A Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scholar looks at the Bible and culture…

And the Winner Is….

It’s time for the results of my first reader poll.  Drumroll, please.

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As of  today, with 50 votes cast over 7 weeks, the winner in the “What is your favorite book among the prophets?” is Isaiah.  Close to 36% of respondents listed Isaiah as their favorite book.   

The popularity of Isaiah comes as no surprise.  Not only is Isaiah the longest prophetic book (giving people more to like), but it’s also the prophetic book most quoted in the New Testament.  In fact, of all Old Testament books it’s the second-most quoted in the New Testament (Psalms wins that contest).  Passages from Isaiah appear in the narratives of Jesus’ birth (“behold, a virgin will conceive”), his life (“the spirit of the LORD is upon me”), and his passion (“he was despised and rejected”).   A lot of folks know Isaiah even when they don’t know that they know Isaiah.  

Jeremiah came in second with 24%. 

Fair 2008 by Bob n Renee.

Jeremiah is a usual second-place finisher.  No real match for Isaiah’s popularity, Jeremiah does offer moving personal speeches (“oh that my head were a fountain of tears”) and memorable metaphors (God as potter and Jerusalem as clay).  Jeremiah also provides New Testament writers with material, such the description of a future new covenant that will be written on people’s hearts. 

Ezekiel, Daniel, and the Book of the Twelve all tied for third place with 10%. 

The tie between Ezekiel and Daniel makes sense.  In my experience, a lot of folks like the stories in both–the valley of the dry bones and Daniel in the lion’s den–but find the books as a whole somewhat strange.  Of course, people who read Ezekiel and Daniel as predicting the future tend to find these books immensely important, so their third-place finish in my poll tells me something about who is (and who isn’t) part of my website audience yet. 

I work mostly on the Book of the Twelve, so I’m disappointed that the minor prophets didn’t get a better showing.

Maybe offering people a chance to vote for individual books may have given Amos or Micah a fighting chance.  Having to share the stage with Nahum and Obadiah can hurt a guy’s ratings.  

Six percent voted for “what’s a prophet?,” while 4% liked Lamentations (I’m rounding, in case you’re attempting oversight of my accounting).

“What is a prophet?” is a question I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about.  

Before I give my answer, I’m interested in hearing what other people think.  Let me know your definition of a prophet by taking my new poll:  “What is the primary role of a prophet?” 


4 Responses to And the Winner Is….

  • I voted “social critic,” but I think that “other” probably better describes what I see the role of a prophet is. My guess is that prophets, although they do engage their societies, are more like theologian poets– using social and theological imagery to talk about society and history. So, definitely passages written with a “future” tense can be read as a commentary on the historical context, but I think that they also might be attempts to orient people to what faithfulness and living within a covenental relationship with God is like. What do you think? (Or do I have to wait until the poll is done? 😉 )

  • Ben, I like your comments a lot (and I look forward to exploring your website). Although I said I’d wait til the poll was closed to reveal what I think, I’ve written too much about prophets for my ideas to be a surprise. My real answer is “interesting characters in very interesting books.” That is, I’m not confident that we know what the real people behind the prophetic books were like. We can talk about how the prophets are portrayed in biblical books: people who deliver God’s word. As to the real geniuses behind the books, I follow the thinking of the late Robert Carroll that what we really have in prophetic books is the work of great (theologian) poets.

  • I agree with Albert Jay Nock that, as major component, it’s a prophet’s job to help preserve and encourage the ‘remnant’ – and – in this context it certainly has a contemporary face. Note his description of the remnant as that quiet group which is “the substratum of right-thinking and well-doing”. A reprint of this 1936 essay is found here:

    http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/isaiahs-job/

  • I wish Ezekiel ranked a little higher. I dig that dude in a “holy heck what did he just write?” kinda way. But yeah, Isaiah tradition wins, for good reasons.

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