Reviews of

Prophets and Prophecy in Jewish and Early Christian Literature

In Joseph VERHEYDEN, Korinna ZAMFIR, Michael J. Thate, Mohr Siebeck, Prophecy, Tobias NICKLAS on February 7, 2012 at 2:58 pm

2012.02.04 | Joseph Verheyden, Korinna Zamfir and Tobias Nicklas (eds.), Prophets and Prophecy in Jewish and Early Christian Literature, (WUNT II 286; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010) pp. viii+359, €74 (paper). 978 3 16 150338 2; 0340 9570

Reviewed by Michael J. Thate, Durham University.

RBECS would like to thank Mohr Siebeck for kindly providing us with a review copy. You can find RBECS on facebook, here.

The collection of these essays grew out of the 2006 Conference on “Prophets and Prophecy in the Old and New Testament” organized by the Centre for Biblical Studies at Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj, Romania. The essays by Walter Dietrich, Johannes Klein, Ulrich Luz, and Hans Klein were later incorporated into the volume from their original publication in Sacra Scripta 1 (2007). The commonality of the contributions, however, is in their investigation into the role of the prophet, prophecy, and prophetic literature of Jewish and early Christian literature and tradition. The editors offer the proceedings not as a “complete image of either Jewish or early Christian prophecy, but rather an attempt at reconstructing parts of this fascinating phenomenon by putting together various pieces of a mosaic” (p. vi). Moreover, the editors suggest that what holds the essays together is its “twofold orientation:” viz., traces and evidence of continuity and discontinuity (p. v). It is difficult to know precisely what this means in terms of the volume as a collective statement as the individual essays seem rather aloof in abiding by this over-arching approach.

The first essay by Walter Dietrich, “Samuel—ein Prophet?” (pp. 1–17), looks at the multiplicity of presentations of Samuel in 1 and 2 Samuel—Geweihter, Prophet, Richter, Priester, Königsmacher—as well as his reception in various settings from music, to literary aesthetics, to psychoanalysis. Johannes Klein follows with a second essay on Samuel, “Samuel, Gad, und Natan: Ein Vergleich” (pp. 19–29), comparing the three prophetic figures within 1 and 2 Samuel. Klein appears to draw conclusions about the rhetorical strategies of 1 and 2 Samuel based upon the verbiage and descriptors attributed to these three prophets. Brian Doyle investigates “The Prophet Isaiah and His Relational Metaphors” (pp. 31–40). Doyle follows the reception of Isaiah in its canonical form as the basis of his analysis of the vineyard metaphor in Isa 27:1–6 (pp. 35–40). He concludes with the rather provocative phrasing of how relational metaphors coordinate God, land, and people in a “sort of ménage à trois” (p. 40). Rieuwerd Buitenwerf’s essay returns to the complicated issues surrounding Sibylline Orracles III with a particular emphasis on the identity of the prophetess and issues of genre (pp. 41–55). The text has clearly been co-opted for Jewish agendas, transforming the Sibyl of Erythrae into “a universal prophetess of the one and only God” (p. 55).

Ulrich Luz presents a masterful analysis of the “Stages of Early Christian Prophetism” (pp. 57–75). He begins by acknowledging that the phenomenon under investigation is “complex” and “far from all uniformity” (p. 57). As is typical of Luz’s work, he takes seriously Wirkungsgeschichte, with a ranging discussion from contemporary Kongo and South African church expressions, to Zwingli’s bible studies, to the pre-exilic prophets and through the varying stages of early Christian prophecy. Luz sees the complex process beginning to emerge as נביא or προφήτης (LXX) as a “general term for all people acting as empowered ‘spokesmen[women]’ of God.” In other words, “Prophetism is not directly perceivable as a real phenomenon, but as a secondary concept of real phenomena” (p. 58). The complexity does not dissipate within early Christianity as there are examples of texts with “very different forms of prophets and prophecies” or, perhaps, “early Christian prophets prophesied in different ways” (p. 60). In any case, the term προφήτης was reserved for its links with this received tradition.

Tobias Nicklas looks at the prophetic resonances with Paul the apostle (pp. 77–104). Though Paul himself never refers to himself as “prophet” Nicklas suggests that it may have been part of his self-understanding by centering on key passages (e.g., Gal 1:16–16; Rom 1:1–2; 1 Thes 1:4; 1 Cor 9:14–18) and complexities of Paul’s deployment of the term μυστήριον. Nicklas gestures toward seeing Paul of Tarsus als charismatischen Juden seiner Zeit (p. 104). Hans Klein’s essay, “Auf dem Grund der Apostel und Propheten: Bemerkungen zu Epheserbrief 2,20” (pp. 105–16), looks at the terms der Apostel und Propheten within Ephesians and their function as Richtschnur within the early community.

The next three essays look at the prophetic within Synoptic traditions. Paul Foster works through “Prophets and Prophetism in Matthew” (pp. 117–38). Matthew does demonstrate an overwhelmingly greater penchant for προφ- language and Foster sees this as his “redactional contribution” (p. 117). Foster suggests Matthew “deploys prophetic language for a variegated range of purposes” (p. 138) guided by a christological and an ecclesial use of the prophetic material. In the latter, Matthew constructs “those who adhere to the type of belief in Jesus which he promotes as being the true heirs of the prophets and having the correct messianic interpretation of the prophetic traditions” (p. 136). Korinna Zamfir follows by considering neglected “Jeremian Motifs in the Synoptics’ Understanding of Jesus” (pp. 139–76), particularly with respect to Jeremiah’s polemical posturing toward the temple and the temple authorities. Zamfir adjudicates carefully between the historical elements within Jesus’ own mission and the community’s grasping of his identity through interpretive patterns.  Joseph Verheyden looks at what it means for Jesus to be called a prophet in Luke by examining passages which name him as such (pp. 177–210). Verheyden sees in Luke a tension between his naming Jesus as a prophet. Verheyden sees Luke as not wanting to call Jesus a prophet. Prophet is a name of misunderstanding and misrecognition. He is ultimately “identified, explicitly or implicitly, as the Lord and Christ, even as the Son of God” (p. 204).

Urban C. von Wahlde looks at “The Role of the Prophetic Spirit” within Johnnine community formation (pp. 211–42). Von Wahlde suggests that it was the role of the Spirit which became “the central determining aspect of theology at what might be called the most creative stage in the development of the Johannine tradition” (p. 212). The chapter is rather hypothetical in its four-stage development within the Johannine tradition but it presents an interesting investigation into the role of spirit and prophecy within the so-called Johannine writings. The next two essays look at the Apocalypse. First, Sorin Mațian looks at “Prophétisme et symbolisme dans l’Apocaplyse” (pp. 243–51). “En s’inspirant de plusieurs ouvrages de l’Ancien Testament, l’auteur de l’Apocalypse n’en prend pas les thèmes d’une manière littérale, mais va à l’essence en expliquant les anciennes prophéties en fonction des circonstances historiques du Ier siècle chrétien” (p. 251).  The second is by Beate Kowalski in “Prophetie und die Offenbarung des Johannes? Offb 22,6–21 als Testfall” (pp. 253–93). Kowalski argues that the Apocalypse is best understood within early Christian prophecy and draws on varying linguistic, literary, and allusions to Israel’s prophetic writings.

The volume concludes with a survey of “Prophecy and Prophetism in the Apostolic Fathers by Clayton N. Jefford (pp. 295–316). Jefford begins by offering proper cautions on examining “any singular theme within the Apostolic Fathers,” and “not to survey certain texts within the collection and declare that from but a few writings there is evidence for a unified perspective among the whole” (p. 295). That being said, he works through Didache, Ignatius of Antioch, and Shepherd of Hermas as examples of the post-apostolic church of the early second century grasping for its ecclesial identity through such patterns as the prophetic.

From an organizational perspective, the collection of essays could have benefited from sectional ordering. But all in all, the essays are excellent in their own right and as a collection a significant contribution to the discussion of the prophetic and its divergent developments.

Michael J. Thate
Durham University
m.j.thate [ at ]

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