Reading the Minor Prophets, the BOOK of the Twelve, as One Book

While working on a paper on “The Minor Prophets in Luke’s Acts” for a course in “Biblical Intertextuality,” I have been made aware that there are good reasons to see the Minor Prophets (MP) as one book instead of twelve isolated ones. Additionally, to see the MP as a single collection has implications not only for the reading the prophets themselves, but also for understanding how NT writers used them, particularly if it can be shown that the NT writers have the larger context in mind for the text they cite.

Luke seems to understand what I’m talking about here. In Acts 7.42, in Stephen’s speech, Luke cites Amos 5.25-27 from “the book of the prophets.” In Acts 13.40, Luke’s Paul cites Hab 1.5 as “what the prophets said. Finally, in James’ speech at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15.15), Luke has James cite Amos 9.11-12 from the “words of the prophets.” Josephus knows this, too. Josephus in Contra Apion (1.39-41) is a bit confusing but what he says shows that he counted the MP as one book.

Sirach seems to know of the MP as a single collection:

“May the bones of the Twelve Prophets send forth new life from where they lie, for they comforted the people of Jacob and delivered them with confident hope.” (Sirach 49:10 NRSV)

It would seem then that the MP circulated in a single scroll. Evidence for this includes Qumran scrolls, a Greek MP Scroll which has parts of Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Zechariah, and a MP scroll from the Judean desert. Also every list of canonical books, such as Jerome’s or the Babylonian Talmud—from the first to sixth century count the MP as one book.

The most telling sign, in my opinion, is the work of the famous (but anonymous) scribes of the Masorectic Text who meticulously transcribed the OT text with all kinds of notes and markings to help in the reading of the OT. They would mark the mid-point of each biblical book. The mid-point of the MP was Micah 3.12 for the entire collection. The individual books were not so marked.

Not only is this clear evidence that the MP were considered by the ancients one book, it makes the next point I’m making more plausible. What has come down to us, then, is an “edited” or “redacted” collection of prophetic material generated from about the eighth century BCE onward to the post exilic period. Furthermore, the collection, as we now have it, show considerable skill in the bringing the material together into one book.

Let me share just a few of the compositional seams that show the work of the final redactor’s hand. Again, the unity of this collection points to a single redactor.

Hosea 3.4-5 may serves as the thematic center for the collection:

“For the Israelites shall remain many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the Israelites shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king; they shall come in awe to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days.” (Hosea 3:4–5 NRSV)

This text ends the opening scenes of Hosea and opens up the more traditionally prophetic material of the rest of the Hosea. It’s amazing how many times the MP refers back to the contents of this text.

The end of Hosea (14.9) and the opening of Joel (1.2-3) use the same wisdom language, contrasting the good and the wicked (as in Prov 10 and following) and the need to pass on the faith to the younger generation (as in Prov 1-9).

A quote from the end of Joel (3.16) recurs in the opening of Amos (1.2). Both share similar views on the Day of the Lord (Joel 2.2; Amos 5.18-20). This “Day of the Lord” shares two parts from the Hosea 3.4-5 cited above: judgement and restoration at the “end of the days.”

Amos 9.12 uses Edom as a representative nation incorporated into the future Davidic kingdom. Obadiah is about God’s judgment on Edom. Both Hosea, Amos, Jonah, Micah, though dealing with different foreign powers, all have room for God’s work among the Gentiles at the end of time.

The closing of Micah (7.18-20) and the opening of Nahum (1.2-3) depend on Ex 43.6-7 for their description of God.

The theophanies (appearances of God) in Nahum 1.2-8 and Hab 3.3-15 “bookend” each of those works.

The end of Hab 2.20 and 3.16 share with the beginning of Zephaniah 1. 7 and 15 “Day of the Lord” language.

The restoration materials in Zeph 3.9-20 connects with the subject matter of Haggai.

Haggai and Zechariah are connected by a similar dating of their prophetic ministries. Zechariah also uses the same messianic language as in Haggai’s presentation of Zerubbabel (see Hag 2.23) which ties back to Hosea’s future king (see text above).

Finally, the phrase “the oracle of the word of the LORD” occurs only in Zech 9.1; 12.1 and  Mal. 1.1 in the Hebrew Bible. Thus, making Malachi a continuation of Zechariah; furthermore, “my messenger” (or Malachi) of Mal 1.1 prepares for the introduction of God’s message Elijah in Mal 3.1 and 4.25.

In conclusion these and other factors point to a very intentional process in the final redaction of the MP and further evidence that the MP as we have them now was intended to be read as one book.

As much as I would like to say that I found all of this on my own, I’m indebted to Michael B. Shepherd, The Twelve Prophets in the New Testament (Studies in Biblical Literature 140; New York: Peter Lang, 2011), 2-4, for much of this information.

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5 Comments

Filed under Citations and Allusions, New Testament, Old Testament

5 responses to “Reading the Minor Prophets, the BOOK of the Twelve, as One Book

  1. Beth Vest

    Funny, I was recently looking at maybe trying to give the Minor Prophets a good comprehensive read. I need a good overview of those books. Suggest a good approach?

    • snhelton

      Beth, I had a chance to teach the Minor Prophets at the last church I served. Rich stuff. Though dated somewhere, I still think the best little handbook on the MP is the one by Jack P. Lewis, The Minor Prophets. I notice it is still available via Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Minor-Prophets-Jack-P-Lewis/dp/0801055091. Lewis gives you just enough historical and literary information to make each prophet more readable. However, Lewis will not be reading the MP as one book. However, is really good about hooking together major themes held by the various prophets. I have my marked up copy you can borrow, if you would like.

  2. Joel Ellis

    Very interesting. I have thought some about this before, but never at the level of your post. I also had not thought of the potential significance for the way these prophets may be cited in Luke-Acts.

    Thanks for giving me more to chew on!

  3. luke

    I know Jack Lewis personally. He also has a book on the Major prophets. His book on the minor prophets is easily understood and very historical. It helps to understand what is not so easily understood from a simply reading of scripture in the historical perspective.

    • snhelton

      Luke, I also know Lewis and would recommend all of his critical scholarship. I think his Minor Prophet could use an overhaul at this point in history; it was written in the mid to late 60s and and more recent scholarship would adjust some of his understanding but overall, I would change only what needed to be, as the book is the best “one-stop” guides on the Minor Prophets available. He gives you just enough to make the text makes sense.

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