Fishbane Paper: Already Inspired

I’m somewhat pressed for time, so I may save some of my more exhaustive treatment of Fishbane for tomorrow. But I want to share something that relates to my Fishbane study as well as my daily quiet time on the deuterocanonical writings.

According to Michael Fishbane, exegetes who contributed to the Hebrew Bible reinterpreted the prophecies that failed. Some tried to explain the failure as God changing his mind in response to repentance. Later, mantalogical exegesis came along, and it viewed the prophecies as cryptic oracles with deeper meaning. Daniel 9, for instance, treats the seventy years of exile that Jeremiah predicted as 490 years (or so historical-critics say), presumably because Israel’s initial restoration wasn’t the glamorous Messianic era that Jeremiah predicted.

This reminds me of a debate I heard a few years ago on the deuterocanonical writings–between James White and a Catholic apologist. James White was pointing to the historical errors in Judith to argue that the “apocrypha” is not divinely-inspired. The Catholic apologist responded that non-believers and biblical scholars likewise point to errors in the Jewish-Protestant canon, but those errors don’t make the writings uninspired. According to him, Catholics start with the premise that the deuterocanonical writings are inspired, then they go from there–either by explaining the “errors,” or thinking of reasons that God included them, or asserting that they don’t matter.

That seems to be what we see in inner-biblical exegesis: the prophets are inspired, so their “false” prophecies must in fact be true, or at least not lies (since God can change his mind). But that’s not necessarily the view you find throughout the Hebrew Bible, since Deuteronomy 18 says there are clear guidelines whereby Israel can distinguish true and false prophets: for example, do the prophecies come to pass?

One issue that has confronted me throughout my Fishbane chronicles is when the biblical writings became authoritative. When were the prophets an authoritative traditum? Here are two possibilities:

1. Those who tried to explain away the prophets’ failed prophecies were the people in the prophetic schools themselves. Of course the Ezekiel school wanted to show that Ezekiel was a true prophet! In this scenario, Ezekiel was authoritative for the Ezekiel school, but not necessarily everyone else.

2. Most Israelites accepted the authority of Jeremiah and Ezekiel once their big prophecy came true: the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. Those who maintained that God would deliver Jerusalem from the Babylonians were shown to be false. Once Jeremiah and Ezekiel were accepted on this biggie, they were widely believed to inspired, so people assumed that their failed prophecies must have a good explanation.

By the time of Daniel, which is the Hellenistic period, there appears to have been acceptance of the prophets. As we’ve seen, the Torah was in dispute in certain circles. But, at the same time, the prophets may have been as well, since the Sadducees supposedly didn’t believe in them. I don’t have any documentation for that, though.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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