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The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are [Hardcover]

By Norman Podhoretz (Author)
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Item description for The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are by Norman Podhoretz...

One of the nation's most controversial biblical scholars reinterprets the biblical prophets and their messages, finding new meanings and enduring truths in these enigmatic writings.

Publishers Description
A radical reinterpretation of the biblical prophets by one of America's most provocative critics reveals the eternal beauty of their language and the enduring resonance of their message.

Long before Norman Podhoretz became one of the intellectual leaders of American neoconservatism, he was a student of Hebrew literature and a passionate reader of the prophets of the Old Testament. Returning to them after fifty years, he has produced something remarkable: an entirely new perspective on some of the world's best-known works.

Or, rather, three new perspectives. The first is a fascinating account of the golden age of biblical prophecy, from the eighth to the fifth century B.C.E., and its roots in earlier ages of the ancient Israelite saga. Thus, like large parts of the Bible itself, The Prophets is a history of the Near East from the point of view of a single nation, covering not only what is known about the prophets themselves -- including Elijah, Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel -- but also the stories of King David, King Saul, and how the ancient Israelites were affected by the great Near Eastern empires that surrounded them. Layered into this work of history is a piece of extraordinary literary criticism. Podhoretz's very close reading of the verse and imagery used by the biblical prophets restores them to the top reaches of the poetic pantheon, for these books contain, unequivocally, some of the greatest poetry ever written.

The historical chronicle and the literary criticism will transport readers to a time that is both exotic and familiar and, like any fine work of history or literature, will evoke a distinct and original world. But the third perspective of The Prophets is that of moral philosophy, and it serves to bring the prophets' message into the twenty-first century. For to Norman Podhoretz, the real relevance of the prophets today is more than the excitement of their history or the beauty of their poetry: it is their message. Podhoretz sees, in the words of the biblical prophets, a war being waged, a war against the sin of revering anything made by the hands of man -- in short, idolatry. In their relentless battle against idolatry, Podhoretz finds the prophets' most meaningful and enduring message: a stern warning against the all-consuming worship of self that is at least as relevant in the twenty-first century as it was three thousand years ago.

The Prophets will earn the respect of biblical scholars and the fascinated attention of general readers; its observations will be equally valued by believers and nonbelievers, by anyone with spiritual yearnings. Learned, provocative, and beautifully written, The Prophets is a deeply felt, deeply satisfying work that is at once history, literary criticism, and moral philosophy -- a tour de force.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Free Press
Pages   400
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.48" Width: 6.4" Height: 1.23"
Weight:   1.27 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Oct 31, 2002
Publisher   Free Press
ISBN  0743219279  
ISBN13  9780743219273  

Availability  0 units.

More About Norman Podhoretz

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Norman Podhoretz, the author of eight previous books on subjects ranging from contemporary literature to foreign policy, was editor in chief of Commentary for thirty-five years and is now the magazine's editor at large and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. A graduate of Columbia and Cambridge Universities, as well as of the Seminary College of Jewish Studies (where he earned a Bachelor of Hebrew Literature), he has been awarded a Pulitzer Scholarship, a Kellett Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, the Francis L. Boyer Award from the American Enterprise Institute, and five honorary doctorates, including one from the Jewish Theological Seminary and another from Yeshiva University. He lives in New York City with his wife, the writer Midge Decter.

Norman Podhoretz currently resides in New York City, in the state of New York.

Norman Podhoretz has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Vintage

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > World Literature > Jewish
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Commentaries > Old Testament
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Criticism & Interpretation > Old Testament
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > General
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Prophecies
6Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Bible > General
7Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Bible > Old Testament
8Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Prophecy
10Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Judaism > General
11Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Judaism > Sacred Writings > Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) > Criticism & Interpretation
12Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Judaism > Sacred Writings > Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) > Study

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Reviews - What do customers think about The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are?

Excellent Read, Pretty Good Theology  Jan 19, 2007
I really enjoyed Podhoretz's book on the prophets, but I think ultimately he's a better Biblical historian and story teller than he is a theologian (which isn't to say he isn't doing good work when he delves into theology). Still, a lot of what he said makes sense and his positions are extremely well argued and powerful if not wholly persuasive. I can see why some Christian reviewers were left with somewhat of a bad taste in their mouth, because Podhoretz's position (despite occasional protestations that he's writing for all readers of any philosophical or religious persuasion) is ultimately quite Judeo-centric. But what do you expect? He is, after all, a religious Jew. And more power to him, I say. I WANTED to get an outside perspective. Where I agreed, I agreed a lot, where I disagreed I acknowledged the strength of his point of view. I ultimately became convinced that the 'evolutionary' theory of prophetic religion is probably overstated, but I think Podhoretz errs too much the other direction. Is there no innovation in the Classical Prophets? I think Podhoretz is not focusing enough on the role their religious imagination plays and already assumes from the outset that there is some systematic theology at work here. There obviously is SOME kind of theology, his case for that is clear, but I don't think its all as coherent as he seems to think it is. Sometimes he makes moves that irked me, like his denial of Jonah as belonging to the classical prophets. He does this because Jonah is a story about a prophet whereas ALL of the other classical prophets (Daniel isn't considered a classical prophet by Podhoretz either) are not writing stories so much as prounouncing God's Will and Plan. Podhoretz points out that this story hearkens back to the kinds of stories that he examined concerning the pre-classical prophets. BUT he goes to great lengths and gives fantastic arguments in the book that there IS NO strict bifurcation between the pre-classical prophets and their classical decendents. So why should we think that this harkening back somehow precludes Jonah from fitting in that tradition in toto? So whereas Jonah would prove a real problem for some of his central theses about the lack of real innovation in the prophetic period he just removes Jonah from the picture rather than really trying to examine what the thinker represents. What's really important about Jonah's place is that those who placed Jonah IN the canon DID consider him a prophet and so whatever systematic prophetic theology was developed at the time that the canon started to take shape certainly thought he fit into the whole picture. However you can even learn from Podhoretz's mistake here. Because it sheds a big light on how important this so-called minor prophet really is to Christianity and theology as a whole.

Another problem is that while I think Podhoretz makes a good case that the classic bifurcation of prophet and priest is overstated, I think he once again goes to far the other direction. There does seem to be a tension between various groups within the Hebrew community: prophet, priest, and king. You see it when David eats the food in the temple, or even between court prophets and itinerant prophets in 1 Kings. He touches on Micaiah but never really examines the Jehosaphat in that story. You might want to look at Reinhold Niebuhr's examination of that story in BEYOND TRAGEDY to understand why I think Podhoretz should've focused on it more. I think it enlightens some of the other tensions you see between various groups throughout the Bible. None of this is really given serious consideration.

A final big problem is with his examination of the suffering servant. I just think he misses the overall here, but this review is long enough as it is. Again, I'd suggest BEYOND TRAGEDY to get a better handle that Podhoretz gives. His suggestion that there is no vicarious suffering in the OT just seems ad hoc to me, and he gives no real argument for it. I think that the whole story he is telling reveals a God that is allowing people to be harmed so that they can be turned into His light for the world. The Jews are being made to suffer to prepare them for the saving work God will work through them for the world. In a roundabout way, that itself is an example of vicarious suffering in the OT. The Suffering servant, whether a premonition about Christ or a symbol for the the suffering the Jews endure or both (I've never bought the idea that Third Isaiah is talking about himself and I'm surprised Podhoretz did, again without the usual argumentative support) is a revelation that suffering love is in some sense the meaning of history. Whether intentionally or unintentionally the writer has touched that oh so important vein. Podhoretz really never reflects on any of this and I thought more about these kinds of views could've been said.

But on a number of issues Podhoretz gets a lot right, gives some dynamite history, and generally argues rigorously and effectively for his positions, which is a treat that is too rare in theology. What's more he makes the Bible come alive in a way few writers can. Sure he gets things wrong, and yes he tends to give a less than thorough account of opposition arguments, and again of course he has a Judeo-centric worldview. But forget about all that. This is a must read for anyone who is interested in the prophets and the old testament in general. I loved it and I think you will to. Just remember that its not the end-all and be-all. Read all perspectives, then make up your own mind.
Making biblical scholarship accessible to the public  Nov 11, 2006
With this book, Normal Podhoretz attempts to provide a survey of all the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. It is a monumental undertaking. One that he handles admirably. Some question his credentials. He does have at least a BHL. It strikes me that this book must have been a retirement project and a labor of love.

He summarizes every prophetic book in the canon. He treats them in chronological order according to consensus academic scholarship. He presents a review of the relevant academic scholarship, particularly as it relates to historical setting, on the books since the mid 19th century. He notes the biases in the scholarship, and presents his own interpretation.

The general thesis of this book is: "They're all wrong!" What a reader takes away from reading this book is that there is not absolute authority on what the prophetic books mean. Podhoretz addresses two primary streams of intrepretion:

o The Christological interpretation

o What he calls the "Liberological" interpretation

His own position is one that both are mistaken and that the primary concern in the prophetic material is one of idolatry. His primary beef is not with the Christological interpretation, but with the "Liberological" one, which posits an evolution in prophetic writings on two axes. The first is that there is a trend away from cultic concerns toward social justice. The second is that there is a trend from the particularlistic (concerned with Israel) to the universal (salvation of all mankind). He argues his point by citing the relevant passages in each book that contravene the position. By putting the prophets in the context of warriors against idolatry and putting Israel/Judah in historical context, he seems to indicate that the prophets were all right-wing reactionaries to some degree or other.
An Incomplete Picture of the Prophets  Dec 28, 2004
As a Christian reader of "The Prophets" by Norman Podhoretz I felt I was wandering in the wilderness and my faithful and trusted guide was lost. If what is written here was the full extent of the prophet's messages I'd be very depressed. Fortunately, it wasn't and I'm not.

Trying to express the message and the purpose of the prophets while ignoring the completing and clarifying ministry of Jesus and the apostles found in the New Testament is like listening to a beautiful symphony with the only instruments playing being the trumpets and drums. You can't even recognize the piece being played anymore.

What we're left with are strong intellectual and academic arguments that come to reasonable and logical conclusions regarding the prophets. But only the Old Testament is considered so the conclusions are incomplete at best.

I slogged through the whole thing, but really didn't enjoy myself. I did so because I have a great respect for the author's insights into current events and his comfortable, friendly way of writing.

While the author may have some understanding of the prophets of the Old Testament, unfortunately he doesn't grasp the bigger picture of which they were but a part.
A Rare Contribution to Public Understanding of the Bible  Nov 17, 2004
I'm giving Podhoretz' book five stars not because I agree with everything he says, but because he has made a rare contribution here in writing a book with is scholarly enough to be of use to those who want to understand the Hebrew Bible, yet with a style that makes it accessible to the general public.

Most widely read books on the Bible are written for people who assume a certain paradigm, either conservative or liberal, and they mainly reinforce the beliefs of the reader without discussing alternatives to underlying premises. Not so Podhoretz. Although he is in a sense a "believer," he states firmly in the beginning that he is not a fundamentalist, and this is clear in his methodology. For example, Podhoretz accepts that some sections of some biblical books were not written by their purported authors, especially in regard to Isaiah, but takes the approach that if Isaiah was written by three or more authors over three centuries, we should still look at what they have to say. He also rejects the idea that prophets are foretellers, and notes several instances where he believes they got prophecies wrong.

Podhortez' main thesis is that the prophets were warriors of the word, struggling against paganism, and that the prophetic period came to an end because they won - paganism was no longer widely accepted among Israelites, so prophets were not needed. In terms of modern application, Podhoretz argues that just as idolatry was a form of self-worship, man worshipping the products of his own hand, the prophets are relevant to us today becuase so much of our society is built around forms of self-worship.

Podhoretz' secondary thesis is more academic - he again and again attempts to refute the idea that the prophets abandoned the ritual emphaisis of the Mosaic law. This is sort of an anti-evolutionary argument; he argues that the prophets did not change the substance of their message so much as their emphasis. As circumstances changed and the Israelites became more infatuated with foreign gods, the prophets focused more on that threat, emphsizing that ritual observance was of no value to God without purity of heart.
Old Testament as ideology  Aug 1, 2003
My first reaction to this book was moderate outrage, kneejerk politics, mind you, followed by grim satisfaction, the author should cap his conservative ministrations with re-entanglement with the altogether radical prophets of yore. The last embers of the once (and future) hothead still glimmering.
Need one indulge in the obvious observation that this proves an old charge, that the OT is ideology, a sentiment reminding one of Lewis Feuer's Ideology and Ideologists, a work so irate on the subject that it outstripped its anti-marxist tirade enough to find the source of the genre in the realm of the ancient Israelites.
The prophets are indeed remarkable by any reckoning in the mystery of the Axial Age, and science has not understood them. But the progression of Biblical Criticism has delivered the subject to a new world, and we are left with something almost more interesting than the 'last chance' efforts in a neo-conservative vein to keep American mentation in line and money flowing. Cf. The Bible Unearthed, by Silberman and Finkelstein.

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