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Chapter I: Basic Questions

about the Prophetic Literature

of Ancient Israel
See David L. Petersen,
“Introduction to Prophetic
Literature” in The New
International Bible Commentary,
vol. 6, pp.1-23.
1. What is the Scope of
Prophetic Literature?
a. From the Point of View of the Hebrew
b. From the Point of View of Authorship
c. From the Point of View of Redaction
d. From the Point of View of the Christian
a. From the Point of View of the
Hebrew Canon
(“Former Prophets” = Deuteronomistic

Isaiah-Jeremiah-Ezekiel-The Twelve
(“Latter Prophets”)
The Twelve:
 Ho-Jo-Am
 Ob-Jon-Mi
 Na-Ha-Zep
 Hag-Zech-Mal
Historical Books as Prophetic Books
Prophets as Historians
1) Deut 18:15-18 and 2 Kgs 17:13
2) 1 Chr 29:29

• “Israel’s prophets were of fundamental

importance for understanding Israelite
History” (p. 2).
• In Deuteronomistic History, one of the main
themes is “prophecy and fulfillment” (see
Ceresko, p. 130).
• Problem: Christian Tradition does not
regard the Historical Books as Prophetic
b. From the Point of View of
What the prophets have “said”.
Inspired and authoritative.
Problem: Literature about the prophets.
Not all of it was written by them.
E.g. Elisha and Gehazi in 2 Kgs 8:4-5.
Jeremiah and Baruch in Jer 45:1
c. From the Point of View of
The difference between “authentic” and
“secondary” prophetic literature.
Isaiah ben Amos vs. Second Isaiah (chaps.
Zechariah 1-11 vs. Zechariah 9-14
d. From the Point of View of the
Christian Canon
Baruch (Deuterocanonical)
Daniel (“Prophet” in LXX)
Mt 24:15
Josephus (Antiquities x 11,7)
Placed after Ezekiel (in the Latin Vulgate)
The book was probably too late (ca. 150 B.C.)
to be included among the prophets in the
Hebrew Canon.
What , then, is Prophetic
It is the literature that attests to or grows
out of the ministry and activity of Israel’s
prophets (Petersen, p. 3).
2. What does “prophet”
From Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online
Main Entry: proph·et
one who utters divinely inspired revelations
the writer of one of the prophetic books of
the Bible
one regarded by a group of followers as the
final authoritative revealer of God's will
<Muhammad, the Prophet of Allah>
 one gifted with more than ordinary
spiritual and moral insight; especially : an
inspired poet
 one who foretells future events : predictor
an effective or leading spokesman for a
cause, doctrine, or group
Christian Science : a spiritual seer
b: disappearance of material sense before
the conscious facts of spiritual Truth.
“’Prophecy’” is one of those slippery words
that have a remarkably broad and ill-
defined range of meaning” (Blenkinsopp,
“Prophetism and Prophecy,” p. 951).
The need to investigate what the
designation “prophet” implied:
Linguistic (Etymological)
Greek prophetes from pro (for) and phēmi
(to speak).
“to speak for”, to “speak before”, hence “to
“One who proclaims a message on behalf
of another, generally a deity” (Blenkinsopp,
p. 952).
See J. Blenkinsopp, “Prophetism and
Prophets” in International Bible
Commentary, pp., 951-956.
Prophētēs at Delphi
The Dephic Pythia on a
Hebrew Terms for “Prophet”
1. näbî´ “prophet” (plural nübì´îm)
 Akkadian root nabu “to call”
 näbî´ as “one who calls “or as majority of scholars
accept, “the called one” (passive participle form).
 See the call of Jeremiah (1:4-10); Isaiah (6); and
Ezekiel (1-3)
 This term is translation of the Greek LXX “prophetes”.
 It appears 315 times in the masculine form
 And six times in the feminine (nübî´â “prophetess”),
[see slide below]
 14x in the Torah (10x in Deuteronomy alone)
 99x the Former Prophets
 156x the Latter Prophets
 95x in Jeremiah
 17x in Ezekiel
 7x in Isaiah
Note: that in classical Greek, there is
another word for “prophet” that is mantis.
Mantis is associated with ecstatic behavior
(mantic person).
LXX translator preferred the word
“prophetes” rather than “mantis”.
Perhaps, to stress the declarative and
rational aspects of prophecy in the Hebrew
Note that “nabi” appears often in
Deuteronomy and in the book of the
prophet Jeremiah.
Jeremiah could have been transmitted and
edited near the school that produced the
Deuteronomistic History (in the North)
In Isaiah, the term appears rarely.
Note that Isaiah was prophet in Jerusalem
The term “nabi” was used more commonly
in Israel (North) rather in Judah (South).
2) Hözeh “seer” or “visionary” - an
individual who receives and reports visions
See Sam 24:11 (Gad)
3) rö´eh “diviner” -one who has the gift of
second sight or extrasensory perception
See 1 Samuel 9:9 (Samuel)
Note that both terms literally means “to
Sometimes, they are synonymous:
See same 1 Sam 9:9
For the meaning of the prophet as a “seer”,
see the article of WALTER VOGELS “From
Blindness to Prophecy: The Prophet as Seer
who Invites People to See,” MST Review 7
(2005): 109-132.
4) ´îš-hä´élöhîm “man of God” – a person
who possesses the power of the Holy,
hence, are dangerous, powerful, and must
be respected.
See Elijah in 1 Kgs 17:18;
Elisha in 2 Kgs 4:1-37
5) nübî´â “prophetess”
A woman who serves as a channel of
communication between the human and the
divine worlds.
Prophetesses played a central role in Israel’s
early history.
-see R. R. Wilson, “Prophetess” in HarperCollins Bible
Dictionary, p. 889.
Miriam (Exod 15:20-21)
Deborah (Judg 4:1-10)
Huldah (2 Kgs 22:14-20)
Noadiah (Neh 6: 10-14)
*Anna (Luke 2:36-38)
*Jezebel (Rev 2:20)
NOTE: Some prophets are priests
Three religious and intellectual leaders in
Ancient Israel
Sage, Priest, and Prophet
Jeremiah (Jer 1:1)
Ezekiel (Ezek 1:3)
Zechariah (Zech 1:1 and Neh 12:16)
Joel (Joel 1:13-14; 19; 2:18-20)
Zephaniah (Zeph 3:14-15)
In conclusion, the survey of the terms tells
us of the various roles of prophets,
including as intermediaries and even as
3.When did the prophetic
movement begin? (see Petersen, pp.

First is to ask the question:, when was

Israel formed as a nation?
See my article on the theories of the origins
of Israel in
Israel as a nation emerged with the birth of
the monarchy (ca. 1000 B.C.).
Prophets appeared side by side with the
Question: What about ABRAHAM (Gen
20:7), MOSES (Exod 34:10), MIRIAM (Exod
15:20), AARAON (Exod 7:1), and DEBORAH
(Judg 4:4) who were called
The “prophet” (“nabi”) has an extended or
wider sense here:
Patriarch, intercessor, singer, interpreter, or
Three conditions for the existence of
1) audience – most of the time kings
2) patrons or protectors
3) Major crises in history of ancient Israel
 Beginning of the monarchy
 Division of the Kingdom
 Assyrian threat and the Destruction of the Northern
Kingdom (721 B.C.)
 Babylonian thread and the destruction of the
Southern Kingdom (586 B.C.)
 Life in the Exile
 Restoration Period
Beginning of the Monarchy
Nathan in 2 Sam 11-12
Gad in 2 Sam 24

Henry Fuseli
King David being warned by The Prophet Nathan
circa 1772
Black chalk, grey wash on paper, 616 x 918 mm
Private collection, courtesy of Aroldo Zevi Limited,
Division of the Kingdom
Prophet Ahijah the Shilonite
King Rehobam vs. King Jeroboam of the
new Northern kingdom (1 Kings 11)
Neo-Assyrian Empire threat vs.
2 Kings 15
Eight century B.C.
Amos and Hosea

745-727 B.C.
Photo grab:
Neo-Assyrian Threat vs.
Micah 1:10-16
Isiah 36-37
2 Kings 18-19

vs. Judah
in 721
Photo grab:
Neo-Babylonian attack on
Jerusalem in 597 and 587

the capture of
Jerusalem in
London) photo
During the Exile
Will God be with this people?
Will there still be a covenant?
Ezekiel and his vision of the valley of the
bones (ch. 37)
Second Isaiah (chaps. 40-55), see 54:11-12
Jeremiah and the new covenant (Jer 31:31)
Haggai and restoration of monarchy, see
Zechariah and a new order, see chap. 4
Restoration, Rebuilding of the
515 B. C. – Temple Rebuilt (Second Temple
Prophetic literature were in the form of
notes, additions, and supplements to
earlier words.
Religion was now practiced also in Diaspora
(Egypt and Mesopotamia)
New oracles from the deity was no longer
Prophets were no longer needed.
In summary, prophets emerged in times of
crisis, from the beginning of the monarchy
up to the time of restoration or the
beginning of the Second Temple Period
(515 B.C.).
4. What is the Social Status of
the Prophet?
D. L. Petersen, “Introduction to Prophetic
Literature,” pp. 8-9.
J. Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in
Israel, rev. and enl., pp. 30-39.
1) Most prophets were active in the cities.

•AMOS moving
from Tekoa
(South) to
Bethel (North)
preached in
Jerusalem in the
Temple area.
2) Often, prophets worked for the royal
And hundred years later, Haggai

3) Very often, they spoke on behalf of

those without power—oppressed, like
widows and orphans.
4) Prophets were also connected with
warfare and cult.
5) Some were peripatetic figures like Elijah
and Elisha
6) They were low on the economic and
social scale.
Except, perhaps, Amos
 (see the discussion of Blenkinsopp in p. 33).
5. What are the different literary
forms used in prophetic
Browse or skim the following:
Claus Westermann, Basic Forms of Prophetic
Speech (trans. H. C. White; Philadelphia:
Westminster, 1967).
Marvin A. Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39 with an
Introduction to the Prophetic Literature ,
Forms of Old Testament Literature 16 (Grand
Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1996), pp. 15-30.
D. L. Petersen, “Introduction to Prophetic
Literature,” pp. 12-16.
•ANE prophetic texts are oftentimes
appear in form of single clay tablets or in a
incantation bowl.

•But, in ancient Israel, collections of

numerous speeches or incidents from a
prophet’s life.
have a
The Categories of Prose and Poetry
Prose is writing patterned from everyday
Poetry is heightened speech.
Difficulty of ascertaining a biblical text:
Is it a prose or a poetry?
What are the criteria?
Can we use the same criteria of modern
e.g. Ezekiel 17:9-10

1. Prose Accounts
Most reports on the activity of prophets are
in prose
But they are not all stories.
Seven (7) accounts of prose accounts
7 Types of Prose Accounts
1) Symbolic Action Report – it describes
prophetic behavior that is designed to
convey a message.
Isaiah 20:1-6
 For nakedness as a symbolic expression see 1 Sam
19:19-24; Micah 1:8-9
Ezek 4:1-3
Ezek 5:1-4
2) Commissioning Report = “Call
Six elements (Norman Habel)
Structure of a Call Narrative
(From:  Habel, Norm.  “The Form and Significance of the Call
Narratives.”  ZAW 77 (1965): 297-323; For online, click here
3. Vision Report
Note: “prophet” as “seer”
“to look up and see” (Amos 7:1)
 Amos’ five visions (7:1-9; 8:1-3; 9:1-4)
 Ezekiel’s four visions (1:1; 8:1; 37:1; and 40:1
Zechariah’s eight visions
 Daniel’s vision (Dan 7:15-16)
4) Legenda
 story of the life of a saint (Webster)
A report about something holy, whether on
object or a person
 E.g. “ark of God” in 2 Sam 6:6-7
 Elisha as “man of God” in 2 Kgs 2:23-24; 2 Kgs 4:1-7
5) Prophetic Historiography
History is written from the point of view of
the role of the prophet.
 See Isaiah 36-39 = 2 Kgs 18:13-19:37
For ancient Israelites, “the prophetic word
[has] a major place in history” (Petersen, p.
6) Autobiography [not biography as
presented earlier]
E.g. Jeremiah 37-44
7) Divinatory Chronicle
Text narrating the prophet as a diviner
 (one who could give information from the world
beyond that of normal human knowledge)
 “to inquire from Yahweh”
 E.g. 1 Samuel 9
 Zechariah 7-9
 Ezekiel 20
2. Poetic Speech
Claus Westermann,
Basic Forms of
Prophetic Speech
(trans. H. C. White;
Westminster, 1967).*
Online outline of Westermann’s
Basic Forms*
Adele Berlin,
“Introduction to
Hebrew Poetry,” in
The New
Interpreter’s Bible
vol. 4, pp. 301-315.
2. Poetic Speech
It is the predominant form of prophetic
Special attention to Hebrew poetic techniques
and rhetorical styles
Regular forms of speech might been created
and preserved in ancient society
“Köh ´ämar yhwh” (“thus says the Lord”)
“says the Lord”
1) Judgment Oracle
e.g. Jer 6:16-21
2) Woe oracle
 Isa 10:1-4
Hebrew hôy
Probably used originally to someone who had
just died. = person is good as dead
Opposite: Beatitudes ´aºšürê
3) Lawsuit (rîb)
Legal process that ends with the passing of a
Must have been derived from Israel’s law
Most common prophetic speech.
e.g. Micah 1:2-7
Micah 1:2-7

1 Hear, you peoples, all of you; [Summon]

listen, O earth, and all that is in it;
and let the Lord GOD be a witness against you,
the Lord from his holy temple. ….
5 All this is for the transgression of Jacob
and for the sins of the house of Israel. What is
the transgression of Jacob? [interrogation]
Is it not Samaria? And what is the high place of
Judah? Is it not Jerusalem?
6 Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in
the open country, [sentence]
a place for planting vineyards.
I will pour down her stones into the valley,
and uncover her foundations.
4) lament
Would have been used in funerary rites.
E.g. Amos 5:1-2
Structure of psalms of lament (from
(1) Address or Introductory Cry
(2) Lament Proper
(3) Confession of Trust
(4) Petition Proper
(5) Vow of Praise
See Psalm 22, see also my study on this in
Diwa 31 (2006), pp, 24-41.
5) hymn
Begins with plural imperative verb, like
“Sing” or “Praise”
Attests to the character of the deity.
E.g. Habakkuk 3:2-15
Isa 5:1-2
6) allegory
symbolic story that serves as a disguised
representation for meanings other than those
indicated on the surface.
Used by scribes and intellectuals
E.g. Ezekiel 17:2-10
7) acrostics
is a poem or other text written in an alphabetic
script, in which the first letter, syllable or word
of each verse, paragraph or other recurring
feature in the text spells out another message.

See ANTHONY R. CERESKO, “Endings and

Beginnings: ‘Alphabetic Thinking’ and the Shape
of Psalms 106, and of the Psalter,” in (CBAP
2005 Proceedings; Tagaytay Scripture and the
Quest for New Society City: CBAP, 2006), pp. 75-

Nahum 1:1-8
Two important books on prose
and poetry

See chapter VI
“Prophecy and
Poetry”, pp. 137-162.