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Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament – 7

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Chapter 11 – The Former Prophets

The second division in the Hebrew Bible, “The Prophets”, is at least as early as the Hellenistic period. The terminology that further divided the Prophets into “former” (historical: Jos, Judg, Sam, Kings) and “later” (Prophetic: Isa, Jer, Eze, Twelve) first emerged in the Middle Ages.[1] Modern historical criticism has rejected this traditional division as “artificial”.

Instead two major critical theories tries to explain the composition of the historical books: 1) The documentary – sources similar to those found in the Pentateuch continue through at least part of the historical books (e.g. Hexateuch); 2) Fragment hypothesis – envisions an independent historical work including book of Deuteronomy and the four historian, edited during the exilic period by a Deuteronomistic historian (e.g. Tetrateuch). Major critics have pointed out difficulties in both two theories, and that an effect of these theories has been the speculative nature of the exegesis on the historical books. The analysis based on either one of the theories has been of a hypothetical character. Therefore Childs calls for reexamination of the canonical shape of the Former Prophets.[2]

The first problem regarding the canonical shape of the Former Prophets two folded: the close connection with the Pentateuch and at the same time the distinct separation from it. Joshuas canonical shape explains both these elements: discontinuity (sharply separated from the Pentateuch, the written form of the law) and continuity (dependence on the “Book of the Law”, and introducing the Former Prophets). The second problem is the relationship to the other historical books. Noth’s theory of a Dtr. historical work is the base for a solution: the Former Prophets are arranged in a literary pattern of prophecy and fulfillment: the books offer a theological interpretation of Israel’s history in the light of the working out of the Book of the Law.

However, there are no evidences in the present canonical form that the material was transformed to make only one major “Deuteronomic point”. Rather, the material is diverse and independent, and the earlier stages of development is not flatten or seriously altered. The reason for this could be that the material already exerted such an “official” force that the Dtr. editor was unable or unwilling to attempt a change. Thus the shaping of the Former Prophets reflects a long process within the community of Israel.[3]

According to Childs, the theological and hermeneutical implications of the Former Prophets are: 1. The object of the four historical books in the division of the Prophets is not to record history per se, but to bear testimony to the working out of the prophetic word in the life of the nation (indication of this is: a. incorporation of historical material within the books of the prophets; b. A similar theological purpose of both sets of writings in the division of the Prophets, thus the historical books has canonically a particular theological function); 2. Striking features are the nature of the material is highly selective and the manner in which the history was presented; 3. Modern critical scholarship disagrees on the overall purpose of the Deuteronomic shaping of the Former Prophets.

In Childs opinion both divine judgement and forgivness are built into Deuteronomy (to offer the nation under judgement the promise of forgivness). The purpose of the book is then to function as scripture for the new generation of Israel who are instructed from the past for the sake of the future (see Deut. 29:29).[4]

[1] However, Childs points out that the two references in Zechariah to the “former prophets” (1:4; 7:7) “offer a certain biblical warrant for the later terminology” (Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 230).
[2] Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 230–32.
[3] Ibid., 232–36.
[4] Ibid., 236–38.


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