Prophecy, in a broad sense, is the prediction of future events. The etymology of the word is Greek, from pro- “before” plus the root of phanai “speak”, i. e. “speaking before” or “foretelling” (proclamation). Prophecy is a general term for assertions presented as the revelation of divine will. Sometimes the Greek word mantike (divination) is translated as prophecy.
Throughout history, people have sought knowledge of future events from special individuals or groups who were thought to have the gift of prophecy, such as Oracles at Delphi in ancient Greece. Cultures in which prophecy played an important role include the North American Indians, Mayans, Celts, Druids, Chinese, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Egyptians, Hindus, Hebrews, Tibetans, Greeks, and many in the Christian tradition, among others.
History of prophecy
The earliest manifestations of prophecy were most often found in the form of magical spells and folk charms. In modern times, astrology and other pseudoscientific techniques have gained wide acceptance.Prophecies are often based on divination, or determining the will of gods or other supernatural entities. Many methods are used to achieve this, including reading tea leaves, cloud formations, animal behavior, or even the entrails of sacrificed animals. The accepted ways of providing prophecies in the Bible and Qur’an is by visions and dreams (with criticisms of the ‘other’ methods in those Sources as unacceptable).
The development of spirituality in all (ancient) societies was in relation to their members discovered use of dreams and prophecies, as they were found to provide knowledge they didn’t have, direction, creative suggestions and healthful solutions to their ailments, sometimes in the form of herbs and other things available to them.
Prophecy in Religion
In many religions, gods or other supernatural agents are thought to sometimes provide prophecies to certain individuals, sometimes known as prophets, by dreams or visions. The Old Testament of the Bible contains prophecies from various Hebrew prophets who foretold of their people’s trials and tribulations. The Book of Revelation in the New Testament is accepted by many Christians as a prophecy related by its author of the events of the end times and Armageddon (see Eschatology, Bible prophecy and “End of the World”).
Christians believe that Jesus fulfilled many prophecies of the Old Testament, thus proving he was the ‘son of God’, or to some a messiah, and that he will return in the future to fulfill other prophecies. In the New Testament, the stories of Jesus telling a Samaritan woman about her life, or telling the apostles the future, are examples of prophecy in the Christian tradition.
The Bible itself is a long series of prophecies, written by people inspired by God from their dreams and visions. About 40% of the text of the Bible is the actual Word of God or prophecies, the rest of it is commentary and history generally relating to the prophecies and the guidance that having the ability to use dreams and visions gives to the those who learn to use them.
Muhammad, the prophet of Islam (circa 600 AD), said he had a ‘spiritual awakening’ in a cave and from that point on spoke about teachings that he said came from God (“Allah,” in Arabic). Such spiritual awakenings are directly equated with dreams, visions and remote viewing. He taught early followers how to use their dreams but when he wasn’t able to get them to really heed his instructions he despaired and proclaimed he would be the ‘Last Prophet’ until the ‘End Time‘.
More recently, in the 1800’s, Joseph Smith claimed to have translated golden plates through divine inspiration from Jesus, thereby producing the Book of Mormon. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints believe that their founder was a “latter-day” prophet.
In 1863, Bahaullah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, claimed the he is the ‘Promised One’ of all Religions. And Baha’is see both the Jewish and Christian scriptures, especially the books of Isaiah, Daniel, Micah, and Revelation as containing many prophecies promising the coming of Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i Faith. He is not acknowledged by Christians, Jews or Muslims as the ‘Promised One’ as the significant events of the End Time did not occur during his lifetime.
Many prophecies from many differi
ng sources relate to the Promised One as diverse as the Book of Enoch, Bible (Old and New Testaments), Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, Buddhist, Chinese, Muslim and Zoroastrian sources, and indigenous people’s prophecies to name a few. Having prophecies about the coming of a special spiritual teacher is the most unique ways of recognizing someone of notable importance in advance (who would return by reincarnation to be reborn and live as a human.
By necessity the person must appear to fulfill all or at least most of the prophecies about their foreseen appearance, life and actions. The events of (and solutions for) the End Time are spectacular enough that no dispute will exist as to the time, and the person expected will then be identifiable, but not before (according to prophecies).
Once the time has been identified as having started numerous imposters will claim to be that person, however just having the ability to foresee is not the only criterion by which the person can be recognized. He must be an advocate of peace too.
Evidence of Prophecy
Prophecy always involves some kind of communication with the future or with different realms of existence, which are usually not discernible by or in harmony with empirical science. Therefore, skeptics consider prophecy to be false. Believers, however, claim that prophecy is possible through supernatural means, which bypass the natural laws.
The hypothetical power of prophecy has not been scientifically tested and remains unproven, but many people believe that certain prophecies have been fulfilled, especially if they are central to their religion. Others consider that some apparently fulfilled prophecies can be explained as simple coincidences, or that some prophecies were actually invented after the fact to match the circumstances of a past event (vaticinium ex eventu).
Many prophecies are also vague, allowing them to be applied to many possible future events. The cryptic prophecies of Nostradamus are a prime example of this, but Nostradamus’s supporters argue that detailed predictions would have earned him a reputation for witchcraft. Some charismatic ministers such as William Branham, Richard Rossi, and Paul Cain are regarded as prophets by Pentecostal followers, who believe the “prophets” can give an accurate “word of knowledge.”
This usually involves information about the present and future lives of those seeking hands-on healing prayer that were not ascertained by natural means. Cain and Rossi are considered remarkable living examples of the ability to call out strangers in a meeting and give very detailed information about them. Critics say both men are highly intelligent, observant, and intuitive, and the ability is a natural one. Defenders of Rossi and Cain point to the dramatic supernatural healings that often accompany their prophecies.
In the Middle Ages, as the figure of the Latin poet Virgil developed into a kind of magus or wizard, manuscripts of his work The Aeneid were used for divination, the sortes virgilianae. A line would be selected at random and interpreted, very much in the way Old Testament lines were interpreted for arcane meanings, in light of a current situation.