Jewish Theology Systematically and Historically Considered (1918) [Chapter 6]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

Revelation, Prophecy, and Inspiration

(pp.34-41)

A) About the author of the chapter:

Kaufman Kohler “… was educated at the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Leipzig, (1865-69), and received the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Erlangen in 1868.” [1]

“Feb. 26, 1903, he was elected to the presidency of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati.” [2]

[1] https://www.jta.org/1926/01/29/archive/dr-kaufmann-kohler-president-emeritus-of-hebrew-union-college-dies

[2] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9419-kohler-kaufmann

B) Chapter Summary:

“Divine revelation signifies two different things: first, God’s self-revelation, which the Rabbis called Gilluy Shekinah, “the manifestation of the divine Presence,” and, second, the revelation of His will, for which they used the term Torah min ha Shamayim, “the Law as emanating from God.””1

“Scripture ascribes such revelations to non-Israelites as well as to the patriarchs and prophets of Israel,—to Abimelek and Laban, Balaam, Job, and Eliphaz. Therefore the Jewish prophet is not distinguished from the rest by the capability to receive divine revelation, but rather by the intrinsic nature of the revelation which he receives. His vision comes from a moral God.”2

“In speaking through them, God appeared actually to have stepped into the sphere of human life as its moral Ruler. This self-revelation of God as the Ruler of man in righteousness, which must be viewed in the life of any prophet as a providential act, forms the great historical sequence in the history of Israel, upon which rests the Jewish religion”3

“The divine revelation in Israel was by no means a single act, but a process of development, and its various stages correspond to the degrees of culture of the people. For this reason the great prophets also depended largely upon dreams and visions, at least in their consecration to the prophetic mission, when one solemn act was necessary.”4

“The story of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai is in reality the revelation of God to the people of Israel as part of the great world-drama of history. Accordingly, the chief emphasis is laid upon the miraculous element, the descent of the Lord to the mountain in fire and storm, amid thunder and lightning, while the Ten Words themselves were proclaimed by Moses as God’s herald. As a matter of fact, the first words of the narrative state its purpose, the consecration of the Jewish people at the outset of their history to be a nation of prophets and priests. Therefore the rabbis lay stress upon the acceptance of the Law by the people in saying: “All that the Lord sayeth we shall do and hearken.” From a larger point of view, we see here the dramatized form of the truth of Israel’s election by divine Providence for its historic religious mission.”5

“The rabbis ascribed the gifts of prophecy to pagans as well as Israelites at least as late as the erection of the Tabernacle, after which the Divine Presence dwelt there in the midst of Israel. They say that each of the Jewish prophets was endowed with a peculiar spiritual power that corresponded with his character and his special training, the highest, of course, being Moses, whom they called “the father of the prophets.””6

“The medieval Jewish thinkers, following the lead of Mohammedan philosophers or theologians, regard revelation quite differently, as an inner process in the mind of the prophet. According to their mystical or rationalistic viewpoint, they describe it as the result of the divine spirit, working upon the soul either from within or from without. These two standpoints betray either the Platonic or the Aristotelian influence. Indeed, the rabbis themselves showed traces of neo-Platonism when they described the ecstatic state of the prophets, or when they spoke of the divine spirit speaking through the prophet as through a vocal instrument, or when they made distinctions between seeing the Deity “in a bright mirror” or “through a dark glass.””7

“Except for the five books of Moses, the idea of a mechanical inspiration of the Bible is quite foreign to Judaism. Not until the second Christian century did the rabbis finally decide on such questions as the inspiration of certain books among the Hagiographa or even among the Prophets, or whether certain books now excluded from the canon were not of equal rank with the canonical ones.89 In fact, the influence of the holy spirit was for some time ascribed, not only to Biblical writers, but also to living masters of the law. The fact is that divine influence cannot be measured by the yardstick or the calendar. Where it is felt, it bursts forth as from a higher world, creating for itself its proper organs and forms. The rabbis portray God as saying to Israel, “Not I in My higher realm, but you with your human needs fix the form, the measure, the time, and the mode of expression for that which is divine.””8

“[Judaism] claims its own prophetic truth as the revelation, admits the title Books of Revelation (Bible) only for its own sacred writings, and calls the Jewish nation alone the People of Revelation. The Church and the Mosque achieved great things in propagating the truths of the Sinaitic revelation among the nations, but added to it no new truths of an essential nature. Indeed, they rather obscured the doctrines of God’s unity and holiness. On the other hand, the people of the Sinaitic revelation looked to it with a view of ever revitalizing the dead letter, thus evolving ever new rules of life and new ideas, without ever placing new and old in opposition, as was done by the founder of the Church. Each generation was to take to heart the words of Scripture as if they had come “this very day” out of the mouth of the Lord.”9

 

2 Replies to “Jewish Theology Systematically and Historically Considered (1918) [Chapter 6]”

  1. Ciao I quite like reading through an article that will make men and women think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment! gracias

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