Religious Beliefs

How have prophets figured in Jewish tradition?

Even in the Torah we find references to Abraham and Moses as prophets, and Moses is told that his brother Aaron will be his “prophet” when they confront Pharaoh. In those texts the term appears to be a rather generic indicator of one who speaks for another rather than a reference to a figure of official or institutional status. Prophetic figures continue to appear during the days of the Judges. Deborah is a “prophetess,” according to Judges 4:4; and Judges 6:8 says God sent an otherwise-unnamed prophet to the people of Israel with a divine message. Prophets as an institutional class rose to prominence in connection with the monarchy. Samuel, called as a youth to dedicated religious service, was both the last of the Judges and a prototype of the court prophet. He served as critic and spiritual guide to King Saul, as the prophet Nathan would be for David. Elijah and his successor Elisha are perhaps the most famous of the itinerant prophets of the early Monarchical years, best known for the wonders they worked. But it is the writing prophets, beginning with Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, who seem to exemplify the quintessence of Jewish prophetic office. They left amazing records of their experience of the prophetic vocation and the content of the message they believed God commissioned them to deliver. Prophets are, in short, a constant presence in the biblical record. Post-biblical Jewish tradition generally assumes that the age of prophecy is over for good.


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