Joseph JENSEN, Ethical Dimensions of the Prophets. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press/Michael Glazer, 2006, pp. xi + 203, $24.95, pb. ISBN 0-8146-5983-7.
Reviewed by Mary ELSBERND, Loyola University Chicago/Institute of Pastoral Studies, Chicago, IL 60610

This book is the fruit of many years of teaching, scholarship and thinking about the prophets, their social justice messages and their impact for today. Jensen posits that the ethical dimensions of the prophets emphasize values and a way of living rooted in a covenant relationship. The prophets called, even harangued, Israel to live in accord with the covenant that defined their relationship with God. This position de-emphasizes the link between prophetic ethics and the Law (Torah). In its stead, Jensen contributes a convincing argument that prophetic ethics is linked to values and a way of living out a defining relationship. What a solid foundation for ethicists who are thinking along similar lines!

The text begins with three introductory chapters that map out some of the concepts used in social ethics and moral theology (chapter 1), that discuss the sources of prophetic ethical thinking (chapter 2), and its basis in an understanding of God and Israelís relationship with God (chapter 3). Each chapter sketches scholarly thinking of Biblical ethicists and the inter-argumentation of their respective positions. At times I wanted to know the authorís position rather than only the major lines of the scholarly discussion. Given Jensenís overarching stress on prophetic ethics as values and way of living, the almost exclusive discussion of laws in the chapter on sources of prophetic ethical thinking seemed to stray from the authorís overall thesis.

The next nine chapters address specific prophets (Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah) or groups of prophets (early, exilic, postexilic). Attention is given to the uniqueness of each prophetic understanding of social justice given the era, social location and issues. Specific passages are highlighted that encapsulate a prophetís contribution to social justice. Some of the chapters finish with conclusions, others with application and others just end.

A final chapter addresses the relevance of the ethical teaching of the prophets for today. After describing three lines of response to the relevance question, the chapter turns to peace as a test case, namely can the passages on peace in the prophets help us discern how to handle contemporary situations? The author concludes that if the prophetic message of peace and concern for the oppressed poor actually moved individuals and states, the conditions that promote violence would be eliminated. Although it is clearly beyond the purpose and scope of Jensenís text, the values and way of living gleaned from the prophetic literature in this text need other texts which describe and teach the skills, social analysis and practices rooted in prophetic ethics that have effectively brought about social justice.

A bibliography as well as an author and scripture index complete the text. The bibliography could have been strengthened with more recent works. The text is envisioned as helpful to a scholarly audience but written for a general reading public. The text could be used in courses on biblical or faith-based ethics as well as courses on the prophets. Jensen makes a significant contribution to biblical ethics with the understanding of prophetic ethics as linked with values and a way of living in response to a defining covenant relationship. As such it is important reading for the biblically-orientated ethicist and theological.

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