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Prophets, Seers, and Politics in Greece, Israel, and Early Modern Europe

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After a short introduction on the study of the history of religions at Groningen, this paper analyses the relationship between prophets (seers) and political power. Concentrating on Greece, Israel and early modern Europe it poses three questions. First, do seers operate independently of political rulers? Secondly, does the influence of prophets change when the political structure changes? Thirdly, does the medium of prophecy remain constant or does it change over time? In Greece, seers were closely connected with the political elite, especially the kings. As their main function was the legitimation of choices, their public influence started to wane with the rise of democracy and public political debate. In Israel we can note the concomitant rise of the king and decline of the prophet, who remains only influential from the margin of society. At the same time, we can see the gradual disappearance of ecstasy among the prophets and the growing influence of writing. After the return from exile the growing importance of the Torah led to a gradual merger of prophets and priests. Finally, in early modern Europe prophecy flourished especially in the Protestant areas, but lost ground in the seventeenth century through the centralisation of power, the introduction of the printing press, and the changing intellectual climate. In my conclusion I stress the importance of the histoire événementielle for the history of religions and ask for more interest in the religious history of Europe.

Affiliations: 1: Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Center for Religious Studies Nieuwe Kijk in't Jatstraat 104 NL-9712 SL Groningen


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