PROPHET (προφήτης), a word taken from the vocabulary of ancient Greek religion, which passed into the language of Christianity, and so into the modern tongues of Europe, because it was adopted by the Hellenistic Jews as the rendering of the Hebrew נָבִיא (nābhīa pl., nebhīīm). The word therefore as we use it is meant to convey an idea which belongs to Hebrew and not to Hellenic belief.
That the word nābhīa, “prophet,” originally signified one who speaks or announces the divine will, is rendered highly probable by a comparison of the Assyrian nabū, meaning (a) to “call” or “name,” (b) “announce” (see Delitzsch, Handwörterbuch sub voce). The Babylonian deity Nabū (in Old Testament Nebo) is a contraction from Na-bi-u, which thus corresponds closely with the Hebrew nābhīa and originally signified the speaker or proclaimer of destiny. He was represented as the writer of the tablets of destiny, and was therefore regarded as the interpreter of oracles (see Zimmern, K. A. T.3 pp. 400, 404). Accordingly this derivation is preferable to that suggested by earlier Semitists from Gesenius to (in recent times) Kautzsch (“Religion of Israel,” Hastings's Dict. Bible, extra vol., p. 652 footnote), and Cheyne (Ency. Bibl. col. 3853), which connects it with another verbal root naba, “bubble ” or “gush.” This Davidson (“Prophecy and Prophets,” Hastings's Dict. Bible, p. 108 footnote) rightly rejects. While he connects it with the Arabic root naba’a, “come into prominence” (conj. II. “announce,”) he ends by ascribing to it an ultimate Babylonian origin. Zimmern (K. A. T.3 p. 590) gives the name of a priest-official munambū (lit. “howler”), which is derived from a Piel of nabū, viz. nubbū ( = numbū), “bawl” or “howl.” A brief sketch will be given (1) of the history of Hebrew prophecy (in supplement to what has been already said in the article Hebrew Religion or is to be found in the articles devoted to individual prophets), and (2) of prophecy in the early Christian Church.
1. The Prophets of the Old Testament.—The author of 1 Sam. ix. 9 tells us that “beforetime in Israel, when a man went to The Seer. inquire of God, thus he spake, Come and let us go to the seer; for he that is now called a prophet (nābhīa) was before time called a seer.” This remark is probably a later gloss. Samuel was a “seer” (ver. 11), or, as he is also called (ver. 6 seq.), a “man of God,” that is one who stood in closer relations to God than ordinary men; “all that he said was sure to come to pass,” so that he could be consulted with advantage even in private matters like the loss of the asses of Kish. The narrative of 1 Sam. ix. belongs, as Budde has demonstrated, to the older stratum of the narrative (called J) which includes ix., x. 1-16, xi. 1-11, 15, xiii., xiv. 1-16 in which Samuel is a priest-seer of a provincial town, without the high functions of government as Shŏphēt. We must not suppose that the word “prophet” had merely become more common in his time and supplanted an older synonym. This is clearly shown a few verses farther down, where we see that there were already in Samuel's time people known as nebhīīm, but that they were not seers. The seer (rōeh) appears individually, and his function was probably not so much one of speech as of the routine of close observation of the entrails of slaughtered victims, like the Assyrian barū (see Priest). It is in this way that the function of the seer is closely connected (as in the case of Balaam) with sacrifices. With the prophets it is quite otherwise; they appear not individually but in bands; their prophesying is a united exercise accompanied by music, and seemingly dance-music; it is marked by strong excitement, which sometimes acts contagiously, and may be so powerful that he who is seized by it is unable to stand, and, though this condition is regarded as produced by a divine afflatus, it is matter of ironical comment when a prominent man like Saul is found to be thus affected. Samuel in his later days appears presiding over the exercises of a group of nebhīīm at Ramah, where they seem to have had a sort of coenobium (Naioth), but he was not himself a nābhīa—that name is never applied to him except in 1 Sam. iii. 21, where it is plainly used in the later sense for the idea which in Samuel's own time was expressed by “seer.”
But again this special type of nebhīīm seems to have been a new thing in Israel in the days of Samuel. Seers there had The Dervish. been of old as in other primitive nations; of the two Hebrew words literally corresponding to our seer, rōeh and hōzeh, the second is found also in Arabic, and seems to belong to the primitive Semitic vocabulary. But the enthusiastic bands of prophets are nowhere mentioned before the time of Samuel; and in the whole previous history the word prophet occurs very rarely, never in the very oldest narratives, and always in that sense which we know to be later than the age of Samuel, so that the use of the term is due to writers of the age of the kings, who spoke of ancient things in the language of their own day. The appearance of the nebhīīm in the time of Samuel was, it would seem, as is explained in the article Hebrew Religion, one manifestation of the deep pulse of suppressed indignant patriotism which began to beat in the hearts of the nation in the age of Philistine oppression, and this fact explains the influence of the movement on Saul and the interest taken in it by Samuel.
It was perhaps only in time of war, when Israel felt himself to be fighting the battles of Yahweh, that the Hebrew was stirred to the depths of his nature by emotions of a religious colour. Thus the deeper feelings of religion were embodied in warlike patriotism, and these feelings the Philistine oppression had raised to extreme tension among all who loved liberty, while yet the want of a captain to lead forth the armies of Yahweh against his foemen deprived them of their natural outlet.
In its external features the new phenomenon was exceedingly like what is still seen in the East in every zikr of dervishes—the enthusiasm of the prophets expressed itself in no artificial form, but in a way natural to the Oriental temperament. Processions with pipe and hand-drum, such as that described in 1 Sam. x., were indeed a customary part of ordinary religious feasts; but there they were an outlet for natural merriment, here they have changed their character to express an emotion more sombre and more intense, by which the prophets, and often mere chance spectators too, were so overpowered that they seemed to lose their old personality and to be swayed by a supernatural influence. More than this hardly lies in the expression “a divine spirit” (אלוהים רוּחַ), which is used not only of the prophetic afflatus but of the evil frenzy that afflicted Saul's later days. The Hebrews had a less narrow conception of the spiritual than we are apt to read into their records.
To give a name to this new phenomenon the Israelites, it would seem, had to borrow a word from their Canaanite neighbours. Canaanite Prophets. At all events the word nābhīa is neither part of the old Semitic vocabulary (in Arabic it is a late loan word) nor has it any etymology in Hebrew, the cognate words “to prophesy” and the like being derived from the noun in its technical sense. But we know that there were nebhīīm among the Canaanites; the “prophets” of Baal appear in the history of Elijah as men who sought to attract their god by wild orgiastic rites. In fact the presence of an orgiastic character is as marked a feature in Canaanite religion as the absence of it is in the oldest religion of Israel; but the new Hebrew enthusiasts had at least an external resemblance to the devotees of the Canaanite sanctuaries and this would be enough to determine the choice of a name which in the first instance seems hardly to have been a name of honour. In admitting that the name was borrowed, we are not by any means shut up to suppose that the Hebrew nebhīīm simply copied their Canaanite neighbours. The phenomenon is perfectly intelligible without any such hypothesis. A wave of intense religious feeling passes over the land and finds its expression, according to the ordinary law of oriental life, in the formation of a sort of enthusiastic religious order. The Nazarites and the Rechabites are parallel phenomena, though of vastly inferior historical importance.
It may be assumed that the name nābhīa, while it originated from Babylonian sources, reached Israel through Canaanite channels (cf. Kautzsch, “Religion of Israel,” in Hastings's Dict. Bible extra vol., p. 653). Some support is given to this view by (a) the statement in 1 Kings xviii. 19 that four hundred prophets of Baal and Ashērah sat at Jezebel's table; (b) the fact that Deborah, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah ben Imlah, the most notable of the earlier representatives of prophecy, belong to northern Israel, which was more subject to Canaanite-Phoenician influence.
It is certainly probable that the nābhīa emerged by a process of continued development, of which the intermediate stages are lost, from the older rōeh, as the explanatory gloss in 1 Sam. ix. 9 evidently intimates. Samuel himself is called a rōeh. We may assume that like the practice of the soothsaying priest (the earlier type of priest) and of the ḳōsēm (diviner), so the procedure of the rōeh was mechanical and magical in character. Clear indications of a primitive magical modus operandi appear as survivals in the narratives of the pre-exilian prophets. The wonder-working staff of Elisha (2 Kings iv. 29, 31) is one of these indications. There are likewise traces of survival in the examples of “sympathetic magic” transformed into the acted parable of prophecy. Students of Tallquist's Maklū series of incantation or of the šurpu series edited by Zimmern (in his Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Babylonischen Religion) will recollect the images over which the priest sorcerer recites his formulae. The accompanying actions (tying knots, &c.) which he performs are assumed to work themselves out on the enemy whose evil eye or sorcery is blasting the happiness of the suppliant (see Hastings's Dict. Bible, “Magic,” p. 209, where examples are cited). The signs or symbolic acts of the prophet probably originated in the actions of sympathetic magic. Thus in the vivid scene of 1 Kings xxii. 11 the iron horns of Zedeḳiah ben Kena‘nah, and in 2 Kings xiii. 15-19 the magic of the arrow shot eastward and of the thrice stricken floor, are evident survivals of an older practice. The magical act passes into sign or symbol, not however without the accompanying conception that underlies it still persisting that a mysterious effectuating potency belongs to the symbolic act. The mystic power of a significant name Maḥér shālāl ḥash baz inscribed on a tablet and bestowed on a child (Isa. viii. 1-4, cf. xx. 2 sqq.), of the “thongs and bars” of Jer. xxvii. (in which contending prophets confront one another in a contest of symbols), of the linen girdle of ch. xiii. 1 sqq., and of the potter's vessel of xix. 1 sqq., are further illustrations of survivals from the old world of magic. The symbol gradually passes into mere metaphor, and we already begin to see this when we compare Ezekiel's oracles and those of the Deutero-Isaiah with the records of the words and deeds of earlier prophets.
The peculiar methods of the prophetic exercises described in 1 Sam. were of little consequence for the future development Prophetic Societies or Gilds. of prophecy. The heat of a first enthusiasm necessarily cooled when the political conditions that produced it passed away; and, if the prophetic associations had done no more than organize a new form of spiritual excitement, they would have only added one to the many mechanical types of hysterical religion which are found all over the East. Their real importance was that they embodied an intenser vein of feeling than was expressed in the ordinary feasts and sacrifices, and that the greater intensity was not artificial, but due to a revival of national sentiment. The worship of the local sanctuaries did nothing to promote the sense of the religious unity of Israel; Yahweh in the age of the judges ran no small risk of being divided into a number of local Baals, givers of natural good things each to his own locality. The struggle for freedom called forth a deeper sense of the unity of the people of the one Yahweh, and in so doing raised religion to a loftier plane; for a faith which unites a nation is necessarily a higher moral force than one which only unites a township or a clan. The local worships, which subsisted unchanged during the greater part of the Hebrew kingship, gave no expression to this rise in the religious consciousness of the nation; on the contrary, we see from the prophetic books of the 8th century that they lagged more and more behind the progress of religious thought. But the prophetic societies were in their origin one symptom of that upheaval of national life of which the institution of the human sovereign reigning under the divine King was the chief fruit; they preserved the traditions of that great movement; they were, in however imperfect a way, an organ of national religious feeling, and could move forward with the movement of national life. And so, though we cannot follow the steps of the process, we are not surprised to learn that they soon had an established footing in Israel, and that the prophets came to be recognized as a standing sacred element in society. What was their precise place in Hebrew life we hardly know but they formed at least a religious class which in all its traditions represented the new national and not the old communal and particularistic life. One characteristic point which appears very early is that they felt themselves called upon to vindicate the laws Nathan. of divine righteousness in national matters, and especially in the conduct of the kings, who were not answerable to human authority. The cases of Nathan and David in the matter of Uriah, of Elijah and Ahab after the judicial murder of Naboth, will occur to everyone, and from the Hebrew standpoint the action of Gad in the matter of the census taken by David belongs to the same category. Such interventions with an Eastern king demanded great moral courage, for, though to some extent protected by their sacred character, the persons of the prophets were by no means legally inviolable (1 Kings xix. 2, xxii. 27; 2 Kings vi. 31). It is far from easy to determine how far the development of the class of prophets meant the absorption into it of the old seers. Probably both coexisted for some time. At all events we know from Isa. iii. 2, 3, that in Isaiah's time the ḳōsēm still held an important place in society as well as the prophet and the magician. The functions of rōeh and nābhīa may indeed at first have been mingled. The great prophecy of Nathan (2 Sam. vii.) is of too disputed a date to be cited in evidence, but already in David's time we find that Gad the nābhīa is also the king's seer (2 Sam. xxiv. 11; cf. 1 Sam. xxii. 5), and by-and-by it comes to be clearly understood that the prophets are the appointed organ of Yahweh's communications with His people or His king. The rise of this function of the prophets is plainly parallel with the change which took place under the kings in the position of the priestly oracle; the Torah of the priests now dealt rather with permanent sacred ordinances than with the giving of new divine counsel for special occasions. Yahweh's ever-present kingship in Israel, which was the chief religious idea brought into prominence by the national revival, demanded a more continuous manifestation of His revealing spirit than was given either by the priestly lot or by the rise of occasional seers; and where could this be sought except among the prophets? It does not, of course, follow that everyone who had shared in the divine afflatus of prophetic enthusiasm gave forth oracles; but the prophets as a class stood nearer than other men to the mysterious workings of Yahweh, and it was in their circle that revelation seemed to have its natural home. A most instructive passage in this respect is 1 Kings xxii., where we find some four hundred prophets gathered together round the king, and where it is clear that Jehoshaphat was equally convinced, on the one hand, that the word of Yahweh could be found among the prophets, and on the other that it was very probable that some, or even the mass of them, might be no better than liars. And here it is to be observed that Micaiah, who proved the true prophet, does not accuse the others of conscious imposture; he admits that they speak under the influence of a spirit proceeding from Yahweh, but it is a lying spirit sent to deceive. The sublime and solitary figure of Elijah, whom we are apt to take as the typical figure of a prophet in the old kingdom, has little in common with the picture even of the true prophet which we derive from 1 Kings xxii.; and when his history is carefully and critically read it is found to give no reason to think that he stood in any close relation to the prophetic societies of his time. He is a man of God, like Moses and Samuel, a man admitted to a strange and awful intimacy with the Most High, and like them he combines functions which in later times were distributed between prophet and priest. The fundamental idea that Yahweh guides His people by the word of revelation is older than the separation of special classes of theocratic organs; Moses, indeed, is not only prophet and priest, but judge and ruler. But, as the history goes on, the prophet stands out more and more as the typical organ of revelation, the type of the man who is Yahweh's intimate, sharing His secrets (Amos iii. 7; Jer. xxiii. 22), and ministering to Israel the gracious guidance which distinguishes it from all other nations (Amos ii. 11; Hosea xii. 10, 13), and also the sentences of awful judgment by which Yahweh rebukes rebellion (Hos. vi. 5). The full development of this view seems to lie between the time of Elijah and that of Amos and Hosea—under the dynasty of Jehu, when prophecy, as represented by Elisha and Jonah, stood in the fullest harmony with the patriotic efforts of the age. This growth in the conception of the prophetic function is reflected in parts of the Pentateuch, which may be dated with probability as belonging to the period just named; the name of nābhīa is extended to the patriarchs as Yahweh's intimates (Gen. xx. 7), and Moses begins to be chiefly looked at as the greatest of prophets (Num. xi., xii.; Deut. xxxiv. 10), while Aaron and Miriam are also placed in the same class (Exod. xv. 20; Num. xii.), because they too are among the divinely favoured leaders of Israel (cf. Micah vi. 4).
Elisha, the successor of Elijah, stood in much closer relations to the prophetic societies than his great master had done. As Elisha. a man of practical aims he required a circle through which to work, and he found this among the prophets, or, as they are now called, the sons of the prophets. According to Semitic idiom “sons of the prophets” most naturally means “members of a prophetic corporation,” which may imply that under the headship of Elisha and the favour of the dynasty of Jehu, which owed much to Elisha and his party, the prophetic societies took a more regular form than before. The accounts we have certainly point in this direction, and it is characteristic that in 2 Kings iv. 42 first-fruits are paid to Elisha. But to an institution like prophecy national recognition, royal favour and fixed organization are dangerous gifts. It has always been the evil fate of the Hebrews to destroy their own highest ideals by attempting to translate them into set forms, and the ideal of a prophetic guidance of the nation of Yahweh could not have been more effectually neutralized than by committing its realization to the kind of state Church of professional prophets, “eating bread” by their trade (Amos vii. 12), which claimed to inherit the traditions of Elijah and Elisha. The sons of the prophets appear to have been grouped round the leading sanctuaries, Gilgal, Bethel, and the like (cf. Hos. ix. 8), and to have stood in pretty close relation to the priesthood (Hos. iv. 5), though this comes out more clearly for the southern kingdom, where, down to the last days of Hebrew independence, the official prophets of Jerusalem were connected with the Temple and were under the authority of the chief priest (Jer. xxix. 26). Since the absorption of the aborigines in Israel Canaanite ideas had exercised great influence over the sanctuaries—so much so that the reforming prophets of the 8th century regarded the national religion as having become wholly heathenish; and this influence the ordinary prophets, whom a man like Micah regards as mere diviners, had certainly not escaped. They too were, at the beginning of the Assyrian period, not much more different from prophets of Baal than the priests were from priests of Baal. Their God had another name, but it was almost forgotten that He had a different character.
The rise and progress of the new school of prophecy, beginning with Amos and continued in the succession of canonical prophets, Amos and his Successors. which broke through this religious stagnation, is discussed in the article Hebrew Religion; for from Amos, and still more from Isaiah downwards, the prophets and their work made up the chief interest of Hebrew history. From this time, moreover, the prophets appear as authors; and their books, preserved in the Old Testament, form the subject of special articles (Amos, Hosea, &c.). A few observations of a general character will therefore suffice in this place.
Amos disclaimed all Connexion with the mere professional prophets, and in this he was followed by his successors. Formerly the prophets of Yahweh had been all on the same side; their opponents were the prophets of Baal. But henceforth there were two parties among the prophets of Yahweh themselves, the new prophets accusing the old of imposture and disloyalty to Yahweh, and these retaliating with charge of disloyalty to Israel. We have learned to call the prophets of the new school “true” prophets and their adversaries “false”; and this is perfectly just if we take the appellations to mean that the true prophets maintained a higher, and therefore a truer, view of Yahweh's character, purpose and relation to His people. But the false prophets were by no means mere common impostors; they were the accredited exponents of the common orthodoxy of their day, for the prophets who opposed Jeremiah took their stand on the ground of the prophetic traditions of Isaiah, whose doctrine of the inviolability of Yahweh's seat on Zion was the starting-point of their opposition to Jeremiah's predictions of captivity. No doubt there were many conscious hypocrites and impostors among the professional prophets, as there always will be among the professional representatives of a religious standpoint which is intrinsically untenable, and yet has on its side the prestige of tradition and popular acceptance. But on the whole the false prophets deserve that name, not for their conscious impostures, but because they were content to handle religious formulas, which they had learned by rote, as if they were intuitive principles, the fruit of direct spiritual experience, to enforce a conventional morality, shutting their eyes to glaring national sins, after the manner of professional orthodoxy, and, in brief, to treat the religious status quo as if it could be accepted without question as fully embodying the unchanging principles of all religion. The popular faith was full of heathenish superstition strangely blended with the higher ideas which were the inheritance left to Israel by men like Moses and Elijah; but the common prophets accepted all alike, and combined heathen arts of divination and practices of mere physical enthusiasm with a not altogether insincere pretension that through their professional oracles the ideal was being maintained of a continuous divine guidance of the people of Yahweh.
Amos and his successors accepted the old ideal of prophecy if they disowned the class which pretended to embody it. “The Lord Yahweh will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret to His servants the prophets.” “By a prophet Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet” in each successive age Israel had been watched over and preserved. But in point of fact the function of the new prophecy was not to preserve but to destroy Israel, if Israel still meant the actual Hebrew nation, with its traditional national life. Till Amos (with the solitary exception of Micaiah ben Imlah, in 1 Kings xxii.) prophecy was optimist—even Elijah, if he denounced the destruction of a dynasty and the annihilation of all who had bowed the knee to Baal, never doubted of the future of the nation when only the faithful remained; but the new prophecy is pessimist—it knows that Israel is rotten to the core, and that the whole fabric of society must be dissolved before reconstruction is possible. And this it knows, not by a mere ethical judgment on the visible state of society, but because it has read Yahweh's secret written in the signs of the times and knows that He has condemned His people. To the mass these signs are unintelligible, because they deem it impossible that Yahweh should utterly cast off His chosen nation; but to those who know His absolute righteousness, and confront it with the people's sin, the impending approach of the Assyrian can have only one meaning and can point to only one issue, viz. the total ruin of the nation which has denied its divine head. It is sometimes proposed to view the canonical prophets as simple preachers of righteousness; their predictions of woe, we are told, are conditional, and tell what Israel must suffer if it does not repent. But this is an incomplete view; the peculiarity of their position is that they know that Israel as it exists is beyond repentance. Only, while they are hopeless about their nation they have absolute faith in Yahweh and His purpose. That cannot be frustrated, and, as it includes the choice of Israel as His people, it is certain that, though the present commonwealth must perish, a new and better Israel will rise from its grave. Not the reformation but the resurrection of Israel is the goal of the prophets' hope (Hos. vi. 1 seq.).
This of course is only the broadest possible statement of a position which undergoes many modifications in the hands of individual seers, but on the whole governs all prophecy from Amos to Jeremiah. The position has, we see, two sides: on the one side the prophets are heralds of an inexorable judgment based on the demands of absolute righteousness; on the other they represent an assured conviction of Yahweh's invincible and gracious love. The current theological formula for this two-sided position is that the prophets are at once preachers of the law and forerunners of the gospel; and, as it is generally assumed that they found the law already written, their originality and real importance is made to lie wholly in their evangelical function. But in reality as has been shown in the article on Hebrew Religion, the prophets are older than the law, and the part of their work which was really epoch-making for Israel is just the part which is usually passed over as unimportant. By emphasizing the purely moral character of Yahweh's demands from Israel, by teaching that the mere payment of service and worship at Yahweh's shrines did not entitle Israel's sins to be treated one whit more lightly than the sins of other nations, and by enforcing these doctrines through the conception that the approach of the all-destroying empire, before which Israel must fall equally with all its neighbours, was the proof of Yahweh's impartial righteousness, they gave for the first time a really broad and fruitful conception of the moral government of the whole earth by the one true God.
It is impossible to read the books of the older prophets, and especially of their protagonist Amos, without seeing that the new thing which they are compelled to speak is not Yahweh's grace but His inexorable and righteous wrath. That that wrath must be followed by fresh mercies is not in itself a new thought, but only the necessary expression of the inherited conviction that Yahweh whom they preach as the judge of all the earth, is nevertheless, as past history has proved, the God who has chosen Israel as His people. That this is so appears most clearly in the fact that with Amos the prophecy of restoration appears only in a few verses at the end of his book, and in the still more instructive fact that neither he nor Hosea attempts to explain how the restoration which they accept as a postulate of faith is to be historically realized. Recent critics, however, viz. Wellhausen, Nowack, Marti and Harper, as well as others, have denied the genuineness of the concluding verses in Amos, viz. ix. 8-15. To Hosea, at least in his later prophecies, the fate of Judah does not appear separable from that of the northern realm—when Israel and Ephraim fall by their iniquity Judah must fall with them (Hos. v. 5). Thus even on this side there is no real bridge over the chasm that separates the total ruin impending over the Israel of the present from the glorious restoration of the Israel of the future. There is a unity in the divine purpose, of which judgment and mercy are the two poles, but there is as yet no conception of an historical continuity in the execution of that purpose, and therefore no foundation laid for the maintenance of a continuous community of faith in the impending fall of the nation.
From this we can see the enormous importance of the work of Isaiah as it has been exhibited in the article Hebrew Religion; his doctrine of the remnant, never lost to the nation in the worst times, never destroyed by the most fiery judgments, supplies the lacking element of continuity between the Israel of the present and of the future. Yahweh's kingdom cannot perish even for a time; nay, Isaiah argues that it must remain visible, and visible not merely in the circle of the like-minded whom he had gathered round him and who formed the first germ of the notion of the church, but in the political form of a kingdom also. Zion at least, the sacred hearth of Yahweh, the visible centre of His kingdom, must remain inviolable; it can never be delivered into the hands of the Assyrian. Thus, with Isaiah in the days of Sennacherib's invasion, the prophetic word became again, as it had been in the days of the Syrian wars, “the chariots and horsemen of Israel,” the stay and strength of all patriotic hope.
Yet even at this crisis the resemblance between Isaiah and Elisha, between the new prophecy and the old, is more apparent than real. Elisha still stands firmly planted on the old national conception of the religion of Yahweh; his ideals are such as do not lie beyond the range of practical politics. In doing battle against the Tyrian Baal he is content with a reformation for which the whole nation can be heartily won, because it makes no radical change in their inherited faith and practices of worship. And in stimulating resistance to Syria he is still the prophet of the old “God of the hosts of Israel”—a God who works deliverance by the thews and sinews of His earthly warriors. But Isaiah's ideal of religion was one for which he himself demands as a preliminary condition an outpouring of Yahweh's spirit on king (Isa. xi. 2) and people (Isa. xxxii. 15), working an entire moral regeneration. And so too it is not through the material organization of the Judaean kingdom that Isaiah looks for deliverance from Assyria. He sees with absolute clearness the powerlessness of the little realm against that great empire: the Assyrian must fall, and fall before Jerusalem, that Yahweh alone may appear to all the earth as the one true God, while all the idols appear as vain to help their worshippers. These conceptions break through the old particularistic idea of Yahweh and His religion at every point. Zion is now not the centre of a mere national cult, but the centre of all true religion for the whole world; and more than once the prophet indicates not obscurely that the necessary issue of the great conflict between Yahweh and the gods of the heathen must be the conversion of all nations, the disappearance of every other religion before the faith of the God of Israel. The pre-exilian origin of Isa. ii. 2-4 which announces that all foreign nations shall stream towards the exalted mountain of Yahweh's temple is maintained by Duhm but is denied by many recent critics including Cornill. But this all-conquering religion is not the popular Yahweh worship; why then can the prophet still hold that the one true God is yet the God of Israel, and that the vindication of His Godhead involves the preservation of Israel? Not because His providence is confined to Israel—it embraces all nations; not because He shows any favouritism to Israel—He judges all nations by the same strict rule. If Israel alone among nations can meet the Assyrian with the boast “with us is God,” the reason is that in Zion the true God is known—not indeed to the mass, but to the prophet, and that the “holy seed”or “remnant” (contained in the name Sheār yāshūbh) which forms the salt of the nation. The interpretation which Isaiah puts on this fact depends on the circumstance that at that date religion had never been conceived as a relation between God and individuals, or as a relation between God and a purely spiritual society, but always as a relation between a deity and some natural social group—a stock, a tribe, a nation. It was therefore only as the God of Israel that the true God could be known within Israel; and so on the one hand the little society of faith—which had not in reality the least tinge of political coherence—is thought of as yet forming the true kernel of the nation qua nation, while on the other hand the state of Judah profits by the prophetic religion inasmuch as the nation must be saved from destruction in order that the prophetic faith—which is still bound up with the idea of the nation—may not be dissolved. This connexion of ideas was not of course explicitly before the prophet's mind, for the distinctive features of a national religion could not be formulated so long as no other kind of religion had ever been heard of. When we put down in black and white the explicit details of what is involved in Isaiah's conclusion of faith we see that it has no absolute validity. True religion can exist without having a particular nation as its subject as soon as the idea of a spiritual community of faith has been realized. But till this was realized Isaiah was right in teaching that the law of continuity demanded that the nation within which Yahweh had made Himself known to His spiritual prophets must be maintained as a nation for the sake of the glory of God and the preservation of the “remnant.”
The withdrawal of Sennacherib's army, in which the doctrine of the inviolability of Zion received the most striking practical confirmation, was welcomed by Isaiah and his disciples as an earnest of the speedy in bringing of the new spiritual era. But these hopes were not fulfilled. The prophetic teaching had indeed produced a profound effect; to the party of reaction, as the persecution under Manasseh shows, it seemed to threaten to subvert all society; and we can still measure the range and depth of its influence in the literary remains of the period from Isaiah to the captivity, which include Micah vi. 1-8, and that noble essay to build a complete national code on the principle of love to God, righteousness, and humanity—the legislation of Deuteronomy. Nay more, the reception of the book of Deuteronomy by king and people in the eighteenth year of Josiah shows what a hold the prophetic teaching had on the popular conscience. It was no small triumph that there was even a passing attempt to introduce such a code as the law of the land. But it was one thing to touch the conscience of the nation and another to change its heart and renew its whole life. That no code could do, and, as every practical government must adapt itself to actualities and not to a purely ideal standard, it must have appeared at once that the attempt to govern by prophetic ideas was only sewing a new piece on an old garment. The immediate result of Josiah's reformation was the complete dissolution of anything that could be called a political party of prophetic ideas; the priests and the ordinary prophets were satisfied with what had been accomplished; the old abuses began again, but the nation had received a reformed constitution and there was nothing more to be said.
Thus it was that, though beyond question there had been a real advance in the average ethical and spiritual ideas of the people since the time of Isaiah, Jeremiah found himself more isolated than Isaiah had ever been. Even in that earliest part of his book which is mainly a recapitulation of his experiences and work in the reign of Josiah, his tone is one of absolute hopelessness as to the future of the nation. But we should quite misunderstand this pessimism if we held it to mean that Jeremiah saw no signs of private morality and individual spiritual convictions among his people. To him as a prophet the question was whether Israel as a nation could be saved. In Isaiah's days the answer had been affirmative; there appeared to be at least a potentiality of national regeneration in the holy seed when once it should be cleansed from the chaff by a work of judgment. But, now a century of respite had been granted, the Chaldaeans were at the gates, and there was no sign of valid national repentance. The harvest was past, the season of ripe fruits was over, and still Israel was not saved (Jer. viii. 20). The time of respite had been wasted, all attempts at national reformation had failed; how should Yahweh spare a nation which had shown no tokens of fitness to discharge the vocation of Yahweh's people? The question was not whether there was still a faithful remnant, but whether that remnant was able 'to save the state as a state, and this Jeremiah was forced to deny. Nay, every attempt at genuine amendment was frustrated by the dead weight of a powerful opposition, and when the first captivity came it was precisely the best elements of Judah that went into captivity and were scattered among the nations (xxiv. 5, xxiii. 2 seq.). And so the prophet was compelled to teach that the immediate future of Israel was a blank, that the state as a state was doomed. He did not even dare to intercede for such a nation (vii. 16); though Moses and Samuel stood pleading for it before Yahweh, He could not but cast it out of His sight (xv. 1). It was the death-struggle of the idea of a national religion (vi. 8); the continuity of true faith refused to be longer bound up with the continuity of the nation. Still indeed the New-Testament idea of a purely spiritual kingdom of God, in this world but not of it, is beyond the prophet's horizon, and he can think of no other vindication of the divine purpose than that the true Israel shall be gathered again from its dispersion. But the condition of this restoration is now changed. To gather the dispersed implies a call of God to individuals, and in the restored Israel the covenant of Yahweh shall not be merely with the nation but with man one by one, and “they shall no more teach everyone his neighbour saying, Know the Lord, for all shall know Me from the least of them even to the greatest of them” (xxxi. 33 seq.). In a word, when the nation is dissolved into its individual elements the continuity and ultimate victory of true faith depends on the relation of Yahweh to individual souls, out of which the new state shall be built up (Jer iii. 14).
Thus, for the first time in the world's history, the ultimate problem of faith is based on the relation of God to the individual believer; and this problem Jeremiah is compelled to face mainly in relation to his own personality, to assure himself that his own faith is a true possession and lifts him above all the calamities that assail him, in spite of the hopeless ruin of his nation. The struggle is a sore one; his very life is bitter to him; and yet he emerges victorious. To know that God is with him is enough though all else fail him. Now as soon as the relation of God to a single soul has thus been set free from all earthly conditions the work of prophecy is really complete, for what God has done for one soul He can do for all, but only by speaking to each believer as directly as He does to Jeremiah. Henceforth revelation is not a word to the nation spoken through an individual, but a word spoken to one which is equally valid for every one who receives it with like faith. The New Testament joins on not to the post-exile prophets, who are only faint echoes of earlier seers, but to Jeremiah's great idea of the new covenant in which God's law is written on the individual heart, and the community of faith is the fellowship of all to whom He has thus spoken. The prophets of the restoration are only the last waves beating on the shore after the storm which destroyed the old nation, but created in its room a fellowship of spiritual religion, had passed over; they resemble the old prophets in the same imperfect way in which the restored community of Jerusalem resembled a real nation. It was only in so far as the community of faith still possessed certain external features of nationality that post-exile prophecy was possible at all, and very soon the care of the national or quasi-national aspects of religion passed altogether out of their hands into those of the scribes, of whom Ezekiel was the first father, and whose Torah was not the living word of prophecy but the Pentateuchal code. From the time of Jeremiah downwards the perennial interest of Old-Testament thought lies in the working out of the problems of personal religion and of the idea of a spiritual fellowship of faith transcending all national limitation; and these are the motives not only of the lyrics of the Psalter but of the greater theodiceas of Isa. xl.-lxvi. and of the book of Job. The theodicea of the prophets is national; they see Yahweh's righteousness working itself out with unmistakable clearness in the present, and know that all that He brings upon Israel is manifestly just; but from the days of Jeremiah the fortunes of Israel as a nation are no longer the one thing which religion has to explain; the greater question arises of a theory of the divine purpose which shall justify the ways of God with individual men or with His “righteous servant”—that is, with the ideal community of true faith as distinct from the natural Israel.
It will be evident even from this rapid sketch, necessarily confined to a few of the most cardinal points, that Hebrew prophecy is not a thing that can be defined and reduced to a formula, but was a living institution which can only be understood by studying its growth and observing its connexion with the historical movements with which its various manifestations were bound up. Throughout the great age of prophecy the most obvious formal character that distinguished it was that the prophet did not speak in his own name but in the name of Yahweh. But the claim to speak in the name of God is one which has often been made—and made sincerely—by others than the prophets of Israel, and which is susceptible of a great variety of meanings, according to the idea of God and His relation to man which is presupposed. Every early religion seeks to realize such an intercourse with the object of worship as shall be two-sided; when the worshipper approaches the deity he desires to have an answer assuring him of acceptance and divine aid. The revelation thus looked for may be found in natural omens, in the priestly lot or some similar sacral oracle, or, finally, in the words of a seer who is held to be in closer contact with the deity than common men. Broadly speaking these methods of revelation are found in all ancient religions, but no other religion presents anything precisely analogous to prophecy. It is true that the prophets absorbed the old seers, and that the Israelites, as we see in the case of the asses of Kish, went to their seers on the same kind of occasions as sent heathen nations to seers or diviners. There is sufficient evidence that down to the last age of the Judaean monarchy practices not essentially different from divination were current in all classes of society, and were often in the hands of men who claimed to speak as prophets in the name of Yahweh. But the great prophets disallowed this claim, and the distinction which they draw between true prophecy and divination is recognized not only in the prophetical law of Deuteronomy but in earlier parts of the Pentateuch and historical books. “There is no augury in Jacob and no divination in Israel; in due time it is told to Jacob and to Israel what God doth work” (Num. xxiii. 23). The seer, in the sense in which all antiquity believed in seers, is simply a man who sees what others cannot see, no matter whether the thing seen be of public or of mere private interest; but the prophet is an organ of Yahweh's kingship over His people—he sees and tells so much of the secret purpose of Yahweh as is needful for His people to know. We have already seen how Amos and Hosea put this (supra, p. 2011), and it does not appear that they were introducing a conception of prophecy formally novel—the new thing was their conception of Yahweh's purpose. And so too with the following great prophets; the important thing in their work was not their moral earnestness and not their specific predictions of future events, but the clearness of spiritual insight with which they read the spiritual significance of the signs of the time and interpreted the movements of history as proofs of Yahweh's actual moral sovereignty exercised over Israel. So long as the great problems of religion could be envisaged as problems of the relation of Yahweh to Israel as a nation the prophets continued to speak and to bring forth new truths; but the ultimate result was that it became apparent that the idea of moral government involved the destruction of Israel, and then the function of prophecy was gone because it was essentially national in its objects. But meantime the relation of God to the prophet had acquired an independent significance; the inner life of Isaiah during the long years when his teaching seemed lost, or of Jeremiah through the whole course of his seemingly fruitless ministry, was rich in experiences of faith triumphing over temptations and trials, of personal converse with God sustaining the soul in the face of difficulties hopeless to the eye of sense, which formed the pattern of a new and higher stage of religion in which the relation of the individual soul to God should be set free from those limitations which had been imposed by the conception that the primary subject of religion is the nation. But the religion of the Old Testament did not become merely individualistic in becoming individual, and now the problem was to realize a new conception of the society of faith, the true Israel, the collective servant of Yahweh—in a word to form the idea of a spiritual commonwealth and to show how it was possible for faith to hold fast, in spite of all seeming contradiction, to the truth that Yahweh had chosen for himself a spiritual people, every member of which was in truth the object of His saving and unfailing love, and which should ultimately in very deed inherit that glory of which the carnal Israel was unworthy. This is the post-prophetic problem which occupies the more profound of the later Old-Testament books, but first received its true solution in the gospel, when the last shreds of the old nationalism disappeared and the spiritual kingdom found its centre in the person of Christ.
Old-Testament prophecy therefore forms only one stage in a larger development, and its true significance and value can only be realized when it is looked at in this light. In this as in all other matters of transcendental truth “wisdom is justified of her children”; the conclusive vindication of the prophets as true messengers of God is that their work forms an integral part in the progress of spiritual religion, and there are many things in their teaching the profundity and importance of which are much clearer to us than they could possibly have been to their contemporaries, because they are mere flashes of spiritual insight lighting up for a moment some corner of a region on which the steady sun of the gospel had not yet risen.
A less complete but yet most powerful vindication of the spiritual prophets was furnished by the course and event of Israel's history. After the captivity it was no longer a question that the prophetic conception of Yahweh was the only possible one. Thenceforth the religion of Yahweh and the religion of the prophets are synonymous; no other reading of Israel's past was possible, and in fact the whole history of the Hebrews in Canaan, as it was finally shaped in the exile, is written from this point of view, and has come down to us, along with the remains of actual prophetic books, under the collective title of “The Prophets.”
To some extent this historical vindication of the prophetic insight went on during the activity of the prophets themselves. From the time of Amos downwards the prophets spoke mainly at great historical crises, when events were moving fast and a few years were often sufficient to show that they were right and their opponents wrong in their reading of the signs of the times. And here the controversy did not turn on the exact fulfilment of detailed predictions; detailed prediction occupies a very secondary place in the writings of the prophets.
The prophets themselves required no historical verification of their word to assure them that it was indeed the word of God, nor do they for a moment admit that their contemporaries are entitled to treat its authority as unproved till such verification is offered. The word of God carries its own evidence with it in its searching force and fire: “Is not my word like as a fire, saith Yahweh, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jer. xxiii. 29). To the prophet himself it comes with imperious force: it constrains him to speak (Amos iii. 8), seizes him with a strong hand (Isa. viii. 11), burns like a fire within his bones till it finds utterance (Jer. xx. 9); and it is this force of moral conviction which ought also to commend it to the conscience of his hearers. The word is true because it is worthy of the true God. When Deut. xviii. 21, 22 seeks the legal criterion of true prophecy in the fulfilment of prediction, the writer is no doubt guided by the remembrance of the remarkable confirmation which the doctrines of spiritual prophecy had received in history then recent, but his criterion would have appeared inadequate to the prophets themselves, and indeed this passage is one of the most striking proofs that to formulate the principles of prophetic religion in a legal code was an impossible task.
The mass of the nation, of course, was always much more struck by the “signs” and predictions of the prophets than by their spiritual ideas; we see how the idea of supernatural insight and power in everyday matters dominates the popular conception of Elijah and Elisha in the books of Kings. At a very early date the great prophets became a kind of saints or welis, and the respect paid to the tombs of the prophets, which ultimately took in almost every particular the place of the old local shrines (Matt. xxiii. 29; Jerome, Epit. Paulae, § 13; see Obadiah), can be traced back to the time before the exile.
The Hebrew prophet stands alone among divinely appointed and inspired men of any religion, though analogies in other religions present themselves. Ethical and religious teachers arose among other nations of antiquity whose precepts may well be compared with those of Hebrew prophecy. We might cite the maxims of Ani in the Egyptian papyrus Prisse (XIIth dynasty). But these teachers did not succeed in accomplishing a task parallel to what the Hebrew prophets achieved, namely, the complete renewal and elevation of the Hebrew religion from a local and national into a universal and ethical religion. Yet instructive parallels may be found in ancient literatures. Thus the Vedic hymns are reputed to have no human authors. The names attached to them are those of the seers who “saw” them, to whom they were revealed. They are therefore merely the channels through which the divine word is communicated to man (Professor Rapson). The Rev. C. H. W. Johns (Interpreter, April 1906, “The Prophets of Babylonia”) thinks that longer discourses moral, and predictive, fully equal to those of the Hebrew prophets, existed in Babylonia as early as the 3rd millennium B.C. but were curtailed into the brief sentences of the omen tablets. “The so-called ‘tablet of warning to kings against injustice’ gives a fair specimen of connected discourse, e.g. ‘If a king hearken not to law, his people shall grow feeble and his land be ravaged. If he attend not to the justice of his land, Ea, the king of fates, shall distort his lot, &c.’ ” Further illustrations of ethical teaching may be found in the litany or confession of a penitent cited by Mr Johns in the same paper (p. 303).
It may be here stated that Winckler's conception of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah as the mouthpiece of the Assyrian court (K.A.T.3 p. 172 sqq.) can be easily refuted by a reference to the Isaianic oracles. A theory that Jeremiah was similarly influenced from Babylonia might seem more plausible, though equally baseless.
After the extinction of the prophetic voice, an ever-increasing weight was not unnaturally laid on the predictive element in their writings. Their creative religious ideas had become the common property of religious-minded Jews, at least in the somewhat imperfect shape in which they were embodied in the law, and their work on this side was carried on by the great religious poets. But the restored community which was still making a sort of faint attempt to be a religious nation as well as a Church felt very painfully the want of a direct message from God in critical times such as the prophets of old had been wont to bring. And in this need men began to look at the prophetic books, mainly in the hope that there might be found in them predictions which still awaited fulfilment, and might be taken as referring to the latter days of Persian or Greek oppression. By ignoring the free poetical form of prophecy, and still more by ignoring the fact that the prophetic pictures of the ideal future of Israel could not be literally fulfilled after the fall of the ancient state had entirely changed the sphere in which the problems of true religion had to be worked out, it was possible to find a great mass of unfulfilled prophecy which might form the basis of eschatological constructions. All this was quite in the vein of later Judaism, and so at length the unfulfilled predictions of the prophets served as the raw material for the elaborate eschatology of the apocalypses (see Apocalyptic Literature). In spite of superficial resemblances, mainly due to the unavoidable influence of current exegetical methods, the conception of prophecy as fulfilled in Christ is fundamentally different from the Jewish apocalyptic view of unfulfilled prophecy. Not external details but the spiritual ideas of the prophets find their fulfilment in the new dispensation, and they do so under forms entirely diverse from those of the old national kingdom of Yahweh.
Literature.—In the ancient and medieval Church and in the dogmatic period of Protestantism there was little or no attempt at historical study of prophecy, and the prophetical books were found instructive only through the application of allegorical or typical exegesis. For details the reader may refer to Diestel, Geschichte des Alten Testaments (Jena 1869), and for the final form of orthodox Protestant views to Witsius, De prophetis et prophetia. The growing sense of the insufficiency of this treatment towards the close of the period of dogmatism showed itself in various ways. On the one hand we have the revival of apocalyptic exegesis by Cocceius and his school, which has continued to influence certain circles down to the present day, and has led to the most varied attempts to find in prophecy a history written before the event of all the chief vicissitudes of the Christian Church down to the end of the world. On the other hand Lowth's Lectures on Hebrew Poetry, and the same author's Commentary on Isaiah (1778), show the beginnings of a tendency to look mainly at the aesthetic aspects of the prophetical books, and to view the prophets as enlightened religious poets. This tendency culminates in Eichhorn, Die hebräischen Propheten (1816). Neither of these methods could do much for the historical understanding of the phenomena of prophecy as a whole, and the more liberal students of the Old Testament were long blinded by the moralizing unhistorical rationalism which succeeded the old orthodoxy. The first requisite of real progress, after dogmatic prejudices had been broken through, was to get a living conception of the history in which the prophets moved; and this again called for a revision of all traditional notions as to the age of the various parts of Hebrew literature—criticism of the sources of the history, among which the prophetical books themselves take the first place. In recent times therefore advance in the understanding of the prophets has moved on pari passu with the higher criticism, especially the criticism of the Pentateuch, and with the general study of Hebrew history; and most works on the subject prior to Ewald must be regarded as quite antiquated except for the light they cast on detailed points of exegesis. On the prophets and their works the reader would still do well to consult Ewald's Propheten des alten Bundes (1st ed., 1840-1841, 2nd ed., 1867-1868, Eng. trans., 1876-1877). The subject is treated in all works on Old Testament introduction (among which Kuenen's Onderzoek, vol. ii., claims the first place), and on Old-Testament theology (see especially Vatke, Religion des A.T., 1835). On the theology of the prophets there is a separate work by Duhm (Bonn, 1875), and Knobel's Prophetismus der Hebräer (1837), is a separate introduction to the prophetical books. Kuenen's Prophets and Prophecy in Israel (1875, Eng. trans. 1877) is in form mainly a criticism of the traditional view of prophecy, and should therefore be compared with his Onderzoek and Godsdienst van Israel. Most English books on the subject are more theological than historical, but a sketch of Hebrew prophecy in connexion with the history down to the close of the 8th century is given by W. R. Smith, The Prophets of Israel (Edinburgh, 1882). The literature of the theological questions connected with prophecy is much too copious to be cited here; lists will be found in several of the books already referred to. Among more recent works and articles should be mentioned Briggs, Messianic Prophecy; Giesebrecht, Die Berufsbegabung der alttestamentlichen Propheten; Volz, Die vorexilische Jahwe-Prophetie u. der Messias; Hühn, Die messianischen Weissagungen; R. Kittel, Prophetie u. Weissagung; Professor Kennett, Pre-exilic Prophets; W. H. Bennett, Post-exilic Prophets (T. and T. Clark); A. B. Davidson, “Prophecy and Prophets,” in Hastings's Dict. Bible; also “Prophetic Literature,” by Cheyne and others in Ency. Bibl. (W. R. S.; O. C. W.)
II. Prophets in the Primitive Church.—The appearance of prophets in the first Christian communities is one proof of the strength of faith and hope by which these bodies were animated. An old prophecy (Joel iii. 1) has foretold that in the Messianic age the Spirit of God would be poured out on every member of the religious community, and in point of fact it was the universal conviction of those who believed in Christ that they all possessed the Spirit of God. This Spirit, manifesting His presence in a variety of ways and through a variety of gifts, was to be the only ruling authority in the Church. He raised up for Himself particular individuals, into whose mouths He put the word of God, and these were at first regarded as the true leaders of the congregations. We find accordingly that there were prophets in the oldest church, that of Jerusalem (Acts. xi. 27, xv. 32), and again that there were “prophets and teachers” in the church at Antioch (Acts xiii. 1). These were not office-bearers chosen by the congregation, but preachers raised up by the Spirit and conferred as gifts on the Church. When Paul says (1 Cor. xii. 28; cf. Eph. iv. 11), “God hath set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers,” he points to a state of things which in his time prevailed in all the churches both of Jewish and heathen origin. We here learn from Paul that the prophets occupied the second position in point of dignity; and we see from another passage (1 Cor. xiv.) that they were distinguished from the teachers by their speaking under the influence of inspiration—not, however, like the “speakers in tongues,” in unintelligible ejaculations and disconnected words, but in articulate, rational edifying speech. Until recently it was impossible to form any distinct idea of the Christian prophets in the post-apostolic age, not so much from want of materials as because what evidence existed was not sufficiently clear and connected. It was understood, indeed, that they had maintained their place in the churches till the end of the 2nd century, and that the great conflict with what is known as Montanism had first proved fatal to them; but a clear conception of their position and influence in the churches was not to be had. But the discovery, by Bryennios in 1873, of the ancient Christian Work called Διδαχὴ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων (published in 1883), has immensely extended the range of our knowledge, and has at the same time thrown a clear light on many notices in other sources which for want of proper interpretation had been previously neglected or incorrectly understood.
The most important facts known at present about the manner of life, the influence, and the history of the early Christian prophets are the following: (1) Until late in the 2nd century the prophets (or prophetesses) were regarded as an essential element in a Church possessing the Holy Ghost. Their existence was believed in, and they did actually exist, not only in the catholic congregations—if the expression may be used—but also in the Marcionite Church and the Gnostic societies. Not a few Christian prophets are known to us by name: as Agabus, Judas, and Silas in Jerusalem; Barnabas, Simon Niger, &c., in Antioch; in Asia Minor, the daughters of Philip, Quadratus, Ammia, Polycarp, Melito, Montanus, Maximilla and Priscilla; in Rome, Hermas; among the followers of Basilides, Barkabbas and Barkoph; in the community of Apelles, Philumene, &c. Lucian tells us that the impostor Peregrinus Proteus, in the time of Antoninus Pius, figured as a prophet in the Christian churches of Syria. (2) Till the middle of the 2nd century the prophets were the regular preachers of the churches, without being attached to any particular congregation. While the “apostles” (i.e. itinerating missionaries) were obliged to preach from place to place, the prophets were at liberty either, like the teachers, to settle in a certain church or to travel from one to another. (3) In the time of Paul the form of prophecy was reasoned exhortation in a state of inspiration; but very frequently the inspiration took the form of ecstasy—the prophet lost control of himself, so that he did not remember afterwards what he had said. In the Gentile-Christian churches, under the influence of pagan associations, ecstasy was the rule. (4) With regard to the matter of prophecy, it might embrace anything that was necessary or for the edification of the Church. The prophets not only consoled and exhorted by the recital of what God had done and by predictions of the future, but they uttered extempore thanksgivings in the congregational assemblies, and delivered special directions, which might extend to the most minute details, as, for example, the disposal of the church funds. (5) It was the duty of the prophets to follow in all respects the example of the Lord (ἔχειν τοὺς τρόπους τοῦ Κυρίου), and to put in practice what they preached. But an ascetic life was expected of them only when, like the apostles, they went about as missionaries, in which case the rules in Matt. x. applied to them. Whenever, on the contrary, they settled in a place they had a claim to a liberal maintenance at the hands of the congregation. The author of the Διδαχὴ even compares them to the High Priests of the Old Testament, and considers them entitled to the first fruits of the Levitical law. In reality, they might justly be compared to the priests in so far as they were the mouthpieces of the congregation in public thanksgiving. (6) Since prophets were regarded as a gift of God and as moved by the Holy Spirit, the individual congregation had no right of control over them. When anyone was approved as a prophet and exhibited the “conversation of the Lord,” no one was permitted to put him to the test or to criticize him. The author of the Διδαχὴ goes so far as to assert that whoever does this is guilty of the sin against the Holy Ghost. (7) This unique position of the prophets could only be maintained so long as the original enthusiasm remained fresh and vigorous. From three quarters primitive Christian prophecy was exposed to danger—first, from the permanent officials of the congregation, who, in the interests of order, peace and security could not but look with suspicion on the activity of excited prophets; second, from the prophets themselves, in so far as an increasing number of dishonest characters was found amongst them, whose object was to levy contributions on the churches; third, from those prophets who were filled with the stern spirit of primitive Christianity and imposed on churches, now becoming assimilated to the world, obligations which these were neither able nor willing to fulfil. It is from this point of view that we must seek to understand the so-called Montanistic crisis. Even the author of the Διδαχὴ finds it necessary to defend the prophets who practised celibacy and strict asceticism against the deprecatory criticism of church members. In Asia Minor there was already in the year 160 a party, called by Epiphanius “Alogi,” who rejected all Christian prophecy. On the other hand, it was also in Asia Minor that there appeared along with Montanus those energetic prophetesses who charged the churches and their bishops and deacons with becoming secularized, and endeavoured to prevent Christianity from being naturalized in the world, and to bring the churches once more under the exclusive guidance of the Spirit and His charismata. The critical situation thus arising spread in the course of a few decades over most of the provincial churches. The necessity of resisting the inexorable demands of the prophets led to the introduction of new rules for distinguishing true and false prophets. No prophet, it was declared, could speak in ecstasy, that was devilish; further, only false prophets accepted gifts. Both canons were innovations, designed to strike a fatal blow at prophecy and the church organization re-established by the prophets in Asia—the bishops not being quite prepared to declare boldly that the Church had no further need of prophets. But the prophets would not have been suppressed by their new methods of judging them alone. A much more important circumstance was the rise of a new theory, according to which all divine revelations were summed up in the apostles or in their writings. It was now taught that prophecy in general was a peculiarity of the Old Testament (“lex et prophetae usque ad Johannem”); that in the new covenant God had spoken only through apostles; that the whole word of God so far as binding on the Church was contained in the apostolic record—the New Testament; and that, consequently, the Church neither required nor could acknowledge new revelations, or even instructions, through prophets. The revolution which this theory gradually brought about is shown in the transformation of the religious, enthusiastic organization of the Church into a legal and political constitution. A great many things had to be sacrificed to this, and amongst others the old prophets. The strictly enforced episcopal constitution, the creation of a clerical order, and the formation of the New Testament canon accomplished the overthrow of the prophets. Instead of the old formula, “God continually confers on the church apostles, prophets, and teachers,” the word now was: “The Church is founded in the (written) word of the prophets (i.e. the Old Testament prophets) and the apostles (viz. the twelve and Paul).” After the beginning of the 3rd century there were still no doubt men under the control of the hierarchy who experienced the prophetic ecstasy, or clerics like Cyprian who professed to have received special directions from God; but prophets by vocation no longer existed and these sporadic utterances were in no sense placed on a level with the contents of the sacred Scriptures.
See Hilgenfeld, Die Glossolalie in der alten Kirche (1850); Bückmann, “Über die Wunderkräfte bei den ersten Christen und ihr Erlöschen,” in the Ztschr. f. d. Ges. luther. Theol. u. Kirche (1878), pp. 216-255 (learned but utterly uncritical); Bonwetsch, “Die Prophetie im apostol. und nachapostol. Zeitalter,” in the Ztschr. f. kirchl. Wissensch. u. kirchl. Leben (1884), pt. 8, p. 408 seq., pt. 9, p. 460 seq.; Harnack, Die Lehre der zwölf Apostel (1884), pp. 93-137; Haller, “Die Propheten der nachapostolischen Kirche,” in the Theol. Studien aus Württemberg (1888), p. 36 seq.; Nardin, “Essai sur les prophètes de l'église primitive,” Thesis, (Paris, 1888); Weinel, “Die Wirkungen des Geistes und der Geister im nachapostolischen Zeitalter bis auf Irenaeus,” (1899); Selwyn, “The Christian Prophets and the Prophetic Apocalypse” (1900); Bénazech, “Le Prophétisme chrétienne depuis les origines jusqu'au pasteur d'Hermas,” Thesis, (Paris, 1901). (A. Ha.; A. C. McG.)
- According to Plato (Timaeus, p. 72) the name προφήτης ought properly to be confined to the interpreters employed to put an intelligible sense on the dreams, visions, or enigmatic utterances of the frenzied μάντις. But in ordinary Greek usage the prophet of any god is in general any human instrument through whom the god declares himself; and the tendency was “to reserve the name for unconscious interpreters of the divine thought, and for the ministers of the oracles in general” (Bouché-Leclercq, Hist. de la divination, 1880, ii. 11). This probably facilitated the adoption of the term by the Hellenists of Alexandria, for, when Philo distinguishes the prophet from the spurious diviner by saying that the latter applies his own inferences to omens and the like while the true prophet, rapt in ecstasy, speaks nothing of his own, but simply repeats what is given to him by a revelation in which his reason has no part (ed. Mangey, ii. 321 seq., 343; cf. i. 510 seq.), he follows the prevalent notion of the later Jews, at least in so far as he makes the function of the prophet that of purely mechanical reproduction; cf. John xi. 51, and the whole view of revelation presupposed in the Apocalyptic literature. But in any case the Greek language hardly offered another word for an organ of revelation so colourless as προφήτης, while the condition of etymology among the ancients made it possible to interpret it as having a special reference to prediction (so Eusebius, Dem. Ev. v., deriving it from προφαίνω).
- 1 Sam. x. 5 seq., xix. 20 seq. In the latter passage read “they saw the fervour of the prophets as they prophesied, &c.” (see Hoffmann in Stade's Zeitschr. 1883, p. 89), after the Syriac.
- Hoffmann, ut supra, p. 92 seq. Rōeh, however, occurs very rarely in early, i.e. pre-exilian, Hebrew, viz. in 1 Sam. ix. 9, Isa. xxx. 10. We have several in the late literature of Chronicles. Accordingly we lack the materials for determining the distinction which probably existed between the rōeh, the ḥōzeh and the ḳōsēm. Cheyne, art. “Prophetic Literature” in Ency. Bib., col. 3858, appears to identify them.
- If this account of the origin of the nebhīīm is correct (cf. Kuenen, Prophets, Eng. trans., p. 554 seq.), the etymological sense of the word נָבִיא is comparatively unimportant. The root seems to mean “to start up,” “to rise into prominence,” and so “to become audible.” This is based on the Arabic naba’a; see the remarks at the beginning of this article.
- Budde (Bücher Samuelis, p. 233) assigns Nathan's speech (2 Sam. vii.) to a late E. writer in the 7th century. Perhaps we might assign it and Jer. xxiii. 5, 6, to the earlier part of Josiah's reign.
- None of these passages belong to the very oldest thread, of Pentateuchal story, and similarly Deborah is called prophetess only in the later account (Judg. iv. 4), not in the song (Judg. v.). It is characteristic that in Num. xi. the elders who receive a share in Moses' task also receive a share of his prophetic spirit (cf. the parallel 2 Kings ii. 9 seq.). In the older account (Exod. xviii.) this is not so. Again, Moses differs from all other prophets in that Yahweh speaks to him face to face, and he sees the similitude of Yahweh. This is in fact the difference between him and Elijah (cf. Exod. xxxiii. 8-11 with 1 Kings xix. 13), but not between him and the great prophets of the 8th century (Isa. vi. 5). That prophecy was generally given in visions, dreams and obscure sentences is true only of an early period. Amos still has frequent visions of a more or less enigmatic character, as Micaiah had, but there is little trace of this in the great prophets after him. On the psychological reasons for this see W. R. Smith, Prophets of Israel (1882), p. 221 seq.
- See G. Hoffmann, Kirchenversammlung zu Ephesus (1873), p. 89.
- Those who consulted the old seers were expected to make a present, 1 Sam. ix. 7 (Arabic ḥolwānu-’l-kāhin; cf. Bokhari iv. 219). Similar presents were brought to the older prophets (1 Kings xiv. 3), and first-fruits were sometimes paid to a man of God; but the successors of Amos share his contempt for those who traded on their oracles (Mic. iii. 5 seq.).
- It must not be supposed that this conception necessarily came into force as soon as it was recognized that Yahweh was the creator of the universe. That the national or tribal god is the creator is an idea often found in very low religions. To us God's sovereignty over nature often seems the hardest thing to conceive; but to primitive peoples who know nothing of laws of nature, His moral sovereignty is a much more difficult conception. In the older literature of the Hebrews, the nearest approach to the thought of Amos and Hosea is not Gen. ii., iii., but Gen. xviii. 25.
- Hosea ii. 14 seq., xi. 10 seq; are not solutions of this difficulty, as appears from their metaphorical form. They tell us that Yahweh will call His people and that they will answer; but this is only putting in another form the axiom that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
- We should be apt to say “the true idea of God,” but that is a way of putting it which does not correspond with prophetic thought. To the prophets knowledge of God is concrete knowledge of the divine character as shown in acts—knowledge of a person, not of an idea.
- The last clause of Isa. vi. 13, “a holy seed is its stock,” is rejected by many critics (Duhm, Cheyne, Marti and others) as a later insertion. It is omitted in the Septuagint.
- One might say from the days of Habakkuk.
- See 2 Kings xxiii. 21, and also Deut. xxxiv. 6. So too all the old national heroes and heroines ultimately became prophets; in the case of Deborah there is even a fusion in local tradition between an old heroine and an historical seer.
- See Lucian's story about Peregrinus, and that chapter of the Διδαχὴ where the author labours to establish criteria for distinguishing false prophets from true.
- The Apocalypse of John was received into it, not as the work of a prophet but as that of an apostle.