Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 16 (2016) - Review

Jacobs, Mignon R. and Raymond F. Person Jr. (eds.), Israelite Prophecy and the Deuteronomistic History: Portrait, Reality, and the Formation of a History (SBLAIL, 14; Atlanta: SBL, 2013). Pp. 243. Softcover. US$32.95. ISBN 978-1-58983-749-2.

Most examinations of Israelite prophesy focus on the Latter Prophets, with perhaps a brief nod to narratives surrounding Samuel or Elijah. This collection of essays, edited by Mignon Jacobs and Raymond Person, shifts the focus to the Former Prophets. The contributors here use a variety of methodologies to analyze the role of prophets in the Deuteronomistic History. The nine essays (which are prefaced by an introduction by the editors) examine prophetic individuals (Moses, Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha), prophetic issues (divination, memory, and monarchy), and the relationship between prophecy in the DH and in other literature (Chronicles and the ancient Near East).

In their brief introduction, Jacobs and Person explain the necessity of this collection of essays. They observe that little has been written on the relationship between the Former and Latter Prophets, particularly in respect to the portrayal of prophecy. They then proceed to give one paragraph summaries of each of the nine articles.

Rannfrid Thelle's “Reflections of Ancient Israelite Divination in the Former Prophets” begins by reviewing relevant secondary literature and showing how the so-called “primitive” prophets who appear in the Former Prophets have traditionally been relegated to second-class status in respect to their peers, the “classical” or “writing” prophets who appear in the Latter Prophets. After noting the diverse roles prophets played in the Former Prophets, she focuses on divination, observing how prophets were often used for divine inquiry as consultants in situations of crisis for divine guidance. During the time of the judges and early monarchy, YHWH was typically consulted by priests, kings, or Israel generally, but during the monarchy the consultation took place by prophets. She concludes that for study of the role of prophecy, the Former Prophets serve as a transition between the classic understanding of prophecy found in the Latter Prophets and the portrait of Moses as the prototypical prophet who defined what was legitimately prophetic. The essay would have been strengthened by a more honed thesis, but it is hard to find points of disagreement with Thelle's insightful reflections.

In “Prophets and Priests in the Deuteronomistic History: Elijah and Elisha,” Marvin A. Sweeney presents a strong case that in the book of Kings the two northern prophets, Elijah and Elisha, functioned not only as prophets but also as priests. While some of his examples work better than others to illustrate his thesis, his argument is clearly supported with in-depth, systematic examinations of specific texts in 1 Kings 18–2 Kgs 3 (Elijah at Carmel, at Horeb, with the king's soldiers, at his ascent; Elisha and music). With the incident of Elijah on Mount Carmel, Sweeney shows how the prophet serves as a priest for what is essentially a Sukkot offering prior to YHWH's ignition of Elijah's altar and sacrifice. Sweeney sees parallels between Elijah and Elisha and another northerner, the Ephraimite Samuel, since Samuel also served as both priest and prophet, and therefore concludes that northern perceptions of priests and prophets were distinct from those of their southern counterparts. I would have appreciated an initial section where distinctions between the roles of prophet and priest were clarified, but overall Sweeney is to be commended for his well-argued presentation.

In her contribution (“Court Prophets during the Monarchy and Literary Prophets in the So-Called Deuteronomistic History”) Diana Edelman begins by observing that in Judah kings had a wide range of cultic personalities they could consult to determine the divine will and that in the Deuteronomistic History these various roles are collapsed into one category, the ecstatic. After working through a wide variety of relevant Hebrew terms, she begins a survey of the books of the Deuteronomistic History, looking at the roles prophets play, noting similarities and differences along the way. In Deuteronomy Edelman focuses primarily on ch. 18 and its apparent chain of Mosaic prophetic successors. She moves quickly over the book of Joshua (which lacks a prophet) and then examines in more depth the two mentioned in Judges: Deborah and the anonymous prophet who appears before the Gideon narrative. While Edelman notes similarities between Deborah and Samuel as prophets who are judges, she is reluctant to make assumptions about their respective functions because they appear in different books. Curiously, she focuses more attention on Judges than on the books of Samuel and Kings combined, despite the far greater number of prophetic individuals in the latter. Highlights of these final sections are her helpful summaries of the various prophetic roles in each book.

Ehud Ben Zvi's analysis (“Prophet Memories in the Deuteronomistic Historical and Prophetic Collections of Books”) seeks to understand how prophetic memories were imagined in the context of Persian period community of Yehud. He begins by discussing the Deuteronomistic historical collection (which he calls the DHC), making connections between the various prophetic individuals (including Joshua, who is never called a prophet) and the prophetic ideal represented by Moses. He concludes that “the main prophetic character in the DHC” was Moses (p. 102). In his discussion of the prophetic book collection (which he calls the PHC), he argues that as a future utopia is envisioned one encounters YHWH, kings, occasionally judges, but no prophets since they will no longer be necessary just as in a successful marriage there will be “no possible role for intermediaries between husband and wife” (p. 99). While his presentation could have used more concrete examples to support his points, his arguments are compelling and his thesis intriguing.

In “Prophets and Prophecy in Joshua–Kings: A Near Eastern Perspective,” Martti Nissinen examines the phenomenon of prophecy both in the books of Joshua–Kings and in ancient Near Eastern sources, particularly from the reigns of Zimri-Lim of Mari as well as Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal of Assyria. In his discussion of prophecy and divination he describes how, despite a ban on it in Deut 18, a variety of forms of divination are reflected in Joshua–Kings (lots, dreams, the ephod, urim and thummin), particularly in the accounts about the pre-monarchic period. Next he looks at prophecy and kings and concludes that during the monarchy prophecy primarily appears in royal settings, which is consistent with ancient Near Eastern prophetic sources. While both ancient Near Eastern and biblical prophets would support, warn, and instruct rulers, in the Hebrew Bible prophets uniquely pronounce judgments upon their own kings and people. In the context of this discussion, he speaks of four royal anointings in Samuel–Kings (p. 115), but he omits the royal anointings of Absalom, Jehoash, and Jehoahaz.[1] In his concluding section he observes that there are no examples in ancient Near Eastern sources of prophets who like Samuel, Deborah, and Nathan serve in a variety of capacities beyond that of merely a prophet (judge, priest, diviner, or royal advisor). Other aspects that set biblical prophets apart from their ancient Near Eastern counterparts include performing miracles and controlling the weather. Nissinen's catalogue of ancient Near Eastern prophetic parallels will serve as an extremely useful resource to scholars working on these books.

Thomas C. Römer's “Moses, Israel's First Prophet, and the Formation of the Deuteronomistic and Prophetic Libraries” begins by acknowledging that while Moses is only rarely associated with the term prophet, in the three books he focuses on (Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Kings), he is effectively portrayed as Israel's first prophet. Römer concludes that not only is Moses perceived to be the first but he is a sort of “super-prophet” conceived as almost divine. He argues that the Deuteronomistic series of servants of YHWH begins with Moses and ends with Jeremiah. While it might not have been possible in a collection of essays like this, since many of the other contributors also focus significant attention on the prophetic portrayal of Moses (Edelman, Ben Zvi, and Leuchter), it is unfortunate that these essays do not engage with each other.

In his discussion of Samuel as a key figure in Israelite history (“Samuel: A Prophet Like Moses or a Priest Like Moses?”), Mark Leuchter first observes the textual affinities between Moses and Samuel (particularly Jer 15:1 and Ps 99:6). He then argues that the Deuteronomists modified the narratives, taking the more priestly Samuel of their sources and making him more prophetic in their redacted versions. He connects the Elides to the Mushite line by identifying Eli's anonymous ancestor as Moses in the prophetic judgment of Judg 2:27–29. While this assumption is reasonable (he cites Cross and Wellhausen as support), much of his argument hinges on this somewhat speculative conclusion and the immediate context seems to suggest that Eli's ancestor in the judgment is meant to be Aaron. However, Leuchter's textual insights and well-honed arguments make for an engaging overall presentation.

In “Prophetic Stories Making a Story of Prophecy,” Mark O'Brien examines the process of prophetic story-making in the books of Samuel and Kings, specifically looking at how the prophecy and fulfillment schema gives shape and form to these narratives. His essay is divided into two parts: first a discussion of the role creativity played in the composition of these books; and second, as a counterpart, an analysis of how the authors were limited in their story-telling. O'Brien focuses on the Elijah-Elisha narratives and observes the various ways that these stories have been creatively joined and shaped to advance the narrative plot. To illustrate his point about limitation, he discusses the textual tensions within prophetic narratives: both praise and condemnation of Jehu (2 Kgs 10:30; Hos 1:4), conflict between the judgment against Ahab and the promise to David because of the union between Athaliah and Jehoram (1 Kgs 21:20–24; 2 Sam 7), and Huldah's promise to Josiah, which conflicts with the manner of his death (2 Kgs 22:18–20; 23:29–30). O'Brien's evocative and insightful interaction with these prophetic narratives will be appreciated by a variety of scholars.

In his essay, “Prophets in the Deuteronomistic History and the Book of Chronicles,” Raymond F. Person Jr. challenges the consensus view on the relationship between the Deuteronomistic History and the book of Chronicles by arguing that they were contemporary works produced by different scribal guilds with, at times competing, but often similar perspectives. He primarily engages with four scholars (Amit, Schniedewind, Beentjes, and Knoppers) and systematically shows how their conclusions regarding the differences (e.g., in Chronicles prophets do not perform miracles or appear in groups) should not be used to argue that highly distinct ideologies regarding prophecy generated these two works. While Person's argument may not prove convincing, particularly to the scholars he discusses, his case is compelling. His essay reminds us, as do the other contributions to this collection, that scholarship will need to continue to question the status quo.

While the contributors here can be excused for not engaging with two other collections of essays which were published at approximately the same time,[2] several of these essays would have strengthened by engaging with other essays within this volume since they focused on similar themes (e.g., the prophetic portrayal of Moses; the role of Elijah and Elisha). However, the editors of this fine volume are to be commended for bringing together a group of distinguished scholars, with diverse perspectives, to discuss understudied aspects of Israelite prophecy.

David T. Lamb, Biblical Theological Seminary

[1] See the table of anointings in the Deuteronomistic History in David T. Lamb, Righteous Jehu and his Evil Heirs: The Deuteronomist's Negative Perspective on Dynastic Succession (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 49. reference

[2] Lester L. Grabbe and Martin Nissinen (eds.), Constructs of Prophecy in the Former and Latter Prophets and Other Texts (SBLANEM, 4; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011); Mark J. Boda and Lissa M. Wray Beal (eds.), Prophets, Prophecy, and Ancient Israelite Historiography (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2013). reference