Problems with the Transformational View of Prophecy of Michael Fishbane


                  For many of us who worked with prophecy in the Old and New Testaments both with prophets since the beginning of time and prophets later in what is the prophetic genre collected in the Masoretic Canon, it is quite natural to see a continuity, a harmonization of what everyone is saying. The gap one left in the description is filled by another prophet. There never occurred the idea that one prophet is trying to outsmart another or one prophet is trying to change the message another prophet brought. In my understanding always, if that happens the second prophet is a false prophet since the standard of the message is that content that cannot be different than what was before. False prophets there were in the history of Israel and they also had interpretation but their prophecies were not taken up in the Canon of recognition by the Editor the Holy Spirit.

                  The layers of skepticism in true prophecy were always there since the beginning of man. It originates from a mind of someone who is 1. Humanistic (more important what man says than God or a god); 2. Foretelling is not possible since it was all just forthtelling 3. Wellhausen is an icon of source conflation analysis for the Old Testament making everything late if it is talking about certain content that sounds post-exiliic. 4. Prophets are dissected in clusters of early, clusters of late material put together under one prophets name. 5. Daniel did not write Daniel and his prophecies are not about long distant future events, e.g. the seventy weeks prophecy of Daniel 9. 6. The events of Daniel centers around the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes in 164 BCE putting a statue of Zeus in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem 7. All these scholars utilizing these ideas thought they were progressive but did not realize that there is also such a phenomenon as degressive.

                  It is with such a scenario that one has to approach M. Fishbane[1] and his outline of the Interpretation of the Bible in Ancient Israel. Fishbane used an umbrella statement called “Mantological Material” to refer to any material that is related to prophecy in the Old Testament. Fishbane blames that not enough exegesis was done on these phenomena in the Old Testament but why would there be such investigations if people are skeptical as to their content or the width of their messages as Klaus Koch indicated in his work outlining the confusing status of eschatology in scholarship. Historical Critical Method (HCM) is the task of puncturing the tires of a prophetic bicycle and keep them flat so that they run nowhere. So why study the phenomenon involved? Fishbane should have known the answer.

Fishbane does not belief that there is a traditio or an attempt to reinterpret what was said long time before but only a traditum and its interpretation.[2] Care is taken to transmit what is said directly and only to the prophet. Saying this fine as long as Fishbane is not saying that one traditum contradicts another. It is better to say that they are talking one consistent message cohesive touching on other aspects not mentioned before but not in conflict with it. Is this requirement too difficult for Fishbane? But Fishbane cannot. “The essential hermeneutical issue rather arises for this traditum when later prophets regard its manifest content as having failed, and so as being in need of revision….”[3]

Just as one expects from Fishbane, as preterist he lays down the rule that a traditum of an oracle is prospective and not in need of immediate exegesis, which is a point one can still work with but then the statement: “its exegetical traditio is a later, retrospective phenomenon”. Wait a minute. In Daniel there was the traditum of the angel but also the traditio by the angel and definitely not retrospective but also prospective. R. Carroll considered the option that prophecy fails, a situation that is a taboo in the context of the whole Old Testament.[4] Fishbane agrees with this doubt of Carroll saying: “The cognitive crisis arises when valued oracles have not been actualized, when their manifest meaning is cast in doubt, or when events seem to refute them”.[5] What does the preteristic scholars expect when they are propping Daniel 9 in the events of Antiochus Epiphanes in 167-164 BCE when those numbers do not fit or correlate. Why? Because it was not Antiochus Epiphanes that was in mind by Daniel and thus to blame Daniel that he predicted what did not come true is shooting oneself in the leg and then blame the gun that it is able to do that.

Fishbane cut the vision and its interpretation in two and separate it by time so that it is retrospective. No wonder he has problems. He sees the role of the exegesis of interpretation of the vision as an attempt to give confidence in the oracle or vision and “more importantly, to establish its closure, i.e. to show how the oracle has been, or will soon be, actualized”.[6] Soon actualized? This is Preterism language. I can guarantee Fishbane that he is going to have problems with visions and oracles and their interpretations successfully with this forced “soon” approach. It harpers back to the axiom of Rationalism that lock prophecies in the prophets own time so that they can only meant not mean. They forthtell what already happened rather than predict what was going to happen. This stance of Fishbane that the oracle or vision and the interpretation is separated in time and one before the event and one after the event, is not correct. The descriptions in Daniel explicitly say that both were done during one cohesive time event. Is Fishbane now going to say against the text of Daniel that he is lying? He may. For they are already doubting whether he wrote it all. These are scholars with historical telescopic eyes that can successfully see exactly the reality of the past. That is modern scholarship. They should rather be on their knees than behind their computers.

Fishbane discussed Daniel 7 as if there is a separation between the dream and its interpretation. Daniel made it plain that the dream that was reported and interpreted by a divine being (Fishbane acknowledged this).[7]

But then Fishbane wants to play with words. He indicated that Daniel wrote down the dream (7:1). But in his thinking the interpretation of the dream was later and based on recitations of the lemmata of the written text of the dream. But that is not what the text means. Daniel wrote the dream and interpretation down. It is all a condensed summary of what he saw. That is what Daniel said. There is no mention of two time zones involved in the process. When one start reading the text the interpretation flows automatically from the reception of the dream. Fishbane is not successful in his dissection here.

In Zechariah 4 Fishbane blames the scribes of the Masoretic Text that they interpolated into the traditum of the oracle other oracles 4:6b-7 and 4:8-10a. By content they are different so his observation is shocking: “To be sure the Massoretic punctuation has obscured this insertion; but the original textual consecution (of the visions) can be re-established on the basis of the exegetical form which we have been analysing.” No human has the right to dissect the Word of God ad hoc on the basis of their own feelings or perceptions. It does not matter how many people accepts the division as a conflation of insertions. Quantity cannot establish truth. “To say smoking causes cancer, well, fifty million people smoking cannot be wrong.” What a haux argument.

Then there is the case where Fishbane swallowed the comments of the 1907 article by D. H. Müller, hook and sinker to expound his own view.[8] It is a mirror of Müller’s theorizing. Müller compared Zephaniah 3:3-4 with Ezechiel 22:25-28 and came to the conclusion that Zephaniah was the prototype that Ezechiel used to copy and elaborate with his own messages.

Zephaniah 3:3-4                                                                            Ezechiel 22:25-28

(3a) Her princes in her midst are roaring lions                          (25) Her princes[so Fishbane] amongst her are like a

                                                                                                          roaring lion, tearing prey; they have devoured life,

                                                                                                          seized treasure and wealth, that widows multiply


What is the conclusion of Müller and Fishbane? Ezechiel copied from Zephaniah and elaborated (italics supra).

What is the problem with their view? First of all, they do not accept the Hebrew text as the Word of God and they think that they can use the socalled LXX to modify the Hebrew text to “harmonize” and that panelbeating job of theirs will help them arrive at their opinion more securely. Securely no. Z. Frankel[9] as well as Paul Kahle[10] would not have agreed with them since to arrive at the original LXX is an Utopia which will never be achieved they already indicated in the Victorian period.  Even J. Wevers in the Genesis introduction of the famous Stuttgartensia edition of the LXX made it clear that he does not claim that with his product he has reconstructed the original LXX. So where is the LXX? That is the thorny issue here. We do not have it. There are so many variants and cases of corruption and editorial harmonizations that we do not have the literal original Septuagint. The corrupt one yes. So why is Fishbane and Müller using the “corrupt” LXX or Septuagint to modify the Hebrew Word of God? Some scholars will say: “Yes but the Masoretic Text is also a can of worms”. Answer: the Masoretic vowel system addition to the consonants is a can of worms but the consonants are proven to be exact to the point of nearly 99% for the book of Daniel form Qumran. That is over a millennium of accuracy! No version including the socalled LXX can claim this accuracy. Is Hebrew the Word of God, the consonantal text that is? Yes. By all means.

So the reading of “princes” in Ezechiel 22:25 is not in the original just in the corrupt LXX that survived for us. Superimposition of what is from a corrupt text over the Word of God is a red-card. Ezechiel is reading “prophets”.

Zephaniah was an older prophet than Ezechiel. He prophecied around 620 BCE if Amariah’s birth was around 712 BCE and Gedaliah around 690 and Cushi around 675 then Zephaniah’s birth would be around 650 and his calling around 620 BCE.

Prophets read each other’s works that were in circulation. That is what Daniel did with Jeremiah. Ezechiel could have done it with Zephaniah. There is nothing wrong with that and in fact he can continue the message of Zephaniah since it is also the Word of God. The same God spoke to him that spoke to Ezechiel. The sins remained the same: they were worshipping Asherah and Baal on hills and mountain shrines at green trees where they had woman ordination, priestesses, prostitutes, fashion parades with clothing for these gods and scholars like William Dever indicated that this problem was throughout the whole monarchy. The same messages were sent by God to many prophets to Israel to no avail. They did not listen. Ezechiel will mirror the same words as Zephaniah earlier for sure.


Zephaniah                                                                                      Ezechiel

(3b) Her judges are evening wolves,                                         (27) Her officers [Fishbane wants to read it ‘judges’]

that do not store for the morning                                               in her midst are like wolves tearing prey; shedding                                                                                                        blood and destroying human life toget illgotten gain.


Again both Müller and Fishbane replaced a Hebrew word in Ezechiel 22:27 with a different one in order to keep to a harmonization of images in Zephaniah. One cannot change the Hebrew of Ezechiel. It is reading officers or rulers in Ezechiel here for that is what the word śārêhāh means. This adjustment by these scholars is an activity that cannot be done. Period.

Fishbane concluded that Ezechiel does some homiletical embellishments designed to clarify and specify the imagery and general condemnations. This is correct. That is what Ezechiel and all prophet did. They believed that their peers or predecessors were also sent by God and that their message were also true. Fishbane found that Ezechiel elaborated with content from Leviticus 10:10 in Ezechiel 22:26a. That is fine. Moses is also a man of God. They all spoke the same language, no problem. In the other verses like 27 and 28 Ezechiel was using some older material of his from Ezechiel 13. What is wrong with that? It is still God speaking whether it is Ezechiel 13 or Ezechiel 22. “In the present context, of course, there is no reference to the fact that Ezechiel’s denunciation is basically derived from inherited doom rhetoric, nor any suggestion that the homiletical elaborations derive from the prophet. The doom prophecy and the expansions are rather presented as one seamless whole – the revealed words of YHWH to Ezekiel.”[11]

[1] M. Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985 reprinted in 1989.

[2] Fishbane 1989: 444.

[3] Ibid.

[4] R. Carroll, When Prophecy Failed (New York: Seabury, 1979).

[5] Fishbane 1989: 445.

[6] Fishbane 1989: 445.

[7] Fishbane 1989: 447.

[8] Fishbane 1989: 462.

[9] Z. Frankel, Vorstudien zu der Septuaginta. Leipzig: Fr. Chr. Wilh. Vogel, 1841.

[10] P. Kahle, “Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des Pentateuchtextes.” Theologische Studien und Kritiken 88 (1915): 399-439.

[11] Fishbane 1989: 463. This is exactly what one finds with the work of Ellen White.