Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview
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17 The Mantological Exegesis of Oracles

By contrast with the interpretation of dreams, visions, or omens, all of which have some ocular or visual quality, the exegesis of oracles is concerned with a mantological type which is characteristically aural and oral in nature: a prophet 'hears' a divine voice and communicates it. Sometimes, to be sure, the aural aspect is of minor or little significance, as in those instances, marked in the earliest strata particularly, where the prophetic type is inspired to 'see' or perceive a future event, but even here it is essential to point out that the mantic product is spoken, and any related or subsequent interpretations of it start from its (real or affected) verbal and oral content.

Naturally enough, as has been thoroughly recognized by students of biblical prophecy, the received oracles are the product of long and faithful processes of transmission. The very survival whatever the motivation of such a variegated bulk of ancient oracles into the post-exilic period is in itself proof of this assertion. In some cases, as is well known, oracles were preserved by faithful disciples and students of the great prophets (cf. Isa. 8: 1-2, 16-18). In other instances, amanuenses like Baruch ben Neriah copied versions of older oracles for posterity (cf. Jer. 36: 32). Added to this, of course, is the fact that prophetic circles and schools reworked whole collections of prophetic materials and added to them as various generations of deuteronomistic tradents did to the older oracles of Jeremiah 1or found in the prophecies or phraseology of earlier prophets elements appropriate and seemingly applicable to their times. 2

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