On the Question of the "Cessation of Prophecy" in Ancient Judaism by L. Stephen Cook (Texts & Studies in Ancient Judaism: Mohr Siebeck) Recent decades have witnessed a virtual explosion of studies examining various aspects of Second Temple Judaism, and no slowdown appears on the horizon. These studies seek to elucidate, among other things, the religious and historical situation from which Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism emerged. As part of this ongoing effort, the present work seeks to identify and examine attitudes about the status of prophets and prophecy in this complex phase of Jewish history.
A variety of Jewish texts from the Second Temple and rabbinic periods seem to reflect the view that Israelite prophecy ceased during the Persian period, around the beginning of the Second Temple era. Up until the twentieth century, scholars generally regarded these ancient texts as presenting a relatively uniform, consistent picture of the historical process of the cessation of prophecy. Some authors still hold to this assessment; in recent decades, however, others have pointed to numerous ancient texts which refer to prophetic activity occurring well beyond the point of its supposed cessation. These scholars therefore hold that the claim that prophecy ceased was simply one view in antiquity, and not necessarily representative of a larger consensus. According to these authors, the evidence of prophetic activity in the Second Temple period either contradicts ancient claims of prophecy's demise, or else exposes these claims as polemical attempts to counter belief in the legitimacy of prophecy during this period. Contemporary scholarship is therefore divided on whether to regard the sources which allege the absence of prophets/prophecy as reliable characterizations of the religious atmosphere of the Second Temple period.
What, then, is the best way to describe ancient Jewish thought on the status of prophets and prophecy in the Second Temple period? Some difficulties confront those who seek to address this question. The first is merely a practical one, in that research on this topic is not always easy. Discussions of the subject often occur in bits and pieces rather than in comprehensive treatments, though fortunately some articles and book chapters have appeared recently which are devoted largely to this topic. In another regard, work on the present topic also involves contending with semantic and terminological difficulties, not the least of which is the problem of defining the terms "prophet" and "prophecy." One must take care to discern not only how these terms are used in modem discussions, but also how their Greek and Hebrew counterparts are used in ancient discussions.
The three parts of this dissertation will seek to address these and other problems relating to the question of whether prophecy ceased in ancient Judaism. As an aid to future researchers, Part One will first present the key texts from antiquity, and then systematically summarize the seminal discussions of the question from the last 150+ years. Larger aims of this section will be to clarify the status of modem scholarship on this issue, particularly in regard to the two general views delineated above, and to introduce the body of material with which I will interact throughout the rest of the dissertation. Part Two will then attempt a thorough analysis of the ancient texts in question, in order to present my own view of how each of these texts should be understood. This section will examine a range of relevant texts from antiquity, including passages from the Old and New Testaments, Qumran, rabbinic literature, and numerous other Jewish sources from the Second Temple period. A mostly chronological analysis will seek to identify streams of thought within ancient Judaism which help address the question of whether prophecy was thought to have ceased. Part Three, finally, will offer an assessment of modem scholarship on the subject, with a view toward clarifying where the various schools of thought diverge. I will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches, and also offer my own suggestions on how the discussion should proceed from here. While I have attempted to keep repetition of material to a minimum, the reader may notice occasional overlap between material introduced in Part One, and the interaction with this material in Parts Two and Three.
By nearly all accounts, the notion that prophets/prophecy ended in Judaism in the early Second Temple period has occupied the minds of reflective Jews and Christians since the late centuries B.C.E. Comments on the subject have appeared in a steady stream since antiquity, although it is fair to say that the issue never spawned a large body of material until very recent times. Not until the mid-twentieth century, in fact, have articles and book chapters appeared which are devoted entirely to the subject.
The discussion has historically generated widespread agreement as well, with the vast majority of authors taking prophecy's cessation as historical fact. It can still be said in our times, "Nearly all Jewish writers on the subject suppose that prophecy ceased with the closing of the Bible canon at the time of Ezra and the rabbis said that prophecy ended with Malachi."' As I will show, however, this view has been sharply challenged in recent decades from several angles, not the least of which is the contention that prophetic activity of various sorts continued for several centuries following prophecy's supposed cessation. Additionally, not only do some dispute that prophecy ceased, but others even question to what extent prophecy was viewed in ancient times to have ceased. The present literature review will summarize the arguments used in support of these contentions, and will also demonstrate that lines of argument raised in discussions from the 1800s laid the foundation for disputes that arose in the twentieth century. Much of the evidence advanced by the various authors will be mentioned only summarily in this section, but will be examined more closely in later sections.
The review will begin with a straightforward listing of the major ancient texts from which scholars traditionally have concluded that ancient Jews believed prophecy to have ceased at some point during the Persian or early post-Persian period. The modem espousal of the view that prophecy ceased at this time, or at least the modem view that the ancients believed prophecy ceased at this time, will be designated for brevity's sake as "the traditional view," though in due course it will become essential to distinguish more carefully between ancient and modem perspectives.
The literature from subsequent periods will be covered mostly in chronological order, though ease of presentation will sometimes necessitate slight deviation from this pattern. For modern sources that have been translated into English, I have indicated their original language and publication date. The literature reviewed here represents the most influential treatments of the subject, plus a sample of the many dozens of shorter discussions that show up in commentaries, articles, Bible dictionaries, and books on prophecy in general. An exhaustive review is not possible.
Finally, treatments of the question of why prophecy ceased will mostly be left out in this section. The primary exception which will be mentioned is the view that prophecy ceased because of the ascendancy of the Torah. This view pervades much of the discussion on the subject, especially the material from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Other views on why prophecy ceased will be listed in more detail in the appendix.
The review of the literature has yielded a complex picture. Clearly, the discussion concerning the "cessation of prophecy" does not reduce to a simple question of whether scholars view ancient Jewish prophecy as having ceased or not. Yet this is the question which gives rise to the discussion, and it has been shown that authors since ancient times have held that Israelite prophecy did in fact cease during the Persian period. The first dissidents from this thesis challenged the notion often by arguing that numerous prophetic texts in the OT were written after this period. More recently, however, scholarship has tended to challenge the traditional view by formulating the main question another way: Does the attestation of various revelatory phenomena in the Hellenistic and Roman periods vitiate the notion of an earlier cessation? A growing number of scholars have steadily chipped away at the earlier consensus by answering yes to this question, and by accumulating more and more evidence of Second Temple prophecy in support.
Modern scholars who have held to the traditional view have usually recognized the relevance of the evidence that has recently been advanced. Gunkel is one of the first authors to take seriously the additional evidence of prophetic activity in the Second Temple period, and yet maintain that such evidence does not overturn the view that prophecy ceased. Others such as Guy, Kaufmann, Sjoberg, Hahn, and Sommer have upheld the position that if later forms of "prophecy" were all inferior to the earlier forms, then prophecy in its "fullest sense" can still correctly be viewed as having ceased.
Among the advocates of the traditional view, Wellhausen's idea that the law brought an end to prophecy found proponents well into the twentieth century (e.g., Charles, Robinson, Farley, Lods, Guy, Talmon, and Sheppard) though other adherents of the traditional view (e.g., Kaufmann, Leiman, Gevaryahu, Sommer) reject this view and/or propose alternate reasons for prophecy's cessation.' In the 1970s, some scholars (e.g., Schäfer, Leivestad, Petersen) also began to argue that Jews in the Hellenistic period believed they were living in an "interim period" between prophetic ages, and prophecy's cessation was thus not viewed as permanent. Barton's observations also lean in this direction. Additionally, those who adhere to the traditional view have not often agreed on: (1) whether the cessation of prophecy is related to the closing of the scriptural canon, and if so, which phenomenon is the cause and which the effect; and (2) the specific distinctive features of classical prophecy which separate it intrinsically from the forms of prophetic activity which followed.
Von Harnack was among the first to depart from the traditional conception of prophecy's cessation and to place greater emphasis on the continuity between the prophecy of the Second Temple period and that which preceded it. Von Harnack's argument from the NT evidence alone, however, has not won acceptance, since many view the NT evidence (if considered in isolation) as attesting to the return of prophecy rather than the continuation of it. Torrey added to this evidence, however, by arguing that many parts of the OT itself were produced well after the Persian period (cf. Cornill), and that the production of these texts demonstrates the continuation of prophecy long after its supposed cessation. Urbach's position, though, is more moderate: while he is very hesitant to place post-canonical prophetic activity in the same category as canonical prophecy, the evidence from Josephus and the NT makes him less comfortable with speaking of a "cessation" of prophecy in the Persian period.
Meyer was the first to present a large body of evidence attesting to pneumatic/ revelatory activity throughout the Second Temple period, and to use this evidence to argue that prophecy did not cease at all until after this period. He is also the first to challenge explicitly the supposition that Zech 13:2-6; Ps 74:9; 0-Dan 3:38, and the usual texts from 1 Maccabees attest to a cessation of prophecy. Aune, Horsley, Greenspahn, Levison, and Henze build upon these lines of thought. As for the rabbinic evidence, Meyer sees this material as clearly asserting the cessation of prophecy, though also as conceding that isolated instances of prophecy did persist in rabbinic times. Greenspahn (as well as Blenkinsopp) agrees that rabbinic literature clearly asserts the cessation of prophecy, but regards these statements as attempts to counter prophetic claims and thus solidify rabbinic control. Aune also downplays the significance of the rabbinic evidence by arguing that the rabbinic statements represent only one view among others. Levison, on the other hand, denies that rabbinic literature clearly teaches a cessation of prophecy.
Hence, the overall picture of scholarship on the present question remains complex, in part because a high number of variations can be found within each school of thought. Moreover, at least two additional complicating factors continue to obscure the issue. (1) To date it remains the case that scholars often fail to take into due account at least one of Barton's key distinctions, as discussed above. Barton noted that to ask the question whether Jews in ancient times typically believed prophecy had ceased, is not the same question as asking whether this view, even if indeed it were held, should be accepted in modern times. Authors addressing the second question have sometimes purported to disagree with those who are addressing the first question, and an unclear dialogue has resulted. I contend that it is essential to address the first question clearly before the second question can be engaged. Thus, Part Two of this dissertation will review the ancient sources with this key distinction in mind. I shall answer the question, "Did Second Temple Jews tend to believe prophecy had ceased?" mostly in the affirmative, though I believe the traditional understanding of the ancient sources needs some modification and additional clarification.
(2) Part Three will turn to the debate over whether prophecy should be regarded in modern times as having ceased in the Persian period. I shall note that this discussion is also clouded by the fact that it is often difficult to determine exactly what divides the two general camps which I have described above. As is apparent from the review of the literature, even those who deny that it is accurate to speak of a cessation of prophecy in ancient Israel often acknowledge that prophecy in the post-Persian era differed in character from the prophecy which preceded it. Conversely, those who do hold to the notion of a cessation of prophecy often admit to the similarities between classical prophecy and that which followed. Given this situation, it is useful to ask, where then is the dividing line between the two schools of thought? Are the differences merely semantic? In Part Three I will argue that while problems of definition do need to be addressed, issues of methodology must also be explored. Leivestad alludes to the problem of definition, as does Grabbe, but neither develops the idea thoroughly enough to show how differing scholarly conceptions of prophecy have led to differing conclusions and positions on the issue at hand. Likewise, Horsley and Henze allude to the problem of methodology, but their remarks need amplification. If these issues can be adequately addressed, a significant advance in this discussion will have been achieved true prophecy cannot be taken for granted. Periods of prophetic silence are lamented in exilic texts such as Ps 74:9, and predicted in Zech 13:2-6. The passages in Joel and Malachi may predict the "return" of prophecy in a future age, though prophecy's appearance in these instances is not specifically characterized as a "return."
The above points lay the conceptual foundation for the discussion which follows. From what has been said, it is apparent that written prophetic texts must have been available by postexilic times, confirming that the messages of the prophets had already begun to find their way into Israel's national/religious consciousness by then. In what follows, I will assume that concepts relating to the purpose of prophecy, its inherent quality or veracity in specific cases, and its possible absence in contemporary society continued to permeate religious thought throughout the Second Temple period, especially among those who recorded the nation's history.
The foregoing discussion has demonstrated the following key points:
(1) The references to the ongoing debate in Israel over true vs. false prophecy show that ancient Jews evaluated prophecy in terms of its underlying theological and experiential validity. While the Hebrew Bible does refer to false prophets in a variety of ways, the idea of a false prophet seems to have been viewed, in a sense, as an oxymoron: a false prophet has received no authentic word from Yhwh, and is therefore in reality no prophet at all.
(2) Concerning true prophets/prophecy, the Hebrew Bible indicates that such prophecy exists in degrees, with Moses being the ideal prophet. In addition, prophetic authors of the postexilic period show a high degree of familiarity with the messages of their predecessors. The anonymous character of "deuteroprophecy" is perhaps an indication that later authors viewed the earlier prophets as superior to themselves.
(3) One of the most significant purposes of prophecy in Israel was to warn the nation of its moral failings. Prophetic texts also warn that the nation's sins could lead Yhwh to withdraw his presence from his people.
(4) The Hebrew Bible never declares or predicts a permanent cessation of prophecy, but does indicate that periods of prophetic suspension are to be expected. While such an expectation can be found more explicitly in late texts in the Hebrew Bible, earlier texts also show an awareness that the presence of
While it is difficult to determine whether his views were representative of his Jewish contemporaries, Philo of Alexandria nonetheless remains an important witness to Jewish thinking on the status of prophecy in the late Second Temple period. Philo displays an intense interest both in Moses and the biblical prophets and in the prophetic experience in general, even to the point of differentiating various types of prophecy. Philo considered prophecy to be prophecy, however, only if it involved contact with Yhwh, the God of Israel; all prophetic claims among pagan religions he considered invalid or fraudulent.
Philo claimed to have experienced prophet-like inspiration himself, and even through more than one means. For this reason, he is sometimes presented as an exception to the general Jewish view of the period that prophecy had ceased. Due to the complexity of his thinking about the prophetic experience, however, it is questionable whether this is an accurate characterization of his views as a whole. Jews of this period did not see all pneumatic experiences as alike in quality or authority. Philo's views reflect this line of thought as well. He viewed Moses as the prophet par excellence in Israel's history, and portrayed him as an unsurpassed exemplar of both ecstatic and noetic forms of prophecy. He held a similarly high view of the other biblical prophets. By contrast, as an interpreter of Moses and the prophets, he does not assign the same level of authority to his own inspired interpretations that he does to the oracles of these figures. In all likelihood, it is for these reasons that he neither designates himself nor any of his contemporaries by the term "prophet."
It is important to note, though, that Philo closely resembles other witnesses from this period in another respect, namely, that he lends no credence to the picture that some have drawn of a devitalized, lifeless Judaism in the Second Temple period. Inspired interpretation of Scripture was not, for Philo, an inglorious, Spirit-less endeavor; it was in fact a worthy and lofty endeavor, for which few possessed true capability. He probably had this endeavor in mind when he wrote the following:
There was a time when I had leisure for philosophy and for the contemplation of the universe and its contents, when I made its spirit my own in all its beauty and loveliness and true blessedness, when my constant companions were divine themes and verities, wherein I rejoiced with a joy that never cloyed or sated. I had no base or abject thoughts nor grovelled in search of reputation or of wealth or bodily comforts, but seemed always to be borne aloft into the heights with a soul possessed by some God-sent inspiration, a fellow-traveller with the sun and the moon and the whole heaven and universe. (Spec. 3.1)
Philo does not seem to have believed that prophets with an ever-present inspiration and far-reaching authority existed in his own time. Conversely, he likely believed that his own revelatory experiences resulted in a product that differed from Moses' both in kind and in degree of authority. But clearly too, he did not believe that the divine Spirit was totally inoperative in his day.
In this regard, I agree with Levison's observation concerning the prescience of Volz, who in 1910 said the following:
Nonetheless, the post-exilic period and later Judaism must not have been lacking in pneumatic figures and pneumatic phenomena, especially if we consider how inadequately informed we are. The habit of comparing a form of Judaism that is coming to an end with a youthful form of Christianity has led regularly to a misunderstanding of the former. This is historically unsuitable and, moreover, it is far more probable that the new religion arose out of a period of religious stirring and deep feeling rather than out of a torpid and dying one.
The evidence examined thus far seems to confirm Volz's observation. While prophets in the fullest sense were thought of as long gone, the Jews had not lost the sense of God's presence among them. An examination of the NT evidence will confirm that Christianity was born during a period of intense religious fervor and anticipation, thus bringing Judaism to an important crossroad. Those who believed Jesus was the Messiah also came to the belief that the highest caliber of prophecy had returned in the Christian era. Outside of these circles, however, other Jews continued to venerate the great prophets of the past, to find sustenance in the voice of God in its attenuated forms, and to believe that great prophets would one day return.
For Josephus, true prophecy receive otherwise-unknowable revelation directly from the Deity and relate this revelation to the Jewish people. The insights and messages they receive from God may relate to the nation's history, to present circumstances, or to future events. Josephus portrays the biblical prophets as having performed these functions centuries earlier for the benefit of the Jewish nation. But, Josephus nowhere clearly and approvingly applies the term prophecy to an individual later than the Persian period. This restriction in his usage of the term corresponds to the only direct statement Josephus makes about the existence of prophets after the reign of Artaxerxes I, around whose time he says that the prophetic succession failed. These factors seem to point decisively to the conclusion that Josephus thought of the line of Hebrew prophets as having ended long before his own day.
Nowhere does Josephus rule out categorically, though, that prophets could reappear in his own day. Indeed, the evidence from Josephus points to the conclusion that the Jews of his day did accept the possibility that prophets could arise in their midst. It only seems that Josephus sees no figure in the post-Persian era as having the gift of prophecy on the same level as the canonical prophets, and therefore did not believe that any true prophets existed at that time. He views John Hyrcanus as the last figure to whom prophecy could be attributed, but also associates this gift with his priesthood rather than attributing it to a prophetic office. Josephus also seems to view Hyrcanus's gift of prophecy as limited in scope. Certain contemporary figures such as Theudas and the Egyptian prophet he regarded as charlatans; others such as certain Essenes, Jesus son of Ananias, and himself, he viewed as having an oracular ability which in some ways resembled that of the biblical prophets, but which was inspired in a lesser sense, and also more limited in scope.
For Josephus, the oracular activities and abilities of his own contemporaries also seem dependent upon the earlier actions and writings of the biblical prophets. He says that thirteen of the Hebrew prophets left writings behind which have enduring prophetic value for the nation. In later generations, inspired interpreters/messengers receive insight from God on how to apply these writings to their own day, especially when the nation needs to be warned of impending disasters. But Josephus never calls these later individuals prophecy, nor does he refer to their inspired insights as prophecy. The distinction he makes between the biblical prophets and the later oracular figures can be seen, for example, in his usage. Though he uses the terms only sparingly for the process of inspired interpretation, a few clues seem to indicate that he viewed this activity as involving a combination of exegetical skill and divine guidance — an acceptable Jewish counterpart to pagan manticism.
The above considerations all point to the conclusion that Josephus saw some key differences between the prophecy and prophets of centuries earlier and the inspired oracular phenomena which took place among the Jews of his day. The prophets of old spoke with God directly and hence were able to give original, infallible prophecies which were inspired in the fullest sense. Certain individuals in the late Second Temple period, by contrast, received true messages from the Deity, but in mediated, attenuated forms which could not be regarded as entirely infallible and therefore could not be labeled as prophecy. Whether Josephus would have thought of these later individuals as differing in kind or only in degree from those of earlier centuries is difficult to decide. In Feldman's view, Josephus's restriction of the term prophecy to biblical figures suggests that he thought of it more as a difference in kind, i.e., a "technical" distinction. Gray, on the the other hand, thinks the difference between the biblical prophets and later figures is significant for Josephus, but nonetheless more a matter of degree. Her reason is that later figures seem to perform the same functions and display the same abilities as the ancient prophets, only not nearly so well. While I lean toward Feldman's view on the matter, I nonetheless concede that the evidence suggests that Josephus saw himself and some of his contemporaries as performing prophetic functions that were intrinsically related to those of the biblical prophets, given that God is said to be involved in both cases. However, it also appears from his restriction of the term prophecy to the canonical prophets, along with other clues in his descriptions of prophetic phenomena in both eras, that he believed that he and his contemporaries differed enough in degree so as not to belong in the same class as their ancient counterparts.
Of the functions that Josephus seems to have thought that he and his fellow diviners had in common with the biblical prophets, the function of prognostication appears to be the most prominent. Due to Josephus's obvious emphasis on prediction of the future in both cases, it is often said that Josephus believed prognostication to be the primary characteristic of prophecy, and the one feature of prophecy that survived in his time.327 It is also true that in his re-telling of biblical history, Josephus sometimes describes foretelling the future as "prophesying", and in the case of John Hyrcanus, that ability itself as "the gift of prophecy". I contend, though, that it is misleading to characterize prognostication as a feature of prophecy per se in all instances, since for Josephus, foreknowledge of the future is obtained through a somewhat
different process in his time. Certainly the biblical prophets obtained foreknowledge from God by virtue of their status as prophets, and Josephus can comfortably use the term prophecy of their predictions. Conversely, however, he avoids this term for prognostication in his own day, instead favoring a wide array ofmore general terms. It therefore seems, I would argue, that whereas he believed that prophecy often involved predicting the future, not all instances of prediction, even with the aid of divine inspiration, can properly be called prophecy. Correspondingly, he most likely believed that all prophecy could predict the future, at least in theory, but not all those who predict the future (even correctly) can appropriately be called prophecy.
His reasons for emphasizing prognostication, however, do seem to be the same when he is talking about either the ancient prophets or contemporary diviners. Specifically, in his accounts of biblical history as well as those of his own day, he clearly sees inaccurate predictions as the primary means of identifying false prophets. He seems to have seen false prophets as an unceasing and frustrating reality throughout Jewish history, and was entirely willing to apply the Deuteronomic test for false prophecy (Deut 18:22) when he considered it necessary to do so.
Perhaps even more importantly, Josephus also emphasizes prognostication because of its value in reminding the Jews of God's providential care for his people.328 One statement of his along this line, also cited above, is worth repeating here:
... we ought to acknowledge the greatness of the Deity and everywhere honour and reverence Him, nor should we think the things which are said to flatter us or please us more worthy of belief than the truth, but should realize that nothing is more beneficial than prophecy and the foreknowledge which it gives, for in this way God enables us to know what to guard against. (A.J. 8.14.6 §418)
In Josephus's view, God continues to inspire individuals to interpret and re-apply the prophecies of the past in order to warn the nation of trials to come. Thus, it is abundantly clear that Josephus in no way regards God as silent in his own time, even if the Jews themselves did not recognize or heed the divine messages. Though the "line of prophets" belongs to the past, Josephus believed that God's involvement in the history of his people did not end when prophecy ceased.
Through his providence, God continued to reveal the future to individuals such as himself, through other means, always for the guidance of his people.
Rabbinic texts, like those of other Jewish authors before them, consistently reflect the notion that the prophets of old are to be placed in a special class. When the rabbis state that prophecy ceased, they have in mind the prophetic gift of the Holy Spirit in its fullest sense. In their view, this gift was exercised only by the great figures of the past whose task it was to call Israel continually back to its ethical and monotheistic roots. Upon the deaths of the last prophets at the end of the Persian era, the Spirit of prophecy withdrew from Israel and had not as yet returned. With the loss of the Holy Spirit also came the loss of original, unmediated revelation, as the very character of rabbinic literature itself attests. In this connection, it is telling that the rabbis never appeal to contemporary prophets nor to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to give incontestable, binding force to their halakhic decisions.
Nonetheless, rabbinic literature strongly affirms that God's voice continued to speak through secondary channels such as the Bat Qol. The corpus of rabbinic traditions also preserves a few anecdotes involving the Holy Spirit and revelation in the case of particular rabbis. These instances of revelatory phenomena are not, however, presented as examples of prophecy but rather as isolated gifts of the Holy Spirit given to exceptional individuals, often on the basis of their piety. The traditions in these cases represent praise of the virtues of these rabbis, not a qualification of the theory about prophecy's cessation. By affirming the presence of God with great rabbis of the past, the traditions simultaneously highlight for rabbis of later generations the importance of virtue and the preeminence of the rabbinical task. Affirmations along these lines may also have the side effect of denying legitimacy to prophetic claimants in Christian, pagan, and other Jewish circles, but the literature itself does not indicate that specific disputes with these groups are immediately in view.
A couple of key factors have been important in arriving at the above conclusions. For one, I have argued that rabbinic literature uses the term "Holy Spirit" in multiple senses. The term signifies the Shekhinah in the traditions about the loss of the Holy Spirit when the First Temple was destroyed; it refers to prophecy in the traditions about the deaths of the last prophets; and in the case of later rabbis, it alludes to the special presence of God with worthy individuals. While resolution of apparent contradictions is not always desirable or necessary in studies of rabbinic literature, it has been my goal to identify threads of consensus and consistency to the extent that they can be found. Additionally, I have sought to connect rabbinic thought with the theological convictions about prophecy which are apparent in the literature that preceded it. Like that earlier material, rabbinic literature affirms that divine revelation is given to Jews through means of varying quality, and that revelation of the highest quality was given to individuals only in a past age. Hence, the rabbis do not speak of contemporary individuals as "prophets," nor do they seem surprised that such individuals are no longer found.
Rabbinic literature offers no explanation for the disappearance of prophecy other than Israel's sin. The loss of the Temple is a contributing factor, but this too is the result of the sins of the people. Ironically, though, it was the sins of the people that gave rise to the need for prophets in the first place. Consequently, it seems the presence of prophecy was interpreted as a blessing since it signaled the divine presence, but also as an ominous sign of God's wrath. In rabbinic writings we find the conviction that while God's people remain unworthy to have the Spirit of prophecy among them, the Torah and the normative prophecy of the past can still serve to warn the nation of sin. What is needed is confirmation of God's continued presence, and the sages of late antiquity found assurance in the other signs that God did provide even when prophecy was no longer available.
In an effort to identify and clarify the Jews' convictions about the status of prophets and prophecy in the Second Temple period, Part Two of this dissertation has examined numerous references to these entities in the corpora of ancient Jewish literature ranging from the Hebrew Bible to rabbinic literature. This discussion began with the assumption that the texts of the Hebrew Bible themselves reflect certain general ideas and concepts concerning prophets and prophecy, in light of which all the later texts must be understood. In the ensuing discussion of these concepts, I identified four essential streams of thought which, I contend, continued to influence the authors of later literature.
(1) The first concept that is apparent in the Hebrew Bible texts is that prophecy, for the Jews, always involves a true encounter with Yhwh, resulting in authentic, infallible revelation from the Deity. Such revelation is also usually "original" in the sense that it does not show dependency on earlier prophetic texts or messages. Given, however, that persons can claim to have received such revelation when they in fact have not, individual prophetic claims must always be evaluated in order to determine their truth or falsehood. Though individuals who make false claims are often designated as "false prophets" in much of the ancient literature as a whole, it is clear that in no sense are the persons in question actually regarded as prophets. Of the bodies of literature discussed here, the DSS, Philo, and Josephus seem especially concerned to address the continuing appearance of false prophets in the Second Temple period.
(2) The Hebrew Bible also indicates that even genuine prophetic experiences take place through varying degrees of contact with the Deity. Deuteronomy 34:10 distinguishes Moses in particular with its affirmation that "Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face." Philo in particular upholds Moses' distinction as the prophet par excellence, though the other bodies of literature also reflect a similar regard for Moses. What distinguishes him is that God speaks with him face to face, whereas other prophets received revelation through dreams or other forms of mediation (cf. Num 12:6-8). The prophets of the postexilic period (especially Zechariah) seem aware that their prophecy is not equal in quality to that of the earlier prophets. Prophecy at this time begins to lose some of its originality as these prophets (as well as the deutero-prophetic authors who supplement the writings of earlier prophets) frequently make use of already-existing prophetic texts.
Jewish literature of the Second Temple period picks up on the concept of "degrees of prophecy" with its affirmation that other, lower mediums of revelation also exist in addition to prophecy. Such activity as the visions of the pseudepigraphic seers, the interpretation of prophetic texts by the Teacher of Righteousness, Philo's hermeneutics, Josephus's prognostications, and the rabbinic Bat Qol all appear to be related to, yet distinct from, the prophetic activity of the biblical figures. While specialized inspiration seems to be assumed in the case of these later phenomena, the authors who describe them all also seem aware of their lack of originality and only rarely do they seem to think of them as infallible. Hence, they never refer to those involved as "prophets" nor to their inspired activity as "prophecy."
(3) I have also noted that in the Hebrew Bible, a major role of prophets is to warn the nation of Israel against sin. Inherent in this idea is the notion that prophets in Israel often played a broad, public role in declaring the will of God to the nation. Josephus picks up on these concepts in his assertion that the writings of the ancient prophets continue to play a role in Israelite society long after they first appeared, both as warnings to the nation about sin and of the disasters that will come if they do not repent. Rabbinic literature also describes the ancient prophets as those who rebuke a wicked society. However, prophecy under these circumstances is viewed as a mixed blessing, in that although prophets often announce God's displeasure toward the nation, their presence was at least a sign of divine care for and attention to the people.
(4) The Hebrew Bible also observes that periods of divine/prophetic silence have occurred in Israel's history, and hence it cannot be assumed that prophets will necessarily be operative in Israel at any given time. However, the texts in this corpus which lament prophetic silence never seem to envision prophecy as having ceased permanently. Instead, the absence of prophets is always viewed as a temporary condition, the unfortunate reality of which will disappear with the return of prophets in the future.
A similar outlook holds in the Second Temple literature. On the one hand, the prophets of old consistently appear in all of this later material as a special, distinct group from a bygone era. On the other hand, however, this literature consistently reflects the view that although prophets are not present at the moment, the people of Israel may expect that prophets will one day return. Some texts describe this eventual revival of prophecy as occurring in the course of ordinary events, as in the case of 1 Maccabees, but others (such as Ben Sira, the Testament of Benjamin, and some texts of the DSS) seem to view prophecy's return as taking place within an eschatological framework. Regardless, though, it seems likely that Jewish authors of this period would have described prophecy as merely dormant, rather than permanently absent. Josephus says that many were willing to believe prophets appeared during the Jewish revolt against Rome, thereby showing that expectations of a return of prophecy persisted in popular thought. And though faith in these particular figures diminished as a result of the destruction of Jerusalem, hope for the return of prophets was not dashed, for rabbinic literature also seems to view prophecy as presently absent but liable to return.
The NT presents a special case, as the authors of this collection speak both of the erstwhile dormancy of prophecy and its genuine — in their view — contemporary return. Numerous passages in the Gospels, for instance, portray the Jewish people as cognizant of a long absence of prophecy prior to the appearance of John the Baptist and Jesus. According to the NT writers, some people believed these individuals to be prophets on the same level as the OT prophets, while others rejected their prophetic claims entirely. On the issue of the status of prophecy, "Judaism" thus bifurcates with the arrival of these figures. Jewish Christians at this point claim that prophecy and revelation in the fullest sense have returned through John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles, while the rest of the Jews continue to look elsewhere for prophecy's return.
These four points lead to two general conclusions. The first is that the Jews of the Second Temple period tended to see themselves as living in an interim period between manifestations of prophecy. They revered the prophets of the past, but also anticipated the day when prophets would appear again. With a striking consistency, the authors of this period avoid applying the term "prophet" or attributing genuine "prophecy" to any contemporary figure. Apart from the NT, the lone exception here is Josephus's attribution of the gift of prophecy to John Hyrcanus. But even in this case, Josephus seems to use the term in a restricted sense, and deliberately avoids giving the title "prophet" to this high priest and ruler. On the whole, then, what I called the "traditional view" in Part One of this work has proven substantially correct in its assertion that Second Temple Jews believed that prophecy had ceased. However, modern authors who espouse this characterization of the ancient view have often used the expression "cessation of prophecy" with the inaccurate implication that prophecy was thought by Second Temple Jews to have ceased permanently. The term "suspension of prophecy" or the like would, I argue, better characterize the beliefs of this period.
The second conclusion is that the Jews of this time continued to believe that God's special presence was with them in spite of the absence of prophets. The numerous claims of inspiration and the interest in the prophetic texts of old mark the period as one of remarkable spiritual vibrancy. Second Temple Jews believed that God still raised up Spirit-filled leaders for the purpose of reinterpreting and re-applying ancient revelation for later generations. The literature of this era also consistently reflects a belief in divine providence, with Josephus speaking explicitly of this notion. For these reasons, traditionalist authors who have spoken of a "lifeless Judaism" during this time have misrepresented the situation. Jews of this time would have objected to the tradition (often repeated by Christians today) of "four hundred years of silence." Christianity was born, not during a period of widespread apathy and apostasy, but rather in one of religious zeal and fervor. The belief that prophecy was in abeyance did not lead Jews of this era to give up on hearing the divine voice, but instead to listen for it all the more intently.
In sum, Part Two of this dissertation has sought to answer the question, "Did Second Temple Jews believe prophecy had ceased?" In attempting to answer this question, I have limited my analysis to the usage of particular prophecy in the ancient literature. I maintain that the consistent usage of this terminology in reference to the biblical period, and the relative lack of such usage for the period thereafter, justifies this approach. I also contend that a limitation of this sort helps to shed light on the religious consciousness of the Second Temple Jews in general, as well as the motivation for the religious zeal of that period in particular. As is apparent from the literature review in Part One, however, many authors in recent decades have abandoned this approach in favor of an alternate approach which subsumes all pneumatic activity of this period under the term "prophecy." In Part Three, I shall discuss some examples of authors who take this newer approach, in an effort to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their claims. In contrast to the last few chapters which have sought to describe what ancient Jews believed about the status of prophecy in their day, my discussion in what follows will now turn to the question of how the status of prophecy in the Second Temple period should best be described in contemporary scholarship.
Second Temple Jews did, on the whole, tend to believe that prophecy had ceased in the Persian period. This is the conclusion for which I argued in Part Two of this work, in an effort to answer some key questions about Jewish thought in the Hellenistic and Roman eras. Of course, this conclusion, in and of itself, is not a new assertion in biblical scholarship. Yet it has faced an ongoing assault in the last few decades, from those who question whether the usually cited texts from antiquity have been understood properly, and who also point to evidence of prophecy's continuation into the Second Temple period. Accordingly, it has been worthwhile to ask whether recent critiques of this view are justified, and to what extent they have succeeded.
The literature review in Part One revealed various streams of thought on the overall question of whether Jewish prophecy ceased in the Persian period. Advocates of the traditional view, which affirms prophecy's cessation, have taken several approaches to describing religious developments in Second Temple Judaism. Some have emphasized "First Temple prophecy" to the neglect or denigration of developments in prophecy after this period; others have evaluated Second Temple prophetic claims more positively. Some have limited themselves to a description of Second Temple thought, while others have also affirmed and adopted the conclusions of Second Temple authors.
Advocates of the more recent or "non-traditionalist" view, though claiming to refute the traditional view entirely, have, I believe, actually succeeded only in correcting some imbalances in the latter.' First of all, by amassing considerable evidence of revelatory claims in the Second Temple era, these authors have exposed the flaw in the stream of traditional thought which ignores, denigrates, or otherwise minimizes the importance of such phenomena in this period. In a similar vein, they have also rightly pointed out the bias whereby some traditionalist authors have adopted and perpetuated the notion of a cessation of prophecy in Judaism. In view of these corrections, it is important that traditionalist scholars take more seriously the evidence of pneumatic and revelatory claims in the Second Temple period, and see these claims as constitutive elements of the religious milieu from which Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism emerged. It is also important that in answering the question of whether Jewish prophecy ceased, that such scholars seek only to discern and describe the views of the ancients themselves. It is legitimate under the traditional approach to raise such questions as, How did ancient Jews define prophecy? How did allegedly inspired individuals in the Second Temple period understand their claims? How directly did these individuals claim to have had contact with God? Did they see their inspiration as infallible? In what way did they see their claims as true over against the claims of others they viewed as false? These are valid historical/theological questions, but to go beyond them and to decide whether scholars today should view ancient prophecy as having ceased, is to raise a question about the intrinsic validity of prophetic claims — a question that critical scholarship cannot answer.
I argued in Part Three that the more recent approach, which operates with a broad definition of prophecy, is most helpful in general sociological and comparative studies. But in both approaches, it is also important to raise the question of the relationship between the revelatory phenomena of the Second Temple period and their earlier counterparts. Should one characterize this relationship fundamentally as one of continuity or discontinuity? The non-traditionalist approach tends more toward emphasizing the continuities, and on the basis of this approach, I think it is legitimate for sociological studies on the history of prophecy to claim that prophecy continued from the Persian period into the Second Temple period. Authors who take this approach, however, should also make clear that this observation is based on a definition of prophecy which is broader than that which is generally stated or assumed by the ancient Jewish authors. It is the case, in my opinion, that the traditional approach remains the best vehicle through which to understand the ancient Jewish mind-set itself regarding prophecy, including the relevant discontinuities which Second Temple Jews perceived with those of earlier eras. I should acknowledge in all fairness, though, that Henze is right in saying that scholars in the past have tended to overemphasize these discontinuities. The more recent approach helps to correct this situation.
Thus, I argue that two legitimate approaches exist for addressing the basic question, Did Jewish prophecy cease in the Persian period? It is apparent that how one chooses to define prophecy is a central question in this regard, and is also usually an outgrowth of scholars' purposes for discussing the subject in the first place. The broadness or narrowness of one's definition often correlates with the relative broadness of one's discussion, and it is hard to declare either approach invalid. As I see it, these two approaches are not mutually contradictory, as has usually been claimed. While the clash has often been presented as one of conclusions, the basic difference has instead been more a matter of approach. A lack of clarity in this respect has often led to a muddled discussion. Thus, it is of paramount importance for future discussions of this topic that scholars be clear about what their assumptions are. From which viewpoint (ancient or modern) are they arguing? What definition of prophecy are they using? What is the overall purpose/methodology of their study? Accordingly, authors who respond to others' discussions should also take into account the methodological approach in the sources to which they are responding, and seek to ensure that any alleged "disagreement" is taking place within the parameters of the same methodology. If a particular point concerns, for example, whether Josephus or Philo was a prophet, one author may say yes and the other no. But if one author is asking whether either of these figures was a "prophet" from a modern, historical/sociological standpoint, and the other is raising the question of whether either thought of himself as a prophecy, from a historical/theological standpoint, then it cannot fairly be said that they really disagree.
Regardless of which approach we take, our own presuppositions will of course, to some extent, emerge in the terminology we choose to use in our descriptions of ancient Jewish prophecy. Admittedly, to term pneumatic activity in the Persian era and prior as "prophecy" but to use other terms for the related activity which followed it, as I have done, is to run the risk of implying that the spiritual health and fervor of the later age was somehow inferior to that of the earlier age. However, while I have occasionally used the term "inferior" to describe the view Second Temple Jews took toward prophetic phenomena of their day vs. that of the ancients before them, I here stress again that such a description of the Jewish beliefs about prophecy need imply nothing necessarily about the spiritual fervor of the later period as a whole. Indeed, from the modern standpoint, the religious enthusiasm of the latter era may even be characterized as greater, since the Jewish people of the later Second Temple period continued to seek the face of God even when they doubted that God's infallible voice found an outlet in their day. In ironic contrast to earlier periods in which prophets had abounded but the people did not listen, Jews of the Second Temple period, thinking as they did that only attenuated channels of revelation existed in their day, sought all the more zealously to hear the divine voice in those channels.
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