This collection of nineteen articles and book chapters is an excellent selection of Marvin Sweeney’s work on the biblical prophetic literature and includes a few forays into post-biblical materials. Most have been published in the twelve years prior to the volume’s 2005 publication date, but three are published here for the first time. In his introduction, Sweeney situates his work in the long history of diachronic studies of the prophets, noting the shift in scholarly interest from the study of independent elements in these books to study of how the documents came into their current forms. He also provides an overview of work on “intertextuality, particularly the role played by the reading and interpretation—or reinterpretation—of earlier texts” (p. 5), commenting that rather than a product of late rethinking of the prophetic corpus, intertextuality is ubiquitous in the prophets. Sweeney observes that not only should apocalyptic and proto-apocalyptic literature be studied in terms of its mythical and eschatological imagery, but also for the social and historical contexts of its production. Sweeney, of course, has contributed considerably to scholarship in all of these fields, and this representative sample of his writings illustrates well not only his views in these matters, but the significance of his work in the larger field of biblical studies.
The collection of essays is divided into five parts. The first, of four previously published essays, deals with Isaiah. “The Book of Isaiah as a Prophetic Text” argues that the final form of Isaiah served Ezra’s Persian-era reforms by linking divine rule over the nations to conceptions of torah as the deity’s instructions as a kind of new Exodus. Sweeney argues that the word tôrâ “takes on a hermeneutical life of its own” (p. 24) within Isaiah as a whole, despite each of the twelve occurrences having specific meanings relevant to their place in the book. The adaptability of Isa 9:1–6 to successive editions of the book is the subject of “On Multiple Settings in the Book of Isaiah”, which demonstrates how later readers and writers saw earlier prophecies as concerning themselves. The next essay, “On ûměśôś in Isaiah 8:6”, offers a solution to the difficult reading in 8:6 by studying how Isa 66:10–14 employs a related term. From this, Sweeney draws some additional insights about Isaiah 8 and how the end of the book corresponds to the beginning. This final point is also raised in “Prophetic Exegesis in Isaiah 65–66”, but here Sweeney is more concerned with these chapters as a conclusion to the book as a whole, drawing the conclusion that earlier material inspired new scribal prophecy.
Part Two concerns Jeremiah and opens with one of the previously unpublished papers, “The Masoretic and Septuagint Versions of the Book of Jeremiah in Synchronic and Diachronic Perspective”. Sweeney’s insightful study merges various sub-disciplines. He asserts the importance of synchronic analysis of the two Jeremiah versions and relates text-critical issues to the intertextual relationship between Jeremiah and Isaiah. He finds that both versions of Jeremiah build on Isaiah’s portrayal of destruction and restoration of Judah. The MT version, however, shows far more influence from Isaiah’s oracles of restoration. The second Jeremiah paper addresses the criteria by which one might judge “The Truth in True and False Prophecy” and is again interdisciplinary and intertextual. Noting that prophets appear to disagree with each other on a number of points he observes that Jeremiah reflects a debate over whether the Isaian tradition implies that peace is immanent. Sweeney concludes by observing that truth is relative to the interpreter who may find that the biblical prophets may be considered false and that “truth must be recognized as a debated or contingent category, both within the Bible itself and among its interpreters” (p. 93). A synchronic study on the “Structure and Redaction in Jeremiah 2–6” leads the author to a new foray into redaction criticism. He demonstrates that the prophet was an active supporter of reunification in the reign of Josiah. Jeremiah 2–6 includes passages originally addressed to inhabitants of the northern territories, but adapted towards a Judean audience by a redactor. The discussion of earlier forms of Jeremiah continues in the final essay in Part Two, “Jeremiah 30–31 and King Josiah’s Program of National Restoration and Religious Reform”.
Part Three opens with “Ezekiel: Zadokite Priest and Visionary Prophet of the Exile”, which argues that priestly and prophetic identities merge in Ezekiel. The book is profoundly marked by priestly conceptions of temple and creation in which “the Temple itself is sacrificed in order to bring about the purification or even reconstitution of creation at large” (p. 127). Many of these themes continue in the next essay, “The Destruction of Jerusalem and Purification in Ezekiel 8–11”. Previously unpublished, this essay studies the intermixing of priestly elements in Ezekiel’s prophetic vision. It relates the victims of divine judgment in Jerusalem to the scapegoat ritual outlined in Leviticus 16. Also appearing for the first time in this volume is “The Assertion of Divine Power in Ezekiel 33:21–39:29”. The passage in question is interpreted not merely as a pronouncement of restoration but as a far deeper meditation on the nature of the divine. The series of oracles seeks to demonstrate that God is both active and righteous in view of the eternal covenant, factors important in the Zadokite worldview. Once again, Sweeney finds the impact of Leviticus (Chapter 26) on Ezekiel.
The Book of the Twelve is the subject of the fourth part, which opens with an essay entitled, “Sequence and Interpretation in the Book of the Twelve”. This well-known foray into the Twelve as a coherent composition again compares the MT with LXX, finding that differing theological concerns may explain the different sequences of component documents. In the next essay, “The Place and Function of Joel in the Book of the Twelve”, this issue arises again as Sweeny looks to one particular document. Intertextual discourses are the subject of “Micah’s Debate with Isaiah” and the following essay, “Zechariah’s Debate with Isaiah”. The former finds that impressions of coming world peace differ greatly between Micah 4–5 and Isaiah 2–4. Micah looks ahead to an era of a Davidic monarchy while Isaiah adopts a position more like Ezra and Nehemiah, that Judah’s destiny is as part of the Persian empire. The latter essay finds that Zechariah also differs with Isaiah on similar issues.
Part Five, “Apocalyptic and Proto-Apocalyptic Texts”, is the most diverse section of the volume and it takes the reader from the Hebrew Bible to the Dead Sea Scrolls and early rabbinic literature. Sweeney first offers a study of “The Priesthood and the Proto-Apocalyptic Reading of Prophetic and Pentateuchal Texts” in which he examines Joel, Zechariah, Ezekiel 38–39, and Isaiah 24–27; 56–66. Again, he finds Zadokite ideology at work with prophetic and pentateuchal passages adapted to demonstrate that the restored temple is the center of creation. The only real apocalyptic book in the Hebrew Bible is the subject of the next essay, entitled, “The End of Eschatology in Daniel? Theological and Socio-Political Ramifications of Changing Contexts of Interpretation”. Not only does Daniel 1–6 reflect the goals of the Hasmonean revolt, but priestly concerns can be found as well. Daniel declares the end of prophetically declared divine punishment and that a new age of Israelite and Judean splendor is dawning. “Davidic Typology in the Forty Year War Between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness” is a longer version of a 1990 paper that draws links between the War Scroll’s portrayal of the eschatological battle with the traditions of David in Chronicles, even if the Qumran document envisioned a future era in which the failures of the Davidic period would not be repeated. Sweeney completes his volume by turning to rabbinic literature in “Pardes Revisited Once Again: A Reassessment of the Rabbinic Legend concerning the Four Who Entered Pardes”. He argues that the association of a biblical verse with each of the four rabbis, three of whom do not make a successful entry, suggests a link between the mystical journey and the proper interpretation of scripture.
As a whole, this is an instructive and insightful collection. Many of the essays are very recent and all merit close attention even if, on any given point, objections might be raised. Each paper stands on its own. That being said, rather than merely show the range of Sweeney’s thought or a progression in their author’s thought throughout a long career, the nineteen studies hang together incredibly well around the themes advertised in the collection’s title. A reader may feel justified, therefore, in lamenting the lack of a more comprehensive introduction, or even a postscript, in which the implications of the selection of essays are drawn out or future directions proposed. In particular, a reader may finish the volume wishing for a more dedicated study of Sweeney’s perception of Zadokite ideology and prophetic temple imagery besides more methodological issues in view of the all of the data and arguments that are provided. This complaint, however, implies a compliment: Sweeney has offered us a collection that is actually far greater than the sum of its parts. He is to be congratulated on a fine, thought provoking volume.