Cook has produced an excellent book on prophets, suitable for “graduate and advanced undergraduate students in theology and ministerial programs” (p. ix). While the first chapter includes some discussion of Moses and the prophets in the historical books, Cook focuses on the “Writing Prophets” with the exception of Daniel (which is largely apocalyptic). The work unfolds chronologically rather than in the canonical order of the books. This organization reflects Cook’s emphasis on understanding the prophets in their historical context. She also wants to discuss “each prophetic book in its canonical or final form” (p. 2).
These two reasonable commitments create some tensions. Cook regards historical context as more important, and therefore discusses First, Second, and Third Isaiah in separate sections of the book. These parts might be discussed together if the purpose is to show the overall unity of the book “in its canonical or final form.” She does not adequately explain why scholars divide Isaiah in this way, perhaps because she assumes “a basic knowledge of Scripture” and refrains from discussing “the authorship of biblical books” (p. x).
Cook organizes the chapters to illustrate connections between the various parts of a given prophetic book. Each chapter begins with background information about the prophetic book, such as its date and historical context, which allows her to note the diverse settings in which each book was composed. She then offers an outline of the work and indicates useful connections between passages through her discussion of genre and rhetorical features. For example, the discussion of genre in Third Isaiah includes comparisons with texts from Second Isaiah (p. 247). The next section concerns the message of the prophet, noting various themes (e.g., “The Holy One of Israel” in First Isaiah [p. 112-13], referred to in Second and Third Isaiah [pp. 234 and 250, respectively]). In the thematic discussion, Cook often compares the prophetic book under discussion with texts elsewhere in Scripture. For example, the chapter on Ezekiel notes how Ezekiel is related to Jeremiah and to the Priestly material from the Pentateuch (pp. 207-208). Finally, Cook looks at the contemporary applications of the prophetic book by examining its use in the Roman Catholic Lectionary for Mass, the Revised Common Lectionary, and the readings from Jewish liturgy. The liturgical uses of prophets offer still further relationships among texts that indicate how they are understood in Christian and Jewish communities. Cook also offers possible applications and invites the reader to consider what the text may mean today.
Throughout each chapter, Cook includes questions that lead the reader to compare passages to discern themes, genres, rhetorical features, and other exegetically significant aspects of the text. The questions frequently provide valuable lists of related passages and may serve as assignments for students. Cook gives valuable information about the text, but also invites the reader to discern further insights and thereby engages the reader in the task of exegesis. Between her own discussion and the interactive questions, the reader gains an encyclopedia of thematic, rhetorical, and form-critical connections among biblical passages that may serve as a useful reference tool.
Writing an introduction to the prophetic books presents significant challenges. Cook makes reasonable choices stressing chronology and historical scholarship over more synchronic study and mitigates the compromises this choice involves by frequently indicating cross-references. The book is well and clearly organized, which makes it user-friendly as a work for study or reference.