Now go, write it down on a tablet in their presence,
inscribe it on a scroll,
so that it might be preserved for a future time
as an enduring witness (Isaiah 30:8 NET Bible).
It seems that early prophets and seers did not leave written records of their work, although the texts say that Moses and Samuel wrote. With Amos, Hosea, Micah and Isaiah we begin to have what you might call writing prophets. David M. Carr in Writing on the Tablet of the Heart says that the above passage toward the end of First Isaiah authorized the writing down of his oracles as a form of instruction for future generations.
A number of passages in Isaiah seem to rebuke the wise. We have seen that the wise often included, or maybe was identical to, people with a scribal education. Thus it seems that just as Jeremiah 8:8 points to a controversy between Jeremiah and some scribes, so Isaiah may have been in controversy with some scribes. Carr refers to a theory of Micheal Fishbane that Isaiah was taking on “the men of Hezekiah” mentioned in Proverbs 25 as reviving the wisdom tradition.
We do not know what all was going on in the time of Isaiah. It does seem that Isaiah spoke out against Egyptian influence in Judah. Wisdom seems at least partly an Egyptian import. So this may have been part of Isaiah’s problem with “the wise.”
I also thought of Israel Knohl and Jacob Milgrom who relate the Holiness Code in Leviticus to the impetus of Isaiah’s call for a moral component to covenant religion. The idea is that the royal priesthood had been all about ritual and not much about righteousness. That might correlate with a wisdom which was about morality only in the pragmatic way it is presented in Proverbs.
Some imagine Isaiah as founding a “school”. Carr thinks this is a mistake. Isaiah’s students were mostly his own sons. He thinks this was the way it usually worked. He takes the phrase “the sons of the prophets” as literal. So the people who wrote down the prophecies of Isaiah were probably his sons.
There was another model, though. Jeremiah used Baruch, a scribe, as his secretary. We have no reason to think they were related.
Carr sees Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel all as people who had received an education within a priestly setting. They were probably literate themselves. Yet their contemporaries experienced them as oral preachers.
I have often been struck by the literary quality of some of the poetry in the prophets. This is not the way people usually talk. So did those who wrote down the oracles refine them into literary works. Or were the prophets just talented and inspired to extemporaneously spout high poetry?
The purpose of prophecy included education and the inculcation of values, what we might call spiritual formation. The purpose of writing down oracles was to extend this internalization of the word of God into the future.
I remember some psychology I read about how we all have internal tapes that we play over and over to ourselves that impel our actions and feeling. The prophets may have been about something similar: renewing people’s internal scrolls.
Jeremiah thought the most important writing was writing on the heart. He envisioned a new covenant internalized and written on the heart (Jeremiah 31:33).
Ezekiel’s image went further. He saw the word not just inscribed on his heart, but actually ingested.
Then I looked and realized a hand was stretched out to me, and in it was a written scroll.
He unrolled it before me, and it had writing on the front and back; written on it were laments, mourning, and woe.
He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you see in front of you – eat this scroll – and then go and speak to the house of Israel.”
So I opened my mouth and he fed me the scroll.
He said to me, “Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll I am giving to you.” So I ate it, and it was sweet like honey in my mouth (Ezekiel 2:9-3:3 NET Bible).
This seems like a development of the idea mentioned in yesterday’s post about Joshua not letting the scroll depart from his mouth (Joshua 1:8).