the Book of the Twelve. Although I expressed some questions and reservations above, his argument for a final author who drew the twelve minor prophets together is intriguing and convincing, although I am more inclined to use the word “editor.” Since Shepherd covers all twelve minor prophets in a single volume, the depth of this exegetical commentary should not be compared with recent NICOT commentaries (for example, Mark Boda’s 935 pages on Zechariah or Mignon Jacobs’s 377 pages on Haggai and Malachi). But this Kregel Exegetical Commentary is more detailed than the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (for example, Daniel Timmer’s 229 pages on Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah).
Other Commentaries in the Kregel Exegetical Commentary series:
- Duane Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus
- Robert B. Chisholm, A Commentary on Judges and Ruth
- Eugene H. Merrill, A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles
- Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms. Volume 2 (Psalms 42-89)
- Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 3 (Psalms 90-150)
- John D. Harvey, A Commentary on Romans
- Aida Besançon Spencer, A Commentary on James
Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.