Friday, December 09, 2016

Whence the prophetic books?

Prophets and prophetesses of the ancient Near East enjoyed confidential communion with the gods and transmitted their messages. These messages were handed down orally or were written down either individually (in letters, inscriptions, or on other materials) or in small collections (Neo-Assyrian prophetic tablets) such that we know them only by archaeological chance. As far as we can see, neither the prophets of the ancient Near East nor their Judean counter-parts known from the Lachish letters wrote books.

Against this background, the prophetic books of the Bible and even more the collection of prophetic books pose a conundrum. Scholarship has not yet been successful in determining and explaining the genre of the prophetic book. The prophetic book unites oracles addressing specific situations, prophecy masquerading as the words of the prophet but written down at a later stage and composed with the prophetic book in view, as well as narratives about the prophets. The prophetic book, then, presents itself as an entity of lasting significance and validity. However, when all is said and done, we still do not know what we have in front of us when we look at the prophetic books. We do not know what the purpose of the books was, who read them, and how they were used. Above all, we do not know who is responsible for their composition: the prophet himself, his “pupils,” or some other anonymous tradents or scribes.—The Prophets of Israel, page 145

<idle musing>
In the finest tradition of German scholarship, he's a good bit more skeptical about the percentage of the original prophet in the books attributed to them. But nonetheless, his point is well taken. What is it that we have in the prophetic books?

It's unique, and one thing scholar's hate is being unable to explain something : )

I'm satisfied with saying it is God's message to a specific time and place with ramifications for all people in all places at all times. But it sure is fun speculating about all that other stuff, isn't it?
</idle musing>

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