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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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Only three modes of prophecy (in the sense of Greek
prophēteia, “speaking for a god and interpreting his
will”) are recognized in Hebrew Scripture. All other
traffic with the occult is stigmatized as unlawful, devi-
ous behavior that has nothing to do with God. It is
a consequence of biblical monotheism, that there is
only one source of divine communication with man,
which cannot be evoked except on its own terms and
as it wills. Traffic with the occult realm (e.g.,
necromancy) is ascribed to Israelites as well as to
pagans, but it is severely deprecated as ungodly. Ideally
“there is no augury (naḥaš) in Jacob, no divining
(qesem) in Israel,” but only God's direct commu-
nication of his messages to men (Numbers 23:23).
The three modes are monotheistic adaptations of
common Near Eastern usages; one of them—proph-
ecy proper in the Hebrew sense (see the discussion of
nabi, below, §1)—underwent an elaboration peculiar
to Israel (§2).

This article focuses on the sanctioned modes of
prophecy; unlawful modes of inquiry into the occult
—in the biblical view not prophecy in any sense—
are referred to only for contrast and illustration.

1. The Sanctioned Modes of Communication with
The regular modes of obtaining oracles from God
(as opposed to ad hoc signs—Genesis 24:12ff.; Judges
6:36ff.; I Samuel 14:8ff.; II Samuel 5:24) were three:
dreams, the Urim, and prophets (nebi'im; I Samuel
28:6). Through these God responded ('ana) to those
who inquired of (ša'al) or resorted to (daraš) him.

God might speak through a dream or vision to a
man directly (Genesis 20:6; 28:12; 31:24; I Kings 3:5,
apparently an incubation dream), or to a medium—a
dreamer-prophet (Numbers 12:6; Deuteronomy 13:2ff.;
Jeremiah 23:27ff.). Though God is regularly said to
have appeared in these visions, only rarely is an
apparition described (e.g., Genesis 28:12; cf. Job 4:13ff.;
later an angelic interlocuter appears: Daniel 7; 10),
the divine speech being the essential feature of the
narrative. Often the verbal message alone is called a
“vision” (I Samuel 3:15; II Samuel 7:17; Isaiah 1:1;

A dream or vision might also be symbolic, a visual
allegory—such as those of Pharaoh (Genesis 41) or
Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2) through which God re-
vealed the future (cf. also Joseph's dreams, Genesis 37,
those of Pharaoh's servants, Genesis 40, the Midianite's,
Judges 7:13ff., and Daniel's, Chs. 7, 8). It is charac-
teristic of the biblical view that when the enigmatic
dreams occur to pagans, who resort (unsuccessfully) to
wizards to interpret them, they are finally solved by
God-inspired Israelites. The lesson is that both the
dream and its interpretation belong to God, and that
not occult arts, but trust in God reveals its meaning
(Genesis 40:8; 41:16, 39; Daniel 2:17ff.; 27ff.). When
prophets have symbolic visions, they are always inter-


preted by God or an angel (e.g., Amos 7:1ff.; 8:1ff.;
Zechariah 1:8ff.; 2:1ff.; 4:2ff., etc.).

The Urim and Thummim (etymology and meaning
uncertain) were probably sacred lots; they were carried
in the breastplate of the chief priest, which was
attached, in turn to the ephod, a vest-like garment
(Exodus 28:30). The priest consulted God through them
on state affairs (Numbers 27:21). The same instrument
seems to be called ephod in narratives of the time of
the Judges and early kings (Judges 18:14ff.; I Samuel
2:28; 23:6, 9; 30:7). No king after David is said to have
consulted the Urim; prophetic oracles only are re-
corded—evidence of a tendency to prefer rational to
mechanical oracles. The reference to ephod in Hosea
3:4 suggests that it had not altogether disappeared
later, though Ezra 2:63 shows that by the age of the
Restoration the Urim were no longer extant.

How the Urim were used is unknown. What emerges
from the narratives is an instrument designed to indi-
cate which of two statements framed as simple alter-
natives was to be followed: “If this guilt lie in me or
in my son Jonathan, O YHWH God of Israel, let it
be Urim; if it lie in your people Israel, let it be
Thummim” (I Samuel 14:41, restored by the Greek
text); or “'... Will Saul come as I have heard?'
YHWH answered, 'He will'... 'Will the citizens of
Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?”... YHWH
answered, 'They will'” (23:9ff.). A priest was needed
for the manipulation of the oracle, but there was no
technique or art of interpretation comparable to pagan
divinatory lore that had to be mastered. When used
by the priest, God spoke plainly through the Urim-
without the mediation of man's art or science.

The third mode of obtaining oracles was through
a prophet (nabi, perhaps “proclaimer”; cf. Akkadian
nabu, “to call,” Arabic naba'a, “to announce”). Clues
to the essential meaning of nabi are the description
of his role in Deuteronomy 18:18 (“I will put my words
in his mouth and he will speak to them all that I
command him”), and the interchange of nabi and
“mouth” in Exodus 4:16; 7:1 (cf. Jeremiah 15:19): the
nabi is God's mouth, his spokesman to men. Further
aspects of his role are indicated by synonyms: ro'e,
“seer” (archaic, according to I Samuel 9:9; cf. Isaiah
30:10; II Chronicles 16:7) and ḥoze, “seer” (II Samuel
24:11; Amos 7:12f.); ' (ha)'elohim, “man of God” (I
Samuel 9:6ff.); 'iš haruaḥ, “man of (God's) spirit”
(Hosea 9:7).

Multiplicity of terms and diversity of roles may
indicate a merging of originally distinct functionaries
in the biblical prophet. “Seer” evokes a clairvoyant,
a visionary gifted with the power of seeing the occult
(Balaam has been compared, Numbers 24:15ff.). Traces
of such a power are found in the nabi: Elisha is credited
by pagans (II Kings 6:12) and claims for himself (5:26)
the ability to know what is far off. More charac-
teristically biblical, however, is the view that the
prophet's occult knowledge is God-given (cf. I Kings
14:5ff.). Unless informed by God, the prophet may be
ignorant and in error (I Samuel 16:7; II Kings 4:27).
The popular view of the prophet's inspired omni-
science is stated doctrinally in Amos 3:7: “The Lord
YHWH does nothing without disclosing his intention
to his servants the prophets.”

“Man of the spirit” evokes a different type: the
“touched” man, whose conduct seems “mad” (Hosea
9:7; Jeremiah 29:26) as a result of the divine spirit that
rested (II Kings 2:15) or sprang (ṣalaḥ, cf. Greek at I
Samuel 10:6, 10) upon him. In early times spiritual
possession betokened election to eminence. Some of
Moses' spirit was laid upon the seventy elders who
were to help him govern the people, and they
“prophesied” for one time only (Numbers 11:16ff.,
24ff.). Saul was marked for kingship by “turning into
another man” in an ecstasy caught from a band of
minstrel nebi'im (I Samuel 10:5f., 10ff.). Such ecstasy
is usually a group phenomenon, sometimes an overflow
of the spirit of a “man of God” who, though present,
is not himself swept up in it (Numbers 11:24ff.; I
Samuel 19:20ff.). Its contagiousness is graphically por-
trayed in I Samuel 19:20-24. The aim and social effect
of this sort of spiritual activity is obscure. No speech
of ecstatics has been recorded. Similar phenomena
have been found in Israel's ancient environment (cf.,
e.g., Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 26c).

The later attested prophetic companies (bene
) of the northern kingdom may have devel-
oped from such ecstatic bands. These companies lived
together in various towns (II Kings 2), sometimes with
an eminent master (6:1-7), who cared for them (4:38ff.),
and for whom they ran errands (Ch. 9). Service to a
“man of God” might be rewarded by a gift of his spirit
(II Kings 2:9, 15); direct inspiration of members of a
prophetic company occurred (I Kings 20:35). In con-
trast to the ecstatic bands, the inspiration of members
of a prophetic company is not depicted as contagious
or technically inducible. Elijah cannot bequeath his
spirit to Elisha, but merely gives him a sign by which
to tell whether God will bestow it (II Kings 2:10). The
disposition of the spirit is clearly up to God (for a
singular example of inducing the spirit through music,
cf. II Kings 3:15).

The commonest synonym of nabi is “man of God”
(in II Kings 4:9, “holy man of God”); Samuel, Elijah,
and Elisha are frequently given this epithet. It suggests
all the features of the nabi—his special intimacy with
God as confidant and servant, his possession of uncanny
gifts. The two terms are coextensive; neither seems to


have been specialized for one particular aspect of

The prophet was consulted by both the individual
and the community. He was sought out for healing (II
Kings 2:19ff.; 4; 5; 6:1-7), for advice about the future
(I Kings 14:1ff.; II Kings 1:6; 8:8ff.), about lost items
(I Samuel 9:6ff.). For such individual service he re-
ceived pay (I Samuel 9:7f.; II Kings 5:5, 15; 8:9); the
abuse that this invited is excoriated in Micah 3:5, 11.
Important state matters were not undertaken before
consultation with him. Replacing the priestly oracle
in post-Davidic times, the prophet gave oracles before
battle (I Kings 22:5ff.; II Kings 3:11); in crises he was
asked what the future held (II Kings 22:12ff.; Jeremiah

As an intimate of God, the prophet was often called
upon to act as intercessor on behalf of the people; this
role is indeed so essential to the prophet that to refrain
from performing it is counted a sin (I Samuel 12:23).
The unique reference to Abraham as a nabi occurs in
connection with intercession (Genesis 20:7; cf. 18:23ff.).
The prophet Moses and Samuel were archetypal inter-
cessors (Jeremiah 15:1, with reference, e.g., to Exodus
32:11ff., 31ff.; Numbers 14:13ff.; 21:7; Deuteronomy
9:18ff.; I Samuel 7:8f.; 12:19ff. Cf. also II Kings 19:4;
Jeremiah 14:11; 27:18; 37:3; Ezekiel 13:3ff.; 22:30.).

Temple and palace had their prophets. The prophet
Gad had served as David's advisor in his outlaw days
(I Samuel 22:5); when David became king, Gad served
as “the king's seer” (II Samuel 24:11). The prophet
Nathan too appears as the king's confidant and advisor
(II Samuel 7:3; I Kings 1). Northern kings had hundreds
of prophets (I Kings 22:6ff.; II Kings 3:13), presumably
as pensioners (cf. I Kings 18:19). That the temples too
had prophetic functionaries is suggested by the fixed
word pair “priest—prophet” (e.g., Hosea 4:5; Jeremiah
4:9; 8:10), and especially by passages locating both in
the temple (Jeremiah 23:11; 26:7; Lamentations 2:20).
In late times, we hear of a priestly officer of the
Jerusalem temple whose duty it was to check “madmen
and prophesyers” (Jeremiah 29:26). The sons of a “man
of God” had a room in that temple (Jeremiah 35:4).
A clue to the role of temple prophets is suggested by
the post-exilic usage of the verb “prophesy” (nibba)
with reference to the work of the singers' guilds in
the Jerusalem temple (I Chronicles 25:1-5). In view
of the relation of prophecy to song (II Kings 3:15;
Ezekiel 33:32; cf. I Samuel 10:5f.), such usage may well
have originated in poetic oracles that were delivered
in the course of the temple worship. II Chronicles
20:14ff. describes a temple scene in which, after the
king's public prayer for help against a foe, a temple
singer is inspired on the spot to deliver an oracle of
victory. The abrupt change from plea or lament to
confident assurance in some psalms (e.g., 20:7) has been
taken to imply the intervening of an encouraging
oracle by a temple prophet.

In the late Judahite monarchy, the prophets were
listed in the ruling hierarchy after “kings, officers,
priests” and before the citizenry (Jeremiah 8:1; 13:13;
32:32). Evidently institutionalized, these prophets
shared in the making of—or they at least supported—
national policy; they are almost invariably condemned
by the classical prophets (see below).

This completes the discussion of the modes of ob-
taining oracles of YHWH. Of these, Deuteronomy
18:9-22 focuses on the nabi as the quintessential mode
of the religion of YHWH, in contrast to diverse pagan
mediums of inquiry into the occult:

Let no one be found among you who consigns his son or
daughter to the fire, or who is an augur, a soothsayer, a
diviner, a sorcerer, one who casts spells, or one who consults
ghosts or familiar spirits, or one who inquires of the dead.
For anyone who does such things is abhorrent to YHWH.
... You must be wholehearted with YHWH your God.
Those nations that you are about to dispossess do indeed
resort to soothsayers and augurs; to you, however, YHWH
your God has not assigned the like. YHWH your God will
raise up for you a prophet from among your own people,
like myself [Moses]; him you shall heed....

The practice by Israelites of these outlawed forms
of occult inquiry is dutifully recorded in Scripture (e.g.,
I Samuel 28:3ff.; II Kings 16:3; 17:17; 21:6; Isaiah
8:19); it is nowhere supposed, however, that YHWH
is responding through these means. Biblical thinkers
did not, then, discount occult inquiry as futile—on the
contrary, they believed in its efficacy (e.g., I Samuel
28:3ff.)—but condemned it as ungodly. Occult prac-
tices are heathen self-sufficiency in contrast to recom-
mended wholehearted reliance upon the will of
YHWH. Such perfect reliance is ideally expressed
through recourse to the nabi, the spokesman of
YHWH. For in the nabi all is dependence upon God;
man merely listens.

2. The Prophet as the Messenger of God. The
Israelite modes of obtaining oracles from YHWH are
paralleled in ancient Near Eastern paganism, though
nowhere else is there such a rejection of techniques
and occult arts. One may compare, for example, the
Hittite triad: omens, dreams, prophets, in which the
first involved highly developed techniques (Pritchard,
394f.). A distinctively biblical phenomenon is the
dominant role of the prophet as the messenger or agent
of God to promote a religious ideology—the ideology
of Israel's election by and covenant relation with

Instances of lay and cult persons carrying messages
from gods (usually to the king) occur among the west


Semites of Mari, a city in North Syria, in the eighteenth
century B.C. (Pritchard, 623ff., 629ff.). In Israel, Moses
was regarded as founder and pinnacle of a prophetic
succession of apostles of God extending from the
thirteenth to the fifth centuries B.C. (Numbers 12:6ff.;
Deuteronomy 18:15ff.; 34:10ff.; curiously, Moses is
alluded to as a nabi only in Hosea 12:14, while else-
where he is called “man of God” [Deuteronomy 33:1;
Psalms 90:1], or YHWH's “servant” [Numbers 12:8;
Deuteronomy 34:5]; the Egyptian oracle priest too was
called “servant of god”). He was sent by God on a
mission to Pharaoh and Israel (Exodus 3:10ff.), and ever
after it was characteristic of Israel's prophets that they
appeared as the messengers of God—the verb “send”
figuring in their calls (cf. I Samuel 12:8, 11; 15:1; 16:1;
II Samuel 12:1; 24:13; I Kings 14:6; Isaiah 6:8;
Jeremiah 1:7; Ezekiel 2:3f.). Prophetic utterances reg-
ularly begin with the message formula “Thus said
YHWH” (cf. Genesis 32:5; 45:9).

The mission of these prophets fills their lives, and they are
ready to give their lives for it. This prophecy... involved
a new conception of the revelation of the word of God,
and it ousted the earlier forms of manticism. The distinctive
feature of apostolic prophecy is that it champions a religious
and moral doctrine. These prophets are stirred by a
religious-moral passion...; the continuing evolution of the
religion of Israel... found expression in their utterances.
... Nowhere else was the mantis the bearer of a religious-
moral ideology. Nowhere else did apostles of a god appear
in an ages-long, unbroken succession

(Kaufmann, p. 215,
fn. 1).

The prophet's apostolic role colored all his tradi-
tional functions. His oracles, his miracles, and his won-
ders brought glory to YHWH whose agent he was. Thus
the wonders of the archetypical Moses attest to his
divine mission and display the might of his sender
(“that the Egyptians may know that I am YHWH”
[Exodus 7:5; cf. 8:18; 9:14], superior to the mere
magic of the Egyptians [8:14f.]). Moses' speeches to
Pharaoh are messages from God—“Thus said YHWH”
(5:1; 7:17, etc.). The wonders Moses performs for Israel
are signs of YHWH's care for them; they aim to create
trust in and loyalty to God (Exodus 14:31; cf. Numbers
14:11, 22). Moses mediates YHWH's covenant with
Israel, teaches them its stipulations, and chastises them
when they fall away from it. Through him God liber-
ated and protected Israel (Hosea 12:14).

In the images of other prophets, mantic and apostolic
features mingle—there can be no question of pure
types in the historical reality. Samuel was accredited
as a prophet of YHWH on the basis of his inerrancy—
presumably with respect to the ordinary mantic
services he performed for pay (I Samuel 3:19f.; 9:6f.).
But when Saul arrived to consult him about some lost
asses, Samuel, having been put on notice by a prior
revelation, acted as YHWH's agent to anoint Saul as
king to rescue Israel from the Philistines (9). Ahiah the
Shilonite was God's messenger to announce to
Jeroboam his election to kingship of the northern tribes
(I Kings 11:29). But he is also a mantic to whom a
distressed mother repairs with a gift for word about
her sick child (14:1ff.). Elijah is God's agent for scourg-
ing Ahab, but he also champions the therapeutic role
of prophecy against Ahaziah's appeal in his sickness
to Baalzebub (II Kings 1:2ff.). Elisha is consulted for
pay about the fate of ailing Benhadad, but while
responding he suddenly utters a dire message from
YHWH concerning Hazael's coming oppression of
Israel (II Kings 8:7ff.). The popular tales about the
mantic and wonder-working deeds of the prophets have
been preserved in the Bible precisely because in them
God's power is manifest: it is important for Naaman,
for example, to know that “there is a prophet in Israel”
so that he might be led to confess that “there is no
God throughout the whole earth except in Israel” (II
Kings 5:8, 15).

As Israel's sovereign and patron by virtue of the
covenant, YHWH governed his people by means of
the prophets. Israel's political and cultic institutions
were shaped by prophecy—i.e., ideally, by God: its
law, its forms of worship, and clerical hierarchy, its
civil administration were given to it by Moses. Its
monarchy was established by Samuel. The Davidic
dynasty was certified as YHWH's elect by Nathan.
Northern dynasties were made and unmade with the
inspiration of prophets. Throughout, faithfulness to the
covenant was the object of prophetic activity.

One aspect of the covenant was the promise of God's
protection; that entailed an identification of Israel's
well-being and security with the will and authority of
YHWH. Early prophets called for war to save Israel
from enemies or avenge wrongs done to it: Moses
stirred up the people against Midian (Numbers 31),
Deborah stirred up Barak against the Canaanites
(Judges 4), Samuel called on Saul to wipe out Amalek
(I Samuel 15)—all as the bidding of YHWH. During
the century of struggle with the Arameans, victory of
the northern kingdom was a condition for the survival
of Israel and YHWH's covenant. Hence victories might
be prophesied for the sake of establishing YHWH's
authority (“That you may know that I am YHWH”
[I Kings 20:13, 28]). Elisha predicted that Joram and
Jehoshaphat would defeat Moab (II Kings 3:18) and
that Joash would triumph over the Arameans (13:14ff.).
Jonah prophesied the recovery of Israel's lost terri-
tories by Jeroboam (14:25ff.), and Isaiah eloquently
asserted YHWH's authority over arrogant Sennacherib


Apart from the covenant ideology, such prophecy
does not seem essentially different from other victory
oracles delivered by prophets outside Israel (e.g.,
Assyrian, in Pritchard, 449f.; West Semitic [Mari], ibid.
629f.). More distinctively Israelite is the religio-moral
censure of the people and their leaders by prophets
arraigning them in God's name for breach of covenant.
The earlier motif of such arraignments is disloyalty to
YHWH and apostasy. Thus Moses castigates and purges
the people for making the golden calf (Exodus 32);
anonymous prophets rebuke the people for apostasy
in the time of the Judges (Judges 2:1ff.; 6:8ff.; cf.
10:11ff.); Samuel rebukes them for apostasy and for
rejecting God's kingship (I Samuel 7:3ff.; 12). During
the monarchy, kings become the focus of censure in
the narratives of the Book of Kings (I Kings 11:31ff.;
14:7ff.; 18:18; II Kings 9:6ff., etc.); only a few general
condemnations represent the prophets as reproaching
the people at large for apostasy (II Kings 17:13;

The narratives also show the prophets censuring the
kings for gross moral offenses, and condemning them
to punishment for them: the classic instances are
Nathan's rebuke of David for his adultery with
Bathsheba (II Samuel 12:1ff.), and Elijah's rebuke of
Ahab for the murder of Naboth and the confiscation
of his land (I Kings 21:17ff.).

In their opposition role, prophets risked and some-
times met death. The first martyrs were the zealous
prophetic opponents of Jezebel's imported Phoenician
Baal cult in Samaria (I Kings 18:13; 19:10; II Kings
9:7). Prophetic radicalism reached a peak here in vio-
lent encounter, careless of consequences, with royal
power. Its voice is that of Elijah, who, for the sake
of God's authority, was ready to subject Israel to ruth-
less decimation and subjugation to its enemies (I Kings

During the century-long struggle with the Arameans
the threatening breach between state policy (“the na-
tional interest”) and the radical covenant ideology
championed by some prophets became a reality. To
be sure, some prophets spoke for the national interest
(e.g., Jonah, in II Kings 14:25ff.), and in the breast of
Elisha conflicting tendencies were evidently at work.
But the continuing politico-military crisis, and the
deepening rift between impoverished masses and an
oligarchy who ruled them exploitatively gave rise, in
the mid-eighth century, to a burst of new prophetic
idealism, in which the issues of the current crises
generated a new level of sensibility. This is the level
of classical or literary prophecy, whose productions fill
the books of the “Latter Prophets” from Isaiah to

3. New Ideas of Literary Prophecy. The literary
prophets drew out several heretofore latent implica-
tions of the earlier religion.

(a) Whereas the covenant laws ascribed to Moses
did not discriminate between socio-moral and religio-
cultic obligations, literary prophecy characteristically
stressed the former over the latter. Amos, the first of
the new breed, denounced the moral corruption of his
audience, contrasting it with their zeal in fulfilling the
cultic requirements of religion.

I hate, I spurn your feasts (says YHWH),
And I take no pleasure in your festal gatherings.
Even though you bring me your burnt offerings
And your meal offerings, I will not accept them...
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
To the melody of your lyres I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
And righteousness like a mighty stream

(Amos 5:21-24).

Isaiah's arraignment of Judah is similar:

Of what use is the multitude of your sacrifices to me, says YHWH;
I am sated with burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts...
Bring no more worthless offerings,
Foul smoke it is to me.
New moon and sabbath, the holding of assemblies—
I cannot endure evil with festival...
So when you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you;
Though you make many prayers, I will not listen;
Your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves clean!
Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes!
Cease to do evil, learn to do good;
Seek justice, right the oppressed,
Uphold the right of the fatherless,
Defend the cause of the widow!

(Isaiah 1:11-17).

The subordination of the issue of cult-loyalty to
YHWH (doubtless reflecting the general orthodoxy of
the national religion) reached a culmination in a
soliloquy of Micah, in which the demand of YHWH
is concentrated on morality alone:

Wherewith shall I come before YHWH,
Shall I bow myself before God most high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
With calves a year old?
Will YHWH be pleased with thousands of rams,
With myriad streams of oil?
Shall I offer my first-born for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
You have been told, O man, what is good,
And what YHWH desires of you:
But to do justice, and love fidelity,
And to walk humbly with your God

(Micah 6:6-8).


(b) Having fallen short of this standard, the commu-
nity deserved punishment, and the literary prophets
boldly applied the dire threats found in the tradition
for the sin of apostasy to the morally corrupt people
of their day. Deriding the reliance of the people upon
the efficacy of the cult to ward off wrath, the literary
prophets predicted the fall and exile of Israel for its
social-moral offenses (Amos 3:9—6:14; Isaiah 1; 3-5).
Micah shocked his (to him emptily) pious audience by
predicting the destruction of Jerusalem on their ac-

Hear this, now, you heads of the house of Jacob,
And rulers of the house of Israel,
Who abhor justice, and distort what is right;
Who build Zion with blood,
And Jerusalem with guilt—
Her chiefs pronounce judgment for a bribe,
Her priests give oracles for hire,
Her prophets divine for cash.
Yet they lean upon YHWH, saying
“Is not YHWH in our midst?
No misfortune can befall us.”
So then, because of you Zion shall be plowed like a field,
Jerusalem shall become ruins,
And the temple mount a forested height

(Micah 3:9-12).

A century later, the precedent of Micah saved Jeremiah
from death for having prophesied the same in the court
of the Jerusalem temple (Jeremiah 26).

(c) Along with false reliance on the cult, the literary
prophets denounced trust in human devices, in military
power, in political alliances.

Israel forgot his maker and built palaces
And Judah multiplied fortified cities;
But I will send a fire upon his cities,
And it shall devour his palaces

(Hosea 8:14).

The prophetic policy for the nation beset by powerful
enemies was uncompromisingly radical: eschew trust
in power and cast your burden on God!

In placid rest you shall be saved;
In quiet confidence shall be your strength (Isaiah 30:15).
If you have not firm faith you shall not stand firm!

(ibid., 7:9).

Moses' exhortation on the shores of the sea, “Stand still
and see the salvation of YHWH” (Exodus 14:13) be-
came the guideline of the national policy of the
prophets. In the radical dichotomy of trust in God or
trust in man, idolatry came to be lumped with silver
and gold, towers and ships, horses and chariots—all
the man-made recourses in which the heathen (in and
out of Israel) trusted. Thus the failure of man-made
power and security would at the same time be the end
of idolatry (Isaiah 2).

(d) The quietism of the literary prophets was based
on a faith in the imminent intervention of God in
events, which would put to nought all earthly powers
and show the futility of the idols. There would be a
great purge of sinners in Israel; later, under the rule
of a new David, a remade Israel, with hearts informed
by knowledge of God, would live in idyllic peace
(Isaiah 11; Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 36). But God's plan
extended beyond Israel, to the redemption from vio-
lence and ignorance of all mankind. Isaiah articulated
the vision of the reunification of men under God in
its classic form: when the heathen might of Assyria
would be broken on the mountains of Israel, the
worldwide impact would shatter faith in idols forever.
Then all men would turn to YHWH in Zion, saying

“Come! let us go up to the mountain of YHWH
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That he may instruct us in his ways,
And that we may walk in his paths;
For out of Zion goes forth instruction
And the word of YHWH out of Jerusalem.”
Then will he judge between the nations,
And arbitrate for many peoples;
And they will beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning-hooks:
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
Nor will they experience war any more

(Isaiah 2:3f.).

The conversion of the nations to the worship of YHWH
(cf. also Isaiah 19:23ff.) was expressed by Zephaniah
(3:9), recurs in Jeremiah (3:17) and Habakkuk (2:14),
and is a major theme of the Second Isaiah (e.g., 45:23).
It is the natural complement to the early religion's
notion of a primeval unity of men that was shattered
by the hybris of the builders of the tower of Babel.

4. Conflict and Tension. The continuing and deep-
ening crisis that set in during the Aramean wars and
ended in the exiles of Israel and Judah bred an endemic
conflict between prophets who said yea and those who
said nay to the national policy. The issue of false
prophecy arose.

The black-and-white terms of the Deuteronomic law
on the subject were hardly adequate for meeting the
far more complicated reality. “If a prophet speaks in
YHWH's name and the oracle does not come true, that
oracle was not spoken by YHWH; the prophet has
uttered it presumptuously” (Deuteronomy 18:22).
What if one could not wait for the issue, but must know
at once if the prophet was true? Or if the oracle was
not predictive but prescriptive? On the latter subject,
Deuteronomy 13:1ff. lays it down that a prophetic call
to apostasy, even if supported by a miracle, must be
discredited; the miracle is but a test of the people's
faithfulness to YHWH.

Accounts of actual prophetic conflicts show how
perplexing the reality was. A complicating factor was


the notion that God might deceive an audience
purposely in order to punish it by means of a false
prophecy. Micaihu ben Imlah, standing alone as a
prophet of doom against 400 court prophets predicting
victory for the kings of Israel and Judah, explained the
prophecy of the 400 as a divine lure to lead the king
of Israel to battle and death (cf. Ezekiel 14:9). Micaihu
was put under arrest pending the outcome of the battle
(I Kings 22). Jeremiah gave an ironic blessing to
Hananiah ben Azzur who confuted Jeremiah's predic-
tions of doom. He admonished him that only the issue
of events could validate his prediction of restoration.
Onlookers can not have known which of the two
prophets was to be believed, but Hananiah's death
within the year, as subsequently predicted by Jeremiah,
must have settled the issue (Jeremiah 28). Jeremiah
once sought to exonerate the Judahites by pleading that
God himself had (through false prophets) seduced them
into complacence (4:10). Quite mysterious is the point
of the story in I Kings 13 telling how a northern
prophet misled a southern man of God into violating
his charge, then prophesied truly that he would be
punished therefor.

However perplexed onlookers might have been in
the face of prophetic conflicts, the prophets themselves
are not likely to have been doubtful of the reality of
their mission. Amos compares the compulsion to
prophesy to the terror inspired by a lion's roaring (3:8).
Jeremiah compares God's word to fire, to a “hammer
that shatters rock” (23:29); it is like “a burning fire,
shut up in my bones” that cannot be contained (20:9;
cf. 6:11). To such men, counter-oracles must be false,
hence virtually all references to other nebi'im in
prophetic writings are derogatory (e.g., Isaiah 9:14;
29:10f.; Ezekiel 13; Zechariah 13:2ff.). Other prophets
are deceitful, venal charlatans who pander to their
audience (Ezekiel 13:10); if fed, they say “peace,” if
not, “war” (Micah 3:5, 11); their visions are mere
figments (Jeremiah 14:13f.), often plagiarized (23:25ff.);
they are a mendacious, adulterous lot (23:32; 29:23).
Favored epithets for them and their utterances are
“diviner” (qasam) and “divination” (miqsam; Micah
3:6f., 11; Ezekiel 13:7). Now, while it is true that the
prophets of weal had a basis for their optimism—God's
election of Israel—it is also true that their prophecy,
by telling the people what they wished to hear,
encouraged self-delusion and complacency in both
prophet and audience. To the extent that dissent re-
quires courage and strength of conviction, the moral
quality of the dissenting prophets may be assumed to
have been on the whole higher than their opponents.

The political disasters of Israel validated the dissent-
ing prophecy of doom. The worthlessness of the mass
of pre-exilic prophets was then acknowledged in terms
drawn directly from the diatribes of the literary

Your prophets prophesied to you
Delusion and folly;
They did not expose your iniquity
So as to restore your fortunes,
But prophesied to you oracles
of delusion and blandishment

(Lamentations 2:14).

Popular reception of the prophets was ambivalent.
The power of the oracle (cf. Isaiah 55:10f.) was so
feared, on the one hand, that an unfavorable one was
to be avoided (I Kings 22:8; Amos 2:12; 7:16; Micah
2:6, 11; Jeremiah 29:26; II Chronicles 25:15-16). Once
uttered, however, awe of the prophet was usually
enough to protect him from serious harm, though insult
and mockery might follow (Isaiah 28:9; II Chronicles
36:16). In times of great stress, demoralizing oracles
might lead to imprisonment (Jeremiah 29:26f.; 32:1ff.;
37) or even death (26; 38; cf. 2:30).

On the other hand, their eccentric behavior (I Kings
20:35) and dress (II Kings 1:7f.; Zechariah 13:4) made
the prophets object of (anxious) derision: “The prophet
is a fool, the man of spirit, mad” (Hosea 9:7; cf. II
Kings 9:11).

5. The Extinction of Prophecy. Since prophecy and
oracle were regarded as prime expressions of God's
favor, their absence was a sure sign of divine wrath
(I Samuel 14:37f.; 28:6). The end of oracles was one
of the calamities threatened by the prophets for Israel's
sin (Micah 3:6f.; Amos 8:11f.; Jeremiah 18:18; Ezekiel
7:26) and materialized in the period of the fall of Judah
(Lamentations 2:9). It was far from final, however, and
one senses that the presence of prophets among the
exiles was taken by them as a harbinger of speedy
restoration (Jeremiah 29:8f., 15, 21f.). Similarly the
Second Isaiah combines the advent of the spirit with
the announcement of an imminent liberation (61:1),
and Joel 3:1f. depicts an eschatological outpouring of
the spirit of prophecy upon all men.

Since the reality of the restoration in Persian times
fell far short of the anticipated glory (cf. Ezra 3:12;
Zechariah 4:10), a feeling of continued disfavor of God
seems to have persisted among the people. That, more
than anything else, dried up the well-spring of proph-
ecy in its traditional form. Concentration on fulfilling
the covenant stipulations became the leading concern
of the restored community (cf. Malachi 3:22), in the
hope that full reconciliation with God and a final,
glorious redemption of Israel, would ensue therefrom.
The renewal of prophecy was deferred to the eschaton
(cf. I Maccabees 4:46; 14:41); the belief in its imminent
renewal appeared among certain Jews at about the
time of the rise of Christianity (John 1:21, 25; 6:14;
7:40; Matthew 16:14; 21:11).



Renderings of biblical passages, when not by the author
of this article, have been adapted from The Torah: A New
(Philadelphia, 1962), The Old Testament: An
American Translation,
ed. J. M. Powis Smith (Chicago,
1927), and the Jewish Publication Society, The Five Megil-
(Philadelphia, 1969).

M. Buber, The Prophetic Faith (New York, 1949; and
reprint). La divination en Mésopotamie ancienne, et dans
les régions voisines,
XIVe Rencontre Assyriologique Interna-
tionale (Paris, 1966). Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets
(New York, 1962). Yehezk Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel
(Chicago, 1960), pp. 157-66, 212-16, 273-86, 343-446. J.
Lindblom, Prophecy in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia, 1962).
H. Wheeler Robinson, Inspiration and Revelation in the Old
(Oxford, 1946; reprint 1962). R. B. Y. Scott, The
Relevance of the Prophets,
rev. ed. (New York and London,
1967). G. von Rad, Old Testament Theology, trans. D. M.
G. Stalker (Edinburgh and London, 1965), II, 3-300. W.
Zimmerli, The Law and the Prophets, trans. Ronald E.
Clements (Oxford, 1965).


[See also God; Music as Divine Art; Myth in Biblical Times;
Prophecy; Religion, Ritual in; Sin and Salvation.]