For some time now, I’ve been approaching the Hebrew Bible in a particular way as a kind of experimental framework. I thought it might be interesting to share a short description of this framework, and elicit comments. This is by no means a complete description, but more of a series of notes.
Essentially, I see the entirety of the Old Testament as an expression and work of the ancient Israelite prophets and their supporters, a group that can reasonably be understood as the true Yahwists, in contrast to the more syncretistic wider population and official institutions, particularly the monarchies and priesthoods. Their evaluation of historical figures and events are presented in the texts of the Old Testament as we have them, not those of the priests or the monarchy. It is when those latter were in conflict with the prophets that the evaluations for these instutions are negative, particularly in the historical books.
In such a situation, I would prefer to speak of a Prophetic History, rather than what most describe as the Deuteronomistic History. In this is a return of the emphasis back to the wider, more general category of the prophets. After all, it is entirely and only their evaluations and their first-person voices that we are priveleged to read in the Old Testament, which I don’t think anyone disagrees with, except perhaps among the Psalms, and then Proverbs, which are a different kettle of fish altogether. What we have in the Hebrew Bible, then, is a group of writings of an ancient pre-exilic religious minority, which, in the post-exilic period, are at long last taken as foundational by the priestly and secular leadership of Yehud.
A few items of support: How is creation accomplished in Genesis 1? Through speech, the medium of the prophet, not through ritual, the medium of the priest. Of Aaron and Moses, who gets the better press? Moses the faithful prophet rather than Aaron the syncretistic priest. What institution is consistently exclusively Yahwistic throughout the periods for which there is reliable evidence? Only the prophets. What is the framework given for all the legal texts? Prophetic delivery to Moses, and Moses to the people. Who decided which kings were good and which bad, and according to what criteria? The criteria were those of the prophets moreso than those of the priests.
Keeping this prophetc perspective in mind while reading the Hebrew Bible texts is often more enlightening than various other approaches. Give it a try, O reader, and let me know what you think.