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Prophetic Literature (Interpreting Biblical…

Prophetic Literature (Interpreting Biblical Texts)

by Marvin A. Sweeney

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Sweeney's entry in Abingdon's IBT series presents a good summation of current critical scholarship on the prophetic books with a nice sensitivity to the impact of literary structure and canonical placement on the overall theological message of each prophetic book. Though Sweeney is very careful not to "tip his hand" on his opinions of the various compositional theories (using phrases like "Many scholars think..." or "Most scholars agree..."), it is clear that he has no particular issues with the various current reconstructions. While such an approach is perfectly fine, in and of itself, it creates this rather odd contradiction of side-by-side "synchronic" and "diachronic" readings that never really reconcile with each other. To a conservative eye like mine, it looks very much like, "Here's what the prophetic book ACTUALLY says...and here's what critical scholars speculate it SHOULD HAVE said." For example, Sweeney notes that many scholars think Zechariah's vision of Joshua's enthronement was ORIGINALLY a vision of Zerubbabel's enthronement...though there is no real textual evidence for such an assumption. Sweeney does not succeed very well in making the historical reconstructions and various compositional theories sound convincing. I found myself wondering at points how much Sweeney himself believed in the theories he was explaining or if he was simply obliged to include them; there was a decided lack of "enthusiasm" in the claims about the compositional processes that actually works, I think, AGAINST the book.

Sweeney, however, is one of the few critical scholars who maintains a good theological sense of the text as a whole, able to trace in broad strokes (as a survey requires) the overarching messages and themes, their interconnections and echoes, as well as their distinctives and even disagreements with each other. I think Sweeney's scholarly gifts shine particularly bright in his presentation of the Minor Prophets as a single "Book of the Twelve," especially when he demonstrates how the different ordering of the books give the LXX and MT versions of the Twelve very distinctive theological emphases. (Sweeney has carried this work forward in MUCH greater detail in his 2 volume commentary on the Minor Prophets in the Berit Olam series.)

My rating of the book has more to do with my rather low opinion of most compositional theories as exercises in futile speculation; they are interesting, of course, but in the end, cannot be proven or debunked...there simply is insufficient evidence to make those kind of judgments. Sweeney is a very capable writer, whose diction is clear and easy-to-read. I do not think this will be my first recommendation to a beginning scholar looking to acquaint themselves with the key interpretive issues and discussions in OT prophetic literature but it IS a survey worthy of at least one read, if for no other reason than to see clearly the contrast between diachronic and synchronic approaches to these texts. ( )
  Jared_Runck | Jun 27, 2017 |
Bible, O.T. Commentary
  CPI | Jun 30, 2016 |
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