Prophets in the Bible and pagan nations (Amos 7)

Image result for lachish ostracon

Illustrasjon: The Lachish ostracon

Prophecy was a common feature in the world of the Old Testament. Men and women who were called by God to speak on His behalf were known by a variety of Hebrew terms that may be variously translated as “prophet (prophetess)”, “seer”, “visionary” and “man of God”. Since there was no substantial difference among these terms, the Septuagint often translates “prophet”, “seer” and “visionay” with the single Greek word for “prophet”. Early prophets in Israel seems to have been connected to a prophetic group (e.g. “the company of the prophets” who followed Elisha; 2 Kings 2:3) while later prophets appear to have been more independent. Archaeological confirmation of prophetic activity in Israel is seen in the Lachish ostracon that speaks of a certain person called “the prophet”.

Yet prophecy was not a phenomenon unique to Israel, as the Bible itself attests (cf. “prophets of Baal” and “prophets of Asherah” (1 Kings 18:19). Ancient texts have yielded numerous examples of pagan prophets:

  • The archive from the city of Mari on the Middle Euphrates, dated to the mid-eighteenth century .C., speaks of a number of men and women who addressed the king on behalf of the gods. Like the Biblical terms for prophets, multiple titles were given to these individuals at Mari, including on one occasion the term nabu, the Akkadian equivalent of the Hebrew navi (“prophet”). While some of the Mari prophets were connected to the religious sites as priests or servants of a temple, many appear to have been ordinary people from various walks of life. Ecstatic behaviour, seen among Biblical prophets in Samuel’s day (1 Samuel 19:24) and later in Ezekiel’s (Ezekiel 4:4), was also evident at Mari.
  • An ecstatic seer called “a man of god” is attested in the fourteenth century B.C. Hittite Prayer of Mursilis.
  • The eleventh century B.C. Egyptian story of Wen mon tells of a page in the court of the king of Byblos, who was seemingly possessed by a god during an offertory ritual, as evidenced by his ecstatic behaviour.
  • An inscription from the eighth century B.C. Syrian state of Hamath recounts the story of a man named Zakir praying to Baal for his besieged city and subsequently receiving assurance of divine assistance through seers and other inspired people.
  • Late eighth century B.C. plaster texts from Deir Allah speak of a certain Balaam, who is said to be “a seer of the gods” and who, later in the story, sees a vision from the god El.

As God’s spokesman in Amos 7:14, Amos eschewed any prophetic title, perhaps because of unwanted associations with the term in his day. As seen in so many other parts of Scripture, the words of Amos enforce the reality that God uses everyday people to carry out His will.


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