Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East

Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East

Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East

Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East


Prophecy was a widespread phenomenon, not only in ancient Israel but in the ancient Near East as a whole. This is the first book to gather the available ancient Near Eastern, extrabiblical sources containing prophetic words or references to prophetic activities. Among the 140 texts included in this volume are oracles of prophets, personal letters, formal inscriptions, and administrative documents from ancient Mesopotamia and Levant from the second and first millennia BCE. Most of the texts come from Mari (eighteenth century BCE) and Assyria (seventh century BCE). In addition, the volume provides new translations of the relevant section of the Egyptian Report of Wenamon, by Robert K. Ritner, and of various texts from Syria-Palestine containing allusions to prophets and prophetic activities, by C. L. Seow. By collecting and presenting evidence of the activities of prophets and the phenomenon of prophecy from all over the ancient Near East, the volume illumines the cultural background of biblical prophecy and its parallels. It provides scholars of the history, religions, and cultural traditions of the ancient Near East with important information about different types and forms of transmission of divine words, and makes these valuable primary source materials accessible to students and general readers in contemporary English along with transcriptions of the original languages, indexes, and an extensive bibliography. Paperback edition is available from the Society of Biblical Literature (


Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy

Ancient Near Eastern sources for prophecy have hitherto been scattered in various publications, often without an appropriate and up-to-date translation and, hence, virtually inaccessible to non-specialist readers. The purpose of this volume is to bring together a representative sample of written documents from a variety of times and places, translated from the newest editions in order to update the present knowledge of the distribution of prophecy in the ancient Near East as well as to provide the reader with a tool for the study of prophecy as an established institution in the ancient Near Eastern world.

Prophecy, as understood in this volume, is human transmission of allegedly divine messages. As a method of revealing the divine will to humans, prophecy is to be seen as another, yet distinctive branch of the consultation of the divine that is generally called “divination.” Among the forms of divination, prophecy clearly belongs to the noninductive kind. That is to say, prophets—like dreamers and unlike astrologers or haruspices—do not employ methods based on systematic observations and their scholarly interpretations, but act as direct mouthpieces of gods whose messages they communicate.

This understanding of the term concurs with those definitions of prophecy in which the transmissive or communicative aspect is emphasized as an overall feature that should be found in all phenomena and literary documents that are claimed to represent prophecy (e.g., Overholt 1989; Huffmon 1992; Barstad 1993a; Weippert 1997b; Petersen 2000). Other aspects, like religious and social conditions of the activity, personal qualities of the human beings involved, the possible prediction and other distinctive features of the messages and the means of obtaining them, are subordinate to the basic understanding of prophecy as a process of transmission.

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