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The Oxford History of the Biblical World An in-depth chaptered work by leading scholars providing a chronological overview of the history of biblical times.

Postexilic Prophecy

The concern of Haggai and Zechariah for the proper maintenance of worship is typical of postexilic prophecy and marks a change in emphasis from earlier prophecy, which had often been critical of ritual. Prophetic speech more and more follows liturgical forms used in public worship. The postexilic age did have charismatic prophets, but their activities and words were often suppressed in theocratic circles as the work of renegades. Moreover, postexilic prophetic authors writing in both the theocratic and the charismatic vein pseudonymously clothed themselves in the garb of eminent classical forebears, giving a new text validity by embedding it in the words of a venerated ancient prophet.

In addition to specific, if obscure, biblical references to sociopolitical opposition to the Temple rebuilders, there are in Isaiah 56–66 (Third Isaiah), Ezekiel 38–39, Isaiah 24–27, and Zechariah 9–14 (Second Zechariah) allusions to additional internal Jewish protest against the ruling establishment. Such protests come from a group or groups who reject Zadokite priestly claims and propose an alternative religious program in which direct vindication from God of the aggrieved party is a central element. But, as will become increasingly the case with postexilic Jewish writing, these texts assiduously avoid chronological notices and authentic autographs. If they do criticize those in power, the source of the disagreements remains vague, in part because ancient Judaism, like all other ancient religions (except, perhaps, Christianity) was not based on a doctrinal creed whose tenets were under fire from opponents outside the faith. By the Hellenistic period, inter-Jewish dissent was seldom if ever expressed in theological terms, turning instead on matters of religious practice.

The interest group behind “Third Isaiah” remains shadowy. Perhaps its composition stems from disfranchised Levites who viewed the political accommodations of the dominant Zadokite priesthood as compromising “pure” Yahwism. Without specific dates in the text, attempts to associate this visionary group with particular rivals of Joshua and the Zadokites mentioned in Ezra-Nehemiah founder. Passages in Isaiah 57, 65, and 66 do repudiate Haggai's and Zechariah's call for Temple restoration. Nevertheless, this is not a repudiation of Temple ideology. Rather, it is a rejection of the current Temple authorities in favor of a now-marginalized group with claims of superior priestly qualifications. The intent of the hybrid “salvation-judgment” oracles of Isaiah 59 and 65 to condemn wicked Judeans, but to affirm eschatological salvation for the righteous few, provides a good indication of the rifts in postexilic Judean society.

Protoapocalyptic visions of Ezekiel 38–39 may also belong to the circle of Third Isaiah, as eager as their Zadokite rivals to co-opt the great exilic prophet for their own ends. These chapters suggest that the Babylonian destruction was nothing compared to the future horrors intended for a still-wicked Israel, presumably those Jews in control of the Temple. Only divine intervention would enable the restoration program of Ezekiel 40–48 to proceed.

People harboring visionary expectations of vindication by cataclysmic divine irruptions into history are, or at least feel, disfranchised, and they occupy the margins of mainstream society. But without a secure sociohistorical matrix we must be careful not to create a rigid theoretical framework for such protoapocalyptic passages as Isaiah 56–66, Ezekiel 38–39, Isaiah 24–27, and Zechariah 9–14 . They cannot all be attributed to the same period, much less to the same ideological groups. Even the well-entrenched Zadokites could have fostered a visionary or two.

What these texts do illustrate is a movement away from classical prophecy, which located God's judgment firmly in history. Instead, these visionaries saw punishment and redemption in terms of otherworldly categories, which ultimately became central in fully formed apocalyptic thought. The timescale for God's judgment begins to expand, as does the sphere of divine judgment, which now includes all the nations, a more universalist view of God's interest, perhaps, than that of Ezra-Nehemiah. Some expect God to personally intervene in history (Zech. 14 ); dreams and visions abound, often populated by angelic interpreters, a form of assistance that earlier prophets seldom required. The roots of Jewish apocalyptic do not lie in Zoroastrian (Persian) dualism, with its vision of a climactic war between the cosmic forces of good and evil. The symbolism and rhetoric of early Second Temple protoapocalypticism has an unquestionable Israelite pedigree, even to the extent of reviving such ancient mythic motifs as Yahweh the divine warrior and Yahweh's battle with the chaos dragon. The common characteristics that Yahweh shared with Canaanite Baal were no longer a source of confusion or polemic, and they could profitably be brought again to the fore.

The book of Malachi is usually assigned to the early fifth century, just before the period of Ezra and Nehemiah. Like other postexilic writings, its authorship is anonymous; the reference in 3.1 to “my messenger” (Hebrew mal'ākî) gives the book its title. Malachi synthesizes priestly and prophetic themes. Its bitter attack on the reigning Temple priesthood has been viewed as merging the interests of dissident Levites and Third Isaian circles. Here, too, is a dramatic eschatological denouement, but the writer also appeals to sacred antiquity, appropriating for the prophet's constituents God's covenant with Levi, a more ancient and thus more authoritative covenant than that of the Zadokites.

A corollary to this resurgence of ancient lore is the Persians' encouragement, beginning with Darius I, of the collection and preservation of their subjects' religious learning. Both the work of Aryandes and Udjahorresnet in Egypt and of Ezra the Israelite scribe attest to this policy. The Priestly strand of the Pentateuch or even the Pentateuch itself could belong to this same incipient antiquarianism.

But ultimately the single most important stimulus to Persian-period Israel's interest in and reverence for its history is the exile. The prophets having proved themselves by correctly predicting disaster for both Israel and Judah, their oracles were now sought out and edited, complete with chronological notices, for purposes of edification and future warning. Faced with the loss of national identity, priests and sages set about collecting and codifying religious laws and preserving Israel's epic lore and its national history (the Pentateuch and “Former Prophets”). They collected the songs sung in the Temple, the Psalms. And they composed a new history, the book of Chronicles, whose stress on the sole legitimacy of the Jerusalem sanctuary and its rituals colors every episode from creation to exile. This process of collecting and amplifying led to the final canonization of the Bible, and may have been stimulated by an attempt to reconcile conflicting factions in the Jewish community.

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