This volume represents the culmination of a project that began with the author’s doctoral dissertation, completed under Herbert Huffmon at Drew University in 1987. Its focus on literary coherence (defined briefly as “the connectedness of the text”; p. 6) takes up the challenge to render intelligible the structure and message of the book of Micah, and the study’s length and detail testify to the rigor with which Cuffey has put himself to this task. The work is set in the context of the waning (but hardly ended) influence of historical-critical methodologies that distinguished between “genuine material from the eighth-century BCE prophet Micah” (thought to be limited to Micah 1–3; p. 7) and later “traditions and redaction” that eventually completed the book’s literary development (p. 2).
In the 19th century, a perceived lack of coherence led interpreters like Julius Wellhausen to affirm that Micah 7:7–20 was an exilic addition that is “something wholly different” than what precedes it (p. 8, citing Wellhausen). A similar orientation continued in many studies of Micah in the early 20th century, although others found the book coherent (regardless of whether or not some or all of it could be confidently attributed to Micah). These two rather incompatible trends circumscribe Micah scholarship to the present, with ideological critiques joining historical and redactional arguments against the book’s fundamental unity, while literary approaches and arguments related to the formation of the Book of the Twelve or of the canon as a whole have been added to those in favor of Micah’s coherence. In these respects, trends in Micah studies serve as a mirror of OT scholarship as a whole.
Recognizing the variety of proposals for the book’s literary coherence, the first three chapters define this crucial concept in the context of recent and current discussion, providing readers with “indicators that allow modern readers of an ancient text to find and test for coherence” (p. 4). After chapter 2 surveys studies focused on Micah’s coherence, Cuffey concludes that “the definition of coherence has been too restricted” in focusing on a single aspect like structure or concepts (p. 71). This leads him in chapter 3 to reconsider the concept of coherence itself, where he adopts a broad definition drawn from communication models but suited to the varied corpus of ancient Israelite literature: “the connectedness of a work” (p. 78). The author sees this connectedness as existing in three interrelated dimensions: (1) textual, in that a work exhibits internal coherence in areas such as linkage, structure, perspective, theme; (2) historical, in answering the question of what stage of its development the text became coherent; and (3) perceptual, in focusing attention on the reader’s prior knowledge and expectations. In addition to exhibiting these dimensions, coherence also “occurs on different levels” (e.g., sentence, paragraph, sections) and is a “relative,” not a binary, matter (pp. 112–20).
The detailed nature of the book’s central section is difficult to summarize in the limited space of a review. In chapter 4, Cuffey analyzes the various arguments scholars have advanced in favor of Micah’s coherence. His analysis is careful and thorough, and sprinkled with important observations such as the irrelevance of the book’s historical development for the question of the coherence of the book’s final form. For by spreading bits of the book over various periods, historical explanations inevitably account for each part on its own, but never in coherent relation to the whole (p. 147). In this vein, Cuffey’s fifth chapter aims to consider all three dimensions of coherence simultaneously (pp. 211–12), something he finds lacking in earlier studies. This he does by examining the following theme: “although God’s people may face punishment for their sins, God is committed to forgiveness and restoration” (p. 213). This theme is highlighted by the placement of four passages focused on the remnant (2:12–13; 4:1–8; 5:6–8 [ET 7–9]; 7:18–20). The content of each of these passages corresponds to “the problems raised in the preceding sections of doom” (p. 214). Cuffey’s discussion is accompanied by a number of helpful figures (the volume includes thirty in all) and is extensively footnoted. His presentation of the book’s message is appropriately theocentric, focusing on the God who regathers, rules, leads, and forgives his people.
In chapter 6 Cuffey evaluates his proposal for Micah’s coherence on the basis of the indicators of coherence developed in the first part of the study, addressing anticipated objections along the way. His characteristic restraint and nuance are evident in the following excerpt: “It is possible that [the pericopes in Micah 1–5] may have once concerned situations that were not connected with each other. The issue, however, is whether or not the final form of Micah speaks as a whole. This has indeed happened. . . . Further, I am arguing that chs. 1–5, though all related to a central theme . . . treat different aspects of that theme” (p. 261). His final conclusion is simple yet noteworthy in the contested field of Micah scholarship: “The book of Micah is coherent” (p. 313).
A final chapter proposes further steps and trajectories for research based on the study’s conclusions. While Cuffey sometimes seems to imply that the book of Micah reached its present form through a process of literary development that began with Micah in the eighth century BCE but continued for several centuries (p. 314), his most developed reconstruction of the book’s growth is explicitly open to both single-author and multiple-author approaches (pp. 322–27). Further, while most attempts to attribute a book’s various sections and redactions to different historical settings depend on those sections’ literary or theological incoherence with respect to one another, Cuffey argues convincingly that the book in its final form is fundamentally coherent. His reticence against adopting a complex and exclusive chronology for the book’s development is reinforced by the difficulty of assigning dates to this or that part of Micah, as well as by his observation that the prophet himself lived through “three juxtaposed contrasts” that provided plausible life settings for his various oracles: (1) between the people at large and a faithful remnant; (2) before and after Micah’s prophecy drove Hezekiah to repentance (cf. Jer 26:18–19); and (3) before and after Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah in 701 BCE (pp. 329, 336).
Writing for a scholarly audience, Cuffey does not develop an explicit theological basis for the coherence he finds in Micah, nor does he unpack the various implications of his arguments and conclusion. These omissions may reflect nothing more than the limits of Cuffey’s project, or perhaps his awareness of the epistemological limits with which the guild typically considers questions of method. Whatever the case, his work provides solid literary and theoretical corroboration for an approach in which the biblical text is taken as a coherent (albeit complex) whole unless proven otherwise on its own terms. This volume will enrich future studies of Micah and of biblical prophetic literature, and gives further proof of the methodological legitimacy and primacy of an approach that “begins with the text in its final form and tries to [explain] what the text means, as it now is” (p. 2). In doing so it will almost certainly accelerate the discipline’s move away from historical-critical approaches and toward literary and ultimately canonical ones.