A radical reinterpretation of the biblical prophets by one of America's most provocative critics reveals the eternal beauty of their language and the enduring resonance of their message.
Long before Norman Podhoretz became one of the intellectual leaders of American neoconservatism, he was a student of Hebrew literature and a passionate reader of the prophets of the Old Testament. Returning to them after fifty years, he has produced something remarkable: an entirely new perspective on some of the world's best-known works.
Or, rather, three new perspectives. The first is a fascinating account of the golden age of biblical prophecy, from the eighth to the fifth century B.C.E., and its roots in earlier ages of the ancient Israelite saga. Thus, like large parts of the Bible itself, The Prophets is a history of the Near East from the point of view of a single nation, covering not only what is known about the prophets themselves -- including Elijah, Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel -- but also the stories of King David, King Saul, and how the ancient Israelites were affected by the great Near Eastern empires that surrounded them. Layered into this work of history is a piece of extraordinary literary criticism. Podhoretz's very close reading of the verse and imagery used by the biblical prophets restores them to the top reaches of the poetic pantheon, for these books contain, unequivocally, some of the greatest poetry ever written.
The historical chronicle and the literary criticism will transport readers to a time that is both exotic and familiar and, like any fine work of history or literature, will evoke a distinct and original world. But the third perspective of The Prophets is that of moral philosophy, and it serves to bring the prophets' message into the twenty-first century. For to Norman Podhoretz, the real relevance of the prophets today is more than the excitement of their history or the beauty of their poetry: it is their message. Podhoretz sees, in the words of the biblical prophets, a war being waged, a war against the sin of revering anything made by the hands of man -- in short, idolatry. In their relentless battle against idolatry, Podhoretz finds the prophets' most meaningful and enduring message: a stern warning against the all-consuming worship of self that is at least as relevant in the twenty-first century as it was three thousand years ago.
The Prophets will earn the respect of biblical scholars and the fascinated attention of general readers; its observations will be equally valued by believers and nonbelievers, by anyone with spiritual yearnings. Learned, provocative, and beautifully written, The Prophets is a deeply felt, deeply satisfying work that is at once history, literary criticism, and moral philosophy -- a tour de force.
In what initially appears to be a radical departure from his previous eight books, some of which were autobiographical accounts of Podhoretz's move from left to right, this effort deals with the Hebrew prophets, a new subject for the former editor of Commentary magazine. To his credit, he does indeed present a scholarly analysis of the prophets, but it is interwoven with too many references to himself. Moreover, the lessons that Podhoretz derives from his study of the prophets, as detailed in the last chapter, "The Prophets and Us," are a rehash of the neo-conservative views expressed in his other books. He condemns relativism, the counterculture, political correctness, the women's movement, deconstructionism, multiculturalism and environmentalism. He likens his own views to those of the biblical prophets as they fought for monotheism and opposed paganism. Podhoretz gives consideration to all 21 prophetic books in the Bible, as well as to Abraham and Moses. However, he focuses mostly on Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah ("First" and "Second"), Jeremiah and Ezekiel. He examines their writings, drawing extensively on the work of biblical scholars. Although he describes himself as an "amateur" and a "non-specialist," he doesn't hesitate to give his opinions on disputes among the various schools of biblical interpreters. Podhoretz deserves to be applauded for venturing beyond himself (at least in part) as the subject of his books, but readers interested in the prophets may wish to consult scholarly sources directly rather than rely on Podhoretz's rendering of their ideas.