Handbook on the Prophets
A review of Robert Chisholm's, "Handbook on the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Minor Prophets," by Dr. M. Daniel Carroll R.
Chisholm, Robert B., Jr. Handbook on the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids: Baker. 2002 Hardcover, $32.99. 512 pp. ISBN 0-8010-2529-X.
This volume offers a more detailed study of the prophets than do many introductions to the prophetic literature, although, as Chisholm admits in his Preface, it cannot take the place of more scholarly commentaries. His goal is to offer “an overview of the prophets' message through a running commentary that analyzes the structure, themes, and message of the prophets” (p. 9).
A chapter is devoted to each of the major prophetic books (with Lamentations joined to Jeremiah), while the Minor Prophets are all dealt with in a concluding lengthy one. Each chapter is structured in the same manner: a short introduction, which briefly deals with questions of authorship, historicity, and general structure, is followed by an exposition that covers sequentially the principle divisions of the book. The longest treatment of any book is that of Isaiah (150 pp.). The technical level of the exposition appears to have the “educated layperson,” minister or seminary student in view, and the footnotes point to bibliographic sources or expand on textual details. Every chapter closes with an extensive and an up-to-date bibliography of commentaries, monographs, and articles. The volume concludes with an author and subject index. The provision of a scripture index would have been another reader-friendly tool to aid readers find discussions on specific passages more quickly.
Chisholm does provide a helpful exposition of each prophetic book, dealing with the major points of discussion as he works his way through the text. His comments on the predictive passages reflect his premillennial dispensational commitments, but his treatment of these texts is much more nuanced and balanced than one usually finds from those of this persuasion. For example, Chisholm argues for an “essential fulfillment” of the New Covenant promise of Jer. 31:31-40, since some of the details (such as the reunification of Israel with Judah, because of the assimilation of the ten Northern tribes after 722 B.C.E. into the Assyrian empire) cannot be fulfilled literally. The promise of a restoration of the Jews to the land, however, does continue to hold (cf. Rom. 11:25-32). The same stance is reflected, too, in other controversial passages, such as the description of a future Temple (Ezek. 40-48): “Since the fulfillment of the vision transcends these culturally conditioned boundaries [e.g., the reestablishment of the sacrificial system, the reunification of all of the tribes of Israel], we should probably view it as idealized to some extent and look for an essential, rather than an exact fulfillment of many of its features” (p. 286).
As in the case of any volume like this one, a reviewer would disagree with some of the interpretations. Some perhaps also would have wanted more space dedicated to standard critical debates. Rather than comment on my alternative explanations of discrete passages or point out where longer discussions on some classical issues might have been appropriate, however, I would rather make three more generalized comments on the expositions. All of these, of course, inevitably, reflect some of my own interests. First, Chisholm does pay some attention to literary structures. Nevertheless, on the one hand, one would have wished for more discussion of how structure informs the interpretation of the prophetic material. Simply put, there is not very much attention given to literary structure and form. On the other hand, a fuller literary reading of the text would probe dimensions of character, plot, and point of view; it would explore how texts within the books apparently are deliberately open-ended and are picked up and developed as one progresses through the material. These literary data, in my opinion, are foundational to understanding the message of the prophets and for appreciating the power of this literature as sacred texts.
Second, over the last two decades there has been much research done on sociological aspects related to the prophets, their societies, and the production of the literature. These perspectives are not utilized in the exposition. Third, there is no engagement with Third World, feminist, and postmodern concerns, and such an omission is glaring in the treatments of certain books (for instance, of Hosea). This sort of interaction might have enabled the author to probe other creative ways the text can speak into the modern world.
In sum, the volume offers more of a traditional approach to the Old Testament prophets, with a special focus on exegetical issues and some of the historical background. In this it succeeds to an admirable degree. I would recommend it to my own students as what the title suggests: a sound, basic “handbook on the prophets.”
M. Daniel Carroll R., Ph.D.
Professor of Old Testament