- Slides: 9
Abraham Joshua Heschel Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, second from right, participating in Selma Civil Rights March on March 21, 1965 with Martin Luther King, Jr. , fourth from right.
Heschel’s Approach: Arguably Postmodern (before the term was fashionable) Post-Critical: Questions of historical background, accuracy and credibility are welcomed, but are not paramount. Diversely Centered: Interpreters’ differing convictions, hunches, loyalties and suspicions need to be named and allowed to inform (but not control) their interpretations. (Sometimes these differ within the same interpreter!) Conversational: Interpreters need to remain accountable to one another, even when they keep moving in different directions. “In the face of the tragic failure of the modern mind, incapable of preventing its own destruction, it became clear to me that the most important philosophical problem of the twentieth century was to find a new set of presuppositions or premises, a different way of thinking” (xxviii).
In Heschel’s words (xxv-xxvii): I have … become wary of impartiality, which is itself a way of being partial. The prophet’s existence is either irrelevant or relevant. If irrelevant, I cannot be truly involved in it. If relevant, then my impartiality is but a pretense. Reflection is part of a situation. The situation of a person immersed in the prophets’ words is one of being exposed to a ceaseless shattering of indifference, and one needs a skull of stone to be callous to such blows. [The prophets’] existence involves us. Unless their concern strikes us, pains us, exalts us, we do not really sense it. Such involvement requires accord, receptivity, hearing, sheer surrender to their impact. Its intellectual rewards include moments in which the mind peels off, as it were, its not knowing. Thought is like touch, comprehending by being comprehended. Prophecy is a sham unless it is experienced as a word of God swooping down on man and converting him into a prophet. An analysis of prophetic utterances shows that the fundamental experience of the prophet is fellowship with the feelings of God, a sympathy with the divine pathos.  CWA: So, to understand the prophets, we have to cultivate a sympathy for their sympathy with the divine pathos.
What is Divine Pathos? Heschel (29): God is involved in the life of man. The divine commandments are not mere recommendations for man, but express divine concern. The reaction of the divine self, its manifestations in the form of love, mercy, disappointment, or anger convey the profound intensity of the divine inwardness. “Frightful is the agony of man; no human voice can convey its full terror. Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet’s words” (5 -6)
Like many biblical scholars and theologians of the past 100 years, Heschel seems to regard God, not as “the unmoved mover” (Aristotle), but as “the most moved mover. ” God is more like the God of J & E, not much like the God of P. In this view, whatever we or any other creature may feel, God feels it in an immeasurably more intense way. We tend to insulate ourselves from the depth and extent of suffering in the world. So the prophets use all sorts of exaggerated communication to break down our insulation. In Heschel’s view, those who are most outraged at human suffering (especially human-caused suffering), are most in accord with the heart and mind of God. When do you feel outrage at somebody else’s suffering?
The Prophet Nathan Confronts David 2 Samuel 11: 26 -12: 7 a When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him. ” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. ” Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”
Divine Pathos: Hosea 11: 1 -4, 8 -9 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
Prophet (navi) means “one who is called” or “one who announces. ” Prophets claim to offer God’s interpretation of past and present events, and future possibilities. They are not fortune tellers. Sometimes what they say is not supposed to come true. For example, when God sends the prophet Jonah to the city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria (one of ancient Israel's fiercest enemies), Jonah's initial message seems to be one of inevitable doom: "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" (3: 1 -4) Contrary to Jonah's own expectations, however, the Ninevites respond to his preaching by believing in God, proclaiming a fast, covering themselves with sackcloth and ashes as signs of repentance, and praying to God not to destroy them. (3: 5 -9) As a result, God changes his mind and does not destroy the city of Nineveh after all. (3: 10) This turn of events does not please Jonah at all, since he had been looking forward to the destruction of the capital city of this great enemy empire! So God tries to teach Jonah further that God is more interested in mercy and forgiveness than in punishment and destruction! (4: 1 -11)
Era / Century BCE Prophetic Books [with other named Prophets] Pre-Monarchy (13 th-11 th Cent. ) Books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, beginning of 1 Samuel Early Monarchy (10 th Cent. ) 1 & 2 Samuel, most of 1 Kings [incl. Nathan & Ahijah] Divided Monarchy (9 th Cent. ) rest of 1 & 2 Kings [esp. Elijah & Elisha] Fall of Northern Kingdom of Israel (8 th Cent. ) Hosea, Amos, Micah Fall of Southern Kingdom of Judah (7 th Cent. ) Isaiah 1 -39, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Nahum Babylonian Exile (6 th Cent. ) Isaiah 40 -55, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah 1 -8 Post-Exilic Restoration (5 th-4 th Cent. ) Isaiah 56 -66, Jonah, Zechariah 9 -14, Obadiah, Joel, Malachi Hellenistic Era (3 rd-2 nd Cent. ) Daniel 1 -6 (more prophetic); Daniel 7 -12 (more apocalyptic)