Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I finished my first post on the nature of Israelite prophecy stating that this phenomenon was not uncommon in the ANE cultures. However, Israelite prophecy has its unique features. One of them for example, is that in ANE cultures there is almost no clear difference between the prophet and the priest. 
Isaiah: Sistine Chapel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In Israelite prophecy, however, there is a development. If we look closely at the figure of Samuel, we find that he sometimes performs the office of a judge, a prophet and a priest (1 Sam 7: 15-17; 9: 11-26; 16: 1-5). As we keep reading the books of Samuel and Kings and into the Prophetic Literature, the figure of the prophet becomes very distinct from that of a ruler or a priest. Nevertheless, things are not that black and white, and since prophecy is a charismatic phenomenon, some prophets in Israel might have been priests as well (Jeremiah 1:1, Ezekiel 1:3, Nehemiah 12: 12.16).

The term the Hebrew bible prefers to depict a prophet comes from the root nb’. No scholarly agreement has been achieved as for the meaning of the term  nabi'. Moreover, the word seems also to be a loanword in the Hebrew language.  The verbal forms related to this noun probably mean, “to act the part of a nabi' ”.  In some instances the term is used to describe other offices like “seer” (2 Sam 24:11; 1 Chr 21:9), “man of God” (1 Sam 9: 6-8.10) and “holy man” (2 Kings 4:9). On a related note the term “diviner” is never used in the Bible as speaking of an authentic “spokesman of God”, as another difference with the other ANE cultures (Deut 13: 1-5; 18:9-14).  

As we keep reading the stories of the prophets in the Deuterononistic History and delve into the Prophetic Literature, in the Hebrew canon it seems, as that is the opinion of many scholars, that the terms used by non-Israelite religions to refer to a prophets (diviners, dreamers, etc.) became pejorative in connotation, and every kind of inspiration or divine experience of a person related with the definition of a prophet as the “spokesman of God” was subsumed, in the Hebrew scriptures in the notion of nabi'. However, this tendency in turn would have kept the ambiguity of the meaning of the term nabi' as in Am 7: 12-15. So still the meaning of the term nabi' remains somewhat intriguing.
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