Published on August 12, 2019 by Benjamin J. Montoya

Kregel Academic, 2018 | 528 pages

A Book Review from Books At a Glance

By Francesco Grassi


Kregel has published yet another fine exegetical commentary in the Kregel Exegetical Library series, now by a scholar with consolidated expertise on The Book of the Twelve (the so-called “minor prophets”). Michael Shepherd comes to the present task of writing a full commentary only after having already written on the Twelve as they are used (quoted or alluded to) in the New Testament (Peter Lang, 2010), as well as on the compositional analysis of this prophetic corpus (in Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 120, 2008:184-193). What he had matured in those two previous works deeply impacts his methodology and exegesis, putting into our hands a very unique commentary.


Shepherd’s Contribution

While there are many commentaries on the “minor prophets” (usually divided in two volumes, Hosea-Micah and Nahum-Malachi), Shepherd has given us a single volume which treats them not as separate books but as a unified literary composition. In this regard, even the choice of the book’s title is significant. It recognizes that this body of prophetic literature circulated on a single scroll as famously attested in Sirach 49:10, the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QXII), the Babylonian Talmud (b. B. Bat. 14a), Jerome, and seemingly also the New Testament (Acts 7:42, 15:15), among other sources. More importantly it reflects, in Shepherd’s mind, an awareness that the Twelve were kept together due to their literary unity, thematic coherence, and single-handed authorship. Shepherd contends that the Book of the Twelve should not merely be considered the product of an editor or a redactor, but in a manner comparable to the final author of the Psalter, the true biblical author of its final form. Accordingly, the message of the Twelve is not exhausted in the single historical books that bear the prophets’ names, but in the overall message which the biblical author wanted to be passed down to future generations.

To be sure, Shepherd is advancing what other scholars have already established. House, Nogalski, Schart, and Sweeney, to mention a few, concur that the thematic and literary continuity that runs across the Twelve requires that we read them as a unity. At the same time, Shepherd distances himself from the more diachronic and speculative approach of scholars who postulate the presence of different layers of developing traditions and redactions. Shepherd is only interested in the final form of the book, from a single author (possibly from among the Men of the Great assembly mentioned in b. B. Bat. 15a) who worked and shaped all his sources into a coherent, interconnected whole. The order of the Twelve in the MT ­­– which Shepherd privileges – and the position of books such as Obadiah and Jonah, mirror the precise intention of giving the Book of the Twelve a coherence that it would not otherwise have achieved.

But what is the warrant for seeing the Twelve as a single book, composed by a single author, with a central narrative and an internal thematic coherence? Along with the historical evidence of ancient sources (see above), Shepherd presents three criteria to bolster his thesis: 1) the presence of the so-called “seams” which serve to connect the end of a book to the one which follows; 2) the programmatic use of Hosea 3:4-5 and the corresponding theme of judgment/restoration within those seams; 3) a citation of Jeremiah within those seams. To give but two examples let’s look at how Shepherd applies those three criteria to the Joel-Amos and Amos-Obadiah seams. As for the former, Shepherd highlights how the seam presents 1) a similar phraseology in Joel 3:16a and Amos 1:2 (i.e. God roaring from Zion, thundering from Jerusalem), 2) a quotation from Jeremiah 25:30a, and 3) the theme of judgment and restoration (cf. Joel 1:15; 3:1-5). The mechanics and the function of a seam is more clearly seen in the Joel-Amos and Amos-Obadiah seams. Amos 9:11-15 curiously speaks of a restoration of Judah, thus standing apart and in contrast with the previous nine chapters which portray a judgment against the northern kingdom of Israel. This contrast, Shepherd proposes, is easily explained if 9:11-15 is meant to advance the theme of judgment/restoration. Amos 9:12 and the mention of God’s people “possessing” (יירשׁו) the remnant of Edom –which Shepherd takes positively (both in the MT and in the LXX) with the meaning of being part of God’s kingdom– logically introduces Obadiah which  begins with a direct accusation against Edom (1-14). As it turns out, Obadiah 1-5 presents a quotation from Jeremiah 49:9, 14-16 (thus fulfilling Shepherd’s third criterion) while 17-19 recalls Amos 9:12 with a list of regions God’s people will possess, the mountains of Edom included (v. 19).


The Format

The commentary begins with a general introduction to the Book of the Twelve where Shepherd briefly deals with issues of composition, authorship and date, and where he lays out a fuller rational of his own contribution. He provides a brief paragraph highlighting the peculiarities of each seam, correlated with a final three pages outlining the distinctiveness, message, and quotation of Jeremiah. The rest of the commentary plunges immediately into a very rich exegesis which follows a book-by-book, section-by-section format. Shepherd interacts consistently with the Hebrew text and observes different readings in the LXX. Yet, he never overburdens the reader with too many technicalities. Similarly, the interaction with secondary literature is limited to important issues and debates. Readers accustomed to the formats of other commentaries will be disappointed not to find classic historical-critical introductions before each prophet. Less intelligibly, the author hasn’t provided any outline before each book. In compensation for this absence, however, Shepherd’s commentary on each prophet is appended with a brief conclusion in which he gives specific suggestions on how, for example, to teach and preach from that prophet (e.g. Hosea, Zechariah), or on the value of certain prophecy as Christian Scripture (e.g. Amos 9:12).


Appreciations, Doubts, and Limitations

Shepherd has provided one of the most clear and cogent theses for the unity of the Twelve. His shying away from intricate and speculative theories of a development of traditions, and his appreciation of the text in its present literary form has also the advantage of being more controllable, plausible, and certainly more intelligible for the average reader. His appreciation of the Book of the Twelve as Christian Scripture is also laudable, though for a fuller treatment of NT quotations the readers should refer to his previous work.

Some doubts about the literary unity of the Twelve, however, will still persist for some readers. First, it is not at all clear that the Luke’s use of the phraseology “book of the prophets/prophets” supports a literary unity of the relative material. At face value, Acts 7:42 might only tell us that the Twelve circulated on a single scroll, and Acts 15:15 prove to be in harmony with Luke’s maximalist use of Scripture elsewhere (Lu 18:31-32; 24:25, 44; Acts 17:2, 11; 24:14; 26:26, 27; 28:23). Second, the seams do not always function alike in Shepherd’s reconstruction. Sometimes the alleged connections are not found at the end of the book (e.g. Micah 3:12, Zechariah 9:1, 12:1), which makes one wonder why the final composer has not been more consistent. Third, and more importantly, it is not so obvious that a seam “stands apart” from the rest of the book in which it appears. In the case of Amos-Obadiah, it can strongly be argued that the restoration envisaged in 9:11-15 is intentionally and coherently reversing the judgment against Israel, Judah, Edom, and all the nations, already prophesied in chapters 1-2. Israel’s restoration is also not totally forgotten (cf. 9:7-10), and the mention of David’s tent is an appropriate restorative symbol for all Israel, harkening back to a time before the division of northern and southern kingdoms. If so, the position of Obadiah right after Amos might simply be for the thematic attraction to the all too common prophetic expectation that God’s people will inherit and take possessions of her enemies, Israel’s archenemy in primis being Edom. As for other seams, the connections are sometimes so tenuous that the similarities might be better explained by thematic resonances (e.g. restoration through judgment, cf. Deuteronomy 28-29), historical circumstances, or simply common prophetic imagery and vocabulary. Lastly, the fact that Jeremiah (but also Isaiah and Ezekiel) is alluded to in many more places in the Twelve than just the seams (cf. Jer. 7:34 in Hos. 2:11; Jer. 9:21 in Joel 2:9; Jer. 49:3 in Amos 1:15; Jer. 48:29 in Amos 2:2; Jer. 19:16 in Amos 2:4; Jer. 18:8 in Jonah 3:10; Jer. 25:31 in Micah 6:2; Jer. 26:18 in Micah 3:12; Jer. 34:13 in Micah 6:4; Jer. 9:8 in Micah 6:18; et al.) weakens its corroborative value in support of a seam. Thus, even granting its cumulative force, those observations seem to weaken Shepherd’s argument, and, for that matter, of any theory of the seams.

A final observation regards Shepherd’s decision not to include a proper introduction and an outline for each of the prophets. As we’ve observed, this is probably due to the assumed nature of the Twelve as a single composition. To be sure, Shepherd does include some helpful historical information for each of the superscriptions, and along with his comments he also offers clues as to why and how a book section or an oracle might have been structured in that particular way (Cf. pg. 116 on Joel; pg. 181, 197 on Amos; pg. 332 on Habakkuk 2). Pedagogically, however, it would have greatly benefited the readers (or, at least the present reviewer) to have a glance of the literary/thematic structure of each prophet before the exegesis proper. We cannot help but wonder whether, the peculiarities of each prophet are somehow muted or minimized by this formal decision.

These questions notwithstanding, Shepherd’s A Commentary on the Book of the Twelve is an example of a fine, balanced, and lucid work which integrates literary theories and practical observations in a feast of rich exegesis. Pastors and students alike will greatly benefit from this important contribution.


Francesco Grassi is a PhD student in New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

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Kregel Academic, 2018 | 528 pages

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