The Latter Prophets of the Tanak (i.e., the Jewish form of the Hebrew Bible) are found within the second section of its tripartite structure (i.e., Torah-Prophets-Writings) and include the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). The Old Testament (i.e., the Christian form of the Hebrew Bible) includes the Latter Prophets, called simply “Prophets,” as its final section immediately prior to the New Testament, but this section also differs from the same section in the Tanak in that it includes the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel and treats the twelve “Minor Prophets” as individual books.
The Latter Prophets of the Tanak and Old Testament each form an important component of their respective Bibles, one that plays a key role in expressing the respective theological outlooks of Jewish and Christian forms of the Bible. But each of the prophetic books also has a complex compositional history pointing to the significant roles that the individual prophets played within ancient Judean and Israelite society. The prophets are especially well known for their attempts to interpret the major historical, economic, and religious events of their day; to identify the divine will in relation to those events; and to call on the people of their times to follow the prophets’ understanding of the divine will. Although prophets are frequently understood as figures who predict the future, their basic function is to persuade people to follow the divine will. Their efforts to envision the future were a means to indicate to people what possible consequences or outcomes their actions might hold, either for judgment or for blessing, and to convince them to adopt a course of action that was in keeping with the will of YHWH.
In an effort to provide a basis for understanding the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible, this chapter examines (1) the phenomenon of prophecy in the ancient Near Eastern world, including speech and narrative forms, in order to demonstrate their importance for understanding prophecy in Israel and Judah, (2) each of the prophetic books of the Latter Prophets so as to discern their distinctive literary forms, compositional histories, and theological outlooks on the world of their time, and (3) the literary and theological significance of the Prophets in both the Jewish and Christian forms of the Bible.
A remarkable diversification of religious scholarship occurred in the course of the twentieth century, uniquely affecting research on the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. Once a relatively staid field framed within largely Protestant assumptions and expectations, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scholarship has become a lively academic terrain of robust activity by Protestants, Catholics, Jews, secularists, and others. Although still underrepresented, women and racial or ethnic minorities are thankfully now increasingly part of the scholarly conversation.
Moreover, the institutional context of this activity has also broadened significantly, with most of the work in the field currently being done at research universities (which might have religious studies departments and/or denominationally affiliated schools of religion or theology) rather than in free-standing theological schools. University religion departments routinely now include Jewish and Catholic biblical scholars, as well as scholars without any religious affiliation, and their students range across an extremely broad spectrum of religious backgrounds and commitments:
There has been a major shift of the locus of biblical scholarship from Christian and Jewish theological faculties to the “secular” universities. University scholars in the field of biblical studies have not ceased universally to be Christians or Jews in their personal profession. Religious identity as Christian or Jewish still informs in many ways the views of biblical interpretation by such scholars. Now, however, these views must be expressed in an arena of scholars who represent various shades of Christian and Jewish life.
Indeed, the diversification of the field has gone hand in hand with the dizzying institutional complexification of the modern university.
As this diversification has continued, the object of study in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament research has become increasingly challenging to define. Because alternative conceptions of the biblical canon exist, which books are to be included for investigation? Because different text traditions are variously valued, is the field's interpretive goal the elucidation of the Hebrew Bible, Greek Bible, or some combination of the two? Or is “Bible” itself a problematic category? Even the name of the field has become unstable. “Old Testament” suggests a network of Christian hermeneutical presuppositions, a possible bias that has led to the increasing use of “Hebrew Bible,” especially (but not exclusively) on the part of Jewish scholars.
The religions of ancient Israel and Judah constitute the primary religious foundation for the development of the western monotheistic traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Ancient Israelite and Judean religions emerge in the land of Canaan during the late-second millennium bce. They are known primarily through the writings of the Hebrew Bible, which form the Tanakh, the foundational sacred scriptures of Judaism, and the Old Testament, the first portion of the sacred scriptures of Christianity. Archaeological remains and texts from ancient Israel and Judah and the surrounding cultures also supply considerable information.
Israelite and Judean religious traditions focus on the worship of the deity, YHWH, and function especially as national or state religious traditions from the formation of the Israelite monarchy during the twelfth–tenth centuries bce through the subsequent history of the separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah (see Map 4). Although Israel and Judah share the same basic religious tradition based in the worship of YHWH, each appears to have distinctive conceptualizations of YHWH and the means by which YHWH should be represented and worshiped. Unfortunately, literary evidence concerning religion in northern Israel is limited, because most of the Hebrew Bible was written and transmitted by Judean writers and reflects distinctive Judean viewpoints. But the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrian Empire in 722/1 bce, the destruction of the southern kingdom of Judah by the Babylonian Empire in 587/6 bce, and the reconstitution of Judah as a Persian province in the late-sixth through the late-fourth centuries bce prompted the development of Judaism as a monotheistic religion practiced by Jews in the land of Israel itself and throughout the Persian and Greco-Roman world.
The conquest of the ancient Near East by Alexander the Great of Macedonia in 333–323 bce constitutes a major turning point in the religious history of the ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean worlds. Alexander’s conquest marked the first time that a European culture was able to gain political ascendency over the Near East. It presented the opportunity for Alexander and his successors to change profoundly the religious landscape of the ancient world through the promotion of Greek or Hellenistic culture and religion as the ideal form of human life. The introduction of Hellenization to the ancient Near Eastern world laid the groundwork for major change in the religions of the ancient world insofar as the melding of Hellenistic and Near Eastern cultures and religions ultimately produced forms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that now constitute the major religious traditions of the western world.
Interpreters of religion have had a mixed reaction to the religious impact of Alexander’s conquest of the ancient Near East. On the one hand, many scholars hail the Hellenistic period as a time of great progress in which the light of Hellenistic culture, particularly its values, awakened the ancient Near Eastern world, enabling it to pursue new forms of human religious, cultural, and political expression and achievement. Indeed, Greek thought is widely recognized as the one of the primary foundations for the western intellectual tradition. On the other hand, many other scholars view the promotion of Hellenization as an effort to subvert the nations and cultures that now came under Greek rule and to mold them into a relatively cohesive culture that would serve its new Hellenistic masters. Indeed, the Romans, who were always well known for their willingness to learn the lessons of their predecessors, likewise employed Hellenization as an important tool and weapon to serve their own efforts to unite and dominate the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds.
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