GUIDE TO TEXTS
what is it?
Moses was the greatest prophet, and there will never be another like him. However there were other prophets who communicated with God. Nevi'im is a collection of books about the lives and sayings of some of these prophets. Nevi'im consists of:
Trei Asar (Twelve Minor Prophets - Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habbakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)
Nevi'im is the second section of the Tanach.
what is it about?
Nevi'im contains several third person biographical accounts of the lives of the prophets and accounts of prophesy. That is, the word of God spoken through the mouth of the prophet, in the prophet's own style. Nevi'im contains many powerful prayers, hymns, parables, indictments, sermons, letters, and pronouncements. Historically, Nevi'im narrates the history of the Jewish nation's entry into Israel under Joshua to the pre-Temple era of the Judges, Samuel, Saul, David, and the building of the First Temple. Nevi'im then continues to describe the era of the First Temple, and the warnings and exaltations of many prophets of Israel. Nevi'im ends with accounts of prophecies made at the time of the destruction of the First Temple.
The first books of Nevi'im are more historical in content. The later books are more poetic in style and often contain stark, ethical and spiritual warnings to the Jewish People.
where does it come from? who wrote it down?
Different parts of Nevi'im were written down by different people. Some prophets wrote their own book down (e.g. Joshua wrote Joshua), others didn't. The full list is as follows:
Yehoshua (Joshua) was written down by Joshua
Shoftim (Judges) was written down by Samuel
Shemuel (Samuel) was written down by Samuel, Gad, and Natan.
Melakhim (Kings) was written down by Jeremiah
Yeshayahu (Isaiah) was written down by the men of Chizkiah, a King of Judah
Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) was written down by Jeremiah
Yechezqel (Ezekiel) and Trei Asar (Twelve Minor Prophets) were written down by the men of the Great Assembly in around 330-200 BCE
The traditional view of the relation of Nevi'im to God is that each book is divinely inspired. The words of the Prophets are the words of God - but the Prophets could "see" God as we can see through clouded glass. So the content of Nevi'im was either written by people who communicated with God, or records what these people did, or both. Nevi'im does not have the same status as Torah. This is because Moses is believed to have had a "clear" view of God - and so could literally write God's words.
what does it look like?
Mostly one will come across Nevi'im as part of the Tanach. It can also be obtained in separate books. In both it is written in standard Hebrew characters, with full vowels and punctuation. A very old copy of Yeshayahu (Isaiah) is displayed with the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is written in the fashion of the time - and so it looks similar to a Torah scroll, without vowels or punctuation. The styles changed to suit the readers.
what do we do with it?
Selections from Nevi'im are read publicly each Shabbat after the sidra. Each selection is known as a HafTorah. Each HafTorah reflects the themes contained in the sidra of that Shabbat. The custom of reading a HafTorah developed during the time of the Romans, when it was forbidden to study or teach Torah. The sages instead read selections from Nevi'im in public to remind people of the Torah portion that would have been read (and so studied) that week. This practice has been retained as a reminder of a time when we couldn't study Torah.
what language is it in?
Like the Torah, Nevi'im is in Biblical Hebrew. The language can be poetic in parts, rendering it both beautiful and complex.
if I want to read it...
Two highly recommended editions of Tanach are the Jerusalem Bible, which has very clear Hebrew and a good English translation, and the JPS Tanach, which has the best translation available. The Nevi'im section of the Jerusalem Bible, to give some idea of size, runs to almost 500 pages.
Artscroll publish a Tanach which contains a short commentary. This volume also contains some pictures, maps, and diagrams. It is also possible to buy individual Artscroll books with extensive commentaries.
The Hertz or Soncino chumashim provided in most synagogues also contain the Haftorot for each sidra. Reading the HafTorah of the week, or perhaps a larger amount, would give a good introduction to some of the themes of Nevi'im.
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