Isaiah 52:7-10 | Romans 10:11-18
And so, this week, we come to the end of the first half of E100, with our final set of readings, taken from the prophets.
Actually, the very fact that the Old Testament ends with the books of the prophets is itself slightly odd. As you know, what we in the Christian tradition refer to as the Old Testament is the collection of books that make up the Hebrew scriptures, the Jewish scripture. But in the Jewish tradition, from which we inherited these writings, the prophets are placed earlier, along with the wisdom literature, and the scriptures end with the books of Chronicles, the summary of the history of the people of Israel. The words of the prophets are embedded in the books of history, reflecting the context out of which, and to which, they spoke.
When the Christian canon was put together, in a time of rather strong anti-semitism, the books of the prophets were pulled out of that context and placed at the end of the Old Testament, to emphasise the sense in which they were pointing forward to something else; creating the feeling of the Old Testament as an incomplete story, a movie in need of a sequel.
And the way we tend to use the old testament prophecies in the Church serves to further this feeling: we take, often out of context, quotations from the prophets in our telling of the Christmas and Easter stories, as if to say “these are really all about Jesus”; when reading larger blocks of the text makes it clear that the story is far more complex than that. Sometimes they seem to be speaking of a distant future, sometimes of a present event, sometimes somewhere in between. It doesn’t help that the Hebrew language expresses tenses in a totally different way to our sense of past, present and future. And sometimes they seem to speak of an individual, sometimes of the people of God as a whole.