[b-hebrew] Accreditation of prophets

Peter Kirk peter at qaya.org
Fri Sep 1 19:16:37 EDT 2006

On 01/09/2006 23:37, Shoshanna Walker wrote:
> OK now I'm going to answer this email and then take a rest til after 
> Shabbat, because I can feel myself getting real angry.
Shoshanna, don't get angry. I don't think there is as much difference 
between you on one side and Harold and myself on the other as you or 
Harold may think.

We agree that there was some kind of court system in Israel, dating back 
at least to the time of Moses. This was later called the Sanhedrin, but 
probably not originally as this is a Greek word. The details of this 
court are lost in time except in so far as they are remembered in the 
Oral Torah. Nothing controversial here, I hope.

We also agree that there was some kind of recourse to this court, and 
perhaps also to subsidiary local courts, in the case of false prophets, 
those who claimed to speak from God but whose prophecies did not come 
true. Presumably someone who was accused before this court of being a 
false prophet and in fact was able to prove his or her genuineness would 
then be recognised by the court as a true prophet. I think we can agree 
here too.

On your understanding, someone who was recognised by the court as a 
prophet first had to make three specific predictions and then see them 
come true before being recognised as a prophet. This implies that this 
person had been speaking out predictive prophecies from God without 
already being a recognised prophet. Thus we must agree that it is not 
only those who are recognised prophets who are able to make predictive 

The difference between us comes over the status of a person who is able 
to make predictive prophecies from God but has not been formally 
recognised as a prophet by a court of law. Is it proper to call such a 
person a prophet? That is an argument over semantics rather than 
substance. Would such a person have been permitted to "practise" as a 
prophet, whatever that might mean? For example, would they be permitted 
to make public predictive prophecies? My feeling is that we don't know. 
You suggest on the basis of oral tradition that they would not have been 
allowed to "practise" without first getting some kind of accreditation 
from the court. I suspect that the best answer is that it depended on 
the time and the place. There may well have been times in the history of 
Israel when the Sanhedrin operated properly according to the model 
described in the Oral Torah. But then there were times of apostasy when 
the court may well have been ineffective, or it may have been 
compromised, for example to recognise the false prophets of 1 Kings 22. 
On the other hand, if it is a matter of faith for you that there were no 
such times, that however apostate Israel may have become the Sanhedrin 
were always faithful, it would be pointless for me to try to argue you 
out of this position.

The situation sounds rather similar to accreditation of various trades 
and professions today. I don't know the detailed situation in the USA, 
but I know that here in the UK there is a creeping requirement for 
accreditation to do almost anything. A century ago, perhaps, doctors and 
lawyers had to be accredited in advance to practise, but most 
tradespersons could practise without any kind of qualification or 
accreditation - although they were still answerable to the courts if 
they did a bad job. Now, to protect the public from all kinds of 
dangers, many trades require accreditation and it is actually illegal to 
sell many services without it. The question is, were prophets in Israel 
more like the doctors and lawyers of a century ago, who needed 
accreditation in advance from a court before practising, or were they 
more like the tradespersons of those days, who could practise without 
accreditation, but were answerable to the court if they got things 
wrong? My answer is that we don't know, and the situation may have 
changed over the centuries in Israel, as it has here with tradespersons. 
Your take on this may be different, but in that case we need to agree to 

Peter Kirk
E-mail:  peter at qaya.org
Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
Website: http://www.qaya.org/

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