Thursday, 4 December 2008

Symbolism and prophetic referentiality

Here is Brevard Childs' final example of the way in which prophetic oracles, spoken in time and space to a particular audience for particular reasons, have been rendered as Sacred Scripture for future generations of the faithful. The rest are collected in my post, Canonical Shaping of the Prophets.

8 ) Prophetic symbolism has been given a radical new eschatological interpretation by shifting the referent within the original oracles. Scholars have long recognized that the visions in Zechariah 1-6 appear once to have functioned independently of each other and to have been addressed to particular historical situations both preceding and following the return from the exile (cf. Galling). But the tension between the original visions and their present framework points to an intentional theological shaping. The prophetic visions of Zechariah are now set in the second year of Darius, that is to say, some twenty years after the return from Babylon. The deliverance from the exile now lies in the past. Although the traditional language of the second exodus from slavery has been retained, it has been given a new reference. The language of hope now points to a still future event in which Israel's redemption lies. The original focus has been eschatologized and projected once more into the future. The community of faith which lives after the return still anticipates the future in the language of the past. Israel will still "flee from the land of the north," "escape to Zion," and God will dwell in her midst ( Zech 3 : 6ff. ).

The Book of Joel offers another example of a radical eschatologizing of an original oracle (Joel 1—2) which had only faintly adumbrated the full mension of the End in the locust plague, but Israel learned to understand it as the prelude to the Day of Yahweh when God would hold the final assize (Joel 3).

To summarize, these examples of canonical shaping of the prophetic literature in the history of ordering Israel's tradition as Scripture do not begin to exhaust the richness of Old Testament interpretation, but at least they give a hint of the creative dimension involved in the collecting process.

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