Prophets of the Jews
According to the Talmud, the Jewish people produced 48 prophets and seven prophetesses (Tractate Megillah 14a). In the Middle Ages, Rabbenu Hananel ben Hushiel (990-1053 CE) enumerated 39 prophets and seven prophetesses by name, plus the sons of Korach, “all of whom prophesied in the desert.” Rashi (1040-1105 CE), who based himself on Halachot Gedolot and Seder Olam, listed 46 prophets and seven prophetesses (the two prophets Rashi claims not to know are Hanani the Seer and Oded, according to the Vilna Gaon). In his commentary on Seder Olam, the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797 CE) adumbrated five lists totaling 76 prophets, including the seven prophetesses, as well as heathen prophets.
A principal reason for the discrepancies between the lists is their discrete points of departure: Rabbenu Hananel begins his series with Moses; Rashi begins his with Abraham; and the Vilna Gaon begins his with Adam. In addition to adding a number of figures to Rashi’s list, the Vilna Gaon subtracts five prophets from Rashi’s enumeration of the prophets who arose after the restoration to Canaan. Unlike Rashi, but like Rabbenu Hananel, the Vilna Gaon includes Zechariah ben Jehoiada, Daniel, the three sons of Korach (Asir, Elkanah and Aviasaf), and the Levites (Heman, Asaf and Jeduthun; the Vilna Gaon also includes Ethan), while deleting Solomon, Eli the Priest, Mahseiah, and Neriah. Rabbenu Hananel and Rashi include Aaron, whom the Vilna Gaon excludes. Rabbenu Hananel notably elides Haggai and Mordechai, as well as Jahaziel ben Zechariah and Uriah, whom Rashi and the Vilna Gaon include. All three authorities maintain an identical list of prophetesses.
As a general rule, according to the Sages, a prophet’s protégé is also a prophet (Rashi, Megillah 15). The following précis elaborates Rashi’s series (along with the pair of missing prophets supplied by the Vilna Gaon).
- Abraham (c. 2000 BCE) The first Hebrew and Patriarch, originally from the Old Babylonian (formerly Sumerian) city of Ur, who was the son of an idol merchant, Terach, and father of the Jewish people. While still known as Abram, he accepted the divine call to leave Haran and journey to Canaan, establishing the Covenant between God and the Hebrews. In Canaan, the onetime city-dweller-turned-migrant settled down again, purchasing property and establishing himself, his wife, Sarai (later Sarah), his kinfolk and his flocks. Abraham was the first to adduce monotheism to the world, a revolutionary notion in an epoch rife with pagan polytheism. At Haran, Shechem, Beth El, Be’ersheva and Mamre (Hebron), God repeatedly promised to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation and to give them Canaan as their inheritance. Abraham pleaded with God on behalf of Sodom, and in one of his 10 trials prepared to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, at God’s instruction. He had two concubines, Hagar and Keturah (some of the Sages identified the latter with the former). Abraham died at the age of 175, and was buried beside Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron.
- Isaac (c. 1850 BCE) The only son of Abraham and Sarah, and the second Patriarch. At 37, Isaac was bound as an offering on Mount Moriah, though he was saved from the ordeal of child sacrifice, then a common practice, when the imminent act was aborted at the intercession of an angel. At the age of 40, he wed his uncle’s granddaughter, Rebekah, who eventually gave birth to fraternal twins, Jacob and Esau. Isaac grew blind with age, died at the age of 180 and was buried in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron.
- Jacob (c. 1750 BCE) The second-born son of Isaac and Rebekah and third and final Patriarch, he was the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. A young Jacob bought Esau’s birthright and, at Rebekah’s urging, used a ruse to obtain the blessing intended for his brother. Esau’s rage prompted Jacob to flee to the house of his maternal uncle, Lavan. After serving the wily Lavan for 20 years, Jacob set off homeward with four wives, one daughter and 11 sons. During this return journey, his beloved wife, Rachel, died giving birth to his 12th son, Benjamin. His favored son, Joseph, was sold into servitude in Egypt by his jealous brothers, and only towards the end of Jacob’s life did he realize his long-lost son still lived. Jacob led a life of adversity, but upheld the faith and traditions of Abraham, his grandfather. God repeatedly assured him that the promises made to Abraham would be fulfilled through him and his dozen sons. On two occasions, angels appeared to Jacob in his dreams, at Beth-El and Peniel, both places being named by Jacob. He wrestled with an angel and prevailed, resulting in his name being changed to Israel on his return to Canaan from Haran. He earned the double promise of eternity for his descendants and their return to the Land of Israel. He was buried in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron.
- Moses (c. 1300 BCE) The son of Amram and Yocheved of the tribe of Levi, he became the lawgiver and greatest of the prophets, who knew God “face to face” (Ex. 33:11). All later prophets arose to adjure the Jews to adhere to the Torah (teaching, instruction, law) of Moses. Floated in a reed casket along the Nile, Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, Batya (Bithiah), and raised as an Egyptian prince. He killed a brutal Egyptian overseer in defense of a beaten Hebrew slave, then fled to Midian, where he wedded Tzipporah, daughter of the priest, Jethro, whose flocks Moses shepherded for 40 years. Tending his sheep at Mount Horeb, Moses beheld an unconsumed burning bush, through which God commanded him to beseech Pharaoh to let His people go. At divine behest, Moses unleashed the 10 plagues against Egypt, led the Israelites out of bondage, guided them through the wilderness for 40 years, delivered the Tablets of the Law, and prepared the children of Israel for re-entry into the Promised Land. Ever the faithful shepherd, he rejected God’s intent to blot out the Jews and make a new nation from Moses. For twice striking a rock at Meribah to elicit water, instead of speaking to the rock as instructed by God, and for breaking faith and not upholding the divine holiness before the presence of Israel, Moses was proscribed from entering Canaan. He oversaw victories against Sichon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, bestowing their lands in the Transjordan to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and part of Manasseh. Moses recapitulated the law and blessed the people before ascending Mount Nebo to overlook the Promised Land. Known for his meekness, devotion and service, the great liberator and spiritual architect of Israel died at the age of 120 in Moab. To his day, his place of burial is unknown.
- Aaron (c. 1300 BCE) The son of Amram and Yocheved, the older brother of Moses, and the first priest of the Israelites. He served as intermediary between Moses and Pharaoh, and helped Moses perform miracles in the Egyptian ruler’s presence. Aaron partially ascended Mount Sinai with his brother before the Ten Statements were received at its summit, and judged the people with his nephew Hur in Moses’ absence. Upon the completion of the Tabernacle, the priesthood was promised to Aaron and his descendants for all time, a promise reaffirmed after the usurper Korach’s rebellion. Aaron was second in rank to Moses throughout the wanderings of Israel in the Sinai desert. His acquiescence to the people’s desire for a golden calf was attributed to his desire to avoid bloodshed. God addressed both brothers together at times, and Aaron individually as High Priest on 4 occasions. He was known as a peacemaker, and died aged 123 upon Mount Hor in the wilderness.
- Joshua (c. 1250 BCE) The son of Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim. Joshua was apprentice to Moses and assumed the leadership of Israel upon his mentor’s death. Originally known as Hoshea, he led the defense at Rephidim against the Amalekites who attacked after Israel had crossed the Sea of Reeds. Joshua attended Moses at Mount Sinai and at the Tent of Meeting. He represented Ephraim as one of the 12 scouts sent to report on Canaan, and dissented along with Caleb when the other 10 spies claimed the land was impossible to conquer. His name was changed to Joshua by Moses at that time, when he was also named as successor. Joshua was both a religious and military leader, who spearheaded the conquest of Canaan and supervised the apportioning of tribal territories in the Land of Israel. He presided over the victory at Jericho, whose encircled walls collapsed, and at Ai. The sun stood still at Joshua’s request during a battle at Gibeon against the Amorites. Joshua transmitted the Torah to the elders, but did not himself appoint a successor, and so after his death the Israelites entered the age of Judges.
- Pinchas (c. 1225 BCE) The son of Eleazar the Priest and grandson of Aaron. At Shittim, a zealous Pinchas slew Zimri the Simeonite and his consort Cozbi the Moabitess while they were in flagrante delicto, thereby ending the plague afflicting the Israelites because of their harlotry. The prompt act earned Pinchas the divine pledge of hereditary priesthood. As high priest, he accompanied the triumphant expedition against the Midianites, and led the delegation to remonstrate with the tribes settled east of the Jordan, due to the illicit altar they had erected. He was bequeathed land in the hill country of Ephraim, where his father, Eleazar, was interred. Just before Joshua’s death, Pinchas prophesied before the people at Gilgal. He remains a symbol of zeal for the law and of wholehearted commitment to Jewish tradition.
- Elkanah (c. 1125 BCE) A Levite who dwelt in Ephraim at Ramathaim-Zophim. Elkanah made four annual pilgrimages to Shiloh with family and relatives, including his wives, Hannah and Peninah. He would pass through the Israelite cities and muster the people to Shiloh, where the Ark of the Testimony rested in the Tabernacle, and where Eli the Priest officiated. He is known as a man of God, unparalleled in his generation for training Israel in the observance of the divine commandments. He fathered Samuel through his favored but long-barren wife, Hannah, whose story of child-yearning is one of the most moving in the Tanakh.
- Eli the Priest (c. 1125 BCE) The high priest at Shiloh, a descendant of Aaron’s son, Itamar, and father of Hofni and Pinchas. In addition to being high priest, Eli judged Israel for 40 years. When Elkanah’s childless wife, Hannah, made pilgrimage from Ramah to the Tabernacle at Shiloh and mouthed prayers at length and wept, Eli rashly accused her of drunkenness. When she explained her sorrowful plight, he wished her success with her plea. Hannah finally conceived, and bore a son she named Samuel, whom she delivered to Eli at Shiloh after weaning the baby. Eli trained Samuel in the holy service at Shiloh, and offered a blessing on behalf of Hannah and Elkanah for further offspring. Eli’s own sons, however, became a source of grief; evil reports of their misbehavior reached him, and he rebuked them — albeit mildly. Hofni and Pinchas ignored their father, Eli, who was divinely informed that his dynasty would be replaced by another, and that his sons would both die on the same day. One night, the divine voice thrice called upon Samuel, who believed it to be that of his mentor, Eli, until the latter intuited the Almighty at work. He told Samuel how to answer the next time, and the youth was enlightened as to the coming punishment concerning Eli’s house. Samuel was reluctant to relay the message to Eli, who insisted he do so. Thenceforth, Samuel was established as a prophet of Israel. When the Israelites required the Ark of the Testimony on the battlefield against the powerful Philistines, it was Hofni and Pinchas who conveyed the emblem of the divine presence from the Tabernacle in Shiloh to boost the army’s morale at camp. The Philistines nonetheless slew 30,000 Israelites, including Hofni and Pinchas, and captured the Ark. That day, a fighter from the tribe of Benjamin reached Eli in Shiloh and related the tragic news. Eli, 98 years old, fell backward off his seat, broke his neck and died.
- Samuel (c. 1075 BCE) The firstborn son of Hannah and Elkanah of Ramah, and the 15th and final Judge of Israel who served the nation for 11 years. He was a Levite of the family of Kochat. Samuel judged Israel from a series of towns: Beth El, Gilgal, Mizpeh and his hometown of Ramah. He renewed prophecy in Israel and established prophetic schools in Ramah, touting obedience to the law over mere ritual worship. He urged the Israelites gathered at Mizpeh to forsake idolatry, which they did before overcoming the Philistines in battle. Samuel appointed his sons, Joel and Abijah, as judges over Israel, based in Be’ersheva, but they became venal — and perverted justice. This corruption prompted the elders of Israel to confront Samuel with the fateful appeal for the kind of ruler other nations had. He hesitantly acquiesced to popular will, and agreed to the demand for a king, but he cautioned the nation regarding the drawbacks of monarchy. He further warned the Israelites to remain loyal to the Almighty, lest catastrophe afflict them. Samuel dutifully anointed Saul as Israel’s first king, but ultimately contended with him when Saul disregarded the directives given him on behalf of the God of Israel. In accordance with divine instruction, Samuel chose Saul’s successor—David of Bethlehem—and anointed him, as well. When Saul tried to kill David, the latter found safe haven with Samuel in Ramah. Samuel was widely mourned upon his death, and was buried in Ramah.
- Gad the Seer (c. 1025 BCE) A prophet and seer, who accompanied and counseled David during his wanderings after taking refuge from Saul in a stronghold in Mizpeh of Moab. Gad advised David to depart Mizpeh for the Hareth forest. When, years later, King David ordered a census, Gad was tasked with conveying the choice of three punishments God was about to inflict on Israel: famine, flight from enemies or pestilence. He later suggested David erect an altar to halt the plague’s spread. Gad co-authored the chronicles of Samuel, composed a record of David’s acts and aided in arranging the Levitical musical service of the Tabernacle.
- Nathan (c. 1025 BCE) The outstanding prophet in the generation following Samuel. He rebuked King David fearlessly for misconduct with Bat-Sheva and Uriah the Hittite, using a parable as his approach to reproach. He also foretold the endurance of the House of David and the sanctity of Jerusalem. He informed David that his son and successor would construct the Temple, and when Solomon was born, Nathan named him Yedidya (“Beloved of God”). Nathan sided with Solomon in the contest with Adonijah for the kingship. He co-authored works on the acts of David and Solomon, which may have found their way into Samuel and Kings. He also co-organized with Gad the service in the Tabernacle (later, the First Temple). Nathan’s sons, Azariah and Zabud, were princes and officers under King Solomon.
- David (r. 1004-965 BCE) The youngest son of Yishai, from the tribe of Judah and the town of Bethlehem, and a direct descendant of Ruth the Moabite. A shepherd, musician and poet anointed by Samuel, David proved his bravery and skill with a slingshot in a duel with the Philistine giant, Goliath of Gath. He served King Saul but fled from his paranoid rage, eventually overseeing Ziklag for the Philistine King Achish. After Saul’s death, David assumed the throne and ruled initially from Hebron for seven years before conquering Jerusalem and erecting himself a palace there. He repeatedly defeated the Philistines in battle, then brought the Ark of the Testimony to Jerusalem, but was informed by the prophet Nathan that the Temple in which the Ark would be housed could not be built by a bloodstained warrior. David divided Israel into a dozen districts, each with its own civil, military and religious institutions, and established Jerusalem as the secular and religious center of the country. His personal life was an utter disaster: He claimed the married Bat-Sheva for himself, then had her soldier husband placed directly in harm’s way; his children committed rape and incest, rose in rebellion against him, and even drove him for a time from his throne in Jerusalem. He soon regained power, and in time anointed his son (with Bat-Sheva), Solomon, as king. David is credited with receiving the prophetic mantle from Samuel and is clustered with Gad and Nathan in establishing the 24 watches of priestly duty. He is also included among the prophets on the basis of the psalms and prayers ascribed to him. David represents the spiritual and temporal redemption of Israel.
- Ahijah the Shilonite (c. 950 BCE) A prophet based in Shiloh who was active toward the end of King Solomon’s reign, and who foretold the division of the united monarchy due to Solomon’s waywardness late in life. Ahijah prophesied Jeroboam I’s secession and reign over 10 tribes but, like Samuel with Saul, he was later disappointed in his royal appointee. When Jeroboam’s son, Abijah, fell ill, the monarch sent his disguised wife with gifts to the old, blind Ahijah, who informed her that Jeroboam’s line would abruptly end, and that the ailing Abijah would die, something that soon transpired. Ahijah’s visual and spiritual blindness in his old age is believed to have contributed to his misplaced trust in Jeroboam. Ahijah was a long-lived Levite who received the prophetic tradition from David, and is thought to have instructed Elijah before his death.
- Solomon, a.k.a. Yedidya, Kohelet (r. 965-928 B.C.E.) – Anointed by Nathan, Solomon ascended to the throne, following a purge of immediate threats to his rule. God appeared to Solomon in a dream at Gibeon in which Solomon, offered gifts, asked for an understanding heart instead of wealth or power. He quickly grew famous for his wisdom, which attracted foreign rulers, such as the Queen of Sheba, to his court. He consolidated his father’s expansive kingdom through marital alliances, and reportedly had 700 wives and 300 concubines. He composed 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs, and wrote the Song of Songs, the Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Fulfilling his father’s dream, Solomon built the first Temple, using wood from King Hiram of Tyre and a conscripted labor service consisting of Israelites and foreigners under his aegis. Using cedar, stone and gold, his workers took seven years to complete the Temple’s structure, decorations and vessels. Solomon then dedicated the Temple in a public ceremony of prayers and offerings. He spent 13 years building his royal palace, and also built a city wall, the Millo citadel, a palace for Pharaoh’s daughter (one of his wives) and facilities for foreign traders. He erected cities for his cavalry and chariots, created storage cities, extended Jerusalem northward and fortified cities near the mountains of Judah and Jerusalem. Solomon’s rule was challenged by the Edomites and Arameans. His wisdom left him in his later years: He took numerous foreign wives, and not only allowed them to worship their gods, but even built shrines for their sacrifices. He also exacted heavy taxation and troop levies on all Israelites, while granting special privileges to the tribe of Judah, embittering the northern tribes. He was buried in Jerusalem.
- Iddo the Seer, a.k.a. Jedo (c. 925 BCE) A visionary who preached during the reign of King Jeroboam I of Israel. He went from Judah to Beth-El to prophesy the destruction of Jeroboam’s sacrificial altar erected there, and the advent of a Davidic king named Josiah, who would sacrifice the priests engaging in illicit pagan offerings. The altar was split, the ashes poured out onto the ground and Jeroboam’s hand paralyzed when it reached out to seize Iddo. When Iddo entreated God for mercy on Jeroboam’s behalf, the king’s strength was restored. Following this incident, Iddo was enticed by a false prophet into eating at his table, thereby violating a divine decree, and soon after departing the charlatan’s house, Iddo was killed by a lion. Iddo wrote a commentary (Midrash Iddo) chronicling the royal acts of Rehoboam, Abijah and Jeroboam. But this work, possibly synonymous with the “histories of Shemaiah the Prophet and Iddo the Seer” mentioned in II Chronicles, is no longer extant.
- Shemaiah (c. 925 BCE) Known as a man of God, Shemaiah successfully exhorted King Rehoboam of Judah not to engage in civil war with King Jeroboam of Israel after the latter’s secession. When Pharaoh Shishak of Egypt attacked Judah, Shemaiah came to reassure the people gathered in Jerusalem of divine deliverance. Rehoboam’s acts were recorded in the histories of Shemaiah and Iddo.
- Elijah (c. 900 BCE) A Tishbite and native of Gilead, Elijah, perhaps hirsute himself, sported a hairy coat with a leather belt, as he prophesied and wrought miracles in the kingdom of Israel during the reigns of King Ahab and King Ahaziah. Elijah struggled ceaselessly against the Phoenician queen of Israel, Jezebel, and the idolatrous Baal-Melqart cult she imported from Tyre. He correctly prophesied a severe drought lasting three years, then was forced to flee Jezebel’s wrath. He went into hiding by the Kerit (Cherith) Brook, then lived at the house of a widow in Zarephat, Phoenicia. The famine plaguing Israel forced Ahab to seek out Elijah and consent to a public contest between the devotees of God and those of Baal atop Mount Carmel. Four hundred and fifty pagan priests of Baal were slaughtered at the Kishon Brook as a result of this momentous showdown. Once again, Elijah was forced to flee from an incensed Jezebel, this time to Mount Horeb (Sinai) in the desert, where God appeared to him not in an earthquake, nor in wind, nor in fire, but in a still, small voice that commanded his return to Israel. When Navot the Jezreelite was wrongly put to death, Elijah reprimanded Ahab for expropriating the deceased’s vineyard and predicted the annihilation of Ahab’s dynasty. He also foretold the demise of Ahaziah, when this son of Ahab sought to inquire of Baal-Zebub, idol of Ekron. Elijah’s many miracles included supplying abundant oil and meal to the widow he lived with, and bringing her son back to life. In addition to calling down divine fire to consume his offering atop Mount Carmel, divine fire devoured Ahaziah’s officers sent to capture him. Elijah ascended in a fiery horse-drawn chariot heavenward in a whirlwind, as his acolyte, Elisha, looked on. He left no written works, but is expected to herald the Messianic Age and resurrect the dead, in addition to resolving all issues disputed by the rabbinical sages. Elijah is identified with the angel Sandalfon, who wreathes the prayers of Israel into a crown for the divine, and for their mutual zealotry Elijah has also been associated with Pinchas. A chair is set aside for him at every circumcision; a special cup is filled with wine for him each Passover; and a song is sung in his honor at the conclusion of each Sabbath following the havdalah.
- Micaiah ben Yimlah (c. 900 BCE) When consulted for his outlook on the impending joint campaign of King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah against the Arameans, Micaiah spoke his mind — unlike the 400 court prophets who told Ahab what he wished to hear. He relayed two visions of Israel scattered over hills like sheep without a shepherd, and of the court prophets spouting falsehoods that would only entice Ahab to his violent death at Ramot-Gilead. Ahab ordered Micaiah imprisoned, but Jehoshaphat requested the prophet’s release. Micaiah envisioned God enthroned and flanked by the heavenly host of angels. He spoke truth to power, and remains known for his prophetic independence and uncompromising stance against flattery and fallacy.
- Hanani the Seer (c. 900 BCE) Hanani rebuked King Asa of Judah for depending on assistance from the Aramean King Ben-Hadad I of Damascus against King Baasha of Israel, instead of relying upon God. For his troubles, Hanani was imprisoned by Asa. When Asa suffered from a foot ailment at the end of his life, he relied on physicians and not on God, repeating his earlier error, pointed out to him by Hanani.
- Jehu ben Hanani (c. 880 BCE) Jehu declared that, for his idolatry, King Baasha of Israel and his dynasty would suffer a similarly dire fate as that of his predecessor, King Jeroboam I. He later reproved King Jehoshaphat of Judah (whose father, Asa, had incarcerated Jehu’s father Hanani) for forming an alliance with the ungodly King Ahab of Israel, in order to attack Ramot-Gilead. Jehu indited the chronicles of Jehoshaphat, which were incorporated into Kings I.
- Azariah ben Oded (c. 880 BCE) Meeting King Asa of Judah’s victorious army at Mareshah, Azariah implored his sovereign not to forsake the God of Israel. Asa took this to heart and removed the detestable idols from Judah, Benjamin and the hill country of Ephraim. Under Azariah’s influence, Asa renewed the covenant between the people and God.
- Jahaziel ben Zechariah (c. 865 BCE) A Levite from the descendants of Mattaniah, Jahaziel reassured King Jehoshaphat of Judah of God’s favor, prior to battle against Ammon, Moab and Seir (Edom).
- Eliezer ben Dodavahu (c. 865 BCE) A Judean prophet from Mareshah who informed King Jehoshaphat of Judah that his alliance with King Ahaziah of Israel boded ill. Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah attempted to engage in shipbuilding at Ezion-Gever with plans to send a fleet to Tarshish and Ophir to import gold, but these ships were wrecked in a storm.
- Elisha (c. 850 BCE) The son of Shaphat of Abel-Meholah, and the disciple and successor of Elijah, who decisively burnt his plow and slaughtered his oxen when he accepted the call to prophethood. Elisha served Elijah as Joshua had served Moses. Before his mentor’s ascent to heaven, Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s prophetic spirit. He hailed from the tribe of Gad and went on to have an extraordinary career of his own, performing even more miracles than his predecessor. He strew his master’s mantle over the Jordan River and forded the watercourse dry-shod; purified Jericho’s fountain; set she-bears against youth who mocked his baldness; prophesied victory over Moab; miraculously increased a widow’s oil supply; predicted the birth of the Shunamite woman’s son, and revived the son after he had died; rendered poisonous pottage edible again; fed 100 people with only 20 bread loaves and a few ears of corn; cured Na’aman the Syrian of leprosy; cursed his servant Gehazi because of the latter’s avarice; upraised a sunken axehead to the surface of the Jordan; alerted the king of Israel to the locale and activities of the Aramean king; foretold the decline of prices in Samaria and the death of the royal servant who disbelieved him; foresaw in Damascus the death of King Ben-Hadad II (Hadadezer) of Aram and Hazael’s succession; and prophesied the termination of Ahab’s dynasty and King Joash of Israel’s 3 victories over Aram. Unlike the isolated Elijah, Elisha was often in the company of other prophets-in-training in Jericho or Beth-El, or of the elders of Samaria, where he had a home. And in contrast to Elijah, Elisha died a natural death following a prolonged illness that had left him bedridden. After his death, a deceased man thrown into the prophet’s burial cave was restored to life. Elisha’s 60-year career was crucial to the northern kingdom of Israel.
- Jonah (c. 825 BCE) The son of Amittai, from the tribe of Zevulun (or else Asher). He predicted that King Jeroboam II of Israel would restore the boundaries of Israel from Hamat until the Dead Sea. He was sent to Nineveh in Assyria to rouse its sinful inhabitants to repentance, lest they face disaster. Jonah resisted the mission and fled instead toward Tarshish, but he was heaved overboard by his ship’s crew during a terrible storm and swallowed by a great fish for three days and nights until he prayed for deliverance and was vomited onto dry land. Jonah heeded the second call to go to Nineveh, where he went and delivered the divine warning of the city’s destruction in 40 days’ time to residents of the gentile metropolis. The Ninevites fasted, donned sackcloth and repented, and God renounced his threatened punishment, sparing the city. Jonah was displeased by this turn of events and complained to God. While Jonah waited outside the city to see what would transpire, a castor-bean plant sprung up to give him shade, but overnight a worm made it wither and then a searing wind afflicted him. Jonah repeatedly asked to die, but God rebuked him for caring about the plant more than about Nineveh with its 120,000 undiscerning human beings and dumb beasts. Jonah proclaims the value of penitence and the compassionate inclination of the divine.
- Hosea (c. 775 BCE) The son of Be’eri, who prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel from the days of King Uzziah of Judah and King Jeroboam II of Israel until the advent of King Hezekiah of Judah. He admonished the people for their perfunctory divine worship, citing the meaninglessness of ritual service absent a profound awareness of God and deeds of truth and kindness in fulfillment of the Torah. Hosea’s personal life dramatically represented Israel’s relationship to God: At divine behest, he married a harlot named Gomer who birthed children not his own, whom he named Lo-Ruchama (“Who Has Not Obtained Mercy”) and Lo-Ami (“Not My People”). Hosea regarded the monarchy as detrimental to society and opposed treaty-making with idolatrous nations. He prognosticated that Israel’s corruption would eventuate in catastrophe, and that only repentance and righteous living would restore the love prevalent between Israel and the divine during the Exodus. His book ends with notes of consolation from God to Israel: “I will be like dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily, and strike roots like the Lebanon…” (Hosea 14:6). According to Maimonides, Hosea received the prophetic tradition from Zechariah ben Jehoiada.
- Amos (c. 775 BCE) A herdsman and sycamore-dresser of Tekoa in Judah, Amos boldly preached in Beth-El in the northern kingdom of Israel, before his expulsion during the reign of King Jeroboam II. At a time when the gap between rich and poor had widened, he castigated the ruling elite for their ethical degeneracy and protested social injustice. The road to salvation ran through repentance, Amos taught. The Sages averred that Amos crystallized all of the Torah’s commandments into one: “Seek me and live” (Amos 5:4). There is a rabbinical tradition that Amos was killed by King Uzziah of Judah, who struck the prophet on the forehead with a glowing iron. (Uzziah was himself later afflicted with leprosy on his forehead.) According to Maimonides, Amos received the prophetic tradition from Hosea.
- Amoz (c. 775 BCE) A Judahite prophet who criticized King Amaziah of Judah’s reliance on troops from the northern kingdom of Israel, and his importuning of Edom’s idols despite that nation’s subjection to Judah. The Sages thought Amoz the brother of Amaziah, as well as the father of Isaiah.
- Isaiah (c. 750 BCE) A Jerusalemite with a wife and children, Isaiah had a long career in Judah that lasted between the reigns of King Uzziah and King Manasseh. According to the Sages, he was the nephew of King Amaziah. Isaiah was proximate to Judah’s royal household and ruling circles all his life, and was highly involved in state affairs. As an outspoken spokesman and ardent patriot, he inveighed against social inequity, pride and luxuriance, and scorned the seeking of military aid from foreign nations in lieu of faithful reliance on God. Isaiah’s utopian visions altered the natural order: “And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the goat kid” (Isaiah 11:6). The world would look to the Temple Mount as its spiritual center, and a Davidic monarch would serve as an ensign for the nations and usher in an era of eternal peace. “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (2:4). Isaiah was thought to have reduced all of the Torah’s commandments to two: “Thus says the Lord: you shall keep justice, and do righteousness” (56:1). According to II Chronicles, Isaiah recorded the acts of kings Uzziah and Hezekiah (which may refer to chapters 37-39 of Isaiah). A Talmudic tradition relates that Isaiah was killed by King Manasseh. Among the prophets, Isaiah is considered second only to Moses. Like Moses, Isaiah lived 120 years. His prophecies were intended to comfort all generations. According to Maimonides, Isaiah received the prophetic tradition from Amos.
- Oded (c. 735 BCE) A remarkably effective prophet from Samaria during the reigns of King Pekah of Israel and King Ahaz of Judah. Following a period of civil war between the Jewish kingdoms, Oded adjured the triumphant Israelites in God’s name to release their 200,000 captive Judahites from Ephraim, so that they might return home. The Judahites were clothed with the spoils of victory, given food and drink, anointed and carried upon donkeys, then promptly returned to Jericho in Judah. Oded’s astonishing ability to instill obedience in Israel — never a simple task — remains a mystery.
- Micah (c. 730 BCE) A prophet from Moreshet-Gat, whose lengthy career spanned the reigns of Judahite kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, and witnessed the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. Micah took umbrage at the societal evils of his era, asserting that they would cause national disaster. He prophesied that Zion would be plowed as a field and Jerusalem would become heaps of rubble. Micah distilled all the commandments into just a few: “Only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). He reassured the people that God would be true to the covenant with the patriarchs and forgive Israel’s iniquities. Even in the depths of despair, there would be reason to hope, for “when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me” (7:8). The Almighty would not retain His anger forever, “because He delights in mercy” (7:18). According to Maimonides, Micah received the prophetic tradition from Isaiah.
- Mahseiah (c. 675 BCE) The father of Neriah and grandfather of Baruch and Seraiah.
- Joel (c. 675 BCE?) The son of Pethuel, a descendant of Samuel and a Judahite who lived in Jerusalem and witnessed a calamitous plague of locusts. Joel conceived of the swarm as symbolic of the cataclysmic events preceding the momentous “day of the Lord” (Joel 1:15). He taught that God seeks the people’s repentance through good deeds and purification of the heart. He also envisioned a reckoning for all the nations that harmed Israel. There are conflicting views on when Joel lived: Some of the Sages placed him in the reign of King Jehoram (Joram) of Israel (r. 851-842 BCE), others in the reign of King Manasseh of Judah (r. 698-642 BCE). According to Maimonides, Joel received the prophetic tradition from Micah.
- Nahum (c. 650 BCE) An oracle from Elkosh, perhaps near Nineveh. He lived during the reign of King Manasseh of Judah. Nahum’s dramatic vision of Nineveh’s and Assyria’s swift downfall is the prophecy Jonah longed to have had. His theme is that those who shed blood will have their blood shed in turn, and his unforgiving foresight entails the locust motif shared by Joel. According to Maimonides, Nahum received the prophetic tradition from Joel.
- Habakkuk (c. 650 BCE) A Levite who prophesied during the reign of King Manasseh of Judah. Habakkuk pondered, on the national level, the issue of why the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. The answer he supplies in God’s name is that the successes of the wicked are temporary, while their eventual downfall is inevitable: “For the vision is yet for the appointed time, and it hastens toward the end, and shall not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come.” (Habakkuk 2:3) He also augured the ultimate disappearance of idolatry from the world. According to Maimonides, Habakkuk received the prophetic tradition from Joel.
- Zephaniah (c. 645 BCE) The son of Kushi, and an aristocratic Judahite of Jerusalem who was perhaps a descendant of King Hezekiah of Judah (according to Ibn Ezra). He prophesied during the reign of King Josiah, who might have been his distant relative. He railed against the people’s ethical corruption and social depravity, and the lingering idolatry in the period prior to Josiah’s reforms. Like Joel, Amos and Isaiah before him, Zephaniah foresaw an ominous reckoning for the proud and wayward on “the day of the Lord” (Zephaniah 1:7). He recognized the divine hand amid the nations’ upheavals, and spoke of God altering the nations so that they would all have a purified language or “pure lips” to call on His name and serve Him (3:9). The Sages taught that Zephaniah prophesied in the synagogues, while Jeremiah prophesied in the streets and Huldah prophesied to women. He predicted an end to foreign domination of Israel, and the ingathering of Israel’s remnants dispersed among the nations. According to Maimonides, Zephaniah received the prophetic tradition from Habakkuk.
- Jeremiah (c. 640 BCE) The son of Hilkiah and a priest from the Levitical town of Anatot in Benjamin, who began to prophesy during the reign of King Josiah of Judah and whose career lasted 40 years. A descendant of King David’s priest, Evyatar (Abiathar), and a relative of the prophetess Huldah, Jeremiah staunchly protested the alliance between Judah and Egypt against the rising power of the Neo-Babylonians under Nebuchadrezzar II. He thundered against idolatry, false prophecy, venality, ritual worship devoid of spiritual regeneration, misplaced trust in men instead of God, desecration of the Sabbath and the shedding of innocent blood. Jeremiah never married, but he lived to witness the dissolution of the mighty Assyrian Empire, the advent of the Neo-Babylonian Empire which replaced it, the subjugation of Judah and the phased deportations of its inhabitants, and the tragic destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Jeremiah was based in Jerusalem during the reign of King Jehoiakim, and he denounced the king in addition to the priesthood. It was his melancholy mission to foretell Judah’s destruction and the expulsion of his countrymen. In vain he counseled submission to Babylonia, which he considered appointed by God as the instrument of the divine verdict against Judah, and urged in his epistle to the exiles that they settle peacefully in their new environs. Jeremiah prophesied that the exile would endure for 70 years. He repeatedly appeared in the Temple until he was banished, and later became a fugitive from Jehoiakim. He was often consulted by an anxious King Zedekiah, but offered no encouragement. He was arrested and held in a dungeon, then in the court of the guard of the royal palace, then mired in a pit whence he was extracted by the eunuch, Eved-Melekh. He was eventually liberated by the Babylonians and removed by Nebuzaradan from the chained captives assembled at Ramah. After the assassination of the Judahite governor, Gedaliah, Jeremiah was reluctantly dragged as a hostage into Egypt to Tahpanhes (Daphne), where he likely died. Jeremiah indited his eponymous book (with the aid of his loyal amanuensis, Baruch ben Neriah), as well as Lamentations and perhaps Kings. According to Maimonides, Jeremiah received the prophetic tradition from Zephaniah.
- Neriah (c. 640 BCE) The son of Mahseiah and the father of Baruch and Seraiah, and said to be one of the eight prophets descended from Joshua and Rachav.
- Uriah (c. 635 BCE) The son of Shemaiah, from Kiryat-Yearim, who prophesied during the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah. Uriah predicted the demise of Judah and Jerusalem at the hands of the Neo-Babylonians in the same vein as did Jeremiah. After rousing the ire of the king and his courtiers, Uriah escaped to Egypt, but was retrieved from abroad and put to the sword, his body being discarded in a common grave. What is known of Uriah comes from Jeremiah.
- Baruch ben Neriah (c. 620 BCE) The son of Neriah, brother of Seraiah and devoted disciple of Jeremiah. As his scribe and pupil, Baruch carefully transcribed Jeremiah’s words as dictated. When Jeremiah was banned from the Temple, he instructed Baruch to read aloud a warning prophecy to the people gathered in the sacred precincts on a fast day. During the final stage of the Babylonian siege, Baruch witnessed Jeremiah’s purchase of his ancestral estate in Anatot, and probably joined him in Mizpeh after Jerusalem’s destruction. Baruch was also said to prophesy in the second year of Persian Emperor Darius I the Great’s reign (i.e. 520 BCE). He has been identified with Eved-Melekh, and his grave is said to be a mile from Ezekiel’s. According to Maimonides, Baruch received the prophetic tradition from Jeremiah.
- Seraiah ben Neriah (c. 620 BCE) The son of Neriah, brother of Baruch and a disciple of Jeremiah. Seraiah was a royal quartermaster who went into Babylonian captivity with King Zedekiah of Judah in 586 BCE. At Jeremiah’s behest, Seraiah took with him into exile a scroll bearing the prophecy of Babylonia’s destruction, read it aloud to the exiled Judahites, then bound a stone to it and cast it into the Euphrates River, symbolizing Babylonia’s own downfall. He was also said to have prophesied in the second year of Persian Emperor Darius I the Great’s reign.
- Ezekiel (c. 615 BCE) The son of Buzi and a visionary priest who was exiled from Judah in 597 BCE, along with the young King Jehoiachin (Jeconiah, Coniah) and the Judahite elites. He lived in Tel Aviv, one of three Judahite settlements along the Chebar Canal of the Euphrates River in Babylonia. Ezekiel’s prophethood commenced five years into his exile in 592 BCE, and continued until 570 BCE. He was married for a time before his wife died. In addition to physical infirmities, he experienced stark and detailed visions of the divine chariot, the Temple abominations and the destruction of Jerusalem with God’s departure, the resurrection of the dead in the Valley of Dry Bones and the blueprint of the future Temple. Along with Daniel, Ezekiel served as co-guardian of the exile for the dislocated Judahites. He censured Israel for its ethical and ritual transgressions of the Torah, but emphasized that all are able to repent for their sins and that individuals are held responsible for their own actions, not those of ancestors or descendants. He foretold the reunification of Judah and Israel under a Davidic scion in an age of peace and prosperity, the rebuilding of the Temple and restoration of its sacrificial service, and the permanent return of the divine presence to Israel. Some of the Sages equated Ezekiel’s father, Buzi, with Jeremiah, and believed that Ezekiel began to prophesy while still in Judah. His traditional tomb is situated in a village south of Hilla in central Iraq.
- Obadiah (c. 600 BCE) Perhaps an Edomite proselyte, Obadiah prophesied the end of Edom, recording his vision in the book bearing his name, the shortest biblical work. He envisioned the rebuilding of the ruins of Israel and that Israel would possess Mount Seir of Edom, as well as the fields of Ephraim and Samaria. The tribe of Benjamin, he saw, would extend northeast to Gilead, and saviors would arise upon Mount Zion to judge Esau’s domains. His writing was influenced by Jeremiah.
- Mordechai (c. 520 BCE) The son of Yair, and a Benjaminite descendant of Kish and King Saul of Israel, like his first cousin, Hadassah. Perhaps as an infant, Mordechai had been exiled along with King Jehoiachin of Judah, Ezekiel and the other Judahite aristocrats to Babylonia in 597 BCE. He resided in Susa (Shushan), which became the capital of Persia. He reared his orphaned cousin, Hadassah, into Queen Esther. Mordechai staunchly refused to make obeisance to the haughty vizier, Haman the Agagite, a descendant of Amalek. With Esther’s instrumental assistance, he was able to thwart the nefarious plans of Haman to exterminate the Jews, and bring retribution upon their enemies. Persian Emperor Xerxes I the Great (Achashverosh/Ahasuerus) then appointed Mordechai as viceroy in Haman’s stead. The Sages identified him with Mordechai Bilshan, a Jew who returned from Babylonia to Judah in the days of Zerubbabel, and maintained that he prophesied along with Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi during the reign of Persian Emperor Darius I the Great. If so, the aging Mordechai would have had to depart Judah once again in order to have been in Susa during the reign of Darius I’s son and successor, Xerxes I (485-465 BCE), at which point he would have been at least 112 years old. (This in itself is improbable, though not impossible, the real difficulty being that Esther, as Mordechai’s first cousin, must have been basically comparable in age, yet lovely enough to attract Xerxes I despite vying harem rivals.) He was also said to be a member of the Sanhedrin, conversant in 70 languages and a Torah teacher to many students. According to Maimonides, Mordechai received the prophetic tradition from Baruch ben Neriah.
- Haggai (c. 520 BCE) A post-exilic prophet who began to prophesy to Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest, as well as to the Judahite returnees, during the reign of Persian Emperor Darius I the Great (522-486 BCE). Haggai might have beheld Solomon’s Temple, in which case he would have been aged by the time his prophetic career commenced half a century later. It is unknown whether Haggai went into exile or remained in Judah. Along with his younger counterpart, Zechariah, Haggai encouraged the completion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, which had been started by the revenants after the Cyrus Proclamation of 539 BCE, but which had stalled due to discouragement, hardship and opposition. He reprimanded the people for dwelling in costly houses while the Temple remained in ruins. Like Azariah ben Oded and Oded, his admonition proved effective, and the Second Temple was completed in 516 BCE. His prophecy that the Second Temple would outdo its predecessor was fulfilled centuries later, when King Herod the Great renovated a modest structure into a splendid edifice and complex. Haggai is considered one of the psalmists and is also credited with instituting several takkanot (legislative provisions) including: the 24 priestly shifts, the altar’s enlargement, Adar’s intercalation, the allowance of independent sacrifices and regulations for wood-offerings. According to Maimonides, Haggai received the prophetic tradition from Baruch ben Neriah.
- Zechariah (c. 520 BCE) The son of Berachiah, who, like Haggai, began to prophesy during the second year of Persian Emperor Darius I the Great’s reign and urged the returnees to rebuild the Temple. Zechariah may have been a priest and a grandson of Iddo the priest. It is believed that he was born in Babylonian captivity and returned with fellow exiles to Judah. Zechariah experienced a slew of symbolic visions akin to those of Daniel and Ezekiel, and his numerous visions were similarly interpreted to him by an intermediary angel. He prophesied the ingathering of the exiles, Israel’s liberation from foreign bondage, the return of the divine presence, the gentiles’ belief in God, the extinction of idolatry, the cessation of prophecy and the future glory of Jerusalem. He implored his countrymen to speak truthfully, judge truly and peacefully, harbor goodwill towards neighbors, and shun false oaths. He depicted a diarchy, in which power would be vested in both the governor Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest. The future conflict between the Jews and the Greeks was also foretold. Like Haggai, Zechariah is considered one of the psalmists. According to Maimonides, Zechariah received the prophetic tradition from Baruch ben Neriah.
- Malachi (c. 515 BCE) The last of the prophets and traditionally identified with Ezra the Scribe (Malachi translates as “my messenger”), largely due to their common contempt for intermarriage. Malachi focused on two central concerns: the careless priests’ dereliction of duties, which strayed from the exemplary piety of Aaron; and the sanctity of matrimony, which had been disgraced by popular wedlock with heathen women. Malachi foresaw the coming of Elijah before the “day of the Lord” when parents and children would be reconciled (Malachi 3:23-24). With Malachi’s death, the prophetic spirit was thought to have departed from Israel. According to Maimonides, Malachi received the prophetic tradition from Baruch ben Neriah.
Naturally, commonalities and patterns abound among the prophets. Abraham and Moses were faithful pioneers who led their people to the Promised Land; Isaac and Ahijah the Shilonite suffered from blindness that affected their judgment; Eli the Priest, Samuel and David were afflicted with wayward sons; Samuel and Ahijah presided over seminal power transitions, but were let down by their initial appointees to monarchy; Iddo, Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah met violent deaths (the former according to Scripture, the latter trio according to Jewish tradition); Azariah ben Oded, Oded and Haggai were particularly effective in stimulating melioration; Elijah and Amoz protested the royal consultations of Edomite idols; and Micaiah and Jeremiah distinguished themselves from the coterie of court prophets flattering their sovereigns and offering false hope.
Regardless of whether they are considered major or minor personages, and whether or not they left writings, all of the Jewish prophets were outstanding figures in their time, and for all time.