Reading the Latter Prophets: Toward a New Canonical Criticism

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Reading the Latter Prophets: Toward a New Canonical Criticism, by Edgar Conrad, JSOTSUp 376. London: T & T Clark, 2004, Pp. xii + 287. $69.95 (paper). ISBN 0567084523. $140.00 (hardcover). ISBN 0826466524.

Over the past two decades Edgar Conrad has contributed several books and articles to the study of Hebrew prophetic literature. His two commentaries, Reading Isaiah (OBT; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991) and Zechariah (Readings; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), have provided helpful examples of his particular approach. The present volume not only provides further insights into Conrad's approach but also reveals continuing developments in his hermeneutic.

The first two chapters set the tone for the volume as Conrad argues for a semiotics of reading based on the approach of Umberto Eco (ch, 1) and then for a new approach to form criticism (ch. 2). The first chapter provides insights into Conrad's personal hermeneutical journey, a journey that is described in dialogue with Hermann Cunkel and James Muilenburg. Although appreciative of these two giants of research, Conrad highlights their weaknesses and ultimately leverages the semiotic theory of Umberto Eco to argue for a balanced text-reader approach. One will find fascinating parallels between Conrad's journey and that of Eco himself in the same period. Both have an initial attraction to radical reader response, which is then tempered by later reflection on text limits. In the second chapter Conrad reveals his approach to history and the relationship between history and the text of the prophets. Again, honestly expressing his own journey hermeneutically, Conrad sides with the "minimalists" in the enduring debate over the use of the Bible for reconstructing the history of Israel. For Conrad, historical-critical approaches are deeply ideological and linked to a triumphalist ideology where Israel is at the center. Conrad's approach is antitriumphalist, a view where the Bible is not only one sacred text among many but where reconstruction of history of the prophets and their lives is impossible. Lest he be accused of being antihistorical, Conrad does admit interest in history. That interest, however, is focused on the prophets as books that "are textual constructions of whatever the real world was at the time these books were composed" (p. 38). This final point leads Conrad to his proposal for a new form criticism, one that focuses on "the way some ancient author (scribe) or group of authors (scribes) constructed prophetic worlds by producing prophetic books" (p. 43), and it is this world that he seeks to enter as a reader.

In the following chapters Conrad shows the results of approaching the text with his particular hermeneutic. The first couple of chapters are more global in character, dealing with issues related to the Prophets (Former and Latter) as a collection. Chapter 3 ("Ordering Prophetic Books") consists of interaction with both Brevard Childs and Philip Davies on the role and genesis of canon, and in the process Conrad justifies his reading of the prophetic books in their present form and in the order identified in the rabbinical sources (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, The Twelve). In ch. 4 ("Opening Prophetic Books") he focuses attention on the role that superscriptions play in prophetic books (both Former Prophets and Latter Prophets), in particular, the codes they provide for the reader. The focus is not merely on the way these superscriptions provide signals for reading the individual books, but more so on how they provide a signal for reading the Prophets as a canonical division that takes the reader on a journey from the time of Moses to that of Darius, a journey that is rooted, however, in the world of words where the temple is often the center of activity.

The remaining chapters of the book provide more focused attention on sections of the Latter Prophets, employing intertextual strategies to bring the various books under discussion into conversation and highlight key themes. …