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6. Prophecy and Cult

The relationship of prophecy to the cult in ancient Israel has occasioned considerable debate over a long time.  Discuss the issues in this debate and how you would deal with them, and do so in terms of some particular modern scholars and at least two Biblical prophets.

Summary: The question deals with the function/role of prophets in Israel. Did they operate apart from the cultic sacrificial system of the temple? Or did they belong to this system? Did some prophets belong to the cult while others operated on their own? This question arises because the Bible seems to present two opposing views: some passages suggest that prophets and cult were separate; for this reason, certain prophets criticize the cult. Other passages suggest that prophets functioned as a part of the cult, and therefore, they make statements of support for the cult. 

I. Opposition between Prophets and Cultic activity/Priests

*In Wellhausen’s Prolegomena (1878), the prophet is viewed primarily as an individual, whose message stands apart from any institution

*Indeed, in the views of Wellhausen and other 19th cen. scholars, the prophet took center stage as the genius of Israelite religion, since the prophet was thought to have transcended both– a) the obsessively cultic/priestly attitude of the Israelite cultus, and, b) the “earlier subhistorical, semimagical, demonistic, and popular folk Yahwism and placed the relationship between God and people on a purely moral basis” (Hayes, 253). Thus, several  supposed oppositions were set in place, pitting the prophet against other contemporary forms of the religion against which he stood as God’s voice: ethical/cultic, individual/communal, internal/external, universal/national, monotheism/polytheism, historical/natural (Hayes, 253).

*Paul Volz (1871-1941) was one scholar who posited a very deep divide between prophet and priest: "The religion of the priests is a religion of sacrifice...the cultic ritual is rigid". A bifurcation occurred––priests relied on the Torah; Prophets relied on the inspired word from God (so Paul Volz)

*Biblical Prophets who criticize cult.

• Isa. 1:11-14, the prophet claims that YHWH does not need offerings, oblations, or incense, and that the sacred assemblies are a loathsome burden. (Cf. Jer 6:20)

• Jer. 7:22 For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.(Cf. Amos 5:25)

• Hos. 6:6 states that God desires goodness and obedience more than sacrifice, and note that 

• Mic. 6:6-8: lists various hyperbolic sacrifices (thousands of rams, myriads of streams of oil, a first-born son) with which God might be pleased, but then states that God desires humility and the practice of justice and goodness.

•But, these can explained differently: the passages can be interpreted as addressing specific cases of illegitimate offerings, or whose offerers had impeached themselves from such service. (see I. Engnell)

II. Cooperation between Prophets and Priests

* Wellhausen:  admitted that there was a clear connection between the prophets and the priest.

• Priests derived their Torah from Moses…But Moses was originator and practiser of prophecy (Num. 22:6ff). Also, Deut. 34:10 ( וְלֹֽא־קָ֨ם נָבִ֥יא עֹ֛וד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל כְּמֹשֶׁ֑ה ) ; also, in Hos. 12:14 Moses is considered a prophet (“But when the Lord brought Israel up from Egypt, it was through a prophet ( נביא ); through a prophet they were guarded”.

• Moses’ brother Aaron also is not only a Levite [Exod. 4:14] but also a prophet” (Exod. 4:15; Num. 12:2).

• Moses and Aaron work together—Prophet and Priest 

• Samuel is both priest (in training) (1 Sam 1–3) and seer=prophet (9:9)

• 2 Kings 23:2: And the king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great.

*Mowinckel (57) posited that certain oracular statements and divine speeches in the Psalms were spoken by a prophet who was present in the cultic setting and part of Temple ritual; according to Mowinckel the prophet said these statements as YHWH’s answer to the peoples’ prayers. He suggested that these prophetic statements within the Psalms were spoken during times of lament, 60:8-10, 108:8-10, 91:14-16), during coronation of the king (2, 20, 21, 45, 89, 110, 132), and during other festivals (50, 81, 95).

*Johnson argued that the role of both priest and prophet was “sacramental” (representing men before God) and “sacrificial” (representing God to men). Prophets and Priests share a common task––“sacramental” (representing men before God) and “sacrificial” (representing God to men) (Exod 32–34; 1 Samuel 9:10; 1 Kings 18:20) 

*In the DtrH, prophets are closely connected with cultic functions and sanctuaries. 

1) the first band of prophets mentioned in HB comes from a high place (1 Sam 10:5) 

2) Elijah offers a sacrifice on Mt Caramel (1 Kgs 18:16ff) 

3) prophet organizations are based at cultic sites: Ramah (1 Sam 19:18-24); in Bethel (2Kgs 2:3); Jericho (2 Kgs 2:5); Gilgal (2 Kgs 4:38) 

4) Balaam must 1st build an altar and offer sacrifices before he can prophesy (Num 23:1ff; 14ff; 29ff)

* Several post-exilic prophetic books record prophetic approval for the sacrificial cult (although possibility criticizing its existing form): 

1) Haggai and Zechariah are strongly in favor of rebuilding the temple 

2) Malachi criticizes those who offer deformed or defective animals (Mal 1:8) 

3) Joel 1:13 laments the fact that sacrifices have ceased for lack of food-stuffs to offer;he strongly approves of “calling assemblies” (2:15) -Note that comments in Isa 58 against fasting and Joel 2:13, “Rend your hearts and not your clothing” have been taken as anti-cultic.

*Some Prophets are Priests (?)

•Jeremiah: In Jer. 1:1 we are told Jeremiah is the son of a certain Hilkiah, “one of the priests of Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin.” The priestly clan at Anathoth traced its lineage back to Abiathar, a descendent of Eli and a survivor of the priestly group at Shiloh who suffered exile under Solomon in 1Kgs. 2:26-7

•Ezekiel: Chap 2–he’s clearly a prophet. But, in 1:3, he’s also a priest.  He is a Zadokite, i.e., part of the official Jerusalem establishment. Priestly imagery, language, and concerns are widespread in his book.

•Habakkuk: Blenkinsopp states–“Habakkuk is the only preexilic prophet identified as a nābî’ in the title, which could plausibly be taken to imply that he was a professional or prebendary [connected to a cathedral or collegiate church in Catholic/Anglican tradition] prophet connected with the temple cult.

•Zechariah: Zechariah is also overtly identified as a prophet in 1:1, and priestly language permeates the book. Note the vision of the high priest, Joshua, in 3:1ff., and the vision of the lampstand (“menorah”) in 4:1ff

A good summary comment (repeats above information):

“In Israel, as elsewhere in the Near East, prophets were attached to temples and carried out specific functions there including intercessary prayer and the giving of oracles, especially in critical situations.  It is for this reason that prophets are so often linked with the official priesthood in the prophetic diatribe (e.g., Jer 23.11).  Much prophetic activity went on in temples, and even prophetic figures who were not on the temple staff would have more easily found an audience in the temple precincts (e.g., Amos 7.10-17; Jer. 7.1-8.3; 36.4-8).  We have seen that one or other of the canonical prophets may have belonged to this cult category, at least initially, but it does not follow that all prophets who chose to address their public in a temple did so as cult functionaries.  Additionally, at the literary level, the existence of temple prophecy has been deduced from what appears to be prophetic oracles embedded in psalms (e.g., Pss. 20.8, 28.6, 60.6, 81.5, 110.1) as well as psalms embedded in prophetic books, for example, Habakkuk and Jonah” (Blenkinsopp 222-23)"

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