Reading Hosea 13:2 ESV, I found myself confused:

And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of them, “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!”

Human sacrifice? The context is the making of idols; I could understand if it was something like, "Those who offer kiss calf-idols are as those who sacrifice humans," but I'm just not understanding this. So I looked at the NIV and NLT, and they are both translated in significantly different ways:

Now they sin more and more; they make idols for themselves from their silver, cleverly fashioned images, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of these people, "They offer human sacrifice and kiss the calf-idols." —NIV1984

Now they continue to sin by making silver idols, images shaped skillfully with human hands. "Sacrifice to these," they cry, "and kiss the calf idols!" —NLT

What's going on with the translation of this verse? How ought it to be understood?


2 Answers 2


My translation from the beginning of 13:

1When Ephraim speaks they tremble,
For he's a prince in Israel, [reading nasi instead of nasa]
But he's guilty of Baal worship, he's dead.
2And now they continue to sin,
they made an image from silver,
to fit their own idolatrous ideas,
the whole thing is a work of craftsmen,
of them it is said,
"sacrificers of man, kissers of calves".

Note the joke in the proverb that the prophet quotes. Although the simple meaning is the derogatory "Human sacrifices, [golden] calf kissing[, it's all the same to them].", The Hebrew can also mean the reverse, "Calves would kiss human sacrificers (for sacrificing humans and sparing the [real] calves)".

The original is written in what is called Hosea's "short form", a kind of telegraphic, breathless, short-lined verse that uses lots of alliteration, double entendre, and allusion to other Biblical passages, possibly including some Isaiah. You get the feeling he can hardly hold his temper.

[Some ideas adapted from Yehudah Eisenberg's Voice of Israel Daily Bible Chapter radio program (Heb.)]

  • +1, a little laugh, and this word of thanks for pointing out the reverse meaning. That's amazing! Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 18:24

2. And now, they continue to sin, and they have made for themselves a molten image from their silver according to their pattern, deities, all of it the work of craftsmen; to them say, "Those who sacrifice man may kiss the calves."

And now: Jehu’s dynasty, who saw all this, continue to sin.

according to their pattern: Heb. כִּתְבוּנָם.

Those who sacrifice man may kiss the calves: The priests of Molech say to Israel, “Whoever sacrifices his son to the idol is worthy of kissing the calf” for he has offered him a precious gift. So did our Sages explain this in Sanhedrin (63b), and it fits the wording of the verse better than Jonathan’s translation.

Tanakf online with Rashi

It should also be noted that nashak 'kiss' has a close pun nasak which means 'burn'. In which case the verse says "Let the men that sacrifice burn the calves."

The authority of the priests was challenged early in their wandering the desert. This statement using nasak appears to be a challenge to to that authority. Rather than the priests acting as intermediaries, let the people burn their own sacrifices.

The close association of lay sacrifices and the practice of kissing a calf in rouge sacrifices makes the association between the literal and pun likely.

Worship of Baal by kissing Interesting that Baal is associated with Moloch the calf.

1Ki 19:18 Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.

It may seem odd to us why such a practice may begin. When a sacrifice was made, the one bringing the sacrifice gave it to a priest who then offered it and kept much of it for his own use. Particularly in difficult times it would be difficult to give away your animals while your own family was hungry. In rebellion one could recruit others by proclaiming "I kiss the calf" which has plausible deniability should it get challenged as heretical, rather than say "I offer my own sacrifices" which could surely get one killed in Israel.

There is an association with nashak and the calf in Ex:

Ex 32:20 And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.

In this case, those who have sacrificed to the idol were made to drink the burnt calf idol. "Let the men who sacrificed burn the calf." The story concerns those who were offering rouge sacrifices.

The use of 'kiss' and 'burn' as puns ties Aaron's Kiss of Moses, Israel going to the wilderness, and the temptation of Jesus together explaining Jesus's 'better sacrifice'.

  • +1 for the reference quote and for pointing out that sacrifices of animals were, well, sacrificial. We see evidence that, especially for the poor, sacrificial animals were something akin to pets. Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 18:37
  • However, I wonder if you have any references for the phrase being used to recruit for a rebellion? Also, can you point to other uses of the nashak -- nasak pun? Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 18:40
  • @Jon Ask a question on Nasak Nashak... it will be an extended answer, kinda out of place on this one.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 21:00
  • Have you seen Encyclopedia Stack Exchange? Also, I think I'll wait until the more general question gets answered. (Looks like two votes to reopen so far. ;-) Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 1:44

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