Some Reflections on Samuel A. Meier’s “Themes and Transformations in Old Testament Prophecy” -- By: Terence E. Fretheim

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 43:0 (NA 2011)
Article: Some Reflections on Samuel A. Meier’s “Themes and Transformations in Old Testament Prophecy”
Author: Terence E. Fretheim

Some Reflections on Samuel A. Meier’s “Themes and Transformations in Old Testament Prophecy”

Terence E. Fretheim*

Samuel Meier has provided readers in both church and academy with a thoughtful and insightful review of issues in the study of Old Testament prophecy. In my reading of his book I often paused to reflect on what was being said or scurried to the Bible itself to check on one matter or another.

It has long been noted that the prophetic office gradually diminishes in importance for Israel in the post-exilic period. Meier is especially helpful in gathering the detail that illumines this change. It becomes clear that prophecy is not a static phenomenon.

Meier begins with the claim that the “prophets are not uniform in their language, their concerns, their personalities, their remedies or their visions of the future.” (p. 11); we, too often, “assume a continuity that is not really there” (pp. 11–12). At the same time, Meier shows that there are levels of continuity that do run in, with, and under these points of distinctiveness. And so the layout of the volume (after a careful introduction) consists of thirteen chapters where thematic differences among the prophets are isolated and pursued, followed by a lengthy chapter (about 20% of the book) on “some of the essential features of prophecy that did not change” (p. 179) and a brief summation. A number of elements in a more traditional introduction (book by book analysis, issues of composition and historical setting) tend to be assumed and readers are introduced to “themes” that cut across book boundaries.

The book focuses on both the literary prophets and the stories of the prophets in Samuel-Kings. The book of Daniel is “not included” in the discussion because “the Old Testament makes no effort to present him as a prophet” (p. 16). At the same time, Meier gives considerable attention to Daniel along the way to illustrate “the changes that prophecy itself experienced” (p. 17). Without the material from Daniel, the evidence for some thematic changes is somewhat thin.

The themes/practices covered are: the divine council, issues of a determined future, the asking of questions, the manner of revelation, angels, ascription of words to God, use of poetry and prose, the writing down of prophetic words, dating references in the prophets, miracles, the prophets as king-makers, the place of “horses and chariots,” and duplicated oracles. A similar pattern is discerned in every case: what was characteristic of the pre-exilic prophets in these areas changed in the post-exilic prophets. The exile proved to be the watershed “moment,” with the exilic prophets giv...

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