Prophets reign as some of Judaism's greatest heros. From Abraham -- often perceived as the "progenitor" of the Jewish people (hence Judaism as an "Abrahamic" religion) -- to Miriam, Jewish prophets have held a unique but often difficult role in society: Although a prophet acted as a fearless seer and leader, he was also often the people's most harsh critic.
Prophets of the Past
According to Judaic beliefs, today, prophets no longer exist. The power of prophecy was removed by God after the devastating destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C. in what is now Jerusalem's Old City. As it was a prophet's job to criticize godless deeds within the community, his prophecies were also meant to encourage repentance before God's wrath was invoked. Therefore, prophecy was also a gift to the community, which demanded a level of "kedushah" (holiness). Some scholars believe because the community could not reciprocate this holiness, the gift of prophecy was taken away.
The Talmud, a holy text of interpretative writings, states that Judaism has had over 2 million prophets, but only a very small portion of these prophets' messages were recorded. This includes the messages of seven female prophets and 48 male prophets. The Hebrew Bible also mentions many of these prophets within the Nevi'im. The Nevi'im, which in English (from Hebrew) translates to the "prophets," refers to the second division of the Hebrew Bible, which follows the Torah ("the Law") and comes before the Ketivum (the "writings" or the "hagiographa"). The Nevi'im is divided into two parts, the "former prophets" (the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings) and the "latter prophets" (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve Minor Prophets).
Miriam is one of the seven female prophets included in the Hebrew Bible; she was Moses' older sister by seven years. She is the first woman who is directly described as a prophetess within the Hebrew Bible; it was she who foretold the birth of Moses and his role as one of the most significant leaders of Judaism. She, like Moses and Aaron, died in the desert before reaching the land promised to the Jewish people (Numbers 20:1).
Moses, a significant Hebrew leader, is Judaism's greatest prophet: He dominates the Torah, and according to the Hebrew Bible, it was Moses who led the Jewish people out of bondage in Egypt and through the wilderness for forty years. God also entrusted onto Moses, and Moses alone, the sacred Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. Judaism has often loosely been referred to as the Mosaic faith, which also reflects the importance Moses holds as a prophetic and religious leader within the Jewish faith.
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