Jesus the Seer

Jesus the Seer: The Progress of Prophecy

Ben Witherington
Copyright Date: 2014
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    Jesus the Seer
    Book Description:

    Increasingly, scholars recognize that prophetic traditions, expressions, and experiences stand at the heart of most religions in the ancient Mediterranean world. This is no less true for the world of Judaism and Jesus. Ben Witherington III offers an extensive, cross-cultural survey of the broader expressions of prophecy in its ancient Mediterranean context, beginning with Mari, moving to biblical figures not often regarded as prophets‒‒Balaam, Deborah, Moses, and Aaron‒‒and to the apocalyptic seer in postexilic prophecy, showing that no single pattern describes all prophetic figures. The consequence is that different aspects of Jesus’ activity touch upon prophetic predecessors: his miracles, on Elijah and Elisha; his self-understanding as the Son of Man, on Daniel and 1 Enoch; his warnings of woe and judgment, on the “writing prophets” in Judean tradition; and his messianic entry into Jerusalem, on Zechariah 9. Witherington also surveys the phenomenon of apocalyptic prophecy in early Christianity, including Paul, Revelation, the Didache, Hermas, and the Montanist movement. Jesus the Seer is a worthy complement to Witherington’s other volume on Jesus, Jesus the Sage (Fortress Press, 2000).

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-8950-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface to the Fortress Press Edition
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. A Preview of Coming Attractions
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction: Through the Eyes of the Seer
    (pp. 1-7)

    The study of prophecy has proved to be a growth industry in the last twenty-five years. This has been fueled partly by the discoveries at Mari and elsewhere, but it has also been precipitated by the growing interest in things visionary throughout Western culture in the last several decades. In a world that has a global economy and a global communications system, it is hardly surprising that there has been some impetus to take a more global or cross-cultural approach to prophecy. Now more than ever, it is possible to compare and contrast the prophetic experience, the prophetic expression, the...

  7. CHAPTER 1 The Beginning of the Word
    (pp. 8-42)

    “In the beginning was the word …” It is a familiar and seemingly simple assertion; consequently, its profundity in a largely oral cultural environment can be overlooked. In an ancient culture the living word, the living voice, always had a certain precedence over a written word.¹ And of all the voices of antiquity, none had more power or authority than those who could speak for God or, in a pagan culture, for the gods. Indeed, those who could proffer a late word from God might well be the most important members of an ancient society.

    Surprisingly, a study of prophecy...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Keepers of the Flame: The Early Israelite Prophetic Experience
    (pp. 43-61)

    In the first chapter, the roles prophets and prophetesses played in the earliest period of Israel’s history were discussed. In various ways, this experience was anomalous, for there was no king or court to which prophets could or would be attached in Israel at this time, unlike the case at Mari or Babylon and elsewhere in the ancient Near East. It is to be expected that when the monarchy appeared in Israel, the roles of prophets would take on features more in common with those of prophets in surrounding cultures, where they were regularly attached to courts.

    But what we...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Courting the Prophets: Prophets and the Early Monarchy
    (pp. 62-103)

    The desire of israel to be like other nations in having a monarchy inevitably led to an emulation of other ancient Near Eastern monarchies. One of the ways this manifested itself in due course was that Israel, like the Babylonians or those who dwelled at Mari, saw a need for court prophets, apparently in addition to regular advisers, such as Abner. It is almost never the court prophets in Israel, however, who challenge the king about his behavior or actions. Beginning with the Elijah and Elisha cycle and continuing on into the period of the writing prophets, there were a...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Prophets of Holy Writ: From Amos to the Exile
    (pp. 104-144)

    It is one of the singular problems of most studies of Hebrew prophets and prophecy that the discussion normally begins and frequently ends with the prophets of the eighth century bc and beyond, with no account of the earlier period or, for that matter, no account of the larger cross-cultural prophetic culture that had been extant for centuries.¹ In a cursory fashion in the first three chapters in this study, there has been an effort to demonstrate how to remedy that problem. This is not to say that there was no attention being paid by scholars to the indebtedness of...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Exilic Dreams of Grandeur
    (pp. 145-181)

    By the rivers of babylon—there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked of us songs and our tormentors asked for mirth saying: ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps 137:1–4). It was a very real question, and one might well have also asked, “How can we prophesy in a foreign land?” Yet surprisingly, as the psalm above shows and as the material below will demonstrate, the inspiration...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Vital Visions or the Dying of the Light?
    (pp. 182-215)

    The rather glowing report above of the postexilic situation and hope fails to deal with the fact that restoration had come to Israel only after painful and costly judgment. It was not merely a matter of forgive and forget. It was, rather, restoration after judgment. The prophets of the postexilic situation were not likely to forget this fact, and indeed their utterances are full of words of both woe and weal. The visionary and metaphorical vein of apocalyptic will be mined even further in the postexilic age, but not to the exclusion of more traditional oracular prophecy. For evidence of...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Apocalypse—Then
    (pp. 216-245)

    Although it can not be said that prophecy died during the time between the Testaments, it certainly took some new forms, and the most interesting of these is the apocalypse. Traditional oracular prophecy using a messenger formula seems to have been almost unrepresented during this period;¹ we can only speak of the proliferation of visions and dreams, and in particular apocalyptic ones. As D. Petersen suggests, this is in part to be explained by the close connection between the monarchy and prophecy in Israel, as in other ancient Near Eastern situations.² When the social situation changed drastically, forms of discourse...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Jesus the Seer
    (pp. 246-292)

    In a previous study i argued that Jesus should be seen as a sage, albeit a prophetic sage.¹ It is the intent of this chapter to explore further the adjective in this last description, for no one title or label adequately explains a figure as complex as Jesus. Multiple complementary models are required to deal with the man who fits no one formula, as E. Schweizer once called him. The matter is complicated by the considerable cross-fertilization of things prophetic, sapiential, and apocalyptic by the time Jesus comes on the stage of early Judaism. The question then becomes, What sort...

  15. CHAPTER 9 Prophets, Seers, and Dreamers at the Dawn of the Christian Era
    (pp. 293-328)

    Were the first post-easter followers of Jesus prophets? Did they follow in the footsteps of Jesus, offering various predictions and warnings about the future? Was prophecy so ubiquitous that one could call the Jesus movement, in essence, a prophetic movement, perhaps something like Elijah and his followers? On first blush, the evidence for such a conclusion seems lacking. It is true that there are various references to prophets in early Christian literature (e.g., 1 Cor 14; Acts 11:27–30), but apart from the book of Revelation, there are no books in the canon of the nt that could be called...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Profile of a Prophet and His Movement: Jesus and His Followers in the Greco-Roman World
    (pp. 329-350)

    The last couple of chapters have chronicled the wide-ranging fascination with matters prophetic in the Roman Empire during the first century ad. This fascination was felt by Gentile no less than Jew, although the two did not share exactly the same views on what prophecy was and how it worked. Some recently published papyri now make available some indications of the very practical nature of prophecy in the Greco-Roman world. It will be well to review some of this material briefly before considering the somewhat hellenized portraits of prophets and prophecy found in Luke–Acts.

    It is not uncommon to...

  17. CHAPTER 11 From the Seer to the Shepherd: Apocalyptic at the End of the New Testament Era
    (pp. 351-380)

    In view of the difficulties in understanding the book of Revelation, it will come as no surprise that the discussion of Christian apocalyptic must begin with some disclaimers. In light of the discussion in the previous two chapters, it will not do to suggest either that Revelation provides the sole or necessarily even the primary model of what “prophecy” was like among Christians in this era. At the same time, it will not do to dismiss the prophetic character of Revelation either, as if the hybrid-form apocalyptic was not grounded in the prophetic tradition.¹ The older influential differentiation of P....

  18. CHAPTER 12 From Mari to Montanus
    (pp. 381-397)

    This study of the development of prophecy in the ancient Near East and the eastern end of the Greco-Roman world, especially in Jewish and Christian contexts, has journeyed in many directions and through many texts. It would not be appropriate to conclude this study, however, with the end of the nt period lest this simply continue to perpetuate the myth that prophecy ceased at the end of the “canonical” period. Indeed, it did not, as the sort of material we will examine in this concluding chapter will show. One may certainly talk about the development or diminution of prophecy and...

  19. CHAPTER 13 The Progress of Prophecy: Conclusions
    (pp. 398-404)

    It is possible to generalize about prophecy over so long a period as two millennia in limited but important ways. The subtitle of this study rightly intimated from the start that we must reckon with growth and change in regard to the practice and the perception of prophecy over this extended period. Yet clearly there was enough continuity across these varied cultures in the understanding of prophets and prophecy that a prophet could be recognized across cultural boundaries and through time.

    This study began by mentioning Grabbe’s definition of a prophet. A prophet is a person who speaks in the...

  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 405-414)
  21. Indexes
    (pp. 415-427)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 428-428)