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Notes from Dr. Bryan Rennie’s Religion 101 Class The Contents of the Jewish Scriptures

Elijah Contends Against The Priests Of Baal
Elijah Contends Against The Priests Of Baal

The Prophets, contains materials relating to the entry into Canaan (i.e. relating to events as early as c. 1200 BCE). The earliest written texts cannot predate the monarchy, however. That is, c. 1020 BCE. The collection of the texts of the Nevi’im was not completed until around 200 BCE.

This section of the Hebrew canon (= a closed collection of scriptures) is divided into two parts of four books each:

(The Former Prophets)  (Latter Prophets)
Joshua Isaiah 
Judges Jeremiah
Samuel  Ezekiel 
Kings 12 “minor” prophets 
The former Prophets are classed as “Historical” books in the Christian Canon, along with the books of Ruth, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles

 
The Former Prophets relate Joshua’s leadership after Moses’ death and the ensuing period up to the Exile of the Judaeans in Babylon. The Latter Prophets contain work attributed to the “literary prophets” (those who left works in their own names) who lived in the 8th – 5th centuries BC. The material from these eight books (originally scrolls) of the Nevi’im are divided into 21 books in the Christian Old Testament: Joshua, Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and each of the twelve minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).

Judges: Shâphat – shaw-fat, from a verb meaning to pronounce sentence for or against, to vindicate or punish, by extension to govern.

Seers: Râ’âh – raw-aw, from the verb meaning to see.

Prophets: nâbîy’ (plural Nevi’im) – naw-bee, to speak, call, or sing.

Perhaps it would be true to say that prophecy had always been present in the religion of the Hebrews since charismatic religious leadership was typical of leaders as early as Moses himself. The figures of early Israel such as Joshua and the figures from the book of Judges are called “judges.” Samuel, Nathan, and Gad who were contemporary with the United Kingdom are called “seers” (see 1 Samuel 9:9). The earlier books which are considered Nevi’im in the Hebrew Bible are classed among the historical books of the Christian Old Testament (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings). So the prophets according to the Christian classification began in the middle of the ninth century BCE. Beginning as the more-or-less typical ecstatic or shamanic religious leaders that would have been familiar in their time, the Hebrew Prophets were reinterpreted (particulalry in the Deuteronomic Strand of the text) as those people who could most accurately claim to know the will of their God, and thus could most reliably advise the people and especially the Kings how to observe the Covenent that was so central to the Deuteronomic understanding of their destiny.

From the earliest times, according to the text, the prophets were seen as interpreters of the written Torah, particularly the prophetess Huldah in 2 Kings 14: (2 Kings 22: 3-20). Thus the Deuteronomic theology of reward and retribution based on the observance of the Covenant is emphasized at the same time as the importance of the text compiled by the Deuteronomic editors is emphasized as a source of knowledge of that Covenant. Understandably, the literature based on this powerful constellation of ideas became popular and influential in Hebrew culture.

Factors contributing to the rise of the prophecy and prophetic literature

1. Threats to the worship of Yahweh, especially the emphasis on the worship of Baal under king Ahab (869 – 850) and his queen, Jezebel, who actively oppressed Yahwism (1 Kings 18:4).

2. Economic and social development in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah which produced an oppressed lower class. The theology of the prophets insisted that all Hebrews were equal insofar as they followed the Mosaic Law.

3. The political instability caused by the Assyrians’ return to international dominance and, of course, the division of the Jewish nation into two kingdoms after the death of Solomon (920).

Types of material in Prophetic Literature

1. Autobiographical
2. Biographical
3. Oracles and sermons

This diversity reflects the presence of material from both the prophets and their followers.

Major Features of Prophetic Literature

The prophet’s call (Jeremiah 1:6), (Ezekiel 1:4), (Isaiah 6:1-13)
Reports of visions (Zecheriah 5), (Ezekiel 1:4, 40:2), (Isaiah 6:1)
Symbolic language (Jeremiah 18:1-6), (Amos 7:7-9), (Hosea 1:6-7), (Hosea 2:16-20 and 3:1-5), (Jeremiah 1:11-16)
Symbolic action (Jeremiah 27:1-7 and 28:10-17), (Ezekiel 4:1-11 and 5:1-12),
(Ezekiel 12:1-20 and 24:15-24), (Ezekiel 37:15-22 and Isaiah 20:1-6)

Confrontation with kings (Jeremiah 36:27), (1 Kings 22:8), (Isaiah 7:1-19)
Although they also served as counselors to the Kings (2 Samuel 7:1-5 and 1 Kings 1:11-14)
The Prophets often oppose social inequality (Amos 8:4-6 and Jeremiah 7:5; 22:13, and Ezekiel 18:7 and Isaiah 1:17; 3:14-15; 10:1-2)
and pass judgement … (Amos 1), (Ezekiel 28:20-26, 29:2-21), (Isaiah 47:1).
… including judgement on those who exploit the poor and the powerless (Jeremiah 5:25-29; Amos 2:6-8; Isaiah 10:1-3)

Oracles (Jeremiah 46:2), (Ezekiel 27), (Isaiah 13:1, 15:1, 19:1).
Obedience/repentance (Jeremiah 3:14), (Ezekiel 18:32), (Isaiah 40:12).
Assurance of deliverance (Jeremiah 30:18), (Ezekiel 18:32), (Isaiah 40:12).

Other important elements of the prophetic theology

Explicit monotheism – (Isaiah 45:5,14,18), (Zechariah 14:9).

Discussion of the Free will/Determinism question – (Ezekiel 3:18).

Concept of vicarious suffering – (Isaiah 50:6-8, 53:3-5,12).

Growing Messianism – (Isaiah 52:13), (Malachi 3:1), (Micah 5:2).

Strong ethical content – (Zecheriah 8:16), (Ezekiel 18:5), (Jeremiah 22:13).

Emphasis on Divine Justice and mercy – (Ezekiel 18:19,32), (Jeremiah 30:18).

Growing concept of afterlife – (2 Kings 2:11), (Isaiah 27:13) but cf. (Ezekiel 37).


The Divisions of the Book of Isaiah

Proto-Isaiah, 1 – 39.
1. Biographical details of the life of Isaiah.
2. Assyria as major power.
3. Exile as future threat.
4. Emphasis on the judgement to come.
5. Implicit monotheism.
Usually dated before 587 in Jerusalem
(But note that the “Isaiah Apocalypse” of chapters 24-27 is dated to 540-425 by the Oxford Companion to the Bible and even later by some other scholars, eg. Almut Hinze, who dates it to the third or second century B.C.E.–“The Saviour and the Dragon in Iranian and Jewish/Christian Eschatology,” p. 80. This is an important passage to date since it contains one of the few references to the resurrection of the dead: Isaiah 26:14-19.)

Deutero-Isaiah, 40 – 55.
1. No biographical details.
2. Babylon as major power and Persia growing.
3. Exile as present suffering.
4. Emphasis on redemption.
5. Explicit monotheism.
Generally said to be shortly before 538 in Babylon but shows clear evidence of awareness of the return to Jerusalem and the Restoration.

Trito-Isaiah, 55 – 66. Very similar to Deutero-Isaiah but contains evidence of the Persian takeover and the return from Exile.
Unquestionably after 539 in Jerusalem

Chapters 36 – 39 appear to be historical narratives edited into the book from 2 Kings 18:13 to 20:19 at a later date. Chapters 24 – 27 is proto-Apocalyptic, a literary style which developed only after the return from Exile and so is also probably a later editorial addition. Chapters 13 – 23 also appear to be later additions. Some scholars think that both chapters 34 – 35 and 60 – 62 belong more appropriately to Second Isaiah. This could still leave Chs. 1 – 12 and 27 – 33 as original material deriving directly from the late 7th and early 6th centuries BCE.


Approximate represented date of activity (BCE)

Prophet

Biblical Source

Comments and probable locations

1200
1050
850

Joshua

Samuel

Elijah

Book of Joshua
Book of Samuel
I Kings 17-21,
II Kings 11 – 211
NB. Like Enoch (Gen 521-24) Elijah did not die an ordinary death (2Kings211) This sets a precedent  for the belief in an afterlife and in Elijah’s return.It also sets a precedent for the lack of any direct mention of a prophet’s death.

FP. Israel.

850

Micaiah

I Kings 228-29
FP. Israel.
825

Elisha

II Kings 2 – 10
FP. Israel.
750

Amos

Book of Amos
LP*. Israel.

740-730

Hosea

Book of Hosea
LP*. Israel.

The Assyrians destroy the northern kingdom of Israel in 722.

742-695

Isaiah (1)

Book of Isaiah (1-39)

LP. Jerusalem (Judah).

730-701

Micah

Book of Micah
LP*. Judah.

630-622

Zephaniah

Book of Zephaniah
LP*. Judah.

627-580

Jeremiah

Book of Jeremiah
LP. Judah.

after 612

Nahum

Book of Nahum
LP*. Location uncertain

605-600

Habbakuk

Book of Habbakuk
LP*. Judah.

593-570

Ezekiel

Book of Ezekiel
LP. Babylon

The Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and Exile Judah in 587.

after 587

Obadiah

Book of Obadiah

LP*. Judah.

540

Isaiah (2)

Book of Isaiah (40-55)

LP. Babylon

520

Haggai

Book of Haggai

LP*. Jerusalem.

520-515

Zechariah

Book of Zechariah

LP*. Jerusalem.

515?

Isaiah(3?)

Book of Isaiah (56-66)

LP. Jerusalem.

before 458

Malachi

Book of Malachi
Note reference to Messiah to come 31.

LP*. Jerusalem.

400-350

Joel

Book of Joel
LP*. Jerusalem.

uncertain

Jonah

Book of Jonah
LP*. This is an unusual satire.

FP – indicates the “Former Prophets” of the Nevi’im (otherwise known as the Deuteronomistic History and classed as “Historical Books” in English Christian Bibles)

LP = “Latter Prophets” and LP* = “Minor Latter Prophets” (that is, The Scroll of the Twelve).

Author:
Dr. Bryan Rennie was first employed at Westminster College in 1992 as a part-time instructor and hired into a tenure-track position in philosophy and religion in 1994 and held the Vira I. Heinz Chair as Professor of Religion from 2002 until 2017. Dr. Rennie served as Chair of the Department of Religion, History, Philosphy and Classics from 2007 until 2014. Bryan’s current interest is in the relationship of religion and the creative arts and he is researching the ethology (the study of behavior as an evolved trait) of art and religion. Connect with Bryan via email at brennie@westminster.edu, Phone: (724) 946-7151, or website at http://www4.westminster.edu/staff/brennie/.

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