The Transmission of OT Information and Revelation

There were a number of offices and repositories for historical information in the OT. The most prominent of these are:

Two of the above groups deserve special attention--the prophets and the priests--for they were the major carriers of information both historical and religious.

The Priests

As noted above, the priests had the main teaching function within Israel. They were in charge of the sacred objects (which included copies of the Law and covenant--cf. Ex 25.16; 34.1, 28, 29; Dt 31.9; 24-26; Josh 24.26). The information they guarded, copied, and taught was static--the Law of Moses. For example, after the exile, an exiled priest was brought BACK to the land to teach those who had been 'imported' into the land (2 Kgs 17.24ff):

24 The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns. 25 When they first lived there, they did not worship the LORD; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people. 26 It was reported to the king of Assyria: "The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires." 27 Then the king of Assyria gave this order: "Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires." 28 So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the LORD.
Although the priests occasionally recorded their own experiences (cf. Ezra 7.27-9.15--the 1st person section of the book), their main focus was on ritual, preservation, and teaching--cf Neh 8:1ff:
1 all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. 2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
7 The Levites -- Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah -- instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.
Toward the Exile, as the temple hierarchy became increasingly corrupt, this responsibility to preserve and interpret clearly was abused. Cf. Jere 8.8:
"`How can you say, "We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD," when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?
And, at the close of the OT canon, the LORD summarizes this failure in Mal 2.7:
"For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction -- because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty.
Thus the timeless truths of the Law was to be their sacred deposit; and the interpretation and instruction of that Law was to be their outward ministry to the people. [We shall see below how well the preservation of the information content of the Law was done.]

It is important for us to note that the priesthood had ample skills, motivation, and commission to maintain and promulgate the Torah and other sacred writings (as they were produced and accepted as scripture by the community).

The Prophets

It is the office of prophet that assumed the major historical archive function in Israel.

The prophet was initially called a 'seer' or 'man of God' and these three terms overlapped in usage throughout OT history (I Sam 9.9 with Judges 20.26; 21.2//I Sam 2.27). People would come to 'inquire of God' about the future or personal decisions, and the prophet would speak for God (2 kgs 22.14).

Most of the early leading figures of Israel's history were either called prophets or issued prophecies/oracles:

The prophets recorded everything that was of relevance to the nation as a community--esp. when it had theological and moral overtones. Consider some of the descriptions of these records and the data they recorded:

  1. Joshua wrote a prophecy of the future of Jericho (Josh 6.26)
  2. Samuel wrote down the requirements of kingship (I Sam 10:25)
  3. All the royal events of David's life (see I Chrn 29.29 above)
  4. Solomon's life (2 Chrn 9.29):
  5. 29 As for the other events of Solomon's reign, from beginning to end, are they not written in the records of Nathan the prophet, in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite and in the visions of Iddo the seer concerning Jeroboam son of Nebat?
  6. They even record genealogies! (2 Chr 12.15):
  7. 15 As for the events of Rehoboam's reign, from beginning to end, are they not written in the records of Shemaiah the prophet and of Iddo the seer that deal with genealogies?
  8. They are called 'annotations' (cf. 2 Chr 13.22)
  9. They are incorporated into royal archival histories (2 Chrn 20.34):
  10. 34 The other events of Jehoshaphat's reign, from beginning to end, are written in the annals of Jehu son of Hanani, which are recorded in the book of the kings of Israel.
  11. More was recorded back then, than has passed down to us (2 Chr 26:22):

  12. "The other events of Uzziah's reign, from beginning to end, are recorded by the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz."

  13. There were multiple recorders and they recorded the good as well as the bad (2 Chr 33:18f):
  14. 18 The other events of Manasseh's reign, including his prayer to his God and the words the seers spoke to him in the name of the LORD, the God of Israel, are written in the annals of the kings of Israel. 19 His prayer and how God was moved by his entreaty, as well as all his sins and unfaithfulness, and the sites where he built high places and set up Asherah poles and idols before he humbled himself -- all are written in the records of the seers.
  15. They composed ritual pieces, like psalms and laments (2 Chr 35.25; Ezk 19.1):
  16. 25 Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah, and to this day all the men and women singers commemorate Josiah in the laments. These became a tradition in Israel and are written in the Laments.
  17. Often these prophecies would be directed at national or tribal groups, and would simply be collected over time (cf. Is 8-39)
  18. These oracles were often written down for purposes of witness (Is 30.6f; Jere 30.1ff; Ezk 43:11; Dan 7.1):
  19. 6 An oracle concerning the animals of the Negev: Through a land of hardship and distress, of lions and lionesses, of adders and darting snakes, the envoys carry their riches on donkeys' backs, their treasures on the humps of camels, to that unprofitable nation, 7 to Egypt, whose help is utterly useless. Therefore I call her Rahab the Do-Nothing. 8 Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness. (Is)
    1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you.
  20. They gathered in personal clips from the King (cf. Is 38:9-22 on Hezy's healing)
  21. Included personal prayers and complaints! (Jere 20:7; Jonah 2; Hab 3.1)
  22. They sometimes dictated their messages to others (esp. scribes)--Jere 36:4.
  23. They issued 'date markers' for important events--Ezk 24.1:
  24. In the ninth year, in the tenth month on the tenth day, the word of the LORD came to me: 2 "Son of man, record this date, this very date, because the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day.

So, what did the prophetic 'movement' look like in Israel? When did it appear? How widespread was it?

We first encounter a well-defined and well-known prophetic function in Numbers 11:25ff and 12:5-8--

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again. However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the Tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp." Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses' aide since youth, spoke up and said, "Moses, my lord, stop them!" But Moses replied, "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!"
Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, he said, "Listen to my words: "When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?"

We then encounter an organized 'group' of prophets in I Sam 10:5ff:

As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, tambourines, flutes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. 6 The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.
Next we find prophets that are associated with specific sites:
  1. Ahijah at Shiloh (I Kgs 11.29)
  2. An 'old prophet' at Bethel (I Kgs 13.11)--later a 'company' of prophets (2 kgs 2.3)
  3. A company of prophets at Jericho (2 kgs 2.5)
  4. A company of prophets at Gilgal (2 kgs 4.38)

David had ordained a 'ministry of prophets' in I Chr 25 (in addition to the prophets Gad and Nathan): 1 David, together with the commanders of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals..

Unlike the priesthood, in which succession was ONLY by family; the prophetic office could be passed both thru children (I Kgs 20.35; Zechariah as grandson of Iddo--Zech 1) and appointment (I Kgs 19.16--Elijah appoints Elisha ). Some priests (such as Zadok) were also prophets--cf. 2 Sam 15.27.

These prophets were not isolated individuals--as 'companies' they were of considerable size, with references to 100 being 'hidden' in the Northern Kingdom (I kgs 18.4) and 50 men of the company from Jericho (2 Kgs 2.7).

These prophets meet regularly with Elijah (" The company of the prophets said to Elisha, 'Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us'." 2 kgs 6.1), and many of them had assistants (2 kgs 2.16).

The ANE also had priests (in all cultures) and prophets (in most cultures). There were two types of prophets: ecstatic (normally in the official temples) and lucid (normally outside the official ranks)--cf. the Egyptian prophecy of Nefer-Rohu (HI:ANET:444-446; PANE1:252f). Both types of oracles were meticulously recorded, authenticated by the priest, sealed legally with some personal symbol (e.g. Akkadian lock-of-hair, and fringe-of-garment), and dispatched to the interested party (usually some noble or royal personage.)[See ANET3: 605-607; 623-626; 629-632]

Because prophecy was considered to be a request/demand from the gods, the message was taken very seriously and always written down carefully.

One of the most famous non-Israelite prophets in the ANE is Balaam, highlighted in Numbers 22-25. This internationally famous seer issued prophecies that were written down and in existence some 200-400 years later! The discovery of some Balaam oracles on a wall at Deir Alla (east of Jordan) highlights this fact. (See Ron Allen, "Numbers" in NICOT; and JBL 114:43-64 (1995) "Is Balaam Also Among the Prophets"--Dijkstra).

So what is the point of this discussion on priests and prophets? Simply to illustrate that they were the keepers, recorders, and transmitters of the OT information. WITH THIS IN MIND, the FARTHER BACK we can trace those 'institutions' and/or 'offices', THEN THE FARTHER BACK we have the 'storage location' for the repository of OT information and for a control mechanism.

Let's look at this a bit more closely. It is commonly assumed that there was no priesthood in Abraham's camp--and this is generally assumed on the basis of the fact that the Patriarchs themselves offered the sacrifices that a 'priesthood' would make--Abraham in Gen 22.13, Jacob in 31.54, Noah in 8:20. But it should be remembered that Jacob was still a son at the time (e.g. Isaac was still alive) and that Cain and Abel had both made offerings in early Genesis. This implies that the priestly role was not exclusive to the eldest. As the number of the persons in the camp grew, it might be reasonable to assume that the father would designate some other family member (e.g. a son) to carry on the priestly duties. Indeed, there is some evidence that this was the pattern for Israel in Egypt.

  1. With the growth in population in Egypt, the eldest ranking 'patriarch' would soon have been overwhelmed with the function;
  2. There are two PRE-Levitical passages in Exodus that mention non-Levitical 'priests'--19.20 and 24.4-5:
  3. 20 The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the LORD said to him, "Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them."
    He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD.
  4. In the period of the Judges (in which Israel reverted back to 'old ways'), we have one specific case of where the man Micah appointed his son as priest ( Jud 17.4-6):
  5. So he returned the silver to his mother, and she took two hundred shekels of silver and gave them to a silversmith, who made them into the image and the idol. And they were put in Micah's house. 5 Now this man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and some idols and installed one of his sons as his priest. 6 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.
If this is correct, then there would be a rudimentary priestly function that developed in the camp of Abraham and Co. BEFORE the Israelites go into Egypt. Indeed, even the basic function of 'keepers of the law' might find a need to meet there, for scripture tells us that Abraham had (26.5) the Lord's "requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws."--a much more comprehensive description of the probable legal environment than the few statements WE have in the appropriate passages of Genesis.

So, there is at least some data to suggest that some sort of 'priesthood' had developed quite early in the patriarchal times (possibly in the basic pattern of ANE religious praxis). Now, what about the 'prophet'?

Well, we have already seen that Abraham was called a prophet, but can we find traces of the prophetic function in those passages, with maybe a hint of a link between that function at some sacred sites?

Apart from the general 'last will and testament' prophecies, I only know of one clear-cut piece of data--Gen 25:22--(Rachel) " The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, "Why is this happening to me?" So she went to inquire of the LORD." She went (a change of location) to 'inquire' (consult with a prophet as to the meaning of some event and/or future events). This would indicate SOME basic prophetic function and/or personage.

The Numbers 11-12 passages indicate a well-defined concept of prophet, immediately AFTER the exodus. The prophetic function must have been highly developed before or during the stay in Egypt. This provides a strong thread of continuity with patriarchal prophetic roles (and associated writings and monuments).

It might also be noted here that in Dt 13, Moses described the prophetic office in some detail, and in 18 relates this to both himself and to the Messianic Prophet of 18.15. This seems to presuppose in-depth familiarity with the prophetic office on the part of the Israelites (although much of this would have been conveyed by the example of Moses and Aaron).

Summary: Both of the main institutions for recording, maintaining, and transmitting the historical/theological data of the pre-Davidic period are seen to exist in FULL early in Israel's post-Egyptian history, and to exist in EMBRYONIC form in earlier times--perhaps reaching all the way back to Abraham.

Let's look at the details of transmission. How many different statements of 'passing on' the information in the general culture can we find? What might it indicate in terms of 'control' and/or reliability? What about the information flow OUTSIDE of Israel?

Let's just go book-by-book and make some observations in the post-Exodus writings:

Now, we know that the information flow OUTSIDE of ISRAEL was relatively good:
  1. In Joshua 2.8f, Rahab in Jericho had ALREADY heard of the exodus by the time Joshua had crossed the Jordan!
  2. 8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, "I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
  3. Moses argued with YHWH that the inhabitants of the Land had ALREADY heard of the exodus--within two weeks of that event! (Num 14.14-16)
  4. Shortly thereafter, the Philistines knew about it as well, down to the 'hardening' of Pharaoh (I Sam 4.8; 6.6)
  5. The Queen of Sheba and 'all the kings of the earth' had heard of Solomon's wisdom (2 Chr 9.5, 23)
  6. Nebuchanezzer knew about Jeremiah (Jere 39.11), either from his telling the people to surrender, or from his letter to the exiles to do 'good in the land' (29.1ff).
  7. The servants of Achish even knew the exact wording of David's victory song over Goliath (I Sam 21.10-11)--the 'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands' passage.

So, the last question is: given some long-standing institutions for recording, copying, transmitting the information, and, given more than ample examples of that transmission process: HOW WELL DID THEY DO? In other words, how many times is ancient information 'remembered' accurately thru OT history? How would we check this? The answer seems to be a two column list: Initial Mention and then Rehearsal. The more of these we have, and the wider the gap of time, and the more detailed references "per section", the higher our trust in the transmission process (assuming non-conspiratorial tampering later).

Jacob buys land for 100 pieces of silver (Gen 33.19); Joshua refers to it when he buries Joseph's bones (Jos 24.32)
The Letter forms to the Kings of Moab, Sihon, Baashan (Numbers) Jephthah knows all that history! (Jud 11.14)
Statement of tribal fidelity during Joshua (Jos 24.31) Repeated in Judges 2.1
Amalekite treachery in Exodus; Remembered in I Sam 15.2
The golden calf in Exodus Related back to Egyptian gods in I Kgs 12.28
Dt 24:16 Quoted in 2 Kgs 14.6
The Bronze Serpent of Numbers; Broken into pieces in 2 kgs 18.4
I Kgs 13.31f Fulfilled (and referenced) in 2 Kgs 23.16
Historical records from Adam Organized by the Chronicler in I Chrn
Genealogy in Ruth 4; Incorporated by Chronicler in I Chrn 2.5
Mosaic legislation on carrying the ark with poles; Used in I Chrn 15.15
I Kgs 11.29; Fulfilled (and refd) in 2 Chr 10.15
Joshua drives out nations; Rehearsed in 2 Chrn 20.7
The Exodus trip in Transjordan-- the resistance Rehearsed by Jehoshaphat in 2 Chrn 20.1 And spun into a prophecy in Jer 48.
Tax imposed by Moses Cited in 2 Chrn 24.6
David/Gad/Nathan prescribe worship services; Hezy knows about the details in 2 Chrn 29.25
Moses quotes: Lev 26.33 and Dt 30.4; Nehemiah quotes them from exile (Neh 1.8)
Most of biblical history Nehemiah summarizes in Neh 9:5-36
Moses Dt 23.3 Nehemiah quotes in Neh 13.1-3
Sodom Isaiah refs in Is 3.9; Jeremiah in Jer 23.13f; Ezk in Ezk 16.48
Eden Isaiah refs in Is 51.3
Moses and Samuel as men of God Refd in Jere 15.1
Micah prophesies (Mich 3.12) Cited by elders in defending Jeremiah in Jere 26.17
Noah, Daniel, Job as righteous folk Refd in Ezk 14.14
Adam's disobedience Refd in Hosea 6.7
Jacob and Esau's pre-natal wrestling match/and bethel (in Gen) Refd in Hosea 12.2-4
Jacob served for Rachel (Gen) Refd in Hosea 12.12
Moses as prophet Refd in Hosea 12.13
40 years in the desert (Wilderness wanderings) Refs in Amos 2.10
Exo/Numbers figures: Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Balaam, Balak Reviewed by Micah in 6.4
It should also be pointed out that Mosaic authorship of content of the Law is consistently affirmed.

A partial list of passages is: Jos 1.7; 23.6; 2 kgs 23.25; I Chrn 22; 2 Chrn 25.5; 34.14; Ezra 6.18; 7.1ff; Dan 9.13; Mal 4.4.

The priesthood preserved the covenant documents and many of the legal documents related to the community. The prophetic community preserved the detailed EVENT-FLOW histories--along with the theological interpretation of those events, from the perspective of those covenant documents and commitments! The prophetic community had access to ALL the data, and even hostile kings and other prophets consistently 'brought events' to the prophets of YAHWEH for their interpretation.

As such, the 'company of the prophets' constituted THE MAIN CARRIER of the historical information about the Israelite (and even pre-Israelite) community. From their abundant records and documents, the other histories (including royal annals and subsequent chronicles) were abstracted.

What emerges from this, is an overall pattern of close control over the OT information. There are long-standing institutions--as a check and balance to one another--that are both skilled, empowered, and organized well enough to support the community and cultic information needs of the Israelite community. The pictures we get of THAT community life demonstrate a 'thick and rich' information flow tapestry. The net result of this rich flow of usage/transmission and the stability of the protective institutions is the high degree of both 1) dissemination of the information AND 2) the relative accuracy of the usage of that information (irrespective of age of data).
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