Ten Tidbits About Prophets and Prophecy in the Old Testament

1. The biblical, or so-called “canonical,” prophets–those whom we tend to consider the prophets–in many instances (e.g., Amos, Isaiah, Micah, and Hosea) are not called prophets (Hebrew nabi’) in the superscriptions to their books, or elsewhere, and indeed probably would have rejected this label for themselves. For instance, in a third person biographical narrative about Amos, he rejects the Bethel priest Amaziah’s suggestion that he is a nabi’ (See Amos 7:10-17; cf. Hosea 9:7; Micah 3). This is because…

2. …prophets were often professionals who performed a variety of functions in ancient Israel for pay (e.g., locating lost objects, cursing enemies, etc.).  Additionally, prophets were frequently found in conventicles or bands lead my a head master (cf. the Elijah and Elisha stories, as well as the Samuel narratives).  These groups are commonly referred to as the “sons of the prophets,” and the leader is their “father.”  Amos’ response to Amaziah notes, in contrast, that he has gainful employment as a “herdsman” and “a dresser of sycomore trees” (NRSV).  Moreover, he implies that he does not function as a prophet on account of membership in a prophetic guild, but declares that he received his message directly from YHWH who called him to prophesy.

3. Prophetic guilds often stood outside of the Establishment rather than in it.  Many Israelites probably considered them eccentric, if not downright crazy, on account of the ecstatic forms of prophecy frequently associated with these groups and their unique lifestyles (strange dress, simple diet, eschewing agricultural work, etc.).  Moreover, the members of such groups did not hold a priesthood office.  But neither, for that matter, did most of the canonical prophets.  Rather, the canonical prophets typically claim to have authority and a right to receive a hearing because they have been called as messengers by YHWH.  Further, the royally funded temple cult employed its own prophetic functionaries, but these cult prophets did not necessarily perform sacrifices or other priestly acts (although cf. 1 Kgs 18).  For this reason it is also possible that Amos might have rejected the title nabi’ because he was not a cult prophet.  His message, in contrast to that typically associated with the cult prophets, was condemnatory of the State rather than supportive.  Additionally, there are examples of court prophets, such as Nathan or Isaiah. There are some examples of priest-prophets in the Old Testament, however.  A notable example is Ezekiel.

4. The “canonical” prophets in the Hebrew-Aramaic Bible address what might be called the extended present.  They are concerned with matters current in their own time.  They did not predict the far-distant future, nor did they preach about the coming of Jesus Christ or his salvific role for all humanity. The so-called Messianic Psalms are about the present (idealized) reigning king of Israel and/or Judah.  Moreover, “prophetic eschatology” (if we may label it as such) does not concern the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, modern millennial notions, or a final judgment (indeed there is no developed concept of an afterlife in the Old Testament); rather, the prophets expect that YHWH will inaugurate a new historical era in which Israel’s enemies would be punished and Israel vindicated (“the day of YHWH”).  For an example, see here.

5. No pre-exilic prophet in the Old Testament wrote the book that is ascribed to him.  Prophets delivered their messages orally, and in the few instances where they are said to write or have someone write on their behalf, their messages are short and cryptic (with the notable exception of Jer 36; this passage, however, is a later, tendentious third person narrative probably intended to legitimate an early scroll containing oracles attributed to the prophet Jeremiah). Rather, the prophetic books are collections of disparate oracles assembled together over a long period of time, first orally and later in writing. The general superscriptions and rubrics in the prophetic books are later scribal additions. Further, many of the individual oracles in the books are not from the actual prophets to whom the books are attributed.  The final form of the prophetic books date to the Persian (post-exilic) period or later, and the books were continually edited, revised, and updated by the scribes who passed them down.  The notion that prophets were also history writers, as found in Chronicles, dates to the Persian or Hellenistic periods as well.  A few later (exilic or post-exilic) biblical-prophetic books, however, may have been composed first in writing, such as Zechariah or parts of Ezekiel.

6. Female prophets performed essentially the same roles as male prophets in ancient Israel (2 Kgs 22:11-20; see also Ex 15:20-21 and Num 12; Judges 4-5). Again, prophecy and priesthood were separate, and they did not necessarily, or even usually, coincide in one and the same individual.

7. Many of the canonical prophets (e.g., Amos and Micah) were interested in what we moderns might label international law, social justice, and human rights, as opposed to religious issues.  They condemned at times the Israelite and/or Judean States and their modernizing, exploitative political structures.  Other of the canonical prophets, at times, acted as counsellors in military affairs (e.g., Isaiah). Not infrequently the classical prophets condemn traditional Israelite religious practices, especially those associated with the State cult (Isa 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-24), and announce God’s judgment on the people and/or State.  The prophets thus often played a destabilizing rather than supportive role in society, and in this way were probably a minority voice at any given time in the history of Israel and Judah.

8. As evidenced by their extensive knowledge of international affairs, their sophisticated use of literary forms and rhetorical strategies, and their severe critiques of the monarchy and State system, it is apparent that many of the canonical prophets were among the higher socio-economic levels of Israelite and/or Judean society and might be labeled, as Joseph Blenkinsopp has suggested, as dissident intellectuals.  The romantic notion of the canonical prophets as poor uneducated rustics called from the fields to confront an evil king and a wicked nation is often simply incorrect.  In connection with this, it also might be noted that large sections of the prophetic books are written in poetry, not prose, in contrast to the impression given by the standard edition of the KJV.

9. The notion of predictive prophecy appears to first find expression in Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua-Kings).  The earliest editions of these texts date to just before the exile and were edited thereafter.  The Deuteronomists provided several criteria for distinguishing true prophets from false prophets in Deut 18:18-22, including the notion that a true prophet will predict events and they will come about.  However, despite this explicit criteria as well as the fact that the Deuteronmists edited many of the prophetic books, there are yet a number of examples where prophetic oracles that “predicted” events did not come true. See, for example, Amos’ apparently incorrect prediction that Jeroboam II’s life would come to a violent end (Amos 7:11). In other cases historically disproven oracles have received clear scribal additions and glosses to update them in light of further developments.

10. In connection with points 3 and 7, the prophets often stood in opposition to the priesthood and the scribal establishment associated with the temple. A perhaps shocking example of this uneasy tension occurs in Jer 8:8-9, in which Jeremiah condemns the scribes who claim to have the “L/law (torah) of YHWH” but whose “false pens” have produced a lie.  This is no doubt a reference to the Deuteronomists and their literary masterpiece: the Book of Deuteronomy!

36 Replies to “Ten Tidbits About Prophets and Prophecy in the Old Testament”

  1. Excellent.
    Did female prophets belong to the prophetic guilds, or were the separate guilds for them, or were they outsiders to the profession like Amos?

  2. Chris raises an interesting point in jest. The only Hebrew Bible prophets I can think of, off hand, who also had administrative or priestly authority were Moses, Joshua, and Samuel. Are there others? (I believe Elder McConkie wrote that King David was also a prophet as well as a king.)

  3. Stamping Out Harold Camping

    I don’t care a fig for date-setters, especially those who predict when Christ will return. The current champion is 89-year-old, headline-grabbing Harold Camping of Family Radio fame.
    Is Second Coming date-setter Harold Camping worthy of death? He already has a zero batting average after his September 1994 prediction fizzle and, according to the Bible, is a false prophet.
    Nevertheless that California shaman, who should be ashamed, claims he’s found out that Christ’s return will be on May 21, 2011 even though Matt. 24:36 says that no one knows the “day” or “hour” of it!
    A Google article (“Obama Fulfilling the Bible”) points out that “Deut. 18:20-22 in the Old Testament requires the death penalty for false prophets.”
    The same article reveals that “Christians are commanded to ask God to send severe judgment on persons who commit and support the worst forms of evil (see I Cor. 5 and note ‘taken away’).”
    Theologically radioactive Harold Camping and his ga-ga groupies (with their billboards featuring “May 21, 2011”) should worry about being “stamped out” if many persons decide to follow the I Cor. 5 command.
    The above article concludes: “False prophets in the OT were stoned to death. Today they are just stoned!”
    PS – For many years Camping was not known as a pretrib rapture teacher. But now, for $ome my$teriou$ rea$on, he seeks support from those who believe in and teach an imminent, pretrib rapture which supposedly will occur SEVERAL YEARS BEFORE the traditional SECOND COMING to earth! For a behind-the-scenes, documented look at the 181-year-old pretrib rapture belief (which was never a part of any official theology or organized church before 1830!), Google “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty,” “Pretrib Rapture Diehards” and “Pretrib Rapture – Hidden Facts.” These are from the pen of journalist/historian Dave MacPherson a.k.a the “Pretrib Rapture Answerman” & the “Rush Limbaugh of the Rapture” – author of the bestselling book “The Rapture Plot,” an “encyclopedia” of pretrib rapture history (see Armageddon Books).

  4. Interesting “tidbits” about the roles and practices of prophets in ancient Israel, but I have reservations with some and think others are a stretch. I have trouble with a lot of details in the Old Testament and agree the motives and inspiration behind some of the books is quite suspect, but your statements seem rather too sure of themselves. You toss these out as statements of well established fact, but that is not the way I see them. Are these your conclusions from your studies or what you have been taught in some college classes? Or, some combination of both?

    I’m not sure how easy it is to work the Book of Mormon into courses on the Old Testament and comparative scriptures, but I think it could be very worthwhile. As an ancient book who’s history and compilation is fairly well known it is MUCH closer to the sources of the Old Testament than any other book. The New Testament and the Pearl of Great Price also have light to throw on the Old Testament. It appears to me that we are just beginning to get an idea of what the Hebrew scriptures may have been like before the Deuteronomists and others went to work on them. It looks like there is lot of work yet to be done in comparative scholarship, but dryly delivered scholarship without faith in Jesus Christ is not enough. At the least I would be leery of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

    I have a testimony that the Old Testament is (on the whole) true, though incomplete and maybe kind of thrashed. I am very grateful for the witness of the Holy Ghost in my life and for additional scriptures that throw additional light on the Old Testament and the doctrines of the gospel.

    Among other things it appears from modern revelation that written records have been important far back into history (2 Nephi 29:8-11). I have a very hard time believing that it was *ALL* oral tradition before 1000BC. It is interesting that Alma 45:18-19 references two contradictory accounts of the death of Moses. Written scriptures and an oral tradition. The fascinating thing about that to me is that there was a relatively tight bottleneck (Lehi’s family) for contradictory stories to be passed on among them.

    I am definitely not a biblical inerrantist, but I think we need to be pretty humble about our understanding of things. We simply don’t know it all.

    1. From the little I know about the Yellow Dart, he a humble scholar. Those questioning his humility are now warned.

      I view this post as a defense of the Old Testament against the crap that we put into it and the way we twist it to fit our own paradigms. I could be wrong.

  5. My question is similar to Tom D’s point. I enjoyed these tidbits a great deal. But do you have a basic reading list that is accessible to non specialists that introduce and describe these points (or historiographic debates) in more detail? Thanks.

    1. Morgan,

      I will need to dig for some links, but Nitsav has done some posts in the past on secondary sources that give insight into the OT. Those may be a good place to start.

  6. For those wondering about my motives in writing this post: I simply wanted to inform others of what most modern critical scholars think about prophets and prophecy in the Old Testament.

    For those interested in further reading: I’d recommend as a start Karel van der Toorn’s Scribal Culture and Joseph Blenkinsopp’s A History of Prophecy in Ancient Israel. The former is especially important for those interested in orality and writing in ancient Israel. The latter is accessible to the non-specialist but dense nonetheless.


  7. Reminds me of what Chomsky said about prophets

    “The word “prophet” is a very bad translation of an obscure Hebrew word, navi. Nobody knows what it means. But today they’d be called dissident intellectuals. They were giving geopolitical analysis, arguing that the acts of the rulers were going to destroy society. And they condemned the acts of evil kings. They called for justice and mercy to orphans and widows and so on.

    I don’t want to say it was all beautiful. Dissident intellectuals aren’t all beautiful. You read Sakharov, who is sometimes appalling. Or Solzhenitsyn. And the nivi’im were treated the way dissident intellectuals always are. They weren’t praised. They weren’t honored. They were imprisoned like Jeremiah. They were driven into the desert. They were hated. Now at the time, there were intellectuals, “prophets,” who were very well treated. They were the flatterers of the court. Centuries later, they were called “false prophets.””

  8. TYD, thanks for the polite reply. Now that you’ve told us what some scholars believe, what do you think about these tidbits? I obviously have some reservations about them, but I don’t think they are without merit. I was particularly interested in the bits about the Sons of the Prophets. How do you think this squares with what is commonly believed among LDS?

  9. Tom D,

    Welcome, and thanks for your thoughts! I had one follow-up question on your initial comment (#7): Do you attribute most of the “thrashing” of the OT to the deuteronomists? And of the whole OT, or just certain parts? (Finally, what have you read on this–where are you getting your information?)


  10. J Madson,

    Thanks for the quote! Where did you get it?

    Also, the problems over the etymology of Na’vi are being solved. J Huehnergard (until recently the semitic philologist at Harvard) recently argued for its meaning something like “one called”. (Of course, this does little to alter Chomsky’s comment, since etymology doesn’t equal meaning or function.)

  11. Here is where I got the quote (too be honest Chomsky uses a similar line in a number of interviews and articles)


    another interesting quote form the same interview

    DS: Did you imagine yourself as a navi, a prophet, when you were a child reading those texts alone in your room or on Friday night with your father?

    NC: Sure. In fact, my favorite prophet, then and still, is Amos. I particularly admired his comments that he’s not an intellectual. I forget the Hebrew, but lo navi ela anochi lo ben navi — I’m not a prophet, I’m not the son of a prophet, I’m a simple shepherd. So he translated “prophet” correctly. He’s saying, “I’m not an intellectual.” He was a simple farmer and he wanted just to tell the truth. I admire that.

  12. I think that the “dissident intellectuals” comparison is interesting, but also limited. It is evident that those applying the label to the ancient prophets have a positive view of the term, and see that one of the shared characteristics between prophets and intellectuals is a disdain for authority and a concern for social justice. But, I think that this comparison makes it too easy to selectively claim the mantle of the prophets, without considering the ways that intellectuals are quite different from prophets. For instance, what they consider to be sources of authority is quite different.

  13. It’s interesting that, despite a rather narrow population pinch point (Lehi & sons) and a presumed assimilation into larger groups that the Book of Mormon follows so many of these features. Lehi obviously fits the traditional prophetic model. But you often have the priesthood and prophetic groups at odds (think Abinadi for instance or even better yet Samuel as outsider).

    I hate to say it but I think folks in Sunday School class who would be surprised by these points just aren’t reading their scriptures terribly well.

    It’s interesting though exactly how a Jew living before the exile was supposed to deal with all this. There are all sorts of competing prophetic groups plus the priesthood (which undoubtedly had it’s own divisions) plus the royalty or judges. Then throw in competing religions and synichism and it’s amazing anyone could figure anything out.

    I’m much more skeptical about the “extended present” claim. But I’ll not get into that. I’ll agree that this was the typical view though. (I think there’s a problem of falsification with the claim the way I typically see it portrayed)

  14. Both Jesus and the BoM speak of killing the prophets. They seem to be pointing to people who were dissidents and outsiders that werent accepted as having the right authority or part of the hierarchy.

    As to point #10, its also interesting that Jeremiah, Micah, and others actually condemn the entire sacrificial cult and claim that God never commanded them to sacrifice animals.

  15. J, to be fair Micah’s response from the Lord in 6:8 can be read in several ways. Many of which don’t view it quite so negatively. More that the sacrifice cult is abused. But I fully agree it’s hardly a positive portrayal. It’s an interesting passage, and I fully admit I’ve not read much on it. The reference to Balaam in particular is interesting (since that’s a troubling story for most of us) I believe the typical way this is interpreted by Christians is a “letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law” sort of criticism. I’m not saying that’s right, mind you. But it seems a reasonable reading.

    BTW – am I the only one who when they hear Navi thinks “bad James Cameron movie”?

  16. Clark, certainly it can be read in different ways, but its not just Micah. Isaiah doesnt have very favorable things to say, nor does amos, and Jeremiah basically says that God never commanded them “concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices”

  17. True, but even Jeremiah 7 isn’t typically read in that fashion. Indeed the NIV even translates it as, “For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people.” Now I’m not justifying that translation. (I don’t speak Hebrew, but am willing to entertain a bit of politics here in the way the translation reads) My point is just that none of these necessarily suggest sacrifice was a novel item.

    I do, of course agree that the prophets give a rather negative view of the offerings. Although in each context I think there’s a good reason given their main theme. Certainly though Jeremiah 7 can easily be read as being against the cultic practices in argument for what we’d today call “the spirit of the law.”

    It’s undeniable there’s a tension there. I just think we ought be careful not to read too much into it all.

  18. ” but even Jeremiah 7 isn’t typically read in that fashion.” I cant say for sure but Im not so sure its “typical” or correct to read it the other way. Im better with Greek than Hebrew but the Septuagint says I didnt speak or command (ouk elaleœsa, ouk eneteilameœn).

    The Hebrew doesnt seem to warrant a qualification on the verb either. But someone who is better with Hebrew can hopefully correct me. It seems to me that arguments against reading it differently have more to do with politics. I personally like Rene Girard’s arguments on the issue of sacrifice in the OT. The NET bible argues for their non-literal reading in this way:

    Verses 22-23a read in Hebrew, “I did not speak with your ancestors and I did not command them when I brought them out of Egypt about words/matters concerning burnt offering and sacrifice, but I commanded them this word:” Some modern commentators have explained this passage as an evidence for the lateness of the Pentateuchal instruction regarding sacrifice or a denial that sacrifice was practiced during the period of the wilderness wandering. However, it is better explained as an example of what R. de Vaux calls a dialectical negative, i.e., “not so much this as that” or “not this without that” (Ancient Israel, 454-56). For other examples of this same argument see Isa 1:10-17; Hos 6:4-6; Amos 5:21-25.”

  19. “…but even Jeremiah 7 isn’t typically read in that fashion…”

    The Hebrew for Jeremiah 7:22-23 reads thus (words in parentheses exist in the text but are not required in translation for smooth English speaking): “… (22) For I did not speak to your fathers nor did I command them in the day I brought them [lit: in the day of bringing them] out of/from the land of Egypt, concerning (matters of) burnt offering or sacrifice. (23) Rather [the Hebrew here is explicit on the “rather”], this (word) is what I commanded them: ‘Obey my voice, that I may be your God and you may be my people [lit: and I will be to you for a God and you will be to me for a people]; walk only in the way which I will command you, (in order) that it may go well with you.'”

    Interpret the above how you will, but the Hebrew does not justify the NIV’s rendering and sense of the passage that you cite above.

  20. jupiterchild,

    I doubt that the Deuteronomists are responsible for all “thrashing” of the Old Testament, particularly since it didn’t exist as a single text, but they seem to have made their imprint upon it. It looks like the Deuteronomists contributed a lot of books with their biases to the Old Testament such as the Samuels, Kings, and Chronicles. They may also have surpressed other perfectly worthy scriptural texts. However, there were likely other choke-points when this occurred such as the early centuries AD when the first “official” Jewish and Christian canons were compiled.

    My understanding of the Deuteronomist theory are the writings of non-Mormon scholar Margaret Barker and Dan Peterson (I particularly liked “Nephi and His Ashteroth”). I don’t think that Hugh Nibley directly talks about Deuteronomists (at least not by that name) but his writings have also influenced me. I can see where big and unauthorized changes in doctrine and scripture made around the time of Josiah and Lehi caused the doctrinal differences we observe between the Old Testament and contemporary teachings found in the Book of Mormon.

    I wish we had access to more ancient texts to compare with, but we do have a great one, the Book of Mormon. The books of 1 & 2 Nephi, Jacob, several quotations in Alma, the words and quotations by the Savior in 3 Nephi, and parts of Ether are very closely related to the Old Testament around the time of the proposed Deuteronomists. I personally consider the Book of Mormon and Abraham and Moses in the Pearl of Great Price the best preserved ancient texts in existence, though they are probably not perfect. The Book of Mormon, which I am very familiar with, is always in the back of my mind when I read the Old Testament.

    Moses 1:41 says that a day would come when “the children of men shall esteem my words as naught and take many of them from the book which thou shalt write”. For the most part that seems to refer specifically to our day, but I would be surprised if the scriptures survived thousands of years of transmission untouched until our day. In fact an angel says in 1 Nephi 13:24-29 that there were MANY plain and precious things taken away from the Bible right before it went forth among the Gentiles– presumably in the first century AD!

    Still, I am not a real scholar. I’m just something of a lazy intellectual who likes to read a lot. With that in mind reading through the Old Testament this last year for Sunday School was once again an adventure.

    (1) It is quite fascinating to compare the creation accounts in Genesis, Moses, and Abraham. Surely they all originated in the ancient temple ceremony and not in a geology classroom! I remain intrigued by Moroni’s passing comment in Ether 1:3 that “the first part of this record, which speaks concerning the creation of the world, and also of Adam, and an account from that time even to the great tower, and whatsoever things transpired among the children of men until that time, is had among the Jews”. At the very least this suggest that Moses used pre-existing accounts to compile Genesis. I don’t think this has to mean that our Genesis (even with the Joseph Smith Translation) is identical with what the Jaredites had, but it does provide another another witness that it is not just a bunch of fables.

    (2) I believe in Adam, Eve, and an Eden, but I do not now think they were the very first humans on Earth. That does not seem to square with modern science at all. It has taken me about 30 years to accept this, but I think now that we just don’t have the full story there yet. Apparently, the Lord does not feel the need to give us all the answers without us working hard for it. He does want us to have all of the necessary covenants to gain eternal life! It seems to me that people (mostly Protestants) have just been trying too hard to read literal history and science into the temple covenants embedded in early Genesis. I think the LDS should be able to understand this better than anyone!

    (3) I love the books of Moses and Abraham that we have in the Pearl of Great Price, but I do have trouble with the increadibly long lifespans of the Patriarchs before the flood. However, I could go either way on this. Either they really did have increadibly long lifespans to accomplish the vital missions that the Lord had for them or, perhaps, some uncorrected exagerations are still there (and in the Doctrine and Covenants too). I can’t say.

    (4) I love the accounts in Genesis of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph and their families! They are so human and so real. I have no problem with the “history” in their accounts, though it is possible that the influence of Joseph in Egypt was exaggerated a bit. I am still sad that Joseph Smith didn’t translate the writings of Joseph in Egypt that he said were with the Book of Abraham scrolls. The biblical account of Abraham seems to square quite well with the Book of Abraham.

    (5) I don’t know who edited the books of Moses or when, but I don’t doubt that he existed and that he kept written records. On the other hand it is interesting that the Savior did not directly write anything that we know of. He was content to have other, less perfect witnesses write for him.

    (6) I was struck by how strongly the books of Kings and Chronicles were biased toward the temple at Jersusalem. It often seemed that the prime concern of the writers (whoever they were) was how this king or this incident was related to the temple at Jerusalem.

    (7) The story of king Josiah seems particularly open to reinterpretation if we assume that the temple priests were semi- (or fully) apostate “Deuteronomists”. It is interesting that 1 Nephi 4:24-27 refers to the “bretheren of the church”. What church was this? The one that was mostly either ignoring or persecuting Jeremiah? Still things were pretty uncertain and confused in Jerusalem around 600BC. Laban was a wicked man, but he had possession of the Brass Plates which recorded some prophecies of the then contraversial prophet Jeramiah!

    (8) Finally, I was impressed again with how much God our Heavenly Father loves us and how much latitude He gives us as individuals and as societies. He wants us to choose Him and love our brethren (Moses 7:29,32-33), but he cannot and will not force us to be good!

    We have no idea who wrote or edited most of the Old Testament. The books just don’t say. But that doesn’t mean that they weren’t written by real prophets and other people inspired by the Holy Spirit. I wish that the origins of the Old Testament were as clear as those of the Book of Mormon, but that isn’t the case. In the meantime I am grateful that the Lord has given us additional scriptures and additional witnesses of the truths of the Bible.

    P.S. Sorry for how long this came out. I just had a lot of thoughts bubbling around about the Old Testament.

  21. Since Clark asked, the repeated use of the term navi had me thinking of the shortened term for navigation engineers, a euphemism for canal ditch diggers. I will go back to reading quietly.

  22. Tom,

    Thanks for the detail, and for taking the time. One of the reasons I asked is because I am fascinated with the tension that exists between our feelings that the scriptures are inspired and the feelings that they are “thrashed”. Where does the path between these poles lie? This can be found even within one person, for example in your support of Margaret Barker and her (and others’) thoughts about the Deuteronomists: On the one hand, you say that the scriptures were thrashed, and on the other, you feel that they were written by prophets, inspired. The Deuteronomic Theology (and theologizers) is often condemned for having exerted its influence over the rest of the Bible, but then again let’s not forget that when Jesus boiled down the “Law”, he used Deuteronomy to do it! Now I realize that there are ways to explain this away, but see a recent post at M* for a contrary (and quite positive, though I’m not sure intentionally) view of the Deuteronomists.

  23. TT, I think I read that post when it originally came out, but thanks for the reminder. I’m not ready to completely abandon Barker’s ideas yet, but I will admit that she has to be read with a big grain of salt :-). I like how many of her ideas seem to mesh pretty well with the atmosphere of 1 Nephi. Still, I could definitely be interpreting things wrong.

    I look forward to more ancient documents eventually coming forth to help clarify things.

  24. jupiterschild,

    I definitely feel the tension you are talking about. Reading the Old Testament is very frustrating for me at times. Just what what parts are true and what parts are corrupted? How corrupted? I dare not condemn that which holy, but I often think I see imperfections. The Joseph Smith Translation helps a lot, but I don’t think it fixes everything. I am VERY grateful for modern prophets, more than one book of scripture, and the individual gift of the Holy Ghost.

    In a way it is quite comforting to know that the Lord doesn’t require perfect scriptures, perfect understanding, or perfect people to accomplish His work. I know through the whisperings of the Spirit that there is even hope for me through the grace of Christ that one day I could be perfected in Christ (Moroni 10:32-33).

    We should probably not be too hard on those who may have inadvertently mangled or ignored true scriptures. The vast majority (perhaps all) were doing what they thought was best. God has blessed us so very much through the Bible. I am in awe of the great power the scriptures in history. I feel strongly (and the Spirit bears witness to me) that the true engine of the Renaissance and Enlightenment was the rediscovery, spread, and cherishing of the Bible.

    Now in our day God has blessed us with even more scripture and with the restored Church of Jesus Christ. If our modern society seems to be faltering, I feel certain that much of it stems from the neglect of the scriptures both ancient and modern.

  25. First: thanks for this info – a fascinating topic.

    Second: thanks be to the peanut gallery for shedding some light on Chris H’s original comment being in jest. There was some vomit coming up that was, luckily, repressed as I read further down the page.

    Third: in light of this discussion, just what was Amos referring to in Amos 3:7? It appears as though that usage of “prophet” is the Hebrew word “nabi”. Is Amos referring to a substantiated prophet in this context, or someone meekly willing to speak the words they’re inspired to speak, even if they’re a lowly shepherd?

  26. JJ,

    Amos 3:7 is a classic example of Deuteronomistic editing in the book of Amos (note especially the classic Deuteronomistic phrase “his servants the prophets”). For Deuteronomist views of prophets and prophecy, see point number 9 above and especially Deut. 18:15-22. The Deuteronomists were interested in showing the prophets as 1) tradents of Torah, like Moses, and 2) as guardians of the covenant who forewarned Israel and Judah of YHWH’s (coming) judgment for covenant violations and called them to repentance. Additionally, the insertion of Amos 3:7 is used to qualify the preceding poem in Amos 3:3-6, where the original text of the poem in v.6 states that YHWH brings disaster on a city. Amos 3:7 suggests that YHWH’s judgment in bringing disaster was made known to the people first through the prophets and therefore was justified. This is also the message of the Deuteronomists in the Deuteronomistic History: it was the people, and not YHWH, who was at fault for the Exile.

    Best wishes,


  27. I like to translate the Amos passage, “I’m just a cowboy [baby]!”

    And we ought to be careful what we read into the Book of Mormon. After all, the prevalent BoM theology that blessings are the consequence of righteousness and curses are the consequence of wickedness is strongly Deuteronomistic.

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