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Prophecy

by on January 13, 2019

Prophecy

by Marco M. Pardi

The well adjusted make poor prophets.” Eric Hoffer. (1902-1983) The True Believer. 1951

Many unhappy persons affected by ambitious mania, or theomania, are looked upon as prophets, and their delusions taken for revelations.” Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909). The Man of Genius. (The Hebrew, nabi, used in the Bible, connotes both prophet and madman.)

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

From early childhood I’ve been interested in the phenomenon of prophecy. It carries within it so many implications which, if taken logically step by step provoke much thought on the nature of existence. And, it can come in a variety of forms, not all of which are equally obvious.

If, like me, you refuse to believe something simply because it has been said, you find yourself with certain questions which begin even before considering the substance of the prophecy. These questions go deeper than just, Who is this prophet? They go to the context in which the prophet appears.

Every culture has had, and still has people who appear to be remarkably insightful, and some who appear to be prescient – able to accurately predict future events. But some cultures are more accepting of these abilities than others. Some quickly accept them as “God given gifts” while others contort themselves with empirical testing, psycho-dynamic hypotheses, and even speculations on the quantum nature of existence. Of course, there are also those cultures which, placing high value on the study of history and the intricacies of critical thinking, recognize and consider the thoughts of people often referred to as “futurists”; nothing magical there, just a logical progression.

When looking at prophets in the vernacular, an interesting distinction, and one with consequences for us, lies in the contrast of the Etruscan culture with the Hebrew culture. The Etruscans, centered in the Etruria area north of Rome, were and are famous for their Eat, Drink and be Merry approach to life, and to death. Their view of the afterlife was a continuation of the joys of mortal existence but without the hassles. Their sense of place in the world was fully invested beyond the mere physical, acknowledging unseen forces at play in everyday currents. Their sense of self was holistic.

Thus, when a haruspex – someone sensitive to these unseen forces and able to “read the signs”, pronounced upon those signs and their implications he or she did not imagine a personified entity (a “god”) as the causative agent. Rather, it was the workings of the whole, albeit beyond what we would later call factual understanding. Of course, then as now we tend to remember the correct pronouncements and overlook or forget the incorrect ones, unless they resulted in true calamity.

As Rome developed and expanded its power it absorbed the Etruscan culture, as was later to become its habit with all it encountered. But Roman “gods” were personified and real only in the eyes of the ignorant and simple minded. In fact, the term pagan, so heavily used by Christians to disparage pre-Christian thought even today, derives from the Latin pagani, a term referring to the uneducated and simple minded “country bumpkins”. It pointedly does not single out or refer to any particular belief system. The educated Romans, the real powers of State, placed the highest values on principles such as Wisdom, Loyalty, Bravery, Virtue and others. To them the Statue of Liberty would be what it is, an icon to call to mind the values for which it stands, not some physical depiction of a real woman holding a torch and perhaps demanding worship. It should be said that contemporary Greeks could be divided along the same lines: Those who understood iconic values and powers versus those who personified those values and powers.

During Imperial times the Romans banned astrology and other forms of divination on pain of death, especially when these were aimed at the Emperor. They were more advanced than some modern societies in understanding how ideas and claims can “go viral” and foment civil unrest or even rebellion.

On the other hand, the Hebrew culture, long and greatly influenced by the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians and later the Greeks, blended the personified forces of Nature (the Genesis narrative is written in the plural) and added layers of characters such as mal’akh, the classical Hebrew word for messenger, an intercessor modeled on the Greek Hermes and known to modern Christians as an angel. Christians would carry this stratification further with saints and demons.

Unlike the Romans, or modern Christians, the Hebrews lived in total and complete immersion in their belief system. They were not, like modern Christians – secular materialists six and one half days a week and “spiritual” a few hours on the seventh. Every aspect of daily life, from eating to sexual intercourse, was calculated and performed within the prescriptions of the belief system. An example of how this daily immersion was misunderstood by the Greek writers of what was to become the Bible is the Lazarus story. In fact, there were many stories of people being “brought back from the dead”. The reason was simple: A Hebrew who fell away from the faith was a person with whom absolutely no interaction of any kind was possible. This person was then, effectively, dead to the community. And, these people were referred to as “dead”. Restoring a person into the faith was thus “raising him from the dead”. The Greek writers of the Gospels, ignorant of the Hebrew/Jewish meaning behind these stories, rendered one of them as a matter of fact history in support of their new prophet-deity, Jesus. The many other such stories were simply ignored or destroyed.

So what exactly were these Hebrew prophets we hear so much of? Basically, they were the precursors of our current media pundits. Our modern culture overlooks something: The developing Christian church scrambled through existing literature to find, and carefully edit, long standing writings that would seem to validate the lineage of Jesus and “predict” his coming. Thus, the emphasis on the writings shifted away from social commentary and toward claimed predictive value. Prophecy became synonymous with prediction. But in fact the great bulk of prophecy was astute and biting social commentary especially as it related to the ruling powers. Simple logic would dictate that when one enumerates the harmful fallacies and evil deeds characterizing a given society one moves to propose an unpleasant outcome. This does not mean one “sees” that outcome, as in a vision of a future state of being. It simply means the house is built badly, and badly built houses fall down. What dire visions were expressed in prophetic writings come off more as wishful thinking crafted through the magical mechanisms acceptable in the times.

Which brings us to our current state of affairs. Not for the first time in history, but certainly as an example of the best employment of prophecy, a hostile foreign power, not just a solitary home grown malcontent, analyzed the recent trends in government and society and accurately identified what, to many, are the harmful fallacies and evil deeds responsible for the failed dreams of those many. And, far more potent than just another deranged looking figure wailing on the street corner or scribbling manifestos in a cave, this foreign power channeled its messages through the greatest proliferation of media outlets the world has ever seen. Already having a compromised businessman in pocket, the foreign power astutely identified the “base” for this man, the pagani of modern America, and crafted the prophecies directly to them. His demagogic speeches, peppered with “dog whistles” to racism, fear, and alienation, appeared to be talking points set out for him to answer with, “I know better than (fill in the blank)” and “Only I can fix it”.

For their part, the media was distinctly unable to predict the disastrous consequences of their decision to reap the financial rewards of continually covering the ravings of this “prophet”. After all, who doesn’t want comic relief once in a while?

Sadly, the country, and even the world, is paying the consequences of a minority pagani victory: a bipedal tumor in the White House actively metastasizing throughout the entire political party which thinks it owns him.

I recently read an article explaining how many American fundamentalist/evangelicals – the modern pagani – actually see the current president as sent by God. I doubt that opinion influences him much, since he seems to have thought that from somewhere near birth. But I am interested in how he was about to sign a bipartisan government funding Bill which would have averted a shut-down yet refused at the very last minute after hearing from media prophets like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter. Limbaugh and Hannity each flunked out of college in their Freshman year. I don’t know about Coulter. Obviously these prophets have the ear of a large percentage of the public, but more specifically his “base”. This tells me he either thinks they would rise up in his defense during an impeachment or he is serious about running for office again. He may be thinking a sitting President cannot be indicted for crimes, so he will try to sit until he’s too old or dies in office.

But who knows, I’m no prophet. I do find myself in a quandary when it comes to voting rights. The stakes have gotten far too high to just sit back and say everything will even itself out. It won’t. That foreign power mentioned above accurately assessed our population’s greatest vulnerability: The willingness to rally behind the next prophet.

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10 Comments
  1. Julie permalink

    Hi Marco, wow this is interesting, however I’m not sure my comments will do your article justice as I only have a very basic knowledge of history and don’t really follow politics. I am interested in history though and intend to learn more and particularly to get the timeframes of events clearer in my head. I really enjoyed the mini history lesson here. I’m not a fan of politics, just because I feel very frustrated whenever I have read about or have looked into it. It’s all about power, I’m more like how you described the Hewbrews – spiritual and holistic, although I do understand someone has to run countries.

    So reading through this, am I correct to say that the Romans were the ones that wanted power at any cost and the Etruscans and Hebrews were spiritual and had a holistic approach to life?. I’ve never actually thought about prophecy in the way that you have written about it in relation to politics and history, but it made a lot of sense to me. One of the reasons why I enjoy your blog so much is because your thinking translates so well into words and more importantly lets me think in a different way.

    The evolution of religion and different time periods I find facinating in how humans have evolved and changed over and over (which is why I’d love to study history one day). We should learn from those times and coming into the current time with how life is now.

    I must say, I personnally am concerned with the state of a lot of how we live life today such as social media, media, technology, etc but there are upsides to all of this as well. My children remind me that it’s fine mum and they feel it’s my age – I think I have the priveledge (like yourself) to have lived without technology and with technology, unlike my children. I would like to think that as time goes on we (western society) will learn to balance all of this – so it doesn’t take over, but we will have to see, maybe not in my lifetime. I’m not going to make any prophecy about this 🙂

    • Thank you, Julie. Indeed, history is immensely rich with importance for our current decisions and lives. I would not characterize the Hebrews (generally) as spiritual as much as religious. “People of the Book”, they followed what was given to them as the Law. It can be said the Romans were too tolerant. They allowed and included the religions they encountered with only one condition: Swear allegiance to Rome.

      The juxtaposition of history, religion, and politics may seem strange to some but my point is that no one function in society stands alone. And, unfortunately, the power of America as manifested in its decisions affects the planet as a whole. Your Great Barrier Reef, and the accelerating distress it is experiencing is a too sad example.

      As you point out, we do live in an era in which we cannot merely accept our technology as accurate and morally right simply because it exists. We have to look to the motivations of those who brought it to us. And the juxtaposition I cited earlier is one window into that motivation.

  2. Gary permalink

    I am a great lover of history and it is what I mostly read for pleasure and education. Not knowing how we got from “there to here”, as in the theme song for Star Trek: Enterprise is an abyss i cannot stand. I was impressed with your march through ancient history on the subject of prophecy and prediction. You dissected them with a surgeon’s scalpel. Thanks for that.

    But, I have to say, this metaphor made me nearly fall of my chair in laughter:

    a bipedal tumor in the White House actively metastasizing throughout the entire political party which thinks it owns him.

    You have a talent for wit, Marco. You should employ it more often.

    • Thank you, Gary. I highly value your informed assessments. Following on your metaphor, I do tend to engage in defensive writing, much as a physician engages in defensive medicine. But I will venture to express more “wit” as we go along. Thanks again, Marco

      • From Ray:
        Good article with so many elements it is difficult to respond with any brevity. But I can tell you that like just about everyone these days I predicted (prophesied) the days of Trump, including his election. So while on a streak I am predicting he will resign this year – take a deal to keep him from what we are all predicting is a potential indictment over activities impairing national security.

        Chin up…

  3. Thanks, Ray. I suspect you are correct but it will be interesting to see if the Republican party will be willing to accept another Gerald Ford type fiasco.

  4. I read this article only minutes after it was posted, but I suspect you could have predicted that. Like others who have commented, I very much enjoyed the history lesson. American history was my favorite subject in high school, and I honestly believe our founding fathers would be appalled to see what this country has become under the present regime.

    It’s insanity, with the lunatic-in-chief driving the crazy train. If it’s allowed to derail, decency, democracy, and good sense will die in the crash.

    You, I, and many others like us have been predicting this from the beginning. From his early Presidential declarations to his current threats, Donald Trump has proven that he does not play well with others, nor does he truly have the good of the nation in mind. I might say at heart, but I am not convinced he has one. The Congress is trying to do its part, but Trump’s senatorial body guard will not allow that to happen. I read recently that McConnell’s wife and brother-in-law were both given lucrative jobs by Trump, and I guess this is his chance to say “thank you” to his benefactor.

    I’m hoping there’s a “back door” to this fiasco, and that it comes to an end before Trump is given permission from his “handlers” to declare himself dictator. If this is allowed to happen, there is no predicting the end of this “game”. I guess all the players that have been refusing to do their jobs will get to pack up their toys and go home.

    Senators, can you say, “would you like fries with that?”

  5. Thank you, Rose. I agree that we are at risk of dictatorship. Before these developments I have no doubt statements such as I just made would have been taken as the ravings of a street corner prophet. Yet, we are now – belatedly – discovering that we should remember today what seemed impossible yesterday.

    You may also want to look into the millions of dollars McConnell pocketed through NRA funds which originated with the Russians. And he is not the only one.

  6. Sadly, with the damage being done to the planet, there is no place to go and find peace.

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