Chapter

The Prophetic Books of the Bible

Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics

The Prophetic Books of the Bible

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Throughout the Bible there are stories about prophets—from Gen. 20: 7 to 2 Chr. 36: 16, 21–22 (the whole Hebrew Bible)—but in the collection of prophetic texts represented by the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve (Hosea–Malachi) we have a series of anthologies of poems by and narratives about named prophets. The fifteen books of the Hebrew Bible are increased to seventeen in the Christian canon by the inclusion of Lamentations (associated with Jeremiah) and Daniel among the prophets. Most, but not all, of the prophetic books are linked to the history schema of 2 Kings by the introductory colophon locating the work of the named prophet in the time of the kings of Israel and/or Judah, but the absence of any reference to these prophets, apart from Jonah and Isaiah 36–9, in the pages of 2 Kings may suggest strategic contextual placing by the authors. The only attempt at a definition of a prophet occurs in 1 Sam. 9: 9: ‘(Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to enquire of God, thus he spake, Come, and let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer.)’ A seer is one who sees and a prophet is one who speaks.61 The stories about Saul and the prophets which follow this definition and which gave rise to the repeated question ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’ (1 Sam. 10: 11; 19: 24) illustrate the keenly felt contemporary problem of discerning real prophets from mimicry. Prophets, like shamans, were inspired persons or intermediaries considered to be in contact with the spirit world and functioned as part of a complex system of communicative action between the human world and the world of the gods. Such communication was, by its very nature, intensely controversial and polemical because different individuals and groups often opposed each other in terms of policy, vision, rhetoric, and discourse. The Bible has a number of such stories of prophetic conflict (e.g. 1 Kgs. 13, 22; Jer. 28), as well as many diatribes against prophets (Deut. 13: 1–5; Jer. 14: 13–16; 23: 9–40; 27–9; Ezek. 13: 1–14: 9; Mic. 3: 5–8). In fact, the material on prophets in the Bible represents a very wide spectrum of attitudes: from the wish that all the people were prophets (Num. 11: 29) to the representation of a future time when YHWH will remove prophets from the land and nobody will seek to become a prophet (Zech. 13: 1–5).

Chapter.  1046 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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