Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Prophecy, the Prophetic Imagination, Hermeneutics Part 1

Currently, I'm working through D. Brent Sandy's Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic (IVP, 2002). I'm about a third of the way through it, and I am compelled by Sandy's methodology and research abilities, his literary prowess, and thoughtfulness. What is more, I'm exegetically working through portions of the prophets (i.e. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel) in Hebrew, a fascinating venture.

Moreover, I'm being challenged to rethink, or think afresh concerning texts commonly held within popular level Christianity as so-called "direct" or "clear" messianic prophecies. Today, we focused on Jeremiah 23:5-6, in light of Jeremiah 33, arguably an exilic reflection on the originally pre-exilic oracle in 23:5-6. Of late, I was already pondering the state of Jewish apocalypticism pertaining to the development of messianism (as should be obvious from virtually every post on this blog). However, some of my initial suspicions are now being framed in a new, and indeed, more lucid landscape.

My current work, albeit only initial investigations of classical Israelite prophecy, happens to be directly impacting my thinking in other areas. What I'm seeing now in Jeremiah is as follows. Firstly, there is no trace of messianic expectation from a contextual (i.e. historical-exegetical) standpoint in Jeremiah. The "righteous branch" or more properly "legitimate scion" (a phrase I borrow from Dr. Gordon Johnston) is a prophetic expectation not of an individual, but of the restoration of a Davidic dynasty. This is confirmed by both a) the immediate context and b) Jer 33. What is so important about this observation is the implications, namely, there is no eschatological messianism present until at least Zechariah or the Second Temple period. Hence, many traditional passages often "clearly" messianic in traditional interpretation, in terms of their Sitz im Leben were nothing of the kind. What does this mean? On one level, the passage in Jeremiah shows that what takes place in Zech is a projection, in light of the apparent failure of the expected Davidic lineage of kings to sit on the throne again, of the apocalyptic imagination, albeit inspired by the Spirit, in resistance to the Yahwists' socio-political situation (oppression, subjugation, etc) of an eschatological figure. That is, a dynamic transformation takes place between the exile and the Second Temple period, the reorientation of Israelite future prophetic expectation, via apocalyptic expectation, of a archetypal Davidic kingly figure. This figure is initially shrouded in apocalyptic ambiguity, appearing "like" a human, often as angelic, sometimes as military victor, elsewhere as priestly ruler.

Much more has to be said about this, and even now I am merely focusing my thoughts. Any feedback would be much appreciated.

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