Prophetism (in the Bible)

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I. Engnell and some other Scandinavian scholars have argued that much of the prophetic material, and the Old Testament in general, had a very long history of oral tradition, being fixed in writing only at a late period. As prophetic disciples and schools passed on the materials, they were reinterpreted and adapted to ever new situations. As a result, they thought, the line between the prophet's original words and later adaptations was virtually non-existent and the attempt to recover the ipsissima verba of the prophet became impossible. S. Mowinckel, on the other hand, had argued early for the importance of a careful investigation into the role of both oral and written tradition in shaping the prophetic tradition. Other scholars have been attempting to demonstrate from the prophetic books that, in some cases at least, the beginning of the written tradition goes back to the prophets themselves.

The formation of the prophetic books as we have them remains an elusive process. There is general agreement that, in most cases, the process began with smaller collections, which, through a gradual process of expansion and combination, resulted in our canonical books. Ever new theories continue to be put forth on the specific procedure in the case of each book. H. Barth has attempted to reconstruct a so-called Assur-Redaktion of Isaiah 139, according to which many passages that relate to the downfall of Assyria would have been added around the time of that nation's demise; he is closely followed by Clements, who speaks, rather, of a Josianic redaction; how widely this theory will be accepted remains to be seen.

Important work has been done on the redaction of Jeremiah by E. W. Nicholson. Whereas it had become commonplace to distinguish three types of material in Jeremiah, poetic oracles by the prophet himself, biographical prose (attributed to Baruch), and prose discourses (the prophet's words as preserved among the circle of his followers), Nicholson argues that the prose sections (in which he rejects the distinction implied above) are all the work of the deuteronomists, whose interest was not biographical but rather concerned the function of God's word through the prophet, human reaction to it, obedience to the law, results of disobedience, etc. The book in its edited form was intended for the exiles and vindicates their claim to be the "true" Israel over those who remained in the land. Nicholson does not thereby deny that the prose discourses rest on genuine words of Jeremiah or the historical truth of the events related or the traditional link with Baruch.

The redaction and organization of Deutero-Isaiah (Is 4055) continues to be debated. T. N. D. Mettinger's analysis places emphasis on eight hymns of praise and argues for a closely knit, tightly organized structure, while Clifford divides the composition into 17 speeches aimed at persuading the exiles to return home. Clifford suggests a date after Cyrus has already issued his decree permitting the exiles to return; C. Stuhlmueller sees chs. 4148 dating to before the fall of Babylon, chs. 4955 to after the fall and initial return of the exiles, with the Servant Songs (42:14; 49:16; 50:49; 52:1353:12) and ch. 40 composed by Deutero-Isaiah but added at a later stage of redaction, by him or a disciple. The Servant of the Lord continues to be the object of extensive study, though with no one solution finally accepted. Mettinger denies the Servant can be distinguished from Israel in the oracles of Deutero-Isaiah; for Clifford the Servant is Deutero-Isaiah and those who go back with him in the new Exodus-Conquest; Blenkinsopp thinks the first song refers to a royal figure (Cyrus or possibly Jehoiachin or Zerubbabal), the second to the exiled community (but later expanded by the prophetic group reflected in chs. 5666), the third to (and by) Deutero-Isaiah, and the fourth to Deutero-Isaiah and his prophetic group; for Elliger the Servant is to be identified with DeuteroIsaiah himself.

Ezekiel's book has undergone many vicissitudes since C. C. Torrey suggested (1930) that it was not written by Ezekiel and was to be dated to late postexilic times. Such extreme views are no longer current. Scholars generally agree with W. Zimmerli that Ezekiel was responsible for a solid core of the book (not including chs. 3839), which has been fleshed out with later reworkings by his disciples. Which parts are to be attributed to the latter continues to be a disputed question, but, contrary to the view of the Scandinavian scholars referred to above, bases are found for making the distinction.

See Also: prophecy (in the bible); prophecy, (theology of); prophet; prophetess; prophetic books of the old testament; prophetism (in the bible).

Bibliography: h. barth, Die Jesaja-Worte in der Josiazeit (Neukirchen 1977). r. e. clements, Isaiah and the Deliverance of Jerusalem (Sheffield 1980). r. j. clifford, Fair Spoken and Persuading: An Interpretation of Second Isaiah (New York 1984). k. elliger, Jesaja II (Neukirchen-Vluyn 197078). i. engnell, "Prophets and Prophetism in the Old Testament," A Rigid Scrutiny: Critical Essays on the Old Testament, ed. j. t. willis (Nashville 1969) 12379. b. gerhardsson, "Mündliche und schriftliche Tradition der Prophetenbücher," Theologische Zeitschrift 17 (1961) 21620. t. n. d. mettinger, A Farewell to the Servant Songs (Lund 1983). e. w. nicholson, Preaching to the Exiles: A Study in the Prose Tradition in the Book of Jeremiah (Oxford 1970). c. stuhlmueller, "Deutero-Isaiah: Major Transitions in the Prophet's Theology and in Contemporary Scholarship," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 42 (1980) 129. w. zimmerli, Ezekiel 1 (Philadelphia 1979); Ezekiel 2 (Philadelphia 1983).

[j. jensen]