seemed to lose their old personality and to be swayed by a supernatural influence. More than this hardly lies in the expression “a divine spirit” (אלוהים רוּחַ), which is used not only of the prophetic afflatus but of the evil frenzy that afflicted Saul's later days. The Hebrews had a less narrow conception of the spiritual than we are apt to read into their records.
To give a name to this new phenomenon the Israelites, it would seem, had to borrow a word from their Canaanite neighbours. Canaanite Prophets. At all events the word nābhīa is neither part of the old Semitic vocabulary (in Arabic it is a late loan word) nor has it any etymology in Hebrew, the cognate words “to prophesy” and the like being derived from the noun in its technical sense. But we know that there were nebhīīm among the Canaanites; the “prophets” of Baal appear in the history of Elijah as men who sought to attract their god by wild orgiastic rites. In fact the presence of an orgiastic character is as marked a feature in Canaanite religion as the absence of it is in the oldest religion of Israel; but the new Hebrew enthusiasts had at least an external resemblance to the devotees of the Canaanite sanctuaries and this would be enough to determine the choice of a name which in the first instance seems hardly to have been a name of honour. In admitting that the name was borrowed, we are not by any means shut up to suppose that the Hebrew nebhīīm simply copied their Canaanite neighbours. The phenomenon is perfectly intelligible without any such hypothesis. A wave of intense religious feeling passes over the land and finds its expression, according to the ordinary law of oriental life, in the formation of a sort of enthusiastic religious order. The Nazarites and the Rechabites are parallel phenomena, though of vastly inferior historical importance.
It may be assumed that the name nābhīa, while it originated from Babylonian sources, reached Israel through Canaanite channels (cf. Kautzsch, “Religion of Israel,” in Hastings's Dict. Bible extra vol., p. 653). Some support is given to this view by (a) the statement in 1 Kings xviii. 19 that four hundred prophets of Baal and Ashērah sat at Jezebel's table; (b) the fact that Deborah, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah ben Imlah, the most notable of the earlier representatives of prophecy, belong to northern Israel, which was more subject to Canaanite-Phoenician influence.
It is certainly probable that the nābhīa emerged by a process of continued development, of which the intermediate stages are lost, from the older rōeh, as the explanatory gloss in 1 Sam. ix. 9 evidently intimates. Samuel himself is called a rōeh. We may assume that like the practice of the soothsaying priest (the earlier type of priest) and of the ḳōsēm (diviner), so the procedure of the rōeh was mechanical and magical in character. Clear indications of a primitive magical modus operandi appear as survivals in the narratives of the pre-exilian prophets. The wonder-working staff of Elisha (2 Kings iv. 29, 31) is one of these indications. There are likewise traces of survival in the examples of “sympathetic magic” transformed into the acted parable of prophecy. Students of Tallquist's Maklū series of incantation or of the šurpu series edited by Zimmern (in his Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Babylonischen Religion) will recollect the images over which the priest sorcerer recites his formulae. The accompanying actions (tying knots, &c.) which he performs are assumed to work themselves out on the enemy whose evil eye or sorcery is blasting the happiness of the suppliant (see Hastings's Dict. Bible, “Magic,” p. 209, where examples are cited). The signs or symbolic acts of the prophet probably originated in the actions of sympathetic magic. Thus in the vivid scene of 1 Kings xxii. 11 the iron horns of Zedeḳiah ben Kena‘nah, and in 2 Kings xiii. 15-19 the magic of the arrow shot eastward and of the thrice stricken floor, are evident survivals of an older practice. The magical act passes into sign or symbol, not however without the accompanying conception that underlies it still persisting that a mysterious effectuating potency belongs to the symbolic act. The mystic power of a significant name Maḥér shālāl ḥash baz inscribed on a tablet and bestowed on a child (Isa. viii. 1-4, cf. xx. 2 sqq.), of the “thongs and bars” of Jer. xxvii. (in which contending prophets confront one another in a contest of symbols), of the linen girdle of ch. xiii. 1 sqq., and of the potter's vessel of xix. 1 sqq., are further illustrations of survivals from the old world of magic. The symbol gradually passes into mere metaphor, and we already begin to see this when we compare Ezekiel's oracles and those of the Deutero-Isaiah with the records of the words and deeds of earlier prophets.
The peculiar methods of the prophetic exercises described in 1 Sam. were of little consequence for the future development Prophetic Societies or Gilds. of prophecy. The heat of a first enthusiasm necessarily cooled when the political conditions that produced it passed away; and, if the prophetic associations had done no more than organize a new form of spiritual excitement, they would have only added one to the many mechanical types of hysterical religion which are found all over the East. Their real importance was that they embodied an intenser vein of feeling than was expressed in the ordinary feasts and sacrifices, and that the greater intensity was not artificial, but due to a revival of national sentiment. The worship of the local sanctuaries did nothing to promote the sense of the religious unity of Israel; Yahweh in the age of the judges ran no small risk of being divided into a number of local Baals, givers of natural good things each to his own locality. The struggle for freedom called forth a deeper sense of the unity of the people of the one Yahweh, and in so doing raised religion to a loftier plane; for a faith which unites a nation is necessarily a higher moral force than one which only unites a township or a clan. The local worships, which subsisted unchanged during the greater part of the Hebrew kingship, gave no expression to this rise in the religious consciousness of the nation; on the contrary, we see from the prophetic books of the 8th century that they lagged more and more behind the progress of religious thought. But the prophetic societies were in their origin one symptom of that upheaval of national life of which the institution of the human sovereign reigning under the divine King was the chief fruit; they preserved the traditions of that great movement; they were, in however imperfect a way, an organ of national religious feeling, and could move forward with the movement of national life. And so, though we cannot follow the steps of the process, we are not surprised to learn that they soon had an established footing in Israel, and that the prophets came to be recognized as a standing sacred element in society. What was their precise place in Hebrew life we hardly know but they formed at least a religious class which in all its traditions represented the new national and not the old communal and particularistic life. One characteristic point which appears very early is that they felt themselves called upon to vindicate the laws Nathan. of divine righteousness in national matters, and especially in the conduct of the kings, who were not answerable to human authority. The cases of Nathan and David in the matter of Uriah, of Elijah and Ahab after the judicial murder of Naboth, will occur to everyone, and from the Hebrew standpoint the action of Gad in the matter of the census taken by David belongs to the same category. Such interventions with an Eastern king demanded great moral courage, for, though to some extent protected by their sacred character, the persons of the prophets were by no means legally inviolable (1 Kings xix. 2, xxii. 27; 2 Kings vi. 31). It is far from easy to determine how far the development of the class of prophets meant the absorption into it of the old seers. Probably both coexisted for some time. At all events we know from Isa. iii. 2, 3, that in Isaiah's time the ḳōsēm still held an important place in society as well as the prophet and the magician. The functions of rōeh and nābhīa may indeed at first have been mingled. The great prophecy of Nathan (2 Sam. vii.) is of too disputed a date to be cited in
- If this account of the origin of the nebhīīm is correct (cf. Kuenen, Prophets, Eng. trans., p. 554 seq.), the etymological sense of the word נָבִיא is comparatively unimportant. The root seems to mean “to start up,” “to rise into prominence,” and so “to become audible.” This is based on the Arabic naba’a; see the remarks at the beginning of this article.