The Canonical Shape
of the Prophetic Literature
BREVARD S. CHILDS
A major literary and theological force was at work in shaping the
present form of the Hebrew Bible by which prophetic oracles di-
rected to one generation were fashioned in Sacred Scripture by a
canonical process to be used by another generation.
The study of the prophetic literature of the Old Testament has gone through several important phases within the modern period. One thinks of the development of the methods of literary, form, and redactional criticism, as well as the use of comparative materials from the field of history of religions, psychology, and sociology.1 From this history of modern research a wide consensus has emerged that the present literature is the product of a long history of development, a portion of which can now be successfully reconstructed through critical methodology. It is also generally agreed that the recovery of this prehistory has greatly illumined the study of the biblical literature by bringing into sharp focus the historical milieu of the prophets and by providing criteria for interpreting the peculiar oral and literary forms in which the message was couched.
However, in my opinion, in spite of some impressive gains, the application of historical-critical methodology has resulted in serious weaknesses in the handling of the biblical literature. First of all, the legacy of the literarycritical method in distinguishing between “genuine” and “non-genuine”
1. Cf the most recent survey of the history of research by Ronald E. Clements, One Hun-
dred Years of 'Old Testament Interpretation (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), pp. 51-75.
Walther Zimmerli's The Low and the Prophets (Oxford, 1965) also has some pertinent observa-
tions on the history of scholarship. Moreover, the specialized treatments of the major figures
remain invaluable: E. Sehmsdorf, Die Prophetenauslegung beiJ. G. Eichhorn (Göttingen, 1971);
H. J. Kraus's interesting analysis of G. H. A. Ewald's contribution to the study of the prophets in
Geschichte der historisch-kritlschen Erforschung des Alten Testaments (Neukirchen: Kreis
Moers, Verlag der Buchhandlung des Erziehungsvereins, 1956); Werner Klatt, Hermann
Gunkei Zu seiner Theologle der Reltglonsgeschlchte und zur Entstehung der form-
geschlchtllchen Methode (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1969).