Dr. Brian Russell
Research Paper: The Unity of the Twelve
‘The Unity of the Twelve’
The Book of the twelve Minor Prophets is more than a collection of miscellaneous prophetic materials. The twelve books of the Minor Prophets function as a unified literary work. The trend in modern biblical scholarship is to treat the Book of the Twelve as twelve distinct prophetic compositions that have relatively little to do with each other apart from having been placed in the same collection. Despite these claims, the literary work of the twelve Minor Prophets remains a multifaceted composition that functions in concert in all Jewish and Christian versions of the Bible. The unity of the book plays out simultaneously as a single prophetic book and as a collection of twelve individual prophetic books revealing overriding elements of unity that if carefully examined would lead to a better understanding of the Old Testament. The Book of the Twelve is counted as one book in the Hebrew canon. Some scholars say, “The purpose of placing all of this material in one scroll is to make a balance in the Hebrew prophetic canon between the four books of the former prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings), and the four books of the latter prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve).” People need balance in their lives but there is a much larger message throughout the grand narrative of scripture that regardless of the balancing of material must find its way into the communities of Yahweh’s people and that message finds its way regardless of the arrangement of books. Many others knew of the book of the Twelve as one book. In the Jewish tradition the Book of the Twelve was identified as tere asar, Aramaic for “The Twelve,” and in Christian tradition as oi dodeka prohetai, or ton dodekaprophton, Greek for the “Twelve Prophets.” The apocryphal Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach, “Ecclesiasticus” in the 2nd century B.C.E refers in Sir 49:10 to “the bones of the twelve prophets,” suggesting that ben Sirach knew of the Twelve as one book. Flavius Joseph, a 1st century C.E. Jewish historian also considered the Twelve to be one book. Similarly, 4 Ezra 14:41 counts the Twelve among the twenty-four holy books transcribed by Ezra. Origen, the second-third century Church father counts twenty-two Jewish books of the Old Testament but names only twenty-one leaving many to conclude that he considered the Twelve to be a single book. As well, the Talmudic tradition considers the Twelve to be one book. In the Christian tradition, most always the Twelve Prophets are grouped together, but counted as twelve individually authored books among thirty-nine other books of the Old Testament. The first century C.E. Bishop Melito of Sardis refers to the Twelve as ton dodeka en monobibioi, “The Twelve in one book,” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History iv.26). “The term “Minor Prophets,” Prohetae minors in Latin, first appears in Latin Christian Patristic sources, such as the work of Augustine (City of God 18:29), and refers to the relative length of the individual works of the Twelve prophets when compared to the larger books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Apparently the term refers to the Twelve as both a collection and as individual works.” “No common material binds the twelve together; they simply stand according to the order presupposed by the version of the Bible in which they appear, but they invariably function together as one book.” Within the various versions of the Book of the Twelve a great deal of fluidity is revealed in the arrangement of the individual books. According to the Masoretic Text, the Jewish version of the Book of the Twelve, each of the twelve individual books- Hosea; Joel; Amos; Obadiah; Jonah; Micah; Nahum; Habakkuk; Zephaniah; Haggai; Zechariah; and Malachi begin with their own authorization or narrative introduction identifying the prophet and usually...
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