Heschel, Abraham Joshua. THE PROPHETS Two Volumes in One. Massachusetts: Hendrickson 1962. (287 pages). Reviewed by Mogusu Nathan Nyambane.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. THE PROPHETS Two Volumes in One. Massachusetts: Hendrickson 1962. (287 pages). Reviewed by Mogusu Nathan Nyambane.

In 1907 Heschel was born in the Russian Empire in Poland. In 1946, the month of December he married Sylvia Stratus in Los Angeles. Susannah was their daughter who became a Judaism scholar in her own right. Heschel was a Jewish philosopher and theologian known for his prophetic presentation and his trial to create a religion of modern philosophy by ancient and unenlightened jewish tradition.  Heschel went for higher studies in the University of Berlin after completing traditional Jewish education. He was a teacher at the  Institute of Jewish Studies in Warsaw after he was deported from Germany in 1938, in London, and also a teacher at Hebrew Union College before becoming the chair of the professor of Jewish ethics and theology at Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York city in 1945. A position that he held until his death in the year 1972, the month of December.

Heschel was interested in spirituality as well as scholarship and sought to teach and write about the deep piety he observed in traditional Judaism, hoping that twentieth-century people would imitate this devotion as new Jewish converts. He placed great value on ancient Jewish traditions and teachings, and his unique philosophy of religion is based on that. Among his best-known works are The Earth Is the Lord’s (1950); Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion (1951); The Sabbath: Its Meaning to Modern Man (1951); Man’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism (1954); God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (1956); and The Prophets (1962; originally published in German in 1936).

THE PROPHETS Two Volumes in One talks about utmost disturbing individuals who ever existed. Men who brought the Bible into existence through their inspiration, the men whose image refugees us in times of distress, and who sustains our faith through voice and vision. The book is known broadly as a biblical scholarship masterpiece. In the book, the writer tries to get a clear picture of the thoughts, approaches, and impressions of each prophet presenting a sense of their existence to the reader. He efficiently attains a balance amid the supernatural objective and the human situation that is subjective and offers an exclusive discussion of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, Hosea, and Habakkuk and their specific challenges, journeys and the messages they were presenting.

In the second section of the book, Heschel discourses psychosis, wrath, sympathy, pathos, ecstasy, prophetic and poetic inspiration whereby prophets offer a unique prospect for old testament readers Christian and Jewish both included to attain fresh and profound understanding concerning Israel’s prophetic movement. The writer’s in-depth knowledge of the prophets unlocks the door to fresh insight which forms new support to the philosophy of religion.

Heschel outlooks in present Jewish stream thought which stresses on the restrictions reason to grip the importance of spiritual life. His methodology has been identified as “devotional philosophy” devout bombast, supernatural apologetics respected and acknowledged methods of religious writing. Heschel considered his method as “depth theology” the effort to find again the questions to which religion answers. Heschel is possibly close to Neo-Orthodoxy propensity in the recent Protestant thought (Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, and others) abruptly crucial of liberal religion’s speculation that man can perfect himself without assisted efforts and inspiration, beyond all, by the intention to restore biblical faith as an innermost dynamic course. Protestant Neo-Orthodoxy goes for Luther’s inspiration and other theologians of restoration, while in Heschel customary Hasidic piety discovers its reliable new voice. (Reprinted from Jewish People, Jewish Thought, published by Prentice-Hall)

The strong point of the book is

The strength of the book is apparent to the reader since; the author is a Jew who went through traditional Jewish education, became a Rabbi teaching both Torah and Talmud and later became Jewish theologian and philosopher. Meaning that he is massive in Hebrew and the Old Testament, hence, his writing, illustrations from the Bible and the observations are experiential. He inscribes in an approach that is easy to read and well understood though he challenges one’s reasoning. His writing is subsequently thoughtful that, to grip the fullness of his words, one requires to savor it term by term, sentence by sentence. Nevertheless, this book is intensely touching, and Heschel was successful in conveying the compassionate heart and God’s love more visibly into my soul.

Heschel is full of useful discernments and reorientations of perception. Among them is the point summarized on page 10.  “We and the prophets have no language in common. To us the moral state of society, for all its stains and spots, seems fair and trim; to the prophet it is dreadful. So many deeds of charity are done, so much decency radiates day and night; yet to the prophet the satiety of conscience is prudery and flight from responsibility. Our standards are modest; our sense of injustice tolerable, timid; our moral indignation impermanent; yet human violence is interminable, unbearable, permanent.” It was interesting to learn that while to us life is often serene, in the prophet’s eye the world reels in confusion.” since a prophet is one octave too high.

 The prophets have insights for bible study and sermons especially the first part which deals with prophets. Some of these topics include Lord – A redeemer pained by the people’s failure, marriage an act of sympathy, what manner of a man is the prophet, shall a man prevail and also like a stranger in the land. This becomes more exciting especially as he accompanies each topic with relevant Bible text. I commend Heschel for thinking about scholarship and spirituality.

The second part develops pathos and sympathy theology, going in gravity into side theories such as justice and fury. I found this to be a very stimulating discussion because it transformed my outlook on the role of prophets as well as the God of the Old Testament. For instance, I never understood the prophets as warriors for social justice through their concern for justice was vital. Heschel has given us not only good studies of the Old Testament prophets, but profound analysis of the very nature of prophecy itself, its purpose, its characteristics, its theology, and most notably the new light shed upon it by the modern knowledge of depth psychology. Here are some of the chapter titles, The Meaning, and Mystery of Wrath, Prophecy and Ecstasy, Prophecy and Psychosis, He takes due notice of other prophets of history, for comparison and finally the conclusions reasonably to be drawn from his valuable research.

Among the issues raised by Heschel, what interested me was the issue of pathos. Pathos denotes for Heschel a divine involvement in the life of man, a dynamic relation which evokes not merely feeling or passive affection but acts and attitudes that manifest themselves in the form of love, mercy, anger and conveys the profound intensity of the spiritual inwardness. From this perspective, I solidly agree with Heschel argument which rejects the attempt to understand the prophets as irrational teachers of morality.

In conclusion, this is a great book, and it contributes immensely to the reader’s knowledge of the prophets I strongly recommend it to Old Testament Students and any other who is interested to know more about the prophets.