Hoffmeier, James K. The Prophets of Israel: Walking in the Ancient Paths. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2021. 398 pp. Hb. $36.99 Link to Kregel Academic
James K. Hoffmeier is emeritus Professor of Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern History and Archaeology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and previously Professor of Archaeology and Old Testament at Wheaton College. In addition to working on the Akhenaten Temple Project in Luxor (1975 to 1977), he was director of excavations at Tell el-Borg, Sinai (1998-2008). He has written numerous books of biblical and archaeological topics, including Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (Oxford, 1996), Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition (Oxford, 2005) and Akhenaten and the Origins of Monotheism (Oxford, 2015).
In a brief introduction to the book, Hoffmeier explains this book covers the usual literature expected in an introduction to the prophets, but places greater emphasis on the prophets in their literary context and the historical background that provided an impetus for their message. Hoffmeier describes himself as a “practicing field archaeologist,” so it is no surprise he emphasizes archaeological data for “setting the stage on which the drama of the biblical history is played out” (13). Archaeological and geographical data allow for more accurate and complete view of biblical narratives, which places the reader in a better position to make informed theological decisions.
Chapter 1 is a general introduction to the Hebrew prophets. Hoffmeier defines the role of a prophet within the Hebrew Canon in contrast with other ancient near eastern prophets and the Oracle at Delphi. He also observes that the Hebrew prophets differ in terms of prophetic method (no divination, augury, etc.). Hoffmeier traces the development of prophecy from Moses as a foundation, focusing on the importance of the Exodus and Sinai covenant, through the writing prophets. He rightly points out the writing prophets did not focus on the distant future, as is popularly assumed. They looked back at the Sinai covenant and the Exodus events in order to address their own historical situations.
Although not typically included in introductions to the prophets, chapter 2 is devoted to pre-writing prophets. Beginning with prophets like Deborah in the book of Judges, he briefly comments on Samuel, Gad, Nathan, Ahijah and Shemaiah (prophets of the split kingdom), and Elijah, Elisha, and Micaiah (prophets in the northern kingdom of Israel). He also includes three female prophets, Isaiah’s wife, Huldah and the ultra-obscure Noadiah (Neh 6:14).
Chapters 3-7 survey the writing prophets. Hoffmeier divides the prophets more or less by centuries, although chapters three and four both cover eighth-century prophets, subdivided into the northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah. For each chapter, he sets the prophet into a proper historical context in the books of 1-2 Kings. this requires a lengthy excursus on the Assyrian invasion (701 BC), including a detailed examination of the Lachish relief to illustrate the siege of this city. Hoffmeier defends traditional dates for each of the prophets and the unity of the prophetic books. For example, in his discussion on the authorship of Isaiah, he lists the usual arguments for multiple authors and then responds to each in detail. For Hoffmeier, Isaiah is a two-volume anthology of the ministry of the eighth-century prophet. Regarding the book of Daniel, he deals with the usual historical challenges for the book and leans towards identifying Darius as Cyrus the Great (following D. J. Wiseman), although he certainly entertains the other options. He quotes with approval R. K. Harrison’s statement that the Qumran literature “demonstrates that no part of the Old Testament canonical literature was composed later than the 4th century B.C.” (327). He places the book of Jonah in his chapter on eighth-century prophets. The book of Joel is post-exilic, written after the completion of the temple (after 515 B.C.).
Another unique element of Hoffmeier’s introduction is a final chapter on New Testament prophets (Chapter 8). The chapter is brief, only about fifteen pages. For the Gospels, he covers John the Baptist, Simon and Anna (Luke 2), and Jesus as a prophet. For Acts and epistles, he has a brief discussion of prophecy in the early church, such as Paul’s vision (2 Corinthians 12) and Agabus (Acts 11:28). There is less on early church prophecy than I expected. For example, something might have been included on 1 Corinthians 12-14 as the major discussion of early church prophecy in Paul’s letters. But this is an introduction to the prophets of Israel and the chapter is intentionally brief. Wisely, there is no discussion on the continuance of prophecy in the church after the Apostolic age. Hoffmeier covers the Book of Revelation in a brief two pages, with most of that devoted to Patmos.
What is missing? The book could have included a unit on the rise of apocalyptic as a prophetic genre, focusing on Isaiah 24- 27 portions of Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Daniel. The unit could briefly trace the trajectory from the Old Testament antecedence through the Second Temple period to the apocalyptic found in the Book of Revelation, since New Testament prophecy is part of this content of the book. Since apocalyptic literature has one foot in the Old Testament and another in the new, this chapter would have made a good transition between his discussion of the Old Testament prophets and a discussion of church prophecy.
The book is lavishly illustrated with stunning photographs, maps and sidebars. It is a pleasure simply to browse the book and look at the pictures! For example, in chapter one, there are twenty-five photographs and maps and six sidebars in only 32 pages. Todd Bolen contributed many photographs and the maps from drawn by A. D. Riddle. But many of the photographs are Hoffmeier’s own.
Each chapter concludes with study and discussion questions suitable for short papers or online discussion forums in a classroom setting. Although there is a six-page bibliography, there are no indices for the book.
Conclusion. Hoffmeier’s The Prophets of Israel is an excellent introduction to biblical prophetic books, suitable for both undergrad and graduate level courses. Interested layperson could pick up this book and use it to introduce themselves to prophetic literature in the Old Testament.
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.