The Rise of Prophecy in Israel Jeff Carpenter 11/13/2010
Outline • What is a prophet? • Historical Beginnings • Beginnings of prophecy in Israel • Rise of prophecy • Prophet’s relationship with Kings • The Elijah and Elisha cycles • Importance for Christians • Discussion
What is a Prophet? • Many uses today • Predictor • Preacher • Social Activist • Religious Founder • Leader • Let’s defer making a choice
Former and Later Prophets • Former prophets in the historical books • Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings (Chronicles) • Bible contains stories about them • Later prophets have books in their names • Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, … • Bible contains their words
Historical Beginnings • Potsherds from Tell ed-Duweir (Lachish) • Written during Babylonian campaign • Mention prophet • One has partial end of the name of Jeremiah • Ink on plaster • East of the Jordan at Deir ‘Alla • Speaks of Balaam the seer • Not limited to Israel
Beginnings of Prophecy in Israel • First texts are from the 8th century BC • Much earlier tradition of prophecy • Probably 3 centuries earlier • Hosea 12:10 I am the LORD, your God, since the land of Egypt; I will again have you live in tents, as in that appointed time. I granted many visions and spoke to the prophets, through whom I set forth examples.
Final Text • Writers of the Greek text avoided the use of words implying “ecstatic” • Timing of Greek text, after Alexander so 3rd or 4th century • Likely a desire to emphasize the declarative aspects of prophecy • “The law and the prophets”, 2nd century in the prologue to Sirach, 2 Maccabes 15:9 “By encouraging them with words from the law and the prophets, and by reminding them of the battles they had already won, he filled them with fresh enthusiasm.”
Prophecy in the Texts • Later authors make little distinction between former and later prophets • 15 books attributed to prophetic writers • Rabbinic sources list 48 prophets and 7 prophetesses in Israel • Jesus benSira traced prophecy to Joshua • So why not Moses?
Rise of Prophecy • Last week’s presentation • King drew authority from connection to God • Led to civil stability • Moses-like • Prophets arose after civil stability was established • Sometimes spoken of negatively
Prophets and Stability • Stabilizing cultic prophets • Prophets in the court, service to the king • Draw authority from relationship to king • Things are fine as they are • Destabilizing cultic prophets • Prophets as individuals or small groups • Draw authority from relationship with God • Authority to be heard • Call from God • Need to change
1 Kings 22:6-14 The king of Israel gathered together the prophets, about four hundred of them, and asked, "Shall I go to attack Ramoth-gilead or shall I refrain?" "Go up," they answered. "The LORD will deliver it over to the king." But Jehoshaphat said, "Is there no other prophet of the LORD here whom we may consult?“ The king of Israel answered, "There is one other through whom we might consult the LORD, Micaiah, son of Imlah; but I hate him because he prophesies not good but evil about me." Jehoshaphat said, "Let not your majesty speak of evil against you.“ So the king of Israel called an official and said to him, "Get Micaiah, son of Imlah, at once." The king of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah were seated, each on his throne, clothed in their robes of state on a threshing floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria, and all the prophets were prophesying before them. Zedekiah, son of Chenaanah, made himself horns of iron and said, "The LORD says, 'With these you shall gore Aram until you have destroyed them.'" The other prophets prophesied in a similar vein, saying: "Go up to Ramoth-gilead; you shall succeed. The LORD will deliver it over to the king." The messenger who had gone to call Micaiah said to him, "Look now, the prophets are unanimously predicting good for the king. Let your word be the same as any of theirs; predict good." "As the LORD lives," Micaiah answered, "I shall say whatever the LORD tells me."
Prophetic Themes • Zeal for the God of Israel • Concern for the victim and underpriviledged • Strong sense of the covenant • Not God’s people unless they are morally upright • The ethical dimension is as important as the worship dimension • Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable
Prophet’s Relationship to Kings • Saul • Samuel (and others) • David • Samuel • Nathan • Gad • Handout with history • Caveat Lector!
Elijah and Elisha Context 30 year struggle for religious supremacy
Elijah the Tishbite • Shows up and disappears • No call described • Wild man • Hairy garment and leather belt • Loner • Form is “Thus says the God of Israel” • Taken up in a fiery chariot
Five Major Scenes • Commands a 3-year drought • Lives with the widow in Sidon • Contest with the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel • Power of the God of Israel
5 Major Scenes (Cont) • Elijah’s return to Horeb • Jehu will overthrow Ahab • Field of Naboth-confrontation with Ahab • Emphasis on justice • Oracle against Ahazia for seeking healing from Baalzebub • God of Israel’s power compared to Kings and military might
Elisha • Called by Elijah • Elijah’s cloak falls on him when Elijah is taken up • Double portion of Elijah’s spirit • Settled down • Many followers • Achieved ecstatic state through music and dance
Elisha’s Miracles • Raising the dead • Elisha’s bones as well • Multiplication of food • The floating axe • Cleansing the poisoned well • Calling bears to maul boys who were teasing him
Elisha’s Themes • Guardian of the faith in Israel • Entered into the political world, e.g. Naaman • Consulted by elders but outside government • Zeal for God • No special moral leadership on behalf of the poor • Summary: a Holy man and reports of political changes brought about by prophet
Importance to Christians • Similarity between Elijah and John the Baptist • One answer to “Who do they say I am?” is Elijah • Theme of the law and the prophets • Parable of Lazarus and the rich man • Annointed priest, prophet and king
Discussion Questions • What is a prophet? • What does it mean when Christians are anointed Prophet? • What are the characteristics of being a prophet today? • How would people in the pews react to a prophet today? Like the kings or like David?
Read More • Blenkinsopp, Joseph. A History of Prophecy in Israel. Rev. and enl. ed. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996. • Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament : An Introduction. New York, N.Y.: Paulist Press, 1984.