hosea

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Select the prescribed passages for any three of the weeks of the module, briefly indicate their importance, and add comments on how these passages have been treated in the secondary sources you have read.  (Credit will be given for the selection of passages which illustrate different aspects of the study of ancient Israel’s prophetic literature.)

The prophetic literature of Ancient Israel is unique among the middle and near eastern societies: David Petersen referred to the literature as “monumental literary creations”, noting, “There is simply no prophetic text from ancient Mesopotamia, Syria-Palestine, or Egypt that can compare with the books of Isaiah and Hosea, for example, whether viewed from the perspectives of size, breadth of vision of literary complexity.”[1] This may be considered for three reasons; firstly, the prophets of Israel came from a range of backgrounds (Isaiah, for example was likely attached to the royal court, whereas Jeremiah was from a priestly family and conducted cultic worship),  and experienced their prophetic ministries differently, in more complex ways than the simple oracles of other prophets, even prophets within Israel.[2] Secondly, the message of the prophets was very different to the standard prophecies of contemporary cultures. Prophets like Jeremiah and Malachi are concerned with social justice and faithfulness to God, whereas conventional prophets were expected to provide oracles and advice concerned with the near future.[3] And thirdly and finally, it seems unlikely that any text of the Bible were transmitted as they are written now, but instead have undergone writing, re-writing, editing and redaction to create the works which bear a single author’s name today. Some, such as Isaiah, have been speculated to have up to three authors, and it is doubtful whether there was ever a historical Malachi.[4] It is these different aspects that make the prophetic literature of Ancient Israel so much more complex and enduring than the equivalent of the surrounding societies of the era.

The varied manner in which prophets both received and expressed their ministry has been long studied by biblical scholars, from both the perspective of what the prophets experienced, and how they conveyed that experience. Jeremiah 1-4 is a subunit explaining how Jeremiah was called as a prophet and his first prophecy to Israel. The book of Jeremiah is one of the longest and most significant of the Bible and of all the prophets, it is perhaps the historical Jeremiah of whom we know the most. A descendant of a priestly family from the town of Anathoth, he spent most of his ministry under the reign of the great reformer King Josiah. The call of Jeremiah is recorded in Jeremiah 1, and demonstrates the frequent hesitancy of the prophets to accept their calling but an overwhelming feeling of duty to do so. Sawyer describes this as “the inner compulsion that forces them to prophesy even when they try not to.”[5] In the call narrative of Jeremiah 1, Jeremiah tries to resist God’s demands by claiming he is too young and inexperienced to act as a messenger;[6] however, he is told by God that “you are to go to whatever people I send you and say whatever I tell you to say”.[7] Jeremiah feels powerless in the face of the “word of the Lord”  to deliver an unwelcome message to the people of Israel: T.T. Crabtree agrees with Sawyer on the matter of the “inner compulsion”, and adds, “That the true prophets did not speak automatically or mechanically and that they were constantly searching for certainty can be seen more clearly in Jeremiah that in any of the other prophets.”[8] Although Crabtree’s analysis is somewhat coloured by his own personal faith, the prophetic call narratives described in the prophetic literature of Ancient Israel hint at a constant uncertainty and doubt within the prophets, however briefly, regardless of whether that call came in a grandiose vision or a simple command from God. The audience of prophetic literature were often also uncertain whether to accept new prophecy, as “false” prophets were as common in Ancient Israel as they akways have been, so to encourage the reader to accept  prophetic literature as authentic, the authors are often influenced by, or makes allusions to, previous material – Jeremiah 3:1-5’s imagery of the Israel as an unfaithful wife to God references Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and Hosea 2-3. Gordon McConville notes, “These observations mean that Jeremiah can be placed within a line of prophets from both Israel and Judah, who preserved theological beliefs that go back to the time of the formation of the people.”[9] Although McConville’s chief concern is establishing an unbroken lineage of prophecy from Moses culminating in the messiah-ship of Jesus, which influences his approach, nonetheless the prophetic literature often adopts the same formats, which has led to much debate over how the different literary styles of both prose and poetry may be categorised.

Isaiah 40-45 has been considered stylistically close to Jeremiah,[10] but its genre has been much debated. Jochaim Begrich published a work in 1934 entitled “Das priesterliche Heilsorakel”,[11] in which he argued that parts of Isaiah 40-45 should be considered a “Priestly Oracle of Salvation”, or “the divine answer delivered by a priest in response to the complaint and petition of an individual”,[12] similar to a lament psalm. Claus Westermann, writing some thirty years later, supported this argument and added a much more systematic structural model, which had been neglected by Begrich.[13] However, Edgar Conrad has spent some time refuting both scholars,[14] arguing instead that there are two separate types of oracle present in the text:[15] the “War Oracle”, based on passages from Deuteronomy and Numbers, where the oracle is intended to reassure Moses and Joshua before an impending battle that Israel is assured victory,[16]  and the “Patriarchal Oracle”, in which God offers some kind of future activity on behalf of the recipient.[17] Most recently as 2005, however, Jose Croatto has continued the Oracle of Salvation theme and, indeed, explored it more widely.[18] Although Conrad’s argument seems far more compelling, the scholarly debate continues.  This particular issue of categorisation highlights the problems involved in trying to systematically determine specific formulae for prophetic literature – though countless hours have been spent trying to fit every subunit of the Bible into a particular group, be it the “call narrative” in Jeremiah, or “salvation oracles” in Isaiah, a complicated text redacted over several thousand years defies total categorisation.

After reviewing the style of the prophetic literature of ancient Israel, it is inevitable that one must consider the message. The predominant concern of the prophets is to proclaim the judgement of God, but also his promise of salvation if the audience will repent from their sins. Jeremiah 2-4 is the first of Jeremiah’s oracles, and present a choice for Israel – repentance, or judgement. Although in 2:27 and 3:4-5, Jeremiah condemns the people for their half-hearted and superficial attempts to keep the covenant, he nonetheless goes on to emphasise the opportunity to repent, to “circumcise yourselves to the service of the Lord”.[19] Robert Paterson divides the second chapter of Jeremiah into seven poems that build up Jeremiah’s argument that the people have been unfaithful.[20] The text implies that there is some kind of foreign threat to Israel, and that the people are looking to the Egyptians and Assyrians for succour. However, Jeremiah continues his argument that only God can save Israel. He uses a metaphor of an unfaithful wife to further emphasise the relationship between God and his people and their ingratitude to God. But in 3:21-4:4, “Jeremiah describes the way of true repentance and the conditions for a renewed relationship with [God]”.[21] Chapter 4 concludes with an oracle describing what will happen if the people do not repent, when Israel will be invaded by a foreign army and “carry out [God’s] judgement against his people.”[22] The fundamental message of Jeremiah then, is that the hope of salvation is ever present, but so is the threat of judgement. The work of the prophets of ancient Israel is to remind the population of the consequences of both choices.

Like Jeremiah,  Malachi 1-4 is also concerned with the covenant between the people of Israel and God, and that Israel has turned away from righteousness and salvation. A much shorter book than Jeremiah, just four chapters, it was written somewhere between 470 and 420 BCE.[23] It is the last book in the Christian order of the books of the Hebrew Bible, and as a short book written in the post-exilic period in the closing days of ancient Israel’s prophetic literature, it has often been overlooked by scholars, dismissed as of only “slight religious and literary importance”,[24] and full length commentaries on the book are very rare.[25] However, it has also been described as, “one of our most important historical sources for the post-exilic period.”[26] Malachi is concerned with ritual observance, and blames the current woes of the people on their lack of religious practice. He convicts the whole community in 1:2-2:16 and threatens it with judgement in 3:1-5. However, in 3:7-12 Malachi invites Israel to return to God, and details the blessings which will follow. Malachi 4 then describes a day of judgement when Israel will be vindicated and reminds them once again to keep the law. Although a post-exilic work, Malachi is clearly intended to recall the earliest prophetic texts: Steven  MacKenzie has claimed, “Malachi 2:17-3:12 seems closer to the classical prophetic oracle of judgement and salvation than to the transformed oracle type in Third Isaiah.”[27] Although a valid argument, the central focus of Malachi’s message nonetheless remains the unfaithfulness of the covenant between God and Israel. Though addressed to a different audience in a different time-period from Jeremiah, the message remains the same.

Having considered the experience of the prophets in the prophetic literature of ancient Israel, and having further reviewed their message, the authorship of the prophetic literature itself must come into question. Traditionally, the prophetic texts have been thought of as the single work of a single author, but the last century has seen this theory all but destroyed. It has been estimated that the content of the book of Isaiah spans over four centuries.[28] Although R.E. Clements has done extensive work to argue that at least part of the book of Isaiah was indeed written by the eponymous prophet himself, he is prepared to argue the case only for Isaiah 6-8.[29] Certainly it seems unlikely that the differing tones in the text are the result of a single author, no matter how well-integrated the sub-units. Isaiah 40-45 has come to be considered the work of a “deutero-Isaiah” a different figure from Isaiah of Jerusalem, of whom we know nothing. McConville describes Isaiah 40-45 as “dominated by expectation of salvation”, in contrast to the “notes of accusation and warning” to be found in Isaiah 1-39.[30] George Anderson has also pointed out that, “An 8th century prophet foretelling events by supernatural inspiration would presumably have foretold both the exile and the deliverance. This writer looks back on the exile and forward to its end.”[31] However, this does not diminish the importance of deutero-Isaiah; his efforts to redact his own compositions into the original text means that the text has been carefully synthesised and explained. Sweeney rejects the tendency of scholars to study Isaiah 40-45 as a separate work, instead arguing it “is designed to be read as a larger literary unit within the book of Isaiah. It is presented to the reader as part of the vision of Isaiah ben Amoz… It is designed to convince its readers that [God] is acting to restore Zion. …these chapters are organised to make a progressive series of arguments.”[32] The work is significant in its own right and as part of the book of Isaiah, though we may never know who wrote it.

Equally as anonymous, the book of Malachi contains no personal details of its author at all. Sawyer has noted, “Beyond the fact that he probably moved in the Temple circles, there is nothing that we can infer about “Malachi” personally.”[33] Even the Temple origins of Malachi have to be inferred from his intricate knowledge of Temple worship and references to ritual sacrifice, but this is all we can gather. Indeed, the name “Malachi” does not appear anywhere else in the Bible, casting doubt on whether it is in fact a name at all. JN Heflin has suggested, somewhat compellingly, that it is unlikely that a prophetic text would have been added to the canon anonymously, unique among all the prophetic books of the Bible, but the question remains. The book of Malachi itself seems to have been composed of several different texts – Steven MacKenzie has analysed the marked differences between Malachi 1-3:12 and the remaining text.[34][35] He argues that Malachi 3:13-21 is a later interpolation, based on the changing of the assumed audience and lack of any reference to the temple, liturgy or worship elements, writing “there is no reference to any sort of historical place, situation, group or individual, in contrast to 1:1-3:12, where such references are common.”[36] As one of the later works of the Hebrew Bible, it also seems somewhat likely that the reference to the law in 4:4 is also an interpolation, added later on to recall the law and encourage a sense of continuity between all the books of the Bible. The apocalyptic “day of the Lord” described in Malachi 4:5-6 also seems out of place with the theme of the rest of the book, and may well be the result of later editorship. However, the question of whether this issue of redaction even matters must be asked: as Sawyer has pointed out, “if we devote our efforts exclusively to recovering the original words of the prophets, we will miss some of the individual voices that address us from later stages in that process, voices no less canonical and no less commanding.”[37]  Robert Wilson concurs, stating, “In the prophetic literature of the post-exilic period, the prophets become markedly less visible … We can say almost nothing about the behavioural characteristics of these late figures, and in some cases we do not even know their names (Second Isaiah: Malachi). Coupled with this loss of visibility is a growing reliance on writing for the purpose of communicating messages.”[38] Whether the authors can be identified or not should not detract from the message the prophets (and their editors) were trying to convey.

In conclusion, the prophetic literature of Ancient Israel has outlasted virtually all contemporary equivalents; certainly none are held as religious works applicable today. As has been demonstrated, this is due to the greater complexity of the literature developed, partly through the range of experiences and messages of the prophets, which cover a much longer time into the future than the shorter, more immediate oracles of Mari, for example, often recorded for the royal court and of limited applicability. The Mari oracles are the only known prophetic literature besides the Bible which were produced without reference to ecstatic or visionary inducements, but remain “limited to a very mundane plane, placing before the king or his delegates divine commands of a most material nature and reflecting a clear Lokalpatriotism, concern solely for the king’s personal well-being”.[39] The over-arching visions of Israel’s prophets, particularly from the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah, and to a lesser extent, Malachi, of a different society, where social justice prevailed over baser concerns, speak of a   God given to wrath and judgement, in common with other national deities; but unusually, Israel’s prophetic literature also describes God’s love and concern for his creation, and give hope to both the downtrodden and the exiled. This is truly distinctive, and Sawyer rightly claims, “it is more than likely historically that it was the ethical faith of the prophets that gave Israel’s religion its distinctive stamp.”[40] Although scholarship of the past hundred years has exposed the extensive revisionism and editorship of what were once thought of (and intended to be thought of) as single works, the message of the prophets remains cohesive, and the prophets themselves depicted in the text, regardless of the actual historicity of their lives, remain “boundary figures standing between the world of the sacred and the secular”[41]. Ultimately, it is not the messenger that is important, but the message they carry, and the manner of its reception: “the prophetic literature… accurately represents people’s reactions to the phenomenon, and this perhaps means more to us than the phenomenon itself.”[42]

 

Bibliography

Books:

  1. New Revised Standard Bible, Anglicised Edition, (Oxford University Press, 1995).
  2. Anderson, George, The History and Religion of Israel, (Oxford University Press, 1966).
  3. Ben Zvi, Ehud, and Floyd, Michael, Writings and Speech in Israelite and Ancient Near East Prophecy, (Society of Biblical Literature, 2000).
  4. Blenkinsopp, Joseph. A History of Prophecy of Israel, (Westminster John Knox Press, 1996).
  5. Davies, Philip, The Prophets, (Sheffield Academic Press, 1996).
  6. Ellison, H.L. , Men Spake from God: Studies in the Hebrew Prophets, (Paternoster Press, 1966).
  7. Gordon, Robert, “The Place is Too Small for Us”: The Israelite Prophets in Recent Scholarship, (Eisenbrauns, 1995).
  8. McConville, Gordon, Exploring the Old Testament Volume 4: The Prophets, (SPCK, 2002).
  9. Petersen, David, The Prophetic Literature: An Introduction, (Westminster John Knox Press, 2002).
  10. Pfeiffer, Robert, Introduction to the Old Testament, (Harper and Row, 1948).
  11. Sawyer, John, Prophecy and the Biblical Prophets, (Oxford University Press, 1993).
  12. Sweeney, Marvin, The Prophetic Literature, (Abingdon Press, 2005).
  13. Von Rad, Gerhard, The Message of the Prophets, (HarperSanFrancisco, 1965).
  14. Wilson, Robert, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel, (Fortress Press, 1984).

Journal Articles:

  1. Conrad, Edgar, “Second Isaiah and the Priestly Oracle of Salvation”, Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, Vol 92. No. 2, (1981), pp 234-46. Accessed August 15th, 2010.
  2. Conrad, Edgar, “The ‘fear not’ oracles in Second Isaiah”, Vetus testamentum, Vol. 34, No. 2, (1984). pp 129-52. Accessed August 14th, 2010.
  3. Crabtree, T.T, “A Prophet’s Call – A Dialogue with God: As Seen in Jeremiah”, Southwestern Journal of Theology, Vol. 4, No. 1, (1961), pp 33-56. Accessed August 14th, 2010.
  4. Croatto, Jose Severino, “The ‘nations’ in the salvific oracles of Isaiah”,  Vetus testamentum, Vol. 55, No. 2, (2005), pp 143-61. Accessed August 15th, 2010.
  5. Doohan, Helen, “Contrasts in Prophetic Leadership: Isaiah and Jeremiah”, Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Theology, Vol. 13, No. 2, (1983), pp 39-43. Accessed August 14th, 2010.
  6. Fischer, James, “Notes on the Literary Form and Message of Malachi”, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 3, (1972), pp 315-20. Accessed August 15th, 2010.
  7. Heflin, J. N., “The Prophet Malachi, His World and His Book”, Southwestern Journal of Theology, fill in details. Accessed August 15th, 2010.
  8. Klein, Ralph, “A Valentine for those who fear Yahweh: the book of Malachi”, Currents in Theology and Mission, Vol 14, No. (1986), pp 143-152. Accessed August 15th, 2010.
  9. McKenzie, Steven, and Wallace, Howard, “Covenant Themes in Malachi”, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 4, (1983), pp 549-563. Accessed August 8th, 2010.
  10. Paterson, Robert, “Repentance of Judgement: The Construction and Purpose of Jeremiah 2-6”, The Expository Times, Vol. 96, No. 7, (April 1985), pp 199-203. Accessed August 14th, 2010.

 


[1]David Petersen, The Prophetic Literature: An Introduction, (Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), pg 18.

[2]In his work Prophecy and the Biblical Prophets, John Sawyer has sought to make a distinction between “Writing Prophets”, and prophets that were  attached to cultic worship. If one considers this a valid argument, we are left with the idea of the “normal” prophet, providing oracles on request, and the prophet concerned with justice and ethics, the Isaiahs and Jeremiahs of the Hebrew Bible. This would make more sense in the cultural milieu of Ancient Israel than for the population to experience the prophets behind the books of the Hebrew Bible alone without a frame of reference.

[3]Ehud Ben Zvi,  “Introductions: Writings, Speeches and the Prophetic Books – Setting an Agenda.” In Writings and Speech in Israelite and Ancient Near East Prophecy,  edited by Ehud Ben Zvi and Michael Floyd,  (Society of Biblical Literature, 2000), pp 24-27.

[4]Malachi is Hebrew for “my messenger”, and thus may have been written by someone wishing to be anonymous, or the title was given to the text as a composite of several separate anonymous oracles.

[5]John Sawyer, Prophecy and the Biblical Prophets, (Oxford University Press, 1993), pg 5.

[6]Jeremiah 1:6.

[7]Jeremiah 1:7.

[8]T.T Crabtree, “A Prophet’s Call – A Dialogue with God: As Seen in Jeremiah”, Southwestern Journal of Theology, Vol. 4, No. 1, (1961), pp 52-53. Accessed August 14th, 2010.

[9]Gordon McConville, Exploring the Old Testament Volume 4: The Prophets, (SPCK, 2002), pg 51.

[10]Sawyer, Prophecy and the Biblical Prophets, pg 84.

[11]Jochaim Begrich,  Das priesterliche Heilsorakel, Vol. 52, (1934), pp 81-92. Quoted in “Second Isaiah and the Priestly Oracle of Salvation”, Edgar Conrad, Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, Vol 92. No. 2, (1981), pp 234-46. Accessed August 15th, 2010.

[12]Edgar Conrad, “The ‘fear not’ oracles in Second Isaiah”, Vetus testamentum, Vol. 34, No. 2, (1984). pg 129. Accessed August 14th, 2010.

[13]Claus Westermann, Das Buch Jesaja Kapitel 40-66, (Gottingen, 1966),  pp 13-15. Quoted in “The ‘fear not’ oracles in Second Isaiah”, Edgar Conrad, Vetus testamentum, Vol. 34, No. 2, (1984). pp 129-52. Accessed August 14th, 2010.

[14]Most extensively in his work, “Second Isaiah and the Priestly Oracle of Salvation” (1981).

[15]  Specifically Isaiah 41:8-13, 43:1-4 & 5-7, and 44:1-5.

[16]Deuteronomy 3:2, Numbers 21:34 and Joshua 8:1-2.

[17]Most clearly seen in Genesis 26:24.

[18]Jose Severino Croatto, “The ‘nations’ in the salvific oracles of Isaiah”,  Vetus testamentum, Vol. 55, No. 2, (2005), pp 143-61. Accessed August 15th, 2010.

[19]Jeremiah 4:4.

[20]Robert Paterson, “Repentance of Judgement: The Construction and Purpose of Jeremiah 2-6”, The Expository Times, Vol. 96, No. 7, (April 1985), pg 200.  Accessed August 14th, 2010.

[21]Paterson, “Repentance of Judgement: The Construction and Purpose of Jeremiah 2-6”, pg 201.

[22]Ibid.

[23]J.N. Heflin, “The Prophet Malachi, His World and His Book”, Southwestern Journal of Theology, pg 5.

[24]Robert Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testement, (Harper and Row, 1948), pg 614.

[25]Ralph Klein, “A Valentine for those who fear Yahweh: the book of Malachi”, Currents in Theology and Mission, Vol 14, No. (1986), pg 143. Accessed August 15th, 2010.

[26]J.N. Heflin, “The Prophet Malachi, His World and His Book”, pg 5.

[27]Steven MacKenzie, and Howard Wallace, “Covenant Themes in Malachi”, Catholic Bible Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 4, (1983), pg 553. Accessed August 8th, 2010.

[28]Sawyer, Prophecy and the Biblical Prophets, pg 84.

[29]R.E. Clements, “The Prophet as an Author: The Case of the Isaiah Memoir.” In Writings and Speech in Israelite and Ancient Near East Prophecy,  edited by Ehud Ben Zvi and Michael Floyd,  (Society of Biblical Literature, 2000), pg 89-101.

[30]McConville, Exploring the Old Testament Volume 4: The Prophets, pg 11.

[31]George Anderson, The History and Religion of Israel, (Oxford University Press, 1966).

[32]Marvin Sweeney, The Prophetic Literature, (Abingdon Press, 2005), pg 73.

[33]H.L. Ellison, Men Spake from God: Studies in the Hebrew Prophets, (Paternoster Press, 1966), pg 134.

[34]Steven MacKenzie, and Howard Wallace, “Covenant Themes in Malachi”, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 4, (1983), pp 560-563. Accessed August 8th, 2010.

[35]  MacKenzie and Wallace are working from a text which divides the book of Malachi into just three chapters, however, the NRSV creates a fourth chapter from 3:19-24. References to MacKenzie and Wallace’s work will refer to just three chapters for the sake of clarity.

[36]Steven MacKenzie, and Howard Wallace, “Covenant Themes in Malachi”, pp 560-1.

[37]Sawyer, Prophecy and the Biblical Prophets, pg 41.

[38]Robert Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel, (Fortress Press, 1984), pg 299.

[39]Robert Gordon, “The Place is Too Small for Us”: The Israelite Prophets in Recent Scholarship, (Eisenbrauns, 1995), pg 50.

[40]Sawyer, Prophecy and the Biblical Prophets, pg 2.

[41]Petersen, The Prophetic Literature: An Introduction, pg 7.

[42]Sawyer, Prophecy and the Biblical Prophets, pg 37.

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