Spinoza, Prophecy, and a Cry for Help!

      6 Comments on Spinoza, Prophecy, and a Cry for Help!

So I'm reading Spinoza, or at least the first fifteen pages of the Theologico-Political Treatise, and I've already come upon a question. What is prophecy?

I don't mean the everyday, casual sense of the word, where Omni has an article about who will win the 2050 Solar System Series, or when the Earth is going to fall into the sun. I mean the theological sense. What makes, for instance, the book of Amos prophecy? Most of it is not foretelling; in fact, much (most?) of the writings of the Prophets in the Hebrew Scripture is exhortation, instruction and description. So what is a good working definition of Scriptural Prophecy? Until I get that, I can't really tell whether the bit I initially thought was a provocative idea is actually a crazy misrepresentation.

Anyway, if you have a definition, or a stab at one, let me know, if possible, before you look at the above link to see Spinoza's. Thank you,

6 thoughts on “Spinoza, Prophecy, and a Cry for Help!

  1. irilyth

    Seems to me that the the hallmark of the Neviim style prophets is that they speak to the people on behalf of the Lord, bringing a message of some sort.

  2. Vardibidian

    Hmph. Some help you guys are.

    OK, I didn’t get an answer from you, or from the Lord, so Your Humble Blogger did the next best thing. And my mother says…

    Seriously, my mother did come up, not with answers, but with more questions, which is even better. Why is Jonah not a prophet? Abraham is referred to as a prophet only once; and not in connection with any actual prophecy. Aaron is Moses’ prophet, what does that mean?

    In Jeremiah (5:31), the “prophets prophesy falsely”: can they do that? In fact, when prophesy (the verb) is used, people are generally prophesying falsely, or else prophesying “against” something.

    As for the noun prophecy (Nivo’ah), it only appears three times in Scripture (and not in obvious places). I can’t figure out from that what it should mean.

    More help, please,

  3. Nao

    I asked my mother about this, as she has been doing a whole bunch of Biblical study of late, and discusses such matters with her sister who is getting her PhD at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

    Anyway, my mother says that a prophet’s function was not so much to tell the future as to act as a messenger from God. A prophet might tell the future to say what would happen if people didn’t mend their ways. A prophet’s actions were supposed to be inspired by God, too–hence the anointing of kings.

    She says there seem to be two general kinds of prophecy:

    1. ecstatic prophecy in an altered state. (Rather like the oracle at Delphi)

    2. poetry, which was seen as being a sign of God’s inspiration.

    There you have another view; I hope it’s some help.

  4. Vardibidian

    I think it does. I think.

    Spinoza, broadly speaking, seems to be leading up to a rejection of the difference between “inspiration” and creativity generally. I’m not sure, but that’s where he seems to be heading. That means that a definition of prophecy which relies on inspiration would pretty much put the kibosh on Spinoza (on this specific topic). And I tend to go with that, and am feeling pretty bad for Spinoza, for now. He could make a come-back, though. I’ll try to keep posting about it.


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