Prophetic Literature: From Oracles to Books

Prophetic Literature: From Oracles to Books

Prophetic Literature: From Oracles to Books

Prophetic Literature: From Oracles to Books


Prophetic Literature: From Oracles to Books presents an in-depth introduction to the origins and development of the Prophetic Books of the Old Testament, including an examination of the literary structure, authorship, and editorial processes that produced each book.
  • The only introductory textbook that explores both how the prophetic books were composed and edited
  • Accessible and engaging, the book contains numerous student features to encourage learning, including introductions, summaries, tables and boxes, etc
  • Based on international scholarship on the individual prophetic books, including German scholarship that is otherwise inaccessible to most English readers


There are many ways to read a prophetic book. Early readers often cited individual oracles in the same way as today’s tabloids cite statements attributed to Nostradamus. For instance, a treatise written by the group that lived at the ancient site of Qumran, on the shores of the Dead Sea, quoted Isaiah 40:3’s call to prepare a way in the wilderness as anticipating their community (1QS 8.14), and the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) quoted the same passage as presaging the work of John the Baptist (Mark 1:3; Matt. 3:3; Luke 3:4).

Another long-standing way of reading identifies a book’s structure and themes as keys to its messages. Characterizing a book’s literary units under terms like “judgment,” “salvation,” or “covenant” is one way of epitomizing its messages. Sometimes this type of reading presupposes that the prophets were vehicles of divine communication, but it has also been used in an attempt to evaluate an individual book’s contributions to a collection like the 12 shorter prophetic books or the entire corpus of prophetic books.

The prophets have also frequently been read as moral guides. This is consonant with their repeated emphasis on “justice and righteousness,” their calls for attending to the needs of society’s most vulnerable, and their criticisms of those who misuse religion, authority, and power for their own ends. The books’ varied forecasts of an age when injustices will be set right and flaws in the world’s structure cured imply ethical ideals. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, is probably the best-known exponent of this way of reading the prophets.

Conversely, it is possible to highlight the ideas and values in these books that strongly conflict with modern ethical standards. Feminist critics have rightly called attention to passages that ascribe degrading roles or qualities to women, since historically many men have used these to justify despicable treatment of women. Likewise, the prophets’ notion that the LORD sponsors or wages war grates on our sense of morality and deserves to be critiqued, and its use today scrutinized. The same is true of the notion that some nations enjoy divine favor while others do not, an idea already challenged by the prophet Amos. Highlighting these issues rightly cautions us against adopting the prophets’ norms without thinking critically about what their words endorse or have been used to justify.

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