Mark McEntire, who teaches at Belmont University (and blogs here), is the author of A Chorus of Prophetic Voices, a wide-ranging and interesting introduction to the prophetic literature of the Hebrew Bible. In the first pages of the book, he gives a brief history of how scholarship has approached these prophetic texts over the last century in order to give some context for where his work fits into the conversation.
The historical-critical method, masterfully represented by figures like Gerhard von Rad, held sway for much of the 20th century and focused on recovering the historical voices of the prophets, embedding them in historical contexts tied to specific periods of Israel’s ancient history. McEntire finds that:
The great accomplishment of these efforts was the grounding of the Israelite prophets in the earthly world of politics, economics, war, and suffering. Materializing the prophets was an effective antidote to the church’s long-held tendency to spiritualize the words of the prophets and read them as a disparate collection of esoteric predictions of the distant future. (p.1)
However, he also points out that this approach had shortcomings, including the undermining of the unity of larger prophetic works into smaller, isolated pieces as part of efforts to devise hypothetical reconstructions for how these books were compiled into their canonical forms.
The historical approach has recently given way to more literary studies of the prophets, which engage with “the final forms of the scrolls as literary works, recognizing that the last stage of their production is the one most responsible for how we view the whole” and emphasize “the scrolls as unified works of literature that constructed imaginative worlds of their own” (pp. 3,6). An important event that helped shift studies in this direction was the publication in 1978 of Walter Brueggemann’s book The Prophetic Imagination. McEntire tells readers that Brueggemann’s work: Continue reading