What About Anna? -- By: Larry R. Helyer

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 023:4 (Autumn 2009)
Article: What About Anna?
Author: Larry R. Helyer


What About Anna?

Larry Helyer

LARRY R. HELYER is Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. He has taught biblical studies for twenty-nine years and continues to research, write, and lecture. He is the author of Yesterday, Today, and Forever: The Continuing Relevance of the Old Testament (Sheffield), Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period (IVP), and The Witness of Jesus, Paul and John (IVP). He and his wife, Joyce, helped start a CBE chapter at Taylor.

I love teaching undergraduates. In spite of days when glazed eyes dampen my enthusiasm, there are those special moments, epiphany-like occasions, when out of the mouths of college students come questions and observations that make me pause and silently exclaim, “And I get paid for this!”

One such moment occurred in a class I’ve taught for twenty-seven years at Taylor University, a class called “Hebrew Prophets.” As an introduction to the general phenomenon of Hebrew prophetism, I briefly sketch the history of this fascinating movement. After discussing the full flowering of prophetism during the era of the so-called “classical prophets,” the writing prophets of the Old Testament, I point out the cessation of prophecy around the time of Ezra and Malachi. A long period of prophetic silence ensues until, suddenly and dramatically, prophecy revives in the Jesus movement and the early church.

I highlight the epochal significance of John the Baptist’s ministry. At long last, a prophet in Israel lifts up his voice and echoes the words of Isaiah 40:3: “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” I typically pause a moment to let that sink in. But on this particular occasion, a student—a male student—raised his hand and asked a very short question. “What about Anna?” I started to say something, but nothing came out. I was left speechless. My epiphany moment unfolded and hit me with an unforgettable impact. It had been there right in front of me all those years and I had completely missed it! And I was not alone. In fact, all my teachers in college, seminary, and graduate school—all of them men—had never seen it either, because none of my class notes had ever mentioned it, nor had textbooks and authoritative encyclopedias on the subject. Here is a sample from the prestigious Anchor Bible Dictionary: “The first prophet described in the New Testament is John the Baptist, whose career was contemporary with, and in some respects like, that of Jesus.”1 But this is patently incorrect. Anna was a prophetess (prophētis), and she prophesied some years befor...

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