The Unity of the Twelve Minor Prophets

Published: 2021-09-16 17:55:10
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The Book of the twelve Minor Prophets is more than a collection of miscellaneous prophetic materials. The twelve books of the Minor Prophets function as a unified literary work. The trend in modern biblical scholarship is to treat the Book of the Twelve as twelve distinct prophetic compositions that have relatively little to do with each other apart from having been placed in the same collection.
Despite these claims, the literary work of the twelve Minor Prophets remains a multifaceted composition that functions in concert in all Jewish and Christian versions of the Bible. The unity of the book plays out simultaneously as a single prophetic book and as a collection of twelve individual prophetic books revealing overriding elements of unity that if carefully examined would lead to a better understanding of the Old Testament. The Book of the Twelve is counted as one book in the Hebrew canon.
Some scholars say, “The purpose of placing all of this material in one scroll is to make a balance in the Hebrew prophetic canon between the four books of the former prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings), and the four books of the latter prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve). ” People need balance in their lives but there is a much larger message throughout the grand narrative of scripture that regardless of the balancing of material must find its way into the communities of Yahweh’s people and that message finds its way regardless of the arrangement of books. Many others knew of the book of the Twelve as one book.
In the Jewish tradition the Book of the Twelve was identified as tere asar, Aramaic for “The Twelve,” and in Christian tradition as oi dodeka prohetai, or ton dodekaprophton, Greek for the “Twelve Prophets. ” The apocryphal Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach, “Ecclesiasticus” in the 2nd century B. C. E refers in Sir 49:10 to “the bones of the twelve prophets,” suggesting that ben Sirach knew of the Twelve as one book. Flavius Joseph, a 1st century C. E. Jewish historian also considered the Twelve to be one book. Similarly, 4 Ezra 14:41 counts the Twelve among the twenty-four holy books transcribed by Ezra.
Origen, the second-third century Church father counts twenty-two Jewish books of the Old Testament but names only twenty-one leaving many to conclude that he considered the Twelve to be a single book. As well, the Talmudic tradition considers the Twelve to be one book. In the Christian tradition, most always the Twelve Prophets are grouped together, but counted as twelve individually authored books among thirty-nine other books of the Old Testament. The first century C. E. Bishop Melito of Sardis refers to the Twelve as ton dodeka en monobibioi, “The Twelve in one book,” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History iv. 26).
The term “Minor Prophets,” Prohetae minors in Latin, first appears in Latin Christian Patristic sources, such as the work of Augustine (City of God 18:29), and refers to the relative length of the individual works of the Twelve prophets when compared to the larger books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Apparently the term refers to the Twelve as both a collection and as individual works. ” “No common material binds the twelve together; they simply stand according to the order presupposed by the version of the Bible in which they appear, but they invariably function together as one book.
Within the various versions of the Book of the Twelve a great deal of fluidity is revealed in the arrangement of the individual books. According to the Masoretic Text, the Jewish version of the Book of the Twelve, each of the twelve individual books- Hosea; Joel; Amos; Obadiah; Jonah; Micah; Nahum; Habakkuk; Zephaniah; Haggai; Zechariah; and Malachi begin with their own authorization or narrative introduction identifying the prophet and usually provides details toward the historical setting, literary characteristics, or the overall interests of the book.
In this way, individual books are clearly distinguished from the others in the overall framework of the Twelve. The book of the twelve prophets deviates from the normal literary compositions of everyday read versions of the Bible. The Greek Septuagint (LXX) has represented the basis for the Old Testament canon from the earliest times of the Church. The earliest manuscripts of the LXX, Codex Vaticanus, and Codex Sinaiticus dating to the fourth century, along with later LXX manuscripts appear to have the same order for the Twelve. The scrolls of the Twelve found in the Judean Wilderness, those from Qumran cave 4, and later
Christian versions of the Bible display the Twelve Prophets in the same order as the MT. Only after the destruction of the second Temple were variations of the Twelve Prophets beginning to surface, however there is no evidence that these represent an authoritative sequence from antiquity. The issue of dealing with the Twelve Prophets as one book is as much a mystery as it is a rare subject of study. My argument will now proceed from the Book of the Twelve as a single prophetic book to the elements that reveal an overall unity of the message and themes.
It is instructive to note how prophecy has been treated in the past so questions can arise about future interpretation. In this way the old can inform the new. ” Scholarship from the last century dealing with prophecy has taught that all types of criticism recognize the historical fact of the form of the twelve. They also note that the twelve were considered a single book by the ancient Church, and pose that the date of the books and catchwords in the books explain in some ways the present arrangement.
Unfortunately for these scholars no convincing theory exists of how, or if, the twelve books function as one unified, canonical construction. After a broad sweep of comparisons, form critics and rhetorical analysis offers some hope to one searching for unity of the Twelve Prophets because both methods assume the importance of the written text. Predominantly studies on the twelve have focused on their diversity rather than their unity. Much stress has been placed on the many elements that combined to give us the canonical text that we posses instead of the canonical text itself.
Two other methodologies offer hope for discovering unity in the twelve first, canonical criticism because it asks the right questions to discover unity. The second, literary criticism, provides the actual means of uncovering unity. After much research it would appear that the work done on the prophets has been quite exhaustive. The unity of the Twelve Prophets remains an unsolved critical question, perhaps because it remains unexplored. If we could better understand the unifying message of the prophets we could explain how the community of faith dealt with prophecy and how it affected them.
We would discover the Twelve to be not-so Minor Prophets after all thereby improving the academy and the Church. “Having been treated to the wealth of the preaching material in The Twelve, however I realized there was still more to say. Indeed the riches of the word of God to be found in the Minor Prophets’ writings are almost inexhaustible. ” There common themes that are weaved throughout The Book of the Twelve as revealed in both the MT and the LXX that serve to reveal the unifying message of the “Minor” Prophets.
Neither the LXX nor the MT version of the Book of the Twelve is clearly arranged in chronological order. Both sequences, nevertheless, appear to represent concerns with the punishment of both Israel and Judah during the monarchic period and with the restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple in the post exilic period. It is important to note that both version begin with Hosea, wich metaphorically portrays YHWH as a husband who divorces His bride Israel to demonstrate the interruption of their relationship as Israel is destroyed by the Assyrians in the eight century B.C. E.
Both versions end with Malachi, who states that YHWH hates divorce and calls upon His people to hold firm to the covenant as YHWH’s messenger approaches. The theme Day of YHWH as a day of punishment for both Israel/Judah and the nations when YHWH’s sovereignty is manifested at Zion permeates the books of Twelve Prophets in each version as well. Some scholars raise questions concerning the diachronic formations pointing to the differences in hermeneutical and sequencing perspectives in the two versions.
The Masoretic version of the Book of the Twelve arranges the individual books in a sequence that emphasizes reflection on the fate of Jerusalem from the latter half of the monarchic period when the Assyrian empire began to threaten the region, and finally through the time of the Persian period restoration. To a certain degree the Book of the Twelve engage in debate with Isaiah, which offers a similar reflection. Isaiah envisions one particular fate for Israel and the Book of the Twelve envisions another position. Such differing opinions point to the fundamental role of dialogue among the various prophetic books, namely the prophets do not speak with a monolithic voice. Instead, they express a variety of viewpoints in their attempts to discern divine purpose in the world of human experiences. ”
The Twelve Minor Prophets are arranged as a unified literary work. If one possess at least a basic understanding of the prophetic genre then the pieces that make a literary piece a coherent construction- the structure, plot, characterization, and narration of The Twelve clearly reveal an operative nity. The structure and plot present the story the characters give that story life, and the narrative framework provides an audience of which the story was intended. The Twelve Prophets didn’t choose their messages by chance or as a matter of convenience. The prophets declare an urgent message of sin, judgment, and restoration in a unique way. Some of the Minor Prophets have all of these themes in their messages while others display one or more but not all. In The Twelve Prophets those that portray some but not all the traits combine with other books to reveal the prophetic warnings and promises.
The way the Twelve Prophets use imitation or narration for example displays conscious effort to deliver a specific message. The evident unity in literary design of the twelve books reveals a high possibility that unity exists in other spheres as well, such as the structure, and plot. None of the books vary from the accepted notions of prophecy, whether notions from neither major nor minor prophets, nor do any of the Twelve Prophets depart significantly from the basic literary form.
The unity within the Book of the Twelve that has been argued for comes from the oft neglected “Minor” prophets. These Prophets are God’s narrator agents who have captured for their readers the intentions of the Lord, the author behind the whole book. Our task is to pay close attention the words spoken. “Through the words of his historians and prophets, psalmist and wisdom teachers, priests and lawgivers, God has formed our faith, instructed our piety in proper reverence and awe, awakened our expectations of his working, and bent our wills to his desires and goals.

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