As we turn in this series to the prophets, we also return to some overlap between Jewish and Christian ways of grouping the books of the bible. What Christians call the prophets largely overlaps with the books grouped by Jewish tradition as the latter prophets.
You will recall from the discussion of the historical books that Jewish thought groups Joshua, Judges,1 & 2 Samuel (1 scroll) and 1 & 2 Kings (1 scroll) as the former prophets. There are also four scrolls of the latter prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve. The twelve are the so-called minor prophets: those whose books are considerably shorter than the lengthy works of the first three. The Christian bible inserts Daniel between Ezekiel and the minor prophets.
There are also some differences between the faith traditions. Christians, but not Jews, include Daniel among the prophets. Christian tradition also links two books with the prophet Jeremiah and therefore includes them among the prophets: one is the undisputed book of Lamentations, the other the deuterocanonical or apocryphal book of Baruch. Jewish tradition includes Daniel and Lamentations as scripture,1 but not the book of Baruch.
Broadly speaking, each prophetic book is primarily a collection of poetic oracles and judgements, edited together by one or more later collectors of the material. On many occasions the reason for a prophet composing a particular poem or prophecy is obvious; sometimes it seems at best more generic, and at worst obscured by the editor. Despite these difficulties, there is usually a relatively clear core of prophecies making up the main message of each book.
At the heart of the prophetic message is a call to the people of Israel to live as people who indeed have YHWH as their God. That means justice – especially for the poor, and fidelity in worship. Together both reflect a proper dependence on God rather than on either accumulating possessions, or compromising with other nations and their gods. Implementing justice and offering right worship are seen as going hand in hand, rather than presented as alternatives.
One feature of the Christian arrangement of the books (Law, History, Wisdom, Prophecy) is that it emphasises the Old Testament as looking forward to the New. The prophets point to the one who is to come, who will establish God’s justice, and bring in the kingdom. It helps greatly that the last book of the Twelve is Malachi, which ends with what Christian tradition has always read as a prophecy of the coming of John the Baptist: an immediate introduction to the gospel which follows.
- In the section of the Hebrew Bible called the Writings.