Forms of Prophetic Speech in the Old Testament: A Summary of Claus Westermann’s Contributions -- By: Bill T. Arnold

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 27:0 (NA 1995)
Article: Forms of Prophetic Speech in the Old Testament: A Summary of Claus Westermann’s Contributions
Author: Bill T. Arnold


Forms of Prophetic Speech in the Old Testament:
A Summary of Claus Westermann’s Contributions

Bill T. Arnold

Dr. Arnold (Ph.D., Hebrew Union College) is a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary.

This article is occasioned by the reissuance of Westermann’s now famous Basic Forms of Prophetic Speech.1 and the appearance of the English translation of its companion volume, Prophetic Oracles of Salvation in the Old Testament.2 The first of these volumes was originally published in Germany in 1960 (Grundformen prophetischer Rede) and became available in English in 1967.

Westermann furthered the work of Hermann Gunkel, the father of Form Criticism, who first called attention to the oral prehistory of the prophets. Like Gunkel, Westermann attempted to define the formal features of the Gattungen (genres) of the prophetic speeches and to place them in their life situations in the institutional life of ancient Israel. Since the volume has become something of a classic in form critical investigation of the prophets, students of the Old Testament will welcome this new release, which is identical to the 1967 edition, with the addition of a new forward by Gene M. Tucker. The opening section of Basic Forms traces the history of investigation into the prophetic speech forms since the beginning of the twentieth century (pp. 13-89). Westermann recounts how Gunkel and company began with the initial observation that prophecy is comprised of individual prophetic sayings. Several of the earlier form critics arrived at a consensus that a basic form of the prophetic judgment-speech was a messenger’s speech with two parts, the reason (or accusation) and the announcement of judgment (pp. 86-87). Westermann concurs with this consensus.

The heart of the book is his survey of the speech forms in the prophetic books of the Old Testament and his important discussion of the messenger formula: “Thus says the Lord” (pp. 1280- Westermann focuses on a single speech form, the announcement of judgment. He argues that the Old Testament prophetic books contained three major kinds of speech: A) accounts, by which he means historical narratives, B) prophetic speeches, and C) utterances directed from man to God, or prayer (p.90–91). The famous confrontation between Amos and Amaziah the priest of Bethel (Amos 7:10–17) is an example of an account. But such accounts are rare in the written prophets. Jonah is

the exception, since it is only an account. Other examples of what Westermann means by account are gene...

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