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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Prophecy

While the phenomenon of prophecy is mentioned in various texts, most notably in the Report of Wen Amun from the eleventh century B.C.E., the Hittite Prayer of Mursilis II from the fourteenth century B.C.E, the Annals of Ashurbanipal from the seventh century B.C.E., the inscription of Zakkur from the eighth century B.C.E., and various letters from Mari, relatively few literary texts may be taken as prophetic in the same manner as biblical prophecies.

The Admonitions of Ipu-wer from Egypt, for instance, has been regarded as a prophecy because of its social critique. The text reflects a concern that order was being threatened, as the nation was being torn asunder by civil strife and injustice was prevalent. But there is no claim in the text that the author was speaking by divine constraint. The gods do not speak through a prophet in these Admonitions; in fact, they do not intervene in any way.

The Prophecy of Neferti from Egypt is also commonly regarded as a prophetic text, but it is probably to be regarded as a propagandistic piece for Amenemhet I of Dynasty XII, usurper of the throne. The account is set in the time of Pharaoh Snefru of Dynasty IV. Seeking to be entertained, the Pharaoh summoned the sage Neferti to speak of the future. The sage then proceeded to prophesy a series of disasters in the land which would come to an end only through the action of “Ameny” (i.e., Amenemhet I). The text is thus a “prophecy after the event” composed in the reign of Amenemhet to support the disputed claims of the king.

The function of this text is analogous to one from Mesopotamia dated to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I in the twelfth century B.C.E. Written in the first person as a speech of Marduk to other gods, this Akkadian text speaks of Marduk's sojourn in Hatti, Assyria, and Elam, and “predicts” the rise of the new king in Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar I) who would return the cult statue of Marduk, restore the cult, and usher in a period of prosperity. This text, as well as the “Shulgi Prophecy” and “Uruk Prophecy” may be called prophecies only if one includes in one's definition of prophecy no necessary role for an intermediary through whom the inspired word is spoken.

Clear examples of prophetic texts are extant, however. A singular tablet preserves a collection of Akkadian oracles given in the name of the goddess Ishtar of Arbela to King Esarhaddon delivered through intermediaries. Each section of the tablet concludes with an identification formula: “from the mouth of So-and-So, the son/daughter of So-and-So of such and such a city.” The prophets or prophetesses are specifically named to indicate their responsibilities for the words. There are no indications of the original settings for these prophecies, although the number of prophecies in favor of the king may indicate some connections with the royal court. Typically the oracle includes a “Fear Not” call to the king, which is followed by a command to wait for deliverance, an assurance of divine accompaniment, and a promise of victory over enemies.

Commonly associated with this collection of prophecies is another collection of sayings identified as “the word of Ishtar of Arbela to Esarhaddon king of Assyria.” No mention is made of intermediaries, however, and elements in the collection suggest that these texts may have other, perhaps cultic, functions.

Yet another collection contains three oracles from the goddess Ninlil to Ashurbanipal with the repetition of the “Fear Not” assurance. An intermediary, called a raggintu (“proclaimer”) is identified.

From the first half of the second millennium come Divine Revelations in a series of letters from Mari. These are reports of prophetic proclamations mainly to kings in the temple of Mari and elsewhere made on the basis of dreams, visions, auditions, and ecstatic activities. The content of the prophecies include prediction of military successes, admonitions concerning care of the sanctuaries, advice and warning about order in the society. In these letters, the intermediaries are variously called muhhu/muhhūtu (“ecstatic”), āpilu/āpiltu (“answerer”), and the unknown designation assinnu/assinnatu, although a few of the intermediaries are without titles. These intermediaries all speak in the first person under the constraint of the deity. Responsibility for the prophecies is indicated symbolically by the delivery of a lock of hair of the speaker and a piece of the hem from his or her garment.

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