The Former Prophets: A Brief Introduction

A remarkable discovery with eternal repercussions

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Epic Historical Narrative

However, the most significant of the new documents was a narrative history of Israel and Judah of epic proportions. This work, which runs from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings in present-day Bibles, used the Deuteronomic Code as its starting point and gauge, as it then proceeds to recount significant events in Israel’s history and to recall the kings of both kingdoms, judging them in the light of the code.

The author, whom we call the Deuteronomistic Historian (Dtr), reproduces the entire law code at the beginning of his work (with additions), but recasts it in narrative form as a sermon given by Moses on the plains of Moab. Placed in his mouth, these laws are given unparalleled authority. Moses is seen as the greatest of the prophets, the true prophet, who foresaw the destruction of the northern Kingdom of Israel for disobeying the covenant stipulations and the survival of Judah only in strict adherence to the covenant obligations.

Josiah the "Messiah"

The first edition of this history views Josiah as the fulfillment of the kingdom’s hopes. He was a "messiah" in the spirit of David, who could restore the empire to its former glory, politically and religiously, and lead its people in obedience to the Deuteronomic Code. The Deuteronomistic Historian apparently had access to official government documents, as well as older works of literature, some even of northern Israelite provenance, which he used to his advantage, incorporating these into the finished product; yet his hand is seen throughout the entire history.

The Fall of Judah

When Josiah was killed in battle unexpectedly, the high hopes of his supporters came crashing down. His successors on the throne were a disappointment to the Deuteronomic movement, to say the least. When Judah fell to the Babylonians in 586 and exiles were taken to Babylon, all seemed lost.

However, some in retrospect saw a lesson in what had happened to Judah, and it was decided that a new edition of the history would be valuable to a new audience. Seeing the fall of Judah as the result of failure to faithfully follow the Deuteronomic Code, the history was recast to demonstrate that the kingdom fell because of this negligence, in the same vein that the fall of Israel had been portrayed. The history was also extended to include the kings who followed Josiah and a description and explanation of the destruction of Jerusalem.

Editorial Activity

While it is possible that the composer of the original history was also responsible for the second edition, this is by no means certain, and therefore scholars use the designations Dtr1 and Dtr2 to refer to each of the authors, respectively (or the same author in two different capacities).

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David Miano

David Miano is a recent Ph.D. in History at the University of California, San Diego. He specializes in the ancient world and in biblical studies, and works as a lecturer at UC San Diego.