Did Prophecy Cease? Evaluating a Reevaluation. by Journal of Biblical Literature

Book Review : Did Prophecy Cease? Evaluating a Reevaluation.

By Journal of Biblical Literature

  • Publication Date: 1996-03-22
  • Genre: Language Arts & Disciplines

Book Review

Many modern scholars have asserted that Israelite prophecy underwent a decline and ultimately ceased sometime after the Babylonian exile. (1) These scholars echo a view that, they claim, appears in Jewish texts of the Second Temple and early rabbinic eras. Other scholars have challenged this thesis. Already in 1946, Ephraim Urbach collected evidence of the vitality of prophecy in the Second Temple and rabbinic periods, and more recently scholars such as David Aune, Thomas Overholt, and Frederick Greenspahn have argued that prophecy continued after its supposed demise. (2) Further, Greenspahn questions whether Second Temple and rabbinic texts themselves claim that prophecy ceased. These scholars force us to attend to relevant texts that were not fully explored earlier. They remind us of the difference between assertions in some ancient texts that prophecy had ended and the accuracy of those assertions. (3) They also encourage a precise definition of the question at hand. When we ask whether Israelite prophecy declined, we need not wonder whether some people after the exile claimed that God had spoken to them; from the time of the exile to the present day some individuals have made that claim. Further, we do not mean, Did YHWH stop communicating with Jews in the manner he had previously used? Rather, historians need to investigate attitudes or perceptions among postexilic Jews. The question to be posed is: Did Jews in the Second Temple period tend to accept the possibility that God still communicated with the Jewish people by speaking directly to certain individuals? (4) I think the answer to this question must be negative; the work of scholars such as Urbach, Aune, Overholt, and Greenspahn does not suffice to dislodge the view that Jews in the Second Temple period viewed prophecy as having ceased. In order to defend the earlier consensus, I intend to address three questions in light of the more recent work. First, do ancient texts themselves assert that prophecy declined? Second, how can we explain the evidence gathered by these scholars in their attempt to show that prophecy did not decline? Third, why did Jews during the Second Temple period stop believing in the continued existence of prophecy?

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