An Attempt To Date
August 23, 2015
In order to understand the nature of prophets, the Oxford English Dictionary has been consulted. Citations after the year 1800 have been omitted.
OE propheta (rare), eME prophetæ, ME propheth, ME prophite, ME (18 regional andnonstandard) prophit, ME–15 prephete, ME–15 prophete, ME–15 prophyte, ME–16 prophett, ME– prophet, 15 propheet, 15 prophyt, 15 prophytt, 16 prephet; Sc. pre-17 prepheit, pre-17propheet, pre-17 propheit, pre-17 propheite, pre-17 propheitt, pre-17 prophete, pre-17 prophit, pre-17 prophyit, pre-17 17– prophet; N.E.D. (1909) also records a form lME prophytt.
ME profet, ME profete, ME profett, ME proffet, ME profhetes (plural), ME profiete, MEprofiȝt, ME profite, ME profyt, ME profyte, 15 profit, 15 profitte, 16 proffit; Sc. pre-17 profeit, pre-17 profet, pre-17 profete, pre-17 proffeit, pre-17 proffet, pre-17 profit, pre-17 profite, pre-17profyte.
Etymology: In Old English
< classical Latin prophēta; subsequently reinforced by Anglo-Norman prophete, profet, profite and Old French profete, profite, Old French, Middle French prophete (French prophète , †prophete ) divinely inspired person who speaks in the name of God (end of the 10th cent. in Old French), person who predicts future events (c1100 with reference to a person of high standing, early 15th cent. with reference to any person), (in plural) the books of the Old Testament and Hebrew Scriptures containing prophetic writings (early 13th cent.)
< classical Latin prophēta (in post-classical Latin also prophetes , Vetus Latina) spokesman or interpreter of a god, in post-classical Latin also revealer of God's will, inspired preacher and teacher, foreteller of future events (Vetus Latina, Vulgate), one of the prophetical books of the Old Testament (Vetus Latina: see also note below), one of the Old Testament lessons at Mass (6th cent.)
< ancient Greek προϕήτης interpreter, proclaimer, expounder, especially of the will of the deity, in Hellenistic Greek also revealer of God's will (Septuagint), inspired preacher and teacher, foreteller of future events (New Testament)
< προ- pro- prefix2 + -ϕήτης speaker (only attested in compounds)
< ϕάναι to speak (see phatic adj.) + -της, suffix forming agent nouns.
Old Occitan profeta, (12th cent.; also propheta; Occitan profeta), Catalan profeta (c1200 as feminine noun denoting a prophetess, late 13th cent. as masculine noun; also †propheta),
Spanish profetac1200; also †propheta),
Portuguese profeta, †propheta (both 13th cent.),
Italian profeta (late 12th cent. or earlier; also †propheta).
Old Frisian prophēta (West Frisian profeet),
Middle Dutch profēte, prophēte (Dutch profeet),
Middle Low German profēte, prophēte,
Middle High German prophēt, prophēte (German Prophet),
Old Swedish prophete (Swedish profet),
Old Danish prophetæ, propheta (Danish profet, †prophet),
Gothic praufetes, praufetus.
Ancient Greek προϕήτης was originally the spokesman or interpreter of a divinity, e.g. of Zeus, Dionysus, Apollo, or the deliverer or interpreter of an oracle, corresponding generally to classical Latin vātēs (see vates n.). By the Septuagint (Hellenistic Greek) it was adopted to render Hebrew nāḇī' nabi n. (on which see note at sense 2a), in the Old Testament applied indiscriminately to the prophets of God, of Baal and other heathen deities, and even to ‘false prophets’, reputed or pretended soothsayers.
In the New Testament it is used in the same senses as in the Septuagint, but mainly applied to the Hebrew prophets of God, also to John the Baptist, as well as to certain persons in the Early Church, who were recognized as possessing more or less of the character of the old Hebrew prophets, or as inspired to utter special revelations and predictions; also applied historically to Balaam, and by St Paul to Epimenides the Cretan, seer, philosopher, and poet, while ‘false prophets’ are frequently mentioned.
The Greek word was adopted in Latin as prophēta chiefly in post-classical times, and largely under Christian influences; and this is the regular rendering in the Vetus Latina, Vulgate, and Christian Fathers. The Latin word has in turn passed down into the Romance and Germanic languages. In English the earliest uses are derived from the Scriptures; but the word is currently used in all the ancient senses and in modern ones derived from them.
With sense 2a compare Hebrew hannĕḇī'īm . With Former Prophets (see sense 2a) compare Hebrew hannĕḇī'īm ha-ri'šōnīm (Zechariah 1:4, 7:7, 7:12); with Latter Prophets (see sense 2a) compare post-biblical Hebrew hannĕḇī'īm hā'aḥărōnīm ). With Major Prophets , Minor Prophets (see sense 2a) compare post-classical Latin prophetae maiores , prophetae minores (5th cent. in Augustine). In the Law and the Prophets (see sense 2a) after post-classical Latin lex et prophetae (Vetus Latina), itself after Hellenistic Greek ὁ νόμος καὶ οἱ προϕῆται (New Testament). InMoses and the Prophets (see sense 2a) after post-classical Latin Moses et prophetae (Vetus Latina), itself after Hellenistic Greek Μωϋσῆς καὶ οἱ προϕῆται (New Testament).
In sense 2b as a rendering of Arabic al-nabīy nabi n., often used by writers on Islam. (Sometimes put for another Arabic title, al-rasūl the messenger, especially in the formula ‘There is no god but God (Allah ); Muhammad is the messenger of God’, frequently translated as ‘Muhammad is his prophet’.) This sense is apparently not paralleled in French until considerably later (1557 in Middle French).
In sense 1c after classical Latin vātēs (see vates n.) or poēta poet n.
In sense 4 after post-classical Latin propheta (6th cent. in this sense: see above).
With prophet of doom at sense 5c compare French prophète de malheur in same sense (1668).
The usual word in Old English is wītega witie n. (compare quot. lOE at sense 1a).
With forms in pre- compare discussion at pro- prefix2.
I. A divinely inspired person, and related senses.
1 a. A divinely inspired interpreter, revealer, or teacher of the will or thought of God or of a god; a person who speaks, or is regarded as speaking, for or in the name of God or a god. The special function of revealing or predicting the future is often regarded as an essential element of the work of a prophet; cf. sense 5.
OE Wulfstan Isaiah on Punishment for Sin (Hatton) 218
Ðas ðing gewitegode Isaias propheta be Iudean & fela hertoeacan, & eal hit aeode swa swa he sæde.
lOE Homily (Corpus Cambr. 303) in J. Bazire & J. E. Cross Eleven Old Eng. Rogationtide Homilies (1989) 62 Þa wæron manega prophetan and witegan. Þa wæs þær an propheta Helias gehatan.
c1175 (▸OE) Homily (Bodl. 343) in S. Irvine Old Eng. Homilies (1993) 166
Þa rædlice ætsceawede him þær Moyses þe halȝæ þe þe ifyrren worlde ær wæs forðfæren and Heliæs þe prophetæ, and specon þær wið þone Hælend.
c1200 Serm. in Eng. & Germanic Stud. (1961) 7 65
Steorre he vas icleped muchel er he iboren vere [þu]rþ balames muþ, þe prophete.
?c1200 Ormulum (Burchfield transcript) l. 5195
Helyas wass an haliȝ mann. & an wurrþfull prophete.
a1225 (▸?OE) MS Lamb. in R. Morris Old Eng. Homilies (1868) 1st Ser. 5 (MED),
Þa hit wes ifullet þet ysaias þe prophete iwitegede.
c1300 St. John Baptist (Laud) 54 in C. Horstmann Early S.-Eng. Legendary (1887) 31 (MED),
Þis false quene þat heued wuste..laste it were in ani time to þis bodie i-brouȝt And a rise fram deþe to liue and bi-come at þe laste A prophete ase he was er.
c1350 (▸a1333) William of Shoreham Poems (1902) 88
Al he folueþ þe lawe of gode, And prophetene gestes.
▸a1382 Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Bodl. 959) 3 Kings xviii. 19
Þe prophetis of baal, foure hundrid & fifti, & þe prophetis of mawmete woodis, foure hundrid, þat etyn of þe boord of Jesabel.
a1400 (▸a1325) Cursor Mundi (Vesp.) 7287 Prophet he was, sir samuel.
?c1430 (▸c1400) Wyclif Eng. Wks. (1880) 188 (MED),
God, in þe olde lawe, techiþ þat þe office of a prophete is to schewe to þe peple here foule synnys.
?c1475 Catholicon Anglicum (BL Add. 15562) f. 99v,
A profite,propheta..vates..vaticinus, vatidicus.
1526 Bible (Tyndale) Acts xiii. 6 A certayne sorserer, a falce prophet which was a iewe, named Bariesu.
c1540 (▸?a1400) Gest Historiale Destr. Troy 4403
Of whom the proffet of prise plainly can say, Þere was no sterne in astate stode hym aboue.
1559 Bp. Scot in J. Strype Ann. Reformation (1709) I. App. vii. 13
Almyghtie God said by the profitte.
1647 Humble Advice Assembly of Divines conc. Shorter Catechism (new ed.) 11
Christ as our Redeemer, executeth the Offices of a Prophet, of a Priest, and of a King.
1697 Dryden tr. Virgil Georgics iv, in tr. Virgil Wks. 139
In the Carpathian Bottom makes abode The Shepherd of the Seas, a Prophet and a God.
1757 T. Gray Ode II i. ii, in Odes 14
With a Master's hand, and Prophet's fire.
1797 Encycl. Brit. X. 458/2
The Sabians have several books which they attribute to some of the antediluvian prophets.
b. Christian Church. A person who expounds or interprets the Bible, a preacher, esp. one considered to be directly inspired by God. Cf. prophesy v. 3. Now chiefly hist.The emergence of this as a distinct sense app. arose from interpretation of certain passages in 1 Corinthians 14, notably verse 29 (see quot. c1384). The word was formerly also given as a title to a class of officers of the Catholic Apostolic Church (Irvingites) having the role of preachers.
▸c1384 Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Douce 369(2)) (1850) 1 Cor. xiv.29
Sothli prophetis tweyne or thre seye, and othere wysely deme.
[1535 G. Joye Apol. Tindale sig. F.viii, In that chap. also [sc. 1 Corinthians 14] what inglissh geueth Tin[dale] these words propheta & prophecie? which signifie there the interpretour & interpretacion or prechyng of holy scriptures.]
1560 J. Daus tr. J. Sleidane Commentaries f. cxxx,
At this same tyme the chiefest Prophet amonges them, for that name they doe vsurpe to themselues, Iohn Mathewe commaunded them.
1562 N. Winȝet Certain Tractates (1888) I. 36
Gif ony techear in the Kirk, he being a prophet also in the interpreting the mysteriis of the prophetis, attemptis [etc.].
a1600 J. Melvill Autobiogr. & Diary (1842) 26
That maist notable profet and apostle of our nation, Mr. Jhone Knox.
1654 Jus Divinum Ministerii Evangelici (Provinc. Assembly London) 79
These Lectures are performed either only by such as..are Ministers of the Gospel, or such as are Candidates of the Ministry; either Prophets, or the Sons of the Prophets.
1712 F. Bugg Quakers Christianity prov'd Counterfeit (broadsheet)
Thus saith Edw. Burrough, their great Prophet, and Son of Thunder, whose Works they have reprinted in Folio.
†c. In extended use: an inspired bard or poet. Obs.
▸a1387 J. Trevisa tr. R. Higden Polychron. (St. John's Cambr.) (1865) I. 13
So saiþ þe prophete [?a1475 anon. tr. poete; L. poeta; Hart. tr. the poete Satiricus: i.e. Horace, Ars Poet. 304] Satiricus, ‘I fare as the whetston þat makeþ yren sharpe and kene.’
1593 Queen Elizabeth I tr. Boethius De Consolatione Philosophiæ in Queen Elizabeth's Englishings (1899) iii. met. xii. 72
The Tracian profit [L. vates Threicius] wons His wives funeralz wailing.
1788 J. Oswald Brit. Mercury (new ed.) 20
There is in the deserts of Arabia a species of wild asses, who, as the prophet Virgil informs us, conceive by the spirit alone.
d. More generally: a prominent proponent of or spokesperson for a particular cause, movement, principle, etc.; a visionary leader or representative. With of or a possessive.
No citations before the year 1800.
2. spec. Freq. with capital initial. Usu. with the.
a. In pl. The prophetic writers of the Old Testament and Hebrew Scriptures; the books containing their writings. In Jewish usage, the Prophets constitute one of the three canonical divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures ..., and the Writings (see writing n. 7b), Hagiographa, or Kethubim (see Kethubimn.)), and are in turn subdivided into the Former Prophets, including the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings, and the Latter Prophets (or Later Prophets), including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets from Hosea to Malachi.
In Christian usage, the Prophets or Prophetical Books are the Latter Prophets, with the addition of Daniel ...; they are subdivided into Major Prophets... and Minor Prophets.... The Old Testament Scriptures or their content are freq. (esp. in the New Testament, though now rarely) referred to as the Law and the Prophets or Moses and the Prophets.
?c1200 Ormulum (Burchfield transcript) l. 14291 Þa bokess þatt te laferrd crist. Ȝaff gastliȝ tunnderrstanndenn Þeȝȝ wærenn Moysæsess boc. & sallmsang. & profetess.
c1300 Southern Passion (Harl. 2277) 2382 (MED),
In prophetes [a1325 Pepys Alle þing mot neode beo yffolwed and ffolffuld al-so Þat in Moyses lawe and in oþere prophecyes beoþ y-do].
▸c1384 Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Douce 369(2)) (1850) Matt. xxii. 40
In these two maundementis hangith al the lawe and prophetis.
▸c1384 Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Douce 369(2)) (1850) Luke xvi. 29
Thei han Moyses and the prophetis; heere thei hem.
a1450 York Plays 206
Moyses lawe he cowde ilke dele, And all þe prophettis.
1526 Bible (Tyndale) Acts xiii. 15
After the lectur of the lawe and the prophetes, the ruelers of the synagoge sent vnto them.
1543 T. Becon New Yeares Gyfte sig. E.iijv,
Those thynges that haue ben taught of Moses and the Prophettes many yeres before hys commyng, as we maye se in the holy scriptures.
1561 T. Norton tr. J. Calvin Inst. Christian Relig. ii. x. f. 74v,
If I come downe to the latter Prophetes, there wee maye freely walke as in our owne felde.
1604 R. Cudworth in W. Perkins Comm. Fiue First Chapters Epist. Galatians vi. 659
We see the Iewes diuiding the olde testament into 4. parts:..the 3, the later prophets, as Esay, Ieremie, Ezechiel, and the small prophets.
1611 M. Smith in Bible (King James) Transl. Pref. 3
Saue onely out of the Prophets.
1611 Bible (King James) 2 Macc. xv. 9
Comforting them out of the law, and the prophets.
1648 F. Roberts Clavis Bibliorum 29
Nebiim Acharonim i. e. the later Prophets; which they reckon up in foure Books also, viz. Isaiah, Ieremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor Prophets.
1660 J. Trapp (title)
A commentary or exposition upon the four major prophets.
1733 J. Bland Ess. in Praise of Women v. 139
She so well knows both the Law and the Prophets, that she doth unto all Men as she would they should do unto her.
b. Islam. = Muhammad n.
c1390 Chaucer Man of Law's Tale 224
No cristen prince wolde fayn Wedden his child vnder oure lawes swete That vs was taught by Mahoun oure prophete.
a1530 (▸c1425) Andrew of Wyntoun Oryg. Cron. Scotl. (Royal) v. 5668
Gret Machomete, That Sarracenys thaire prophete Held.
1559 D. Lindsay Dreme 219
Machomete that propheit poysonabyll.
1615 G. Sandys Relation of Journey i. 55
Some shaking their heads incessantly,..perhaps in imitation of the supposed trances..of their Prophet.
a1618 W. Raleigh Life & Death Mahomet (1637) 16
The title of Prophet which he had obtained.
1634 T. Herbert Relation Some Yeares Trauaile 153
The Persian's Commandements. The first is..Their is one God, the great God and Mahomet is his Prophet.
1695 P. Motteux tr. F. Pidou de St. Olon Present State Morocco 41
Their Prophet, whom they call God's great Favorite, and the Explainer of his Will.
1731 tr. H. de Boulainvilliers Life Mahomet 256
The Prophet exhorting one day his soldiers to sustain the fatigues of a necessary war, told them of an Israelite who had born arms a thousand months for the service of God.
1788 Gibbon Decline & Fall V. l. 225
The flight of the prophet from Mecca to Medina has fixed the memorable æra of the Hegira.
c. Among Mormons: Joseph Smith (1805–44), the founder and first leader of the Mormon faith; (also) any of his successors as leader.
No citations before the year 1800.
3. A person playing the role of a prophet in a Palm Sunday procession. Now hist.
1519 Churchwardens' Accts. S. Stephen, Wallbrook (MS Guildh. Libr.) §v. f. 2v,
Item for hyere of a borde for a proffyt on palme sondaye ij d... [Item for] dressyng of the proffyttes.
1536–7 in H. Littlehales Medieval Rec. London City Church (1905) 373
Item, paid to Wolston ffor makyng of ye stages ffor ye prophettes vj d.
1544 Churchwardens' Bk. St. Martin's Church Leics. in J. Nichols Hist. County Leics.(1815) I. ii. 569/2 Paid on Palm Sunday to the Prophete..and for ale at the reading the passh'on, 2d.
†4. Christian Church. = prophetic lesson n. at prophetic adj.Special uses. Obs.
No citations before the year 1800.
II. A person who makes predictions, and related senses.
5a. A person who predicts or foretells future events, or who claims to do so; a prognosticator, a forecaster.
?c1225 (▸?a1200) Ancrene Riwle (Cleo. C.vi) (1972) 158
Þeose beoð forecwidderes, hare achne prophetes.
a1500 (▸c1410) Dives & Pauper (Hunterian) (1976) i. 150 (MED),
And on this manere these dayis, the moste part of the people ben prophetis and tellen thinges þat ben to kome.
1589 G. Puttenham Arte Eng. Poesie i. xxxi. 50
The disorders of that age, and specially the pride of the Romane Clergy, of whose fall he [sc. Langland] seemeth to be a very true Prophet.
1608 Shakespeare King Lear xxiv. 70 Iesters doe oft proue Prophets.
1683 in Pennsylvania Arch. (1852) I. 72
My Friend Braithwait was a true Proffit.
1711 Ld. Shaftesbury Characteristicks I. iii. 244 (note)
So true a Prophet as well as Critick was this great Man.
1769 H. Walpole Let. 31 Jan. in Corr. (1967) XXIII. 86,
I protest, I know no more than a prophet what is to come.
The citations in chronological order.
1175c (▸OE) (1993) ...and Heliæs þe prophetæ, ...
1200?c .... & profetess.
1200?c Helyas wass an haliȝ mann. & an wurrþfull prophete.
1200c (1961) ... [þu]rþ balames muþ, þe prophete.
1225?c (▸?a1200) (1972) Þeose beoð forecwidderes, hare achne prophetes.
1225a (▸?OE) (1868) (MED), ... þe prophete iwitegede.
1300c (MED), In prophetes [a1325 ... prophecyes beoþ y-do].
1300c (1887) (MED), ... A prophete ase he was er.
1350c (▸a1333) (1902) 88 ...And prophetene gestes.
1382▸a Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) Þe prophetis of baal... & þe prophetis...
1384▸c Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (1850) Sothli prophetis tweyne or thre seye...
1384▸c Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) ) (1850) Thei han Moyses and the prophetis...
1384▸c Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (1850) ... and prophetis.
1387▸a (1865) So saiþ þe prophete ...
1390c ... by Mahoun oure prophete.
1400a (▸a1325) Prophet he was, sir samuel.
1430?c (▸c1400) . (1880) (MED), ... a prophete is to schewe to þe peple ...
1450a Moyses lawe he cowde ilke dele, And all þe prophettis.
1475?c A profite,propheta..vates..vaticinus, vatidicus.
1500a (▸c1410) (1976) (MED), ... ben prophetis and tellen thinges ...
1519 ... a proffyt ... the proffyttes.
1526 Bible (Tyndale) After the lectur of the lawe and the prophetes...
1526 Bible (Tyndale) A certayne sorserer, a falce prophet which was a iewe, named Bariesu.
1530a (▸c1425) ... thaire prophete Held.
1535 ... these words propheta & prophecie?...
1536–7 (1905) ... ye prophettes vj d.
1540c (▸?a1400) Of whom the proffet of prise plainly can say...
1543 ... and the Prophettes many yeres before hys commyng...
1544 (1815) Paid on Palm Sunday to the Prophete...
1559 (1709) Almyghtie God said by the profitte.
1559 Machomete that propheit poysonabyll.
1560 At this same tyme the chiefest Prophet ...
1561 If I come downe to the latter Prophetes...
1562 (1888) ..., he being a prophet...of the prophetis, attemptis [etc.].
1589 ... a very true Prophet.
1593 (1899)2 The Tracian profit...
1600a (1842) That maist notable profet ...
1604 ... the later prophets... the small prophets.
1608 Iesters doe oft proue Prophets.
1611 Bible (King James) Comforting them out of the law, and the prophets.
1611 (King James) Saue onely out of the Prophets.
1615 ...of their Prophet.
1618a (1637) The title of Prophet which he had obtained.
1634 The Persian's Commandements. ... and Mahomet is his Prophet.
1647 ... of a Prophet...
1648 Nebiim Acharonim i. e. the later Prophets... minor Prophets.
1654 ... Prophets, ...Prophets.
1660 A commentary or exposition upon the four major prophets.
1683 (1852) My Friend Braithwait was a true Proffit.
1695 Their Prophet, ...
1697 ... a Prophet and a God.
1711 So true a Prophet as well as Critick ...
1712 Christianity prov'd Counterfeit (broadsheet) ... great Prophet, ...
1731 The Prophet exhorting one day his soldiers ...
1733 She so well knows both the Law and the Prophets, ...
1757 With a Master's hand, and Prophet's fire.
1769 (1967) I protest, I know no more than a prophet what ...
1788 The flight of the prophet from Mecca to Medina has...
1788 ... the prophet Virgil informs us, conceive by the spirit alone.
1797 ... some of the antediluvian prophets.
"The English language beguiled me, and I was mistaken", Apprentice Tyler
It is clear from the OED that "prophet" has always meant one who speaks in the name of God and it is only in sense 5a that prophet means one who predicts future events. Therefore, Moses, John the Baptist and Jesus are prophets, that is, they speak in the name of God. Later, the writings of Moses have been called the "Law" or the Pentateuch. The writer of the Apocalypse speaks the will of God, and is a prophet.
We must ask "How could Apprentice Tyler be mistaken regarding the meaning of "prophet?""
The Old Testaments prophets are written in Hebrew and this language has no tense, that is, one must understand if the passage is the past, present or the future from the context.
Isaiah 7:1 can be translated as "Therefore the Lord himself gave you a sign; Behold, a virgin conceived, and bore a son, and called his name Immanuel."
This translation is equally acceptable in the future tense, but since we "know" that the Old Testament was written before the New Testament, the tense can not be past, but must be future. If the Old Testament prophets who speak in God's name are translated using the past tense, then the impression is that they wrote after Christ, not before. By definition, they would still be prophets in our example, but they would not be predicting future events, but recording the past. Due to the inexact nature of the Hebrew language, this possibility explains why the Old Testament contains so many predictions.
The Apocalypse of John is written in Greek, and since Greek has a future tense, there is no difficulty in understanding if the events are past, present or yet to occur. The common perception of prophets making predictions can be understood as a misconception of the Old Testament prophets who are almost consistently translated in the future tense and the Apocalypse that describes future events. It is understandable why prophets may be misunderstood as prognosticators.