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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Révai, Mór
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Revelation (Book of)
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Term used in two senses in Jewish theology; it either denotes (1) what in rabbinical language is called "Gilluy Shekinah," a manifestation of God by some wondrous act of His which overawes man and impresses him with what he sees, hears, or otherwise perceives of His glorious presence; or it denotes (2) a manifestation of His will through oracular words, signs, statutes, or laws.

Manifestations of God.

  1. The original Biblical terms used for the former were "mar'ch" (= "sight"; see Geiger, "Urschrift," p. 340), and "maḥazeh" (Genesis 15:1.; Numbers 24:4), "ḥazon," or "ḥizzayon" (= "vision"). The fact that God revealed Himself to man is given in the Bible as a simple, indisputable fact; only occasionally is the state of mind of the persons seeing or hearing Him described. He speaks with Adam and Eve in Eden (Genesis 3:9-19); with Cain (4:9-15); with Noah (6:13, 7:1, 8:15) and his sons (9:1,8); with Abraham (12:1; 16:4,7,13; 17:1,3,15), to whom He appears in company with manlike angels (18:1). He appears in a dream to Abimelech, speaking to him on behalf of Abraham (20:3,6); to Isaac (24:24); to Laban on account of Jacob (31:24); to Jacob (28:13, 30:11, 46:2) "in visions of the night."

The first revelation Moses had of God at the burning bush was "a great sight"; "he was afraid to look" at Him (Exodus 3:3,6); so the first revelation Samuel had in a dream is called "the vision"; afterward God was frequently "seen" at Shiloh (1 Samuel 3:15,21, Hebr.). Isaiah's first revelation was also a sight of God (Isaiah 6:1-5); Amos had his visions (Amos 7:1,4; 8:1; 9:1); and so with Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:11,13), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1 et seq., 8:1-3), and Zechariah (Zechariah 1, ), and, in fact, with all "seers," as they called themselves. The heathen Balaam also boasted of being one who saw "the vision of the Almighty" (Numbers 24:4). Most vividly does Eliphaz describe such a revelation: "In thoughts from the vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men, fear came upon me, and trembling . . . a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up. He stood still, but I could not discern his appearance; a figure was before mine eyes, a whispering voice I heard" (Job 4:13-16, Hebr.). The Pentateuch, however, lays special stress on the fact that, while to other prophets God made Himself known in a vision, speaking to them in a dream, He spoke with Moses "mouth to mouth," "as a man would speak with his neighbor," in clear sight and not in riddles (Numbers 12:6-8; comp. Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 34:10). It was owing to this close and constant communion with God (Exodus 24:15-18; 33:8-11,28-35) that Moses became for all time His "faithful servant" and mouthpiece, though once Aaron and his sons and the seventy elders also beheld God (Exodus 24:10-11).

The Revelation on Sinai.

Still some more wondrous and imposing act of revelation was deemed necessary by God "to make Israel believe in Moses" for all time; therefore all the people were assembled around Mount Sinai "to hear the Ten Words spoken by Him from heaven," while at the same time His presence was manifested to them in a sight which made them tremble in awe before Him (Exodus 19:9-20:22; Deuteronomy 4:10-5:23, Hebr.). Through the Sinai assembly ("ma'amad har Sinai") the whole people became witnesses to the divine revelation, and at the same time were pledged to observe all the laws which God afterward gave them through Moses. This accounts for the prominence given in Scripture (Nehemiah 9:13) and in the liturgy (Tamid 5:1, and the New-Year's musaf, "Shofarot") to the Sinai revelation.

Judah ha-Levi, accordingly, is in full accord with the spirit of Judaism when he declares the revelation on Sinai to be the great historical fact upon which the Jewish faith, as far as it is a truth revealed, rests ("Cuzari," 1:25,87,97; 4:11); and this is also the rabbinical view. "The Lord appeared to the people of Israel on Sinai face to face in order to pledge them for all generations to come to remain true to Him and worship no other God." The Lord spoke with every single Israelite on Sinai, so that each heard Him say, "I am the Lord thy God"; as it is said, "the Lord spoke with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire" (Deuteronomy 5:4). He appeared to them in differing aspects ("panim" = "countenance")—now with a stern and now with a mild face, corresponding to the varying relations and attitudes of men and times (Pesiḳ. R. 20-21; Mek., Beshallaḥ, Shirah, 3). As a matter of fact and in contrast to all other descriptions of God's appearances to man, which at a later stage were taken figuratively (Mek., Yitro, 3-4) or which called for soferic alterations (Geiger, "Urschrift," pp. 337-342), or in which "the glory of God" was substituted for His presence (Ex. 34; Leviticus 9:23; Numbers 14:21), the actuality of the theophany at Sinai was always accentuated, even by Maimonides ("Moreh," 2:33).

Nature of Revelation.

The essential feature of revelation accordingly consists, exactly as in prophecy, in the fact that it is not a merely psychological process in which the human imagination or mental faculty constitutes the main factor, but that man is but the instrument upon which a superhuman force exerts its power, and the more lucidly this superhuman force entershuman consciousness as an active personality, that is, the more of itself the divine mind imparts to the susceptible human mind, the higher will be the degree of the revealed truth. As all the beginnings of religion point back to the child-age of man, when the imaginative and emotional powers predominate over reason, so revelation comes to man like a flash from a higher world, taking hold of him with an overwhelming force, so as not merely to make him the recipient of some new truth that stirs his heart to the core, but to make him, with his childlike perception, see the power that imparts the truth to him. How the finite soul can come into touch with the Infinite Mind, or, vice versa, how Deity can reach the chosen individual, remains a mystery, as in every realm of human endeavor the work of genius is a mystery for which the vestiges of Divine Providence in history offer parallels but no explanation.

At any rate, the Scriptural records and the results of the study of comparative religion alike testify to the gradual unfolding of the divine powers in man by means of revelation; yet of all nations the Jewish alone rose with the claim of having received the words of the living God and Ruler of the Universe as a revelation for all times and all generations of men. Just as there are different degrees of prophecy among individuals, the highest degree having been attained by Moses (Maimonides, "Yad," Yesode ha-Torah, 7:2-6; idem, "Moreh," 2:45), so there have been different degrees of prophetic capacities making for a divine revelation among the various races and nations. The Jewish race, which has given rise to successive generations of prophets as no other people in the world has done, has been endowed with peculiar religious powers that fitted it for the divine revelation.

With reference to Judah ha-Levi, who declares Israel to be "the heart among the nations" ("Cuzari," 2:36), Geiger declares ("Jüd. Zeit." 2:193) revelation to be "an illumination of the Jewish genius by the Divine Mind, which caused the whole people to come nearer to the everlasting truth than any other. Judaism is not a religion given by one man: Israel's God is not called the God of Moses, or of Isaiah, but of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that is, of the fathers of the nation, who imparted the deep powers of religious intuition and inspiration to all the seers, singers, and teachers, the framers of the Jewish religion."

The Rabbis say that until the erection of the Tabernacle in the wilderness all nations had prophetic revelations from God; but from that time forward Israel alone was the privileged recipient of the divine truth; only exceptionally did heathen seers like Balaam attain prophetic powers, and at best they had only prophetic dreams (Lev. R. 1:12-13). According to R. Eliezer, each person among the Israelites, including even the least intelligent bond-woman, saw God's glory at the Red Sea in clearer form than did, afterward, prophets of the stamp of Ezekiel; wherefore they burst forth into the song, "This is my God" (Mek., c., with reference to Exodus 15:2). When asked by a Samaritan to explain how the words of God "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" (Jeremiah 23:24) could be reconciled with the words spoken to Moses, "I will meet with thee, and . . . commune with thee . . . from between the two cherubims" (Exodus 25:22), R. Meïr made his interlocutor look into two mirrors of different shapes and sizes, saying, "Behold, your own figure appears differently because the mirrors reflect it differently; how much more must the glory of God be mirrored differently by different human minds?" (Gen. R. 4:3). The difference between Moses' capacity of beholding God and that of other prophets is stated in the following manner: the former saw as in a clear-cut and translucent mirror; the others as in a complex mirror ("seven times reflected") or dark glass (Lev. R. 1:14; comp. Suk. 45b ["The righteous in the future world see through a translucent mirror"] and 1 Corinthians 13:12; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Torah as Revelation.

  1. Revelation, in the sense of a manifestation of the will of the Deity, is identical with "debar Yhwh" (the word of the Lord) or "Torah" (the Law or the Teaching). This, however, denotes a psychological process of a somewhat different order, as it points back to the primitive belief in oracles, signs, and dreams (see Urim and Thummim) which waited for the interpretation of either priest or seer (comp. 1 Samuel 25:6, LXX., and 2 Samuel 16:23: "The Lord did not answer him [Saul] either by dreams or by urim and thummim"). How far this mode of ascertaining the will of God was originally identical with the "torah" of the priest (see Smend, "Lehrbuch der Alttestamentlichen Religionsgeschichte," 1893, p. 35, with especial reference to Deuteronomy 33:8-10) can not be discussed here.

The Deuteronomic law still recognizes as legitimate the use of dreams and signs for the ascertaining of the divine will, but makes it dependent upon its monotheistic character (Deuteronomy 13:2-6; comp. Jeremiah 33:28). In the course of time the various "torot" ("divine instructions," the ordinances given by God to Moses and those given at times also to Aaron, the latter forming parts of the so-called Priestly Code) were united in the "Book of the Law" ("Sefer ha-Torah"). From the time of Ezra both the written Law and its extensive interpretation, which, while being developed in the course of time, was, as traditional oral Law, ascribed to Moses as having been received by him from God on Mount Sinai, were regarded by the Pharisees as divine revelation ("Torat Elohim" = "the Law of God"; Nehemiah 8:8; Meg. 3a). The rabbinical view that every letter of the whole Pentateuch was written by Moses at the dictation of God, and that the rules of interpretation of the Law, at least as far as it has practical (halakic) application to life, were received by him directly from God on Sinai, became a fixed dogmatic belief, upon the acceptance of which depended future life (Sanh. 99a, based upon Numbers 15:31; Sifre, Num. 112). This is expressed (Sanh. 10:1) by the rabbinical phrase "Torah min ha-shamayim" (the Torah is from heaven). Whether "Torah" has not frequently a far broader and deeper meaning in the prophetic and other inspired books—denoting rather the universal law of human conduct, the law of God as far as it is written upon the heart of man in order to render him a true son of God—isa question at issue between Orthodoxy and Reform (see see Reform Judaism; TORAH). Regarding the divine character of inspired writers not belonging to the house of Israel INSPIRATION.

  • Friedländer, The Jewish Religion, pp. 46-49, 194-201, London, 1891;
  • Geiger, Jüd. Zeit. 2:185;
  • Hamburger, R. B. T. s. Offenbarung;
  • Philippson, Die Israelitische Religionslehre, 1:39-95.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Revelation'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​r/revelation.html. 1901.
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