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Title: The office and function of prophet in ancient Israel, with special reference to Amos and Jeremiah
Author: Pilkington, C. M.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1976
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This study seeks to examine the nature of the prophetic 'office'. Chapter I considers the difficulties which arise from the variety and lack of clarity in the terminology applied to prophets and their activity. Developments in usage and in the phenomena of prophecy itself allow us to accumulate little 'clear' information about the position and function(s) of the prophets in Israelite society. In canonical prophecy, however, the stress is clearly on the word which the prophet must deliver. Chapter II is chiefly concerned with early or, at least, non-canonical prophecy. Although the divisions between 'types' of prophets are far from being clearcut, it is argued that all the 'types' discussed, 'ecstatic', 'institutional', 'cultic', and 'false', are set over against the canonical prophets. It is found that in the early period there are few prophets who hold an office in the sense of an institutional appointment with defined functions. The dominant impression of canonical prophecy_ is of non-institutional activity. The 'false' prophets seem to be pinked with the cult and to have the function of proclaiming weal, but the distinctions between them and the canonical prophets, who proclaim predominantly woe, are not sufficiently clearcut to permit the description of the one as official and the other as unofficial. The examination of prophetic functions in chapter III similarly leads to the conclusion that the canonical prophets lack an office in the sense defined. Examination of passages in Jer. confirms the conclusion of chapter II that the canonical prophets are at odds with those prophets who prophesy ? unfailing. The cult would be an appropriate setting for these proclamations of ? and thus we may see here evidence of official cultic prophets, but this supports the contention that Jeremiah himself did not hold a cultic office. The main evidence for cultic prophecy, the oracular elements in the ? is found to be inconclusive, in that they could come from priests rather than prophets. From an examination of some of the Psalms which Mowinckel considers to contain prophetic elements, it is argued that the style and functions there evidenced are more priestly than prophetic. If, however, cultic prophecy is the explanation of these elements, then such prophecy would seem to be of a different type from canonical prophecy, issuing from a different understanding of the prophetic task. The cultic prophet's function is to secure weal for Israel; the canonical prophet's function is to proclaim Yahweh's message to Israel, whether it be one of weal or woe. Alternative suggestions for a prophetic office are unconvincing. The notion of the canonical prophet as 'law-speaker' has little to support and much to oppose it. It is doubtful whether such an office existed and even more doubtful whether any of the canonical prophets held it. The proclamation of the law was a priestly task. The prophets proclaimed the law, in the sense of God's will and word, but this proclamation went beyond the cultic framework and lacked defined limits. Intercession was a prophetic function, in that prophets performed it, but again this was not bound to the cult. In the cult, a favourable reply was expected, whilst the intercessions of Amos and Jeremiah reveal that an unfavourable reply could be given. This intercessory function was linked to the prophet's chief function of proclaiming God's word. It militates against the idea that there was an institutional prophetic office. Rather it indicates an attempt to give the prophet, without permanent and established powers, an authority comparable to that of the other office-bearers, judge, king, and priest. Unless the hypothesis of an amphictyonic covenant-mediator is accepted, a presentation of the prophetic role and not an historical reality is all that Dt.18 represents. It is, therefore, not helpful in understanding the canonical prophets, except in so far as Deuteronomistic editing is evident in their books, where this peculiar presentation of their role may also occur. Chapter IV concerns the prophet's own conception of his 'office', as distinct from the offices rejected in chapter III. There is little in Am. to suggest that the prophet had a cultic position, even where cultic forms of speech are employed. The forms are not exclusively cultic and the content of the messages as expressed breaks the bounds of what we know to have been declared in the cult. Other passages show Amos's criticism of the cult of his day and make it even more unlikely that he held any cultic office. Jeremiah's 'Confessions' are reminiscent of the traditional lament in form and content, but also go beyond it. There are no indications of cultic involvement, let alone office, in the sense of institutional appointment with defined functions. Rather, the 'Confessions' reflect the efforts of a man to work out what it meant to be a prophet, and all that is clear to him is his divine appointment and compulsion to proclaim Yahweh's word. The call narrative in Jer. suggests the existence of a call-form. This form contains few cultic motifs and its purpose seems to be to authenticate the message and legitimate the messenger who lacks human 'authoriy and-status'. The stress is on the irresistible constraint to proclaim Yahweh's word which characterises the canonical prophet, as also illustrated in the formulas introducing his message. That the narrative is preserved with a purpose in no way diminishes the reality of the experience of call, but rather emphasises that the prophet understood himself to be Yahweh's messenger. There are motifs and terms here which are applied not exclusively to the prophet but also to the nation. Nonetheless, the prophet is set apart in his relationship to God and in his task of proclaiming his word. That the office of the canonical prophet is that of being Yahweh's messenger is further argued in the concluding chapter. The prophet stands in a unique position because of his 'knowledge of Yahweh'. The purpose of his prophetic experience lies in his reception of the word which he has to declare to the people who lack true 'knowledge of Yahweh'. Am.7:10-17 is examined as an illustration of the conflict which arises because the canonical prophet has no institutional office whilst claiming an 'office' from God. When challenged the prophet has to declare what he is about and why, and thus we have here insight into the prophet's understanding of his office. The prophet refers to his call to proclaim a message of judgement to Israel. In reply to the institutional authority of the priest, he may only appeal to the authority given to him by Yahweh, which is beyond proof and yet also beyond question. Throughout the thesis it is argued that for the canonical prophet the reception and delivery of Yahweh's word is of paramount importance. It is suggested that in Am.7:10-17 we see the canonical prophet's office, the supreme office of being Yahweh's messenger. A brief consideration of ancient Near Eastern parallels further suggests that the canonical prophet of Israel was a distinctive, non-professional, divinely commissioned messenger.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available