Hebrew Prophets vs ANE Prophets?

One of my dissertation supervisors told me to pick a language (Greek or Hebrew), pick a genre and then specialize within that area. Thus I’ve decided to be an Old Testament Hebrew scholar focused on the prophets. I think that my final specialization, due to dissertation will be minor prophets and their backgrounds.

When considering how to understand and study prophets there are several major things to get right. 1. The rules of interpreting prophetic literature. 2. The difference between Hebrew prophets and other ANE prophets. 3. The call and role of israelite prophets.

To fully grasp Hebrew prophetic literature you must understand the difference from surrounding prophetic literature. Gary Smith in his Interpreting the Prophetic Books outlined three differences between biblical and the Neo-Assyrian prophecies:

  1. The Assyrian prophets depended on information and direction from several gods (Bel/Marduk, Sin, Nabu, Ashur, Ishtar, Shamash) as opposed to one all-powerful God in Hebrew prophecy.
  2. The Assyria prophets produced positive and supportive oracles, while the biblical prophecies included far more critical prophecies.
  3. The Assyrian prophecies were quite brief, so there was nothing similar to the length of the biblical prophecies. (Pg. 97)

The difference between Hebrew and ANE prophets directly affected how people respected the Prophets of Yahweh.

  • Example, the 400 Baal prophets told Ahab and Jehoshapaht to go to war, for victory was theirs (1 Kings 22:1-6, 10-12).
  • Contrast, Micaiah son of Imlah, a true prophet of Yahweh, said that Israel would lose the war and Ahab would be killed (1 Kings 22:8-9, 17).
  • Example, false prophets were just interested in the money (Jer. 6:13; Mic. 3:5-6; Zeph. 3:4),
  • Example, another problem was that many priests and prophets did not teach the people about God’s instructions in the Torah (Jer. 2:8; Hos. 4:5-6)
  • Example, religious leaders incited the crowds to kill a true prophet (Jer. 26).
  • Example, worst of all...many false prophets claimed to be inspired by the God of Israel (Jer. 23:25-30; 29:1-3).

SO, now you see why it was so hard for Israelites to accept the message of Hebrew prophets.

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