How Were the Prophecies (Especially the Anti-Establishment Ones) Preserved?

I’ve been thinking about some of what I wrote yesterday in my post on Writings and Speech in Israelite and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy.  In the ancient world, people who were full-time scribes generally needed someone who would sponsor them—who would finance their scribal endeavors.  This could be the royal establishment, or the priesthood.  But my question yesterday (and in other posts that I have written) is this: How could prophets in the Hebrew Bible write prophecies against the establishment?  Not only would the establishment refuse to sponsor them if they did that, but it would also crack down on them.

The solution that I proposed yesterday is that the prophetic books themselves were exilic or post-exilic—which was after the passing of the establishment that the prophets criticized.  In the exilic and the post-exilic periods, the establishment consisted of people who were friendlier to the ideas of the prophets, for they witnessed what they believed to be the confirmation of the prophets’ words: destruction of their nation, presumably on account of their sins.

The same can be said for the Northern prophets, such as Hosea.  In the North, Hosea probably got little support, for he criticized the establishment there.  But, after the destruction of Northern Israel in 722 B.C.E., supporters of Hosea came South, where they found a more receptive audience.  In the South, supporters of Hosea could find sponsors for their scribal production—a writing of the prophecies of Hosea.

The question that occurred to me, though, was this: Were the prophecies first written down when there were actual sponsors?  Were the pre-exilic prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel first written down after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E.?  Were the prophecies of Hosea first written down after the destruction of Northern Israel in 722 B.C.E.?

As I thought about this, I had my doubts, and my reason was that certain pre-exilic or Northern prophecies appear to have been updated.  Why would these prophecies be updated at the literary level, if they were first written down in Israel’s exilic or post-exilic period?  If these prophecies were first written down at this time, couldn’t they have been written down with the update seamlessly incorporated into the text, instead of the update looking like an update (i.e., out-of-place, disrupting smooth transitions, etc.)?  The fact that the update looks like an update tells me that the update was added to a previously written text.

I’m trying to think of an example in which a pre-exilic text was updated with an exilic or post-exilic insertion, or in which a Northern text was updated with a Southern insertion, but none is coming to mind.  The Deuteronomistic History is considered by many to be from the time of Josiah, and that was updated during the exile.  But this does not prove my point, for Josiah was a righteous king who would have sponsored the first edition of the Deuteronomistic History.  The Book of Amos condemns the nations and Northern Israel, and then there is a passage in Amos 2 that criticizes Judah and predicts the fall of Judah and Jerusalem—and that is deemed to be a later insertion.  But that, too, doesn’t prove my point, for Amos could have been written down in the South, where the establishment was friendlier, and then the part about the fall of Judah and Jerusalem could have been added during the exilic period.

I thought also about Ezekiel’s prophecies about Tyre (see Ezekiel 26-29): he predicted that Babylon would decimate Tyre, and, when that didn’t happen, he said that God would give Babylon Egypt instead (which historians say also did not happen).  According to many scholars, Ezekiel composed the second prophecy after his first prophecy failed to come to pass.  But my point is not proven here, either, for these prophecies both could have been made during the exile.  Someone wrote down the first prophecy during the exile, and someone wrote the second prophecy later during the exile.  This is not necessarily an example of a pre-exilic prophecy with an exilic update.

An example that may work, somewhat, is Isaiah 6.  According to R.E. Clements’ essay in this book, Isaiah 6 was part of Isaiah’s eighth century memoir, but it was updated after 587 B.C.E., which accounts for the parts about destruction.  But Isaiah, as a part of the establishment, could have had access to the resources to write his own memoirs—though he perhaps would have wanted to keep his activity a secret in order not to upset the establishment that he was criticizing!

So I can’t think of a good example of my point, but I’m going to proceed anyway and ask how some of the authors of this book interact with the issue of the preservation of pre-exilic (particularly pre-exilic anti-establishment) prophecy.  James Crenshaw says that prophetic communities preserved and orally transmitted the prophets’ words.  But Crenshaw says other things as well.  For example, on pages 38-41, he speculates that the prophets could have found sponsors in the very establishment that they criticized.  Kings may not have liked the prophets, but they wanted divine protection in times of peril, and so they could have sponsored the prophets, whom they believed were sent from God.  Or a prophet may have had support from elements of the establishment, as Jeremiah did.  Priests may have recoiled from prophets’ criticism of the cult, yet they could have still sponsored those prophets because of the prophets’ support of the king, “under whose beneficence [the priests] found shelter”; or the priests may have seen the prophets as advocating the purification of the cult by “elevating ethics above ritual”, rather than criticizing the cult itself (pages 39-40).

Philip Davies, if I am understanding him correctly, believes that pre-exilic prophecies were preserved for archival purposes.  The example that he cites to support this point is II Chronicles 21:12, in which Elijah is said to have sent Jehoram a letter.  John Van Seters does not think that this example is sufficient to support Davies’ scenario, but I recall seeing a similar argument in Karel Van Der Toorn’s Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible.  On pages 182-183, Van Der Toorn cites Amos 7, in which Amaziah the priest of Bethel sends a message to the king about Amos’ words, which outrage Amaziah.  For Van Der Toorn, that message could have then been preserved in the sanctuary for archival purposes, although it was clearly anti-establishment.

John Van Seters talks about Assyrian archives at Nineveh, published by Simo Parpola, and he states that only prophecies in favor of the king were preserved there.  The prophets in Assyria were associated with the Ishtar cult, which supported the monarchy.  But Van Seters also states that “A prophetic opponent of the king would belong to a different cult” (page 87).  I do not know, however, if this cult would have had the resources to sponsor prophecy against the monarchy.

Van Seters makes another interesting observation on pages 86-87.  He states that collections of prophetic oracles could have been used to support the establishment, as was done for Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal of Assyria.  Similarly, Van Seters mentions Isaiah 7-8, and he affirms that salvation oracles “could be treated as covenants between the god and the king and set up in the temple.”  Does Van Seters believe that something like this happened with Isaiah 7-8—which states (at least in part) that God will protect Jerusalem from the Syro-Phoenician alliance?

I’ve been rambling here, but I think that my rambling has captured important and interesting thoughts in this book, as I have considered how its contributors address how pre-exilic prophecy was preserved—even prophecy that was anti-establishment.

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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