The Prophets

When people talk about the Hebrew Bible, they usually refer to the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.  The Law is, of course, the Torah or the Pentateuch.  The Prophets are the various Israelite prophets, the former and the later prophets.  While some prophets did not write things, others did.  Still others had people write things about them.  Thus, there is a mixed bag about Hebrew prophets.

What is a prophet?  Generally speaking, a prophet was someone who believed that a higher power had contacted them.  Thus, they became the intermediary between Yahweh, their God, and their fellow human beings.  Almost like angels, these humans delivered a divine message.  Quite often, the message itself that the prophet conveyed was called a prophecy.  Most cultures have so-called prophets, who promote a kind of change in behavior.

A lot of people think that these prophets can predict the future.  Some prophets were often known as seers, people who could tell the future.  The Hebrew prophets were moral teachers.  Some prophets may have had a role with the institutional Temple priests.  Many religious groups have had what are called prophetic priests.  They were usually associated with a specific holy shrine or holy place.  In modern day culture, the term prophet has showed up in both literature and music.

The Hebrew word navi, meaning spokesperson, has been traditionally translated as prophet.  Thus, the second subdivision of the Hebrew Bible, Tanakh, has been called the Nevi’im.  These navi was considered to be the mouth of Yahweh or God, since they were open to receive and transmit his divine wisdom.

Besides writing and speaking messages from God, these Israelite Nevi’im often acted out prophetic parables in their life.  They were not always praised.  Some were even considered bad or false prophets.  Thus, they were sometimes the target of persecution and opposition.

The term prophet had a wide meaning among the Israelites since it also included people like Abraham, Moses, and Miriam.  That is why some books that are sometimes called historical books are often called the early prophets.  They often spoke about Samuel, Nahum, Elijah, and Elisha.  Jewish traditions hold that there were 48 male prophets, and seven female prophets, Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther.  Others have recognized Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah as female prophets also.

The thoughts and oracles of the earlier prophets can be found in the works of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings.  Then there were the three dominant writing prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, whose works were composed by them or their followers.  Finally, there were the twelve minor written prophets lead by Hosea, Joel, Amos. Obadiah. Jonah. Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah.  The last three prophets mentioned in the Hebrew Bible were Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, all of whom lived in the 5th or 6th century BCE.  They are the last of the so-called minor prophets.  Thus, there is a wide range of written prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament.

The Hebrew prophetic dominant message was a return to Yahweh and his laws.  They were to protect the poor, the orphans, and the widows.  Justice and righteousness dominate in their messages.  Yahweh would judge them.  Although the Israelites were sinners, they would have a bright future if they turned from their evil ways to Yahweh.

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