Prophecy and Prophetic Literature in Ancient Israel
Dr. John C. Reeves
204B Macy 21A Cedar (for 2017-18 only)
Office hours: WF by appointment (for 2017-18 only)
‘Through gematria (the numerical value of the characters spelling) “the prophet” is equivalent to (that of the characters spelling “Sage”): hence all the prophets were (also) extraordinary Sages, which accords with what is said in Scripture: “and a prophet (!) has a mind endowed with sagacity” (Ps 90:12). Now however they only pass on secrets to those who are perfected in knowledge. And with regard to what the Sages of blessed memory once said: “Since the day when the Temple was destroyed, prophecy was taken away from the prophets and given to the crazies” (b. B. Bat. 12b), (they meant) not a total nut-case who tears up his clothes, spends the night in the graveyard, or goes out alone at night, but rather a simpleton who does not know about con-jobs. He is called “simpleton” and “easily fooled,” for through gematria (the numerical value of the characters spelling) “simpleton” is equivalent to (that of the characters spelling) “perfected ones.” It is moreover recorded in Scripture: “the testimony of the Lord is more reliable than the wisdom of the simpleton” (Ps 19:8).’ – Sefer ha-ḥesheq ‘al shemot Meṭaṭron (ed. Y. M. Epstein; Lemberg: S. L. Kugel, Lewin & Comp., 1865), 7a (§53).
This course examines the phenomenon of prophecy in the religion of ancient Israel, with particular attention being devoted to the writings about and the books attributed to named ‘prophets’ in the Hebrew Bible. Inasmuch as it can reliably be reconstructed, the development of Israelite prophecy will be studied from its earliest appearance in narrative sources (Deborah, Balaam, Samuel, anonymous ’anshey ha-’elohim) to the alleged cessation of prophecy during the Second Temple period. Questions to be investigated include the following: What is a prophet? What sorts of concerns tend to generate oracles by prophets and diviners? Are there discernible social roles for the prophet in the society of ancient Israel? What distinguishes so-called prophetic literature from other genres of composition contained in the Bible or used in the ancient Near East? How do oral and written modes of composition interplay in the prophetic corpus? Who ‘authored’ the books attributed to prophets in the Hebrew Bible, and how did they go about this task? Religio-historical antecedents and parallels to Israelite prophecy (e.g., Mesopotamian divination, prophecy at Mari, Assyrian oracle collections) will also be studied in order to gain some insight into the cross-cultural religious and social status of the prophet and the nature of prophetic literature. If time permits, the course will conclude with an examination of the alleged relationship between prophetic and apocalyptic literature.
The following secondary works of scholarship are required for this course:
Joseph Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel: Revised and Enlarged (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996).
Martti Nissinen, Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003).
Links to three different English translations of the Hebrew Bible are available on the course website. You may use these or any other responsible translations for the preparation of your assignments.
Frequently, supplementary readings will be assigned or distributed by the instructor as needed.
Warning: In this class you will hear or read ideas which may disturb, shock, dismay, or outrage you, and you will be compelled to think using methodological paradigms which you may deem troubling, wrong-headed, blasphemous, or even sacrilegious. If you think you might be uncomfortable in this situation, then this is definitely not the class for you. On the other hand, if you think you can suspend your uncritical attachments to certain notions about scriptures, their meaning, and the circumstances surrounding their production, then you will undoubtedly learn a great deal about the historical and cultural matrices betwixt which Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other religions in their mutual contact zones arose and flourished.
a. Readings. The nature of this course entails a significant amount of close reading and reflection both within and outside of class. Students are responsible for completing the reading assignments (outlined below or assigned in class) in a timely manner. Every student must read and critically engage substantial portions of Bible, Qur’ān, parascriptural works, commentaries, testimonia, folktales, and esoterica which have been englished from texts originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Mandaic, Greek, Latin, Coptic, Arabic, Persian, and Ethiopic.
b. Take-home written exercises. An indeterminate number of written exercises (optimally one per class) will be prepared and submitted for in-class discussion and out-of-class evaluation. These exercises vary in length from less than one (1) to a maximum of five (5) typewritten or electronically printed pages. All of these exercises will be announced and explained by the instructor during the course of or at the conclusion of a class meeting. The instructor’s evaluation of the student’s collective written exercise performance (√+ = A-; √ = C+; √- = D) will comprise 50% of the course grade.
c. Final take-home essay. Instead of an in-class three-hour final examination, you will prepare a final essay wherein you will be expected to synthesize many of the major issues and themes discussed in class and in the required readings, as well as to demonstrate your knowledge of the specific source materials and facts which pertain to those issues and themes. Once its topic is assigned (on the final class meeting day), this essay will be delivered to the instructor before the date and time officially mandated for the final examination of this course by the UNC Charlotte administration. The final essay is worth 25% of the course grade.
d. Individual involvement. Almost perfect attendance (see below) is an essential requirement for this course. Each class meeting builds upon the knowledge gained during previous meetings. Moreover, in-class discussion and analysis comprises a significant portion of every class meeting. Preparation for every class usually involves the completion of a series of assigned readings and/or written assignment(s). Students are expected to contribute in an informed manner* to the public analysis and discussion of any assigned topic, and the instructor reserves the right to administer occasional unannounced ‘pop-quizzes’ should he deem the situation so warrants (grades for such quizzes are averaged with those of the take-home exercises). The instructor’s assessment of one’s attendance, class preparation, and informed oral contributions will constitute 25% of the final course grade.
e. Zakhor (Remember!): Mastery of the assigned readings, diligent class attendance, and verbal participation are necessary prerequisites for the successful completion of this course. Each student is responsible for all lectures, class discussions, assignments, and announcements, whether or not he/she is present when they occur.
*Note Prov 15:28: לב צדיק יהגה לענות ופי רשעים יביע רעות, which I’m inclined to render as ‘the mind of the devoted (student) contemplates before answering, whereas the mouth of the clueless spews forth worthless nonsense.’
a. The grading scale used in this course is as follows:
91-100 A = demonstrable mastery of material; can creatively synthesize
81-90 B = some demonstrable proficiency in control of material & analysis
71-80 C = satisfactory performance of assignments; little or no analysis
61-70 D = inadequate and/or faulty understanding of material
0-60 F = unacceptable work
b. One of the requirements of this course is to complete the work of the course on time. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for late work—an illness or other emergency. ‘Emergency,’ however, does not include your social involvements, travel plans, job schedule, disk, wi-fi, and/or printer failures, the state of your love life, your obligations to other courses, or general malaise over the state of the world. The world has been in a mess as long as anyone can remember, and most of the world’s work is done by people whose lives are a mass of futility and discontent. If you haven’t learned yet, you had better learn now to work under the conditions of the world as it is. Therefore:
1) All missed quizzes and neglected homework exercises will be averaged as a 0 in the computation of the course grade. There is no such thing as a ‘make-up pop quiz.’ No exceptions will be considered or granted.
2) All essays and written exercises are due on the dates scheduled in the syllabus, or on the date announced by the instructor in class (usually, the following class meeting). ‘Late’ submissions of essays (not homework exercises—see below) bear the following penalties: one day late/one letter grade; two days late/two letter grades; three or more days late/F. Please note: these ‘days’ are calendar days, not class meeting days. For accounting purposes, letter grades bear the following values: A=95; A-=92; B=85; C+=78; C=75; D=65; F=30. An untyped essay or homework exercise automatically receives the grade F, as do those typed submissions which violate the required parameters or which the instructor deems physically unacceptable and/or grammatically incomprehensible.
3) Homework exercises are due on the date announced by the instructor in class. Since we will normally discuss these exercises together in class on that date, it would clearly be unfair to those who submitted their work on time for me to accept ‘late’ work from those who were privy to our in-class discussion. Hence I will not accept ‘late’ homework submissions (even from those of you who may be physically absent during our discussion); however, ‘early’ submissions (i.e., before the start of class) are always welcome and will receive full credit.
4) Since your diligent physical participation is critical for the success of this course, attendance at class meetings will be monitored by the instructor. One or two absences are regrettable; three absences are the limit of tolerability. Four (4) or more absences will result in an automatic F for the course. Please note that—with the exception of religious holidays—the instructor does not distinguish ‘excused’ from ‘unexcused’ absences. Unsanctioned late arrivals and early departures will be tallied as absences.
5) Policy regarding Audits: the instructor expects auditors (whether formally enrolled as such or not) to meet the same attendance, preparation, and oral participation standards as those students who are taking the course for credit. The instructor does not expect auditors to prepare and submit any written assignments.
c. Assistance and solicitation of criticism is your right as a member of the class. It is not a privilege to be granted or withheld. Do not hesitate to request it nor wait too late in the course for it to be of help.
ROUGH COURSE OUTLINE
I. Introduction: the Prophets (Nevi’im) as literary corpus
James E. Bowley, “Bible,” in Michael D. Coogan,ed., The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible (2 vols.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 1:73-84.
John C. Reeves, “Problematizing the Bible … Then and Now,” Jewish Quarterly Review 100 (2010): 139-52.
John C. Reeves, “Scriptural Authority in Early Judaism,” in James E. Bowley, ed., Living Traditions of the Bible: Scripture in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Practice (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1999), 63-84.
James E. Bowley & John C. Reeves, “Rethinking the Concept of ‘Bible’: Some Theses and Proposals,” Henoch 25 (2003): 1-18.
II. Ancient Near Eastern prophetism
a. phenomenological issues
b. historical issues
c. social issues
Gen 30:27; 44:5, 15; Deut 18:9-22; 1 Sam 23:6-13; 30:7-8; 2 Sam 2:1-3; 5:22-25; Ezek 21:26-27; Zechariah 10:2.
‘Mari Letters’ (in Nissinen), 13-77; ‘Nineveh Oracles’ (in Nissinen), 97-132.
Hans M. Barstad, “No Prophets? Recent Developments in Biblical Prophetic Research and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 57 (1993): 39-60.
Maria deJong Ellis, “Observations on Mesopotamian Oracles and Prophetic Texts: Literary and Historiographic Considerations,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 41 (1989): 127-86.
A. L. Oppenheim, “The Arts of the Diviner,” in his Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization (rev.ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 206-227.
Moshe Weinfeld, “Ancient Near Eastern Patterns in Prophetic Literature,” Vetus Testamentum 27 (1977): 178-95.
III. Constructing the prophetic ‘book’
a. Structural and structuring elements
b. Genres of prophetic speech
c. Redactional elements and strategies
d. Editorial expansions and ‘corrections’
e. Prophetic intertextuality
Isaiah 1-39; Jeremiah 1-52; Ezekiel 1-48; Zechariah 1-14; Joel 1-4; Zephaniah 1-3.
Blenkinsopp, 97-121; 129-180; 194-226.
Joachim Schaper, “Exilic and Post-Exilic Prophecy and the Orality/Literacy Problem,” Vetus Testamentum 55 (2005): 324-42.
Robert P. Carroll, “Prophecy and Society,” in R. E. Clements, ed., The World of Ancient Israel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 203-25.
Alan Cooper, “Imagining Prophecy,” in James L. Kugel, ed., Poetry and Prophecy: The Beginnings of a Literary Tradition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 26-44.
IV. Literary profiles of the ‘prophet’
a. the Balaam narrative (Num 22-24)
b. Deborah (Judg 4-5)
c. Samuel (1 Sam 3; 1 Sam 7; 9:1-10:13; 10:17-25)
d. anonymous conveyors of doom (1 Sam 2:27-36; 1 Kgs 13; 1 Kgs 20:35-42)
e. Ahijah the Shilonite (1 Kgs 11-12; 14:1-18; 15:29)
f. the Elijah/Elisha complex
i. Six ‘wonder-tales’ of Elisha (2 Kgs 2:19-22; 2:23-24; 4:1-7; 4:38-41; 4:42-44; 6:1-7)
ii. the Shunamite widow (2 Kgs 4:8-37)
iii. investiture (2 Kgs 2:1-18)
iv. Elijah (1 Kgs 17-19)
g. idealization of the ‘prophet’: Moses (Num 12:1-16; Deut 34:10-12)
h. Jonah (2 Kgs 14:25; Jonah 1-4)
Blenkinsopp, 48-72; 240-45 + the biblical passages signaled above.
M. Dijkstra, “Is Balaam Also Among the Prophets?” Journal of Biblical Literature 114 (1995): 43-64.
Menahem Haran, “From Early to Classical Prophecy: Continuity and Change,” Vetus Testamentum 27 (1977): 385-97.
V. Reading ‘history’ and ‘culture’ through the Prophets
a. Amos 1-9
b. Hosea 1-14
c. Isaiah 1-39; 40-55; 56-66
d. Jeremiah 1-52
e. Ezekiel 1-48
f. Zechariah 1-8; 9-14
Blenkinsopp, 65-226 + the biblical passages signaled above.
Sigmund Mowinckel, “The Spirit and the Word in the Pre-Exilic Reforming Prophets,” Journal of Biblical Literature 53 (1934): 199-227.
A. Brenner, “Pornoprophetics Revisited: Some Additional Reflections,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 70 (1996): 63-86.
F. Deist, “The Prophets: Are We Heading for a Paradigm Switch?” in V. Fritz, et al., eds., Prophet und Prophetenbuch (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1989), 1-18.
VI. Some thoughts on the shift from prophecy to apocalyptic
Josephus, Bellum 6.288-315; Tacitus, Hist. 5.13.
Frederick E. Greenspahn, “Why Prophecy Ceased,” Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (1989): 37-49.
Benjamin D. Sommer, “Did Prophecy Cease? Evaluating a Reevaluation,” Journal of Biblical Literature 115 (1996): 31-47.
SUPPLEMENTAL BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR RELS 3104
In response to student requests for recommendations regarding useful and enlightening discussions of certain topics, themes, and personalities that are presented in class and/or readings, I offer the following suggestions for further study at the student’s leisure. I confine myself to materials which I myself have used with profit and which are currently available at Atkins Library.
It is often helpful for the student to begin with appropriate articles in the standard Bible dictionaries. The latest and best is The Anchor Bible Dictionary (6 vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1992). Also reliable are The Interpreters’ Dictionary of the Bible (4 vols.) and its Supplementary Volume (ed. George A. Buttrick; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962 & 1976), and the Harper’s Bible Dictionary (ed. Paul J. Achtemeier; San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985). Highly recommended are the relevant articles in the Encyclopaedia Judaica (16 vols., Jerusalem: Keter, 1971).
Herbert Chanan Brichto, Toward a Grammar of Biblical Poetics: Tales of the Prophets (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).
Robert P. Carroll, When Prophecy Failed: Cognitive Dissonance in the Prophetic Traditions of the Old Testament (New York: Seabury Press, 1979).
Pinkhos Churgin, Targum Jonathan to the Prophets (1927; repr., New York: AMS Press, 1980). A study of the Aramaic version of the former and latter Prophets.
Philip R. Davies, ed., The Prophets (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996). An anthology of important articles first published in the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament.
Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985). See especially pp. 443-505.
Robert P. Gordon, ed., “The Place is Too Small for Us”: The Israelite Prophets in Recent Scholarship (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1995). Another anthology of ‘cutting edge’ articles.
Rebecca Gray, Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).
Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets (2 vols.; New York: Harper & Row, 1962).
Yehezkel Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel: From its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile (trans. Moshe Greenberg; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960). See especially pages 343-446.
Brad E. Kelle, “The Phenomenon of Israelite Prophecy in Contemporary Scholarship,” Currents in Biblical Research 12 (2014): 275-320.
Klaus Koch, The Prophets (2 vols.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983-84).
Johannes Lindblom, Prophecy in Ancient Israel (1962; repr., Philadelphia: Fortress, 1973).
Thomas W. Overholt, Prophecy in Cross-Cultural Perspective: A Sourcebook for Biblical Researchers (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986).
Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture (4 vols.; London, 1926-40; repr., 2 vols.; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991), 2:107-49.
Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Volume II: The Theology of Israel’s Prophetic Traditions (New York: Harper & Row, 1965).
Alexander Rofé, The Prophetical Stories: The Narratives about the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, their Literary Types and History (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1988).
Uriel Simon, Reading Prophetic Narratives (trans. Lenn J. Schramm; Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997).
Benjamin Uffenheimer, Early Prophecy in Israel (trans. David Louvish; Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1999).
Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel (1878; repr., New York: Meridian, 1957). Enormously influential for subsequent scholarly reconstructions of the literary history of the biblical books. No serious student of biblical literature can ignore this fundamental work.
Claus Westermann, Basic Forms of Prophetic Speech (1967; repr., Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991).
Robert R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980).
In addition, one can consult the relevant individual volumes (e.g., Isaiah 1-39; Zephaniah; Haggai & Zechariah 1-8; etc.) in philologically responsible biblical commentary series such as the International Critical Commentary, Hermeneia, the Anchor Bible Commentaries, and the Old Testament Library.