Thursday, August 31, 2017

Trump and Arpaio's Pardon

Another news story, from the site An Arizona judge has "scheduled a hearing for October 4th where the Trump team must publicly argue why a man who was so racist he was convicted of criminal contempt of court for refusing to end his discriminatory racial profiling policies deserves to walk free." The article has a link to descriptions of Arpaio's various activities.

Climate Change, the GOP, and Harvey

Good piece in Esquire about the hurricane devastation and some of the outcomes of thirty years of politics. The whole article is good, and the last two paragraphs summarize the political and policy issues.

And also, a reminder that "disasters don't care about politics." Contribute to relief efforts if you can!

Nashville Statement on Sexuality

Some news items and comments. Here is a site with links to the Nashville Statement, released this week as an evangelical coalition statement on biblical sexuality.

Here is the response called the Denver Statement, by author-pastor Nadia Bolz-Webster, which to me is an apt and just response to the different sections of the Nashville Statement.

Here is Jim Wallis' response:

Here is an article about the Nashville document, including the observation that white evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bible in a Year: Jeremiah

This calendar year (and probably into Lent 2018), I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

This week and next week, I'm studying Jeremiah, the second of the three major prophets. Here are two websites that provide a lot of background and detail about this book:

Jeremiah (Yeremiyahu in Hebrew) began his prophetic career in about 626 BCE, the 13th year of Josiah’s reign, across four more kings to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BCE. So he preached and ministered during the worst crisis time in Judah’s history, and Jeremiah’s famous sorrowfulness and distress reflects his involvement in his people’s fate. He was the son of a priest (kohen) named Hilkiah from a Benjamin village (Jer. 1:1-3). As the Jewish Study Bible points out, "Thus, like Moses, who was of Levitical descent, Jeremiah is a priest and prophet who guided his people for forty years--often in the fact of stiff opposition--but, unlike Moses who led the people from Egypt into the promised land, Jeremiah saw the exile of his people form that same promised land and lived out his own days in Egypt." Jeremiah's assistant, who conveyed his teachings, was Baruch ben Neriah.


It might be helpful to remember the history of the several kings of Israel and Judah, and how the prophets fit into the history according to an approximate chronology. All the references are to 2 Kings.

Jeroboam II of Israel (786-746). The prophets Amos and Hosea prophesied to the Northern Kingdom in about the 740s and 750s.

Azariah/Uzziah of Judah (783-742), 15:1-7, who did what was right but also did not remove the foreign altars and so God struck him with leprosy. Isaiah dated his prophetic call to the year Uzziah died.

Zechariah of Israel (746-745), 15:8-12

Shallum of Israel (one month in about 745), 15:13-16

Menahem of Israel (745-738), 15:17-22

Pekahiah of Israel (738-737), 15:23-26

Pekah of Israel (737-732), 15:27-31

Jotham of Judah (742-735), 15:32-38

Ahaz of Judah (737-715).

Hoshea of Israel. 17:1-6. The Deuteronomistic historian comments extensively on the sins that led to Israel’s fall (17:7-23), and describes the resettlement of the area. Among the new settlers were the people who became known as Samaritans.

And kings of Judah:

Hezekiah (715-687), 18:1-8-20:1-21.

Manasseh (687-642), 21:1-18, Hezekiah’s son, was very wicked and did much evil. This is the last straw, God’s judgment against Judah was now certain because of Manasseh's idolatry and violence.

Amon of Judah (642-640), 21:19-26, was also evil, but

Josiah (640-609), 22:1-25:30, was a righteous king who prepared the temple, and in doing so recovered the book of the law (probably the text of Deuteronomy 12-26) and with great sorrow sought to renew the covenant and to initiate reforms throughout the kingdom. *The prophets

Zephaniah (about 628-622), Jeremiah (about 626-587), Habakkuk (about 605), and Ezekiel (about 593-573) are from this general period, while 2 Isaiah was exilic: about 540.

Jehoahaz (609), 23:31-33, briefly reigned, but he was taken captive by the Pharaoh. His successor

Eliakim/Jehoiakim (609-598), 23:34-24:6, also did evil in God’s sight, as did Jehoiachin (598-597), 24:7-12.  In his eighth year as king, he was taken prisoner by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who looted Jerusalem and carried away many inhabitants. Nebuchadnezzar installed Jehoiachin’s uncle Zedekiah as king. But Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and the terrible end of Zedekiah and his sons (25:1-7). Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple was burned, demolished, and looted. Nebuchadnezzar appointed the ill-fated Gedaliah to be governor of the land of Judah (25:22-26).


The prophet Isaiah began his ministry in 742, and as we saw last week, portions of 1-39 come from the 600s, while 40-66 are from around 540 and later. Jeremiah profited during the period 626-587, and although we don't know when he died, he was exiled in Egypt at the time. Our next book Ezekiel, is from 593-573. In his book Biblical Literacy, Rabbi Telushkin comments that the northern kingdom had no prophetic voices of hope---but the southern kingdom had words of hope from 2 Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. So the tribes of the northern kingdom disappeared into history, while the the tribes Judah, Benjamin, and Levi in the south remained and were recipients of God's promises.

The call of Jeremiah is well known:

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’
But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’
hen the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’ (1:4-11)

John Bracke (1), recently retired from Eden Seminary where I’m an adjunct, points out three important perspectives about God of special importance within Jeremiah:

1. God is sovereign. “God’s word changes history through judgment---plucking up and pulling down---and through restoration---building and planting” (p. 7). The people who had been rescued from Egypt and given a precious land had broken God’s covenant and strayed from God’s law, and therefore they must go into exile. But God is also faithful and merciful and will restore the land and the temple and will establish a new covenant (pp. 7-8).

2. Along with the anguish of the people of Judah, God “also experiences hurt and disappointment” (p. 8). God is a rejected husband and a rejected parent. Although God punishes his people, God is also in tremendous pain because of their pain and anguish (p. 8).

3. God is ultimately interested in “building and planting” (1:10), although at the end of Jeremiah this is promised rather than fulfilled (p. 9).

If you've ever read or browsed Jeremiah, you know that the book is complex, lacking chronological order and with different genres, styles, voices, and theological perspectives. Writing in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Vol. 3, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008), Louis Stulman writes, “Despite the enormous influence it has exerted on the history of Jewish and Christian interpretation, Jeremiah is one of the most difficult books in the Bible to read” (p. 220; the whole article is pages 220-235). Even the prose material alone is written in different styles. Some of the material is likely from Jeremiah himself, other material from Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch. The book has also been edited, and reflects a theological outlook in keeping with the "Deuteronomistic history," that is, the troubles of Judah are God's judgment against them for their sins.


A basic outline of the book is:

Chapters 1-10, condemnations toward Judah.
Chapters 11-28: warnings of the destruction of Judah.
Chapters 29-38: the promise of the New Covenant.
Chapters 39-52: events concerning the fall of Jerusalem.

Stulman has also sketched groupings of material, reflecting theological themes within the book. He argues that the book has two sections, 1-25 and 26-52, forming a “two-part prophetic drama,” each with five acts (p. 221).

He calls the first part, “Dismantling Judah’s cherished social and symbolic categories.” This part’s five acts are:

Introduction (1:1-19)
1 The basis for God’s judgment (2;1-6:30)
2 Dismantling the Temple (7:1-10:25)
3 Dismantling the Covenant (11:1-17:27)
4 Dismantling “insider privileges” (18:1-20:18)
5 Dismantling the monarchy (21:1-24:10)
Conclusion, “the world under divine judgment” (25:1-38)

The second part is “Restoration and hope amid the wreckage: a survivor’s manual.” The five parts are:

Introduction, on hope (26:1-24)
1 “Conflicting theologies of hope” (27:1-29:3)
2 “The book of hope” (30:1-33:26)
3 “Moral instruction for the new community” (34;1-35:19)
4 “Traces of hope amid the wreckage” (36:1-45:5)
5 “God’s reign on earth signaling hope for Judean refugees in Babylon (46:1-51:64)
Conclusion: “Jehoiachin’s restoration as embryonic hope” (52:1-34)

One of Shulman’s summary statements is interesting: “Jeremiah is ‘guerilla theater,’ a text of resistance that reimagines symbol systems and reframes and social realities. It reenacts or performs the fall and rise of Judah as well as the defeat of the geopolitical power structures responsible for Judah’s mistreatment. it attempts to convince Jewish refugees in Babylon that economic-military domination is not the final word and that God is an unflinching advocate for those devastated by war and exile. In effect, the book of Jeremiah is a liturgical act that creates a quite particular world, one that stands in stark contrast to ‘other worlds’ where absolute power, autonomy, and economic exploitation reign... [T]he text ennobles those on the margins to protest and dissent, ridicule and revel, and imagine a counter order. The prophetic script empowers broken people with the will to survive and the resolve to act with courage And ultimately Jeremiah functions as a dangerous ‘weapon of hope’ that will not knuckle under to political aggression, military might, or relentless despair” (pp. 234-235).


Among the stylistic forms of Jeremiah, we frequently find personal complains. The Harper's Bible Commentary lists several:  11:18-12:6, 15:10-21, 1714-18, 18:18-23, 20:7-18. We think of the psalms of lamentation and complaint (p. 597) and find similarities in Jeremiah's expressions of sorrow.

Two other forms are prose sermons and third personal narratives about Jeremiah. Among the biographical passages are 19:1-20:6, 26:28-29, 36:37-45, 51:59-64. Among the sermons are 7:1-8:3, 11:1-14, 16:1-13, 17:19-27, 18:1-12 21:1-10, 25:1-14, 35:1-19. (HBC, p. 598) The sermons often reflect that Deuteronomistic theology: Judah’s punishment is linked to their sins.

We also find more symbolic prophetic actions---the special kind of performance art that we find in some of the problems--in Jeremiah. There are a few in Isaiah, like the symbolically named children of chapters 7 and 8 (Shear-jashub, Immanuel, and Maher-shalal-hash-baz), and Isaiah's nudity that warned of Egypt of Assyrian slavery (chapter 20). Here is a site that provides several of Jeremiah's symbolic actions:

The Jewish Study Bible concludes: "In the end, the book of Jeremiah is the product of a debate within Jewish circles from the late monarchy and the exilic periods concerning the question of theodicy or the righteousness of God. Although fully aware of the theological problems posed by the destruction of the Temple and the exilic of the Jewish people, the book affirms God's existence and righteousness as well as the future of the restored nation Israel on its land" (p. 920).


1. John M. Bracke, Jeremiah 1-29 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000); and his book, Jeremiah 30-52 and Lamentations (same date and publisher).

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bible in a Year: Isaiah

This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

This week I’m studying Isaiah. I wrote most of this post a few years ago during an Advent season. I had been listening to Handel's "Messiah" and realized that the piece cites Isaiah most often among the Bible's books ( Several Advent lectionary texts are Isaiah passages, too. I forget which of my three seasonal study books for Abingdon Press contained a meditation on one of Isaiah’s servant songs.

One source that I found indicates that Isaiah is the second longest biblical book in terms of chapters (after the Psalms, if consider each psalm a “chapter”), the fourth longest in terms of verses (after Psalms, Genesis, and Jeremiah), and the fifth longest in terms of words (after Psalms, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Genesis). I’m not taking the time to verify this information, LOL. The point is, Isaiah is a long book!

It is also an essential book for both Jews and Christians*, spanning over two hundred years of Israel and Judah's history, from the last days of the Divided Kingdom to the beginning of the Post-Exilic era.

This site provides a basic outline of the book:

Words of judgment (1-39):
Prophecies about Judah and Jerusalem (1-12)
Oracles against the nations (13-23)
World-wide judgment and deliverance (24-27)
Oracles against Samaria, Jerusalem, and Assyria (28-33)
More prophecies of world-wide judgment and deliverance (34-35),
Historical material (36-39)

Words of comfort (40-66):
Prophecies of redemption and restoration (40-48)
Prophecies of God's servant (49-55)
Prophecies of consummation (56-66)

See that site for a more detailed outline, too.


Isaiah himself lived in the 700s. He was called in the year of the death of King Uzziah (Isaiah 6), or about the year 740 BCE. He lived during the difficult time of Assyria's regional dominance under the monarchies of Tiglath Pileser III, Shalmaneser V (who defeated and deported the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE), Sargon II, and Sennacherib. He also lived during the Syro-Ephraimite War that rocked the region at the end of the century. The Mishna and also Justin Martyr give us the traditions that Isaiah was killed during Manasseh’s reign (which began about 699 BCE), perhaps by being sawed in half. Hebrews 11:37 may or may not be an allusion to his death. If Isaiah died during Manasseh’s reign, he thus survives Senacherib’s siege of Jerusalem in 701 BCE.  

The author of that another online source ( states, “For versatility of expression and brilliancy of imagery Isaiah had no superior, not even a rival. His style marks the climax of Hebrew literary article Both his periods and Genius and descriptions are most finished and sublime. “He is a perfect artist in words. Beauty and strength are characteristic of his entire book. Epigrams and metaphors, particularly of flood, storm and sound (1:13; 5:18, 22; 8:08; 10:22; 28:17, 20; 30:28, 30), interrogation and dialogue (6:8; 10:8, 9), antithesis and alliteration (1:18; 3:24; 17:10, 12), hyperbole and parable (2:7; 5:1-7; 28:23-29), even paranomasia, or play upon words (5:7; 7:9), characterize Isaiah's book as the great masterpiece of Hebrew literature. He is also famous for his richness of vocabulary and synonyms.... Jerome likened him to Demosthenes; and a poet: he frequently elaborates his messages in rhythmic or poetic style (12:1-6; 25:1-5; 26:1-12; 38:10-20; 42:1-4; 49:1-9; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12; 60-62; 66:5-24); and in several instances slips into elegiac rhythm, e.g. in 37:22-29 there is a fine taunting poem on Sennacherib, and in 14:4-23 another on the king of Babylon. As Driver observes, ‘Isaiah's poetical genius is superb.’”

The distinguished biblical scholar Brevard S. Childs was my Old Testament prof during the fall semester 1979, just when his book Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture appeared (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979). I had him autograph my copy. This week I pulled the book from my shelves to recall his canonical approach to Isaiah.

I also studied my Harper’s Bible Commentary (New York: HarperCollins, 1988). There, the biblical scholar Gerald T. Sheppard notes something well known: that 1-39 and 40-66 are noticeably different sections. During the 8th century when Isaiah prophesied, Assyria and not Babylon was the major threat, but those later chapters of the book (from an unknown prophet) deals with the situation of those who have been in exile following the 6th century Babylonian conquest---exiles for whom “new things” can be announced (40:21, 41:4, 27, 42:9) (Sheppard, p. 543).

In other words, 40-66 are not only stylistically different from 1-39 but also concerns a situation 150 years after the historical Isaiah died. Childs notes that the theory of dual authorship of Isaiah dates to the work of Doederlein and Eichhorn in the later 1700s. By the 1900s, there was wide unanimity in the acceptance of a break between chapters 39 and 40 (Childs, pp. 317-318). In one of my Jewish sources (and how I've misplaced it), medieval Jewish scholars also made note of the "break" between 39 and 40.

Sheppard, however, writes that after many years of scholarly study of the two sections, biblical scholars have more recently been interested in how the sections make a whole (for instance, the way Isaiah 13 and 21 connect to the Babylon judgments later in the book), and the fact that 40-66 does not seem to have ever existed independently of 1-39 (p. 543). Also, chapter 66 return to themes of chapter 1, God’s word to his people and to Jerusalem (Sheppard, p. 544).

Childs writes that Duhm’s 1892 commentary showed that Isaiah 1-39 was itself not a historical or literary unity. For instance, it is divided into sections like 1-12, 13-23, 24-27, and so on, with some writings as late as the Maccabean period (p. 318). Childs summarizes the work of Mowinckel, Scott, and others who detailed the different sections of 1-39 and postulated the origin and layering of traditions, including “an Isaianic core” of material, with nevertheless both pre- and post-exilic material (Childs, p. 319).

So, Isaiah is not simply a two-part book, with 1-39 originating from Isaiah's time and 40-66 originating from the exilic and post-exilic years. The whole book contains writings from different periods and has been skillfully edited.

Duhm was the scholar who isolated the oracles 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, and 52:13-53:12, the “servant songs,” and it was who referred to chapters 55-66 as “Trito-Isaiah,” because the focus of those chapters was the post-exilic community in Jerusalem, with references to sabbath and sacrifice. Childs notes that many scholars have agreed with Duhm, though not whether 55-66 is a unified or edited composition (Childs, pp. 322-323).

Childs' view is that although chapters 40-66 seem to be addressed to the exiles in or returning from Babylon, “the present canonical shape of the book of Isaiah has furnished these chapters with a very different setting. Chapters 40ff. are now understood as a prophetic word of promise offered to Isaiah by the eighth-century prophet, Isaiah of Jerusalem” (Childs, p. 325). Thus, the “the canonical editors of this tradition employed the material in such a way as to eliminate almost entirely those concrete features and to subordinate the original message to a new role within the canon” (Childs, p. 325).

For instance, chapters 40-66 have no special attribution to another prophet, nor historical situations (other than references in Cyrus in 44:28-45:1) compared to the specific circumstances to which Amos addressed his message. Even the famous opening of chapter 40 can be read, within this new context, as a general promise and not specifically to the returning exiles (Childs, p. 325). Consequently, the promises of forgiveness and redemption have a new theological context for Israel following the oracles of judgment that we find in the earlier chapters (Childs, p. 327, 330). The “former things” of Second Isaiah now refer to the earlier prophecies of judgment in First Isaiah, thus confirming the truth of the latter (p. 329-330: for instance, notes Childs, we can connect 1:7ff and 62:4, 11:6, 9 with 65:25, 13:17 with 41:25, and so on. The plan announced in 28:24ff becomes clear in Second Isaiah).

Further, Childs notes that the editing of Isaiah 1-39 provides theologian meanings through the skillful connection of oracles. For instance, the oracles against the nations (chapters 13-23), which date from different time periods, are interpreted by the oracles of a redeemed community in 24-27, where the nations are said to be able to worship together at Jerusalem. Further, the oracles of 34-35 portray a future redemption from the judgments proclaimed earlier----and the idiom of 34-35 connects forward to that of Second Isaiah (Childs, p. 332).

Sheppard shows how the work of 2-39 has been edited so that promise oracles frame judgment oracles, like the promise oracles 2:2-24 and 4:2-6. The parable of chapter 5 precedes a section of oracles related to the Syro-Ephraimite war (7:1-9), but these oracles have been fitted and edited within a longer set of oracles (6:1-9:7). Following these we have a new set of “promise oracles to Judah and judgments against  Assyria” in 10:5-11:16, and then a transitional “song” in Isaiah 12 which includes a motif of “comfort” that, of course, we see again in Isaiah 40. That song is a transition into the oracles of judgment against the nations in chapters 13-23.  In turn, those oracles are followed by “a group of promissory eschatological oracles” in chapters 24-27, which “take up a number of themes and motifs from the first part of the book and project them into a vision of future restoration,” i.e., connecting to 40-66. Isaiah 28-32 in turn contain more judgment oracles against Zion and Judah, and then more promise oracles in 33-35. Chapters 34 and 35 in particular anticipate material in 40-66 (Sheppard, p. 545). In turn, the narrative material of 36-39 refers to the Assyria siege of Jerusalem, in 701 BCE several years after the earlier war. This historical material connects with the narrative of 2 Kings 18 and 2 Chronicles 32, and here, the material appears “remarkably suitable to the larger purpose of the book of Isaiah, with its concern for the restoration of Jerusalem. They explore the way in which human responses move God to leave a blessing when one might expect only a curse” (Sheppard, p. 569).

The “suffering servant” songs of Second Isaiah raise other exegetical issues, because (Childs argues) the figure does not seem to be connected (by the canonical editors) to the royal figure of 9:1ff and 11:1ff, nor to any particular historical individual. He argues that the text is even silent on whether the figure represents Israel as a whole; the canonical editors have allowed the questions and tensions to remain and perhaps “to receive its meaning from the future” (Childs, pp. 335-336). My rabbi friends here in town told me that, in Jewish interpretation, the servant songs do refer to the Jewish people and their witness.

Interestingly to me, the great messianic text Isaiah 7:14 falls within the oracles that concern the unrest in Judah in 735-733 BC and the Syro-Ephraimite War. “Occasionally, ordinary public activities of prophets could carry extraordinary significance... Just as Hosea’s marriage constituted a symbolic act of prophecy, so Isaiah’s children by their very names, carried a message throughout their lives” (Sheppard, p. 555). The child Emmanuel, about whom no other historical information is given, is the sign Isaiah gives when King Ahaz says he does not want a sign at all. Within that section, the Northern Kingdom will fall and later disaster will also eventually happen to the Southern Kingdom, but the name of the child, “God with us,” provides ongoing hope (Sheppard, p. 555).

Sheppard writes about how this messianic texts also tie together the times of Isaiah with the post-exilic faithful. “The unusual name ... now harbors in it prophetic implications for the destruction of Judah as well as Syria and Ephraim (8:6-8) and, finally, for the nations in the future that will so threaten Judah (8:9-10). The ‘child sign’ seems to continue in 9:1-7, where the birth of a child (9:6) portends a comparable claim of God’s presence with Israel (9:4) in the period after the Exile, when ‘the people walked in darkness’ (9:2). Even if the original tradition of 9:1-7 was once an independent, nonmessianic ‘royal psalm,’ its present context in the book invites a messianic interpretation. So too Isa. 7:14 has similarly engendered messianic expectations among both Jews and Christians, expectations based on the warrants of the text’s ‘scriptural’ context in 7:1-9:7” (Sheppard, p. 556).


* In my earlier post about the Sidra and Haftarah readings, Isaiah is quoted 19 times among the Haftarot, 1 and 2 Kings 16 times, Jeremiah 9 times, Ezekiel 10 times. It has been a very central book for Judaism! (Jewish Study Bible, p. 780).

So, too, for Christianity. This site gives 20 times that the book is quoted in the New Testament. The passages that we associate with the Advent season (chapters 7, 9, and 11), and especially the Suffering Servant song of 52:13-53:12 are crucially important for the New Testament writers in preaching Jesus. It is hard to imagine Jesus' own self-understanding AND apostolic preaching about Jesus without the Suffering Servant song.


Here is a meditation about an Isaiah prophecy of international peace.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Childhood Crystal Ball

This summer, we've been reorganizing some rooms in our house. This glass ball has been on a shelf among other antiques and keepsakes in our finished basement. It's not a light, it's just a glass sphere that screws into a black base. As I brought it upstairs to place on a new set of bookshelves, Beth asked me again what it is.

I said, "You remember when I told you about a place in Brownstown [my mother's hometown in Illinois] that sold appliances and also antiques. The store was run by Floyd and Lucille Bingaman. My folks liked to shop there when I was a kid, and we bought all kinds of antiques there, and I think my parents'  washer and drier, too.

"One day, during a weekend visit to the store, I saw this and thought it would be a good 'crystal ball.' So my folks bought it, and I brought it home and used it for pretend-games of telling fortunes and foreseeing the future. After I left home, Mom and Dad kept it on their own bookshelves. Although I have no idea what original purpose it had, it's a childhood keepsake that I hate to part with."

Beth said, "You should write this up as a blog post."

"Good idea," I said....

Total Eclipse

"I turned back to the sun. It was going. The sun was going, and the world was wrong....I was watching a faded color print of a movie filmed in the Middle Ages; I was standing in it, by some mistake." (Annie Dillard, "Total Eclipse".)


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Ghost Sign: Shaw Neighborhood, St. Louis

Landscape: William Giles Munson

William Giles Munson, "View of the New Haven Green in 1800" (c. 1830). New Haven Colony Historical Society. From: Copied under fair use principles.

Landscape: Richard Rummell

Richard Rummell, "Yale University, 1906." From:,_Richard_Yale_University.jpg

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Bible in a Year: The Prophets and the New Testament

Childhood Bibles: mine, my wife Beth's,
and her deceased first husband Jim's. 
This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

One more post about how the prophets can linked to other Bible passages. Prophetic scriptures became crucial for understanding who Jesus is and how his coming fits within and fulfills God’s plans of salvation. A Bible explorer can spend months and years tracing and delving into the prophetic roots of the New Testament. Here are just a few.

John the Baptist (Isa. 40:3-5, Mal. 4:5-6, Mark 9:1, Luke 1:17)

Jesus’ birth (Isa. 7:14, 9:6-7, 11:1-5, Mic. 5:2, Matt. 2:6, Luke 1:30-33.

Jesus’ authority and teaching (Isa. 6:9-12, 9:1-2, Matt. 4:14-16, 13:14-15)

Jesus the shepherd (Ez. 34:11-16, John 10:7-11)

Jesus’ ministry (Isa. 32:3-4, 35:5-6, 33:22, 42:1-4, 61:1-2, Matt. 9:32-35, 12:17-21, Luke 4:17-21)

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9, Matt. 21:4-5)

Jesus’ sufferings, betrayal, and death (Isa. 52:13-53:12, Zech. 11:12-13, 12:10, 13:7, in addition to Ps. 22, 69, and others)

Jesus’ resurrection (Ez. 37:1-14, Jonah 1:17, Matt. 12:40, and among the psalms Ps. 16:10 and Ps. 110:1)

The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34, Matt. 26:26-29, Rom. 11:26-36, Heb. 8:8-12)

The Temple in relationship to Jesus (Isa. 56:7, Jer. 7:1, Mark 11:15-18, John 2:13-23, Acts 7:47-51)

“The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17)

The Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:16-21)

The redemption of all nations (Isa. 2:1-4, 1 Peter 2:10)

Related to the redemption of the nations: the metaphor of marriage between God and his people (e.g., Hos. 1-3, Rom. 9:25-26, 1 Pet. 2:10, Eph. 5:25, 32, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 9)(8)

The end times (Daniel 7:1-12:13, Ez. 38-39, much of the book of Zechariah).

The issue of the covenant becomes a key for Paul as he preaches about Jesus and the law. For Jews today, the prophetic criticism of faithlessness remains a call for contemporary faithfulness; the prophet’s stress upon justice and suitable worship are as timely a Word of God today as in the ancient world. Paul understands faithless as a more basic flaw in both human nature and the law; we cannot keep the law faithfully, and thus we need Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). In New Testament theology, a passage such as Jeremiah 7:21-26 points to the need for new beginnings (Jer. 31:31-34).

The prophet’s concerns for the poor and for justice are not as apparently strong in the New Testament but are certainly there. In both the Torah and the prophets, God is a God of justice. (The Greek word dikaiosunê, corresponding to tzedakah, means “righteousness” and “justice.”) God takes the side of the poor, downtrodden, and powerless. Luke’s gospel and Matthew 25:31-46 very much echo God’s care for the needy.  You could also think this way: in the Old Testament, God demands justice for the poor, outcast, and powerless. In the New Testament, God also takes the side of those who are spiritually impoverished, bringing them into the circle of blessing.

Although Christians are quick to stress that Jesus is “more than a prophet,” he was frequently understood to be a prophet (Matt. 21:11, Mark 6:15, 8:28, Luke 7:16, 24:19, John 4:19, 6:14, et al.) and possessed the Spirit in a way that people considered prophetic (Matt. 12:28, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 4:18-20, et al).

Here is a list of many passages from the prophets, psalms, and Torah, used in the New Testament to demonstrate the necessity of Jesus' suffering and death:


Here are some notes that I took a few years ago:

As we begin on the prophets, it's worth realizing that New Testament eschatology relies very strongly upon the Old Testament, especially the prophets. The book of Revelation cites the Old Testament more than any other New Testament book and is filled with images from the prophets.

I found an interesting article, “The Old Testament and the Book of Revelation” at the site. I liked the article because it gave straightforward biblical references without the speculations and polemics that one finds in some analyses of Revelation. Perusing that article as well as my notes in my old RSV and the references in my NRSV, I developed a very incomplete list of references to prophetic passages that one finds in Revelation. That article gives many more references and other research about John's compelling visions and style of writing.  

The prophetic idea of The Day of the Lord is found in Isaiah 2:12, Joel 2:31-32, Amos 5:18-20, Daniel 12:12, and becomes part of New Testament eschatology in Matthew 24:29-31, Acts 2:20, 2 Peter 3:8-10, Rev. 6:12-17.

The image of “the son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14 connects to Rev. 1:7.

The image of “the kingdom of priests” in Exodus 19:6 and Isaiah 61:6 connects to Rev. 1:6.

Ezekiel’s vision of four living creatures and four wheels in chapter 1, and also Isaiah 6:1-4, connect with Revelation chapter 4, wherein the living creatures give God honor and glory.

The dwelling of God in the new heaven and earth in Isaiah 65:17ff connects to Rev 21:1-2. Also, Michael the archangel (Dan. 12:1) connects to Rev. 12:7-12.

The condemnation of Deuteronomy 29:19-20, with the image of being blotted out of the book of life, connects to Rev. 21:19. In fact, that article indicates: “Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15, 21:27 are based on Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1,” and also Ps. 56:8 and Malachi 3:16. All these have to do with the them of God writing a book containing the names of the faithful.

The differently colored horses of Zechariah 1:7-17 and 6:1-8 connect to Revelation 6:1-8.

The eating of the scroll in Ezekiel 2:8-3:33 and Jeremiah 15:16 connect to Rev. 10:8-11.

Much of Joel 1-2, with its descriptions of plagues, droughts, and the coming day of the Lord, connects to the various events in Revelation: e.g., the locusts in Rev. 9.

Some of Ezekiel’s images of the restored temple in chapters 40-48, as well as Zechariah chapter 4, connect to Rev. 11:1-6 et al. Also, the restored Jerusalem in Ezekiel 48:30-35 connect to Rev. 21:12-14.

Genesis 49 lists the twelve tribes of Israel, in the context of Jacob’s death: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Dan, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. Jacob adopted Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and thus they became heads of tribes. Rev. 7:1-8 describes how angels sealed the number of God’s servants out of “every tribe of the people of Israel,” and then lists the twelve tribes. Instead of the tribe of Dan we have the tribe of Manasseh, and the tribe of Joseph rather than that of Ephraim is mentioned.

The cities of refuge are described in Numbers 35:9-34. They were places where a person who had accidentally killed someone could flee and when the high priest died they could return home without fear of being killed out of revenge. The cities were Kedesh, Golan, Ramoth Shechem, Bezer, and Hebron. Although Rev. 12:6 doesn’t mention “cities of refuge” per se, the concept of a safe place prepared by God is there: for instance, the woman with child (representing God’s people) flees to a safe place in the wilderness where she will be nourished for 1260 days.

Daniel has a vision of four beasts in Dan. 7:1-8, which connects to Rev. 13:1-7, where beasts emerge from the sea. As that article indicates, the fourth beast represents Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the terrible Greek ruler of the Maccabean period.

Ezekiel 38-39 describes the prince Gog of the land of Magog. In Rev. 20:7-10, Gog and Magog become nations who are enemies of God’s people.

The famous story of Balaam and his donkey (or Balaam's ass, as we Sunday school kids laughed about) is found in Numbers 25:1-9, as well as 31:16. This story is echoed in Rev. 2: 14 where God scolds the church at Pergamum.

Rev. 14:14-20 tells of the angel reaping a grape harvest with a sickle and putting the harvest into the winepress of God’s wrath, producing copious blood. Of course, this is the reference for a line in “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as well as the title of the novel, The Grapes of Wrath. The image comes from Joel 3:13 and Isaiah 63:1-6.

As that article indicates, Isaiah 65:17, 66:22, refer to the blessings of God upon the exiles who return from captivity in Babylon. These promises connect to a passage near the conclusion of Revelations, 21:1.

With that reference, we return once again to the subject of the Exile. The Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, the Exile, its connection to the land, and the post exilic hope of future redemption are events and themes that permeate the entire Bible. In this case, the book of Revelation brings together stands of biblical history and theology to show the final consummation of centuries of divine promises.

Landscape: Carl Vilhelm Holsøe

Carl Vilhelm Holsøe (1863-1935), "A Strolling in the Orchard". From Twitter, "@AHistoryofPaint . Copied under fair use principles.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"Trump is a Consequence"

Here is an excellent article from, "Trump is Not Cause, But Consequence: The Post-Cold War Consensus Collapses," by Andrew Bacevich. "If Americans have an ounce of sense, the Trump presidency will cure them once and for all of the illusion that from the White House comes redemption. By now we ought to have had enough of de facto monarchy. By extension, Americans should come to see as intolerable the meanness, corruption and partisan dysfunction so much in evidence at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue.....So it’s time to take another stab at an approach to governance worthy of a democratic republic." He offers several ideas.

An Excellent bell hooks Quotation

A few days before all the racism and hatred became expressed in Charlottesville this weekend, I'd found this quotation while doing a research project. “White folk who mask their denial of white supremacy by mouthing slogans like ‘heritage not hate’ .. fail to see that their refusal to acknowledge what this ‘heritage’ means for black folks is itself an expression of white racist power and privilege… The history of the confederacy will always evoke the memory of white oppression of black folks with rebel flags, guns, fire, and the hanging noose—-all symbols of hate” (bell hooks, Belonging: A Culture of Place, Routledge, 2009, pages 10-11).

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bible in a Year: Connecting the Torah and the Prophets

This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

When I studied and posted about the Torah earlier this year, I learned that the Torah is read in a yearly cycle in synagogue worship (the weekly portion or parshah), accompanied by a related reading from the Prophets (the haftarah). This week I went back to the lists of those readings to learn their meaningful connections, perhaps unexplored by most Christians. The following is gleaned from W. Gunther Plaut, The Haftarah Commentary (Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1996): first the name of the parshah, then the Torah portion, then the haftarah. I focused on the Ashkenazic readings; in a few cases, Sephardic congregations have different haftarot.

Genesis 1:1-6:8: the creation story
Isaiah 42:5-43:11: the creation of Israel is linked to creation of the universe

Genesis 6:9-11:32: the punishments and redemption during the time of Noah
Isaiah 54:1-55:5: the redemption from punishment and exile is at hand

Lekh Lekha
Genesis 12:1-17:27: stories of Abraham
Isaiah 40:27-41:16: God remembers and cares for Israel, children of Abraham

Genesis 18:1-22:24: God promises Abraham and Sarah a song
II Kings 4:1-4:37: Elijah’s miraculous help for the Shunammite woman

Chayei Sarah
Genesis 23:1-25:18: Abraham looks for a wife for Isaac
I Kings1:1-1:31: David’’s need for a suitable successor

Genesis 25:19-28:9: the struggles of Jacob and Esau
Malachi 1:1-2:7: a reiteration of the primacy of Jacob over Esau

Genesis 28:10-32:3: Jacob’s sojourn in Aram
Hosea 12:13-14:10: Hosea’s use of that story

Genesis 32:4-36:43: Jacob and the angel
Hosea 11:7-12:12: Hosea’s use of that story as a metaphor for his home and for the nation

Genesis 37:1-40:23: Joseph is sold into slavery
Amos 2:6-3:8: Amos’ Israelite contemporaries would sell out an innocent person

Genesis 41:1-44:17: Pharaoh’s dream
I Kings 3:15-4:1: Solomon’s dream

Genesis 44:18-47:27: reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers
Ezekiel 37:15-37:28: the reunited stick

Genesis 47:28-50:26: Jacob gives his last words to his sons
I Kings 2:1-12: David gives his last words to Solomon

Exodus 1:1-6:1: Israel’s enslavement in Egypt
Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-29:23: Israel’s sins and troubles

Exodus 6:2-9:35: the plagues of Egypt
Ezekiel 28:25-29:21: the coming humiliation of Egypt, which had forsaken Israel

Exodus 10:1-13:16: Pharaoh vs. God
Jeremiah 46:13-46:28: Pharaoh Necho, who killed King Josiah, will be defeated

Beshalach (Shabbat Shirah)
Exodus 13:17-17:16: Defeat of the enemy Egypt and the people’s song
Judges 4:4-5:31: Deborah’s song of the defeat of Canaanite enemies

Exodus 18:1-20:23: The Sinai revelation
Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-9:6: the revelation of God to Isaiah

Exodus 21:1-24:18: release of the Hebrew slaves
Jeremiah 34:8-34:22; 33:25-33:26: Jeremiah’s response when Judah rulers would not free slaves

Exodus 25:1-27:19: construction of the Tabernacle
I Kings 5:26-6:13: construction of the Temple

Exodus 27:20-30:10: the Tabernacle altar
Ezekiel 43:10-43:27: the future Temple sanctuary

Ki Tisa
Exodus 30:11-34:35: the Golden Calf
I Kings 18:1-18:39: the priests of Baal

Exodus 35:1-38:20: building a sanctuary
I Kings 7:40-7:50: building a sanctuary

Exodus 38:21-40:38: the craftsman Bezalel who worked on the Tabernacle
I Kings 7:51-8:21: the craftsman Hiram who worked on the Temple

Leviticus 1:1-5:26: sacrifices
Isaiah 43:21-44:23: the proper sacrifices

Leviticus 6:1-8:36: sacrifices
Jeremiah 7:21-8:3; 9:22-9:23: sacrifice alone cannot please God, who also demands righteous deeds

Leviticus 9:1-11:47: deaths of Aaron’s sons when they approach the Holy Fire improperly
II Samuel 6:1-7:17: the death of Uzzah who touches the holy Ark improperly

Leviticus 12:1-13:59: skin diseases
II Kings 4:42-5:19: the story of Elisha and Naaman

Leviticus 14:1-15:33: skin diseases
II Kings 7:3-7:20: the story of the four lepers

Acharei Mot
Leviticus 16:1-18:30: forbidden sexual relations
Ezekiel 22:1-22:19: denouncing sexual licentiousness

Leviticus 19:1-20:27: ethical requirements, with warnings
Amos 9:7-9:15: Amos’ warnings to the kingdom

Leviticus 21:1-24:23: priestly duties
Ezekiel 44:15-44:31: priests of the future Temple

Leviticus 25:1-26:2: family titles to land
Jeremiah 32:6-32:27: Jersmiah buys a parcel of land

Leviticus 26:3-27:34: blessings and curses
Jeremiah 16:19-17:14: Jeremisah’s assurance of blessings

Numbers 1:1-4:20: census in the wilderness
Hosea 2:1-2:22: the people will be as numerous as sands of the sea

Numbers 4:21-7:89: Nazarites
Judges 13:2-13:25: Nazarites

Numbers 8:1-12:16: the Tabernacle candlestick
Zechariah 2:14-4:7: vision of the candelabrum of the Temple

Numbers 13:1-15:41; the spies
Joshua 2:1-2:24: the spies

Numbers 16:1-18:32: Korah’s attempt to replace Moses
I Samuel 11:14-12:22: the people’s seeming attempt to replace God with a human king

Numbers 19:1-22:1: Moses’ request to the Amorite king
Judges 11:1-11:33: Jephthah’s negotiations with the Amorites

Numbers 22:2-25:9: King Balak (Balaq) wants Balaam to curse Israel
Micah 5:6-6:8: Micah remembers this incident.

Numbers 25:10-30:1: Phineas (Pinchas) and his reward
I Kings 18:46-19:21: the heroism of Elijah

Numbers 30:2-32:42: God’s punishment
Jeremiah 1:1-2:3: Jeremiah’s call to preach warnings

Numbers 33:1-36:13: punishments
Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4: the prophet’s warnings about idolatry

Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22: Moses
Isaiah 1:1-1:27: punishments

The next seven haftarah are haftarah of consolation (Shabbat Nachamu) and all come from Second Isaiah. They are all messages of hope for God’s people Israel. The first is read on the Shabbat after Tisha b'Av, which is the fast that commemorates the Temple's destruction in 587 BCE. The others are read on successive Sabbaths until the seventh, which is read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. Thus, as Moses urges faithfulness to the Lord and obedience to his Torah, the Isaiah passages express God's promises to liberate and provide for Israel.

Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
Isaiah 40:1-40:26

Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
Isaiah 49:14-51:3

Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
Isaiah 54:11-55:5

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9
Isaiah 51:12-52:12

Ki Teitzei
Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
Isaiah 54:1-54:10

Ki Tavo
Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8
Isaiah 60:1-60:22

Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20
Isaiah 61:10-63:9

This haftarah is usually read on the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30
Isaiah 55:6-56:8: seek the Lord when God is near

Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52: Moses’ farwell song
II Samuel 22:1-22:51: David’s song

Vezot Haberakhah (read on Simchat Torah, when the year’s Torah readings are concluded, and the new year of readings begins)
Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12: death of Moses
Joshua 1:1-1:18: the beginning of Joshua’s leadership

The Judaism 101 site also gives the special Parshiyot and Haftarot for Jewish holidays:

The Judaism 101 author provides this information: “Each week in synagogue, we read (or, more accurately, chant, because it is sung) a passage from the Torah. This passage is referred to as a parshah. The first parshah, for example, is Parshat Bereishit, which covers from the beginning of Genesis to the story of Noah. There are 54 parshahs, one for each week of a leap year, so that in the course of a year, we read the entire Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) in our services. During non-leap years, there are 50 weeks, so some of the shorter portions are doubled up. We read the last portion of the Torah right before a holiday called Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Law), which occurs in October, a few weeks after Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). On Simchat Torah, we read the last portion of the Torah, and proceed immediately to the first paragraph of Genesis, showing that the Torah is a circle, and never ends.

“In the synagogue service, the weekly parshah is followed by a passage from the prophets, which is referred to as a haftarah. ... The word comes from the Hebrew root Fei-Teit-Reish and means 'Concluding Portion'. Usually, haftarah portion is no longer than one chapter, and has some relation to the Torah portion of the week.

“The Torah and haftarah readings are performed with great ceremony: the Torah is paraded around the room before it is brought to rest on the bimah (podium). The reading is divided up into portions, and various members of the congregation have the honor of reciting a blessing over a portion of the reading. This honor is referred to as an aliyah (literally, ascension)... ”

Working on this post, I discovered that there are yearly and triennial cycles of readings. A rabbi friend explained that the Masoretes (the 6th-10th century CE scholars who helped established the definitive text of the Hebrew Bible) set up the cycle of yearly readings, and other scholars of the Land of Israel established a three-year cycle. The Wikipedia site reads:

"The Triennial cycle of Torah reading may refer either a) to the historical practice in ancient Israel by which the entire Torah was read in serial fashion over a three-year period, or b) to the practice adopted by many Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal congregations starting in the 19th and 20th Century, in which the traditional weekly Torah portions were divided into thirds, and in which one third of each weekly 'parashah' of the annual system is read during the appropriate week of the calendar.

"There are 54 parashot in the annual cycle, and 141, 154, or 167 parashot in the triennial cycle as practiced in ancient Israel, as evidenced by scriptural references and fragments of recovered text. By the Middle Ages, the annual reading cycle was predominant, although the triennial cycle was still extant at the time, as noted by Jewish figures of the period, such as Benjamin of Tudela and Maimonides. Dating from Maimonides' codification of the parashot in his work Mishneh Torah in the 12th Century CE through the 19th Century, the majority of Jewish communities adhered to the annual cycle.

"In the 19th and 20th Centuries, many synagogues in the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal Jewish movements adopted a triennial system in order to shorten the weekly services and allow additional time for sermons, study, or discussion."

I wonder if we Christians might appreciate the Torah more if we not only delved into the passages themselves but also saw them in relation to Old Testament stories and teachings with which we may be more familiar. It has certainly improved and blessed my knowledge of the books of Scripture that Jews hold especially dear.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Ghost Sign: Old Washington, KY

Ghost Sign: St Louis, MO

Near the ballpark. 

Ghost Sign: Maplewood, MO

On Sutton Ave. 

Ghost Sign: Newport, KY

Landscape: Léon Bonvin

Léon Bonvin, "Rose and Grasses" (1863). From Twitter @AHistoryofPaint Copied under fair use principles.

Landscape: Georg Janny

Georg Janny, "Village Road in the Alps". From Twitter @AHistoryofPaint . Copied under fair use principles.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Darwin Book Among Teachers

I love antique books, and this past year I've been collecting a few notable science books from the
nineteenth century. I like to write about them on this blog, teaching myself many new things in the process.

Last fall I wrote about Darwin's Origin of Species. Then I saw another copy for sale on eBay that had an interesting provenance, so I purchased it in order to pass along the names of some notable persons. The seller, rickl711, gave me permission to quote the auction description:

"The original owner of this book, Peter Frandsen, was a Professor of Biology at the University of Nevada. He graduated from the University Of Nevada in 1895, received a B.A. from Harvard University in 1898 and a Master's degree in 1899.... On April 11, 1959, a University Of Nevada building was renamed the Peter Frandsen Humanities Building in his honor. He was a beloved, long time professor of biology.

"A former owner of this book, Elroy N. Nathan (1916-2007), was a teacher at Chico State University in California. He was born in Gackle, North Dakota on Easter Morning, April 23, 1916 , served in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1935. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942 and stationed at Fort Snelling, New Mexico. By 1945 he was a 2nd Lieutenant, transferred to the Brooklyn Army Base and served on ship duty on Army Troop Transports, crossing the Atlantic 24 times. He later served as transport commander on troop and mortuary ships between North Africa, Europe and the Brooklyn Army Base." He also
served in Korea, Alaska, the Seattle Army Base, and with NATO in La Rochelle, France. "His last military duty was transportation officer at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind., where he retired as a Lt. Colonel in 1962."

Nathan later taught in the Geography Department of Chico State College and was there the Director of University Services. He was also "a life member of the Butte County Historical Society, of the California Conference of Historical Societies, and member of several Historical Preservation Societies. He passed away in his home in Chico, California on March 12, 2007, at the age of 90."

The book itself was published by A. L. Burt Company, about 1900.

Most of the time, we don't know who has owned an old book, but how special it is when we do.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Bible in a Year: Overview of the Prophets

John Singer Sargent, "Frieze of the Prophets"
Amos, Nahum, Ezekiel, Daniel, Elijah, Moses, Joshua, Jeremiah, Jonah, Isaiah, and Habakkuk
This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

After the Writings (Job through Song of Songs, or Job through Ecclesiasicus in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles), we have the Old Testament prophetic books: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, and “The Twelve”, which are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

These are not the only prophets in Israel’s history: for instance, Moses himself, Miriam, Deborah, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, and several others. Here is a general-knowledge site that lists them:

Here (from another of my blogs) is a summary:

Sargent, "Frieze of the Prophets"
Micah, Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah.
Isaiah: The first 39 chapters contain words of judgment about the Northern Kingdom, as well as other nations, and also words of promise. Chapters 40 and following seem to be another prophet, or possibly two, writing during 500s BC, as God, acting through the Persian king, restored the people. Here we find wonderful poetry of assurance concerning God’s redemption.

Jeremiah: The prophet preaches judgment upon the Southern Kingdom, and also promises of a renewed covenant in the future. We find tremendous pathos in Jeremiah, as also reflected in the following book.

Lamentations is a short, poetic book, attributed to Jeremiah and written in sorrowful response to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians. (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions add Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah as deuterocanonical/anagignoskomena books.)

Ezekiel: A prophet (also a priest) of the time before and during the exile. Ezekiel has weird visions and prophet actions bordering on, and sometimes crossing over to, the perverse. But the book also has lofty moral theology concerning problems such as human accountability.

Sargent, "Frieze of the Prophets,"
Zephaniah, Joel, Obadiah, and Hosea
Daniel: The book focuses on events in Daniel’s life and also apocalyptic visions of God’s kingdom, the “Son of Man,” and the last days, though many of the visions deal with the time of Antiochus IV, the evil Greek ruler who persecuted Jews. during the 100s BCE. This book is included in the last section of the Jewish canon rather than among the prophets.

Hosea: A Northern Kingdom prophet of the 700s, Hosea used his own family crises to describe the unfaithfulness of Israel and, in
addition to words of judgment, the heartache and tenderness of God. (Hosea and the eleven prophets after this book are called “The Minor Prophets” because the books are short. These are considered one book in the Jewish Bible and, together, have interrelated themes, as I write about at

Joel: Joel has aspects of both prophecy and apocalyptic, because he speaks of the Lord’s judgment against sin (in whatever time period he’s writing) as well as the last days. We get the wonderful prophecy of the coming of the Holy Spirit here (2:28-29).

Amos: A Southern prophet who spoke to the sins of the North; he speaks judgment against the kingdom of Israel: their apostasy, wealth, and oppression of the poor. His classic call for justice and righteousness is well known (5:21-24).

Obadiah:  A short little book, by a prophet about whom we know little. The Edomites were descendants of Esau who were enemies of Judah, and Obadiah’s prophecies are directed at them.

Jonah: Unlike other prophetic books, this one is a story, like a parable. The fish is not the point of the story, but rather God’s patience and forgiveness as well as Jonah’s reluctant prophetic work, which was surprisingly and highly successful.

Micah: A contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea. His two themes are doom and promise, and his statement about Bethlehem (5:2), his lovely depiction of God’s kingdom where swords will become plows (4:1-4), and his requirements of anyone who loves the Lord (6:8) are also well known.

Nahum: A counterpart to Jonah; Nahum pronounces doom upon Nineveh.

Habakkuk: An interesting book in that the prophet “dialogues” with God about the classic question: why do wrongdoers prevail? God may use an evil nation like the Chaldeans to accomplish his purposes, but they, too, will suffer the consequences.  Habakkuk 2:4 is a classic text; Paul quotes it in Romans 1:17 as a beginning of his argument about the primacy of faith.

Zephaniah: The last minor prophet prior to the exile, Zephaniah preaches judgment and wrath, but also hope for the future.

Haggai: His topic is the rebuilding of the Temple following the end of the exile. Not a lofty writer, he straightforwardly urges the Temple’s completion. Interestingly, he praises the great king by name, Zerubbabel, who eventually disappears from the record.

Zechariah: He also discusses the rebuilding of the Temple, but he writes with visions, symbols, and images of the coming messianic age.

Malachi: The last Old Testament prophet, from the 400s, who (with his interesting question-answer format) also posed Habakkuk’s question, why do the wicked prosper and the good suffer?  Malachi’s innovation: his announcement that a messenger will herald the last days. From Malachi's announcement, we segue into the New Testament.

It might be good to see a biblical chronology again, to see where these writings fit into the overall text.

- Patriarchs: about 1800-1500 BCE (Genesis)
- Exodus, Wilderness, and Conquest: about 1500-1200s BCE (Exodus-Joshua). Moses: the greatest of the Old Testament prophets.
- Period of the Judges: 1200s-1000 BCE (Judges)
- The monarchy (Saul, David, Solomon): 1000-922 BCE (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings 1-11, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles 1-9)
- Divided monarchy: 922-722 BCE (1 Kings 12-17, and also Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, and Micah)
- Kingdom of Judah: 722-586 BCE (2 Kings 18-25, 2 Chronicles 10-36, and also Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, and Habakkuk)
- Exile: 586-539 BCE (Lamentations, Psalm 139, et al.)
_ Judah under Persian rule: 539-332 BCE (Ezra-Nehemiah covers about the years 539-432 BCE, while Esther is set during the reign of Xerxes I, who reigned 486-465 BCE. Also, the prophets Second Isaiah, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi)
- Judah during the Hellenistic rule: 332-165 BCE (3 Maccabees, Daniel)
- The Maccabean/Hasmonean period: 165-63 BCE (1, 2, and 4 Maccabees)
Judea under Roman rule: 63 BCE-135 CE (during which time we have the life of Jesus, the first two generations of the church (30-120 CE), the writings of the New Testament (about 50-100 CE), and the beginnings of Rabbinic Judaism, after the Temple's destruction in 70 CE).


Some wisdom from Walter Brueggemann (1):

In the Jewish Bible, the Former Prophets are Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings, while the Latter Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Twelve (with Ruth, Lamentations and Daniel placed toward the Bible’s end). The Former and Latter Prophets are placed together. Theologically they belong together, too. Walter Brueggemann points out that, in the case of the Former Prophets, the word prophet “refers to the material itself and not to specific prophetic personalities. What is prophetic is the capacity to reconstrue all of lived reality—-including the history of Israel and the power relations of the known world of the ancient Near East—-according to the equally palpable reality (in this reading) of the rule of YHWH” (p. 131).

Thus, Israel’s history is ready through “the singular unrivaled [monotheistic] reality of YHWH” (p. 131). The Christian tendency (that I’ve followed in these notes) to call the Former Prophets “history” misses not only the question of the material’s historical reliability (not always very strong: for instance, in the case of Joshua) but also its prophetic interpretation of Israel’s history (p. 131). Brueggemann continues: “In the Former Prophets, ‘history’ has been transposed into a massive theological commentary on Israel’s past. In the Latter Prophets what began as personal proclamation has been transposed into a theological conviction around YHWH’s promise for the future. both theological commentary… and theological conviction..became a normative, but at the same time quite practical, resource for a commentary living in and through the deep fissure of deportation and displacement… Seen in this way, the prophetic canon that testifies to YHWH’s governance of past, present, and future is an offer of a counterworld, counter to denial and despair, counterrooted in YHWH’s steadfast purpose for a new Jerusalem, new torah, new covenant, new temple—-all things new [and he quotes Isaiah 43:16-21]” (pp. 136-137).

He goes on to note that current scholarship tends to view the Torah and the Former Prophets as a “Primary Narrative” from Promise to Exile, of “land gift” and “land loss,” with the Jordan River functioning as a geographical as well as literary-canonical -theological marker (p. 296). Then, continuing to the Latter Prophets, that material speaks to “land loss” but now, also, to future hope (p. 298).

Furthermore, he continues, we can link prophetic traditions back to the Torah, with Ezekiel linked to the Torah’s priestly traditions, Jeremiah to the Deuteronomistic tradition, the Isaiah to the Yahwist tradition in the sense that the Abrahamic Yahwist material lead to the David-Zion traditions to which Isaiah holds. The Twelve (the minor prophets) in turn, coming from the entire period of the 700s-300s BCE, take us from judgment through exile to future promise (pp. 300-301).


The following are notes that I first posted here. The prophets can be difficult reading, with their seemingly random collections of proclamations, oracles, stories, sermons, and sometimes, enacted prophetic signs. Layers of traditions are often challenging to discern.(2) The prophets use metaphors, allusions, and shifts of narration, which makes good commentaries essential for the modern Bible explorer.  The prophets are also difficult in their tone and themes.  The prophets express God’s anger at the Israelites, who have broken the covenant; in chapter after chapter, we find descriptions of wrongs, promises and descriptions of dreadful punishment, but also tender words and promises for the future.

One of the basic literary units of the prophets is the proclamation: God announces judgment or salvation. These proclamations are addressed to God’s people but sometimes also to neighboring nations. The proclamations in turn made use of different kinds of discourse: indictment and verdict, hymns and songs, collections of sayings, and others. Later prophets also use longer kinds of writing like sermons and narratives. The prophets also record visions, and some include descriptions of their own call.(3)

Because the prophets preached during the time of the historical books (Former Prophets), we find familiar themes in the prophets: the land and the covenant, the threatened loss of the land, the failures of the monarchy, the role of the Temple (and, in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, its loss), and others.  The prophets connect back to God’s promises in Abraham and also the exodus, and also to the promise of David and of Jerusalem as they (the prophets) preached about God’s kingship and covenant.(4)

The relationship of the prophets and the law is complex and is debated by scholars. I cited Brueggemann about some of the connections of traditions. We Christians are liable to read prophetic passages like Jeremiah 7, think of Jesus’ criticisms of the religious leaders of his time, and dismiss the law as “Jewish legalism”, a term I hate.

The prophets, however, do not deny the law but sharply warn that religious ritual must go hand in hand with justice, mercy, righteousness, and the repudiation of idols. Deuteronomy defines the role of prophets (13:1-5, 18:15-22) and upholds Moses himself as the greatest of the prophets (34:10).  Even passages that seem very “anti-law” (like Ez. 20:25, Jer. 7:21-26, and Jer. 8:8) do not abrogate the law and the covenant but call for a deeper faithfulness.(6)Within Judaism, the view has prevailed that “the primary role of the prophet was to serve as a vital link in the transmission of the law from Moses down to the present.”(5)  


One critically important aspect of the Prophets is the concern for social justice. Here is a good site that connects the Prophet's teachings with other biblical narratives. "To speak about God and to think about theology are wonderful pursuits, but the cause of theology is justice for human beings. Loving your neighbor is a sweet sentiment, but doing right by your neighbor will change the world."


In addition to the prophets' messages of warning, grace, and justice, we also find many connections of the prophets and the New Testament.  Prophetic scriptures became crucial for understanding who Jesus is and how his coming fits within and fulfills God’s plans of salvation. A Bible explorer can spend months and years tracing and delving into the prophetic roots of the New Testament.  Here are just a few.(7)

John the Baptist (Isa. 40:3-5, Mal. 4:5-6, Mark 9:1, Luke 1:17)

Jesus’ birth (Isa. 7:14, 9:6-7, 11:1-5, Mic. 5:2, Matt. 2:6, Luke 1:30-33.

Jesus’ authority and teaching (Isa. 6:9-12, 9:1-2, Matt. 4:14-16, 13:14-15)

Jesus the shepherd (Ez. 34:11-16, John 10:7-11)

Jesus’ ministry (Isa. 32:3-4, 35:5-6, 33:22, 42:1-4, 61:1-2, Matt. 9:32-35, 12:17-21, Luke 4:17-21)

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9, Matt. 21:4-5)

Jesus’ sufferings, betrayal, and death (Isa. 52:13-53:12, Zech. 11:12-13, 12:10, 13:7, in addition to Ps. 22, 69, and others)

Jesus’ resurrection (Ez. 37:1-14, Jonah 1:17, Matt. 12:40, and among the psalms Ps. 16:10 and Ps. 110:1)

The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34, Matt. 26:26-29, Rom. 11:26-36, Heb. 8:8-12)

The Temple in relationship to Jesus (Isa. 56:7, Jer. 7:1, Mark 11:15-18, John 2:13-23, Acts 7:47-51)

“The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17)

The Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:16-21)

The redemption of all nations (Isa. 2:1-4, 1 Peter 2:10)

Related to the redemption of the nations: the metaphor of marriage between God and his people (e.g., Hos. 1-3, Rom. 9:25-26, 1 Pet. 2:10, Eph. 5:25, 32, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 9)(8)

The end times (Daniel 7:1-12:13, much of the book of Zechariah, Ez. 38-39). In fact, in a previous chapter I noted several Old Testament references in Revelation and noted that no other New Testament book quotes or alludes to the Old Testament as often.

The issue of the covenant becomes a key for Paul as he preaches about Jesus and the law. For Jews today, the prophetic criticism of faithlessness remains a call for contemporary faithfulness, as I said above; the prophet’s stress upon justice and suitable worship are as timely a Word of God today as in the ancient world. Paul understands faithless as a more basic flaw in both human nature and the law; we cannot keep the law faithfully, and thus we need Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). A passage such as Jeremiah 7:21-26 points to the need for new beginnings (Jer. 31:31-34).

The prophet’s concerns for the poor and for justice are not as apparently strong in the New Testament but are certainly there. In both the Torah and the prophets, God is a God of justice. (The Greek word dikaiosunê, corresponding to tzedakah, means “righteousness” and “justice.”) God takes the side of the poor, downtrodden, and powerless. Luke’s gospel and Matthew 25:31-46 very much echo God’s care for the needy.  You could also think this way: in the Old Testament, God demands justice for the poor, outcast, and powerless. In the New Testament, God also takes the side of those who are spiritually impoverished, the Gentiles, bringing them into the circle of blessing.

Although Christians are quick to stress that Jesus is “more than a prophet,” he was frequently understood to be a prophet--in fact, the hoped-for prophet referred to by Moses (Matt. 21:11, Mark 6:15, 8:28, Luke 7:16, 24:19, John 4:19, 6:14, et al.). Jesus possessed the Spirit in a way that people considered prophetic (Matt. 12:28, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 4:18-20, et al).



1  Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination  (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003). 

2  James L. Mays, general editor, Harper’s Bible Commentary (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988), 534-539.

3  Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992),, 178.

4  Childs, Biblical Theology, 177

5  Harper’s Bible Commentary, 540. The Haftarah Commentary (see my next post) has an essay on Micah 5:6-6:8: “In the concluding verse [6:8] Micah defines the essence of religion: God requires not sacrifice but righteous living. Does Micah thereby suggest that sacrifice (and, by implication, all ritual) was unnecessary, and that the real essence of Judaism was expressed by justice toward others, by loving and caring relationships, and by suitable modesty? The answer is ‘no,’ just as it is for the other prophets who inveighed against mere external observance. It istin the nature of oratory and moral harangue to employ extremes of speech in order to make essential points. Micah does not advocate the abolition of the Temple worship; rather, he censures external observance by persons who  lack devotion to social and ethical principles. Judaism has always been an integrated system of form and substance of ritual and spirituality, for neither is viable without the other.” (p. 393).

         The writer continues by citing the famous passage of the Talmud, Makkot 23b-24a, where Rabbi Simla’i taught that the Torah contains 613 mitzvoth, 248 positive and 365 negative. Then, Psalm 15 condenses them to 11, and Isaiah 33:15-17 to 6, Micah to 3, and Habakkuk 2:4 to just 1. Some of the sages insisted that the commandments should be kept, but nevertheless the commandments can be distilled to a few principles. The writer concludes: “Basing ourselves on the verse in Micah, we would say: Observe as much as you can, and do it in the spirit of the threefold objective of justice, mercy, and modesty. It is not one or the other, but rather both: one in the spirit of the other” (p. 393). 

6  Harper’s Bible Commentary, 540.

7  One handy list of biblical messianic prophecies is found at

8. Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 172-173.

Landscape: Van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, "Factories at Asnieres Seen from the Quai de Clichy" (1887). The Saint Louis Art Museum. From: Copied under fair use principles.