Review of The Prophetic Literature, by Marvin A. Sweeney

Marvin A. Sweeney provides a very educational and introductory look into the books of the Prophets. The prophetic books include the works of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the books of the Twelve, commonly called the Minor Prophets. Sweeney examines each of these works in their historical contexts, and demonstrates the interrelatedness of these works as well as their sometimes contradictory nature with each other. Reading the Biblical Canon in their historical contexts are important. Many misleading and confusing theological teachings and scenarios have been created by bad exegesis, and neglecting context. In this vain, Sweeney offers a refreshing foundation for the Prophetic literature to speak within each of their own unique ways. Allowing the prophets to speak as a whole across the turbulence of the 9th to 6th century  B.C.E., the readers of Sweeney’s book see how the nation of Israel dealt with their new life in exile as punishment for adulterous living, and points to the promise of a restored Israel with Jerusalem as the center of creation and hope for all the nations.

Sweeney approaches his work with a brief introduction to the nature of prophecy and the role of prophets within Israel as well as the prominent role that prophets played in the larger Ancient Mediterranean World. Prophets were well trained professional men and women who were religious, political and social leaders in the lives of their communities. Prophets were intimately connected with their fellow citizens and spoke a message of hope, judgment, or shared a vision of what their deities were doing in and through them and in the lives of their nations. After laying the groundwork for the important role that prophets played in their nations, as spokespersons of their deities, Sweeney examines each of the Prophetic books in the Christian and Jewish Canon, in their historical contexts. Sweeney provides a fair treatment of each book sharing how normally prophetic books are divided into a tripartite structure, punishment of Israel, punishment of the nations, and restoration of Jerusalem. However, Sweeney confirms the importance of a close reading of the Biblical texts and also demonstrates how each of the prophetic works is arranged according to its literary structure. Also helpful to the study of the Prophetic books is the arrangement or the order of these important literary works. Jewish and Christian tradition sometimes have a different order for where one would find these books, and even the LXX and the Masoretic Text often have different arrangements. While chronology is not necessarily a motivation for their order, there appears to be a general theme of explaining how exile was now a present reality and how this exile resulted due to spiritual adultery and culminating with a call to recommit to YHWH and his Torah. Through the use of recurring metaphors, and demonstrating the intertextuality of the prophetic literature Sweeney effectively demonstrates the intentionality of the authors of these prophetic books.

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About Jason Retherford

The random musings of a youth minister.
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