The Prophets

Judges: Shphat - shaw-fat, from a verb meaning to pronounce sentence for or against, to vindicate or punish, by extension to govern.

Seers: Rh - raw-aw, from the verb meaning to see.

Prophets: - nby (plural Neviim) - naw-bee, to speak, call, or sing.

Perhaps it would be true to say that prophecy had always been present in the religion of the Hebrews since charismatic religious leadership was typical of leaders as early as Moses himself. The figures of early Israel such as Joshua and the figures from the book of Judges are called "judges." Samuel, Nathan, and Gad who were contemporary with the United Kingdom are called "seers" (see 1Samuel 9:9). The earlier books which are considered Nevi'im in the Hebrew Bible are classed among the historical books of the Christian Old Testament (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings). So the prophets according to the Christian classification began in the middle of the ninth century BCE. Beginning as the more-or-less typical ecstatic or shamanic religious leaders that would have been familiar in their time, the Hebrew Prophets were reinterpreted (particulalry in the Deuteronomic Strand of the text) as those people who could most accurately claim to know the will of their God, and thus could most reliably advise the people and especially the Kings how to observe the Covenent that was so central to the Deuteronomic understanding of their destiny.

From the earliest times, according to the text, the prophets were seen as interpreters of the written Torah, particularly the prophetess Huldah in 2 Kings 14: (2 Kings 22: 3-20). Thus the Deuteronomic theology of reward and retribution based on the observance of the Covenant is emphasized at the same time as the importance of the text compiled by the Deuteronomic editors is emphasized as a source of knowledge of that Covenant. Understandably, the literature based on this powerful constellation of ideas became popular and influential in Hebrew culture.

Factors contributing to the rise of the prophecy and prophetic literature.

1. Threats to the worship of Yahweh, especially the emphasis on the worship of Baal under king Ahab (869 - 850) and his queen, Jezebel, who actively oppressed Yahwism (1 Kings 18:4).

2. Economic and social development in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah which produced an oppressed lower class. The theology of the prophets insisted that all Hebrews were equal insofar as they followed the Mosaic Law.

3. The political instability caused by the Assyrians' return to international dominance and, of course, the division of the Jewish nation into two kingdoms after the death of Solomon (920).

Types of material in Prophetic Literature.

1. Autobiographical
2. Biographical
3. Oracles and sermons

This diversity reflects the presence of material from both the prophets and their followers.

Major Features of Prophetic Literature.

The prophet's call (Jeremiah 1:6), (Ezekiel 1:4), (Isaiah 6:1-13)
Reports of visions (Zecheriah 5), (Ezekiel 1:4, 40:2), (Isaiah 6:1)
Symbolic language (Jeremiah 18:1-6), (Amos 7:7-9), (Hosea 1:6-7), (Hosea 2:16-20 and 3:1-5), (Jeremiah 1:11-16)
Symbolic action (Jeremiah 27:1-7 and 28:10-17), (Ezekiel 4:1-11 and 5:1-12),
(Ezekiel 12:1-20 and 24:15-24), (Ezekiel 37:15-22 and Isaiah 20:1-6)

Confrontation with kings (Jeremiah 36:27), (1 Kings 22:8), (Isaiah 7:1-19)
Although they also served as counselors to the Kings (2 Samuel 7:1-5 and 1 Kings 1:11-14)
The Prophets often oppose social inequality (Amos 8:4-6 and Jeremiah 7:5; 22:13, and Ezekiel 18:7 and Isaiah 1:17; 3:14-15; 10:1-2)
and pass judgement ... (Amos 1), (Ezekiel 28:20-26, 29:2-21), (Isaiah 47:1).
... including judgement on those who exploit the poor and the powerless (Jeremiah 5:25-29; Amos 2:6-8; Isaiah 10:1-3)

Oracles (Jeremiah 46:2), (Ezekiel 27), (Isaiah 13:1, 15:1, 19:1).
Obedience/repentance (Jeremiah 3:14), (Ezekiel 18:32), (Isaiah 40:12).
Assurance of deliverance (Jeremiah 30:18), (Ezekiel 18:32), (Isaiah 40:12).

Other important elements of the prophetic theology.

Explicit monotheism - (Isaiah 45:5,14,18), (Zechariah 14:9)..

Discussion of the Free will/Determinism question - (Ezekiel 3:18).

Concept of vicarious suffering - (Isaiah 50:6-8, 53:3-5,12).

Growing Messianism - (Isaiah 52:13), (Malachi 3:1), (Micah 5:2).

Strong ethical content - (Zecheriah 8:16), (Ezekiel 18:5), (Jeremiah 22:13).

Emphasis on Divine Justice and mercy - (Ezekiel 18:19,32), (Jeremiah 30:18).

Growing concept of afterlife - (2 Kings 2:11), (Isaiah 27:13) but cf. (Ezekiel 37).

The Divisions of the Book of Isaiah.

Proto-Isaiah, 1 - 39.
1. Biographical details of the life of Isaiah.
2. Assyria as major power.
3. Exile as future threat.
4. Emphasis on the judgement to come.
5. Implicit monotheism.
Usually dated before 587 in Jerusalem
(But note that the "Isaiah Apocalypse" of chapters 24-27 is dated to 540-425 by the Oxford Companion to the Bible and even later by some other scholars, eg. Almut Hinze, who dates it to the third or second century B.C.E.--The Saviour and the Dragon in Iranian and Jewish/Christian Eschatology, p. 80. This is an important passage to date since it contains one of the few references to the resurrection of the dead: Isaiah 26:14-19.)

Deutero-Isaiah, 40 - 55.
1. No biographical details.
2. Babylon as major power and Persia growing.
3. Exile as present suffering.
4. Emphasis on redemption.
5. Explicit monotheism.
Generally said to be shortly before 538 in Babylon but shows clear evidence of awareness of the return to Jerusalem and the Restoration.

Trito-Isaiah, 55 - 66. Very similar to Deutero-Isaiah but contains evidence of the Persian takeover and the return from Exile.
Unquestionably after 539 in Jerusalem

Chapters 36 - 39 appear to be historical narratives edited into the book from 2 Kings 18:13 to 20:19 at a later date. Chapters 24 - 27 is proto-Apocalyptic, a literary style which developed only after the return from Exile and so is also probably a later editorial addition. Chapters 13 - 23 also appear to be later additions. Some scholars think that both chapters 34-35 and 60-62 belong more appropriately to Second Isaiah. This could still leave Chs. 1 - 12 and 27 - 33 as original material deriving directly from the late 7th and early 6th centuries BCE.

Approximate represented date of activity (BCE)


Biblical Source

Comments and probable locations





Book of Joshua
Book of Samuel
I Kings 17-21,
II Kings 11 - 211

NB. Like Enoch (Gen 521-24) Elijah did not die an ordinary death (2Kings211) This sets a precedent  for the belief in an afterlife and in Elijah's return.It also sets a precedent for the lack of any direct mention of a prophet's death.

FP. Israel.



I Kings 228-29

FP. Israel.



II Kings 2 - 10

FP. Israel.



Book of Amos

LP*. Israel.



Book of Hosea

LP*. Israel.

The Assyrians destroy the northern kingdom of Israel in 722.


Isaiah (1)

Book of Isaiah (1-39)

LP. Jerusalem (Judah).



Book of Micah

LP*. Judah.



Book of Zephaniah

LP*. Judah.



Book of Jeremiah

LP. Judah.

after 612


Book of Nahum

LP*. Location uncertain



Book of Habbakuk

LP*. Judah.



Book of Ezekiel

LP. Babylon

The Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and Exile Judah in 587.

after 587


Book of Obadiah

LP*. Judah.


Isaiah (2)

Book of Isaiah (40-55)

LP. Babylon



Book of Haggai

LP*. Jerusalem.



Book of Zechariah

LP*. Jerusalem.



Book of Isaiah (56-66)

LP. Jerusalem.

before 458


Book of Malachi

Note reference to Messiah to come 31.

LP*. Jerusalem.



Book of Joel
LP*. Jerusalem.



Book of Jonah
LP*. This is an unusual satire.

FP - indicates the "Former Prophets" of the Nevi'im (otherwise known as the Deuteronomistic History and classed as "Historical Books" in English Christian Bibles)

LP = "Latter Prophets" and LP* = "Minor Latter Prophets" (that is, The Scroll of the Twelve).