Prophecy; Prophets, 4
Continued from PROPHECY; PROPHETS, 3.
IV. Analogous Phenomena among the Gentiles.
1. Necromancy and Technical Witchcraft:
The uniqueness of Biblical prophecy is grasped fully only when we try to find analogies among the Gentile peoples. Here we find everywhere indeed the art of sooth-saying, the headquarters for which was Babylon. But with this art the prophecy of the Old Testament stands out in bold contrast (compare the prohibitions in Le 19:26,31; 20:6,27; De 18:10 ff, prohibitions that refer to necromancy for the purpose of discovering the future). This art was practiced through a medium, a person who had an 'obh (Babylonian, ubi), i.e. a spirit that brought forth the dead in order to question them. The spirits were thought to speak in murmurings or piping sounds (Isa 8:19), which could be imitated by the medium (ventriloquist). According to the Law, which forbade this under penalty of death, Saul had tried to destroy those who practiced incantations, who generally were women (1Sa 28:9). This practice, however, continued to flourish. In addition, the Babylonians and other peoples had also a developed art of interpretation in order to find omens for the future. Especially was the examination of intestines practiced by them. The liver of sacrificial animals particularly was carefully examined, and, from this, predictions, good or bad, were inferred (compare Eze 21:21). See DIVINATION. This art passed over from the Babylonions to the seafaring Etruscans, and through these came to the Romans. But other phenomena also were by the different nations interpreted as prophetically significant and were by those skilled in this art interpreted accordingly. Among these were miscarriages by human beings and animals, the actions of hens, horses, the flight of birds, earthquakes, forms of the clouds, lightning, and the like. Further, mechanical contrivances were used, such as casting of lots, stones, sticks, etc.
2. The Mantic Art:
More spiritual and popular was the interpretation of dreams. It also was the case that mediums intentionally would convert themselves into a semi-waking trance. In this way the suitable mediums attained to a certain kind of clairvoyance, found among various peoples. This approaches the condition of an ecstatically aroused pseudo-prophet, of whom mention is made above. In Greece, too, oracles were pronounced by the Pythian prophetess, who by vapors and the like was aroused to a practice of the mantic article In Dodona it was the voice of the divinity in Nature, which they sought to read in the rustling of the trees and the murmuring of the water. How uncertain these sources were was well known to heathen antiquity. The ancients complain of the enigmatical character of the Sibylline utterances and the doubtful nature of what was said. See GREECE,RELIGION IN ANCIENT . In contrast to this, Israel knows that it possesses in prophecy a clear word (Nu 23:23).
3. Contents of Extra-Biblical Oracles:
But the contents also of the Biblical prophecies are unique through their spiritual uniformity and greatness. The oracle at Delphi, too, at times showed a certain moral elevation and could be regarded as the conscience of the nation. But how insignificant and meager was that which it offered to those who questioned it, in comparison with the spontaneous utterances of the prophets of Israel! Also what has in recent times been said concerning the "prophetical texts" from ancient Egypt (Gressmann, Texte und Bilder, I, 20 ff) may indeed show some external similarity to the prophecies of Israel; but they lack the spiritual and religious depth and the strictly ethical dignity of the prophets of the Scriptures, as also the consistency with which these from century to century reveal the thoughts of God and make known with constantly increasing clearness their purposes and goal.
Witsius, De prophetis et prophetia, 1731; Chr. A. Crusius, Hypomnemata ad theologiam propheticam, Part I, 1764; A. Knobel, Der Prophetismus der Hebraer, 1837; F. B. Koester, Die Propheten des Altes Testament und New Testament, 1838; B. Duhm, Die Theologie der Propheten; Kuenen, The Prophets and Prophecy in Israel; F. E. Koenig, Der Offenbarungsbegriff des Altes Testament, 1882; C. von Orelli, Die alttestamentliche Weissagung von der Vollendung des Gottesreiches, 1882; W. Robertson Smith, The Prophets of Israel and Their Place in History, 1882; E. Riehm, Die messianische Weissagung, English translation, 1885; Delitzsch, Messianic Prophecy, 1891; A. T. Kirkpatrick, The Doctrine of the Prophets, 1892; G. French Oehler, Theologie des A T, 1891; Ed. Koenig, Dos Berufungsbewusstsein der alttestamentlichen Propheten, 1900; F. H. Woods, The Hope of Israel, 1896; R. Kraetzschmar, Prophet und Seher im alten Israel, 1902; A. B. Davidson, Old Testament Prophecy, 1903; Eb. Schrader, Die Keilinschriften und dos A T, 1902; C. von Orelli, Allgemeine Religionsgeschichte; M. Jastrow, Die Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens, 1903; Gressmann, Ursprung der israelitisch-judischen Eschatologie, 1905; W. J. Beecher, The Prophets and the Promise, 1905; C. S. Macfarland, Jesus and the Prophets, 1905; G. G. Findlay, The Books of the Prophets in Their Historical Succession, 1906-7; Gressmann, Alt-orientalische Texte und Bilder zum A T, 1909; Selwyn, Christian Prophets.
C. von Orelli