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The term prophecy refers to a wide range of religious phenomena that have been manifested from ancient to modern times. The Greek term prophētēs is the etymological ancestor of the English word prophet, and it has cognates in most European languages. The indigenous Greek prophētēs was a cultic functionary who "spoke for" a god; that is, the prophētēs delivered divine messages in association with a sanctuary where the god had made its presence known. However, the word prophētēs influenced European languages primarily because early Jewish and Christian writers used the term in translations of the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament to refer to religious specialists in Israelite, Jewish, and Christian traditions. Today comparativists use prophecy to describe religious phenomena in various contexts on analogy with the activity of ancient Hebrew prophets and other figures who had a similarly pivotal role in founding world religions in Southwest Asia.

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In antiquity it was commonly believed that gods controlled events in the world and made their intentions known to human beings in various ways. The earliest written records tell of religious functionaries whose responsibility it was to interpret signs or deliver messages from the gods in order to supply information useful in the conduct of human affairs. In early tribal societies the clan leader often carried out these duties, or perhaps some other individual who used a variety of divinatory and visionary techniques to gain access to special knowledge about divine intentions. These activities usually included intercessory functions, whereby the leader or "prophet" petitioned spirits or a god or gods for special favors for their group.

However, this picture of such figures (such as the kāhin of pre-Muslim Arabia or the kohen of patriarchal, presettlement Israel) is only inferential. They were active in nonliterate societies that left no linguistic records of themselves except by the transmission of oral traditions that eventually were written down by later, literate generations. The groups that did leave written records had more complex forms of religious and political organization, suggesting that adepts in religious knowledge had correspondingly more specialized functions.

From the records of ancient cultures in Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean region there is knowledge of a large number of religious specialists who sought out and interpreted messages from the gods. Their access to the world of the gods came through two different means. In the first place, there were diviners who practiced a variety of studied techniques to interpret symbolic messages in the natural world. Some techniques were manipulative (such as the casting of lots, the incubation of dreams, and the examination of the entrails of sacrificial animals); others were more purely observational (such as the interpretation of animal movement and the cataloguing of auspicious, often horrible, events). Second, the gods were also believed to communicate their will through oracles, that is, in human language through the mouth of an inspired person. The behavior of these divine spokesmen is often thought to have been ecstatic, frenzied, or abnormal in some way, which reflected their possession by the deity (and the absence of personal ego) at the time of transmission. Some groups used divination to test the accuracy of oral prophecies (e.g., prophecies at Mari), while others gave priority to oral prophecy, with only marginal appeal to divination (e.g., in Israelite religion).

Within general categories the nature and function of divine intermediation was diverse. Oracles and signs could appear without request; but more commonly, especially in the Greco-Roman world, cultic officials provided answers to specific questions asked to the sanctuary's god. Ecstatic oracular behavior seems to have been the most common form of intermediation among figures not connected with recognized sanctuaries (e.g., the Akkadian muhhu), but it was also acceptable among those who did have such official legitimacy (e.g., the Akkadian apilu and various Greek mantic figures). The terminology applied to intermediaries is often ambiguous or vague, as with the Greek term prophētēs, which at times denotes the oracular mouthpiece for divine speech and at others refers to the official interpreter of divinatory signs within a sanctuary. The diversity is immense. But it is clear from the complexity that the need for knowledge about divine activity was perceived at various social levels; ancient societies often maintained a large and varied staff of religious functionaries to keep such knowledge alive.


Throughout ancient Israel's history as an independent state (c. 1000–586 BCE), the religious orientation of a large segment of its population was polytheistic, and as such, it shared in the general worldview of its neighbors. But even in the monotheistic elements of Israelite culture, there were different functionaries who transmitted the will of the same god, Yahveh, to the people. During the earliest part of this history, it appears that the Yahvists relied on at least three different figures for divine communication: (1) cultic officers who performed certain techniques (like casting lots), maintained cultic implements (like the Ark), and occupied sacred space; (2) seers (Heb., ro’eh and hozeh), whose function is rather unclear, but may be designations from different periods of visionaries and diviners (cf. 1 Samuel 9:9); and (3) ecstatics (Heb., navi’, commonly translated as "prophet"), whose unusual behavior was stimulated when Yahveh's spirit came upon them. As Yahvism evolved, the navi’ came to be its predominant intermediary, though as this occurred the activity of the navi’ came to include functions that were previously within the province of the other two specialists. Accordingly, the nevi’im depended less exclusively on ecstatic oracles for their identity, and many came to be (in some cases) cultic functionaries and inspired interpreters of ancient tradition. The evidence indicates, however, that prophetic legitimacy depended primarily on their acceptance within a given group as oracular vehicles for the communication of Yahveh's word, regardless of whether the navi’ was an ecstatic, a cultic official, an independent critic, or some combination of these roles.

By at least the eighth century BCE the Hebrew prophets or their scribes commonly wrote down their oracles, and the prophetic writings of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) contain, in part, a modest literary residue of this extensive oracular activity. Historians have reached no consensus about why this development took place, nor about how these writings in particular came to be accepted among later generations as eternally authoritative. Yet, that oracular revelation came to be regarded as having an enduring value, and that followers of prophets could disseminate their written oracles among various groups with whom the prophets originally had no connection, was a major change in the history of religions. Within the religious worldview that permeated the time of the first Hebrew prophets, messages from the gods were seen as portentous for only the particular audience, time, and place attendant to the moment when they had been revealed on earth. Thus, it was necessary to maintain a retinue of religious specialists to prophesy anew and interpret messages that regularly came from the gods. As certain specified written oracles came to be accepted in Israel as the repository of normative divine instruction, the nature of prophecy itself began to change, as did the character of religious tradition.

What happened among the Hebrew prophets occurred more generally within several religious traditions in Southwest Asia. The following figures can be classed with the Hebrew prophets as intermediaries whose oracles became, at least in part, the revelational basis of a major world religion. Zarathushtra (Zoroaster), a Persian prophet of the late second millennium BCE, was the founder of Zoroastrianism (Boyce, 1975). Jesus appears in many respects as a prophet, even though Christianity has traditionally portrayed him as a unique messiah. Mani, a Babylonian born in 216 CE, founded Manichaeism, which gained a large following in countries from India to the western Mediterranean. Finally, Muhammad, like no other, established a believing community around himself as divine messenger, and succeeding generations of Muslims have accepted the oracles written down in the Qur’ān as the unparalleled expression of divine communication.

Defining precisely what these individual prophets share in common is not a simple matter. The social location of their activity differs in each case, and the success of each prophet in gaining a following during his lifetime varied widely, from Muhammad, who led armies and established a moderate-sized empire by the time of his death, to Jesus, who died an ignominious death on a cross. Moreover the message of each prophet, if examined in detail, depends more on the particular traditions to which it was heir and the historical-cultural setting of the prophet's activity than upon a transcendent ideal that applies to every member of the group. Nonetheless, five features are common to all.

  • They all conceived of their activity as the result of a personal divine commission. They thought that their supreme deity had appointed them individually to bear a specific revealed message to the human (or some more narrowly defined) community, and this message usually consisted of oracular speech and writing. Even Jesus, who frequently did not use traditional forms of prophetic speech, seems to have regarded his words and actions as communicating the message he was commissioned to bear.
  • Religious traditions arose that regarded some oracles of these prophets as uniquely heaven-sent, sacred, and binding upon people in perpetuity. In such cases, the prophets' words became part (or the substance) of a scriptural canon that was regarded as the repository of revealed knowledge; each sacred canon became, in turn, the standard by which the tradition judged all later religious pronouncements and activity. For prophets whose speech or writing was formally oracular (e.g. the Hebrew prophets and Muhammad), the scripture became, at least in part, a collection of those oracles. Stories about the symbolic activities and miraculous deeds performed by these prophets also found their way into the canons (note particularly the Gospels and the prophetic narratives in the Hebrew Bible), and the members of each tradition regarded this material as having paradigmatic importance.

Whether these prophets were themselves the founders of traditions is not a question to be answered easily. Both Muhammad and Mani organized the early Muslim and Manichaean communities, respectively, and they promoted their own writings as perpetually relevant revelation. But in the other three cases (Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity), the historical prophets had little or no influence on the organization of the later religious tradition, and others determined the content and organization of the sacred scripture. In fact, the authors and compilers of the Hebrew Bible shaped the words and actions of Moses to such a degree that his biblical portrait probably has little in common with the historical person. Nonetheless, because these prophets all had an important role in founding religious tradition, and especially because later generations revered them as the fountainheads of divine revelation, this group shall be called the "founding prophets."

  • Though the content of their messages differs significantly from one prophet to the next, depending on historical circumstance and inherited tradition, all of the founding prophets proclaimed what their later tradition regarded as universal truths. The theological development of these prophetic, revealed religions tended toward conceptions of a deity or deities (Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism) that transcended tribal, geographical, national, and cultic boundaries. While it would be too ambitious to attribute to these prophetic figures alone the creation of universal religious claims, the writings of such prophets as Amos, so-called Second Isaiah, and Muhammad are among the most radical innovations in the history of religious thought.
  • The founding prophets were, in their own individual ways, social critics, even though their ideas about society were quite different from one another. Muhammad, for example, seems to have been a great deal more concerned with the structures of society on this earth than Mani, who addressed social issues primarily in order to help promote gnosis (the salvific knowledge of ultimate things). Still, all of them considered moral behavior to be central in complying with the wishes of their supreme deity. Particularly in the Judeo-Christian and Muslim traditions, prophetic teachings have been seen as attempts to denounce injustices practiced against the weak and powerless. In the prophetic writings of these traditions questions of social morality have such prominence that scholars have often characterized the religion of the prophets as "ethical monotheism."
  • Finally, the founding prophets helped both to maintain and to reform religious tradition. They regarded their demands for change as having a basis in ancient tradition, but they insisted that their contemporary religious situation be reshaped in accordance with that tradition. Naturally, these demands met stiff resistance from those contemporaries of the prophets who wanted to maintain other traditions or the status quo. As a result each of the founding prophets suffered indignities, sometimes even torture and death. Typically, prophets who met with resistance saw popular rejection as proof of their legitimacy, since earlier prophets had been similarly despised.

Just as these prophets constitute a group because of their mutual similarites, they are also distinct from other figures in the history of religions. They are different from the various intermediaries who preceded them in that the revelation they communicated has an enduring relevance in religious tradition and remained intimately connected with their individual personalities. Revelation had previously been relevant only for a limited time, and, with a few minor exceptions, the personality of the prophet had been of relatively little significance in the mediation of divine messages. The roles of these prophets often stood in sharp contrast with priestly functions. The innovative and reforming messages of the prophets were accepted within the religious community and tradition on the basis of their personal charisma. Priests, however, are typically those who maintained the dominant, received tradition by virtue of their position within an established religious institution.

Finally, the founding prophets are distinct from others who founded major religious traditions (such as Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, and Taoism). The founders of these traditions originating in India and China were not divinely chosen messengers bearing a revealed message to humankind, but rather teachers and sages who had developed new philosophic insight and practical discipline as a way of addressing religious problems. These teachers, like the prophets, were often missionaries and social critics, but the basis of their words was the perfection of their own intellectual, spiritual, and moral talents, rather than their election by a deity to bear a specific message.


One of the most outstanding features of the founding prophets was the special importance that their personal communication of revelation had for succeeding generations of their religious communities. Just as the Hebrew prophets and Zarathushtra were influenced by the traditions that preceded them, so too were the prophets who came later. But for Jesus, Mani, and Muhammad the traditional inheritance included the message of the Hebrew prophets (and Zarathushtra), as well as the model they had established as prophets whose messages were canonized within scripture.

It was rarely easy for a person bearing revelation to effect basic reforms in the structure of religious life. Among the biblical prophets themselves, the active mediation of fresh revelation had been an accepted part of religious life. However, once prophecy became written and canonical, the revelation of these same prophets attained a special status that inevitably lessened the importance and limited the scope of active mediation generally. The guardianship and transmission of prophecy—now newly conceived as the substance of prophetic oracles within the canon—moved from the ecstatics and visionaries who originally created it to the inspired sages, priests, and scribes who maintained and passed along the scriptures.

The evolution of Hebrew prophecy into received written tradition became the cornerstone upon which all subsequent prophetic constructions were built. By 350 BCE the last of the canonical prophetic writings to find acceptance in the Hebrew Bible had been written. And by the time of Jesus' ministry (c. 25–30 CE) the preeminence of these canonical prophets was generally accepted within Judaism, even among prophets such as Jesus. Within the context of this religious tradition it became necessary for contemporary prophets who did not consider their calling subordinate to any earlier prophet to claim a special status for themselves. Therefore, Jesus on occasion appears as an eschatological prophet who proclaimed the imminent arrival of the "kingdom of God." In this way his message and character could fit the traditional conception of prophets in early Judaism, where it was believed—in certain quarters, at least—that God would send prophets (who would be of equal stature with their canonical predecesors) to announce the end of the world.

By the time of Mani (216–276) and Muhammad (580–632), several canonical religions had come to prominence. Both these prophets understood themselves explicitly as successors to a line of prophets that included (though variously) Abraham, Moses, Elijah, other Hebrew prophets, Zarathushtra, Jesus, and even the Buddha. Moreover, they each wrote down their oracles as a self-conscious attempt to form a canon that would be authoritative for their own communities. Indeed, early Muslims distinguished between two terms for prophet: nabi, a generic Arabic term denoting anyone who has a vision or audition of God, and rasū, the Arabic word referring only to those special "messengers" (such as Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad) who founded a religious community and transmitted their messages with a sacred book. In Islam "religions of the Book" are the highest form of religious expression.

As the words of these historical prophets attained reverential status within scriptural canons, the book replaced the living religious specialist as the primary agent of revelational mediation. The history of surviving religious traditions with a prophetic scripture (now Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) has depended in no small measure upon this development. Exegetes of various sorts replaced prophets as the maintainers of the revelational tradition, and often those who safeguarded the sanctity and purity of the written scriptures were suspicious of, even hostile to, those who claimed to have visions not mediated through the scripture. Since textual interpretation has gained the dominant socio-political position within all three traditions (probably because this mode of religious inquiry responded better to the increasingly complex social organization within which the traditions flourished), the ecstatic elements common to the earliest prophetic activity played a diminished role in later tradition. Since Muhammad there has been no prophet to form a religious tradition with a stature equaling that of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.

Even so, while contemporary prophetic inspiration lost influence at the center of religious authority, it was never eliminated entirely. Throughout history, in pre-Christian Judaism, in early Christianity, and in pre-Muslim and early-Muslim Arabia, prophetic figures were active alongside (though often in competition with) the rationalized institutions of canonical religion. Within the exegetical tradition itself inspirational interpretation has been a perennial source of innovation in theological thinking. In early Judaism, some of those who collected and arranged sacred writings within the Hebrew Bible conceived themselves to be prophets, for example, the levitical priests Korah and Asaph, who claimed prophetic inspiration for their hymnology and arranged the psalter in a structure that gives special prominence to a prophetic interpretation of psalms. And later, during the medieval period, qabbalist interpretation of the Bible elevated not only the revelational experiences of the biblical authors, but also the necessity for inspiration among exegetes. Similar attitudes are present among Christian (e.g., Jerome and Bonaventura) and Muslim (e.g., al-Hallāj) interpreters.

More generally one can speak of mysticism within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as being analogous with prophecy in earlier tradition. Insofar as mystics define religious knowledge as the immediate (i.e., unmediated) perception of the divine, the nature of their experience and epistemology is similar to earlier prophets. However, their activity is to be distinguished sharply from earlier prophecy, since the canonical traditions had no recognized need for specialists in mediating divine revelation. Each tradition accommodated spontaneous outbreaks of inspirational, ecstatic, visionary behavior, but each also maintained strict controls, lest the ultimate authority of canonical revelation be undercut.

Sufism (Muslim mysticism) first appeared within one hundred years of Muhammad's death. While some Sūfīs who quietly made claim to personal revelation or mystical vision could coexist peaceably with those nearer the center of religious power, others met violent repression when they threatened the structure and cohesion of the Muslim community. So, while Abū Yazīd al-Bistāmī, a Persian Sūfī (d. 875), encountered some opposition for his claims of achieving unity with God, it amounted to his being labeled an eccentric. He died peaceably, and afterward his tomb became the object of some veneration. However, al-Hallāj was executed (in 922) when he translated his visions and miracles into a political following that threatened the dominant order.

Within European Christianity (from the time of Constantine, at least, until well into the modern period) the orthodox were closely connected with the ruling political groups. Christian mystics, like their Muslim counterparts, were accepted by the orthodox as long as their revelational claims were subordinated to the authority of the church and Bible (e.g., Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Ávila). Yet, wherever claims of fresh revelation threatened the ecclesiastical and political power structure, the authorities responded—and violently, as with Joan of Arc, whom the English burned for heresy when she transformed her revelational claims into a potent military force. It is easy to understand why few Christians claimed to be prophets, and why, at the same time, accusations of false prophecy were leveled at those whose voices one wanted to silence.

Since fairly early in the common era, Jews have been outside the dominant power structure in cultures where they lived. Only if the prophetic claims of a messianic hopeful threatened the dominant social order of the host society was there any likelihood of political repression. Such was the case with Shabbetai Tsevi (1626–1676), whose messianic movement was perceived as a threat by his Turkish (Muslim) overlords. Tsevi recanted under threat of death. Otherwise, tensions between the more rationalist orthodoxy and mystical visionaries was something to be settled among Jews. Since Jewish orthodoxy had no power greater than rational persuasion, its ability to control mystical elements was minimal. Hence the Besht (Yisra’el ben Eli‘ezer, 1700–1760) was able to generate a massive following despite the detraction of his orthodox opponents.

In no case, however, could visionaries or mystics claim for themselves a mediational status equal with the founding prophets without subverting revealed canons and the traditions that rested upon them. Those who made such claims founded new traditions (i.e., Jesus, Mani, and Muhammad) or failed in the attempt. Otherwise prophetic and mystical vision was subordinated to the revelation that had already been canonized. In all three traditions the canonical revelation, once defined, resisted internal challenges and remained the touchstone of religious truth for well over a thousand years.


During the modern period in Europe public recognition of biblical prophecy has dwindled along with certain other aspects of European religion that had supported its primacy. The importance of prophets as the mediators of revealed truth declined sharply as the Enlightenment demolished confidence in the truth of revelation generally and enshrined a new standard of knowledge arrived at on the basis of observation and critical reasoning. At first these changes affected only the intellectual elite who had considered the impact of philosophical developments upon conceptions of God, religious truth, and divine mediation. Some philosophers (such as Hume) denied altogether the importance of revelation (and, therefore, prophetic mediation) as a source of knowledge. Others tried to accommodate revelational truths within a philosophical framework (e.g., Descartes and Kierkegaard). But others, such as Blake and Nietzsche, considered themselves to be prophets, though in their writings it is clear that they had redefined concepts related to inspiration, revelation, and truth to suit the needs of people living in post-Enlightenment civilization.

The discussion of such ideas among philosophers, scientists, and literati was contained within a minuscule portion of European culture, and the effects of their writings upon the general population materialized only very slowly. Of greater significance for popular religious culture was the diminished authority of the church. In some cases the reduction in ecclesiastical power was a direct outgrowth of Enlightenment thinking, as in the United States, where religion was consciously and explicitly separated from the centers of political power. But for the most part it seems that reductions in the power of the church to enforce its dogmas allowed for greater religious diversity (as during the Reformation), so that Enlightenment thinkers, and others, could express their religious views openly. Within this religious environment a new set of prophets arose to proclaim themselves as messengers bearing the divine word, and some have found success in founding new sects that revere their writings as sacred canon. Joseph Smith (1805–1844), for example, established the Church of Latter-Day Saints upon the claim that he had received revelations from Jesus Christ and from an angel who entrusted him with the Book of Mormon. Those who profess Christian Science regard the writings of Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910) as sacred and inviolable. Others, notably the members of the international Pentecostal or the later charismatic movements, are modern ecstatics who consider themselves capable of receiving the spirit and speaking as divine agents.

As Europe exported culture during its colonialist expansions, it came to affect and discover religious traditions elsewhere. Among Muslims, for example, critical thinking about the status of Muhammad has had some impact under the influence of and on analogy with Western reflections about religious origins. However, more important for the study of prophecy has been the impact of imperialism and modern Western culture on the indigenous tribal societies of the Americas, Africa, and maritime colonies (see bibliography, especially the entries on the ghost dance among Native Americans and cargo cults in Melanesia). As colonists encroached on territory inhabited by tribal peoples, they often found among the native religious specialists figures who showed a marked similarity to the traditional image of prophets within the major Western canonical religions. Anthropologists and comparative religionists have studied such modern prophets and their religious environment, where truths revealed through the mouths of inspired speakers remain a dominant influence in all aspects of social and personal life. Through direct observation of such religious systems scholars now understand the dynamics of prophecy with some specificity, and detailed research has dispelled various myths about its nature. It is known, for example, that ecstatic behavior among religious specialists can help maintain the structure of society, whereas scholars had long thought that ecstasy destabilized social order through its irrational influence. Likewise, the widespread opinion that ancient prophets were individualists crying to deaf ears from the loneliness of the desert now seems to be a romantic ideal. Rather, groups tend to support prophets who express their interests, while prophets acting entirely on their own rarely find a significant audience.


Though comparative theorists working with modern evidence have not yet established a single dominant interpretation of prophecy, a variety of complementary approaches now challenges the exclusivistic confessional interpretations that characterized the earlier period. Some scholars (e.g., I. M. Lewis—see bibliography) consider ecstatic religious behavior a means of expression used by disenfranchised groups who find standard channels of communication closed to them. Those studying religious behavior among shamans, Pentecostals, and other modern prophetic figures have found "deprivation theory" useful in showing how ecstatic persons support the position and structure of groups whose position in society is outside the normal channels of power and influence. Others (e.g., Victor Turner—see bibliography) interpret prochecy within a framework of social evolution. These scholars see prophets as appearing in periods of transition between societies organized along lines of kinship and clan affiliation and those structured according to more highly complex groupings that accompany the rise of states, class stratification and institutional religion. Either interpretive model applies consistent evaluative criteria to both the ancient evidence and the modern anthropological data without elevating the status of any one religious tradition over another. In this they are distinctively modern interpretations of prophecy, in contrast with canonical views, which persist in granting special recognition to the prophet(s) of a single confessional tradition.

SEE ALSO : Canon; Divination; Oracles.


For the background of mediation between gods and human beings within world religions, Mircea Eliade's Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, rev. & enl. ed. (New York, 1964), remains unsurpassed for its breadth. Works about the founding prophets normally contain a general discussion and bibliographyPage 7429 | Top of Article concerning their specific precursors. Such are Robert R. Wilson's Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia, 1980); David L. Petersen's The Roles of Israel's Prophets (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, supp. 17; Sheffield, 1981, which surveys the evidence for Israelite intermediation in the ancient Near East, and David E. Aune's Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1983), which gives a thorough discussion of Greco-Roman prophecy as well as its forms among the first Christians. Many critical works on Hebrew prophecy approach the subject from within the confessional community of Jews (e.g., Martin Buber's The Prophetic Faith, New York, 1949, and Abraham Joshua Heschel's The Prophets, New York, 1962 or Christians (e.g., Gerhard von Rad's The Message of the Prophets, London, 1968. Most treatments of prophecy ignore the significance of Zarathushtra and Mani, since they both have few, if any, modern followers to proclaim their value. Mary Boyce's A History of Zoroastrianism, 2 vols. (Leiden, 1975–1982), and Kurt Rudolph's Gnosis (San Francisco, 1983) provide useful bibliographies and discussions of the life and time of these prophets, respectively. The books on Muhammad are many; the most readable and intelligent is Maxime Rodinson's Mohammed (New York, 1971), which contains a critical evaluation of the works that preceded it. Toufic Fahd's "Kāhin," in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 4 (Leiden, 1978), pp. 420–422, is a short peculiarly lucid account of the difficulties inherent in reconstructing Arab divination during the pre-Islamic period.

Regrettably, no book discusses prophecy within a framework as broad as that suggested in this article. Hence, we suggest that the reader consult other articles within this encyclopedia for detailed bibliographies on such topics as mysticism, ecstasy, canon, scripture, and the Enlightenment, as well as on individuals that we have mentioned in the text.

Among works that may not be listed in other articles is the anthropological literature on prophecy. Max Weber's work has had a seminal influence on the field; see both Ancient Judaism (1922; Glencoe, Ill., 1952) and The Sociology of Religion (1922; Boston, 1963). I. M. Lewis's Ecstatic Religion (Harmondsworth, 1971) is a sociology of ecstatic behavior based on a broad range of comparative evidence, and though it does not address prophecy per se, it has influenced others (viz. Wilson, cited above) that do. Victor Turner's "Religious Specialists: Anthropological Study," in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, edited by David L. Sills (New York, 1968), vol. 13, pp. 437–444, offers analytical categories useful in distinguishing prophets from other religious personnel. A number of books describe the activity of prophets in modern cultures: Peter Worsley's The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of "Cargo" Cults in Melanesia (1957; New York, 1968); E. E. Evans-Pritchard's Nuer Religion (Oxford, 1956) and The Sanusi of Cyrenaica (Oxford, 1949); James Mooney's The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 (1896; abr. ed., Chicago, 1965); and Vittorio Lanternari's The Religions of the Oppressed: A Study of Modern Messianic Cults (New York, 1963).

Finally, Kenneth Cragg's Muhammad and the Christian: A Question of Response (New York, 1984) is a valuable beginning for the dialogue between Muslim and Christian conceptions of prophetic revelation.



Source Citation

SHEPPARD, GERALD, and WILLIAM HERBRECHTSMEIER. "Prophecy: An Overview." Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. Vol. 11. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 7423-7429. 15 vols. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Thomson Gale.[1]