The Bridling of the Tongue and the Opening of the Mouth in Biblical Prophecy

By Moore, Michael S. | Journal of Biblical Literature, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

The Bridling of the Tongue and the Opening of the Mouth in Biblical Prophecy


Moore, Michael S., Journal of Biblical Literature


The Bridling of the Tongue and the Opening of the Mouth in Biblical Prophecy, by Gregory Yuri Glazov. JSOTSup 311. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001. Pp. 449. $90.00 (cloth).

The purpose of this book is to dig deeper into the prophetic call narratives of the Hebrew Bible in order to ascertain why so many of the prophets become silent before the divine imperative to prophesy and preach. Synthesizing a broad segment of the secondary literature, the author boils down the scholarly discussion into three basic questions: What is the nature of the prophet's reluctance to speak? What are the principles by which this reluctance is resolved? What hermeneutical patterns of intrabiblical and versional reaction to this phenomenon can be legitimately detected in the biblical and postbiblical literature? Chapter 1 breaks down into: (a) a critical review of modern interpretations of several call narratives; (b) an attempt to relate the results of this Forschungsgeschichte to the three aforementioned questions; (c) an attempt to isolate patterns and parallels in these variegated scholarly positions; and (d) an attempt to formulate, on the basis of this analysis, a hypothesis about the "intrabiblical literary tradition concerned with the 'keys' or 'bridles' to the opening and closing of the mouth in prophecy" (p. 24).

Chapters 2-5, then, "test and refine this hypothesis in the course of a more detailed analysis of the prophetic call narratives of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel" (p. 24), focusing on these particular prophets because the objections and "mutisms" in their calls are most explicit and most obvious. Chapter 6 investigates the "mouth-opening" and "tongue-bridling" motifs in several psalms (Pss 32, 39, 81, and 131), because Glazov suspects that a few of them have been composed for (or at least influenced by) the "cult prophets" (p. 24). The book concludes with a helpful twenty-two-page appendix listing and explaining several Egyptian and Babylonian "mouth-opening" and "mouth-washing" rituals, followed finally by a listing of biblical and postbiblical passages containing what Glazov thinks are Yahwistic adaptations of these priestly rituals (pp. 361-83). Unfortunately the author does not engage the work of A. Berlejung or M. Dick on these rituals (see also the recent study of C. Walker and M. Dick, The Induction of the Cult Image in Ancient Mesopotamia: The Mesopotamian Mis Pi Ritual [SAALT 1; Helsinki: Helsinki University, 2001]).

In ch. 1, the author critically engages three previous attempts to describe the character and development of the prophetic call narratives. First, he rejects much of K. Baltzer's analysis outright (HTR 61 [1968]: 567-81), because, in spite of the fact that it adduces several ancient Near Eastern parallels (particularly Egyptian), it fails to give adequate attention to the human half of the deity-prophet encounter. Glazov thinks that Baltzer, in his desire to counter the hyper-humanizing trends of the 1960s, goes too far to the other end of the spectrum. Thus "the elements of pain, pathos, wonder and dread underlying many of the prophetic expressions of reluctance to speak and objections to the call" are inappropriately marginalized (p. 32). For Glazov, Baltzer's scheme lacks "any recognition of the numinous character of the encounter and the, vocational problems of the individual called to office" (p. 50).

Second, Glazov praises N. C. Habel's well-known form-critical analysis (ZAW 77 [1965]: 297-323), and even adapts it for his own purposes. Primarily, he questions the "imprecise" way Habel describes the multiple prophetic objections in "typical" Hebrew call narratives. He thinks that "the first is aimed against the self, while the second is aimed against the commission" (p. 49), but Habel does not, and this leads him to conclude that Habel has not sufficiently grasped this distinction.

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