Unfulfilled Prophecy and False Prophets in the Old Testament and its Cultural Environment

Which prophetical declarations and advices will hold true? Prophecy was an important transcultural aspect of politics and power struggles in the Ancient Near East. The project focusing on similarities, differences and influences regarding false/unfulfilled prophecy between Israel and its neighbors is part of a broader research project dealing with the discussion regarding true and false prophecy in the Old Testament and thereby with the processes and dynamics of prophetical legitimization.

In several parts of the Old Testament, the phenomenon of unfulfilled prophecies is discussed, looking for criteria to recognize those spoken words, which will be fulfilled in the future, and for hints for the best political and religious advices in situations of (prophetical) conflicts in the present. Two focuses are of main interest:

On the one hand, the internal changes in the Israelite and Judaean concepts will be described and explained as an inner-religious phenomenon in a diachronic manner. The prophetic sayings of the Old Testament adopt, develop, and modify several religious traditions. One central aspect of these developments is the changing of the concept of prophecy such as the different biblical descriptions of the origins of false prophecies (lying spirits, God himself, the prophets themselves) and the link between false/unfulfilled prophecies and the role of the prophet.

On the other hand, the religious history of Ancient Israel can only be understood as a segment of the broader developments in the Ancient Near East (and in Greece), influenced by the cultural/religious contacts. The project highlights the different concepts of prophetic and mantic practices and analyzes cultural interaction. A crucial point is the role of kings and their “Herrschaftswissen” – esp. in the Neo-Assyrian context – and the ambiguity of divination and its interpretation in the different Greek contexts. In a comparative analysis of these other religio-cultural settings, the political impact of unfulfilled prophecy or critical prophecy in special and the different reactions on and interpretations of this phenomenon can be better understood.

Affiliated Persons

Photograph of Dr. Ruth Ebach

Dr. Ruth Ebach

Individual Researcher