“Themes and Transformations in Old Testament Prophecy”: A Review -- By: John Goldingay

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 43:0 (NA 2011)
Article: “Themes and Transformations in Old Testament Prophecy”: A Review
Author: John Goldingay

“Themes and Transformations in Old Testament Prophecy”: A Review

John Goldingay*

I am disillusioned about whether we can trace the process whereby the prophetic books developed until they reached the form in which we have them (to be truthful, I was never very illusioned) and I therefore appreciate the fact that Professor Meier starts this book by expressing similar feelings, while assuming that Isaiah 40–66 is to be distinguished from Isaiah 1–39 and also that we do not know the dates of Joel and Obadiah. Instead of seeking to investigate that process of development, he is interested in studying some themes that pervade the prophets, and in particular in examining the varying takes that different prophets offer on these themes.

His overall argument is that one can perceive “an unequivocal trajectory of decline” in prophecy during Old Testament times, as he puts it on his last page, a decline in which Jeremiah marks the end of prophecy at its best and Ezekiel marks the beginning of a waning. He traces this “diminution” in connection with a series of themes. He begins with the related topics of the prophet and the divine council and the question whether the future is determined, to which I will return. He goes on to the nature of the relationship and the degree of intimacy between prophets and God, the related topic of the role of angels and the way prophets speak of God’s speaking with them, the difference between prophets communicating in verse or in prose and between their being more people who “see” or people who “write,” the related development of an interest in chronology in the later prophetic books, the disappearance of miracles, the loss of the prophets’ role as king-makers and of their related role in connection with war. The remaining chapters focus more on some continuities—patterns in God’s acts, and the way the prophets whom people should take the risk of believing tend to be the ones who don’t get paid, who major on critique rather than affirmation, who stand out against the majority view, and who have a track record for being right in what they declare will happen.

There is lots of illumination is this book; I can imagine it being an instructive read both for people who know something about the prophets and for people who come fresh to that study, as Professor Meier hopes. At the same time, although the thesis with which it explores the prophets is a factor in generating the insight, in most chapters I had some questions about whether the thesis worked. Here are three examples.

(1) Early prophecy is poetic and later prophecy is prose,...

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