Nevi’im (Prophets) presents Israel’s history as a nation on its land. The Israelites conquer and settle; they are beset by local enemies and eventually by imperial powers. Political and prophetic leaders vie for hearts; the supporters of God‘s covenant do battle against the paganism of neighboring groups and among the Israelites themselves. A kingdom, a capital, and a Temple are built and eventually destroyed. At the end of Nevi’im, prophets who experienced the exile teach a renewed monotheism to a chastened Israel.
Historically, Nevi’im begins with the conquest of Eretz Yisrael under the leadership of Joshua, Moses‘ successor (c. 1200 BCE) and concludes with the prophecies of Malachi to those rebuilding the Temple after their return from Babylonia (c. 515 BCE). Jewish convention divides the books into Nevi’im Rishonim, “Former Prophets,”and Nevi’im Aharonim, “Latter Prophets.” Nevi’im Rishonim consists of prose works built around a historical narrative–Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Nevi’im Aharonim encompasses the “literary prophets,” such as Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.
Two voices are heard in Nevi’im Rishonim. One is a nationalist voice, trumpeting heroic leaders such as Joshua and David and the empire briefly consolidated under Solomon. More dominant is a covenantal voice, which explains the fortunes of leaders and the nation on the basis of their fidelity to God.
Scholars refer to Nevi’im Rishonimas the “Deuteronomic History”–history from the perspective of the thinkers behind the book of Deuteronomy. All together, the Nevi’im Rishonim describe the transition from a loose tribal confederation to a monarchy under Saul and David, the division into two kingdoms after Solomon, the conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrian Empire in 722 BCE, and the end of the southern kingdom of Judah at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire in 586 BCE
Within the narrative of Nevi’im Rishonim we encounter the first individual prophets, known to scholars as “preclassical” prophets. Samuel was known as a “seer”; Elijah and Elisha foretold drought and famine and called forth miracles from God. What links these prophets with the classical prophets of the Nevi’im Aharonim is their role vis-a-vis the political leaders of Israel. Nathan confronted David over his affair with Bathsheba; Elijah stood against Ahab when the king confiscated Naboth’s vineyard.
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