Sunday, April 23, 2006

Prophecy Examined

How can we understand the prophecies contained within the Torah? Today we might have a hard time with the notion itself that prophecy existed in the first place.

For example, one of the modern “secular” views of the supposed phenomena of prophecy was that the “prophet,” the person making and writing the predictions, were actually examples of hindsight of an event after it had happened and explaining the course of events from that position in order to explain a traumatic disaster. In other words, when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians, the prophet whom “predicted” it actually lived much later, and with the luxury of hindsight, was able to “predict” it by explaining why it had happened. If this is true, and if we understand this for what it is, the prophet was a true propagandist in every sense of the word; he viewed an event and attempted to tell society that it happened according to his own personal belief, even if that belief was largely shared by the community to which he belonged.

Let us examine this logically. Imagine that in 2004 that I predicted who would win the 2005 playoffs and in 2006 I “published my findings” and revealed to the world that I was right. This is a relatively easy scam; I watched the playoffs in 2005, waited until 2006, and claimed that I actually predicted that the correct team would win back in 2004 and of course my prediction “came true.” Similarly, I witnessed the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE with my own eyes, and hundreds of years later I wrote down a record of the facts and presented them as if I had actually written them down as predictions hundreds of years before the Temple was destroyed; anybody reading what I wrote would be led to think that I actually predicted the destruction of the Temple correctly hundreds of years before it was destroyed and would be motivated to repentance. If this were true, then that would not make me successful at prophecy, but at deceit.

However, there is a problem with this notion. If I really waited until 2005, after the game, to write down the events of that game as if they occurred in 2004, then I would have to remember almost meticulously the events, social atmosphere, and any other pertinent information to 2004 in order to convincingly “place myself” in 2004. If the reader picked up on any out of place events or inaccurate information, it would call my “prediction” into doubt and it might be revealed as a fraud – therefore I would have to remember the events almost perfectly, just enough to fool people that I was right, considering that they too also have an imperfect memory. I would have had to begin meticulously recording events in 2004 so that I could refer to them in 2006 in order to deceitfully re-create those events. And of course, even if I was able to do so, I can never be sure as to what individuals experienced personally in the year 2004 and therefore recorded, an oversight that would potentially uncover me as a fraud.

Having said that, it would be “easy enough” to stage a “prediction” from a mere two years ago, in contrast to, let’s say, an event that happened approximately six hundred years before the time I was actually writing it. If I waited until the year 700 to write down the events of 586 as if somebody living in the year 400 wrote them, I would have to recall the events, social reality, and any other pertinent information from 300 years before my existence, or in other words, from both 586 and 400! Yet in the year 2006 I can barely imagine what life was like in the 1700’s! I would have to not only remember the details of the destruction of the Temple 114 years before my time (through historical accounts, tradition, etc), I would also have to recreate the setting in the year 400 accurately enough to convince people that I was predicting an event that would not occur for another 186 years; this is virtually impossible! It would be like waiting until 2006 to record the events of the framing of the Constitution of the United States of America (1776) as if I was writing them from the perspective of a person living in the year 1400! Were the prophets super-genius historians; did they have time machines? As unrealistic as such a thing would be to pull off in either the 8th or 21st century, today we at least have relatively reliable historical documents and technologies that help us to unearth history, a development which did not yet exist (compared to our capacity today) in the 8th century BCE, which is the date that scholars who propose the “Documentary Hypothesis” attribute to Isaiah’s predictions of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. They say that they are not predictions, but rather “retroactive” insight.

Let’s make it more feasible though. Let’s say that I didn’t wait until the 8th century to write down my falsehood, let’s say that I compiled it relatively soon after the destruction, about one or two months after it; this would make the event more fresh in my mind, and we can get around the difficulties presented if I waited 300 hundred years to write it (in somebody else’s name of course, because I can’t live for 300 years). However, if the destruction of the Temple was as traumatic and socially destructive as the records indicate, then it would be hard to imagine that I was in a fresh enough state of mind in which I was able to record things rationally and convincingly; in reality, my writings would be potently tinted by emotion, outrage, and depression. There is no way that I would be able to re-create the events of the year 400 in the present state of shock that I would be in after experiencing such a thing.

Let’s say that in the 8th century that I recorded the destruction of the Temple in a state of wild confusion and attributed it as a work of the 5th century. Reading this “completed narrative” some thousands of years later and perhaps understanding (to a degree) the reality in the 5th century, the reader might point out that there was nothing for me to be so upset about in the 5th century to warrant such emotional, outrageous, and depressed declarations, and through this scope of history, from a bird’s eye view, we would dismiss the work as being anachronistic.

However, we see people acting like this today, people shouting and taking to arms and protest, screaming wildly about impending doom if we are to maintain our destructive tendencies as human beings; why is it so impossible for us to imagine that this was real in the 5th century BCE when we see it happening in the 21st century CE?! Granted, today there are no prophets; G-d is not speaking to these people directly as He did with the prophets in the Torah, but today people are at least able of gaining historical and political insight, even if not perfectly, in order to be able to “predict” the future. And the proof that today’s political rabble rouser is not a prophet is that the events that they talk about do not happen in the way that they said; instead, their opinions are backed by statistical possibility and repeating human tendencies, and therefore their “teachings” are the insights of intelligent, educated, and perceptive people with access loads of information, but they are not prophets.

The same things happen over again and over again in human history not because we are doomed to repeat history due to lack of possessing knowledge of it, because we do possess knowledge, but because we do not sufficiently or efficiently place ourselves in the pages very history that we possess and study. The saying goes, “Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” In short, this saying means to say that we can learn how to act properly by simply seeing the repetitious waves, cycles, and trends and then avoiding previously taken courses of actions. However, this makes a dangerous mockery of the deeper meaning of this saying. The reason being that, if we merely recognize a “cycle of history,” this does not imply in the least that we understand the reason for the repetition of the waves; we do not understand the inner-mechanics of the waves and what drives them. We are at risk of reducing history to a universally similar set of events occurring over long periods of time and fail to understand that what is true to one person is not true to another. Therefore, we may view a particular wave occurring over and over again, but will probably settle with the superficial perspective that the same thing is actually occurring again and again, when in reality, for the “sides” involved, each is respectively perceiving and interpreting the series of events in entirely different ways than the other. Therefore, we can conclude that “invasion,” for example, is a trademark of human behavior, a constantly recurring wave, but we fail to realize that each side, the invader and the “invadee” define the event in entirely different terms, and most importantly, in light of their past experiences and culture, an ever-important detail that the “wave theory” does not take into account or is even able to sense with its broad lens.

For example, the invader might be motivated by a specific reason to seize land from another peoples, such as that by invading them he is civilizing them. However, were he himself to be invaded by people who want his wealth, and then years later he attempts to recapture his land from his own invaders, he would, at that point in his history, be motivated by a feeling of loss and redemption, and entirely different reason to invade than his original. However, the high-held lens of the “wave theory” equalizes everything to the point where the significant and necessary differences are blurred, simply seeing all events as invasions, and not being able to detect that three very different mechanisms are occurring right before our eyes without our knowledge. Therefore, those who do not know history are doomed to repeating it, but even a knowledge of history is not always sufficient to redeem one from doing so, because there is a difference between “knowledge” and “understanding;” I may be aware of a fact, but I may not understand that fact. I understand that “e = mc squared,” but I do not necessarily understand how that is the formula for energy. We are doomed to repeating our history, not because we do not know history, but because we do not understand the human’s perspective from which the information is recorded, either in the personal sense or in the sense of a broader culture and/or their own specific past as a people. We do not bother with the mechanics of history.

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