Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Nehemiah 9 and Luke

The literature of the exilic and post-exilic period reflects a great interest in prayer. Consequently any attempt to understand the background of prayer in Luke-Acts must examine this body of literature. Nehemiah 9 contains one of the oldest penitential prayers in the Hebrew Bible. The corporate confession was delivered shortly after the festival of Sukkoth. This particular penitential prayer, known as “The Levites’ Prayer,” is remarkable in that the prayer becomes a retelling of Israel’s past as a history of sin. According to Newman, “The role of the historical retrospect when it is found in prayers offered by Israelites, whether in the Psalms or in the narratives, is to affirm a community’s self understanding in relation to God.”

The historical retelling depicts the people continuously responding to God in typical deuteronomic style: they are insolent and rebel and stiffen their necks. The accusation that the people killed the prophets and rejected their message of warning is another deuteronomic theme. The author has structured the prayer according to the sin-punishment-repentance-salvation cycle. Nehemiah 9 uses scriptural traditions from all parts of the Bible including the priestly source.

Thus Nehemiah 9 represents a phenomenon that Newman has identified as “‘scripturalized’ prayers, in which the past is remembered through the words of scriptural tradition.” The prayer portrays God’s direct participation in history. Furthermore, according to Duggan, “the prayer certifies that the history recounted in the narrative is, indeed, salvation history.” Finally, Newman states: “The prayer is characterized predominantly by two emphases: the greatness and transcendence of God and the failure of the Israelites to uphold the covenant and the resulting need for repentance.”

Copyrighted 2006


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