Monday, September 17, 2012

Let's Talk About Prophets

Nadene Goldfoot
Over 25 Muslim  majority countries have rioted this past weekend over a slight to their Prophet, Mohammad, which leads me into thinking about all the prophets we have had in this world.

Definition in Webster’s Dictionary: one who utters divinely inspired revelations
one gifted with more than ordinary spiritual and moral insight
one who foretells future events
disappearance of a material sense before the conscious facts of spiritual truth

Definition in Jewish Encyclopedia: one designated by G-d to convey His message to men and to give guidance for the future.  It is an ancient institution originating in primitive times, coming to early Semitic peoples in Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Canaan, but in Israel took on a special form.
Hebrews believed that they had been chosen by G-d who had sent them prophecy to point out the right path.  A prophet is primarily the protagonist of monotheism and morality and had a special role along with the Priest and the sage.

“The Talmud teaches that there were hundreds of thousands of prophets: twice as many as the number of people who left Egypt,” 55 are recorded from Israel of which 7 were females.

The Jewish view is that “if a prophet makes a prophecy in the name of YHWH that does not come to pass, that is another sign that he is not commissioned of YHWH and that the people need not fear the false prophet.(Deuteronomy 18:22)” In other words, he has no power to  hurt you.

Abram, then called Abraham, born in Ur of the Chaldees, patriarch who both Jews and many Arabian tribes trace ancestry from., was called a prophet and founder of monotheism.  Circumcision is done as a covenant of Abraham our Father.  He lived at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE or 2,000 BCE..  He was the son of Terah and father of Isaac (by Sarah, also a prophetess)  and Ishmael (by Hagar, the Egyptian concubine and maid of Sarah) In his sleep he dreamt of G-d speaking to him saying that his offspring would be aliens in a a land not their own and they will serve and oppress them for 4oo years, but that nation “Egypt” G-d would judge and they would leave there with great wealth.  The 4th generation would return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite should not yet be full until then.”  He was having a vision of the future Exodus.  (Genesis 15:-13) Lech Lecha.

Thirty  years after the vision, the 400 year period started with the birth of Isaac, also considered a prophet.  The story of Abram sacrificing Isaac leads me to believe that human sacrifice was not unusual in Ur and then also in Canaan during times of distress in the land like famine, lack of rain, etc.  Appeasing the many gods with someone dear to them was practiced by many societies that came much later, such as the Inca Indians.  This story was a step upwards of teaching that G-d did not want his much loved son to be sacrificed and that an animal would do, instead.  Isaac’s son Jacob was also called a prophet.

The first major prophet was Moses, born 7 AdarA1400 BCE or 2,368 years since creation.  God spoke to him directly, not through visions or dreams.  He is the founder of the Jewish religion and not only was considered a prophet but also the lawgiver.  The Hebrew people were already monotheistic as taught from Abraham.  Moses was a man who was brought up in the household of the Pharaoh of Egypt as a prince and was well educated.  He  found out in adulthood that he had been adopted by the princess and was the son of Hebrew slaves, Amram and Yocheved.  He was born at a time when the Pharaoh had ordered all Hebrew slave babies to be killed, having an inkling that one would cause his problems in the future.  

At age 80 he reluctantly went into the service of G-d to free the slaves.  He came to teach the Jews he led to freedom the 10 commandments and more to total 613 rules of conduct.  These laws still are applicable in today’s world.  He did have to act as a General with a troop of 600,000 at his command until his death when he assigned Joshua  to the task of leading his people into Canaan. Moses was married to Zipporah.  They had two sons, Gershom and Eliezer who died as young adults.   Zipporah’s father, Jethro, was a Midianite priest and gave Moses advice on legal administration.

Moses taught that Israel was a holy nation and a model to other people.   Traditionally, the entire Pentateuch was written by Moses.  Considering that he was the only literate person out the the assemblage, this is highly logical.  He died at age 120.    Aaron, his brother and prophet in his own right, became his spokesman and did speak for him as Moses had a lisp and found speaking difficult.  Mirium, their sister, is also considered a prophetess and ancestor of King David.  The 3 siblings are never pictured to be perfect people but are shown with their flaws.  All 3 died in the desert before they reached the promised land.  

Balaam was a non-Jewish prophet who had been invited by the king of Moab to curse the Israelites during their wanderings in the Wilderness. Then he was divinely inspired and said blessings instead of curses.  He’s one of the 7 prophets who spoke to non-Jewish nations.  He had had a vision of being scolded by his donkey.  Balaam This man had the characteristics of a Mesopotamian priest and soothsayer who  became a servant of G-d.

Since then there have been more prophets coming out of Judaism.They all expected Jews to live up to the standards presented by  Moses.  Deborah guided her people in times of difficulty. She had been the nurse of Rebekah. She lived about 1150 BCE.  It was she who roused the Israelite tribes to revolt under Barak against the Canaanite king Jabin of Hazor and Sisera, his ally and commander.  The song of victory is attributed to her and is regarded as one of the oldest compositions preserved in Hebrew.    Samuel lived in the 11th century BCE.  He was not only a prophet but the last Israeli Judge and came from the tribe of Levites.  His mother consecrated him before his birth as a Nazirite so it was already decided that he would serve the sanctuary at Shiloh, which was 25 miles north of Jerusalem in the mountains of Ephraim where the Ark and Tabernacle were kept during the period of the Judges.  where he received the Divine call as a child.  He did foretell the destruction of the House of Eli.  He was a judge in Bethel, Gilgal and Mizpeh.  People were getting prepared for national unity as they had no king yet.  Popular demand was finally for a king and they selected Saul, Samuel found fault with him.  Samuel went to Bethlehem where he found David, and anointed him as Saul’s successor which did come about.

Other prophets had certain roles to fulfill.  Nathan and Ahijah the Shilonite were fighters for social morality where kings were having moral lapses.  Elijah and Elisha opposed any manifestation of paganism.  Amos  lived in the 8th century BCE.  He lived at a time of prosperity under Jeroboam but sensed that the calm was temporary and that grave danger threatened from Assyria.  He also knew of the corruption of the kingdom from the problem of the wealthy upper class and the exploited masses.  He prophesied at Bethel, the royal sanctuary.  Then he foretold of the destruction of the land of Ephraim and the priest of Bethel thought this was treason.   They all seemed to foresee national disaster which would be followed by consolation.

Jeremiah was a prophet during the Babylonian exile.  He gave advice to the Jews:
And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.    He was not for civil disobedience.

Jesus (Yehoshua, Yeshua, Joshua) was a prophet to the Christians b:about 1 CE d: 29 CE who they also considered to be the son of G-d.  Muslims accept him as a prophet.  He is the founder of Christianity.  Judaism has no independent sources for his life except a reference in Josephus, who was a Jewish soldier that lived through the 70 CE destruction of Jerusalem and became a writer for the Romans.Most  Jews would not accept him as a prophet, though his original following and disciples were Jews.   Sources about Jesus come from the New Testament Gospels. There it says his mother was Mary who was a young woman, promised to marry Joseph.   Jesus ( is known to have taught love.)  He taught the doctrine of non-resistance to evil which was  not found in classic Jewish sources.  His story is told reflecting an anti-Jewish sentiment of the early Christians, many of whom were Jewish.  John’s writing reflects him being bitter and contemptuous toward his own Jewish people.  This led to a breach between Judaism and Christianity.  Jesus was not known to marry.  He had collected 12 Jewish disciples who lived with him.

Mohammad was born in about  570 CE in Mecca, Arabia and died in 632 CE.  He is known as the prophet of Islam.  At about the age of 40 he was in Medina and came in contact with many Jewish people who were involved in relating their biblical stories which caught his attention.  He never learned to read or write but was able to get the Koran written later in life and there we see the same stories with a slight twist to capture his own people’s attention.  There are also stories there borrowed from the Jewish Talmud.  He had repeated many times that his mission was to confirm what had been already revealed by former prophets and to correct distortions.

He tried to talk Jews into becoming part of his new group, the Muslims, but they were not about to change, angering him. They did not recognize him as a prophet, just as they did not recognize Jesus as a prophet, either.     This caused him to change some of the new rites and became hostile toward the Jews of Medina who gradually were either annihilated or expelled or converted.  Other Jews of Arabia were treated more leniently.  This may be from political and economical considerations.  One of his wives, Safia, was Jewish. She was the daughter of the Jewish tribe’s chieftain of Banu Nadir b: abt 610 CE.  She had converted but never had any children.   Mohammad  ended his life having had 13 wives marrying with many of the same reasons King Solomon did, for power and peaceful arrangements.  He returned to Mecca with an army of followers, forcing the city to recapitulate.    Muslims consider him to be the last and most perfect prophet.

Jews have had difficulties for 2, 000 years being accepted in the world and being allowed to live in peace because of their  loyalties to Judaism by not wavering to go along with either Jesus or Mohammad. They, along with Christians and Muslims, are always on the lookout for false prophets.  “If the prophet promotes goals, or means to achieve those goals, which are contrary to the accepted value norms of Torah, then he is automatically a false prophet. The promotion of paganism, the unjustified violence in the supposed cause of good, "moral" political and intellectual leaders who are personally immoral, radicals who are determined to destroy everything old to make way for the purportedly blessed new - none of these scenarios is allowed by the Torah.”

 Those Jews that continued to live in the Muslim countries were treated as Dminnis or 2nd class citizens.  At least they were allowed to live and did not not suffer the stigma of being marked and only allowed to live in certain areas and often raided and killed in pogroms as Jews were in the Western world.  Even suffering in the Holocaust where 6 million were slaughtered has not stopped those that survived of their  adherence to their religion.  Christians, who were the slowest to accept Jews are now our best supporters.  If only those Muslims living in the Middle East would look upon Jews as cousins and would accept living with us, the world would be be a far better place.  Then all the prophets would be successful.

Resource: excellent resource
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia

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