Interpreting the Prophets

By James Luther Mays; Paul J. Achtemeier | Go to book overview

3
Prophetic Speech

GENE M. TUCKER

A new assessment of the way prophets spoke shows that their basic
vocation was to be as speakers who brought a communication from
God announcing future events.

The discussion of Israelite prophetic speech should begin with a note of caution. After all, none of us has heard an Israelite prophet speak; written documents are all that remain for us. So one must make certain assumptions and reach conclusions through a process of critical analysis and reconstruction even to discuss prophetic speech. But the literature at hand, the prophetic books and accounts in the books of Kings and elsewhere, contain what purport to be transcripts of prophetic speeches as well as reports of the activities of the prophets, especially their oral activities. And even a cursory examination of that literature justifies the conclusion that oral communication was the essential—if not the only—feature of their vocation and work. The first body of evidence for that conclusion consists of the numerous reports, from brief and cryptic to extensive and detailed, of how the prophets raised their voices in and to Israel and when and where. Then there are the allusions to the prophetic self-understanding found throughout their words, for example in vocation reports. Jeremiah resists the prophetic call because “I do not know how to speak,” and Yahweh tells him “whatever I command you you shall speak” (Jer. 1:6f.). Whatever else it entails, “to prophesy” means to speak. Furthermore, even if there were no such reports or allusions but only the prophetic words themselves, it would be clear from the form, style, and content of those words that the prophets were fundamentally speakers.


I

Though he was not the first to recognize that the prophets were primarily speakers rather than men of letters, it was Hermann Cunkel who raised this observation to the level of methodological consciousness and made it the

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