E. Ben Zvi and D. V. Edelman, The Production of Prophecy: Constructing Prophecy and Prophets in Yehud

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 13 (2013) - Review

Ben Zvi, Ehud and Diana V. Edelman (eds.), The Production of Prophecy: Constructing Prophecy and Prophets in Yehud (London/Oakville, CT: Equinox, 2009). Pp. 235. Paperback. US$39.95. ISBN 978-1-84553-500-1.

This book gathers some of the papers presented at the 2006 and 2007 meetings of the European Association of Biblical Studies. These essays are substantive contributions to an ongoing conversation that is reorienting the study of biblical prophecy. Since the historical-critical method showed that prophetic books were the product of editorial activity subsequent to the prophets for whom the books were named, the focus has been on reconstructing the message of each prophet in relation to his own time. This endeavor reached a point of diminishing returns as it became evident that the original words of the prophets could not be extracted with any certainty from the redactional material in which they were embedded. Thus the focus has shifted from the original prophets to the books as we have them, and to their message in relation to the context in which they were produced.

Some of the essays in this collection are concerned with what might be called the “macro” level of the discussion, dealing with theoretical concepts and historical considerations relating to the production of prophetic books in general. Other essays are concerned with what might be called the “micro” level of that discussion, showing how particular texts or books can be fruitfully seen in relation to this broadly described context.

On the “macro” level, Ehud Ben Zvi reiterates in his two contributions the basic points that have become virtually axiomatic for the discussion: biblical prophetic books were produced in Persian Yehud by a small scribal elite that was Jerusalem-based and temple-centered—more or less the same group which also produced the Torah and the Deuteronomistic historical work (DHW, my “neutral” terminology for Joshua–Kings). One of Diana Edelman's articles elaborates on this scenario as she relates the emergence of the revelatory texts produced by this scribal elite to a shift in the priestly function and consequent changes in the various forms of divinatory practice associated with the sanctuary. Erhard Gerstenberger sketches one dimension of the overall ideological context in which this scribal elite worked, noting that the basic concept of prophetic writing has striking parallels in the early Avestan traditions of Yehud's Persian overlords, as do some dominant themes of biblical prophetic theology. Axel Knauf's essay deals with the overarching relationship among the three major literary corpora produced by Yehud's scribes: the prophetic books, the Torah, and the “book of Kings” (in which he includes the narrative of Samuel). He concludes that as the rule of Torah was being established in the course of Jerusalem's restoration, “Kings” summarized the past so as to show why this particular form of revelatory guidance has become necessary, and to provide a historical framework for the interpretation of the prophetic books. This is one conceivable way of coloring in Ben Zvi's outline of the origin of the Torah, prophetic books, and the DHW within a single “shared, integrative discourse” (p. 25).

On the “micro” level, two essays explore specific sub-points within this shared discourse. Thomas Römer investigates specific contacts between Jeremiah and the DHW, taking the obvious overlap of 2 Kgs 24–25 and Jer 52 as a point of departure. He concludes that Jeremiah was composed as a supplement to DHW and characterizes the scribes that produced them as members of a “Deuteronomistic circle” (pp. 168, 171). Edelman's second contribution examines the specific role of Jonah in the discourse common to the prophetic books and the Torah. Jonah is atypical in the extent to which it focuses on the prophet's reaction to the divine word he is called to proclaim, and it thereby provides an “interpretive key” (p. 160) showing that prophecies should not be taken literally as historical predictions, and that the conflicting claims within both the prophetic books and the Torah need to be taken comprehensively rather than pitting one against the other.

Three other essays are concerned with particular points on the “micro” level. Philip Davies asks, “What is the message of Amos?”—if we take “Amos” to mean the book addressed to those who produced it in Persian Yehud rather than the eighth-century prophet speaking to his contemporaries prior to the fall of the north. Rainer Albertz elaborates one of the corollaries of the hypothesis that prophetic books were produced by a Jerusalem-based, temple-centered scribal group in Persian Yehud, namely, that they were designed to be disseminated by reading them in various public contexts. Albertz considers the possibilities with regard to Deutero-Isaiah in particular, both cultic and non-cultic, and concludes that this particular document was intended to be read in the סוד, “the gathering of all the men of a settlement that takes place every evening” (p. 105). Finally, Rannfrid Thelle considers how Jeremiah specifically fits a general theory of mine, attributing the production of prophetic books to interrelated exilic and postexilic changes in Judah's worldview, demographics, and practices of divination.

This collection positively advances the discussion on several levels. One of the interesting implications is that several contributions call for further work in comparative studies, in at least three ways. First, the concept of a diversity of views within canonical limits, which characterizes the “shared, integrative discourse” of Yehud's scribal elite, marks a big change in biblical scholarship. Previously the production of documents with diverse views was imagined in terms of different “schools” or “circles,” each with its own distinctive ideology. Are there any parallels to the kind of eclecticism that is imagined for this single group of writers who produced such a variety of documents with such a variety of viewpoints? Second, if the preference for authoritative revelatory writings as a means of discerning the divine will marks a definite shift in divinatory practices, how did this come about? Studies of how African and Latin American divination changed in response to colonialism may be helpful in understanding this development. Third, Gerstenberger's tracing of possible links between Persian and prophetic theology suggests the potential fruitfulness of further comparative study of Jewish, Persian, and Greek philosophical monotheism. This is only a sample of the rich suggestiveness of these essays.

Michael H. Floyd, Quito, Ecuador