Saturday, June 21, 2008

Book Review: the Limits of Orthodox Theology, Chapter Six, Prophecy and the Uniqueness of Moses

"These Principles teach the existence of prophecy, and that Moses was the greatest prophet who ever lived. He prophesied with intellect alone, without the imaginative faculty playing any role. In addition to listing four ways in which Moses' prophecy differed from that of all other prophets, the Seventh Principle also includes the belief that no prophet as great as Moses will ever arise again."

There are debates about the nature of prophecy, but not Orthodox thinker denies prophecy outright. The crux of this chapter revolves around whether there will be or was a prophet greater than Moses.

Those who agree with the Seventh Principle, see this based on Deuteronomy 34:10 which states "there has no arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, who the Lord knew face to face." Shapiro writes that the notion of Moses' unsurpassed greatness of his prophecies is widely assumed in talmudic and midrashic literature.

Of notable exception, Bamidbar rabah 14:34 teaches that Balaam was the equal of Moses as a prophet. At the same time it upholds Deut. 34:10 by focusing in on how Balaam was not "in Israel" but of the nations. The midrash focuses in on three ways Balaam surpassed Moses, including Balaam being able to speak to God whenever he wished.

Shapiro writes, "the issue becomes more complicated in relation to the messiah." He notes that the aforementioned Bible verse speaks of the past and not about a future prophet.

In regards to the Messiah, Nahmanides and Gersonides disagree with the Seventh Principle and R. Hayim ben Attar leaves open the possibility that the Messiah may surpass Moses.

Gersonides focues on the phrase "in Israel" in Deuteronomy and concludes that a prophet will arise to prophesy for both Israel and the nations.

Lastly, Shapiro notes some in the kabbalistic tradition who believe Moses' understanding was inferior to some kabbalists, but that doesn't apply to prophesy per se.

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