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Perspectives on the prophets

22 March 2013

Anthony Phillips finds a breadth of views

Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets
Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville, editors
IVP £39.99
Church Times Bookshop £36 (Use code CT132 )

THIS extensive volume, which completes the IVP Academic's Black Dictionary series, contains some 115 articles by just over 100 scholars, covering an exhaustive range of topics. One has only to look at entries under the letter F to gauge its scope: faith; feminist interpretation; floral imagery; forgiveness; form criticism; formation of the prophetic books - all examined in considerable depth. Each entry is followed by a lengthy bibliography.

Clearly, the articles on individual prophetic books will be of particular interest. These are both thorough and wide-ranging. For instance, the entry on Ezekiel first examines historical issues including date, author, geographical location, and dependence on earlier biblical texts. Consideration is then given to textual and literary issues, the message of the book, its use in the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, and New Testament, leading on to a discussion of its canonisation. Next comes an examination of various readings including feminist, post-Holocaust, and psychological, before a concluding short piece on the book's place in art and literature.

There then follows a separate entry by a different contributor on the history of the interpretation of Ezekiel, divided into four periods: up to and including the New Testament, Rabbinic and early Christian, medieval and Reformation, and modern.

The Dictionary is not, then, merely concerned with a study of the prophetic texts, but with their use, interpretation, and signifi- cance, from composition to contemporary times; and consideration is given to canonical, redaction, literary, and rhetorical criticism.

Many of the entries indicate a lack of scholarly agreement and the confusion caused by a seemingly infinite variety of interpretations. But, as the contributor on the book of Isaiah points out, "The view is sometime expressed that there is so much diversity of scholarly opinion that none of it can be of any solid worth. This is a mistake. . . What counts is not so much the answers that are proposed as the fact that all the scholars . . . come up with related questions." Theology is not about closing down discussion but, rather like any science, opening up the issues for further debate and inevitable controversy.

Canon Phillips is a former headmaster of The King's School, Canterbury.

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