What is the Prophecy?
A prophecy is a message that a person (usually a prophet) claims was given to them by a deity. Inspiration, interpretation of dreams, or revelation of divine will (divine knowledge) concerning the prophet’s current reality and/or a preternatural knowledge of events to occur in the future are common features of such communications.
In religion, Prophecy is a divinely inspired revelation or its interpretation. A prophecy is a message revealed to a person, especially prophets, by some supernatural being such as angels or even God himself. Prophecies are most common in Christianity and Judaism, but they have been found in other ancient and modern religions worldwide.
Prophecies usually convey a divine will or law or some preternatural knowledge of future events. Prophecies can be revealed in the form of visions or divination. There are some stories in which the divine being appears in a physical form in front of a human and communicates the prophecy. There are various such stories in religious texts and have also been passed down through generations in the form of oral tradition.
‘Prophecy’ or ‘function of a prophet’ appeared for the first time as a noun in the Old French form ‘profecie’ around the 12th century. It derives from the Greek ‘prophetic,’ meaning the gift of interpreting the will of God, and ‘prophetes,’ meaning prophet.
A prophet refers to a person who believes that God has sent them to convey a message to humanity in narrow terms. In a sense, they work as the mouthpiece of God. But in broader terms, anyone who has visions or dreams about the future in a specifically liturgical or mystical sense can be said to be a prophet.
One of the primary characteristics of a person’s ability to prophesize is that their prophetic self-consciousness is an awareness of a call by a higher entity. A prophet’s calling is considered the cornerstone for the legitimization of a prophet. For example, the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah received such a calling when he had a vision in which God told him that he was chosen to be a prophet even before he was born.
Prophets were often assembled into guilds, where they received training to cultivate their gift of prophecy. Prophet masters led these guilds, and the other members wore specific garbs to distinguish themselves.
Types of Prophecies
Inspired & Acquired Prophecies
Prophecies can essentially be of two types: they can either be inspired or acquired. Inspired prophecies are those revealed by visions, while acquired prophecies are learned through technique and practice by the prophets.
Prophetic techniques aim at reaching an ecstatic state where the prophets can accept revelations. Then, the ecstatic prophet is said to be filled with a divine spirit, and the spirit speaks through them. Prophets achieved such euphoric states through dancing, music, and in extreme forms, through self-laceration. Prophets who used such ecstatic techniques were often considered “possessed” and sometimes called madmen.
Other Kinds Of Prophecies
Prophecies can also be classified based on their inspirations, behavior, and office. The prophecies given by oracles, seers, soothsayers, etc., can be categorized within divinatory prophecies where the prophets predict future events through dreams, clairvoyance, telepathy, or visions in a frenzied state.
Another category is the prophecies given by institutional prophets. Institutional prophets were priest-prophets who were part of a sanctuary and under the mandate of a cult. There are also prophecies given by missionary or apostolic prophets who often acquire disciples and teach or reveal some new or true religions. Some common examples are Zarathustra, Jesus, and Prophet Muhammad.
There are also reformative or revolutionary prophecies generally associated with some form of purification—for example, Amos and Jeremiah in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. Revolutionary or reformative prophets believe that they can look into the past and the future and work towards reforming religion and society and purifying them from the evils plaguing them.
Prophecy In Various Religions
Prophecy In Christianity
Biblical prophecies are the most popularly known stories of prophecies. Biblical prophecies include the prophecies given in the passages of the Bible that claim to convey messages from God to humankind through several prophets. Christians and Jews believe that biblical prophets have received the revelations from God himself.
Biblical prophecies often include predictions of natural disasters, the coming of a Messiah, the future of Israel, the establishment of a Messianic kingdom, the Second Coming, and the final destiny of humanity. While Christians believe that Christ has fulfilled these messianic prophecies, followers of Rabbinic Judaism still await the coming of a Jewish messiah.
Prophecy In Islam
Nubu’ah, the Arabic term for prophecy, comes from the word nabi, meaning announcement. Therefore, Nabis are law bringers; God sent them to the Muslims, bringing his message in a language that ordinary people can understand. Rasuls are those prophets who bring divine revelations specifically through angels.
The Quran contains several verses which predict future events, similar to the Bible. In Islam, belief in the prophets is considered one of the six articles, or core beliefs, of the Islamic faith. Muslims believe Adam to be the first prophet in addition to the first human being. Various prophetic revelations by Jewish and Christian prophets are also mentioned in the Quran, as the three religions share a common history.
Prophecy In Judaism
According to Jewish thought, authentic ‘nevuah’ (Hebrew for prophecy) vanished from the human world after the demolition of Solomon’s Temple or the first Jerusalem Temple. In the Torah, prophecies are often composed of conditional warnings by God about the consequences humans would face if they do not comply with the instructions laid down in the Torah. Some prophecies promised blessings from God if people obeyed him properly.
The medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher Maimonides theorized that prophecies could be of different levels: the highest levels of prophecy are those experienced by figures like Moses. In contrast, the lowest level includes individuals who can comprehend the Divine Will but not necessarily teach or convey it to others. Maimonides gave the example of Noah for the second category.
Prophecy & Poetry
The ancient Greeks believed poetry, prediction, and prophecy to be interlinked. Prophecies were said to be revealed in verse. Poets were called ‘Vates’ in Latin, which meant prophet. Moreover, both prophets or oracles and poets claimed that their source of inspiration lay outside themselves.
It was believed that poetry came to a poet due to divine inspiration, and poets and even dramatists often invoked the Muses at the beginning of their literary works to inspire them to write good verses.