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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

- Introduction

THE TWELVE IS A COLLECTION of twelve prophetic books. A prophetic book is a biblical book that claims association with a prophetic personage of the past (e.g., Isaiah, Micah, Haggai) and presents itself as the LORD'S word or communication. Thus all of these books claim to communicate authoritative knowledge about the LORD. Some of these prophetic books are explicitly set in a particular time period in Israel's past, somewhere between what we call the 8th and the 5th centuries BCE. According to the Talmud, “the Men of the Great Assembly [who they believed lived in the Persian period] wrote the Twelve” (b. B. Bat. 15a). Today, many modern scholars think that all or most of the prophetic books in the Twelve—at least in their present form—were either composed or edited after the fall of the monarchy (586 BCE) and probably during the Persian period (539–332). Many scholars argue also that forerunners (or earlier editions) of some of the present books may date to monarchic times, or that the scribes who composed or edited the prophetic books as we know them had access to textual sources and traditions from periods earlier than their own.

There were substantial differences between the monarchic and the postmonarchic periods. Judah was a relatively prosperous kingdom even during the late monarchic period (the last decades before the destruction of the Temple in 586). Jerusalem was at the time an important city whose population (about 25,000 people) was about a third of that of the kingdom as a whole (about 75,000). Postmonarchic Judah was much smaller and poorer. For instance, the population of Jerusalem in the second half of the Persian period (450–332) was likely around 1,500 inhabitants; the highest estimate in historical circles today is 4,500. Likewise, the province of Yehud (Persian Judah) after “the restoration” reached a population peak of probably only 17,000. An analysis of the material culture shows similar differences between late monarchic Judah and Yehud. The once independent Davidic kingdom has become a relatively small and peripheral province in a large empire. Moreover, the fall of Jerusalem and Judah in 586 had more than just political, demographic, and economic impact. From an insider's religious perspective, when the monarchic period came to a close, Jerusalem (= the LORD'S city), the Temple (= the LORD'S house), and the Davidic dynasty (= the LORD'S chosen dynasty) all fell. There is no doubt that the events of 586 represent a watershed in the history of Judah and ancient Israel, andwere understood as such by those who lived after these events. Postmonarchic Judahites tried to understand them in terms of divine justice and tried to understand themselves within a world in which their community, from their perspective the LORD'S people, was so powerless compared to other nations and compared to the memory of monarchic Judah. These issues loomed large in the postmonarchic communities within which the prophetic books were written or reached their present form, and certainly were of great concern to the people for whom they were written. Reflections on these issues are abundant in many of the prophetic books, often taking one or the other of two forms: either condemnations of monarchic Judah for sins so great that they justified the LORD'S's destruction of Jerusalem, or messages of hope and restoration that reassured the postmonarchic community that their present situation was not the “end of the road” but only a minor stop in a journey that led to an ideal and glorious future for Israel—and at times, for the nations too.

Prophetic books were written texts meant to be read, or more properly, to be re‐read and studied. Texts written to be read many times tend to show more than passing instances of ambiguity or multiple meanings. Such multiple meanings abound in the prophetic books, as the annotations will show. Traditional Jewish interpreters maintained that the prophetic books were given to Israel to call for its repentance and to provide guidance, that is, to affect, not merely to inform, their readers. We know that already in the late biblical period prophetic works were read, re‐read, and studied in order to find such guidance.

There are fifteen prophetic books in the Bible: the collection called “the Twelve,” plus Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. (Unlike Christian Bibles, the Jewish Bible does not include Daniel as one of the prophets, but rather treats it as one of the Kethuvim, or Writings.) Each of the fifteen prophetic books is associated with a single prophetic personage. In the Twelve, each book displays distinctive language and themes that set it apart from the other books. Thus the human speaker in each book has his own voice. There are no prophetic books associated with women prophets, although there were female prophets in ancient Israel (see, e.g., 2 Kings 2.14, Neh. 6.14 ). Even the divine speaker, God, is distinctive in each book, with a voice that is similar to (and at times blends with) that of the particular human speaker.

The lengths of the books in this collection range from one chapter to fourteen. Even the longest, however, is short compared to the lengths of the three major prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Therefore, while each of the major prophets was most likely written on one scroll, the smaller books in the book of the Twelve were at some point collected and copied together on one scroll so no single prophetic work would be lost, since the total length of the Twelve approximates the length of one of the major prophetic books. Nevertheless, they have been read as separate books rather than as chapters of a single book. Rabbinic tradition also tends to treat each prophet separately rather than approaching the twelve as a group.

We do not know when the twelve prophetic books were first collected onto one scroll. The practice is probably implied in Sirach 49.10 (early second century BCE): “May thebones of the Twelve Prophets / send forth new life from where they lie, / for they comforted the people of Jacob / and delivered them with confident hope.”

The oldest extant manuscript of the Twelve is among the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QXIIa) and dates from the middle of the 2nd century BCE, therefore indicating that by that time these books were seen as a collection. Significantly, in this manuscript the book of Jonah follows that of Malachi. In fact, the individual and separate character of each book in the collection allowed the order in which the twelve books appear in the scroll to remain fluid for a relatively long period (as was also the case with the later collection called the Kethuvim/Writings; see pp. 1275–79). Eventually the Septuagint (LXX), the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, and the Hebrew text tradition itself finalized the order of these books, though in slightly different ways. To be sure, once a collection of books is set in a particular order, the latter cannot but convey a certain meaning. For the book of the Twelve, it is clear that to some extent a chronological principle governs the present order in the Masoretic Text (and in the LXX). For instance, Hosea is the first because he was probably considered the first of four prophets who prophesied at one particular, early period, the others being Isaiah, Amos, and Micah (see b. B. Bat. 14a). The books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, who “came at the end of the prophets,” close the collection. It is also clear that chronological concerns were not the only consideration. It seems that an emphatic focus on Jerusalem and Judah was either a main concern for those who ordered the books in the Masoretic tradition or was a background belief that became reflected in the way in which the order of the books was finalized in this tradition.

A significant clue for an understanding of these and the other three prophetic books within their historical setting stands at the conclusion of Hosea. The final verse, 14.10 , may be translated as follows: “Those who are wise understand these things [i.e., the prophetic readings included in the book]; those who are discerning know them. For the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.”

Beyond the evaluative, theological language used here, the passage reflects social reality. Since the prophetic books were written texts, only those able to read could approach them directly and thus the literate minority served as brokers of divine knowledge to the vast majority who could not read. These scholars studied the texts, and read and interpreted them to others. Since the texts were considered to communicate (authoritative) knowledge about the LORD, early interpretations of what they meant had to be consistent with what was known about the LORD from other sources. This put certain limitations on the kinds of interpretations that were acceptable. It is likely that the earliest extant summary of the book's message in Sirach 49.10 reflects a predominant way in which they were read in antiquity. The very basic message that they conveyed to their ancient readership is well summarized in that passage: “They [these Twelve Prophets] comforted the people of Jacob and delivered them with confident hope.” This is quite remarkable, since divine punishment rather than consolation predominates in these books. (See also the specific introductions to the individual prophetic books.)

The last book of the Twelve and, accordingly the entire section of Nevi'im/Prophets inthe Tanakh concludes—whether by design or, more likely, fortuitously—with a passage that includes a verse that may be translated as follows: “Remember the Torah of Moses, my servant, which I commanded him at Horeb for all of Israel—its decrees and statutes” (Mal. 3.22 ). Such a conclusion communicates a clear sense that this section is subordinate in importance to the Torah of Moses. Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah quoted this verse as a proof that prophets are not supposed to bring a new Torah, but to warn people not to trespass the Torah. This position, of course, is central to traditional Judaism. Critical biblical scholarship, however, has seen the Torah and the prophets as separate corpora originating in the same time period, with differing sets of norms and beliefs.

This very end of the prophetic collection reads: “Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the LORD” (Mal. 3.23–24 ). In other words, it keeps a tension and balance between the activities of the scholars and of all Israel in their present circumstances and their hopes for a most positive change in the future, a change that was later understood in messianic terms (see the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides). Significantly, the entire Christian Old Testament concludes with Malachi 3.23–24 and calls as it were for the realization of that messianic time. The Tanakh, however, moves from these verses directly to the Writings, to either Psalm 1 , whose spirit may be understood as consonant with Hosea 14.10 and Malachi 3.22 or in the Leningrad Codex, for instance, to Chronicles, which recounts and reinterprets the history of Israel in a way that is deeply informed by the Torah.

[EHUD BEN ZVI]

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