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forms of prophetic literature

Prophetic genres

a) Messenger speech
Frequently introduced by “Thus says the Lord ....” or concluded by “says of the Lord”. Examples could be taken from almost anywhere in the prophetic books. E.g. in Amos 5 these forms appear together:

16 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord: In all the squares there shall be wailing; and in all the streets they shall say, "Alas! alas!" They shall call the farmers to mourning, and those skilled in lamentation, to wailing; 17 in all the vineyards there shall be wailing, for I will pass through the midst of you, says the LORD.
This genre is possibly based on the speech pattern of diplomatic messages sent from one king or prince to another. The prophet is seen as YHWH’s messenger, or is sent from the divine council to speak to Israel etc.

b) Prophetic judgment oracles
These have been analysed in a variety of ways but usually they contain some form of address with the reason for the judgment to come, and then an announcement of judgment. The quote from Amos 5:16-17 above is part of a larger judgment oracle. These oracles can be addressed to individuals (e.g. 2 Samuel 12) or the nation as in Amos 6:4-7:

4 Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; 5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; 6 who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! 7 Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.
The opposite of the judgment oracle is the oracle of salvation, e.g. Amos 9:11-15.

c) Covenant lawsuit (rîb)
This could come from either a legal (court) context or a cultic (breach of treaty/covenant) context. Scholars vary in their opinion. E.g. Isa. 3:13-15:

13 The LORD rises to argue his case; he stands to judge the peoples. 14 The LORD enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. 15 What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord GOD of hosts.
Hos. 4:1-3 is another example. The Hebrew word rîb (“lawsuit, case”) is usually present.

d) Woe oracle (hoy)
The prophet uses this cry, taken from a funerary context, to express his/her lamentation over the people etc. See Amos 5:18-6:14 for a series of them. The Hebrew word hoy is translated in the NRSV in these verses by “Alas”. The judgment oracle cited above is an example. In fact you can see from these examples that genres can be mixed. Isa. 5:8-17 has several examples. Hoy is translated “Ah” in this case. The woe oracles in Isaiah 5 are followed by judgment oracles “Therefore ...” For example:

11 Ah, you who rise early in the morning in pursuit of strong drink, who linger in the evening to be inflamed by wine, 12 whose feasts consist of lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine, but who do not regard the deeds of the LORD, or see the work of his hands!

13 Therefore my people go into exile without knowledge; their nobles are dying of hunger, and their multitude is parched with thirst.

H. Wallace
January, 2007