Sunday, May 23, 2010

Prophecy, BibCrit & Philosophical Arguments for The Divine
R. Yoel Finkelman has proposed that though;

"Other nations may not have been present at Sinai, [God]...might, in some way, communicate with them".

He bases this on Moreh Nevukhim II:40 as inclusive of laws and statutes outside the Jewish canon as 'prophetic' for being true and reasoned, and spoken by an ethical and morally sound person. This is also proposed more forcefully by Nathanel Bar Fayummi in his Bustan al Ukul. Neither of them would deny, and both would most certainly affirm both Torah from Sinai and the utterly unique status of Moshe Rabbenu's nevuah among all other revelations (we do not discount the revelation received by other prophets before or after); “there never has been a Law and there never will be a Law except the one that is the Law of Moses our Master” (Guide II:39).

So far as I can tell, they are both unique in proposing some kind of status for non-Jewish prophecy, before, during and after the closure of the Biblical Canon. Here I hope to say something useful about the nature of these forms of prophecy and the implications for Jewish prophetic experience prior to and after Moshe. Regarding Neviut other than that of Moshe, R. Finkelman notes;

"The intellect allows them to apprehend truths at a higher level, while the imagination allows them to express those truths in a metaphorical or symbolic language that can inspire, educate, and motivate the masses".

This way describing nevuah generally is upheld by Abarbanel, [potentially] R. Hirsch, R. Kook and more recently R. Shlomo Fisher; it is not a recent, rationalistic formulation. R. Finkelman continues;

Yet, explains Rambam, different people in different times and places respond to different metaphors and images. Hence, all prophecy is focused on a particular time, place, and audience. This implies that there is something transitory about prophecy [aside from works entered into Nakh, which was 'closed' under nevuah?], a position that if applied to the Torah would be in violation of Rambam’s own ninth principle of faith. Hence, explains Rambam, Moshe prophesied only with his intellect; there was no imaginative element to his prophecy. Moshe’s prophecy – the very Torah given at Sinai – is eternal, and not time bound (Guide II:35-39; Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah 7:6). Only the Jewish people have been worthy of such an eternal and purely intellectual revelation, making their revelation unique and distinctive.

In some ways we already know this, as there are prophets mentioned in Tanakh, works mentioned in Tanakh - that are not in Tanakh - as their work was not of lasting import for the Jewish people (even, on occasion, works not necessarily deemed prophetic are accounted in Tanakh). But chew on these words; prophecy [aside from that which was transmitted to Moshe Rabbenu] is provisional, contingent, time-bound, and its transmission depends on the imaginative faculties of the receiver, by the will of God. This is heavy! It should reverberate with people who adamantly hold beliefs such that anything from God must itself be radically-non-contingent since God is - or that prophetic material is predictive or intended as an exhaustive account of temporal events and considered an exhaustive source of data about God - perennial, universal, "flawless" and in accord with human-accounted reason, without the 'taint' of human imagination (even if the prophecy of Moshe itself is described as mashal?...). Rambam and others have explicitly stated otherwise, claiming reason and imagination when at their most thoroughly integrated are prophetic. Rambam in R. Finkelman's primary source text;

I will, however, fully explain this to you, so that no doubt be left to you on this question, and that you may have a test by which you may distinguish between the guidance of human legislation, of the divine law, and of teachings stolen from prophets. As regards those who declare that the laws proclaimed by them are their own ideas, no further test is required: the confession of the defendant makes the evidence of the witness superfluous. I only wish to instruct you about laws which are proclaimed as prophetic. Some of these are truly prophetic, originating in divine inspiration, some are of non-prophetic character, and some, though prophetic originally, are the result of plagiarism. You will find that the sole object of certain laws, in accordance with the intention of their author, who well considered their effect, is to establish the good order of the state and its affairs, to free it from all mischief and wrong: these laws do not deal with philosophic problems, contain no teaching for the perfecting of our logical faculties, and are not concerned about the existence of sound or unsound opinions. Their sole object is to arrange, under all circumstances, the relations of men to each other, and to secure their well-being, in accordance with the view of the author of these laws. These laws are political, and their author belongs, as has been stated above, to the third class, viz., to those who only distinguish themselves by the perfection of their imaginative faculties.
You will also find laws which, in all their rules, aim, as the law just mentioned, at the improvement of the material interests of the people: but, besides, tend to improve the state of the faith of man, to create first correct notions of God, and of angels, and to lead then the people, by instruction and education, to an accurate knowledge of the Universe: this education comes from God; these laws are divine. The question which now remains to be settled is this: Is the person who proclaimed these laws the same perfect man that received them by prophetic inspiration, or a plagiarist, who has stolen these ideas from a true prophet? In order to be enabled to answer this question, we must examine the merits of the person, obtain an accurate account of his actions, and consider his character. The best test is the rejection, abstention, and contempt of bodily pleasures: for this is the first condition of men, and a fortiori of prophets: they must especially disregard pleasures of the sense of touch, which, according to Aristotle, is a disgrace to us: and, above all, restrain from the pollution of sensual intercourse.

There are fruits of reason and imagination that are technically in a category of prophetic, based on personal credentials that qualify one as a "prophet" but demand no direct communication from God - such works achieve a level prophecy.

I would like to suggest that if prophecy outside of the Jewish canon can be considered divine in the latter sense, "merely" for being true and reasoned and spoken by an ethical and morally sound person (no small thing by Rambam) - then it could follow that such a standard of prophecy could apply internally to certain events of Jewish Neviut as well - but being "Jewishly" rational, ethically and morally sound (and thus binding to "Israel"), according to specifically Jewish norms and standards.

Aside from comporting with current demands of "rationalism", and also almost an ancient theory of "emergence" within Judaism - it could have implications for claims of pre-Mosaic (and here), sources in Torah and post-Mosaic 'editing' of Torah (as accounted within our mesorah by midrashim and [others] and Bonfils [and others] respectively). If our mesorah is inclusive of such modes of Neviut, it could render mute certain challenging assumptions and/or conclusions of Biblical Criticism (though they may be in significant error on their own mortally-reasoned grounds for accepting it, it would be error of less pivotal detail). The nevuah of Ezra haSofer in "clarifying" the text could be this very sort of nevuah, and this could be what is indeed claimed by the sources offered by R. Halivni - his particular theories aside.

Following R. Kook's proposals (p. 3, source 6), about the evolution of even spiritual matters over time, if Judaism (which is to say the produce of the interaction betweeen Israel, Torah and Hashem's revelation ), evolved to a certain state, a certain form in it's isolation from covenantal texts, Torah text/oral Torah, perhaps the nevuah he received as an emissary of the Persian rulers was an 'intervention' to re-affirm and restablish oral/written Torah to be what and where it needed to be from that point on; Torah she b'Ktav had in a sense been set aside, existing but hidden in the world, even at times dispersed as texts of narratives and laws - but not as a singular, unified Divine presence and voice, outside of the dynamic relationship of the Jewish Trinity of Hashem-Torah-Israel; and it's place was of prime importance, being both the intermediate and cement of communal faith, communal access to God's Will and word to man about man.

The application of this "rational prophecy" assertion to our text of Torah doesn't seem to strongly contradict the doctrine that Moshe's initial prophecy and its fruits were unlike anyone before or after; "rational/ethical" prophecy applied to transmission of the physical text of Torah doesn't seem any more threatening than post-Mosaic Biblical prophecy in general. After Moshe's revelation, which was unique, Torah, the artifact itself was among the Jewish people - it was no longer in heaven, most certainly not when among the Jewish people, the people of history, who sinned, and sinned again; again, neither a peculiar or eccentric assertion.

Arguments made on behalf of the world of religious convictions, religious rubrics, which must be based on the works of religions to be considered valid - would ultimately be similarly contingent, similarly provisional as non-Mosaic prophecy - but still have a level on which they are considered "divine". On this level, irreconcilability can also not be presumed simply because of their disparate temporal settings.

See also in this vein my post "Sinai, Moshe Rabbenu and Revelation to [Members of] The Nations".


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