Bible Courses: PROPHETS curriculum


Rabbi David L. Kline

How can we know what God wants of us? What is Torah?  Is God verbal?
            In Tanach–Bible–one of the most frequent expressions is: “Thus says the Lord. . .”  In those days as now, few people could or would say those words.  Those few were the prophets.  We need to know about them: what was their thinking, their experience?  How are they like us or different?  Do we apply their words to ourselves?  Did they speak for God?
            The early rabbis stated that revelation–Ruach HaKodesh (“Holy Spirit”)­–had ceased from Israel.  (Cf. Z’chariah 13:2-6)  Their task, and subsequently, ours: study and interpret the received prophecies. Their study led to Talmud and Midrash and centuries of commentary.  Our Reform movement defined itself early on as “Prophetic Judaism.”  We learn to be Jews from the words of the prophets.
            Historical and literary criticism, allows us a clearer understanding of our ancient literature than was available or even of interest to earlier generations.  We have come a long way from those who taught that every word of the Tanach is revealed and true.  There were sharp minds and sensitive souls among the N’vi’im, the prophets. They were the moral and theological innovators and they did it in poetry. Prophets also included wizards, storytellers, royal advisors, rabble-rousers, and mystics. How they heard God and what they heard are existential questions for us.
            This course promotes Tanach reading over books-about-Tanach reading.  The reading guides (links indicated by RG) allow selecting passages by interest.  Read relaxed.   Go for the overall picture, as with a novel.  Feel free to Google but write down your questions to share with the class– incomprehensible passages are part of the experience. 
            Deuteronomy, as our starting point, presents an ancient picture of our people’s cultural and religion.  From that critical point in time we shall look backward and forward at our N’vi’im

1)            DEUTERONOMY The fifth book of the Pentateuch (Chumash) contains, in the critical view, the earliest “Book of Torah.”  II Kings 22-3 tells the story of its “discovery”, with the attendant shock and religious purge.  In the narrative a court prophet authenticates the newly found scroll as a long lost document.  More likely, a well meaning priest had recently composed the scroll and we see here an official portrait of religion as practiced in late seventh century BCE Judah, a framework for study of prophets. 
    Either read through Deuteronomy or check over the reading guide for items that interest you.  Note the references to true and false prophets in chapters 13 and 18.  18:14-19 amounts to a functional definition of prophecy. RG    Jeremiah 26 describes the trial of Jeremiah in which he is sentenced to death for his temple sermon where he challenges Deuteronomy.  Ctr. Micah (3:9-12) who faced no such inquisition. 

1Samuel 8, 10   Prophet/judge/king.  Transition from tribes to nation.
1S 15    Who holds the power?  Prophet or king?
1S 19    Is Saul among the prophets?
1S 28    The Witch of EinDor conjures a dead prophet.
2S  7    The prophet as royal advisor
2S 12    The prophet as moral critic.
1K 1    The prophet as political power.

1K 11(esp 29-39), 14:1-20  What’s a Deuteronomist prophet doing back in the days of Solomon?
1K 13    Which is the truer prophet?
1K 17- 2K 2    Elijah, legendary super prophet!  (He doesn’t even die!)
1K 18  Seeing is believing?   19:1-14  The sound of silence
1K 20:35-42  Risky business, speaking truth to power
1K 22    A minority of one (“Truth always starts from …” Will Durant)

4)            JUSTICE: AMOS, the innovator.  RG           

5)            GOD’S FEELINGS: HOSEA finds meaning in a bad marriage, 1-7, 13.  RG. For a suggested redaction of first two chapters: Redacted

6)             JUSTICE, RELIANCE ON GOD: ISAIAH, the poet, 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 28.  RG

7)            SUBVERSIVE SERMONS: JEREMIAH, delusions of religion. Jer 7:1-15, 21-26, 7:16-20, 30-8:3.             Personal prayers, “Confessions”– for an arrangement of these verses see Confessions of Jeremiah.   Distinct from public statements, these appear to be critical ruminations by the prophet, offering us a glimpse of his inner, spiritual experience.  RG

8)            RADICAL RELIGION: JEREMIAH 1,2,31. RG Consider these in the light of Deuteronomy emphasis on prohibitions and reward/punishment.

9)             How many gods are there?  Deutero Isaiah, the monotheist, 40-46, 49, 50, 52, 54.  RG

10)            Post Exilic: Hagai, Zechariah, Leviticus 19. What did the return from exile do for prophetic radicalism?  RG

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