Eighth Century Prophets: A Social Analysis

D. N. Premnath Chalice Press, St. Louis December 1, 2003
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Premnath’s study attempts to explain through sociological analysis the rise of the prophetic movement in the eighth century B.C. Its approach is unique because it synthesizes the Latifundialization of Albrecht Alt, the neo-Marxism of Norman Gottwald, and the sociological approach of Robert Wilson in order to argue that the prophetic movement developed because of social and economic concerns.

The first section of this book (chaps. 1–3) describes the milieu of the eighth century, and the last section (chap. 4) applies the observations in chapters 1–3 to a variety of biblical texts. Chapter 1 explains how land is the primary economic base in an agrarian society. Chapter 2 traces the history of land ownership before the eighth century. Chapter 3 outlines the social realities of Israel and Judah in the eighth century, which was a time of prosperity and expansion. Chapter 4 interprets many biblical texts that demonstrate how the prophets were mostly concerned with social and economic injustice. Each chapter carefully argues that social and economic injustice was the primary stimulus for the eighth-century prophets.

The greatest strength of Eighth Century Prophets is its interaction with anthropology and archaeology. Premnath’s integration of the anthropology of Eric R. Wolf (Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century [Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999]) with the archaeology of Lawrence Stager, William Dever, and Amihai Mazar is the product of careful research. Much of its exegesis is well informed, clear, and accurate. Thus it is an extremely helpful reference for the passages with which it interacts.

In spite of the book’s overall exegetical strength, the economic theory presented by Premnath is severely underdeveloped. Often it assumes that archaeology quantifies too much about economic context. For example, although the Samaria Ostraca and ivory inlays from Megiddo are helpful, their overall significance remains ambiguous. Even if this evidence indicates widespread wealth in the eighth century, it does not necessarily indicate that people living in the ninth century were relatively impoverished. Further, even if wealth was a new social reality, this shift does not necessarily result in widespread social and economic injustice. Although the early prophets clearly denounced social and economic injustice, Premnath goes too far in suggesting that social and economic injustice was the controlling element of the prophets. One wishes he would have given greater attention to the impact of the Mosaic Covenant on the prophets’ thinking. He interacts very little with economic theory, and thus many of his arguments are in jeopardy. Neglecting the works of John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman casts serious doubt on his conclusions.

Nevertheless Eighth Century Prophets is a helpful and stimulating book. In an area as elusive as the early prophets, any attempt to explain their arrival and ministry is worth examination. This work a valuable reference for the many biblical texts with which it interacts. 

—Jake R. McCarty and Robert B. Chisholm Jr.

April 1, 2005
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2005 vol. 162 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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