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A message from a god is called prophecy . The proclamation of prophecies is the subject of religions . People who do so by this God appointed are as prophets (from ancient Greek προφήτης [ propʰḗtēs ]: "advocate", "emissary" "predictor") referred to their actions as prophethood . "False prophets" are people who wrongly claim divine legitimation.

In contrast to a rationally based prognosis and fortune-telling, prophecies are legitimized by the commission of a deity. They are received as intuition , audition (acoustic perception) and / or vision . The ability to prophesy is understood as a gift from God. As a rule, indigenous peoples also attribute it to their various necromancers , and it can be assumed that such "mediators to the spirit world" already existed in the oldest religions .

Prophecy in the narrower sense is a complex phenomenon that is particularly well known from the ancient Orient . Above all, it characterizes the Abrahamic religions and their one God belief . It is issued orally, was then often fixed and handed down in writing and includes not only future events , but also criticism of the past and present of its addressees. Individual predictions of a prophet are referred to as prophecy , prophecy or promise.

Old Orient

A great variety of ancient oriental texts contain or are prophecies or prophecies. Many were used to subsequently legitimize a dynasty as willed by God ( vaticinia ex eventu ). Some trace back to an experience of revelation and pass on a message of God to certain addressees. The speakers are usually located in the vicinity of the royal court and central state cults. They usually have the salvation and well-being of the respective ruler on the topic and are never aimed directly at the entire people or the peoples. Occasionally they criticize individual aspects of the cult practices, but there is a lack of massive prophecy of doom, criticism of kings, their politics and social criticism . Therefore one classifies these documents as court and salvation prophecy.

The 30 or so letters from Mari (around 1800 BC) preserved on tablets tell of men and women who received messages from the weather and vegetation gods Dagān , Hadad and others in a dream vision or an audition in front of an image of a god in the temple and these were given to the king as “ambassadors”, partly uninvited, partly on request. Their messages contained promises of divine assistance for their own disaster for foreign peoples. Only negligence in the cult was criticized.

The travelogue of the Egyptian Wenamun (approx. 1100 BC) tells of a Phoenician who inadvertently got into ecstatic excitement at a sacrificial ceremony, received a divine message and delivered it to the Prince of Byblos , whereupon he received Wenamun waiting in the port.

The inscription of Zakir from Hamath (around 800 BC) in Syria testifies to a request made by the king in a siege situation to his patron god Baalschamem , the "Lord of Heaven". He replied through the mediation of " seers " and promised the king rescue from his enemies. This is also considered a form of intuitive prophecy of salvation, while otherwise the inductive form was more common. Whether it is a parallel to the “Memorandum of Isaiah ” ( IsaEU ) is controversial.

Wall inscriptions in Tell Der 'Alla, East Jordan, testify to a “vision” of a seer named Balaam , who is also known in the Bible ( Numbers 22–24  EU ).

In ancient times, intuitive prophecy was not strictly distinguished from general manticism . Oracle in particular were widespread at times in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. As in Delphi, givers or transmitters were often permanently employed at the court or place of worship and responded to a ritual questioning. In ancient Rome the reading of the future from heavenly signs, the flight of birds, the bowels of sacrificial animals (“ liver viewing ”) was part of the state cult by pontifices , haruspices and flamines . Above all, the current commission of a god and the concreteness of the message were missing.

From the 7th century BC About 30 clay tablets with neo-Assyrian oracle sayings come from named temple officials and craftsmen. They are a direct address from God to certain addressees and point to historical events. They do not follow any sacrifice viewing or star interpretation, but rather give themselves as direct decisions from God. In terms of content, they proclaim salvation, long life and continuation of his dynasty to the king, and criticize cultic negligence.


Prophecy was received especially in ancient Judaism from around 1000 to 200 BC. A central, at times dominant rank for the relationship of God to man. Word prophets, seers or messengers (“men of God”) who were called against their will also appeared again and again in the history of Israel to proclaim God's word to the people and their leaders as an unconditional claim, regardless of the consequences for their lives.

In the Eretz Israel initially predominantly doom prophecy, since the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (approx. 722 BC) and especially in the Babylonian exile (from 586 BC) increasingly also salvation prophecy appeared. Both have been collected and recorded in history and prophet books. The latter, as Nebiim, form the second main part of the Tanach , the Hebrew Bible . In Judaism, prophecy therefore does not only refer to oral preaching, but also to a specific genre of literature. This transmits future and present announcements for collectives, for example for the chosen people, foreign peoples, all believers and unbelievers, as well as the life stories of prophets.


In early Christianity , John the Baptist was considered the last and most important of the prophets of Israel. According to Mk 6.4  EU, Jesus of Nazareth once also referred to himself as a prophet and according to Mk 8.28  EU was understood by many of his contemporaries as a prophet. Among the early Christians, prophets were almost equal to the apostles as authorities of the Christian communities ( 1 Cor 12.28  EU ).

In the Old Testament there are a total of 18 books by so-called scriptural prophets . Isaiah , Jeremiah , Ezekiel and Daniel are considered to be the four “great” prophets, the remaining “minor” prophets, whose shorter writings are summarized in the Book of the Twelve Prophets . In addition, there are the lamentations of Jeremiah and the book of Baruch , which belongs to the genre of apocalyptic . In addition, some important prophets, such as Samuel , Elijah or Elisha , also appear in the history books. Because no independent books have come down from them, they do not count among the "scriptural prophets".

Since the controversy in the old church about Montanism , prophecy has receded as a characteristic of Christian communities. Later prophetic movements in Christianity were often marginalized and persecuted as heresies . During the Reformation , especially Calvinism developed a doctrine of three offices ( Jesus Christ as priest, king - messiah  - and prophet). From the years 1550 to 1700 350 people are known who appeared as prophets in the Lutheran areas and were often recognized as such.

Only the ecumenical movement on the evangelical side and the Roman Catholic social teaching derived a prophetic "(guardian) office" of the church from prophetic traditions of the Bible in the 20th century.

According to the New Testament , then prophecy will cease, "but when the perfect will come". 1 Cor 13,8  LUT


In Islam , as in Hebrew, the term for prophet is nabī ( Arabic نبي, DMG nabīy ). The plural is nabīyūn (نبيون) or Anbiyā ' (انبياء / Anbiyāʾ ). The idea of ​​the nabī appears in the Koran for the first time in Central Meccan times. During this period, for example, Isaac ( Sura 37 : 112), Jesus ( Sura 19 : 30) and Abraham (Sura 19:41) are referred to as Nabī and people are reminded of how many prophets were sent in earlier times, but all of them were mocked ( Sura 43 : 6f). In total, the term nabī occurs 75 times in the Koran. The Nabī title has only been used for Mohammed himself since the Medieval times (so sura 7 : 157f). The fact that Mohammed now claimed the title for himself is explained in part by the Jewish influence to which he was exposed in Medina . At a relatively late point in the Qur'an ( Sura 33:40 ), Muhammad is referred to as the "seal of the prophets" ( ḫātam an-nabīyīn ), a term whose original meaning is by no means clear.

Islamic theology defines the nabī as a person to whom a religious law ( šarʿ ) has been revealed. According to Islamic tradition, there are large numbers of people who fall under this category . The stories about them are collected in the Qisas al-Anbiyāʾ literature. However, in Islam, Muhammad is the last and most important of all prophets. Whenever the prophet's birthday or prophetic medicine is mentioned, it always refers to him. The dispute with Jews and Christians who denied Muhammad prophethood ( nubūwa ) has led Muslim scholars to collect the evidence ( dalāʾil ) and marks ( aʿlām ) of Muhammad's prophethood and compile them in their own books. The most comprehensive work of this kind is the book Dalāʾil an-nubūwa by al-Baihaqī (d. 997) in seven volumes. Al-Māwardī , who wrote a book in the 11th century on “the marks of prophethood” ( Aʿlām an-nubūwa ), also listed a number of miracles ( afʿāl muʿǧiza ) by which the prophethood of Muhammad can be recognized.

In addition to the Nabī, Islam also has the concept of the Rasūl (“Messenger, Messenger, Apostle”). The term Rasūl is usually defined more narrowly. Only he who has received a “heavenly message” ( ḫabar as-samāʾ ) and has been charged with transmitting it is said to be a “sent prophet” ( nabīy rasūl ). The one who was not charged with conveying the message, on the other hand, is just an ordinary prophet. So it is true that every Rasūl is a prophet, but not every prophet is a Rasūl.


Some founders of religions who wanted to continue, unite or surpass older religions saw themselves as prophets and were venerated as such by their followers. Mani saw himself as the one called reluctantly to the revelation of the Gnosis (knowledge) of the divine origin and essence of man and his destiny to return to the world of light. His message was therefore not aimed at concrete, situation-related intervention of God in history, but at the acceptance of a certain theory about the origin of the world and the role of man. Since he saw it as the final revelation, he also saw himself as the final prophet. The Manicheans saw in him the Paraclete promised by Christ .


The Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) view their founder Joseph Smith (1830) and his respective successors at the head of their church organization as " prophets, seers, and revelators ." He receives the important revelations for today and tomorrow according to the faith of its members.

Jehovah's Witnesses

The international governing body of Jehovah's Witnesses - the "Governing Body" - refers to itself as "the faithful and discreet slave", following Matthew 24:45, who distributes "spiritual food" (= teaching and knowledge) at the right time. In this function, this body claims to be God's communication channel , from which a prophetic claim to itself can be derived. This spiritual claim manifests itself in the image of the “faithful and discreet slave” as a collective prophet who acts as “Jehovah's channel of communication”.

In the past, this prophetic claim was also publicly proclaimed in the publications of Jehovah's Witnesses. In The Watchtower of July 1, 1972 (German edition) , under the heading You will know that there was a prophet among them, when asked whether there is “a prophet today through whom Jehovah God will protect people from danger warns and proclaims the future ", given the following answer:

"Yes, as the facts show, there is such a prophet."

It is then stated that the Jehovah's Witnesses organization itself represents this prophet:

“This prophet was not a single person, but a body of men and women. It was the small group of the footsteps of Jesus Christ that were known to International Bible Students at the time. Today they are known as Christian Jehovah's Witnesses. "

In the ZJ scripture the nations should know that I am Jehovah '- How? On pp. 58–59 Jehovah's Witnesses are referred to as the modern prophet Ezekiel and thus as the "group of people who, towards the beginning of this" time of the end, "were commissioned to serve as spokespersons and active tools for Jehovah."

When certain specific predictions regarding the events of 1975 failed to materialize, Jehovah's Witnesses - including from their own ranks - had to grapple with the accusation of being a “false prophet.” - Deuteronomy 18:22.

Since then, the organization no longer publicly uses the terms “prophet” and “communication channel” that were used until then. Occasionally, these claims were even relativized when criticism was put forward. According to the literature, the Governing Body's internal self-claims as loyal and discreet slaves and its self-image as Jehovah's communication channel still exist.

Modern interpretations

In connection with Asian religions, the psychologist Anthony Starr addresses possible character traits and psychoses in Feet of Clay - A Study on Gurus and considers eloquent "prophets" to be dangerous. According to David C. Lane , a fraudulent charlatan would be less sinister than one who is fully convinced of his ideas. Various myths see the appearance of false prophets in connection with the theme of the end of the world , and history knows them from times of declining cultures .

In his books, The Open Society and Your Enemies and a series of lectures on philosophy and false prophets, the philosopher Karl Popper referred to philosophers such as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as false prophets with their proclamation of salvation from industrialization .

See also


  • Jürgen Beyer: Lay prophets in Lutheran Europe (c. 1550–1700) , Brill's series in church history and religious culture 74. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2017
  • WA Bijlefeld: A prophet and more than a prophet? Some observations on the quranic use of the terms 'prophet' and 'apostle'. In: Muslim World 59 (1969), pp. 1-28.
  • Mathis Christian Holzbach: The great seers and prophets. Marixverlag, Wiesbaden 2013, ISBN 978-3-86539-974-8 .
  • Walter A. Koch: Prophecy and astrological prognosis. Karl Rohm, Lorch 1998, ISBN 3-87683-215-2 .
  • Matthias Riedl, Tilo Schabert: Prophets and Prophecies. Königshausen & Neumann, 2005, ISBN 3-8260-2253-X .
  • T. Fahd: Art. Nubuwwa. In: The Encyclopaedia of Islam. New Edition . Vol. VIII, pp. 93b-97a. (About the Concept of Prophecy in Islam)
  • Raymond Franz: The conflict of conscience: Do people obey or remain faithful to God? ; a Jehovah's Witness reports Bruderdienst Missionsverlag, 2006, hardcover ISBN 978-3-00-020053-3 .
  • Hans Krech, Matthias Kleiminger; on behalf of the VELKD: Handbook of Religious Communities and Weltanschauungen, 6th completely revised edition, Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2006
  • Churches, sects, religions: Religious communities, ideological groups and psycho-organizations in the German-speaking area, 7th edition, Theologischer Verlag Zurich, 2003

Web links

Wiktionary: Prophet  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Single receipts

  1. Hans Küng : Der Islam , Piper, Munich-Zurich 2004, p. 166.
  2. Erich Zenger : Introduction to the Old Testament , 6th edition 2006, p. 424f
  3. Manfried Dietrich : Prophet letters from Mari. In: Religious Texts. Interpretations of the future in letters, oracles and omens. Texts from the environment of the Old Testament Volume II / 1; Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1986; ISBN 3-579-00066-7 ; Pp. 83-93
  4. Adolf Erman: The literature of the Egyptians. Poems, stories and textbooks from the 3rd and 2nd millennium BC Chr .; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1923 2 ; Reprint 1980, ISBN 3-7463-1522-0
  5. Herbert Niehr: The highest God: Old Testament YHWH belief in the context of the Syrian-Canaanite religion of the 1st millennium BC Chr. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1990; ISBN 3-11-012342-8 ; P. 31ff.
  6. Manfred Weippert: The “Balaam” inscription from Tell-Deir 'Alla and the Old Testament ; in: Manfred Weippert: Yahweh and the other gods ; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997; ISBN 3-16-146592-X ; P. 163ff
  7. ^ Oswald Loretz: Victim and liver show in Israel. Philological and historical aspects ; in: Bernd Janowski u. a. (Ed.): Relationships in the history of religion between Asia Minor, Northern Syria and the Old Testament. International Symposium Hamburg 17. – 21. March 1990 ; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997; ISBN 3-525-53764-6 ; P. 509 ff.
  8. Martti Nissinen: The Relevance of Neo-Assyrian Prophecy for Old Testament Research ; in: Manfried Dietrich, Oswald Loretz (eds.): Mesopotamica - Ugaritica - Biblica: Festschrift for Kurt Bergerhof on the completion of his 70th year on May 7, 1992 ; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1993; ISBN 3-7887-1453-0 ; Pp. 217-258
  9. See also Ernst Benz : Der Prophet Jakob Boehme . A study of the type of post-Reformation prophethood (= treatises of the humanities and social science class of the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz. Born in 1959, No. 3).
  10. Jürgen Beyer: Lay prophets in Lutheran Europe (c. 1550-1700) (Brill's series in church history and religious culture 74). Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2017
  11. See Bijlefeld 15.
  12. See Bijlefeld 9.
  13. Cf. Bijlefeld: A prophet and more than a prophet? 1969, p. 15.
  14. See Bijlefeld, 14.
  15. On this, see Josef Horovitz: Koranische investigations. Berlin-Leipzig 1926, p. 53f.
  16. Cf. Bijlefeld: A prophet and more than a prophet? 1969, p. 13.
  17. See Fahd 95a.
  18. Cf. Giuseppe Palummieri: Le prove della veridicità della profezia secondo il teologo al-Māwardī (m. 450/1058). Dissertation Aix-en Provence / Naples 2011. Full text available here .
  19. Cf. Abū Bakr Maḥmūd Ǧūmī: al-ʿAqīda aṣ-ṣaḥīḥa bi-muwāfaqat aš-šarīʿa. Dār al-ʿArabīya, Beirut 1972. p. 9.
  20. Article Prophetie I. In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie. Volume 27. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1997, p. 474
  21. Jump up ↑ Revelation, Her Great Climax At Hand , p. 16
  22. Awake! v. April 8, 1969, p. 13
  23. Conversations based on the Scriptures, p. 149
  24. The Watchtower, November 2016 Study, How Much Does Jehovah's Word Mean to You?