The Oxford Handbook of the Prophets

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Carolyn Sharp
Oxford Handbooks
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , October
     768 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Studies exploring the prophets of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament have been a significant part of biblical scholarship over the past several centuries. In early critical scholarship the prophets played a crucial role in reconstructions of Israel’s history as well as in theories concerning the development of Israel’s writings. This central role was due, in part, to the assumption that these dominating prophetic personalities were the voices of authentic Israelite religion, often juxtaposed with voices of the law and the priesthood (see, for example, the work of Julius Wellhausen). In such studies, the historicity of the prophets and the singular nature of their revelatory messages were generally taken for granted. Over time, however, scholarship has grappled with a much more complex picture—from the discovery of other prophetic-type material in the ancient Near East, to questions concerning the historicity of the prophets and the development of the books that bear their names, to reader-centered concerns which ask serious questions about the way in which these texts are used and the impact which they have had. While the prophets have remained central to the study of the Hebrew Bible, engagement with the prophets has become increasingly diverse and multifaceted as the various developments that have impacted the broader field of biblical studies have been brought to bear on the prophetic literature.

It is this diverse field of scholarship that is the focus of The Oxford Handbook of the Prophets, skillfully edited by Carolyn J. Sharp. This project is no small feat, bearing in mind the issues noted above, as well as the size of the prophetic corpus, in this case the “latter prophets”: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of the Twelve Prophets (or the Minor Prophets). With thirty-seven chapters, and coming in at over 700 pages, The Oxford Handbook of the Prophets is substantial, both in content and size.

The volume is broken down into three main parts with various sub-sections. The first part of the book looks to contextualize the prophets. Here, attention is given to ancient social and cultic contexts, as well as methodological, historical, and textual issues. The contributors here are world class, and explore the material clearly and carefully. Readers will gain much from these chapters, including Martti Nissinen’s essay on prophecy in the ancient Near East, Lester Grabbe’s discussion of prophecy and priesthood, Brent Strawn’s exploration of the prophets and material culture, and H.G.M. Williamson’s contribution on history and memory in the prophets.

The second part of the volume is focused on “Interpreting the Prophets,” and again there are several subsections, including literary criticism, topical studies, and reception history. In the first of these subsections, essays explore the structure, themes, and contested issues within the prophets under discussion, along with chapters on various interpretive issues and approaches, such as apocalyptic literature, metaphor, genre criticism, and redaction criticism. The subsection focusing on topical studies includes investigations of the prophetic persona, prophetic texts as survival literature, and the question of God and violence in the prophets. Finally, in exploring reception history, contributors look at the reception of the prophets in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the New Testament, in the rabbis, in early Christianity, and in medieval interpretation. There is much on which to ruminate in these chapters, including very helpful contributions from Mark Leuchter (Jeremiah), Andrew Mein (Ezekiel), Anathea Portier-Young (Daniel and Apocalyptic Imagination), L. Juliana Claassens (God and Violence), J. Ross Wagner (New Testament), Isaac Gottlieb (rabbinic reception), and Mary Chilton Callaway (medieval reception).

The final part of the volume is entitled “Engaging the Prophets.” Its first subsection looks at situated readings, including explorations of Jewish, feminist, womanist, postcolonial, and queer readings of the prophets. The subsequent section, focusing on interdisciplinary interventions, explores the prophets in light of theology, ethics, pastoral care, and homiletics. Two concluding essays look at possible trajectories into the future of the study of the prophets. The contributions in this final part of the volume are thought-provoking and engaging, with able voices guiding the reader, including Marvin Sweeney (Jewish readings), Christl Maier (feminist readings), Steed Davidson (postcolonial readings), and Walter Brueggemann (the future of prophetic studies).

This is a substantial and important volume. As noted above, introducing the academic study of the prophets in all of its complexity is no small task, and Sharp is to be commended on the thoroughness of the volume, along with the accessibility of the essays. The lists of further reading recommended for each essay are very helpful in and of themselves, and the indices will be a boon for those making use of the volume for study and research. With seasoned scholars leading the way, this volume will be a valuable resource for researchers, instructors, and students.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Bradford A. Anderson is Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Dublin City University.

Date of Review: 
December 28, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Carolyn J. Sharp is Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at Yale Divinity School. She is interested in literary analysis, critical theory, feminist interpretation, homiletical theory and praxis, and intersections of theology and ethics in pedagogy. Her books include Prophecy and Ideology in Jeremiah (2003), Irony and Meaning in the Hebrew Bible (2009), and Wrestling the Word: The Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Believer (2010). 



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