History and Prophecy of the Middle East


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Because of the timeless character of cultic activity, however, every time he prophesies, his message is regarded as new. Missionary or apostolic prophets are those who maintain that the religious truth revealed to them is unique to themselves alone. Such prophets acquire a following of disciples who accept that their teachings reveal the true religion. The result of that kind of prophetic action may lead to a new religion, as in the cases of Zarathustra , Jesus , and Muhammad. The founders of many modern religious sects also should be included in this type.

Another type of prophet is of the reformative or revolutionary kind looking to the past and the future , closely related to the restorative or purificatory type looking to the past as the ideal.

The Other "Gaps" of the Bible

The best examples are the classical prophets from the Hebrew Bible Old Testament ; e. Many of those so-called literary prophets were working to reform the religion of Yahweh, attempting to free it from its Canaanite heritage and accretions. In the Arab world Muhammad is included in this category. The social sympathy found among such prophets is rooted in their religious conscience. What may have been preached as religious reform, therefore, often took on the form of social reform. This kind of prophecy is also found in India and Africa, where prophets in modern times have arisen to restore or purify the old tribal religious forms, as well as the customs and laws that had their sources in the older precolonial religious life.

Many of those movements became revolutionary not only by force of logic but also by force of social and political pressure see eschatology.

Though there may be several categories of prophecy according to scholars, no sharp line of demarcation differentiates among these different types. Any given prophet may be both predictive and missionary, ecstatic as well as reformative. In ancient Egypt , charismatic prophecy apparently was not commonplace, if it occurred at all, though institutional prophecy was of the greatest importance because life was regarded as depending upon what the gods said.

Some ancient texts contain what has sometimes been regarded as prophetic utterances, but those are more often considered to be the product of wise men who were well acquainted with Egyptian traditions and history.


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Among Egyptian sages, historical events were thought to follow a pattern, which could be observed and the laws of which could be discerned. Thus, times of hardship were always thought to be followed by times of prosperity, and predictions were made accordingly. In Egyptian mantic divinatory texts there are prophetic sayings, but the particular concerns of those texts are more political than religious. Some are fictitious, and many are considered to have been prophesied after the event has already taken place.

The Mari prophets—believed to be inspired—spoke the word of the god Dagon just as Israelite prophets spoke the word of Yahweh.


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The messages could also contain admonitions , threats, reproofs, accusations, and predictions of either disaster or good fortune. The Mari texts are important in the history of prophecy because they reveal that inspired prophecy in the ancient Middle East dates back 1, years before Amos and Hosea 8th century bce in Israel.

The baru a divinatory or astrological priest declared the divine will through signs and omens, and thus is considered by some to have been a prophet. Though he might possibly have had visions, he was not in actuality an ecstatic. The conviction that ecstatic behavior formed an essential part of the performance of the prophets was shared by a number of scholars, 67 and it could be corroborated with further evidence, both from the cultural environment of the biblical writings and from historical analogies in different cultures.

Many prophets of Yahweh, in fact, engage in ecstatic behavior in the Hebrew Bible, making spirit journeys and seeing heavenly things 2 Kgs ; ; Ezek —15; 8; 11; —14; 40—8; cf. Paul in 2 Cor. Just like in the Near East, presence in the divine council—hardly typical of the regular state of mind—or at least knowledge of its decisions is required of a true prophet in several biblical texts 1 Kgs —23; Isa. In modern times, such performances might cause the person in question to be sent to a lunatic asylum; for contemporaries, however, they were meant to signify divine possession. If possessive behavior associated with prophecy in the stories on Saul has a somewhat suspicious connotation, this does not mean that it is meant to be understood in negative terms in general.


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Quite the contrary, the state of being possessed by the spirit in-spiratio is presented as the precondition for prophesying even elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible: in Third Isaiah Isa. In Numbers —30, Moses complains to God about his heavy burden of leadership, and God promises to take some of the spirit he had given to Moses and put it on seventy elders chosen from among the people.

Two men called Eldad and Medad who had remained in the camp continue prophesying even after the other elders have ceased to do so.

The Middle East in Bible Prophecy

Music, in fact, is several times associated with prophecy in the p. These few instances do not turn the prophets into musicians, but they are not purely coincidental either, and they have not gone unnoticed by scholars. Two of the five biblical prophetesses are said to strike up a song.

Deborah sings her famous song together with Barak son of Abinoam Judg. Two prophets are associated with love songs: Isaiah sings one himself Isa. Divine possession seems not to be appreciated by all biblical writers, though. This is indicated by a few defamatory statements about prophets, implying a dubious attitude towards the traditional image, social role, and performative culture of the prophets, including ecstatic or otherwise extraordinary comportment.

Middle East in History and Prophecy

It seems that the ecstatic element of prophecy became problematic along with the scribalization of prophecy and the prophetic ideal during the Second Temple period at the latest. The word of God was now written down, and the primary prophetic tasks were its study and interpretation. But even this was not done without the inspiration coming from God.

Philo of Alexandria, on the other hand, describes his work in unequivocally ecstatic terms. Philo writes:. For prophets p. Philo would hardly have spoken of prophets possessed by God, let alone described his own work as korybantia without having been familiar with the tradition of prophetic spirit possession, whether through Plato for whom see the next section of this chapter , or his Jewish education, or both.

Middle East War in Bible Prophecy

A different trajectory of traditional prophetic tradition can be seen in the strong prophetic-charismatic element in the activity of John the Baptist Mark ; cf. That prophetic ecstasy was appreciated already in the earliest Christian communities can be seen in the letters of Paul, especially in 1 Corinthians 12—14, where he prefers prophecy for glossolalia.

Paul does not condemn either of the two ecstatic phenomena, but argues that prophecy as immediately understandable speech was more constructive for the life of the community. For instance, for Origen and Lactantius, a true biblical or Christian prophet was strictly controlled and non-ecstatic even under divine inspiration.

The divinatory performance is a common topic in Greek literature. The impressive body of Greek sources on the oracle of Apollo at Delphi yields more elements than the ancient Near Eastern evidence to reconstruct the enactment of a prophetic oracle. Moreover, while Delphi was the oracular site par excellence for the Greeks, and much of our image of Greek divination is extrapolated from that of Delphi, the oracular activity of the Pythia was not the only type of prophetic performance in the Greek world.

Although the Minoan culture does not provide us with applicable textual sources, Nanno Marinatos has recently turned attention to four Minoan images from the sixteenth century BCE showing men who shake branches of a tree and kick their legs, women who seem to be in a twirling movement, and also women leaning on a stone. Her office as the high priestess thus included the role of an intermediary akin to that of the later female prophets of Apollo.

Types of prophecy

The last mentioned aspect is, however, amply discussed in Greek literature from later times. The second type of mania is beneficial in curing sicknesses, and the third type is the one that comes from the Muses, inspiring songs and poetry. Plato equates the divine inspiration of the poets and the diviners even elsewhere, and it is interesting to note that all three types of divine inspiration can be found both in the ancient Near Eastern documents of prophecy and in the Hebrew Bible. Hence, the speech of Socrates is not primarily about ranking different kinds of divination but about the necessity of mania in the self-knowledge which is essentially love.

To be sure, Plato does acknowledge the inspiration of the diviners manteis who are not inspired speakers such as the Pythia and the priestesses of Dodona but utilize inductive methods of divination. In his dialogue with Ion, Socrates juxtaposes the diviners with the poets inspired by the Muses while arguing for the divine origin of poetry:. The manteis were not prophets exactly in the sense that ancient Near Eastern and biblical scholars understand the word, that is, transmitters of divine word by non-technical means.

Greek seers practiced divination using technai such as observing entrails of sacrificial animals and watching the flight of birds, but it is noteworthy that even in their case, a successful divination was believed to be based on a god-given insight without which the technai would have remained unfulfilled. Without an oracular content, the words of Theoclymenus or Euthyphro could be interpreted as quite ordinary speech that for some reason sounded ridiculous to their opponents; at any rate, as far as their words are quoted, they are presented in an intelligible language.

The Greek vocabulary certainly suggests a specific state of consciousness of the divinely inspired speakers, but it does not necessarily refer to an uncontrolled behavior, even though this sometimes may indeed be the case. What matters is that the people thus characterized are given a role that sets them apart from other people, and the words they speak are given a meaning that implies a divine—human communication.

Focus of End-Time Prophecy

All this should be kept in mind when we turn to the Pythia of Delphi, whose legitimacy was beyond question in the Greek world for centuries, and this is reflected by the host of sources dealing with the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. While not the only available example of Greek prophetic performance, the Pythia constitutes the most thoroughly analyzed case also in modern scholarship. These gaps cover, among other things, the alleged divine possession of the Pythia.

She sits on a tripod, which is positioned over a chasm in the earth. From the chasm pour forth intoxicating vapors, and as they fill her body, she becomes possessed by Apollo. She speaks for the god in an incoherent voice, and her gibbering message is translated by priests into poetic verse that enquirers will be able to understand.

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Among ancient writers, the construction of the raving Pythia uttering unintelligible sounds can only be found in Lucan 39—65 CE , who depicts her raging madly about the cave: This once popular image of the Pythia has been largely abandoned by more recent scholarship because it differs from that of other ancient authors.

To be sure, Plutarch does relate a case of a Pythia who went into the oracular chamber unwillingly, failed to perform in an appropriate way, and finally became hysterical. While Plutarch, to whom we owe much of our image, if not knowledge, of the Delphic oracle, lived in the period of Delphic decline, his testimony can be said to be valid for his own time but anachronistic with regard to the mantic session at Delphi in older periods.

However, Herodotus, who lived half a millennium earlier c. While the existence of the chasm and its vapors used to be routinely dismissed by scholars as a legend, recent geological investigations have suggested that the temple of Apollo actually stood above an intersection of two fault lines along which three different gases indeed came up, among them ethylene that may cause an altered state of consciousness.

A comparable trigger is provided by the sounds caused by bronze cauldrons, doves, and trees that allegedly inspired the priestesses of Dodona and may find an iconographical expression in the above-mentioned Minoan images. Furthermore, the mantic session at Didyma may have been accompanied by music. If the wild, uncontrolled, and raving image of her is to be rejected, what is the alternative?

History and Prophecy of the Middle East History and Prophecy of the Middle East
History and Prophecy of the Middle East History and Prophecy of the Middle East
History and Prophecy of the Middle East History and Prophecy of the Middle East
History and Prophecy of the Middle East History and Prophecy of the Middle East
History and Prophecy of the Middle East History and Prophecy of the Middle East
History and Prophecy of the Middle East History and Prophecy of the Middle East
History and Prophecy of the Middle East History and Prophecy of the Middle East
History and Prophecy of the Middle East History and Prophecy of the Middle East

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