The Book of the Twelve: the "Minor" Prophets

The Twelve as a "book"
The Twelve in the Canon
Historico-critical approaches

The twelve shorter prophetic books (Hosea - Malachi) are in English called the "Minor Prophets". (They are "minor" in length compared to the "Major Prophets" - it is not a judgment on their worth!) In the Hebrew tradition they are one book - the "book of the twelve".

The Twelve as a "book"

The Hebrew canon divides the Bible (Old Testament) into three parts, the second of these are the nebi'im or "Prophets". This section in turn falls into two parts.

Thus Jewish tradition saw the "minor" prophets as one book, not twelve. They formed one scroll (like Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel) referred to as "The Twelve", though at the same time the masoretic scribes treated the books as separate units -each closing with a count of words and letters. Indeed, these "books" are different from each other in many ways:

Still, with the possible exception of Jonah (which contains a story about a prophet) they have common features in the genres and style of their contents.

Although traditional scholarship (at least in European culture) has tended to read and study them as twelve unconnected "books" there is now a renewed tendency to look also at how they work as a unit.

Historico-critical approaches

On the whole Western scholars interested in the historical context of the biblical text have treated each of the twelve as a separate book. This approach makes prima face sense, for most of the books have a superscription that situates the words that follow. Thus Amos (reign of Jeroboam, king of Israel, c750bce) does not share the same historical context as Haggai (reign of Darius, king of Persia, c520bce). The attempt to situate the words then moves in two different but related directions:

Thus on the whole historico-critical scholarship has addressed the parts that compose the Book of the Twelve, or even the parts that compose the "books" that it includes, rather than examining the unit itself. So the processes by which the current unit, the "Book of the Twelve" came to be, or what historical context it was addressing have not been extensively examined. Jones is a notable exception, examining the textual tradition, he discerned three early versions of the book and then discussed the historical processes that shaped it.

The Twelve in the Canon

Early canonical studies of this section of the Bible largely followed the lead of historico-critical scholarship and considered the canonical "shape" and function of the constituent books (e.g. Childs) however more recently scholarship has begun to address the Twelve as a whole.

In 1990 House discerned patterns around the themes of sin, punishment and restoration. He used narrative categories (plot, character and point of view) to organize his work. In 1993 Nogalski drew attention to the use of catchwords to join the works. He also found signs of Deuteronomistic editing, not merely of the individual books but of the work as a whole. (This in some ways echoes House's sin, punishment and restoration schema.) Jones also claimed a key place for Joel in the shaping of the work.

Since then other scholars have built on this foundation, providing the beginnings of a study of the Twelve as a unit, though as yet nothing like a shared conclusion!

 


This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos commentary, if you have reached it as a standalone page, to view it in context, go to www.bible.gen.nz
© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley . All rights reserved.