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this prophet thing

PostPosted: Sun Feb 04, 2018 8:21 pm
by manfred
The Hebrew prophets were for the most part preachers who tried to persuade people to remember their religion and culture often with very strong words.

They have inspired many people in later days, and some through the ages have claimed they too are prophets. Many of these prophets brought a lot of suffering into the world.

The purpose of this thread is to collect together the stories of some such characters, to identify common factors, and to distinguish them from the other type of prophet biblical texts tell us about.

I hope people will in time add their own summaries of the lives of some of those "prophets".

I start with two. Both lived at the same time, but had never met, and both lives were quite similar.

The first is German, known as Nicholas of Cologne. He was a simple farmer's son, and at the time (around 1200) perhaps 18 years old, He went to Cologne as a wandering preacher, trying to get people to follow him to Jerusalem, where he said upon his arrival the Muslim rulers would hear him preach and convert to Christianity, provided enough people would follow him and obey him. He gathered a quite large group of followers, mostly children, but also other generally poor people, and they set off. His attempt to cross the Alps without the right clothing and preparation resulted in 2/3 of them dying, but the rest made it to Genoa. There Nicholas had prophecised, God would part the sea to allow him and his followers through. When neither the sea nor God obliged, people lost faith in him and he had to flee for his life. He went to Pisa and the to Rome, and asked the pope to help him to get a new group of followers. The pope told him no, and ordered him to go home to his family. He tried, by he died crossing the Alps a second time.

The second is Stephan de Cloyes. Also a young man, with pretty much the same message. Obey me and follow me and I will take you to Jerusalem which will become our home, and the Muslims will become Christians. God has spoken to me and has promised me this. So follow and God will reward you. He gathered some 3000 followers, mostly kids. Because he started from just outside Paris, he set of for Marseilles, avoiding the Alps. He claimed almost daily the he received letter written by Jesus. Sadly we do not have any of these, as they were later burnt. He also insisted on unquestioning obedience. As with Nicholas, a stubborn and unreasonable sea refused to part on his arrival there, but he was luckier, it seemed at first, than Nicholas. He appeared to have impressed some merchants and they arranged to give him and his 3000 or so followers passage in seven ships. Two of them sank near Corsica in a storm, and the other five made straight for what is today Algeria to sell the children on Muslim slave markets.

Both these remarkably similar events occurred within a year of each other. What is also important that the followers of these two "prophets" were uneducated poor, often children who lived in permanent hunger. For the most part of their journey, they were fed wherever they passed a town or village, so the hunger they knew from home for the first time in their lives was quiet, albeit only for only a few short weeks.

Would any of you like to tell the story of another?

Re: this prophet thing

PostPosted: Sun Feb 04, 2018 8:38 pm
by Fernando
I hope it's not too much off-topic Manfred, but could you - surely the best person here to do it - please explain the relationship between being a prophet and making (correct?) predictions? Mohammed doesn't seem to have managed - or even attempted - the latter. (At least insofar as the predictions could be tested in the here-and-now.)
Thanks in advance.

Re: this prophet thing

PostPosted: Sun Feb 04, 2018 10:41 pm
by manfred
The word "prophet" is from a Greek word meaning "to speak on behalf of..." and that is how in ancient times it was understood.

The biblical Prophets did occasionally suggest a prediction of things that may very well happen unless people change course, but that was only part of it. They preached religious observance and critically evaluated their own times, specially governments and people's "morals" as they saw it.

Having said that, as there were quite a few such characters in ancient Israel, many more than we have written records of, the question soon arose how to evaluate is someone is a "real" prophet, thought to speak "on behalf of" God, if you like. One biblical writer, the "Deuteronomist" (we know know hos name) tried to answer this and his answer has been accepted and used certainly in Jewish circles ever since. He suggested two tests (in much less detail, though, this is how a Rabbi would explain it):

1) God is not confused and does not mislead people. So therefore he does not offer contradictory advice. Therefore, a prophet who teaches something that contradicts established religious teaching cannot be "genuine".

2) God knows the past, presence and future, and He does neither lie nor deceive. A prophet who makes a statement which he describes as "from God", but is manifestly false, because events contradict him, then we should conclude that this prophet is false.

Mohammed obviously failed part one, as his teachings are very much different from those found in biblical texts. Note, "new" teachings are not an immediate problem, but teachings contradicting previous ones are. Not only did Mohammed contradict much of Judaism and Christianity, even contradicted himself. He even, by his own admission at least once spoke in the "name of false gods", something that would rule him out as candidate for "prophet".

As to part 2, Mohammed was no fool. He would not want to have to deal with a prediction which people realise was false. So he mostly avoided that aspect, specially after the "satanic verses" fiasco. There are quite a few "prophecies" attributed to Mohammed in the hadith, but almost all of them are "apocryphal", i.e. they have been attributed to Mohammed after the event, so they are not really predictions as we neither know when they were made of if at all. I could invent some tale of Newton predicting the internet, but few people today would be silly enough to accept the word of guy who lived hundreds of years later.

However there is something in the Qur'an that is interesting in this context:
S. 30:2-4:

"The Roman Empire has been defeated - in a land close by: But they, (even) after (this) defeat of theirs, will soon be victorious - within a few years."

There are a number of things odd here.... First, in biblical prophecy a "prediction" is generally also a kind of warning. Unless there is change this will happen. It is usually a prediction that DIRECTLY affects the people of Israel.

But this? This is generally interpreted by Muslims (note the text is very vague) as referring to the Persian first defeating Byzantium, but "in a few years" (the expression means a handful of years) Byzantium will defeat Persia.

Indeed did Heraclius defeat the Persians in 628, but that is about 14 years later... Given that these reversals have being going on for centuries, it is hardly a risky prediction. Surely Mohammed could bank on Byzantium winning SOMETHING or another eventually. And even a military defeat can be presented as a blessing in disguise.

So this is an entirely "safe bet" and what is even stranger, it has little bearing on the Arabs... so why mention it?

Here is another smoke and mirror trick on that:

The original Quranic text had no vowel marks. Thus, the Arabic word Sayaghlibuna, "they shall defeat," could easily have been rendered, with the change of two vowels, Sayughlabuna, "they (i.e. Byzantium) shall be defeated."

So, depending on your preference, the Byzantines will either be victorious again or defeated again. Just add the vowels later to make the "prediction" right...

This "prediction" really is rather on a similar level as stuff from Nostradamus. Your say something quite vague and in only "becomes true" in the interpretation of later people.