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3856Re: Prophecy

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  • Mike Grondin
    Dec 2, 2003
      Sorry for the delayed response. I believe I've addressed one of the
      two places with which you take issue, at least indirectly, in my
      notes to Bob, but a more direct rejoinder may be in order, since the
      way you frame the issue has strong intuitive appeal.

      You first say that 'prophet', as used in the Bible (also in the
      Qu'ran, I think) means 'spokesperson for God'. You then conclude:

      > It is open to a scholar to hold that all prophets are mistaken,
      > but to suggest that it is possible to engae in prophecy without
      > believing oneself to be divinely inspired would make no sense.

      There's a sense of definitional tautology here - hence the strong
      intuitive appeal that I mentioned - but it seems to me that the
      sensed tautology doesn't stand up under close scrutiny. What you're
      assuming, I think, is that to "engage in [Biblical] prophecy" is to
      actually act as a spokesman for God, thus posing the question "How
      can one actually act as a spokesman for God without believing that
      that is what one is doing?" But the tautology is purchased at the
      cost of begging the question - to say nothing of possession-states
      during which some prophecy is supposedly uttered, but which are
      later not remembered by the prophesier. (He/she might later say "I
      _must have been_ divinely inspired!", but that, of course, is not
      the same thing as having the belief at the time of utterance, which
      your formulation strictly requires.)

      The way I see it, "engaging in prophecy" begs the question because
      it rests on the assumption that what appears to be (Biblical)
      prophecy cannot be such unless the prophesier believes him/herself
      to be divinely inspired. But early Christians (e.g., Paul)
      confronted the very problem we ourselves have: how can we possibly
      know that a self-proclaimed prophet believes his/herself to be
      divinely inspired? The conditions of a definition have to be
      decidable. In addition to which, this proposed necessary condition
      seems to contradict what I take to be the Biblical view that
      sometimes folks can be unwitting agents of God's will. Pilate, for
      example, wasn't aware that he was in fact doing God's will
      (according to Christian interpretation). Similarly, a con man may
      come to believe to his amazement that he has in fact spoken for God,
      though he didn't believe so at the time of utterance.

      In my own view, of course, the Christian concept of prophecy had a
      strong element of foretelling to it. The prophet Agabus, in Acts
      21:10-11, tells Paul what will happen to him when he (Paul) goes to
      Jerusalem, and examples could be multiplied. Did Agabus believe
      that he was acting as a spokesman for God in a more general sense
      than his foretelling of the future would entail? If so, he might
      have been made to say something like "But you must go anyway."
      Instead, he's silent when the others urge Paul not to go, and it's
      Paul himself who insists that the journey is the will of God.

      > I like Bob's distinction between emic and etic meanings, and
      > would hold that in Biblical study we are discussing the former
      > kinds of meaning.

      Yes, but this doesn't mean that we wholly adopt the language of the
      natives, so to speak. If we confined ourselves to emic-talk, our
      studies would be indistinguishable from strictly Christian exegesis.

      > It would appear that you are backing so far off the appearance of
      > affirming a believing position you are suggesting we should be
      > giving the appearance that we are all unbelievers ("position of
      > unfaith" refers to a position where belief is rejected with the
      > kind of fervour that one normally associates with religious
      > belief). I am not suggesting that is your intention, but I believe
      > that is the impression you are giving. I have no problem with
      > attempting a neutral stance, but I fear you are going further
      > than that.

      All I can say is that I don't intend to go further than that. The
      way I look at it, this thread began with questions about how
      'prophecy' should be defined in critical studies, specifically with
      respect to the question of the genre of Revelation. In Bob's terms,
      I perceived that several suggested definitions were in fact -emic,
      whereas my suggestion was that it needed to be defined -etically,
      which is to say in the metalanguage of critical studies. In
      practical terms, this merely means adding a qualifier or two to the
      -emic definition, so as to maintain a critical distance from the
      object of study. In fact, we do this all the time, in such
      statements as "The author of GJn believed that so-and-so." If the
      reader gets the impression that I, the writer, don't myself believe
      that so-and-so, then that can't be helped. All one can say is that
      the locution itself doesn't carry that logical implication (unless,
      perhaps, the word 'believed' is stressed). To draw the inference,
      then, of surreptitious partisanship from what to all appearances has
      the form of studied neutrality is prima facie invalid. But that's
      the downside of announcing one's beliefs if one is a non-believer
      with respect to the texts under study. Methodological agnosticism
      gets attributed to personal agnosticism. If we were studying the
      Book of Mormon, say, Mormons would tend to think that we might be
      subtly insinuating our non-belief under cover of the standards of
      critical study. There is some truth to that in the theory of
      unconscious forces directing the way we express ourselves, but
      unfortunately, even the most scrupulous attempts at impartiality
      tend to be perceived by partisans as antagonistic to their beliefs.
      ("He who isn't for us is against us", or some such.)

      Mike Grondin
      Mt. Clemens, MI
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