prophet

prophet

[prof-it]
prophet [Gr.,=foreteller], a religious leader and spokesperson, particularly used in the Bible. The prophets emitted messages from the divine through inspired speech, the interpretation of omens and dreams, and the casting of lots and divination. The word derives from Greek cults, in which prophets interpreted answers to questions put to oracular mediums (see oracles). The concept of a divine interpreter is common in religion, yet the function varies according to culture; thus the term can be defined only with respect to a particular religion. Usually prophet connotes inspired utterance of a spontaneous nature, while priest suggests established ritual duties.

The Prophetic Tradition in the Ancient Middle East

Prophets are clearly evident in Mesopotamia from the first centuries of the 2d millennium B.C. They are mentioned in texts from Emar, Egypt, and Aram, as well as from Assyria during the Old Testament period. In Assyria, prophets appear to have been closely associated with the court, delivering oracles regarding the prospects of foreign policies.

The phenomenon of prophetic speech is also present in Israel from the monarchical era to the post-exilic era. Court prophets (e.g., Nathan), as well as unofficial prophets (e.g., Amos) are attested. Not all the prophets of Israel left deposits of oracles. The most extensive of the collections are found in the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. The title of prophet is also accorded to others of varying importance, e.g., Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Nathan, and Jehu. Certain of their divine mission to purify Israel's religion, the prophets attacked many aspects of people's lives and came forward as the advocates of the poor and oppressed and as the leaders in social reform. According to them, Israel could be reconciled with God only by complete purification in religion and in the state. It is part of traditional Christian belief, found in the Nicene Creed and Second Peter, that the Holy Spirit "spoke through the prophets" concerning the intentions of God for his people.

In Christianity and Islam

In the New Testament, the term prophecy is used of enthusiastic, presumably inspired utterances. This tradition was perpetuated in Montanism, an early Christian sect (late 2d cent. A.D.). Such prophecy has a somewhat dubious history in Christianity (e.g., in Joachim of Floris and Joanna Southcott), but there have been millennialists and miracle-working preachers among the unassailably orthodox (e.g., St. Vincent Ferrer). Some varieties of Protestantism have emphasized "inspired" utterances or behavior; the most spectacular were the Anabaptists (e.g., Thomas Münzer and John of Leiden). Emanuel Swedenborg and Joseph Smith are examples of self-proclaimed prophets who came out of Protestant backgrounds. Islam confesses Muhammad as the last and greatest of prophets. He gathered a community based on his being the divine messenger of the final revelation of God.

Among Native Americans

Native American prophets resembled the great prophets of Israel in preaching a definite message; the ordinary medicinal healer (see shaman) had no such role. The Native American prophet in the late 18th and the 19th cent. normally foretold the regeneration of the indigenous peoples and the recapture of lands from the settlers, provided that Native Americans accepted the idea of ethnic brotherhood and that they follow prescribed religious practices. Frequently prophets were connected with their military leaders, such as the Delaware Prophet with Pontiac, and the Shawnee Prophet with his brother, Tecumseh. Two later prophets of renown were Smohalla and Wovoka (of the Ghost Dance).

Bibliography

See R. R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel (1980); D. E. Aune, Prophecy in Society in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World (1983); J. Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel (1983); J. Barton, Oracles of God (1986).

In religion, a prophet (or prophetess) is a person who has encountered the supernatural or the divine and serves as an intermediary with humanity.

Claims of prophets have existed in many cultures through history, including Judaism, Zoroaster in Persia, the Sybilline and Delphic Oracles practices in Ancient Greece, Christianity, Islam, the Völuspá in Old Norse, and many others. Traditionally, prophets are regarded as having a role in society that promotes change due to their messages and actions. The label 'prophet' is subjective; a person considered an authentic prophet by some will be considered a false prophet by others.

In the late 20th century the appellation of a 'prophet' has been used to refer to individuals particularly successful at analysis in the field of economics, such as in the derogatory 'prophet of greed'.

Alternatively, social commentators who suggest escalating crisis in environment and society due to a lack or failure of due care are often referred to as 'prophets of doom.'

Judaism

In Judaism, a prophet is seen as a person who is selected by, and speaks as a formal representative of God, and the intention of the message is always to effect a social change to conform to God's desired standards initially specified in the Torah dictated to Moses.

In Hebrew, the word traditionally translated as prophet is נְבִיא (navi), which means "spokesperson". This forms the second of the three letters of TaNaKh, derived from Torah, Nevi'im, Ketuvim. The meaning of navi is perhaps described in Deuteronomy 18:18, where God said, "I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them all that I command him." Thus, the navi was thought to be the "mouth" of God. The root nun-vet-alef ("navi") is based on the two-letter root nun-vet which denotes hollowness or openness; to receive transcendental wisdom, one must make oneself “open”. Cf. Rashbam's comment to Genesis 20:7.

Fully a third of the TaNaKh is devoted to books about prophetic experience including a separate book of ‘minor’ prophets known as The Twelve Prophets (Trei-Assar) .

According to I Samuel 9:9, the old name for navi is ro'eh, ראה, which literally means "Seer". That could document an ancient shift, from viewing prophets as seers for hire to viewing them as moral teachers. Allen (1971) comments that in the First Temple Era, there were essentially seer-priests, who formed a guild, divined, performed rituals and sacrifices, and were scribes, and then there were canonical prophets, who did none of these (and were against divination) and had instead a message to deliver. The seer-priests were usually attached to a local shrine or temple, such as Shiloh, and initiated others as priests in that priesthood: it was a mystical craft-guild with apprentices and recruitment. Canonical prophets were not organised this way. The similar term "ben-navi" ("son of the prophet") means "member of a seer-priest guild".

Some examples of prophets in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) include Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Miriam, Isaiah, Samuel, Ezekiel, Malachi, and Job. In Jewish tradition, Daniel is not counted in the list of prophets.

A Jewish tradition suggests that there were 600,000 male and 600,000 female prophets. Judaism recognizes the existence of 48 male prophets who bequeathed permanent messages to mankind. According to the Talmud there were also seven women who are counted as prophets whose message bears relevance for all generations: Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Hannah (mother of the prophet Samuel), Abigail (a wife of King David), Huldah (from the time of Jeremiah), and Esther.

Malachi's full name was Ezra Ha'Sofer (the scribe), and he was the last prophet of Israel if one accepts the opinion that Nechemyah died in Babylon before 9th Tevet 3448 (313 BCE). See also

Divine Pathos

In his book The Prophets, Abraham Joshua Heschel describes the unique aspect of the Jewish prophets as compared to other similar figures. Whereas other nations have soothsayers and diviners who attempt to discover the will of their gods, according to Heschel the Hebrew prophets are characterized by their experience of what he calls theotropism — God turning towards humanity. Heschel argues for the view of Hebrew prophets as receivers of the "Divine Pathos," of the wrath and sorrow of God over his nation that has forsaken him.

He writes:

Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profane riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet's words. (The Prophets Ch. 1)

Christianity

In Christianity, they are often referred to as "seers" according to 1 Samuel 9:9. Christians share the Jewish belief that a prophet is a person who speaks for God, in the name of God, and who carries God's message to others. Some Christian denominations teach that a person who receives a personal message not intended for the body of believers (where such an event is credited at all) should not be termed a prophet. The reception of a message is termed revelation; the delivery of the message is termed prophecy. For Christians the authenticity of a prophet is judged as Jesus said that one should judge a prophet, by his fruits (Gospel of Matthew 7) and by checking whether his predictions come true. Deuteronomy 18:21-22 contains several warnings about false prophets and is very specific about the test of whether a prophet is true or false. A false prophet is considered to be someone who is purposely trying to deceive, or is delusional, or is under the influence of Satan (for detail, see main article False prophet).

Christians recognize that anyone they consider prophetic is still human and fallible, and may make wrong decisions, have incorrect personal beliefs or opinions, and sin from time to time; the human characteristics of a prophet are independent of the message God has given him and do not negate the validity of his prophecies.

Nevertheless, some Christians believe the minimum requirements of a true prophet can be summarized as follows: (1) Clear (not vague) prophecies (2) 100% accuracy in prophesying (i.e. one false prophecy is all it takes to disqualify them as a prophet), and (3) Must not contradict the Bible.

Many Christians believe these standards create a conundrum for other Christians who actively support high profile ministers who have large followings who claim to have received prophecies that have later turned out to be mistaken (see Unfulfilled historical predictions by Christians). Other Christians claim that these standards would disqualify several Biblical prophets, whose prophecies, though clearly stated, appear to be unfulfilled (Jonah 3:4, 2 Samuel 7:5-17, Judges 13:5). Some sects of Christianity would also use these guidelines to disqualify the heads of other sects as prophets of God.

Some Christians, including many who believe in dispensationalism, believe prophecy ended with the coming of Jesus, who delivered the "fullness of the law." Within this group, many Protestants believe that prophecy ended with the last of the Hebrew prophets of the Torah of the Hebrew Bible, leaving a gap of about 400 years between then and the life of Jesus. The majority, including the Eastern Orthodox, allow an exception for John the Baptist as a prophet contemporary with Jesus.

New Testament passages that explicitly discuss prophets existing after the death and resurrection of Christ include Revelation 11:10, & 23:34, John 13:20 & 15:20, and Acts 11:25-30, 13:1 & 15:32. Christians believe that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith in Jesus and gives them the ability to lead a Christian life and to give gifts (i.e. abilities) to Christians. These may include the charismatic gifts such as prophecy, tongues, healing, and knowledge. Christians holding a view known as cessationism believe these gifts were given only in New Testament times and ceased after the last apostle died. Historical records, however, contradict this theory. Christians almost universally agree that "spiritual gifts" such as the gifts of ministry, teaching, giving, leadership, and mercy (see, e.g. ) are still in effect today.

Some Christians also believe that the title "prophet" encompasses others than those who receive visions from God. A more modern definition of prophet is someone who spreads God's truths. These can be revealed in a number of ways not only visions.

Islam

The Qur'an identifies a number of men as Prophets of Islam (nabee نبي; pl. anbiyaa أنبياء ). Muslims believe such individuals were assigned a special mission by God (Arabic: Allah) to guide humanity. Besides Muhammad, this includes Tanakh prophets such as Moses and David, and Jesus from the Christian religion.

According to the Islamic creed, the essence of all the prophets’ messages is what Islam calls for: worshipping God alone and rejecting false deities. The message of Islam resembles the messages of all previous prophets of God. The Qur'an states: "Abraham was not a Jew nor a Christian, but he was (an) upright (man), a Muslim (submission to God's will), and he was not one of the polytheists" (). There were at least 4 Sharia which were revealed to Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Each of the prophets is believed to have been assigned a special mission by God (Arabic: Allah) to guide the whole or a group of the mankind, depending on the mission assigned to each.

God is believed to have instructed each of these prophets to warn his community against evil and urge his people to obey God. Although only 25 prophets are mentioned by name in the Qur'an, a Hadith (no. 21257 in Musnad Ibn Hanbal) mentions that there were 124,000 of them in total throughout history, and the Qur'an says that God has sent a prophet to every group of people throughout time, and that Muhammad is the last of the Prophets.() In general, Muslims regard the stories of the Qur'an as historical. The message of all the prophets is believed to be the same. Many of these prophets are also found in the texts of Judaism (The Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings; collectively known as the Old Testament to Christians) and Christianity.

While Islam shares the Jewish tradition that the first prophet is Adam, it differs in that the last prophet is Muhammad, who in Islam is called Seal of the Prophets. Jesus is the result of a virgin birth in Islam as in Christianity, and is regarded as a prophet like the others. Traditionally, five prophets are regarded as especially important in Islam with distinctive title were given to each of them for example: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Also, only a tiny minority of prophets are believed to have been sent holy books (such as the Tawrat, Zabur, Injil and the Qur'an), and those prophets are considered "messengers" or rasul. However, other main Prophets are considered a Messenger or a Rasul even if they didn't receive a Book from God. An example can be the Messenger-Prophet Aaron "Haroon", the Messenger-Prophet Ishamel "Isma'eel" or the Messenger-Prophet Joseph "Yousuf". Muhammad is regarded in Islamic belief as having undertaken a prophetic mission addressed to all of humanity rather than a specific populace. Prophets were required to call all people to God; The-Lord of the Worlds. However, the laws they brought may have been limited to a certain community at some Era.

Malaysia's Multimedia University claimed that Islam is one set of divine teachings sent down to humans from the Supreme Creator and that there have been many other divine teachings sent down before the coming of Islam for the guidance of mankind. Thus, thousands of messengers have been appointed before Muhammad whose duty were to deliver the divine message from the Supreme Creator. In fact the Quran recognizes these messengers and it is imperative upon all Muslims that they also believe in these messengers too.

Although it offers many incidents from the lives of many prophets, the Qur'an focuses with special narrative and rhetorical emphasis on the careers of the first four of these five major prophets. Of all the figures before Muhammad, Moses is referred to most frequently in the Qur'an. As for the fifth, the Qur'an is frequently addressed directly to Muhammad, and it often discusses situations encountered by him. Direct use of his name in the text, however, is rare. Rarer still is the mention of Muhammad's contemporaries. Besides the four Holy Books sent by God to the four messengers, Muslims believe that God also had granted Scrolls Suhuf (contains basic Divine Laws to guide the people) to Abraham and Moses.

Muslims believe that evidence for the prophethood of Muhammad is as good as the evidence for previous prophets. A common argument is to ask why the Jew or Christian believe in Moses or Jesus, and to use the same answer to prove Muhammad's prophethood. They also maintain that all accusations levied on their prophet can be used against persons such as Abraham, Israel, Moses and Jesus. Thus they hold that the Jews or Christians are not consistent. If they believe in Moses or Jesus for their miracles, the same should apply to Muhammad. If Muhammad is accused of fighting, is it not the same said about Abraham, Moses and David? They also argue that prophecies about Muhammad are still in the Old and New Testaments.

Bahá'í

The Bahá'í Faith refers to what are commonly called prophets as Manifestations of God who are directly linked with the concept of Progressive revelation. Bahá'ís believe that God expresses this will at all times and in many ways, including through a series of divine messengers referred to as Manifestations of God or sometimes divine educators. In expressing God's intent, these Manifestations are seen to establish religion in the world. Thus they are seen as an intermediary between God and humanity.

The Manifestations of God are not seen as an incarnation of God, but they are also not seen as an ordinary mortals. Instead, the Bahá'í concept of the Manifestation of God emphasizes simultaneously the humanity of that intermediary and the divinity in the way they show forth the will, knowledge and attributes of God; thus they have both human and divine stations.

In addition to the Manifestations of God, in the Bahá'í view, there are also minor prophets. While the Manifestations of Gods, or major Prophets, are compared to the sun, which produces its own heat and light, minor prophets are compared to the moon which receives its light from the sun. Moses, for example, is taught as having been a Manifestation of God and his brother Aaron a minor prophet. Moses spoke on behalf of God, and Aaron spoke on behalf of Moses (Exodus 4:14-17). Other Jewish prophets are considered minor prophets, in the Bahá'í view, as they are considered to have come in the shadow of the dispensation of Moses to develop and consolidate the process he set in motion.

Modern prophetic claims

In modern times the term "prophet" can be somewhat controversial. Many Christians with pentecostal or charismatic beliefs believe in the continuation of the gift of prophecy and the continuation of the role of prophet as taught in Ephesians 4. In many churches throughout the world, certain members of the congregation will give prophecies during the church meeting. Prophecies like this are often directed toward the congregation. Prophecies can also be directed toward individuals, known as a personal prophecy. The content of prophecies can vary widely. Prophecies are often spoken as quotes from God. They may contain quotes from scripture, statements about the past or current situation, or predictions of the future. Prophecies can also 'make manifest the secrets' of the hearts of other people, telling about the details of their lives. Sometimes, more than one person in a congregation will receive the same message in prophecy, with one giving it before another.

Other movements claim to have prophets. Joseph Smith, Jr. and Ellen G. White, the respective founders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, are considered prophets by members of those churches, but are vilified in some other branches of Christianity. Additionally, the Latter-day Saints believe in a succession of living prophets (accepted by Mormons as "prophets, seers, and revelators") since the time of Smith. They also regard the members of their Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators.

In France, Michel Potay says he received a revelation, called The Revelation of Arès, dictated by Jesus in 1974, then by God in 1977. He is considered, by his followers, a prophet.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses do not consider any single person in their modern-day organization to be a prophet Their literature has referred to their organization collectively as God's "prophet" on earth; this is understood, however, in the sense of declaring their interpretation of God's judgments from the Bible along with God's guidance of His Holy Spirit. The Jehovah's Witnesses publish an official reader, The Watchtower, which has asserted: "Ever since 'The Watchtower' began to be published in July of 1879 it has looked ahead into the future... No, 'The Watchtower' is no inspired prophet, but it follows and explains a Book of prophecy the predictions in which have proved to be unerring and unfailing till now. 'The Watchtower' is therefore under safe guidance. It may be read with confidence, for its statements may be checked against that prophetic Book. They also claim that they are God's one and only true channel to mankind on earth, and used by God for this purpose.
They have made many eschatological forecasts, some of which have led people (including followers) to incorrect assumptions. One example is their original belief of the end of the world in 1914. Their Biblical studies showed that the enthronement of Jesus would be in the year 1914 (Daniel 4:10-16; Revelation [Apocalipsis] 12:6,14; Ezequiel 4:6), however they incorrectly assumed that the world would also be destroyed. As a result the editors of the Watchtower have acknowledged that Jehovah's Witnesses "have made mistakes in their understanding of what would occur at the end of certain time periods.

Seventh-day Adventist

The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes Ellen G. White, a cofounder of the church, was given the spiritual gift of prophecy, and are generally skeptical toward other claims.

Tenrikyo

Tenrikyo's prophet, Nakayama Miki or Oyasama , is believed by Tenrikyoans to have been a kind of microphone of God, as God spoke through Oyasama, directly, to whomever was in the vicinity. She had three aspects: the Shrine of Tsukihi (the body of the woman was occupied by the mind of God), The Parent of the Divine Model (Oyasama taught the people by instructions and examples), and The Truth of the Everliving Oyasama (she continues to watch humanity develop, even after shedding her body).

Other religions

Other individuals

Other people throughout history have been described as prophets in the sense of foretelling the future (as opposed to forthtelling the message of the Deity). Examples of such prophets include:

Science-fiction and fantasy

See also

Notes

References

Further reading

  • Elst, Koenraad: Psychology of Prophetism - A Secular Look at the Bible (1993) ISBN 81-85990-00-X

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