Introduction to the ProphetsWritten by Paul L. Redditt Reviewed By Daniel C. Timmer
In this thorough and up-to-date work, Paul Redditt introduces the OT prophets to an undergraduate audience, presuming “no appreciable knowledge of the Old Testament” on their part (p. x). After an introduction to prophecy as a religious phenomenon in the ancient world, another chapter introduces the major prophets before treating Isaiah (in two chapters—one each for Isa 1–39 and 40–66), Jeremiah, Lamentations and “other Deutero-Jeremianic literature” (Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah), Ezekiel, and Daniel. Another introduction prefaces the discussion of the minor prophets, which Redditt treats as a group and in canonical order (following especially J. Nogalski), three prophets per chapter. The important closing chapter first summarizes the primary themes of prophetic teaching, then briefly discusses when and how the prophets were likely brought into connection with the other writings of the OT, and concludes by describing how different readers appropriate the prophetic message. Christian interpretations are circumscribed by brief mention of “prophets” in the NT, “the God spoken of by the prophets,” “prophecies fulfilled by Jesus” (limited to Matt 1–2), and “the church as the new Israel,” while some of the Sea Scrolls (only 1QpHab is considered) and Philo exemplify “two other Jewish approaches.” The former attaches ongoing significance to prophecy (in the writings it cites as well as in the Teacher of Righteousness) while Philo prefers the Torah to the Latter Prophets. Each chapter includes a number of “questions for reflection” and an annotated bibliography.
Redditt’s work is marked, first of all, by attention to contemporary scholarly discussion, especially in the minor prophets, where he has worked extensively. Second, while he assumes no prior knowledge of the OT on the part of the reader, Redditt’s explanations of various facets of the OT that directly affect one’s understanding of the prophets follow standard critical positions and do not mention possible resolution of the problems on which they focus; for example, when evaluating the Levite-Aaronide question in Ezekiel (p. 165), he does not interact with D. Block’s commentary on that point though it appears in that chapter’s annotated bibliography. Third, the book does not emphasize the historical backgrounds of the prophets, in part because the Twelve are treated in their literary order. While Redditt displays laudable caution in construing the historical settings of the prophets, instructors who adopt this book as a course text may wish to provide further historical material from another source.
Several tenets that guide Redditt’s treatment of the prophets also merit attention. In no particular order, he believes that (1) “historical” and “canonical” readings of the prophets might peaceably coexist (p. xiv); (2) “the texts as we have them were assembled over the years and rose over the centuries in the estimation of their readers to the level of divinely-inspired scripture” (p. xi); (3) “[m]odern readers of the prophets would do well to remember that the books were not written to them, but to ancient Israelites who lived hundreds of years before Jesus” (p. xiv); and (4) readers are free to “draw their own conclusions” about what the prophets meant (p. x).
To begin with the first claim, when Redditt discusses the identity of the Servant in Isa 53, he rejects the NT’s interpretation of the passage as referring to Jesus because it is “another instance where people read the NT back into the Old (e.g., Matt 12:15–21; Acts 8:30–34). A reading of the Servant poems in their context gives the impression that the texts are talking about a contemporary whom the exiles knew, not an unknown figure who would not come for centuries” (p. 100). Were this true, one might wonder how post-exilic Israelites could be expected to shift without hesitation the atonement concepts they associated with the cult to one of their (human) contemporaries. More importantly, the claim that Isaiah (not Isaiah of Jerusalem, on Reditt’s view) is not referring to someone beyond his own time is a dogmatic reticence to recognize the possibility of prophetic foretelling of the future. While Redditt is willing to use the language of “fulfillment” to describe Jesus’ relation to the Isaianic Servant texts, he insists that such readings “are applying the songs, not interpretingthem” (p. 101). In other words, the historical meaning of the Isaiah text, particularly the person to whom it refers, is not organically related to the meaning another part of the canon sees in that same text as the grounds for identifying Jesus as the Servant.
This dim view of the unity of the divine word, and indeed its divine origin, seems to underlie the other tenets listed above. The second claim implicitly denies inspiration in its classic sense to the authors of the prophetic books, while the third comes close to denying that the ultimate goal of the prophetic word lies beyond the OT (contrast 1 Pet 1:10–12). It is thus not surprising that after denying that the NT is properly in the business of interpreting OT prophecy, Redditt’s final claim affirms the reader’s epistemological autonomy.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that historical-critical tenets are deeply woven into Redditt’s approach to prophecy and to Scripture itself. In contrast, both the authors of the NT (e.g., John 12:38–41; Heb 1:1–4) and Jesus himself (Luke 4:17–21; 24:44–47) are adamant that the reader is to receive, as a proclamation with divine authority, Scripture’s testimony to the person and work of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment and completion of God’s prior word through the prophets. While Redditt has laudably written as a believing Christian (p. x), the implications of such belief for interpretation of the prophets are regrettably not in plain view in this volume.
Daniel C. Timmer
Daniel C. Timmer
Faculté de théologie évangélique
Montréal, Québec, Canada
Other Articles in this Issue
New Testament scholarship in its present state is experiencing a time of abundance, especially with respect to biblical commentaries of every shape, length, level of depth, theological persuasion, intended audience, and hermeneutical angle...