Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Dating Prophetic Texts

Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Dating Prophetic Texts

Article excerpt

This paper considers non-linguistic criteria for dating prophetic texts. It examines texts from Isaiah (e.g., Isa 10:5-12:6), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32-33), Ezekiel (Ezek 37:15-28), and the Book of the Twelve Prophets (Zephaniah 1) in an effort to determine their respective historical contexts. Criteria employed include formal characteristics, historical allusions, and intertextual citations or allusions. Although problematic, the paper argues that such criteria provide some basis for dating prophetic texts.


The dating of prophetic texts is an especially problematic issue in biblical exegesis for two reasons. First, prophetic literature frequently lacks narrative context that can help to establish historical and social setting, and, second, such narrative context itself may be the result of much later composition and conceptualization. Interpreters are essentially left to examine the contents of a prophetic oracle to see if sufficient information is contained therein to identify historical context. As the history of exegesis demonstrates, criteria to establish historical context all too frequently comes from interpretative presuppositions that in retrospect are difficult to justify, such as the contention that all "authentic" pre-exilic texts must take up judgment and not restoration or that affirmation of the priesthood, Temple ritual, or "legal" concerns necessarily indicates late composition. (1) In the case of the former, interpreters are beginning to recognize the persuasive functions of prophetic texts as well as the extent to which our own knowledge of the Babylonian exile has influenced our understanding of purportedly true prophecy. Prophetic texts are intended to persuade their audiences to adapt a viewpoint or to undertake a course of action, and portrayals of both potential judgment and potential beneficence have their roles in such efforts. (2) In the case of the latter, recognition that Israelite and Judean religion revolved around the institution of the Temple, its priesthood, and its various rituals indicate that the appearance of such concerns in a text are no longer a certain guarantee of late composition. (3)

This paper therefore considers criteria for dating prophetic texts apart from linguistic grounds. It examines a number of texts that are typically considered late or even eschatological, based on their respective concerns with restoration or priestly matters, to determine if in fact they should be dated to earlier periods. Examples from each of the four major prophetic books in the Bible include Isaiah 10:5-12:6, which portrays the downfall of the Assyrian king and the rise of a new Davidic monarch; Jeremiah 32-33, which portrays the redemption of land and Jerusalem in particular; Ezekiel 37:15-28, which portrays the restoration of a united Israel and Judah under the rule of a Davidic king; and Zephaniah 1, which cites creation traditions often identified with the P layer of Genesis to support its conceptualization of the Day of YHWH. Criteria identified for consideration include formal characteristics of the text in question, (4) historical presuppositions evident in the text, and intertextual citations or allusions. Although these criteria are not always decisive in and of themselves, the paper argues that such criteria provide some basis for dating prophetic texts.

2. ISAIAH 10:5-12:6

Isaiah 10:5-12:6 is generally considered to be a composite text comprising three major sub-units, including the lengthy woe oracle that condemns the arrogance of the Assyrian monarch who oppresses Israel and threatens the city of Jerusalem in Isa 10:5-34; the royal oracle of restoration in Isa 11:1-16 that metaphorically portrays the growth of a new branch of David from the stump of Jesse as the basis for the reunification of Israel and Judah, the conquest of various surrounding nations, and the restoration of exiles; and the thanksgiving psalm in Isa 12:1-6, that cites passages from the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15 as part of its portrayal of YHWH's deliverance of Zion and Israel. …

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