Tradition for Crisis: A Study in Hosea (1968) was one of Walter Brueggemann’s first publications, if not the first. I picked it up at Lipscomb library, and it proved to exceed my expectations. I’ve been studying the Minor Prophets, so I thought this would be a good read for Hosea. While it did introduce me to some material within Hosea, it functioned more as an overview of the prophetic material in general. It also incorporated a subject I have been thinking about lately – the law and its function for the period over time.
Brueggemann notes that scholarship had long seen discontinuity between the Torah and the prophets. Many scholars had envisioned the prophets as inventing a new religious tradition that was separate from the Law of Moses. Brueggemann combats this point, stating,
The prophets have as their primary function the reassertion and application of the old traditions in ways which are relevant and compelling for the present community of faith (p. 13).
As the title suggests, Brueggemann uses Hosea as a test case to prove his contention. He shows the prophet’s reliance on the Torah in several different ways.
- Hosea employed the content of Israel’s history found in the Torah. The book references the Exodus, the patriarchal tradition, and the wilderness wanderings. It alludes to Israel as inhabitants of the land before the monarchy.
- Hosea references the legal tradition of Israel. He quotes the Ten Commandments and various laws from Deuteronomy. The prevailing image of harlotry in the book can be derived from Exodus 34:14-16.
- In addition to the content, Hosea employs a form that assumes the Torah. These forms often follow a pattern of stating the Law and its consequence for obedience or disobedience.
- The prophets function as mediators of the covenant with Israel. The Torah was a historical document for Israel, but it had binding authority for the relationship of Israel. For this reason, the prophets reminded the people of the covenant and called upon them to respond as present-day participants.
After arguing that the prophets relied upon the traditions of the covenant, Brueggemann reflects on the role of tradition within crisis. It is during periods of crisis that the traditional expressions are often discarded, deemed irrelevant to address the crisis at hand. The author states that Hosea used the tradition to address the crisis.
As he brought tradition and crisis together, both were changed. The tradition was changed so that now as never before it was understood profoundly under the imagery of sex and fertility. The crisis was changed because now it was no longer a question of survival and well-being but a question of faith and covenant-keeping.
In other words, the interplay between tradition and crisis brought a proper perspective upon both items. The tradition was imagined in relevant ways to address the crisis. The problem of the crisis was restated from one of survival to one of covenant loyalty.
The author concludes with general remarks for the prophetic role in crisis and its application to today. Then, as now, the prophet/preacher is tasked with helping the people rightly discern the new situation. While new social movements seem to be ever changing, they are based in common struggles of humans for pride, pleasure, wealth and power. A second task of the prophet/preacher is to make clear the ways that the old tradition remains valid in the new circumstances. Brueggemann points out that the tradition shows us clearly what it means to be fully human, as evidenced in creation, covenant and the cross. The crisis is an assault on God’s plan for wholeness in humanity, and the tradition helps address these concerns.
Over all, I found Brueggemann’s thoughts to be extremely helpful and relevant (even 40 years later). The tradition was not carried over in a rigid, mechanistic fashion with one to one correspondence. It’s relevance was brought to bear through reminders of their history and their fundamental relationship with God in covenant. The same decisions that had been made by Israel’s fathers were required in the days of Hosea, and today for that matter. The Old Traditions must be continually re-examined and the decision to serve God in covenant must be continually made.