The Lives of the Prophets

The Lives of the Prophets (Liv. Pro.) seems to have been written in the first century by a Jew, but because it was preserved by Christians there many interpolations with distinctive Christian theology. It is possible the legendary acts of the prophets included in the book date to the Maccabean period but it is almost impossible to date the various strata of the book (the legends, the Jewish text, the Christian editing.) The best hint is the description of Elijah as having come from “the land of the Arabs” (21:1), possibly connecting his birthplace to the Nabateans. Since the Nabateans virtually disappear after A.D. 106 when Trajan moves trade routes to avoid Petra, the book was written after this time.

This book lists prophets from the Hebrew Bible and gives details on their birth, city of residence, and death. As D. A. Hare notes, the reason the book is so rarely included in collections of Pseudepigrapha is that it is nearly devoid of theology: “Religious edification is not its prime purpose, and consequently theological themes are for the most part dealt with only indirectly” (OTP 2:382). However, expanding biblical narratives is a practice driven by theology. For many of the prophets in the collection were not associated with miracles in the canonical texts. By passing along traditions of miracles (or creating new miracle stories) the author validates the word of these particular prophets. No non-canonical prophet appears in the list, even if a few are obscure in the Hebrew Bible. There are a few Christian additions, such as Jeremiah’s prophecy of the virgin birth, including the detail that the child would be laid in a manger (2:8).

Image result for The Martyrdom of IsaiahThe book assumes the text of the Bible as a foundation and adds legendary miracle stories to the adventures of the prophets. For example, Jeremiah prays for asps and crocodiles to leave the Jewish refugees alone when then arrive in Egypt (2:3). When Nebuchadnezzar goes mad in Daniel 4, the prophet is asked to pray for Nebuchadnezzar when asked by his son Baltasar (4:4).  Daniel did “many other prodigies” for the Persian kings which were not written down (4:18). Habakkuk sees the glory of the Temple and predicts its destruction (12:10-12).

The stories pass along a few traditions about the prophets. The tradition Isaiah was sawn in two by Manasseh (1:1) appears in the Martyrdom of Isaiah and possibly Hebrews 11:37. According to the book, Daniel was born in Upper Beth-Horon and was thought to be a eunuch (4:2). When Elisha was born in Gilgal, the golden calf in Bethel bellowed shrilly, so loud that it was heard in Jerusalem (22:1-2).

The Lives also passes along the story that Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant in a rock in the wilderness (2:11-19), a story with some parallels in 2 Maccabees 2:4-8 and 4 Baruch 3:8-12. Since D. R. A. Hare sees no evidence of borrowing he suggests the Lives of the Prophets is evidence for the currency of this tradition in the “folklore of Palestine” (384). There is a location near the Dead Sea some Israeli guides will point out as the location of the Ark, at least according to fringe archaeologist Vendyl Jones.

A major interest of the author of these prophetic lives is the burial place of the prophet. Isaiah was buried underneath the Oak of Rogel (1:1). Jeremiah died in Taphnai, Egypt “in the environs of Pharaoh’s palace” after being stoned by his own people (2:1). Ezekiel was buried in the “field of Maour” in the grave of Shem and Arpachshad (Gen 10:22, possibly the “Oaks of Mamre”). The tomb is described as a double tomb like Abraham’s tomb at Hebron (3:3-4). Catherine Hezser speculates in her Jewish Travel in Antiquity (WUNT/2; Mohr Seiberg, 2011) that it is possible the Lives of the Prophets was used as a kind of guidebook to the tombs of the prophets, but she concludes it is impossible to be certain (386).


Bibliography: D. R. A. Hare, “The Lives of the Prophets: A New Translation and Introduction,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 2 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985)379-399.

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