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Prophets in Perspective by B. Davie Napier


B. Davie Napier, at the time of this writing was Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Intepretation at Yale Divinity School. He later became President of Pacific School of Religion. He is a minister of the United Church of Christ and an author of several books on the Old Testament. Published by Abingdon Press, New York, Nashville, 1962, 1963. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


Chapter 2: Prophet, Cult, and Record


Prophet and Cultus

Scholarship of a preceding generation commonly characterized classical Old Testament prophetism as strongly anti-cultic. In support of this interpretation passages from Amos and Isaiah have frequently been cited:

I hate, I repudiate [R.S.V., "despise"] your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies,
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts
will I ignore [R.S.V., "I will not look upon"].
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll along [R.S.V., "roll down"] like waters
and righteousness like an overflowing stream. (Amos 5:21-24.)

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says Yahweh:
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of he-goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who requires of you this trampling of my courts? (Isa.1:11-12.)

Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates. . . .
When you spread forth your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you. . . .
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes;
Cease to do evil,
learn to do good. . . . (Isa. 1:14-17.)

Such lines as these have been taken as signifying the unqualified prophetic repudiation of the institutionalized expression of religion in Israel, as indicating the positive concern of Amos and Isaiah, and indeed of all the great prophets, to cut out as a vile malignancy the totality of Israel’s cultus. For some interpreters the prophets became the giant protagonists of the Ethical and the brilliant antagonists of any and all institutional religion. In misconceived enthusiasm, the prophets were not only de-institutionalized, but de-theologized as well. They were defined as lonely geniuses of social reform, while Yahweh the God of the prophets was reduced to the status of benign, amorphous Ethical Incentive.

In more recent years scholarly convention has changed. The ethical culturalists, the anti-institutionalists, the pro-neighbor-anti-God, pro-religion-anti-cult voices, are finding other more fitting champions than the prophets. The now prevailing critical eye looks in broader perspective at the whole structure of Israel’s life and history. The prophet’s expressed impatience with or even intolerance of the cultus is seen now as castigation not of cult qua cult, not of cultic practice per se, but of the cultus in its present guise. The prophet tilts against the enthusiastic performance and perpetuation of formalized, regularized, prescribed outward acts of piety when these are unsupported by qualities of justice and righteousness. The prophet knows no abstraction of justice and righteousness. These are qualities of Yahweh revealed as at once the character and demand of the very God upon whom the whole cultus centers.

A key to the understanding of the prophetic indictment of the cultus is Isa. 1:13, which was deliberately omitted in the longer quotation from Isaiah above:

Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies --
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly;

The fault lies not in the form itself. The form of religious observance, which is the cultus, becomes heinous when it is perpetuated in an existence whose total Structure flatly contradicts that which is symbolized in the form!

In the broad perspective of the history of Israel and the role of prophetism it is hardly possible now to maintain an anti-cult and therefore anti-institutional prophetism in Israel. The cult was from the beginning the tangible expression of the faith of Israel. From the beginning Israel could be Israel only cultically. Israel’s understanding of her own divine creation in the exodus event was very early culticized in the Passover. She interpreted her prehistory, as seen in the persons of the patriarchs, in cubic form, and she continued to appropriate that prehistory cultically in the institution of circumcision. In Israel’s understanding of the David-Zion covenant it was essential to celebrate and renew the meaning of this covenant in the great autumnal festival of New Year and Enthronement in the temple in Jerusalem. The cultus embodied the faith of Israel; it was the rehearsal of God’s mighty deeds -- and therefore, his self-disclosures -- of the past; it was, as appropriation of the past, at once also the dramatic conveyance of meaning in the present; and bringing past and present into the immediate continuum of identity, it appropriated in anticipation the future of the people of God and the history of God.1

The cult of the contemporary Christian church is no doubt as justifiably castigated as that of ancient Israel. As Christmas and Easter are commonly celebrated by perhaps the majority of celebrants, any latter-day "prophet" might be constrained to cry out, "Thus says the Lord, ‘I hate, I repudiate your feasts. . . .’ " It is perfectly clear, however, that the articulation and, indeed, the very preservation of Christian faith requires the cultic enactment of birth and death and resurrection -- this appropriation of the past for the present and the consequent faithful union of time in hope and confidence in the future.

Yahwistic prophetism remained in close rapport with the cultus. The relationship, indeed, was one of mutual indebtedness. It is obvious that the prophets were familiar with the ritual and meaning of the cultus, that they sometimes spoke in language borrowed from it, that they even quoted directly from its prayers and liturgies, and that the role and meaning of the cultus was itself in turn influenced by prophetic interpretation.

This is not to say that the great prophet was a "cult" or "guild" prophet, a member of an "association" of cult prophets officially and professionally related to the cultic institution in manner and degree comparable to the priest. It is to insist, however, that prophet and priest were not so positively, consistently, and inimically opposed as has sometimes been assumed. The two figures most highly ranked in the traditions of Judaism, Moses and Elijah, are remembered and recorded in the dual role of prophet-priest (Moses is a Levite [Exod. 2:1]; Elijah conducts sacrifice [I Kings 18:32 ff.]) At the lower end of the chronological scale, to mention only the most prominent possibilities in the classification of dual functionaries, one thinks of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, both of whom come out of priestly backgrounds (Jer. 1:1; Ezek. 1:3) and exhibit a prophetism patently extending, in some significant regards, the ancient dual form.2 As a rule, the representatives of Yahwistic prophetism saw themselves allied to the priesthood as colleagues in a fundamentally common task, a fact which further defines and underscores the relationship of concern of the prophet to the cultus.3

Form-critical studies confirm the prophets’ cultic orientation. Several shorter prophetic writings (among them Habakkuk, Nahum, and Joel) are now interpreted as having been produced out of cultic influence, in the liturgical style of the cult ritual.4 Elsewhere throughout the recorded prophetic utterances there appear strong suggestions of conscious or unconscious adaptation of cultic ritual. But this relationship between prophet and cultus can best be illustrated in the form-critical example which follows.

The Role of Form Criticism

Form criticism has over the past few decades exercised an incalculable influence on the interpretation of the Old Testament. The ultimate originator of the form-critical method for both the New and Old Testaments was Hermann Gunkel. For our purposes we may pick up the form-critical story with Gunkel’s work in the Psalter, where he distinguished three primary types of psalms -- those of Thanksgiving (Danklied) , Lament (Klagelied) , and, Gunkel’s unique find, the Hymnus. Here Gunkel demonstrated the collective apprehension characteristic of the third type and concluded that it originated in the cultus. If it was later a privately composed psalm -- if, that is, certain psalms of the Hymnus type were in fact of private composition -- they were composed on the pattern of the cultic psalm. Gunkel further noted certain characteristic stylistic features, such as liturgical use of the particle "for" (Hebrew: ki)

O give thanks to the Lord for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever. (Ps. 136:1.)

and the participial form of the verb employed in series:

to him who did thus and so [participle in Hebrew]
for his steadfast love endures forever [this refrain is repeated 26 times] (Ps. 136:4 ff.).

The original setting (Sitz im Leben) of the Hymnus was incontestably the cultus.

Gunkel’s highly influential Einleitung in die Psalmen appeared in 1933, a year after his death. It was completed and seen through the press by his brilliant pupil, J. Begrich, who in the following year, 1934, himself published an article of decisive importance in the development of form criticism and in the understanding and interpretation of prophetism. The article was entitled "Das priesterliche Heilsorakel"; that is, "The Priestly Oracle of Assurance."5 The psalm of lament, the Klagelied, of the individual is characterized by a sudden change of mood toward the close of the psalm.6 As a rule, in this type of psalm the psalmist first makes his bitter complaint and then follows it with an earnest request. Now the mood of the psalm suddenly changes, and the psalmist expresses his own assurance that the request has been granted and, usually, concludes the psalm with a vow of some sort on a very positive note. Begrich raised in his article the old question, What produced the sudden change of mood? He affirmed the old answer: Possibly and probably an oracle pronounced by an attendant priest in which Yahweh reassured the supplicant and granted his request. But Begrich, for the first time, attempted a reconstruction of this heretofore hypothetical oracle -- with impressive results. The second Isaiah has, he concluded, deliberately employed the priestly oracle of assurance as the most appropriate form for his own message. The prophet has shaped his own prophetic preaching along lines literally dictated by a ritual form in common use in the pre-exilic temple. The priest’s oracle is appropriate to the prophet’s use because the prophet confronts a lamenting people as the priest confronted an individual in lament.

As reconstructed by Begrich from the words of Second Isaiah, with an occasional assist outside, the priestly oracle usually began with the words, "Fear thou not" (Isa. 41:10,13, 14; 43:1, 5; 44:2; 51:7; 54:4; cf. Jer. 30:10 ff.=46:27 ff.) a fact supported by Lam. 3:57:

Thou didst come near when I called on thee:
thou didst say, "Fear thou not!"

This was sometimes followed in the oracle with the designation of the person addressed, and then, characteristically, a statement such as, "for I am with thee" (Isa. 41:10) ; "for I am thy God" (Jer. 30:10 and 46:27) ; or "for I am thy helper" (see further Isa. 43:5; Jer. 30:11; cf. also Isa. 41:13; 43:13; 48:17) Such sentences in the priest’s oracle elicit corresponding statements from the supplicant in his concluding expression of assurance in the Kiagelied, as, for example, "thou art my God" (Ps. 140:7); "my treasure and my fortress art thou" (Ps. 31:4).

The oracle then answers specifically the earnest requests of the supplicant, pleas such as the following:

How long, Yahweh, wilt thou forget me forever? (Ps. 13:1.)
Let them be put to shame and dishonor
who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and confounded
who devise evil against me. (Ps. 35:4; but cf. also Ps. 25:3; 31:18: 35:5, 26; 40:15 ff.; 63:10 ff.; 71:13; 83:13; 109:28 ff.; 119:78.)
Let me not be put to shame. (Ps. 25:2; 31:2, 18; 69:7; 71:3; 119:6, 31, 46, 116; cf. Jer. 17:17.)

Such entreaties are reassuringly met in the priestly oracle with statements of this sort:

For the moth will eat them up like a garment
and the worm will eat them like wool. (Isa. 51:8.)
Kings shall see and arise
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves (49:7.)
You will not be ashamed . . . you will not be put to
shame
you will forget the shame of your youth. (Isa. 54:4. Cf. Jer. 30:10 ff.)

Or the oracle simply assures the supplicant in general terms that all is well, with statements which suit as well the prophet s ministry to a people in exile as the priest’s ministry in the temple to individuals in private anguish. Help has already been given, and Begrich underlines the fact that the verb is in the perfect (not, as R.S.V., future) tense:

I have strengthened you, I have helped you
I have upheld you with my victorious right hand.
(Isa. 41:10.)
I have called you by name. You are mine.
(Isa. 43:1; see 41:14; 54:8.)

The tense distinction is important. Yahweh assures the supplicant through the priest’s oracle that he has heard and that the need has been decisively met, and the supplicant, taking his cue from the oracle, speaks now with absolute assurance in the perfect tense, as if the satisfaction of his complaints were already a fait accompli:

Thou hast smitten all my enemies on the cheek
Thou hast broken the teeth of the wicked. (Ps. 3:7.)

The oracle of the priest may add, to the assurances put in the perfect tense, a series of imperfects, making certain guarantees for the future:

When [Hebrew: ki] you pass [impf.] through the waters I will be with you
[The conditional quality of speech is clearer in the German translations: Gehst du durch Wasser, so bin ich bei dir.]
And through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.
When you walk through fire you shall not be burned
And the flame shall not consume you. (Isa. 43:2.)

This combination of tenses, the joining of the imperfect to the perfect, is echoed again by the supplicant when he resumes the psalm following the delivery of the priestly oracle:

Depart from me, all you workers of evil;
for Yahweh has heard the sound of my weeping.
Yahweh has heard my supplication
Yahweh accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and sorely troubled.
They shall turn back and be put to shame in a
moment. (Ps. 6:8-10 [Hebrew: vss. 9-11].)

After pointing out ways in which the simple form of the priestly oracle of assurance is expanded in prophetic use Begrich shows further close connections between the priestly oracle and the psalm of lament. If the supplicant cries, "I am thy servant" (Ps. 143:12; cf. 19:12; 27:9; 31:17; 69:18; 86:2; 4, 16; 109:28; 119:17, 38) , it is acknowledged by Yahweh in the oracle:

You Israel, my servant . . . to whom I said,
You are my servant. (Isa. 41:8-9; cf. 44:1; Jer.
30: l0-46:27.)

If the supplicant in his misery calls himself a worm (Ps. 22:7; cf. Job 25:6), one who is despised by the people (Ps. 22:7; cf. 119:141) , or a mockery of the people (Ps. 22:7; Job 30:10) , the priestly oracle picks up these phrases and uses them to let the supplicant know that Yahweh has in fact been moved by his pitiable condition:

Fear not, you worm Jacob. (Isa. 41:14.)
Thus says Yahweh to one deeply despised, abhorred
by the people. (Isa. 49:7; cf. 51:7: 54:8.)

In response to the very frequent expression of anxiety and fear in the Klagelied (e.g., 31:14; 38:19; 55:4; 61:3; 64:2; 69:18; 86:16; 102:3) we meet the repeated consoling words of the divine answer "You shall have no fear" (Isa. 41:10, 13, 14; 43:1,5; 44:2; 51:7; 54:4; Lam. 3:57; Jer. 30:10 ff.= 46:27 ff.) To the despairing cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Ps. 22:1 [Hebrew: vs. 2]) comes the answer, "For a brief moment only have I forsaken you. Isa. 54:7.) To the shaken outcry, "How long, Yahweh, wilt thou forget me forever?" (Ps. 13:1 [Hebrew: vs. 2]) , the divine word responds through the priest’s oracle:

Can a woman forget her sucking child? . . .
Even these may forget; but I will not forget you! (Isa. 49:15.)

This thesis by Begrich has gained wide acceptance, and it speaks eloquently of the relationship of prophet and priest, of prophet and cultus. As Begrich himself pointed out, "The prophet claims for his message the same authority and the same demand of faith which the priestly Heilsorakel claimed in the cultus and to which the supplicant willingly responded."

To entertain reservations as to the great prophets’ membership in the guilds of professional cult prophets is in no sense at all, then, to cut the prophet off from influential and productive interrelationship in the cult. Far from repudiating the cultus, the prophet as exemplified in Second Isaiah can and does appropriate the liturgy in common use in the daily round of cultic exercise and, again in the case of Second Isaiah, make frequent appeal to familiar lines in the common ritual in the repeated words, "Have you not known, have you not heard . . ."(Isa. 40:21, 28) The prophet must not be removed from his own original environment, his own broadly contemporaneous setting.

Prophet and Book

The old interpretation of the classical prophet, the "name" prophet, as a grandly isolated figure has been attacked and largely routed from yet another quarter. Well into the twentieth century the most common designation of the great prophets was the term, "writing prophets," used to distinguish prophets with "book" from those without. Elijah was a prophet. Amos was a writing prophet. It was taken for granted that writings bearing prophetic names contained for the most part the actual written words of the prophet. Or, to say the same thing and make the same distinction, the "writing" prophets were "literary" prophets -- they habitually addressed themselves, pen in hand as it were, to the blank scroll. Following an address (e.g., Amos’ speech at Bethel) they carefully cast the utterance into written form themselves being "literary" men. Of years later, they looked back on an event, experience, or speech (e.g., Isaiah upon his call) and "put it down on paper," themselves "reducing" the remembered episode to writing. This firm assumption that the books of the prophets were, by and large, handwritten by the great prophets themselves from the eighth to the sixth centuries (Amos-Second Isaiah) may be seen in interpretations of the prophets which in other respects represent remarkably different perspectives.

As Old Testament scholarship turned into the second half of this century the earlier easy assumption of the literary activity of the "book" prophets gave way before an increasing emphasis -- exaggerated to be sure in some quarters -- on the role of oral composition and transmission and the relationship of at least some of these prophets to circles of disciples. In a pattern demonstrated in great variety over the whole of the ancient Near East, the great prophet played the role of master among a number of more or less formally organized disciples. Responsibility for the original, basic -- oral -- form of the present prophetic writings came to be fixed upon these disciples who cherished, preserved, and "edited" the utterances of the master, not only during the prophet’s lifetime, but for an extended period of time after his death. The present written form of prophetic speech may be analyzed, assessed, and interpreted only in consideration of its significant history as oral formalization and entity.

Form criticism underscores the role of oral tradition by demonstrating that much of profoundest meaning in the Old Testament is closely related to a continuing cultic activity which was largely sustained by the mouth and memory of successive generations of participants. Form criticism shatters the common assumption in the "literate" West that books and documents are created only by writers. The Old Testament, form-critically regarded, is much more the creation of speaking worshipers and remembering worshipers. The past is orally appropriated in the present, and the community -- past, present, and future -- is centrally oriented in a common cultus. In highlighting the real context of Israel’s actual historical existence, form criticism confronts us repeatedly with the fact that in the ancient East the role of written transmission, while significantly existent, remained sometimes, and for long periods of time, subordinate to that of oral transmission.

Studies in comparative culture in the ancient Near East, especially by Scandinavian scholars, give further emphasis -- sometimes exaggerated -- to the place of oral tradition. One is hardly justified in saying that the written Old Testament "is a creation of the post-exilic Jewish community; of what existed earlier undoubtedly only a small part was in fixed written form."7 This is certainly going too far. The writing of history and tradition in Israel increased in impressive proportion from the tenth century B.C. At the same time, one must insist on the continuing interrelationship between parallel written and oral formulation and transmission of material and, in the case of certain types -- including the utterances of the great prophets-on the dominant but not exclusive oral organization and preservation of the material down to the Exile in the sixth century.

There can be no doubt that at least some of the "book" prophets lived and taught and proclaimed a message in the company of disciples. Nor can the function of oral transmission among these disciples be eliminated in the history of the organization and preservation of prophetic utterance in the Old Testament. The real question is simply that of evaluating what is received. To what extent, for example, do we find the man and the prophet Isaiah in what is now recorded in the book of Isaiah? To what extent is the content of the prophetic book the product of the machinery of transmission? This is of course to ask the question, What is the relationship between the "book" prophet and the book, between the prophet and his disciples, between the disciples and the book? Have we been wrong for well over two thousand years now in assuming that the book of Amos or of Jeremiah reflects the mind, personality, and utterance of the prophet Amos, the prophet Jeremiah? Shall we say with certain scholars that we can never regain the actual words (the ipsissima verba) of Old Testament personalities, or that any hard and fast distinction between what comes from the prophet himself and what had its origin in subsequent tradition is no longer possible?8

The image of the great prophet as an absolutely solitary figure who is himself his own community and his own only scribe is wrong. Probably wrong too is the assumption that the form in which we now receive the words of the prophets is with any consistency the form in which it was initially cast by the prophet’s own hand. Conversely, the evidence hardly justifies the conclusion that no prophet ever wrote anything himself, that we cannot make contact with and define an individual prophet because what is represented as his is in its indistinguishable entirety a traditio-historical creation, the product of decades and even centuries of a fluid, oral process.

In the case of Isaiah there is the strongest evidence both that the prophet himself wrote, and that on occasion he committed his message for subsequent delivery in oral form to a circle of disciples. In Isa. 8:1 we read:

Then Yahweh said to me,
"Take a large tablet and write
upon it in common characters,
‘Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz.’"

And in Isa. 30:8:

And now, go,
Write it before them on a tablet
and inscribe it in a book,
that it may be for the time to come
as a witness for ever.

Further support is inferential. It is, for example, most improbable -- in fact most inconceivable -- that Isaiah was illiterate, whether or not, as has often been surmised, he was a member of the royalty of Jerusalem.

That there was also oral communication, transmission, and preservation of the words of Isaiah through a circle of disciples is made explicit in the text of Isaiah and is confirmed in Second Isaiah.

Bind up the testimony,
seal the teaching among my disciples [He-
brew: limmudim]
I will wait for Yahweh,
who is hiding his face from the house of
Jacob
and I will hope in him. (8:16-17.)

The message thus sealed among Isaiah’s disciples -- the message, presumably, of the ultimate redemption of Israel -- is identified and publicly brought forth some two centuries later by Second Isaiah, who also identifies himself as a participant and member in that -- still continuing -- discipleship to Isaiah of Jerusalem.

The Lord Yahweh has given me the tongue of
those-who-are-taught [Hebrew "disciples":limmudim]
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him that is weary.
Morning by morning he wakens,
he wakens my ear
to hear as those-who-are-taught [again "dis-
ciples": limmudim]. (50:4.)

I myself have no hesitation in endorsing the interpretation of these words of Second Isaiah as the prophet’s wish to make it clear that he, a child of a later age, numbered himself with the disciples of Isaiah and wished to be numbered with them.9

As more imprecise support for a circle of discipleship to Isaiah, one calls attention to the nature of the present book of Isaiah, the remarkable unity pervading its various major sections (including not only chs. 40-55, but 56-66 and 24-27) and, within chs. 1-39, the continuing debate as to the "authenticity" of numbers of passages, chapters, and sections. In view of the undeniable span of several centuries embraced by the present book of Isaiah one suspects that the very book in its present form testifies to a long-continuing discipleship to the first Isaiah, the Isaiah of eighth-century Jerusalem.

Isaiah’s influence is of course widely felt in the Old Testament outside the book of Isaiah. Subsequent prophets betray Isaianic influence, resulting from a knowledge of Isaiah or "the Isaianic" as recorded in writing or in the living discipleship or both. The little book of Micah is especially interesting testimony. If chs. 1-3 may -- with the possible exception of 2:12 ff. -- be assigned to the prophet Micah (either writing himself or as recorded by his own disciples) , we sense in the two sections that follow, chs. 4-5 and 6-7, a strong affinity with Isaiah and the circle of his disciples:

But you, 0 Bethlehem Ephrathah [Birthplace of
David: the reference is to the David-Zion covenant,
characteristic of Isaiah]
. . . from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
Whose origin is from of old . . .
Therefore he [Yahweh] shall give them [Judah] up
until the time when she
who is in travail has brought forth. . . .
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength
of Yahweh,
In the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God. . . . (Mic. 5:2ff.; cf. Isa. 9; 11; 40:11.)

But as for me [Micah? Or a prophet from the Isaiah
circle?]
I will look to Yahweh
I will wait for the God of my salvation. . . . (Mic.
6:7; cf. Isa 8:17, quoted above.)

We note also the eloquent anti-Assyrianism in Micah (see especially 5:10 ff.) , strongly reminiscent even in language and vocabulary of the Isaianic circle. If some of this material is from Micah, or if it fairly represents what was in fact the prophetic mind of Micah, then we must deduce an effective relationship between Isaiah and Micah, and we are justified in thinking that Micah was known to the Isaiah circle and that he too held in faith the prophetic expectation of redemption beyond judgment.10

The affinity between the book of Micah and the Isaiah circle is further marked by the presence of an oracle, the so-called "floating oracle," common to both books. One hazards the guess that it is not from Micah, that it may originate with Isaiah, that in testimony to its living oracular form it appears in Mic. 4:1-3 in a form longer than that in Isa. 2:2-4 and that it is one more item in support and clarification of the phenomenon of prophetic discipleship and of the joint role of the oracular and the written in the transmission of the content of prophetism.

On the question of whether the formation and transmission of prophetic utterance was predominantly written or oral a distinction ought to be made between two types of canonical prophetism, the liturgical and the so-called diwan type. The former, strongly influenced by established and probably recorded liturgy, is represented in such books as Nahum, Habakkuk, Joel, and Second Isaiah. It was produced by writers and experienced a predominantly written tradition from the very beginning. The latter is seen in prophets like Amos and Isaiah of Jerusalem and comes down out of a process of transmission largely oral.11

Whatever the actual circumstances of the creation of the various components of prophetism, we must acknowledge the role of oral as well as written transmission. Oral and written forms of "prophecy" were no doubt simultaneously current. Oral communication was not necessarily less accurate, and certainly it was more widely and more popularly used than writing, at least down to the sixth century.12 Even that which the prophet recorded with his own hand or directly through a disciple continued orally alive and was far more frequently communicated from tongue to ear than from scroll to eye. Finally, there is every reason to think that some of the great prophets’ preaching and teaching achieved written form only after sustained oral life among the disciples of the prophets.

Notes:

1 So also Sigmund Mowinekel, Psalmenstudien, II: Das Thronbesteigungsfest Jahwtis und der Ursprung der Eschatologie (Kristiania, 1922) , pp. 315 if., "The cult always contained a forward look."

2 A. Jepsen, Nabi (Munich, 1934) , probably goes too far in distinguishing between Yahwistic prophetism in North and South but he very properly points to the fact of frequent mention of priest, temple, and sacrifice in reports of the activities of prophets in Judah (I Sam. 2:27 if.; II Sam. 24; 7; I Kings 1; 13; II Kings 18-20) and that "in thirty passages priest and prophet are cited in association" (p. 161) , passages listed in note 2.

3 Cf. R. B. V. Scott, The Relevance of the Prophets (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947) , p. 42 if.

4 P. Humbert, Problem,s du livre d’Habacuc (Neuchatel, 1944) ; A. Haldar, Studies in the Book of Nahum (Uppsala, 1946) ; A. S. Kapelrud, Joel Studies (Uppsala, 1948)

5 Zeitschrift fiir die alttestamentlichen Wissenschaft (1934) , 52, 81-92.

6 According to Gunkel, Einleitung in die Psalmen (Gottingen, 1933) , p. 172, the following psalms belong to this type (die Klagelieder des Einzelnen) : 3, 5, 6, 7, 13, 17, 22, 25, 27:7-14, 28, 31, 35, 39, 42, 43, 51, 54-57, 59, 61, 63, 64, 69, 70, 71, 76, 88, 102, 109, 120, 130, 140-43 and, also belonging to this type, Lam. 3.

7 H. S. Nyberg, Studien zum Hoseabuche (1935) , p. 8; as quoted by Eduard Nielsen, Oral Tradition (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1954) (No. 11 in the series Studies in Biblical Theology) , p. 39.

8 See now the illuminating discussion by Eissfeldt, "The Prophetic Literature," Rowley, The Old Testament and Modern Study, pp. 128 ff.

9 Martin Buber, The Prophetic Faith (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1949) , pp. 203 if.: " ‘Disciples tongue’ it was, because his task was to uncover the master’s words as a consolation and succour." See also pp. 147 if.; and cf. A. Bentzen, Introduction to the Old Testament (2 vols.; Copenhagen, 1952) , II, 108, who takes for granted a continuing "circle of disciples" to Isaiah.

10 Against Von Rad who remarks what appears to him to be a critical difference in the two prophets’ appropriation of Israel’s old traditions. Hosea, he says, takes his stand on the old Israel-Covenant theology while Isaiah "appears not even once to be familiar with it and professes exclusively the Zion-David tradition" Theologie, I, 74. This may be, although I am not at all convinced of Isaiah’s ignorance of -- or even his disposition to ignore -- the older Exodus covenant (e.g., Isa. 1:2-3) In any case subsequent Isaisnic tradition combines the two covenants of Exodus and David-Zion, and the demonstrable affinity of Hosca and Isaiah as presently formulated remains. Cf. also Von Rad, Theologie, II, 158 ff.

11 So Engnell, The Call of Isaiah, pp. 59 ff.:

By no means do we have to reckon exclusively with oral tradition. . . Personally I have . . . tried to typologize the so-called "prophetical literature" in two main groups: "The liturgical type" ("liturgy" taken as a purely form-literary term) to be found in Nah., Hab., Joel, "Deuter-Isa," et al., with real "writers" behind them, and probably from the very beginning taken down in writing, and "the diwan type" (no very good term, I admit) , e.g., Am., Proto-Isa., etc., primarily resting on oral transmission. . . .

In further support of the role of writing, I strongly endorse the words of G. Widengren, Literary and Psychological Aspects of the Hebrew Prophets (Uppsala, 1948) , p. 77:

In the case of the three great prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel there is a mention of their writing down or dictating their prophecies. All of them surely wrote down at least part of their prophecies, that much is incontrovertible [italics his]. . . . How the prophetic texts of an Amos or a Hosea were transmitted, we do not know. But in view of the excellent state of the text of Amos and the comparatively good condition of that of Hoses we are not much inclined to assume that their prophecies have been handed down exclusively by means of oral tradition.

12 See now the study by Nielsen, op. cit.

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