The Calm before the Storm

The site has been quiet for several weeks. Lately, the whole of my writing efforts have been exhausted on a paper for a doctoral seminar on Prophetic Literature entitled “A Remnant Will Return: An Analysis of the Rhetorical Function of the Remnant in Isaiah and Zephaniah.” Though I will make further comments in upcoming posts, I wanted to catalog some initial observations derived from my research.

The general thesis of my paper is that in utilizing the remnant motif, focusing particularly on Isaiah 1-12 and Zephaniah in its entirety, the prophets portray the remnant community with both positive and negative connotations to invoke their hearers to return to a posture of covenant faithfulness.

At this point, two introductory problems emerge: the commission to Isaiah to deaden the sensitivities of his hearers (Isa 6:9-10) and the dating of Zephaniah’s prophetic ministry in relation to Josiah’s reforms. Here, brief comments must suffice.

The first problem arises from the tension of Isaiah’s commission to harden the hearts of Israel by his prophetic message and my contention of his intention to persuade his audience by use of the remnant motif. While Yahweh certainly declares the purpose/result of Isaiah’s ministry, one may wonder if Isaiah’s proclamation was  indeed hopeless, for his audience, after all, was destined to reject his message. Yet the book of Isaiah itself stands against such a claim. For, before the words of the prophet were penned, they were preached. Even if his audience was to be hardened, leaving his words for future generations (Isa 8:16), the pathos of his oracles can hardly be missed. As such, Isaiah sought to call his contemporaries to repentance, employing an illustrative rhetorical strategy.

To the second problem, ie. the context of Zephaniah’s ministry, I am inclined to locate his proclamation in the early period of Josiah’s reforms. The superscription of the book identifies the context of Zephaniah’s office as the reign of Josiah, which spanned 640-609 B.C. From an internal perspective, features of the text may give an indication of an early date of Zephaniah’s oracles. One such indication is the condemnation of idolatry, more specifically syncretism, as alluding to a period when such practices were, at least partially, still in effect. The purge by Josiah would make such a context favorable for Zephaniah’s forceful proclamation to bring the work to completion. Hence, Zephaniah, in my view, played a significant role during the course of the reforms, though they proved to be short lived.

Doubtlessly, many take divergent views to both the above points, but the point remains: the prophets employed imagery and rhetorical devices to evoke a response from their audience. Among others, the remnant motif functions as such a device. I will explore both the positive and negative contexts of the remnant in upcoming posts. In the meantime, I would welcome any of your initial thoughts.

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Filed under Isaiah, Zephaniah

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