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CHAPTER IV THE PROPHET. A CITIZEN WITH A MESSAGE WHAT manner of man was the prophet outwardly? What do we know concerning his personal appearance and the external insignia of his office and the visible
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CHAPTER IV THE PROPHET. A CITIZEN WITH A MESSAGE WHAT manner of man was the prophet outwardly? What do we know concerning his personal appearance and the external insignia of his office and the visible life he lived among his fellow-citizens? In answer to these questions we will discuss mainly three topics: first, the outward presentment of the prophets; second, their communal organizations; third, the so-called prophetic order. There is no reason why one s conclusions on these topics should be greatly affected by the critical position he occupies. In regard to the external history of the prophets, as we ran it over in the last chapter, the men of the Modern View differ widely with the older scholars; though even here the difference is less over the question what the scriptures say than over the question how far what they say is to be believed. But in the matter of the outward phenomena presented by the prophets there is less room for difference. The prominent characteristics are the same at all dates in the history, however the prophets of the different periods may differ in matters of detail. This fact the scholars of the Modern View might account for by regarding all the scriptural pictures of the prophet as late; but however one accounts for it, it is a fact. Owing to it, our conclusions on these points depend much less than in some other cases on 66 THE PROPHET. A CITIZEN WITH A MESSAGE 67 our opinions as to the dates of the writings. Some of the views presented in this chapter are unlike those that have been commonly held; but the differences are not along the lines of the controversy between the Modern View and the older views. I. This preliminary being disposed of, we proceed to inquire as to the external appearance of the prophet of Israel. In centuries past Christian people have been accustomed to think of him as though he were a Christian priest or monk. Painters have painted his picture with this idea in mind. In Christian art a prophet is hardly more or less than an ecclesiastic, barefoot, with a robe and a tonsure and a general air of unearthliness. This is a miracle equal to that by which art has transformed the angels of the bible, who are always either young men or old men, into stocking-less winged women. Far be it from me to make criticism upon this as art; I only remark that art isn t history. With this idea of an ecclesiastical personage has been combined that of a revealer of hidden things. Certain lines of the picture have been modeled upon the medieval astrologer, or the priest of a Greek oracle, as if the prophet were a weird, mysterious being who sits on a tripod in a cave, and gives other-world advice to such frightened souls as come to him. Or one starts with the assumption that religion is developing from lower forms to higher, and that the earlier Hebrew prophets must have started at a pretty low degree. So he comes to the study of them with a mind preoccupied with African fetich-men, or voodoo practitioners, or American Indian medicine men. Looking through glasses of this color, he may see in Samuel s 68 THE PROPHETS OF ISRAEL companies of prophets little else than medicine dances and powwow circles. Or, taking his cue from the notion that the Orient never changes, that what now exists there is what always existed there, one may imagine the prophetic companies as bands of whirling dervishes. Evidently we are in danger of being misled both by our preconceived notions and by our love of the picturesque, and we therefore especially need to be on our guard, attending with care to the evidence in the case. Let us do this. Let us examine what information we have, and base our pictures of the prophets upon that, instead of first forming our ideas concerning the prophets, and then manipulating the information to make it conform to the ideas. A particularly significant thing in the biblical accounts is the absence of phenomena of this unearthly sort among the prophets as a class. On certain occasions particular prophets practiced austerities for purposes of symbolical teaching. But ordinarily Moses or Samuel or Isaiah or David or Nathan or Daniel appear as men among men, citizens among citizens, and not at all like the frenzied seers or oracle priests of the heathen religions. To this even Ezekiel is not wholly an exception, though he comes near enough to it to be quite in contrast with the other prophets. An average Old Testament prophet is not weird or mysterious. He is not a recluse, but an active citizen. He is not picturesque through eccentric personal appearance or habits. Elijah, indeed, was a man of unusual personal appearance (2 Ki. i. 7-8), and for a time led the life of a recluse, but he is presented to us as being peculiar in these respects. He is as different from other prophets as he is from citizens of any THE PROPHET. A CITIZEN WITH A MESSAGE 69 other class. We make a serious mistake if we count him as typical, instead of counting him the exceptional instance he purports to be. The books of reference tell us that the prophets wore a distinctive costume. In proof they cite what is said in Zechariah (xiii. 2-6) concerning certain prophets associated with idols, who wear a hairy mantle to deceive. It is inferred that Jehovah s prophets were accustomed to wear a hairy mantle, and that these frauds adopted the usual prophetic garb, to give color to their pretences. It would be exactly as logical to infer that they adopted an unusual garb in order to attract attention. Further, the hairy mantle is here one of two devices by which these idol prophets made themselves conspicuous. The other was by cuts on their bodies. And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds between thy hands? And he shall say, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends (Zech. xiii. 6). The cuts on the body are here on the same footing with the hairy mantle. Clearly, the writer had no intention of saying that either was a part of the regulation uniform of the prophets of Yahaweh. Further, they cite the hairy mantle worn by Elijah and inherited by Elisha, and in connection with this they mention the hairy garment worn by John the Baptist. But you will remember that when King Ahaziah s messengers reported to him that the man who had met them wore a hairy garment, he at once knew that the man was Elijah (2 Ki. i. 8). Elijah s mantle distinguished him from all other prophets, as well as from citizens who were not prophets. This clearly shows that the prophets in general did not wear the hairy mantle as a uniform. 70 THE PROPHETS OF ISRAEL They cite also the statement that Isaiah once upon a time wore sackcloth, and put it off, going naked and barefoot (xx. 2). But Isaiah s wearing sackcloth exceptionally is no proof that all the prophets wore a uniform regularly. No more can the same inference be drawn from Samuel s being covered with a robe when the witch of Endor called him up. The word me il is employed alike in describing the dress of kings and priests and private citizens and boys and girls. This is all the testimony that is cited for the existence of a distinctive prophetic costume. Evidently it has very little weight. And there are strong considerations on the other side. In the story that tells us how Saul and his servant sought the asses and found a kingdom (1 Sam. ix), we are informed that they met Samuel in the gate of the city, and asked him to tell them where the seer s house was (ver. 18). It is evident that there was nothing in his garb to indicate that he was himself the seer. But he was at that moment on his way to a public solemnity, and in those circumstances, if ever, he would have been officially attired. We have an account of a prophet who rebuked Ahab for suffering Benhadad to escape (1 Ki. xx. 38, 41). He disguised himself by pulling his headband over his face. The king knew him when he removed the headband. The king knew him by his face, and not by his costume. Similar statements would apply to the prophet who anointed Jehu for king (2 Ki. ix. 11). There is no sacred uniform to tell Jehu and his friends who the mad fellow is. These are representative instances, and they seem to be decisive. The cases cited to prove the existence of a regulation prophetic costume are clearly exceptional, and, therefore, prove the contrary, so far as they prove THE PROPHET. A CITIZEN WITH A MESSAGE 71 anything. No article of prophetic apparel is ever spoken of as distinctive of the class. There is no trace of a special costume by which prophets were distinguished from men who were not prophets. Religious art has given to the prophet a monkish robe and tonsure; so far as the Old Testament accounts go, sober truth should give him the usual dress of a citizen of his time and nation. If we should picture him as wearing a sack coat and a Derby hat in the forenoon and a dress suit in the evening, our picture would be no more anachronistic than that of current art, and would be far truer in spirit. Some one may rejoin that the Old Testament evidence in the case is negative rather than positive, and that we must still infer, from the analogy of other religions, that the Israelitish prophets had a peculiar dress of their own. Medicine men and fetich-men, the prophets of savage religions, trick themselves out in grotesque dress. In higher civilizations the prophet makes himself impressive by the garb that indicates his profession. Is it possible that the prophets of Israel were an exception? In reply to this, I should deny that the Old Testament evidence is a mere argument from silence. It seems to me positive and distinct. But if any one thinks otherwise, I should not take the trouble to argue the case with him. At all events, the biblical writers leave the question of a prophetic dress in the background. They describe in detail the costume of their priests, but not that of their prophets. The writers of other peoples make much of the garb of the men through whom they consult the unseen world; not so the writers of Israel. With them the man is everything, and his dress nothing. The record is, therefore, unique at this point, whether 72 THE PROPHETS OF ISRAEL the fact recorded be unique or not. Why should we not hold that both are unique? Israel as existing today is unique. Jesus Christ, of the stock of Israel, is unique. These are unique, whether we look at them from the evangelical point of view or from the agnostic point of view. Unique results probably had unique antecedents. We should not be surprised if we find the uniqueness extending to many matters of detail. The fact that the biblical account of the prophets makes them in any particular different from the prophets of other religions is no argument against the truth of the account; for we ought to expect to find that they were different. Some of the books of reference affirm that the prophets were addicted to habits of religious frenzy. In proof is given an alleged derivation of the word nabha, from nabhă, to boil up. But the derivation is at the strongest merely a conjecture; and it would not prove the point even if it were known to be correct. Worldly men are twice spoken of as calling the prophets mad that is, crazy. Shemaiah the Nehelamite wrote to the officials at Jerusalem, asking them why they had not rebuked Jeremiah, under the provision for putting in the stocks and in shackles any man that is crazed, and maketh himself a prophet (Jer. xxix ). This epithet, we learn from the context, was not called forth by crazy conduct on the part of Jeremiah, but by his writing a particularly sane letter to the exiles in Babylonia. The prophet who came to anoint Jehu, a quiet, secret errand, is called by Jehu s brother officers a crazed fellow (2 Ki. ix. 11). There is no trace of raving in either case. Worldly men called the prophets crazy, just as worldly men to-day call earnest preachers crazy. THE PROPHET. A CITIZEN WITH A MESSAGE 73 In one place a prophet speaks of the prophets as crazy. Hosea says: The prophet is a fool, the man that hath the spirit is crazed, for the multitude of thine iniquity, and because the enmity is great (ix. 7). Here, clearly, he represents himself and other prophets as distracted under the strain of current evil; but he does not attribute frenzied utterance to himself or to them. In one instance it is said that the evil spirit came upon King Saul, and he prophesied (1 Sam. xviii. 10). David played before him as usual, and he attempted to kill David. Doubtless this was an attack of mania, but it does not follow that Saul s raving is called prophesying. It is quite as easy to think that Saul talked on religious subjects, and that this was a characteristic symptom of his fits of insanity; in other words, that Saul s utterances are here called prophesying not because they were crazy, but because they were religious. In the account of Saul s pursuing David to Naioth in Ramah (1 Sam. xix ) we have a similar connection between religious utterance on the part of Saul and the insane attacks to which he was subject. Excited by his rage against David and the disobedience of his messengers, and afterward by the prophesying as he heard it, he himself prophesied, And he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he also stripped off his clothes, and he also prophesied before Samuel, and fell down naked all that day and all that night. Apparently Saul, in his prophesying, conducted himself in an insane and indecorous manner. But it does not 74 THE PROPHETS OF ISRAEL appear that any one else did so; nor that Saul s conduct is called prophesying because of the craziness of it. We have an account (I Sam. x. 5-13) of the company of prophets that Saul met when he was first anointed king. A band of prophets coming down from the highplace, with psaltery and timbrel and pipe and harp before them and they shall be prophesying; and the spirit of Yahaweh will come mightily upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man. We need not necessarily figure this as a company of dancing dervishes. It may equally well be a band of serious men, holding an outdoor religious meeting, with a procession and music and public speeches. In all the instances of this kind the alleged prophetic frenzy is a matter of interpretation, and not of direct statement. If one comes to the passages with the idea that frenzied utterance lies at the root of the original notion of prophesying, he may find in the passages the outcropping of this underlying notion in the word; but he will hardly find it without such assistance. This being the case, the passages should certainly be interpreted in the light of the habitual sanity that marks the conduct and the utterances of the prophets. The idea that Saul s attacks of mania made him very religious in his utterances is in accord with facts with which we are familiar. The idea that the prophets preached in the open air, attracting attention by means of a procession and a band, has in it no element of absurdity. If one starts by assuming that the prophet developed from a medicine-man or a voodoo-man or a fetich-man, or that the prophet is of a piece with a Greek oracle priest, drunk with vapor, one may be able to stretch these texts so as to make them fit his assumption; but that is not their natural meaning. THE PROPHET. A CITIZEN WITH A MESSAGE 75 In short, the inference that the prophets were characterized by frenzy is baseless. The statement that Jeremiah was crazy is recorded as a slander, and not as a fact. Religious talking was a symptom in Saul s periods of insanity. The prophets held religious meetings under the excitement of which Saul conducted himself strangely. But there is no proof that the prophets acted like crazy men. In one personal peculiarity the prophets are represented to have been remarkable, their longevity. As a class, judging from the biographical notices we have, they were unusually long-lived men. To say nothing of the patriarchs, Moses died at the age of one hundred and twenty years, being till then vigorous (Deut. xxxi. 2, xxxiv. 7). This is riot to be explained by saying that the term of human life has diminished since then. According to the priestly laws in Leviticus (xxvii. 3, 7, etc.) the age of manly vigor was then from twenty to sixty years. Caleb regarded it as exceptional that he was still a warrior at eighty-five (Josh. xiv ; cf Ps. xc. 10). Moses had his successors in longevity. Joshua reached the age of one hundred and ten years. (Josh. xxiv. 29; Jud. ii. 8). Jehoiada, the prophetically gifted highpriest, lived to be one hundred and thirty years old (2 Chron. xxiv. 15). The public career of Elisha extended through not less than sixty years, and that of Isaiah was yet longer, and that of Daniel about seventy years. The list might be extended. In a general way art has good ground for its habit of picturing a prophet as old and venerable; though it happens that in many particular instances art has given gray hairs to a prophet who should have been pictured as a young man. So much for the prophets as they presented themselves 76 THE PROPHETS OF ISRAEL to the eyes of their contemporaries. save in special instances we are to think of their personal appearance as simply that of respectable citizens. II. Similar results await us as we turn to a second topic, the arrangements for the communal organizations of the prophets. Of these we know but little, save what lies on the surface of the biblical texts. It will help to a clear understanding of what is said concerning these organizations if we begin by fixing firmly in our minds the fact that they are mentioned in connection with two periods, the time of Samuel and the time of Elijah and Elisha. Nothing is said concerning them in the history of the other periods, the mention of a son of a prophet in Amos (vii. 14) being properly no exception to this statement. In the King James version the phrase company of prophets occurs in two connections, suggesting that the prophets were organized and operated in companies. The verbal statement of this fact vanishes when we examine the Hebrew; but the fact itself remains, based on inference. The account of it is given mainly in two passages. The first of the two passages is the one cited above, in which we are told of Saul s meeting the prophets after Samuel had anointed him (1 Sam. x. 5 13). Saul met what the old version calls a company, and the new version a band of prophets. A string of prophets would be an exact rendering in vernacular English, that is, a procession. They had a band of music before them, stringed instruments and drum and fife. They were prophesying. After meeting them Saul joined them in prophesying, the spirit of God coming mightily upon him. The change in him was so THE PROPHET. A CITIZEN WITH A MESSAGE 77 remarkable that people noticed it, and asked; Is Saul also among the prophets? I have already indicated the opinion that we have here an account of outdoor religious services, differing, of course, from anything that could occur in our time, as that time differed from ours in everything, and yet properly analogous to such services as might now be held by a corps of the Salvation Army, or by the Young Men s Christian Association. The remarks that are represented to have been made by the people imply that they were familiar with such services by the prophets. They recognized the fact that Saul belonged to a worldly-minded family, not given to participating in evangelistic meetings. And whether you admit the correctness of these analogies or not, at least such movements as are here described must have had behind them some form of organization, looser or more compact. The other passage in question has also been cited above, the one that describes Saul s pursuit of David to Naioth in Ramah (1 Sam. xix ). It is said of Saul s messengers that They saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them. The word h
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