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Old Testament

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Christian theologians have taken part in biblical scholarship for centuries on the qualities of the Old Testament that have changed western civilization forever. Walter Brueggemann is no exception to the enormous contributions theologians have made to these discussions in his respected work, The Prophetic Imagination. Here, Brueggemann proposes the social actions of the prophets Moses, Isaiah, Ecclesiastes, and Jeremiah as revolutionary insofar as each of their ministries provided a radical alternative for the social consciousness for the Hebrew people of their time given the context of their dominant social realities. These prophets provided a new social orientation for the Hebrews away from the power holders of their ever changing social hierarchy to that of a social life and though centered on their God Yahweh. Brueggemann explains this using Biblical citation while also applying this thesis to a theological critique of the modern Judeo-Christian faith and its preaching. Given Brueggemann’s analysis of the prophets’ social criticism, his argument is compelling and sheds new light onto how readers of the Bible ought to review the Old Testament.
Brueggemann begins his work by defining the sole task of prophetic ministry, which is meant to introduce an alternative social reality to the dominant structure followers are led to believe in at their own peril (Brueggemann p. 3). With Moses as the prime example of this prophetic movement in the book of Exodus, Brueggemann explains that prophets must criticize enduring social themes in ongoing struggles while energizing the public to believe in the alternative freedom of God. Moses in battling the pharaohs of Egypt in Exodus had to provide a differing social and political view to the politics of oppression with the legitimate order of their God Yahweh (Brueggemann p. 8). By changing the language of public discourse through doxology, Moses introduces the notion of God’s freedom to the Hebrew people, where God does not take sides so much as his people ought to be on his side amidst the static deities of ancient Mesopotamia (Brueggemann p. 10-11). Brueggemann cites multiple passages from Exodus to explain his view of combating political ideologies of the time.
What Moses and the prophets after him are trying to persuade the Hebrews away from is what Brueggemann refers to as the Royal Consciousness, which is defined as “leading people to despair about the power to move toward new life” and that the response of the prophetic imagination was to “bring people to engage the promise of newness that is at work in our history with God” (Brueggemann p. 59). This is the belief system Brueggemann applies to both the Egyptian Pharaohs in Exodus as well as the Kingship of Solomon in the Book of Kings. Prophets must adhere to introducing a new reality through epistemology and linguistics in the presence of Solomon’s reforms Brueggemann views as continuous in nature to the policies of the oppressive Pharohs (Brueggemann p.21). King Solomon enacted reforms changing marriage policy, the tax system, government bureaucracy, military order, and labor structure all of which contradicted the outlook and priorities of Moses (Brueggemann p. 24-25). This suppressed the prophetic notion of God’s freedom and ubiquity to the marginal classes thus causing affluence, suppressive social policy, and static religion (Brueggemann p. 23, 26-28). Here, popular access to Yahweh is compromised and it has continuously been the priority of prophets to challenge such a social development. The Book of Kings as well as Exodus is both used by Brueggemann to present a continual theme of prophetic struggle amidst a rising and falling artificial social dominance, which the Hebrew people face again and again.
The prophet Jeremiah receives some of the most favorable attention in Brueggemann’s work as a prime example of Moses’ style of revolutionary ministry. Jeremiah, in the Old Testament book of the same name, was called by God to offer preaching which would combat the numbness caused by the powerful and suppressive Hebrew kings like Zedekiah (Brueggemann p. 45). Through his grieving over the supposed end of his people, Jeremiah provided a new way to confront death and pain in a manner that would alarm the Hebrew people of God’s animosity towards “indifferent affluence, cynical oppression, and presumptive religion (Brueggemann p. 47). Brueggemann uses Jeremiah’s poetry to explain his anguish and frustration over the nearing destruction of his people and how exactly just like Moses, Jeremiah used his skill of language to “cut through the numbness of history” in order to show the Hebrews the realness and ongoing dissatisfaction God had over their repeated misconduct and disobedience over his commands (Brueggemann p. 55). Jeremiah awakens those deceived by their leadership into a world of social passivity and that God is mourning himself through Jeremiah as a way to show his people that Israel must share the burdens of disobeying God.
This type of ministry, according to Brueggemann, serves to create an alternative community of faith which is revitalized repeatedly by its prophets (Brueggemann p. 59). Isaiah is used along with Jeremiah as examples of prophets who revitalize hope in God’s freedom and direct attention to his people through a new approach to the language of ministry in prayer and song contained within Isaiah Book 2 (Brueggemann p. 69). Prophets here are given the tough role as chief informers and comforters for their followers in a world otherwise unaccustomed to the newness and vitality of the prophetic imagination.

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