Patristic Reception of the book of the Twelve Prophets

The last few years has shown a great interest in the reception history of single texts, biblical books, and even entire portions of the canon. There have been great books and commentary series devoted to such studies. Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers by Chris Hall, the Ancient Christian Commentary Series edited by Thomas Oden, and the new Reformation Commentary Series edited by Timothy George are a couple examples. These and other such work highlights that interpreters through history were asking different questions than those asked of the present and can help show our interpretive “blind spots.”

This post involves the early church’s reception of what many call the Minor Prophets. In my research I was interested in the reception of the collection of the Minor Prophets. So, did the early church recognize the Minor Prophets as a single book or are the Minor Prophets twelve individual books? I have around 60 pages worth of notes regarding the early church and the Minor Prophets found in the Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers edited by Philip Schaff, below is a brief sampling:

Of these and such like words written by the prophets, O Trypho,” said I, “some have reference to the first advent of Christ, in which He is preached as inglorious, obscure, and of mortal appearance: but others had reference to His second advent, when He shall appear in glory and above the clouds; and your nation shall see and know Him whom they have pierced, as Hosea, one of the twelve prophets, and Daniel, foretold (Justin’s Dialogue Chapter XIV).

And Zechariah also, among the twelve prophets, pointing out to the people the will of God, says: “These things does the Lord Omnipotent declare: Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassion each one to his brother (Irenaeus Against Heresies Chapter XVII).

For it is expressly said by Joel, one of thetwelve prophets, “And it shall come to pass after these things, I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Clement of Alexandria The Knowledge of God a Divine Gift, According to the Philosophers Chapter XIII).

The prophecy of Isaiah is not in the book of the twelve prophets, who are called the minor from the brevity of their writings, as compared with those who are called the greater prophets because they published larger volumes (Augustine Chapter 29.—What Things are Predicted by Isaiah Concerning Christ and the Church).

And this is in common language so unprecedented, or at least so rare, that we are only convinced that the twelve Prophets made one book, because we read in like manner, “As it is written in the book of the Prophets.” There are some too who call all the canonical Scriptures together one book, because they agree in a very wondrous and divine unity.…(Augustine On the Psalms–Psalm CL).

Accordingly when I went East and came to the place where these things were preached and done, I learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, and send them to thee as written below. Their names are as follows: Of Moses, five books: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy; Jesus Nave, Judges, Ruth; of Kings, four books; of Chronicles, two; the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon, Wisdom also, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah; of the twelve prophets, one book; Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras (Eusebius Pamphilus 206, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers).

The majority of what I found was that the early church recognized the Minor Prophets as a unity, some going so far calling it a single book despite the lack of any type of codex existing. At this point I have not seen in the Fathers an approach to read the Minor Prophets as a book but I was intrigued by how many references there were to the entire collection.




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One thought on “Patristic Reception of the book of the Twelve Prophets

  1. Pingback: Elsewhere (02.04.2012) « Near Emmaus

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