George J. Brooke and Ariel Feldman eds., On Prophets, Warriors, and Kings: Former Prophets Through the Eyes of their Interpreters (BZAW 470), VI + 268 p., € 99,95, Berlin: De Gruyter 2016, ISBN 978-3-11-037738-5.
In addition to a brief Preface and Introduction, this collection of essays contains eleven studies that were presented as part of a conference on the interpretation of the Former Prophets of the Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School in 2014. This conference brought together various scholars who explored how the Former Prophets have been read, interpreted, and utilized throughout the ages. The Introduction of the volume provides a brief overview of each essay, allowing each study to speak independently, but does not provide any prevailing ideology for the organization of the essays. However, the essays work together in a meaningful way that is worthy of the attention of scholars in numerous fields. While the conference theme tied each presentation to the Former prophets, the studies effectively fit into groupings that emphasize their specific approach to interpretation. The first segment of essays analyze how figures from the period of the Former Prophets are reinterpreted in later “biblical” books. The most dominant collection of essays present traditions from antiquity that are lost from the Hebrew Bible record but are re-introduced through later texts. The final grouping looks at how modern analysis can improve our interpretation of the Former Prophets. Reviewing the essays in this fashion creates a mosaic from the assortment of pieces.
The opening line of Serge Frolov’s essay, “The Comeback of Comebacks: David, Bathsheba, and the Prophets in the Song of Songs,” provides a fitting introduction to the first three essays in the volume. Frolov states, “No biblical book is an island” (41). He emphasizes the interconnectivity of the books of the Hebrew Bible and later authors interest in their predecessor’s works. Arguments of canonicity aside, the awareness and altered representation of the figures of David, Bathsheba, and the Prophets in Song of Songs for Frolov, Solomon in Ecclesiastes for Timothy J. Sandoval in his essay, “Reconfiguring Solomon in the Royal Fiction of Ecclesiastes,” and Ben Sira for Claudia V. Camp in her essay, “Killing the Father: Gender and the Figure of Solomon in Ben Sira’s Hymn to the Fathers” are well attested.
Appearing first in the volume, Sandoval analyzes ways in which Ecclesiastes re-figures the character of Solomon from the Former Prophets for its own rhetorical ends. The article concludes that “the royal fiction of Ecclesiastes 1:12–2:26 evokes or constructs an image of Solomon that parallels a largely non- or pre-deuteronomistic representation of Solomon in 1 Kings” (13). Frolov makes a similar observation of figures from the Former Prophets in the Song of Songs. He concludes that the Song of Songs, “can be plausibly and profitably read as presupposing and closely interacting with both the Former and Latter Prophets” (44) and that “echoes of the Former Prophets play a central role in the book’s thrust” (60) to warrant inclusion in the canon. Camp weaves both Sandoval’s and Frolov’s frames together analyzing Ben Sira’s representation of Solomon. Camp observes Ben Sira’s Solomon as, “a recursive figure that refracts certain themes of the book as a whole in such a way as to destabilized the apparent tried-and-true nature of the author’s teaching” (65). Working together, these essays emphasize that the authors of later “biblical” texts used the Former Prophets as prominent source materials to gain acceptance into later canons and to clarify or emphasize different perspectives of history and Jewish teachings.
The second grouping of essays are best introduced by Matthias Henze’s observation that, “by casting our net wide, wider perhaps than is usually done, we have found obvious points of similarities between the diverse text traditions and their understandings…that otherwise would have gone unnoticed” (228). Henze’s article, “King Manasseh of Judah in Early Judaism and Christianity,” attempts to restore an ancient image of King Manasseh, and the other essays in this grouping similarly aim to restore antique traditions that are unclear or omitted from biblical texts.
Ariel Feldman in his article, “The Book of Judges in Early Jewish Interpretation: The Contribution of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” assesses early Jewish exegesis of the book of Judges. Feldman concludes that the degree of variation found in the Judges material from Qumran necessitates a more nuanced view of the textual history of Judges in the Second Temple Period. George Brooke’s article, “Zedekiah, Covenant, and the Scrolls from Qumran,” combats negative representations of Zedekiah in later biblical interpretations to restore the Second Temple image of the king to covenants made with Jeremiah and David. In a joint article, George Brook and Hindy Najman present a history of the vision of David titled, “Dethroning David and Enthroning Messiah: Jewish and Christian Perspectives.” Here they conclude that, “the explicit connection between David and messianism emerges only late in surviving Second Temple Jewish literature” (9). Brooke and Najman move the discussion even further, stating that this example of David is one of the many developing traditions that should surprise scholars as being different from previous conclusions attested. Some of these late traditions, “may not be features on which earlier communities focused.” (113).
The final two essays in this grouping, Warren Carter’s “Septuagint Joshua and Matthew’s Jesus: Salvation and Land Wars?” and Shelly Matthews’ “Elijah, Ezekiel, and Romulus: Luke’s Flesh and Bones (Luke 24:39) in Light of Ancient Narratives of Ascent, Resurrection, and Apotheosis,” focus on how reinterpreting the original meaning of traditions in the Former Prophets can complicate their use in the New Testament. Carter emphasizes that Matthew’s Gospel brings forward Joshua’s preoccupation with occupying the promised land and “constructs the eschatological Jesus as one who will in a final battle violently secure global land…and establish God’s rule over heaven and earth” (143). Matthews’ work similarly reinterprets resurrection and combats ideologies about the imminent eschaton. She concludes, “The Third Gospel asserts that Jesus was resurrected in flesh and bones as a means to establish continuity between life before death and life after death, signaling the postponement of restoration into the distant future…. making Christianity lose its sectarian edge and becoming more at home in the world.” (163). Taken collectively this grouping of essays broadens the study of intertextuality and uses interpretation to restore forgotten histories.
The final grouping of essays brings interpretation to the modern era. Ariel Feldman, Faina Feldman, Joseph McDonald, and Ron Serino introduce a new online resource that attempts to collect and utilize quotations and allusions to the entire Hebrew Bible more effectively. In “Probing the Former Prophets with a New Online Tool for the Study of Biblical Quotations and Allusions in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” the authors describe their new online resource, http://bibledeadseascrolls.com/. This tutorial exemplifies how modern technology can help scholars better understand interpretations of the Former Prophets through analysis of their Dead Sea Scroll quotations. Coupled with the website, this step by step tutorial is a valuable resource for scholars. In a more retrospective tone, Scott Langston’s haunting article “’A Running Thread of Ideals’: Joshua and the Israelite Conquest in American History,” analyzes how Americans have connected themselves to the ‘historicity’ of Joshua, Abraham, and the Exodus and “created an interesting interplay between the ideas of promise, fulfillment, freedom, and conquest and given subsequent readers opportunities to re-apply these ideas to their own situations” (229). This magnificent intellectual history of interpretations of Joshua and the Israelite Conquest in America serves as a stark reminder of the effects that biblical interpretation can have. Langston warns scholars of interpretation’s influence, writing, “the use and impact of a biblical text cannot be separated from its meaning and that its meaning cannot be separated from the specific cultural and social values surrounding the situation in which a text is used” (263).
When pieced together, these essays create a mosaic about biblical interpretation that is illuminating, challenging, insightful, and beneficial for any scholar related to the texts or reception of the Hebrew Bible.
Joshua M. Matson is a PhD Student in Religions of Western Antiquity at Florida State University