Thursday, September 07, 2006

Prophecy and the Laws of Nature

It dawned on me overnight that a Beferush Rambam was staring at me for a while without me realizing the depth behind his words. Here it is translation courtesy of Jonathan Baker’s little corner: (with my edits)

א כל נביא שיעמוד לנו ויאמר שה' שלחו, אינו צריך לעשות אות כאחד מאותות משה רבנו או כאותות אלייהו
ואלישע, שיש בהן שינוי מנהגו של עולם; אלא האות שלו שיאמר דברים העתידין להיות בעולם, וייאמנו דבריו, שנאמר "וכי תאמר, בלבבך: איכה נדע את הדבר . . ." (דברים יח,כא).

ב לפיכך כשיבוא אדם הראוי לנבואה במלאכות ה', ולא יבוא להוסיף ולא לגרוע, אלא לעבוד את ה' במצוות התורה--אין אומרין לו קרע לנו את הים או החיה מת וכיוצא באלו, ואחר כך נאמין בך. אלא אומרין לו, אם נביא אתה, אמור לנו דברים העתידין להיות; והוא אומר, ואנו מחכים לו לראות היבואו דבריו: אם לא יבואו, ואפילו נפל דבר אחד קטן--בידוע שהוא נביא שקר.


Any prophet who arises and says that God sent him does not have to perform a sign of the type that Moses, Elijah or Elishah did, which involved irregular behavior of nature. Instead, the sign that he has to perform is to predict the future, and we have to believe him, as it is written, "And if you say in your heart, `How shall we know the word which the Lord has not to spoken?'". Therefore, when a man suitable for prophecy comes in the Name of God, without wanting to add to or take away from, any of the commandments, but wants us to serve God properly, we do not ask him to split the sea, or to resurrect the dead, or to perform some other supernatural event, and then believe him, but we tell him to predict the future because he is a prophet, which he does, and we wait to see if what he says happens or not. Even if was wrong in only a small matter, he is a false prophet.

What I read here is that Prophecy to be real needs to agree with the laws of nature. In other words a person who reaches the levels of prophecy, does that through contemplating the Laws of Nature and trying to deduce some pattern that will help him get a peek into God’s will. He uses many faculties, the rational, imaginative, intuition and even courage. These human faculties can easily derail him and send him off into imaginary speculation which is false and ultimately is idolatry. If someone professes prophecy, he must first prove that he is not misled himself. He proves that by showing that he understands nature and its laws, enough to predict a natural occurrence. Prophecy follows nature and not the reverse as many want to argue.

14 comments:

  1. That's really nice! What is the source in the Rambam? (I don't think you gave it.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. sorry. Yesodei Hatorah 7:1 - 2

    ReplyDelete
  3. IrvineChasid9/07/2006 8:17 PM

    Very nice but it makes me wonder.

    Normally, in my imagination, when someone comes and predicts the future, its a prediction about human behaviour. (unless we want to say that meterologists are prophets??)

    However, in theory, only Gd who is outside of time would be able to know the future events regarding humans, and with our free will, even complete knowledge of nature would not give a person the ability to predict with 100% accuracy human behavior.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Irviner, who is talking about human behavior? Read Rambam carefully and you will see he is talking about natural events.

    ReplyDelete
  5. IrvineChasid9/07/2006 8:49 PM

    So if I declare myself a prophet, and I come and say "I predict that tomorow the sun will rise in the east" I am to be beleived?

    I don't think thats what the rambam holds.

    When one says to predict the future, it means to predict the future in a way that only a prophet could do.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I really enjoy this series of posts!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Although I don't think that's right about predicting the future, that doesn't sound quite kosher to me.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Liorah, thank you. Keep on reading and you might join the rationalists ranks!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Jewishskeptic9/08/2006 8:12 AM

    >"sorry. Yesodei Hatorah 7:1 - 2"

    I think you meant Yesodei H. 10:1-5.

    I have a problem with what the Rambam says in this ch.10.
    e.g.
    ד. דברי הפורענות שהנביא אומר כגון שיאמר פלוני ימות או שנה פלונית רעב או מלחמה וכיוצא בדברים אלו אם לא עמדו דבריו אין בזה הכחשה לנבואתו ואין אומרים הנה דבר ולא בא שהקדוש ברוך הוא ארך אפים ורב חסד ונחם על הרעה ואפשר שעשו תשובה ונסלח להם כאנשי נינוה או שתלה להם כחזקיה
    But what if the people didn't repent & the punishment he prophesied didn't come,do we consider that prophet to be a true prophet? & the continuation of the paragragh:אבל אם הבטיח על טובה ואמר שיהיה כך וכך ולא באה הטובה שאמר בידוע שהוא נביא שקר שכל דבר טובה שיגזור האל אפילו על תנאי אינו חוזר ולא מצינו שחזר בדבר טובה אלא בחרבן ראשון כשהבטיח לצדיקים שלא ימותו עם הרשעים וחזר בדבריו וזה מפורש במסכת שבת הא למדת שבדברי הטובה בלבד יבחן הנביא
    I am not so sure that this holds out. The prophet can always claim that the people wern't *raui*,as the chazal say often that such & such should have happened ,but the dor wasn't raui.Or some important individual did evil(one finds it in tanach as well-though I can't think of an example right now).
    What I am tying to say is that we dont have a foolproof test ,according to Rambam,by which we can be sure if a prophet is a true one or not.
    Shabbat shalom

    ReplyDelete
  10. JS - I am not sure where your problem is. If a Navi foretells bad things, only if thney happen is he proven a navi but he is not discredited nor punished if they don't happen. If he foretells good things they must happen. If they don't he is discredited and punished. The profundity is amazing because to judge negatively another human being, we people have no right. A person or a people considered Reshaim by others cannot necessarfily be considered an objective criteria. We cannot come back and say the good did not happen because the people or person turned and became Resha'im.

    BTW Rambam has a lengthy discussion on this in his Hakdam to Mishna. See also the note of R.Yakov Emden there on Yakov and the Meshech Chochma on that. Maybe I will post it one day.

    Thank you for correcting it is Yesodei Hatorah 10:1. I mwrote it from memory and remebered that 7 is the intro to nevuah.

    ReplyDelete
  11. >But what if the people didn't repent & the punishment he prophesied didn't come,do we consider that prophet to be a true prophet?

    The answer is he is not a proven Navi nor is he a proven fake. - neutral.

    >The prophet can always claim that the people wern't *raui*,as the chazal say often that such & such should have happened ,but the dor wasn't raui.Or some important individual did evil(one finds it in tanach as well-though I can't think of an example right now).

    No he cannot.

    Re Tanach it is a passuk in Yrimyahu where Rambam deduces this from.


    ז אַךְ-שְׁמַע-נָא הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי דֹּבֵר בְּאָזְנֶיךָ, וּבְאָזְנֵי, כָּל-הָעָם. 7 Nevertheless hear thou now this word that I speak in thine ears, and in the ears of all the people:
    ח הַנְּבִיאִים, אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ לְפָנַי וּלְפָנֶיךָ--מִן-הָעוֹלָם: וַיִּנָּבְאוּ אֶל-אֲרָצוֹת רַבּוֹת, וְעַל-מַמְלָכוֹת גְּדֹלוֹת, לְמִלְחָמָה, וּלְרָעָה וּלְדָבֶר. 8 The prophets that have been before me and before thee of old prophesied against many countries, and against great kingdoms, of war, and of evil, and of pestilence.
    ט הַנָּבִיא, אֲשֶׁר יִנָּבֵא לְשָׁלוֹם--בְּבֹא, דְּבַר הַנָּבִיא, יִוָּדַע הַנָּבִיא, אֲשֶׁר-שְׁלָחוֹ יְהוָה בֶּאֱמֶת. 9 The prophet that prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the LORD hath truly sent him.'
    (28:7)

    ReplyDelete
  12. >The prophet that prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the LORD hath truly sent him.'

    Can you give us a resonable explanation why it works one way and not the other? It sounds arbitrary to me

    ReplyDelete
  13. BS, The fact that bad things not happening does not discredit the navi is easy to understand. Bad things ususally are the cosequence of o9ur actions. If we repent and fix in a timely manner- it was prevented.

    The question is why does the same reasoning not apply to a good deed too?

    I will write a post this week to explain that. it is too much for a comment.

    ReplyDelete