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SIDIC Periodical XX - 1987/3
Jesus and the Prophets of Israel (Pages 13 19)

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Prophecy: Crisis and Change at End of Second Temple Period
Daniel Ben Rafael Stawsky


To make an in-depth study of the phenomenon of prophecy at the time of the birth of Christianity and the fall of the Second Temple, it is necessary to include a re-examination of its roots: (the disaster to the Temple brought in its train exile and dispersion for the people of Israel. important changes for an eastern and western world still in process of formation, and new forms of odyssey for the people of God).


What is a prophet? This is a question for which an answer must be found, primarily an etymological one. The original Hebrew word to describe such a person is nabi, corresponding to the passive singular of the infinitive lava (to come) and signi' fying to be drawn, to be brought' Prophecy, nevuah in Hebrew, would thus be an event The prophet is brought, drawn to his brothers and sisters in order to bring to them the word of the Lord and to exhort them to return to the law, to justice and to unity. He will also bring the signs of destruction or redemption, which are part of human behavior when confronted with the divine Plan, in order to draw them also to the word of the Lord.

Prophecy is Proximity to the Lord

Before being drawn to his brothers and sisters, however, the prophet is drawn to the divine word, to that spiritual proximity to the Lord without which prophecy could not exist. In the classic situation, the prophet forms the link between two living forces: the Creator (towards whom he has been drawn in order to receive his word and fulfil it) and creatures (towards whom he comes and to whom he brings that word). We find an example of this link in Abraham, the first of the biblical prophets, of whom it is said:
"... for he was a prophet, and he will pray for you, and you shall live" (Gen 20:7)2

This example shows clearly the way in which this type of prophet differs from other prophets: it is by his proximity to the Lord. In the -affirmation that Moses, who transmitted the revelation of the Law on Mt. Sinai, is the father of all the prophets, we find proof that prophecy is measured by the degree of proximity to the Lord his Creator which the prophet enjoys.

"And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face" (Deut 34:10).

When describing future prophecy in Israel. the biblical text says:
"The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren him you shall heed... I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him" (Deut 18:15, 18).

In this passage the link between the two forces, Creator Creatures, is strengthened and becomes an essential part of prophecy; but the manner of being drawn to the word and of bringing it to others differs in the case of each prophet. One must therefore ask in what way it :is possible to measure or to compare prophecies, their different levels and characteristics (inspiration, contemplation, visions. dreams, trances etc.). It must be reiterated that this can only be done in terms of the proximity of the prophet to the Source of prophetic contact, that is, the Lord, who himself establishes the differences:

"He (the Lord) said: 'Hear my words/ if there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream.
Not so with my servant Moses; he is entrusted with all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth clearly, and not in dark speech; and he beholds the form of the Lord" (Num 12:6-8).

It is this proximity to the Lord which differentiates Moses from other prophets belonging to the era of the First Temple, who also brought the divine word to the people. Because of it he could liberate the people; he could bring it from slavery in Egypt to the threshold of the promised land and conclude an eternal Covenant between the Lord and the people. He also received the revelation of the Torah, the cosmic Plan of the creator Lord, which he transmitted and taught to the people after coming down from Sinai.

Moses represents the most complete prophetic proximity to the Source, which makes him eternally present in the consciousness of his people. Challenging him, on the contrary, are the fa/se prophets who rise up and bring the people false divinemessages, making them lose their contact with the Lord. It is this which finally eradicates these prophets from the consciousness of the people and consigns them to oblivion.

Prophecy Depends on Historical Situations

Prophecy is neither a profession nor a liturgical act; it is clearly differentiated from the priesthood and often in the course of history the two powers are opposed to each other. Classical prophecy from the period of the First Temple, as it appears in the scriptures, is shown to arise at times of ethical-national crisis. It comprizes calls to conversion and invective, both being directed towards bringing about in its hearers the changes demanded by divine revelation. On account of this, prophecy is always dependent on objective historical situations which are inserted into the unfolding pattern of divine history, that is to say, the Plan of redemption and the return of creation to its Creator. When this movement regresses, or on the contrary, its rhythm accelerates, periods of crisis are produced. The Lord then transmits his message to prophets drawn towards his word and these are then brought to his people as bearers of the divine word.

This phenomenon will vary nevertheless according to the objective context in which the people of God finds itself. With the fall of the Second Temple and the dispersion of Israel, a change surfaced which finally interrupted the phenomenon of individual prophecy for two thousand years, replacing it by collective prophecy which is of no less importance.


"Moses said to him: /Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the !Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put his spirit upon them (Num 11:29).

After the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, prophecy of the type described above ceased to exist and gave way to a process of collective change. The divine light, like the word, no longer showed itself in an individual and vertical way to one of the sons of this people called to transmit it to other peoples. From then on it would accompany the nation of Israel dispersed in different places of exile, in a kind of collective inspiration, the conscious transmission of which would become the task of the great sages and masters of Israel.

From the moment the Temple disappeared. there remained no essential contact between the house of Israel and the Creator; and since the people lost its physical and spiritual sovereignty, the sending of individual prophets to put the people back on the right road, thus avoiding catastrophe. no longer made sense. What did count then, according to the descending-ascending process of the Plan of God for his people, was the transition to the collective inspiration of the sages of Israel. This transition had to prepare the people for its dispersion, then for its regrouping and gathering together. This process could be compared to that of the sowing of seed followed by the harvesting of the crop. This period would in fact last for close on two thousand years, until the return of the people of Israel to its own land.

Relationship between Prophecy and the Temple

Prophecy as it had been formerly, when the people of Israel was gathered together and maintained its national and spiritual sovereignty, does not reappear in fact until the people has found again its geographical-nationaP context and the activities pertaining to the Temple. This last fact is essential for an understanding of the relationship existing between the Lord and his people, between the Holy Spirit (Buell haKodesh) and the house of Israel, the Temple being the active and dynamic organ for these contacts. The sages of the Talmud were aware of a vital change which took place in the contact of the people with the Lord.

The Book of Lamentations, which weeps for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, says that the city has become "like a widow".

Rav Judah said, (the verse implies) blessing "as a widow', not a real widow, but a woman whose husband has gone to a country beyond the sea (fully) intending to return to her" (Taanith 20a).

Thus, at the moment when the instrument of contact with the Creator is broken and the people gone into exile, the Creator also "has gone into exile" The external manifestation of prophecy changes in keeping with the state of its depository: Israel changes according to whether it is in the land or far from it (almost without exception there is no prophecy outside its borders); it also depends on whether the Temple is still standing in Jerusalem or whether this divine instrument has been destroyed.

"Rabbi Abdimi from Haifa said: Since the day when the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from the prophets and given to the wise. Is then a wise man not also a prophet? What he meant was this. Although it has been taken from the prophets, it has not been taken from the wise. Amemar said: A wise man is even superior to a prophet, as it says, And a prophet has a heart of wisdom. Who is compared with whom? Is not the smaller compared with the greater? Abaye said: The proof (that prophecy has not been taken from the wise) is that a great man makes a statement, and the same is reported in the name of R. Akiba b. Joseph Said R. Ashi: What is there strange in this? Perhaps in this matter he was born under the same star. No, said R. Ashi; the proof is that a great man makes a statement and then it is found that the same rule was a halachah communicated to Moses at Mount Sinai. But perhaps the wise man was no better than a blind man groping his way through a window? And does he not give reasons (for his opinions)? R. Johanan said: Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children" (Baba Bathra 12a).

The Sages and Transmission of Prophecy

In the new historical situation which the people has reached, to affirm that a sage is worth more than an individual prophet implies a change of tactics. This is linked to the change in the objective situation of the people of God in relationship to its land, itself and its Creator. The sages of Yavneh were aware of this fact; they adopted the organized and decor/Wed transmission of the Law in order not to lose it and to regroup the lost and dispersed cells of the body, now torn away from Judea. In this they adopted a strategy different from that employed before the fall of the Temple (which had failed lamentably), that is to say, different from that which had consisted previously in amplifying the voice of the Lord in order to warn the separated cells of their alienation from the Law.

Prophecy thus continued after the destruction of the Temple and the accompanying catastrophe, but its modality had changed when the theological situation of the people of God was modified in relationship to itself and to the Creator, Thus prophecy did not end with Zechariah and Micah at the time of the fall of the Temple. but it became something different, the attitude of the people changing with the new direction taken by its odyssey.

As prophecy changed, manifesting itself in new ways, and being transmitted to the sages at Yavneh (which represented a vital change in the reception and transmission of prophecy), so the individual prophets converted themselves into sages and engaged in the transmission of the Law, adapting their prophetic activity to the new situation.

"Moses received the Law from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets.
And the prophets committed it to the men of the Great Synagogue (Avot 1:1).
"Rabbi Johanan said: He had it as a tradition deriving from Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi"
(HuIlin 137b).5

The strategic change in the transmission of the divine Law, passing from vertical prophecy (individual and linked to the Temple), to horizontal prophecy (collective, supra-geographical end popular), leads the people of Israel to take refuge in the Law, in the four walls of the interpretation of the Law. The Temple is there no longer; the national-geographical convergence no longer exists. the Holy Spirit is in exile far away from it. there is no longer any individual or vertical prophecy:
"Our Rabbis taught: `Since the death of the last prophets. Haggai, Zechariah and Malachai, the Holy Spirit (of prophetic inspiration) departed from Israel; yet they were still able to avail themselves of the Bath-kol. Once when the Rabbis were met in the upper chamber of Gurya's house at Jericho, a Bathkol was heard from Heaven, saying: there is one amongst you that is worthy that the Shechinah should rest on him as it did on Moses, but his generation did not merit it (Sanhedrin 11a).

But why was the existence of the Temple of the Lord essential to the dynamic and active contact of the people with the Spirit of Holiness? What relationship could there be between the working of the Temple and the prophetic phenomenon?

Collective-Practical and Dynamic Prophecy

If the creation of a national micro-organism within the organic body of humanity responds to the internal laws established by the Creator of the body himself, it is necessary to study this casino-biological constitution. In this way one will reach a knowledge of the visible historical inter-relationship between the micro-organism and the organic system in general, and between these two and He who has related them one to the other. An objective study, in other words, has to be made of the laws which regulate the dynamic of the relationship between the people of Israel, humanity and the Lord, in their differing developments and different stages.

The Energizing System Linked to the Temple

In this objective, cosmo-biological constitution, which is the Torah, the relationships Creatorcreation-creatures hold a major place because in the process of communication and redemption, active knowledge is concentrated in the laws of the Temple and their functioning. Thus it is necessary today to revitalize an in-depth study of the energizing system of the Temple and its influence on human-divine communication. The Bible and the esoteric texts are not alone in constantly stressing the importance of this system: the Talmud itself develops out of a recognition of this fact. The sages of Vavneh represent the Temple not only as a cultic object or a factor in national unity, but as the receptacle and instrument of the Energy of the Lord, that is to say, as that which enables communication with cosmic Light and the Center of radiation; as that which puts the Lord in contact with his people and, thanks to the role fulfilled by the latter in the Temple, with the whole of humanity.

The wisdom (or knowledge) of the Temple which imparted harmony to human relationships and the relationship between the human and divine, also included knowledge of the "Ineffable Name"' which the priests learnt to pronounce and meditate; it also implied "knowledge of the Lord". The "Unity of the Ineffable Name of the Lord" (a discipline studied in the Temple) implies a conscious communion of man with "divine unity". To know the Name is to know the Lord.

The unceasing revelation of divine unity, and communion with it and in it, is the highest degree of prophecy; (this is because all prophecy tends towards revelation and the luminous awareness of revelation, not only of the word of the Lord, but also of his unity and our communion with it; this prophecy ceases to be an individual phenomenon and becomes a national collective heritage and a universal aspiration towards life). When the Temple was functioning, the people of Israel were living and 'fulfilling prophecy in vital contact with the Creator and his laws.

The Trauma of the Destruction of the Temple

This contact ceased with the destruction of the Temple and wisdom (knowledge) of the Name came to an end and the Ineffable Name was exiled far from the people of Israel. Vertical and direct communication was broken by the fact of the dispersion of the people which had been the recipient of this communication until such time in the future when it would be gathered together again in its own land and the Temple of the Lord would be rebuilt.

Given the traumatic effect of such a rupture, we can try to understand the suffering for the entire people which accompanied this change, for the house of Israel felt like a "wife whose husband had gone on a journey to a far country"." Since then, the human-divine contact has taken an entirely different form, and those who worked to maintain the link were the sages of Vavneh and the other talmudic sages. They did this for close on eight hundred years during this new and painful stage in the life of the people of Israel which has been compared to the descent of Abraham and Joseph into Egypt for a temporary exile, or to the expulsion of the first man from the earthly paradise, thus attributing cosmic meaning and consequences to the catastrophe.

Collective prophetic Activity at the Service of the

Divine Plan

From that time gn the sages of Israel were occupied with the practical prophetic task of reconstruction, a task already announced by the Pentateuch and individual prophets.9 From the public manifestation of prophecy (first degree of the prophetic phenomenon), the entire body of the people of Israel passed to prophetic activity which consisted in bringing the divine Plan (revealed by individual prophecy to the rest of the body) to its fulfilment by a common act of reintegration. In this perspective, prophecy is presented as the light of the divine Plan revealed, active and established on earth in the daily life and activity of a people, by the mediation of the people of God.

In fact the Law (Torah, Bible), with the cosmic Plan of action which it proposes and the behavior it demands during this life, is in itself a prophetic revelation given to Moses on Sinai, and is also the foundation of all subsequent prophecy.

Over against the restricting and minimizing concept of prophecy seen as an individual voice announcing the divine word to the rest of humanity at certain key-moments in history, either in the form of invective and threats of chastizement, or of exhortation and promises of divine recompense, there is another vision. This is the broad and all-embracing vision of collective prophecy, inciting the whole of the organic body of Israel to work in harmony with the divine cosmic Plan of the Lord. Prophecy would not then be simply a voice in direct contact with the word of the Lord, announcing the divine Plan and the details connected with it, it would be the reception of that word and the dynamic of the objective which it reveals. This implies the active co-operation of all the cells of the body as it moves towards the conscious prophetic vision which is the desire already expressed by Moses;
"Would that all the Lord's people were prophets" (Num 11;29).


Individual prophets did, nonetheless, appear in times of crisis and change which preceded the destruction of the Second Temple.
Numerous prophets have appeared in Israel, but only the prophecies containing a lesson for future generations were written down; the others were not 10 (cf. Megillah 14a). The prophecies that were limited to that particular historical period in Israel, in essence repeating what had already been said by former prophets, were not preserved in writing, because they did not offer a teaching of practical value to future generations, one adapted to the vicissitudes the people would have to endure in the diaspora. The sages of Yavneh undertook this work and their teaching remains until today, summarized in the Talmud.

The prophetic phenomenon of Christianity was also born out of this historical rupture, which was the origin of two different visions of messianism and the messianic role in the process of redemption; this was followed by the further rupture between Judaism and Christianity.

Jesus and Paul

In the days which preceded the fall of the Temple, before Jewish prophecy had taken a new road, the prophetic nature of Jesus of Nazareth. born of the house of Judah and sent to the scattered house of Israel, was shown to be different both in objective and origin. Jesus had been brought up in a pharisaic mind-set and environment. He shared in the behavior and vital beliefs of the Pharisees which were accepted by the majority of Jews at that time, with the exception of the Sadducees and certain extremist sects such as the Essenes, the Zealots and the Apocalyptics, who represented the extreme manifestations of one or other tendancy in pharisaic teaching. One cannot understand the teaching of Jesus without this pharisaic underpinning, that is to say, in what concerns the resurrection of the dead (cf. T.B. Berakhot, Sanhedrin, Hagigah, etc.), the Messiah and the kingdom of God (cf. T.B. Avot as also the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah and Micah). the pride of place given to the commandment of love of neighbor (Lev 19:18: doctrinal basis for Hillel the Sage in the Talmuds of Babylon and Palestine)." All these elements are essential to the self-understanding of Christianity. The exhortations and the reproaches expressed by the voices of individual prophecy quoted in the Christian texts do not differ substantially from those preached by collective prophecy. Thus there was a similar manifestation by the sages of Israel who, in all their teaching. did not cease to denounce the political and moral corruption of their day.

Paul of Tarsus, living in an environment totally different from that of Jesus, calls himself a Pharisee, son of Pharisees (Acts 23:6). thus affirming his solidarity with rabbinic Judaism, the source which gave birth to Chnistiantiy.11 One must nevertheless take account of the tact that the parallels between the sources of rabbinic Judaism and those of Christianity are more frequent and of greater depth in the synoptic gospels than in either the gospel of John or the epistles. Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, one must add to that the multi-faceted influence of the Jewish sect of the Essenes on the later Christian interpretation of messianism, for example. and on the Christian approach to the scriptures and the prophetic texts.

Points Common to both Jewish and Christian Prophecy

All the normative texts and documents of Judaism, of the Mishnah or Midrash, as well as those of the minor sectarian currents in Judaism at the time, attest to the existence of a collective prophetic environment of a period in total crisis. which would see the destruction, the rupture, the exile and the dispersion of the people of Israel.

It is this fact, as well as the nature of revelation and of prophecy and of their importance for a people which fulfils prophecy in action by living in harmony with the code and the word of the Lord, (thus putting itself actively at the service of the divine-cosmic Plan of creation), which distinguishes the Jewish-Christian universe from the greco-western world, according to the following paradigms:
Jewish-Christian Universe Greek Universe
Revelation philosophical speculation
prophecy philosophy
consciousness doubt
certitude hypothesis

In original Jewish culture, as in Christian culture, revelation and consciousness of Unity lead to harmony in daily action, the end of which is redemption. At the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, it was the theological interpretation of this point which led to the rupture and to a new messianic concept.


The Sages of Israel and the Reconstruction of the Temple

The sages of Vavneh, who make possible the historical continuity of the revelation of the Lord and of his Plan, foresaw and predicted the catastrophe and the rupture; they began to prepare the people for its imminent historical destiny. But the entire people did not follow them; there existed other groups, other sects, other visions, other leaders. This brought about a confrontation between two types of prophecy: individual prophecy, that of protest, and prophecy through common organization by systematic study, the fulfilment of the Law and the rebuilding of the dispersed people.

At that moment the sages of Vavneh declared: the time for reproaches is past, it is now too late, the Temple has been destroyed and epic prophecy, that of invective, no longer has any meaning; the individual prophecies have been fulfilled with the destruction of the Temple and of the exile, both physical and metaphysical, of the people and of the Divinity. This was the moment when collective prophecy, positive and powerful of spirit, took over and formed the framework which, for many generations, would allow the scattered people of Israel to find its safeguard within the divine Law. This collective prophecy, organized for the whole house of Israel by the Pharisees and guided at that time by Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai, held good for two thousand years. It kept the people united to its law and, as an indubitable proof of success, led it back to its own land, thus closing a uniquely long and bitter experience.

The point of view held by the sages of Yavneh is clear: revealed Law should suffice for the people in order to fulfil prophecy (the revelation to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the Torah itself) and redeem the world. Faults and transgressions brought the counter-attack of reproaches and the arrival of prophets sent to the people to recall it to the Law.
"Rabbi Adda son of R. Hanina said: Had not Israel sinned (and had not the Temple been destroyed), only the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua would have been given them (and not the Prophets and the Writings) " (Nedarim 22b)

This signifies that other prophets would not have been necessary, given that revelation, active prophecy in general, was virtually sufficient to bring the universal divine Plan to its completion. Human deviations in the process of redemption have led to what is called in the last resort the history of Judaism, up till the moment of our return to the spiritual base of the God-given task, the land of Israel, where the universal process of redemption begins to stir once more.

After a millenium experience of different kinds of prophecy and contact between the Jewish people and its Creator, we now witness the renaissance of the two types of prophecy which confronted each other two thousand years ago on the same scene, but this time in an inverse movement: from scattering to gathering, from destruction to construction, from rupture to unity.

Return to the Land, Renewed Contact with Sources

With the return of the people of Israel to its land and renewed contact with its sources in the very center where these waters gather, a vital new area opens up to the consciousness of all humanity. It is a perspective which will give place to aprophecy aware of its Origin and our vital contact with this First Cause which created us and brought us back. Each human cell in the organic body of the world will become aware of his/her role in the general pattern of Creation, knowing how to respect the role of his neighbor and to appreciate that of other organs and members. It will also be in relationship, consciously and harmoniously. with the central Thought which orders and gives birth to the activity of the entire Body, establishing a dynamic contact between the Creator and his creation by the intermediary of his intelligent creatures. Such a process will include the Temple system and a luminous knowledge of the objective Law which regulates the entire Body. That would have to be the subject of a much deeper study and might be summarized in the affirmation of the millenium promised by the prophet Joel:
"And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit" (Joel 2:28-29).

"Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!"
(Num 11:29).

Daniel Ben Rafael Stawsky, born in Monte Video, now lives in Jerusalem. He is Director of the Medici reviews and is distinguished for his studies in the fields of Hebrew literature {MA ), Greek philosophy. comparative religions, Jewish tradition and oriental mystical teaching. Dr. Stawsky is also known for his poetry, having received the Fifth International Prize for Mystical Poetry in 1985 and his literary works both in Spanish and in Hebrew. This article is translated from the original Spanish.
1 - Editors' note: This is a popular etymology such as one finds in the Bible. For this reason it is difficult to translate into English the author's play on the root of the Spanish verb treer which can mean to bring. to lead, to draw or to attract.
2 - Biblical quotations in this article are taken from the Revised Standard Version.
3 - See Midrash Tanhuma, Ve Ha'a!otkha: pent 30; Is 27; 49-54; Ez 10: 36-37 and 40-45: Joel 3: Zech 8.
4 - Literally the breath of sanctity of the Lord, which is living in the midst of the people and comprizes direct contact and prophecy.
5 - In what concerns the activity of the prophets in the legal transmission of the Torah, compare with the text of Maimonides: Mishneh Torah, prologue to Safer Ha Mafia, which affirms: "Although the Oral Law had not been written down, Moses our Master taught it In its entirety in his tribunal to the seventy elders. And Eleazar Pinhas and Joshua son of Nun received it from Moses, Ezra and his tribunal received it from Baruch son of Neriah and from his tribunal. The members of the tribunal of Ezra are called the men of the Great Assembly that is to say: Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, Daniel and Ananiah, Miseal and Azariah, Nehemiah ..
and many sages with them, making one hundred and twenty elders. The last of them is Simeon the Just he was one of the one hundred and twenty and he received the Oral Law from all the others and he was high priest after Ezra."
6 - See the authors book: Revelation, Revolution y Rea&liOn, Spain 1985 and De La RevueIto De Sodom A La Revolution De Abney& Hebrew University Jerusalem, 1985, ch. 11. w,
7 - On the work of the priests concerning the arrangement and the meaning of the letters of the divine names, see T.B. Kiddushin 71a.
8 - See T.B. Ta'anit 20a and Baba Bathra 12a.
9 - Cf. note 5.
10 - See T.B. Baba Bathra 15a and Rash's commentary on this text.
11 - See T.B. Shabbat 31, Avot 1:12, 2:4, 3:14 and Midrash Etereshit Rabbah 24.
12 - Editors' note: From a Christian point of view, the primary source of Christianity is the Apostles' experience of faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, an experience which was re-read in the context of the different currents of Jewish thought at that time, the Pharisaic being undoubtedly the most important.


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