Book reviews — The Mantle of Elijah: The Redaction Criticism of the Prophetical Books by Terence Collins

O Brien, Julia M

TERENCE COLLINS, The Mantle of Elijah: The Redaction Criticism of the Prophetical Books (The Biblical Seminar 20; Sheffield: JSOT, 1993). Pp. 197. Paper L14.95, $19.95.

Collins’s volume appropriately fits its series: like the best of “seminars,” it integrates the particulars of a subject into a meaningful whole, affording students of the prophets a wider angle of vision allowing them to see why and how the prophets mattered to the generations that created their books.

In C.’s introduction, he finds in the deuteronomistic history the precedent for the writing of the prophetic books. Like the Deuteronomists, the exilic and postexilic creators of the prophetic books transformed Israel’s prophetic traditions into explanations for the crisis of exile and voices of hope.

Isaiah, treated first because of its evident redaction, is shown to have developed in four stages: (1) an initial collection connected with the Josianic reforms and the first edition of the deuteronomistic history, (2) a reapplication of these ideas after the exile, in which chaps. 40-55 were added and 1-39 reworked, (3) another revision within twenty years, developed from the earlier material, (4) a redaction of the mid-fifth century B.C.E., with a more cosmic focus. The result is a unified book, held together by an “Isaiah” who is not a particular person but a literary character embodying a vision.

Similarly, the Book of the Twelve was systematically redacted into a coherent whole. Its history includes (1) an early collection in Babylonia, (2) a postexilic revision directed toward the reconstruction of the temple, (3) a revision after 520 reflecting the hard realities of postexilic life. The completed book bears strong political implications for Israel’s identity; it also uses “the prophets in support of the call to stricter observance of the Law” (p. 84).

Because no subsequent redaction updated inaccurate prophecies, Ezekiel may be seen as the first prophetic book, the origin of the “prophetic” literary form. While some participation of the prophet himself may account for the book’s highly polished redaction, the Ezekiel of its pages remains a literary figure; the creators of the book wrapped the historical figure of Ezekiel “in the mantle of Elijah and Elisha”(p. 100), thereby insisting that God continued to speak even in exile.

Less cohesive than Ezekiel, the book of Jeremiah underwent more redaction. While an early collection of Jeremian materials may be related to the deuteronomic movement, it was the second generation of deuteronomists who molded the past figure of Jeremiah into “an example of the Deuteronomist ideal of the prophet” (p. 109). As a book, then, Jeremiah is later than Ezekiel, closer to the first edition of Isaiah 155 and the Book of the Twelve.

In the course of these redactions, the prophetic figures were shaped into literary images designed to serve the needs of the Jewish community after the exile. Just as Deuteronomy envisioned the prophet as champion of the Law, so too the deuteronomistic history and eventually the prophetic books themselves cast the prophets as heirs of Moses. C. argues strongly that none of the material telling us about the prophets, not even the first-person accounts, can be considered historical.

Similarly, the call narratives are seen as literary creations serving the schema of prediction-fulfillment in the prophetic paradigm; they are not autobiographical. These narratives were crafted with the effect on their readers in mind; the result is a new metaphor for the people: the “fusion of prophet and people into one image of ‘servant of the Lord'” (p. 180).

A short epilogue suggests that this image of the servant-prophet provided a useful interpretive framework for early Christianity, and it underscores the nature of the prophets as dramatis personae within their books.

The power of this volume is in its synthesis, in its consideration of the motives for the individual alterations, additions, and modifications that redaction critics have long identified. C. offers little explanation of his redactional methods or of the scholarly debates over individual passages. Instead of wrangling over data, he interprets it explaining its logic and coherence and, especially, what the resultant books meant to a community in crisis. Hence, while C.’s individual points about a given collection are open to debate, his sympathetic reading of the process of redaction itself makes his work particularly valuable.

Julia M. O’Brien, Meredith College, Raleigh, NC 27607

Copyright Catholic Biblical Association of America Apr 1995

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