Saturday, 4 October 2008

Subordination of chronology to typology in prophetic literature

The fifth of eight typical means identified by B.S. Childs by which ancient prophetic literature was rendered as Sacred Scripture for Israel:

By means of a radical theocentric focus in the ordering of a book, the original historical sequence of a prophet's message was subordinated to a new theological function. The Book of Nahum is introduced by a hymn; the Book of Habakkuk concludes with one. But the effect on the material is similar. This shaping process did not require a de-historicizing of the original oracles. Rather, the material was left virtually untouched, yet a new role was assigned the oracles : They now function as a dramatic illustration of the eschatological triumph of God—whose divine nature is celebrated in a hymn—over his adversaries. In Nahum the destruction of the enemy is explicitly derived from the nature of God—a "jealous God," "avenging and wrathful," "keeping wrath for the enemy"—who claims dominion over the entire world. The threat against Ninevah does not stem from the personal hatred of a Hebrew prophet against Assyria, nor is it evoked by some particular historical event of the seventh century. Rather, the biblical tradents use the initial psalm, even shattering its earlier acrostic form, to establish the true theological context for understanding the prophecy. Ninevah has become a type of a larger recurring phenomenon in history against which God exercises his eternal power and judgment.

The prophecy of Ezekiel has continued to baffle its readers. The book appears to lack the sharp contours of a definite geographical locality with a concrete group of hearers. The prophet oscillates back and forth between Babylon and Jerusalem. The traditional forms of prophetic oral speech are largely missing; but the book abounds in allegory, sign acts, and visions. Surely the canonical key to understanding this unusual book lies in the radical theocentric perspective of the prophet which has deeply affected its final literary shape. Thus even when his oracles are fixed within a chronological framework, these temporal moorings are immediately transcended when the prophet testifies to the plan of God in terms freed from any such human limitations. Similarly the spatial distinction between Babylon and Jerusalem is completely relativized whenever the people of God are viewed from the divine perspective as one entity.

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