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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Prophets and Prophecy
âBiblical Data and Critical View:
Though many ancient peoples had their prophets, the term has received its popular acceptation from Israel alone, because, taken as a class, the Hebrew prophets have been without parallel in human history in their work and influence. This brief article will consider, first, the historical development of prophecy, and, second, the extant utterances of the Prophets.
I. Historical Development of Prophecy:
Terms Used for the Prophetic Function. The name "prophet," from the Greek meaning "forespeaker" (ÏÏá½¸ being used in the original local sense), is an equivalent of the Hebrew , which signifies properly a delegate or mouthpiece of another (see Exodus 7:1), from the general Semitic sense of the root, "to declare," "announce." Synonymous to a certain degree was the word "seer" (), which, as 1 Samuel 9:9 indicates, was an earlier designation than "prophet," at least in popular speech. The usage of these words gives the historical starting-point for inquiring as to the development of true prophetism in Israel. But there is an earlier stage still than that of, "seeing," for it may be observed that while Samuel was currently called "the seer," a prominent part of his manifold work was divining. There are several Hebrew terms for divination of one kind or another; but none of these is used as a synonym for "prophesying." Moreover, the words for "seer" are used quite rarely, the probable explanation being that the bulk of the canonical writings proceed from a time when it was considered that the special function of declaring or announcing characterized prophecy in Israel better than the elementary offices of divining or seeing. At the same time it must be remembered that "seeing" is always an essential condition of true prophecy; hence the continued use of the term "vision" to the last days of prophetic history, long after the time when seeing had ceased to be the most distinctive function of the prophet.
Moses and Samuel.
The historic order of Hebrew prophecy begins with Moses (c. 1200 B.C.). He was not a mere prototype of the canonical prophets, but a sort of comprehensive type in himself, being the typical combination of civil and religious director in one. His claim to be considered the first and greatest of the Prophets is founded upon the fact that he introduced the worship of Yhwh among his people, and gave them the rudiments of law and a new sense of justice wider and deeper than that of the tribal system. By him "direction" (Torah) was given to Israel; all later true prophets kept Israel in the same right course along the line of religious and moral development.
Samuel (c. 1050 B.C.) was the first legitimate successor of Moses. He was, it is true, characteristically a "seer" (1 Samuel 9), but the revelation which he gave referred to all possible matters, from those of personal or local interest to the announcement of the kingdom. Like Moses, he was a political leader or "judge." That he was also a priest completes his fully representative character.
But there was a new development of the highest significance in the time of Samuel. There were bands, or, more properly, gilds of "prophets" (doubtless in large part promoted by him), and these must be considered as the prototypes of the professional prophets found all through the later history. They seem to have been most active at times of great national or religious peril. Thus, after the critical age of the Philistine oppression, they are most prominent in the days of the Phenician Ba'al-worship, the era of Elijah and Elisha. They are not merely seers and diviners, but ministers and companions of leading reformers and national deliverers. That they degenerated in time into mere professionals was inevitable, because it is of the very nature of true prophetism to be spontaneous and, so to speak, non-institutional; but their great service in their day is undeniable. The viewis probably right which traces their origin to the necessity felt for some organized cooperation in behalf of the exclusive worship of Yhwh and the triumph of His cause.
After the establishment of the kingdom under David no prophet was officially a political leader, and yet all the existing prophets were active statesmen, first of all interested in securing the weal of the people of Yhwh. Naturally, they watched the king most closely of all. Nathan and Gad to David and Solomon, and Ahijah of Shiloh to Jeroboam, were kingly counselors or mentors, to whom these monarchs felt that they had to listen, willingly or unwillingly.
Elijah, Reformer and Preacher.
The next new type of prophecy was realized in its first and greatest representative, Elijah, who is found maintaining not merely a private, but a public attitude of opposition to a king displeasing to Yhwh, ready even to promote a revolution in order to purify morals and worship. In Elijah is seen also the first example of the preaching prophet, the prophet par excellence, and it was not merely because of religious degeneracy, but mainly because of the genuinely and potentially ethical character of prophecy, that a firmer and more rigorous demand for righteousness was made by the Prophets as the changing times demanded new champions of reform.
But the final and most decisive stage was reached when the spoken became also the written word, when the matter of prophecy took the form of literature. It was no mere coincidence, but the result of a necessary process that this step was taken when Israel first came into relation with the wider political world, with the oncoming of the Assyrians upon Syria and Palestine. Many things then conspired to encourage literary prophecy: the example and stimulus of poetical and historical collections already made under prophetic inspiration; the need of handbooks and statements of principles for the use of disciples; the desire to influence those beyond the reach of the preacher's voice; the necessity for a lasting record of and witness to the revelations of the past; and, chief of all, the inner compulsion to the adequate publication of new and all-important truths.
Foremost among such truths were the facts, now first practically realized, that God's government and interests were not merely national, but universal, that righteousness was not merely tribal or personal or racial, but international and world-wide. Neither before nor since have the ideas of God's immediate rule and the urgency of His claims been so deeply felt by any body or class of men as in the centuries which witnessed the struggle waged by the prophets of Israel for the supremacy of Yhwh and the rule of justice and righteousness which was His will. The truths then uttered are contained in the writings of the Later Prophets. They were not abstractions, but principles of the divine government and of the right, human, national life. They had their external occasions in the incidents of history, and were thus strictly of providential origin; and they were actual revelations, seen as concrete realities by the seers and preachers whose words both attest and commemorate their visions.
II. Utterances of the Prophets:
The first of the literary prophets of the canon was Amos. His brief work, which may have been recast at a later date, is one of the marvels of literature for comprehensiveness, variety, compactness, methodical arrangement, force of expression, and compelling eloquence. He wrote about 765 B.C., just after northern Israel had attained its greatest power and prosperity under Jeroboam II., and Israel had at last triumphed over the Syrians. In the midst of a feast at the central shrine of Beth-el, Amos, a shepherd of Tekoah in Judah, and not a member of any prophetic gild, suddenly appeared with words of denunciation and threatening from Yhwh. He disturbed the national self-complacency by citing and denouncing the sins of the people and of their civil and religious rulers, declaring that precisely because God had chosen them to be His own would He punish them for their iniquity. He rebuked their oppression of the poor, their greed, their dishonesty, as sins against Yhwh Himself; assured them that their excessive religiousness would not save them in the day of their deserved punishment; that, as far as judgment was concerned, they stood no better with Him than did the Ethiopians, or the Arameans, or the Philistines. The most essential thing in his message was that the object of worship and the worshipers must be alike in character: Yhwh is a righteous God; they must be righteous as being His people. The historical background of the prophecy of Amos is the dreadful Syrian wars. His outlook is wider still; it is a greater world-power that is to inflict upon Israel the condign punishment of its sins (5:27).
Hosea, the next and last prophet of the Northern Kingdom, came upon the scene about fifteen years after Amos, and the principal part of his prophecy (ch. -) was written about 735 B.C. Amos had alluded to the Assyrians without naming them. Hosea is face to face with the terrible problem of the fate of Israel at the hands of Assyria. To him it was beyond the possibility of doubt that Israel must be not only crushed, but annihilated (ch. 5:11, 10:15, etc.). It was a question of the moral order of Yhwh's world, not merely a question of the relative political or military strength of the two nationalities. To the masses in Israel such a fate was unthinkable, for Yhwh was Israel's God. To Hosea, as well as to Amos, any other fate was unthinkable, and that also because Yhwh was Israel's God. Everything depended upon the view taken of the character of Yhwh; and yet Hosea knew that God cared for His people far more than they in their superstitious credulity thought He did. Indeed, the love of Yhwh for Israel is the burden of his discourse. His own tragic history helped him to understand this relation. He had espoused a wife who became unfaithful to him, and yet he would not let her go forever; he sought to bring her back to her duty and her true home. There was imaged forth the ineradicable love of Yhwh for His people; and between the cries and lamentations of the almost broken-hearted prophet can be heard ever and anon strains of hopeand assurance, and the divine promise of pardon and reconciliation. Thus while prophecy in Northern Israel came to an end with this new and strange lyrical tragedy, the world has learned from the prophet-poet that God's love and care are as sure and lasting as His justice and righteousness.
The career of the next great prophet, Isaiah, is connected with the kingdom of Judah. Here the historical conditions are more complex, and the prophetic message is therefore more profound and many-sided. Isaiah deals much with the same themes as did Amos and Hosea: the sins of luxury, fashion, and frivolity in men and women; land-grabbing; defiance of Yhwh (ch. , , ). To his revelation he adds the great announcement and argument that Yhwh is supreme, as well as universal, in His control and providence. Ahaz makes a dexterous alliance with Assyria, against the prophetic counsel, for the sake of check-mating Samaria and Damascus. Let him beware; Yhwh is supreme; He will dissolve the hostile combination; but Judah itself will ultimately fall before those very Assyrians (ch. ). The Ethiopian overlord of Egypt sends an embassy to the Asiatic states to incite them against Assyria. Isaiah gives the answer: God from His throne watches all nations alike, and in His good time Assyria shall meet its fate (ch. ). The great revolt against Assyria has begun. The Assyrians have come upon the land. Again the question is taken out of the province of politics into that of providence. Assyria is God's instrument in the punishment of His people, and when it has done its work it shall meet its predestined doom (ch. ). So the trumpet-tone of providence and judgment is heard all through the prophetic message till Jerusalem is saved by the heaven-sent plague among the host of Sennacherib.
Habakkuk and Jeremiah.
While in the next century written prophecy was not entirely absent, another sort of literary activityâwhose highest product is seen in Deuteronomyâwas demanded by the times and occasions. Assyria had played its rÃ´le and had vanished. The Chaldean empire had just taken its place. The little nations, including Israel, become the prey of the new spoiler. The wondrous seer Habakkuk (c. 600 B.C.) ponders over the situation. He recognizes in the Chaldeans also God's instrument. But the Chaldeans are even greater transgressors than Yhwh's own people. Shall they escape punishment? Are militarism and aggressive warfare to be approved and rewarded by the righteous God? (ch. ). Climbing his watch-tower, the prophet gains a clear vision of the conditions and a provision of the issue. The career and fate of Chaldea are brought under the same law as the career and fate of Israel, and this law is working surely though unseen (ch. ). Habakkuk thus proclaims the universality of God's justice as well as of His power and providence.
In Jeremiah (626-581) prophecy is at its highest and fullest. His long and perfectly transparent official life full of vicissitudes, his protracted conferences and pleadings with Yhwh Himself, his eagerness to learn and do the right, his more than priestly or military devotion to his arduous calling, his practical enterprise and courage in spite of native diffidence, make his word and work a matchless subject for study, inspiration, and imitation. The greatest religious genius of his race, he was also the confessor and martyr of the ancient Covenant, and he still wields a moral influence unique and unfailing. What then did his life and word stand for and proclaim? Among other things, these: (1) the nature and duty of true patriotism: oppose your country's policy when it is wrong; at the peril of liberty and life, set loyalty to God and justice above loyalty to king and country; (2) the spirituality of God and of true religion (9:23 et seq., 31:31); (3) the perpetuity and continuity of Yhwh's rule and providence (16:14,15; 23:7,8); (4) the principle of individual as opposed to tribal or inherited responsibility (31:29,30).
These are a selection of the leading truths and principles announced by the Prophets. It will be observed: (1) that they are the cardinal truths of Old Testament revelation; (2) that they were given in the natural order of development, that is, according to the needs and capacities of the learners; (3) that they were evoked by certain definite, historical occasions. From the foregoing summary it may also be learned how the function as well as the scope of the prophet was diversified and expanded. In the most rudimentary stage are found traces of the primitive arts and practises of soothsaying and divination; and yet in the very beginnings of the prophetic work in Israel there can be discerned the essential elements of true prophecy, the "seeing" of things veiled from the common eye and the "declaring" of the things thus seen. If Israel presents the only continuous and saving revelation ever vouchsafed to men, the decisive factor in the unique revelation is the character of the Revealer. It was the privilege of the Prophets, the elect of humanity, to understand and know Yhwh (Jeremiah 9:24), and it still remains profoundly true that "Adonai Yhwh doeth nothing unless He has revealed His secret to His servants the Prophets" (Amos 3:7, Hebr.).
- Besides the standard introductions and commentaries to the Old Testament and the prophetic literature: Knobel, Prophetismus der HebrÃ¤er, 1837;
- Tholuck, Die Propheten und Ihre Weissagungen, 1860;
- Baur, Gesch. der Alttest. Weissagung, 1860: Oehler, Das VerhÃ¤ltniss der Alttest. Propetic zur Heidnischen Mantik, 1861;
- Kuenen, Prophets and Prophecy in Israel, 1877;
- Duhm, Theologie der Propheten, 1875;
- F. E. KÃ¶nig, Der Offenbarungsbegriff des A. T. 1882;
- W. R. Smith, The Prophets of Israel, 1882;
- C. G. Monteflore, The Religion of Israel (the Hibbert Lectures for 1892): Darmesteter, Les ProphÃ¨tes d'IsraÃ«l, 1892;
- Kirk-patrick. The Doctrine of the Prophets, 1892;
- Smend, Lehrbuch der Alttest. Religionsgesch. 1893;
- Cornill, Der Israelitische Prophetismus, 1894;
- McCurdy, History, Prophecy, and the Monuments, 1894-1901;
- Kittel, Profetie und Weissagung, 1899.
Views of Philo.
âIn Post-Biblical Literature:
The first to reflect upon the phenomena of prophecy and to suggest that certain states, either mental or moral, are prerequisite to the reception or exercise of the prophetic gift was Philo of Alexandria. As in many others of his conceptions and constructions, so in his explanation of prophecy, he follows the lead of Plato, accepting his theory concerning mantic enthusiasm ("PhÃ¦drus," p. 534, ed. Stephanus). In order that the divine light might rise in man the humanmust first set altogether. Under the complete emigration of the mortal or human spirit and the inpouring of the immortal or divine spirit the Prophets become passive instruments of a higher power, the voluntary action of their own faculties being entirely suspended (Philo, "Quis Rerum Divinarum HÃ¦res Sit," Â§ 53). The prophet "utters nothing of his own": he speaks only what is suggested to him by God, by whom, for the time, he is possessed. Prophecy includes the power of predicting the future; still the prophet's main function is to be the interpreter of God, and to find out, while in the state of ecstasy, enthusiasm, or inspired frenzy in which he falls, things that the reflective faculties are incompetent to discover (Philo, c. Â§Â§ 52-53; "De Vita Mosis," 2:1; "Duo de Monarchia," 1:9; "De Justitia," Â§ 8; "PrÅmiis et PÅnis," Â§ 9; Drummond, "Philo JudÃ¦us," 2:282; Hamburger, "R. B. T." 2:1003, s. "Religionsphilosophie").
Yet this inspiration is held not to be the effect of a special and arbitrary miracle. Communion between God and man is permanently possible for man. Every truly good and wise man has the gift of prophecy: the wicked alone forfeit the distinction of being God's interpreters. The Biblical writers were filled with this divine enthusiasm, Moses possessing it in a fuller measure than any others, who are not so much original channels of inspired revelation as companions and disciples of Moses (Drummond, c. 1:14-16).
As might be expected from the method of the Tannaim and the Amoraim, no systematic exposition of the nature of prophecy is given by any of the Talmudic authorities. Still, mixed with the homiletic applications and interpretations of Biblical texts, there are a goodly number of observations concerning the Prophets and prophecy in general. Of these the following seem to be the more noteworthy.
The prophetic gift is vouchsafed only to such as are physically strong, mentally wise and rich (Shab. 92a; Ned. 38a). In fact, all the Prophets were "rich" (Ned. 38a). Prophets are distinguished by individual traits. In their language, for instance, they display the influence of environment. Ezekiel is like a rural provincial admitted to the royal presence, while Isaiah resembles the cultured inhabitant of the large city (á¸¤ag. 13b). Moses, of course, occupies an exceptional position. He beheld truth as if it were reflected by a clear mirror; all others, as by a dull glass (Yeb. 49b). This thought is present in the observation that all other prophets had to look into nine mirrors, while Moses glanced at one only (Lev. R. ). With the exception of Moses and Isaiah none of the Prophets knew the content of their prophecies (Midr. Shoá¸¥er á¹¬ob to Ps. xc. 1). The words of all other prophets are virtually mere repetitions of those of Moses (Ex. R.; see also Bacher, "Ag. Pal. Amor." 1:164,500); in fact, but one content was in all prophecies. Yet no two prophets reproduced that content in the same manner (Sanh. 89a). Unanimity and concordance of verbal expression betray the false prophet (ib.). The Prophets, however, are worthy of praise because they employ phraseology that is intelligible, not even shrinking from using anthropomorphic similes and comparisons drawn from nature (Midr. Shoá¸¥er á¹¬ob to Psalms 1:1; Pesiá¸³. 36a; J. Levy, "Ein Wort Ã¼ber die Mekilta von R. Simon," pp. 2l-36; Bacher, c. 3:191, note 4).
Mingled Censure and Consolation.
All prophecies were included in the revelation at Sinai (Ex. R.; Tan., Yitro). Still, the "holy spirit" that descended upon individual prophets was not the same in degree in each case; some prophets received sufficient for one book, others enough for two books, and others only so much as two verses (Lev. R.; comp. Bacher, c. 2:447, note 1). Prophecy was sometimes contingent upon the character of the generation among whom the potential prophet lived (Sanh. 11a; Ber. 57a; Suk. 28a; B. B. 134a). All written prophecies begin with words of censure, but conclude with phrases of consolation (Yer. Ber. 8d; Midr. Shoá¸¥er á¹¬ob to Psalms 4:8; Pesiá¸³. 116a; Jeremiah is in reality no exception to the rule). Only those prophecies were published that were valid for future days; but God will at some time promulgate the many prophecies which, because dealing only with the affairs of their day, remained unpublished (Cant. R. 4:11; Meg. 14a; Eccl. R. 1:9). In connection with this the statement is made that in Elijah's time there lived in Israel myriads of prophets and as many prophetesses (Cant. R. c.). The prediction of peace must come true if made by a true prophet; not so that of evil, for God can resolve to withhold punishment (Tan., Wayera, on 21:1).
Judah ben Simeon attributes to Isaiah the distinction of having received immediate inspiration, while other prophets received theirs through their predecessors (Pesiá¸³. 125b et seq.; Lev. R. ); and, referring to such repetitions as "Comfort ye, comfort ye," he ascribes to him a double portion of prophetic power. A very late midrashic collection (Agadat Bereshit ) designates Isaiah as the greatest, and Obadiah as the least, of the Prophets, and imputes to both the knowledge of all spoken languages. The prophetic predictions of future blessings were intended to incite Israel to piety; in reality, however, only a part of future glory was shown to the Prophets (Yalá¸³. 2:368; Eccl. R. 1:8). Where the prophet's father is mentioned by name, the father also was a prophet; where no place of birth is given, the prophet was a Jerusalemite (Meg. 15a). A chaste bride is promised that prophets shall be among her sons (ib. 10b). It is reckoned that forty-eight prophets and seven prophetesses have arisen in Israel. On the other hand, the statement is made that the number of prophets was double the number of those that left Egypt (ib. 14a). Eight prophets are said to have sprung from Rahab (ib.). Fifty is the number given of the prophets among the exiles returning from Babylon (Zeb. 62a). Every tribe produced prophets. With the death of the Former Prophets the urim and thummim ceased in Israel (Suk. 27a; Soá¹ah 48a).
Since the destruction of the Temple prophecy has passed over to the wise, the semidemented (fools), and the children, but the wise man is superior to the prophet (B. B. l2a). Eight prophets are mentionedas having filled their office after the destruction of the First Temple, Amos being among them. In the same passage Joel is assigned a postexilic date (Pesiá¸³. 128b). The elders are, like the á¸¥akamim (see B. B. 12a), credited with superiority over the Prophets (Yer. Ber. 3b; Yer. Sanh. 30b).
"Prophets of the Nations."
Prophecy was not regarded as confined to Israel. The "nations of the world" had seven prophets (B. B. 15b; comp. Eccl. R. 3:19). Before the building of the Tabernacle, the nations shared the gift with Israel (Lev. R.; Cant. R. 2:3). The restriction of prophecy to Israel was due to Moses' prayer (Exodus 31:16; Ex. R.; Ber. 7a). To "the nations" the prophets come only at night (Gen. R.; Lev. R. ) and speak only with a "half" address (Lev. R. ); but to Israel they speak in open daylight. The distinction between the manner in which God speaks to the prophets of Israel and those of the "nations" is explained in a parable about a king who spoke directly to his friend (Israel), but to strangers only from behind a curtain (Gen. R. ). Again, to the "prophets of the nations" God discloses His will only as one stationed afar off; to those of Israel as one standing most close (Lev. R. ). Balaam is regarded as the most eminent of the non-Jewish prophets (see Geiger's "JÃ¼d. Zeit." vol. ).
Views of Saadia.
Under the stress of controversy Saadia was compelled to take up the problem of prophecy more systematically than had the Rabbis of the Talmudic period. As the contention had been raised that prophecy in reality was unnecessary, since if the message was rational reason unaided could evolve its content, while if it was irrational it was incomprehensible and useless, Saadia argued that the Torah contained rational and revealed commandments. The latter certainly required the intervention of prophecy, otherwise they could not be known to men. But the former? For them prophecy was needed first because most men are slow to employ their reason, and secondly because through prophecy knowledge is imparted more rapidly ("Emunot we-De'ot," p.12, ed. Berlin). The third argument is that reason can not evolve more than general principles, leaving man dependent upon prophecy for details. Men can, for instance, reason out the duty of thankfulness, but can not know, through mere reason, how to express their gratitude in a way that would be acceptable in God's sight. Hence the Prophets supplied what human reason could not supply when they established the order of prayers and determined the proper seasons for prayer. The same applies to questions of property, marriage, and the like.
But what is the criterion of true prophecy? The miracles which the prophet works and by which he attests the truth of his message (ib. 3:4), though the degree of probability in the prophet's announcement is also a test of its genuineness, without which even the miracle loses its weight as evidence. The Prophets, indeed, were men, not angels. But this fact renders all the more obvious the divine wisdom. Because ordinary men and not angels are chosen to be the instruments of God's revelation, what of extraordinary power they exhibit must of necessity arouse their auditors and the witnesses of the miracles wrought to a realization that God is speaking through them. For the same reason the ability to work miracles is temporary and conditioned, which again demonstrates that the Prophets do not derive their power from themselves, but are subject to a will other and higher than their own.
To meet the difficulties involved in the assumption that God speaks and appears, so as to be heard and seen, Saadia resorts to the theory that a voice specially created ad hoc is the medium of inspiration, as a "light creation" is that of appearance (ib. 2:8). This "light creation," in fact, is for the prophet the evidence of the reality of his vision, containing the assurance that he has received a divine revelation. It is thus apparent that Saadia denies the cooperation of the mental and moral qualifications of the prophet in the process of prophecy.
Baá¸¥ya and Ibn Gabirol.
Baá¸¥ya repeats, to a certain extent, the arguments of Saadia in proof of the insufficiency of reason and the necessity of prophecy. Human nature is two-fold, and the material elements might not be held in due control were prophecy not to come to the rescue. Thus reason alone could not have arrived at complete truth. That miracles are the evidence of prophecy Baá¸¥ya urges with even greater emphasis than did his predecessor ("á¸¤obot ha-Lebabot," 3:1,4). Nevertheless, he contends that purity of soul and perfection of rational knowledge constitute the highest condition attainable by man, and that these make one "the beloved of God" and confer a strange, superior power "to see the sublimest things and grasp the deepest secrets" (ib.; Kaufmann, "Die Theologie des Bachya," p. 228, Vienna, 1875).
Solomon ibn Gabirol regards prophecy as identical with the highest possible degree of rational knowledge, wherein the soul finds itself in unity with the All-Spirit. Man rises toward this perfect communion from degree to degree, until at last he attains unto and is united with the fount of life (see Sandler, "Das Problem der Prophetic," p. 29, Breslau, 1891).
Judah ha-Levi confines prophecy to Palestine. It is the and the ("Cuzari," 1:95). Prophecy is the product of the Holy Land (ib. 2:10), and Israel as the people of that land is the one people of prophecy. Israel is the heart of the human race, and its great men, again, are the hearts of this heart (ib. 2:12). Abraham had to migrate to Palestine in order to become fit for the receiving of divine messages (ib. 2:14). To meet the objection that Moses, among others, received prophetic revelations on non-Palestinian soil, Judah gives the name of Palestine a wider interpretation: "Greater Palestine" is the home of prophecy. But this prophecy, again, is a divine gift, and no speculation by philosopher can ever replace it. It alone inspires men to make sacrifices and to meet death, certain that they have "seen" God and that God has "spoken" to them and communicated His truth to them. This is the difference between "the God of Abraham and the God of Aristotle" (ib. 4:16). The prophet is endowed by God with a new inner sense,the (= "hidden [inner] eye"), and this "inner eye" enables the prophet to see mighty visions (ib. 4:3). The test of the truth is the unanimity of the Prophets, who alone can judge of prophetic truth. The agreement of the "seers" as against the "blind" is the finally decisive factor. Judah ha-Levi demands of the prophet, lest he mistake mere imagination for genuine vision, purity of conduct, freedom from passion, an equable temperament "of identical mixture," a contemplative life, an ardent yearning toward the higher things, and a lasting, almost complete, absorption in God. Upon such as fulfil these conditions in their entirety the divine spirit of prophecy is poured out (ib. 5:12). This "outpouring" or "irradiation" is meant by the Prophets when they speak of "God's glory," "God's form," the "Shekinah," "the fire-cloud," etc. (ib. 3:2). It is called also the "divine" or "effulgent" Light (ib. 2:14). So inspired, the prophet is "the counselor, admonisher, and censor of the people"; he is its "head"; like Moses, he is a lawgiver (ib. 2:28). Joseph ben Jacob ibn áºaddiá¸³ ("'Olam á¸²aá¹Ã´n") regards prophecy as an emanation of the divine spirit, of which all, without distinction, may become recipients.
The philosophers so far presented consider prophecy a gift from without. Abraham ibn Daud was the first among Jewish schoolmen to insist that prophecy is the outgrowth of natural predispositions and acquired knowledge. He links prophecy to dreams (see Ber. 57b). An Aristotelian, he invokes the "active intellect" to connect the natural with the supernatural. He also attributes to "imagination" a share in the phenomena of prophecy. He assumes two degrees of prophetic insight, each with subdivisions: the visions given in dreams, and those imparted to the prophet while he is awake. In dreams imagination predominates; when the prophet is awake the "active intellect" is dominant ("Emunah Ramah," ed. Weil, pp. 70-73). Soothsaying as distinct from prophecy results in accordance with the extent to which the "intellect" is under the control of imagination. Imagination produces the sensuous similes and allegories under which the prophet conceives the content of his message. As the intellect succeeds in minimizing imagination, revelation is imparted in clearer words, free from simile and allegory. Inner reflection is potent in prophecy grasped by the waking mind. Palestine is for Abraham the land of prophecy, Israel its predestined people. In Israel they attain this power who lead a morally pure life and associate with men of prophetic experience. Otherwise prophecy is within the reach of all, provided God consents to bestow it.
The Maimonidean View of Prophecy.
Abraham ibn Daud's theories are, with characteristic modifications, restated by Maimonides. He enumerates three opinions: (1) that of the masses, according to which God selected whom He would, though never so ignorant; (2) that of the philosophers. which rates prophecy as incidental to a degree of perfection inherent in human nature; (3) that "which is taught in Scripture and forms one of the principles of our religion." The last agrees with the second in all points except one. For "we believe that, even if one has the capacity for prophecy and has duly prepared himself, he may yet not actually prophesy. The will of God" is the decisive factor. This fact is, according to Maimonides, a miracle.
The indispensable prerequisites are three: innate superiority of the imaginative faculty; moral perfection; mental perfection, acquired by training. These qualities are possessed in different degrees by wise men, and the degrees of the prophetic faculty vary accordingly. In the Prophets the influence of the active intellect penetrates into both their logical and their imaginative faculties. Prophecy is an emanation from the Divine Being, and is transmitted through the medium of the active intellect, first to man's rational faculty and then to his imaginative faculty. Prophecy can not be acquired by a man, however earnest the culture of his mental and moral faculties may be. In the course of his exposition, in which he discusses the effect of the absence, or undue preponderance, of one of the component faculties, Maimonides analyzes the linguistic peculiarities of the Biblical prophecies and examines the conditions (e.g., anger or grief) under which the prophetic gift may be lost. He explains that there are eleven ascending degrees in prophecy or prophetic inspiration, though Moses occupies a place by himself; his inspiration is different in kind as well as in degree from that of all others ("Moreh," , -; "Yad," Yesode ha-Torah, 7:6). For the controversies that were aroused by Maimonides' views the articles ALFAKAR, MOSES BEN MAIMON, and Moses ben Naá¸¥man should be consulted (see also Naá¸¥manides on Genesis 18:1).
Isaac ben Moses Arama ("Aá¸³edat Yiáºá¸¥aá¸³," ) declares Maimonides' view that the prophetic gift is essentially inherent in human faculties, and that its absence when all prerequisite conditions are present is a miracle, to be thoroughly un-Jewish. Precisely the contrary is the case, as prophecy is always miraculous.
Joseph Albo ("'Iá¸³á¸³arim," 3:8), though arguing against Maimonides, accepts (ib. 3:17) Maimonides' explanation that Moses' prophecy is distinct and unique because of the absence therefrom of imagination.
Isaac Abravanel (on Genesis 21:27) maintains the reality of the visions of the Prophets which Maimonides ascribed to the intervention of the imaginative faculties. Among the writers on prophecy Gersonides (LEVI BEN GERSHON) must be mentioned. Dreams, for this writer, are not vain plays of fancy; neither are the powers of soothsayers fictitious; the latter merely lack one element essential to prophecy, and that is wisdom. Moreover, prophecy is always infallible. It is an emanation from the all-surveying, all-controlling, universal active intellect, while the soothsayer's knowledge is caused by the action of a "particular" spheric influence or spirit on the imagination of the fortune-teller ("Milá¸¥amot ha-Shem," ).
á¸¤asdai Crescas regards prophcey as an emanation from the Divine Spirit, which influences the rational faculty with as well as without the imaginative faculty ("Or Adonai," 2:4,1).
Modern Jewish theologians have contributed but little to the elucidation of the phenomenon of prophecy. Most of the catechisms are content to repeat Maimonides' analysis (so with Einhorn's "Ner Tamid"); others evade the question altogether. Maybaum ("Prophet und Prophetismus im Alten Israel") has not entered into a full discussion of the psychological factors involved. The views of the critical school, however, have come to be adopted by many modern Jewish authors.
- A. Schmidl, Studien, Ã¼ber JÃ¼dische Religionsphilosophie. Vienna, 1869;
- Neumann Sandler, Das Problem der Prophetie in der JÃ¼dische Religionsphilosophie, Breslau, 1891;
- Emil G. Hirsch, Myth, Miracle, and Midrash, Chicago, 1899.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Prophets and Prophecy'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/p/prophets-and-prophecy.html. 1901.