Is There Anything Unique In The Israelite Prophets? -- By: John N. Oswalt

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 172:685 (Jan 2015)
Article: Is There Anything Unique In The Israelite Prophets?
Author: John N. Oswalt

Is There Anything Unique In The Israelite Prophets?

John N. Oswalt

John N. Oswalt is Visiting Distinguished Professor of Old Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky.


In Old Testament Studies it is frequently argued that the findings in the ancient Near East show that there is nothing unique in the Israelite prophets. This article argues that there is a good deal that is unique. It begins with a survey of the evidence from the ancient Near East, showing that while there is some common content between that material and what is found in the Bible, the outlook is quite different. It is this different outlook, namely the transcendent personhood of Yahweh that explains why the Bible contains a large collection of prophetic literature, with nothing even approaching such a collection anywhere else in the ancient Near East. The article goes on to argue that the only sufficient explanation for this unique outlook is in the explanation that the Bible gives, namely direct revelation from Yahweh himself.

Anyone familiar with Old Testament study during the last fifty years knows that the trend has been in the direction of showing that nothing in the Old Testament is truly unique. Different perhaps, but unique, no. This trend has been as apparent in the study of the Israelite prophets as elsewhere. Now more than fifteen years ago R. P. Gordon spoke of “the ‘disappearing’ Israelite prophet.”1 By this terminology he meant to convey the fact that the distinctive character of the Israelite prophet has been steadily eroded by finds at such places as Mari, Deir Allah, and Assyria, all of which show that the phenomenon of prophecy, if not widespread in the ancient world, was still well known.

The present article argues that there is indeed something unique in the Israelite prophets. First of all, it is the very existence of the prophetic books. But beyond that, it is the worldview found in those books, and coupled with that unique worldview, the theology that springs from it. This worldview and theology cannot be explained as a creation of post-exilic Judaism, but must have been endemic to the Israelite prophetic movement from very early on.

Prophecy In The Ancient World


Martti Nissinen defines prophecy in this way: “human transmission of allegedly divine messages.” He goes on to say that it is “another, yet distinctive branch of the consultation of the divine that is generally called ‘divination.’ ” He apparently considers “prophecy” to be a distinctive branch of divination because the messa...

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