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


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The Book of Micah displays a common pattern to be found in prophetic books: invective and threats alternating with optimistic oracles of promise (1–3, 4–5, 6: 1–7: 7, 7: 8–20). These different oracular collections are mixed up in ways which make it very difficult now to untangle them. The by-now familiar pattern of oracles of condemnation and judgement, followed by those of salvation, is so common as to suggest a standard format for the writers or compilers of the prophetic books. As we have them, the prophetic books are at some remove from the original spoken oracles of poets only faintly discernible behind the books. Micah, we are told, is from a small village in the Judaean hills. Many of the prophets appear to have been such rural figures, and, as Lowth suggested in the eighteenth century, their unremitting attacks on the big cities, Jerusalem or Samaria, are essentially the poetry of the opposition, reflecting deep suspicions of corrupt city life. Micah's denunciations of the behaviour of the social leaders of Samaria and Jerusalem are the most trenchant in the Bible, and Mic. 1–3 offers an excellent introduction to the prophet as social critic. These attacks on corruption include invective against other prophets (2: 11; 3: 5–7), condemning them specifically for the state of the nation: ‘Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment, and pervert all equity. They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity. The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet they will lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us. Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest’ (3: 9–12). This image of a destroyed Jerusalem as overgrown mounds is cited in Jer. 26: 18, though the Jeremiah text omits the ominous phrase ‘because of you’. Balancing the vision of a ruined Jerusalem is the famous poem of 4: 1–4 (repeated in Isa. 2: 2–4) which represents the temple on the hill of Zion elevated above all other mountains in the future and becoming the cult centre for all nations. They will be taught YHWH's Torah and there they learn war no more. This idyll of beating swords into ploughshares and future peace among all nations is one of the most famous poems in the Bible and has provided the rhetoric for many modern peace movements. The relationship between the books of Isaiah and Micah, which share this poem, is unclear. Micah's version has the addition of verse 4, with its bucolic vision of ‘every man under his vine and under his fig tree’, and the thrust of the poem differs slightly in the two books. Without more exact dating we cannot decide if one is the ‘original’ and the other a ‘copy’, and it may be that the poem was a ‘floating’ and anonymous oracle, incorporated into both the books by the respective compilers.

Chapter.  1016 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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