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James A. Diamond

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2021

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How Do We Know a True Prophet? Jeremiah vs. Hananiah

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https://thetorah.com/article/how-do-we-know-a-true-prophet-jeremiah-vs-hananiah

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James A. Diamond

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How Do We Know a True Prophet? Jeremiah vs. Hananiah

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2021

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https://thetorah.com/article/how-do-we-know-a-true-prophet-jeremiah-vs-hananiah

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How Do We Know a True Prophet? Jeremiah vs. Hananiah

Jeremiah urges Judah to submit to Babylon while Hananiah claims that Babylon will soon fall. Both use the same prophetic tropes to convince their listeners. Maimonides reads this story as a blueprint for distinguishing true prophets from false ones.

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How Do We Know a True Prophet? Jeremiah vs. Hananiah
Jeremiah with a yoke on his neck; in the background Hananiah breaks Jeremiah's yoke. Antonie Wierix (II), after Maerten de Vos, 1643. Rijksmuseum

Conflicting Prophecies in Jeremiah 27–28

After the Babylonian deportation of Judeans in 597 B.C.E., and before the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C.E,[1] Jeremiah clashed with other prophets over whether Judah should submit to the Babylonians or rebel.

In chapter 27, Jeremiah declares that YHWH has given Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon dominion over all nations including Judah, and thus Zedekiah, the king of Judah, must submit to him:

ירמיה כז:יב וְאֶל־צִדְקִיָּה מֶלֶךְ־יְהוּדָה דִּבַּרְתִּי כְּכָל־הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה לֵאמֹר הָבִיאוּ אֶת־צַוְּארֵיכֶם בְּעֹל מֶלֶךְ־בָּבֶל וְעִבְדוּ אֹתוֹ וְעַמּוֹ וִחְיוּ. כז:יג לָמָּה תָמוּתוּ אַתָּה וְעַמֶּךָ בַּחֶרֶב בָּרָעָב וּבַדָּבֶר כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְ־הוָה אֶל־הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר לֹא־יַעֲבֹד אֶת־מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל.
Jer 27:12 I also spoke to King Zedekiah of Judah in just the same way: “Place your necks in the yoke of the king of Babylon; serve him and his people so that you will live![2] 27:13 Otherwise you will die together with your people, by sword, famine, and pestilence, as YHWH has decreed against any nation that does not serve the king of Babylon.”

Jeremiah continues by countering the message of other prophets who urge Zedekiah to rebel and rely on YHWH’s salvation:

ירמיה כז:יד וְאַל־תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל־דִּבְרֵי הַנְּבִאִים הָאֹמְרִים אֲלֵיכֶם לֵאמֹר לֹא תַעַבְדוּ אֶת־מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל כִּי שֶׁקֶר הֵם נִבְּאִים לָכֶם. כז:טו כִּי לֹא שְׁלַחְתִּים נְאֻם־יְ־הוָה וְהֵם נִבְּאִים בִּשְׁמִי לַשָּׁקֶר לְמַעַן הַדִּיחִי אֶתְכֶם וַאֲבַדְתֶּם אַתֶּם וְהַנְּבִאִים הַנִּבְּאִים לָכֶם.
Jer 27:14 “Give no heed to the words of the prophets who say to you, ‘Do not serve the king of Babylon,’ for they prophesy falsely to you. 27:15 I have not sent them—declares YHWH—and they prophesy falsely in My name, with the result that I will drive you out and you shall perish, together with the prophets who prophesy to you.”

The next chapter contains the story—in first-person narration—of his public altercation over this issue with a prophet named Hananiah.[3]

Hananiah’s Reversal of Jeremiah’s Prophecy

The story begins with Hananiah’s prophecy that YHWH will free Judah from Babylon, referenced as the word of “YHWH of Hosts,” a common designation for God in prophecies:

ירמיה כח:א ...אָמַר אֵלַי חֲנַנְיָה בֶן־עַזּוּר הַנָּבִיא אֲשֶׁר מִגִּבְעוֹן בְּבֵית יְ־הוָה לְעֵינֵי הַכֹּהֲנִים וְכָל־הָעָם לֵאמֹר. כח:ב כֹּה־אָמַר יְ־הוָה צְבָאוֹת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר שָׁבַרְתִּי אֶת־עֹל מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל.
Jer 28:1 …[T]he prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, who was from Gibeon, spoke to me in the House of YHWH, in the presence of the priests and all the people. He said: 28:2 “Thus said YHWH of Hosts, the God of Israel: I hereby break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”

Hananiah continues by declaring that soon YHWH will restore the Temple vessels taken in 597, and place the legitimate king—i.e., not Zedekiah, who was ruling in Jehoiachin’s absence—on the throne of Jerusalem:

כח:ג בְּעוֹד שְׁנָתַיִם יָמִים אֲנִי מֵשִׁיב אֶל־הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה אֶת־כָּל־כְּלֵי בֵּית יְ־הוָה אֲשֶׁר לָקַח נְבוּכַדנֶאצַּר מֶלֶךְ־בָּבֶל מִן־הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה וַיְבִיאֵם בָּבֶל. כח:ד וְאֶת־יְכָנְיָה בֶן־יְהוֹיָקִים מֶלֶךְ־יְהוּדָה וְאֶת־כָּל־גָּלוּת יְהוּדָה הַבָּאִים בָּבֶלָה אֲנִי מֵשִׁיב אֶל־הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה נְאֻם־יְ־הוָה כִּי אֶשְׁבֹּר אֶת־עֹל מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל.
28:3 “In two years, I will restore to this place all the vessels of the House of YHWH which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took from this place and brought to Babylon.[4] 28:4 And I will bring back to this place King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the Judean exiles who went to Babylon—declares YHWH. Yes, I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”

Hananiah advocates resistance to Babylonian domination, promising Judah’s full restoration. His prophecy runs contrary to that of Jeremiah, who urges capitulation to Babylon and acceptance of the Jehoiachin exile as something that will last a long time.

Negative and Positive Prophecies in Conflict

This conflict pits a pro-Babylonian Jeremiah against the anti-Babylonian sentiment of Hananiah,[5] but to reduce it solely to its political dimensions is to miss the theological claim about who truly speaks and acts in the name of YHWH.[6]

Jeremiah’s initial response to Hananiah expresses a wish that the restoration will indeed happen,[7] but warns Hananiah and the listeners to think carefully about which prophet is telling the truth:

ירמיה כח:ז אַךְ־שְׁמַע־נָא הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי דֹּבֵר בְּאָזְנֶיךָ וּבְאָזְנֵי כָּל־הָעָם. כח:ח הַנְּבִיאִים אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ לְפָנַי וּלְפָנֶיךָ מִן־הָעוֹלָם וַיִּנָּבְאוּ אֶל־אֲרָצוֹת רַבּוֹת וְעַל־מַמְלָכוֹת גְּדֹלוֹת לְמִלְחָמָה וּלְרָעָה וּלְדָבֶר. כח:ט הַנָּבִיא אֲשֶׁר יִנָּבֵא לְשָׁלוֹם בְּבֹא דְּבַר הַנָּבִיא יִוָּדַע הַנָּבִיא אֲשֶׁר־שְׁלָחוֹ יְ־הוָה בֶּאֱמֶת.
Jer 28:7 “But just listen to this word which I address to you and to all the people: 28:8 The prophets who lived before you and me from ancient times prophesied war, disaster, and pestilence against many lands and great kingdoms. 28:9 So if a prophet prophesies good fortune, then only when the word of the prophet comes true can it be known that YHWH really sent him.”

Jeremiah’s message in this passage is difficult to parse, and thus commentators have interpreted Jeremiah’s words in different ways.

Warning to Hananiah: Prophecy Is Not a Popularity Contest

Don Isaac Abravanel (1437–1508) suggests that Jeremiah is warning Hananiah that just because he is prophesying a positive outcome, does not mean people will believe him:

לא תחשוב שבעבור שאני מנבא רעות ואתה מנבא טובות יאמנו דבריך ולא יאמנו דברי אין האמונה נתלית בדברים כי אם במציאות כי מה שיצא לפועל יוודע שהוא אמת ומה שלא יהיה במציאות יוודע שיהיה שקר... ואם כן לא תתפאר בנבואתך להיות[ם] טובות כי לא יאמנו דבריך עד שיתקיימו.
“Do not think that because I am prophesying negatively and you are prophesying positively that people will believe you and not me. Belief is not based upon words but upon reality, whatever actually happens the people will know was true, and that which does not happen, people will know it was false… If so, do not take pride in your prophesies because they are positive, since your words will not be believed until they come true.”[8]

Warning to the People: Wait and See

Shadal (Samuel David Luzzatto, 1800–1865)[9] suggests that Jeremiah is telling the people to wait and see what happens before deciding on anything rash:

הנביאים אשר היו בכל הדורות זה בדורו וזה בדורו, וכל אחד מהם בדורו היה מתנבא לרעה... אם היה נביא אחר סותר דברי הנביא שבדורו ומבשר טובות, אז בבוא דברי הנביא, יוודע מי משניהם הוא הנביא אשר שלחו ה' באמת.
The prophets in every generation, each speaking about his own time, and each would prophecy doom… If another prophet would stand up and contradict that prophet, his contemporary, and prophecy good things, then when the time predicted comes about, it will become clear which of the two prophets it was that God actually sent.

According to Shadal, Jeremiah is explaining that whenever two prophets contradict each other, the only way to know who is telling the truth is to wait and see which of the two prophets has predicted correctly, after which one will be discredited and declared a false prophet, and the other will have succeeded in establishing himself as reliable.

Jeremiah’s Rule about Negative Prophecies and God’s Mercy

Midrash Tanchuma (mid first millennium C.E.)[10] takes a different approach to these verses. It learns from Jeremiah’s comparison of negative and positive prophecies that God may cancel a negative decree out of compassion, but God never revokes a positive decree. Thus, it rewrites Jeremiah’s speech as follows:

ואני מתנבא רעות אם לא יבואו דברי אין אני שקרן שהקב"ה אומר לעשות רעה וחוזר בה, ואתה מתנבא טובות ואם לא יבואו דבריך אתה נביא שקר שהקב"ה אומר לעשות טובה ואף על פי שסרחנין הן אינו חוזר בו  
“I am prophesying negatively; if that which I say does not come to pass, it will not make me a liar, since the Holy One, blessed be He, may make a negative decree but change his mind. But you are prophesying positively, and if your words do not come to pass, you are a false prophet, for when the Holy One, blessed be He, makes a positive decree, even if the people then act terribly, he does not change his mind.”[11]

In this reading, Jeremiah is challenging Hananiah’s positive prophecy, warning him that if it does not come true, he will be declared a false prophet. Jeremiah himself, however, need not worry about this issue, since his prophecy is negative. This interpretation becomes one of the main bases for Maimonides’ philosophical explanation for how prophecy works.[12]

Maimonides: The Need of Positive Predictions

In his Mishneh Torah,[13] Maimonides codifies how a prophet establishes his authenticity, not through performance of miracles (see Deut 13:2-6), but by making a series of predictions that prove to be true:

...אומרים לו אם נביא אתה אמור דברים העתידים להיות והוא אומר ואנו מחכים לראות היבואו דבריו אם לא יבואו...  ובודקין אותו פעמים הרבה אם נמצאו דבריו נאמנים כולן הרי זה נביא אמת...
Any prophet who stands before us and says that God sent him has no need of performing a miracle like the miracles of Moses, Elijah, or Elisha, which made changes in the natural order… Rather, they say to him: “If you are a prophet, tell us something that will happen in the future,” and he tells something, and we wait to see if it comes to pass or not… And we check this many times, and if his words turn out to be trustworthy, then he is a true prophet.

Maimonides further explains that this test of prophecy only works if the prediction is positive:

דברי הפורענות שהנביא אומר כגון שיאמר פלוני ימות או שנה פלונית רעב או מלחמה וכיוצא בדברים אלו אם לא עמדו דבריו אין בזה הכחשה לנבואתו, ואין אומרים הנה דבר ולא בא, שהקב"ה ארך אפים ורב חסד ונחם על הרעה ואפשר שעשו תשובה ונסלח להם כאנשי נינוה, או שתלה להם כחזקיה,
Any prediction of disaster that a prophet makes, such as if he says “so-and-so will die in a certain year” or “a famine will take place in a certain year” or a war, or some such thing—if his words do not come to pass, this does not contradict his being a prophet, and we do not say “you said a thing and it didn’t come to pass,” for the Holy One, blessed be He, is “slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment” (Jonah 4:2), and it is possible that they have repented, and God has forgiven them, like the people of Nineveh, or that God is holding off on punishing them as he did with Hezekiah (see 2 Kgs 20:1–11).
אבל אם הבטיח על טובה ואמר שיהיה כך וכך ולא באה הטובה שאמר בידוע שהוא נביא שקר, שכל דבר טובה שיגזור האל אפילו על תנאי אינו חוזר... הא למדת שבדברי הטובה בלבד יבחן הנביא.
But if [the prophet] promises something good, and says that such-and-such will occur, and that good thing he predicted does not come to pass, we know that he is a false prophet, for anything good that God decrees that he will do, even if it is conditional, He will not go back on it… from this you learn that a prophet can only be tested based on positive predictions.

Maimonides then references Jeremiah’s warning to Hananiah, using the same reading found in Midrash Tanchuma:

הוא שירמיהו אמר בתשובתו לחנניה בן עזור כשהיה ירמיה מתנבא לרעה וחנניה לטובה, אמר לו לחנניה אם לא יעמדו דברי אין בזה ראיה שאני נביא שקר אבל אם לא יעמדו דבריך יודע שאתה נביא שקר...
This is what Jeremiah expressed in his response to Hananiah ben Azur, when Jeremiah was prophesying something negative and Hananiah something positive, he said to Hananiah: “If my words here do not come to pass, this will not prove me to be a false prophet, but if your words do not come to pass, it will be known that you are a false prophet…”[14]

Surprisingly, Maimonides does not address the problem that while Jeremiah is presenting his claim as a challenge to Hananiah, at the same time, it leaves Jeremiah without any way of demonstrating that he himself is a true prophet. As his prophecies are negative, they are also entirely unfalsifiable. Ostensibly, Maimonides would argue that Jeremiah must have proven his status earlier in his career with positive predictions, as a prophet who has established his prophetic reputation, who is נביא שנודעה נבואתו והאמינו בדבריו פעם אחר פעם “known as a prophet and his messages have been repeatedly accepted.”[15]

Notably, in taking the rabbinic reading of the story to its logical conclusion, Maimonides flips the biblical passage on its head. In its original context, Jeremiah seems to be trying to discredit Hananiah by saying that prophets generally prophesy negatively, but Hananiah offers a positive prophecy, thus the audience will need to see whether such an unusual thing comes to pass. But in Maimonides’ version, every single prophet, to prove his or her bonafides, would need to make multiple positive prophecies.

Hananiah: Not Simply a False Prophet but a Plagiarizing Prophet

Maimonides focuses on the technical requirements of establishing prophetic credibility in the Mishneh Torah. In his Guide of the Perplexed (2:40), he deals with Hananiah again, offering a philosophical reflection on what motivates false prophets. Here he distinguishes between two types: liars and plagiarizers.

[W]e find people who laid a claim to prophecy and said things with regard to which there had never been at any time a prophetic revelation coming from God; thus, for instance, Zedekiah son of Chenaanah (1 Kgs 22:11, 14). And we find other people who laid a claim to prophecy and said things that God has indubitably said—I mean things that had come through a prophetic revelation, but a prophetic revelation addressed to other people, thus, Hananiah son of Azzur. Accordingly, these men give out as their own the prophetic revelation in question and adorn themselves with it.[16]

The first type of false prophet is easy to understand: he is simply inventing the prophecy, likely because it is what the king wants to hear. In the case of Zedekiah, he offers an affirmative response to King Ahab’s question about whether he should go to war with Aram:

מלכים א כב:יא וַיַּעַשׂ לוֹ צִדְקִיָּה בֶן כְּנַעֲנָה קַרְנֵי בַרְזֶל וַיֹּאמֶר כֹּה אָמַר יְ־הוָה בְּאֵלֶּה תְּנַגַּח אֶת אֲרָם עַד כַּלֹּתָם.
1 Kings 22:11 Zedekiah son of Chenaanah had provided himself with iron horns; and he said, “Thus said YHWH: With these you shall gore the Arameans till they are made an end of.”

Less clear is Maimonides’ description of Hananiah as someone who takes from other prophets and misapplies their words. In other words, Hananiah is an archetype of what Sheldon Blank termed a “dealer in used oracles.”[17]

What Prophecies Is Hananiah Borrowing?

Barely a century after Maimonides completed the Guide, R. Joseph ibn Kaspi (1279–1340), in his Maskiyot HaKesef commentary, states that he has no idea what this distinction is based on:

תמה, איך יאמר הר"מ זה כי עליו כתוב כמו על צדקיה כי סרה דבר (ירמיה כח:טז), ובכלל, לא מצאתי הבדל בין צדקיה וחנניה.[18]
It is a wonder, how did Maimonides say this [about Hananiah], since just what [Maimonides] says about Zedekiah (based on the passage in Deuteronomy about false prophets [Deut 13:6]) [Jeremiah] says about [Hananiah] (Jer 28:16), that “he has spoken rebellion.”[19] In general, I cannot find any difference between Zedekiah and Hananiah.

Nevertheless, Yehuda Even Shmuel Kaufman (1886–1976) points out in his commentary on the Guide (ad loc.)[20] that ibn Kaspi has missed the fact that Maimonides is yet again building on a reading of the Sages.[21] In fact, the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 89a) tells a story meant to explain how it is that Hananiah misapplied someone else’s prophecy:

דקאי ירמיה בשוק העליון וקאמר כה אמר ה' [צבאות] הנני שבר את קשת עילם, נשא חנניה קל וחומר בעצמו: מה עילם שלא בא אלא לעזור את בבל, אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: הנני שבר את קשת עילם, כשדים עצמן על אחת כמה וכמה - אתא איהו בשוק התחתון, אמר : כה אמר ה' וגו' שברתי את על מלך בבל.
Jeremiah was in the upper market, and he said (Jer 49:35): “Thus said YHWH [of Hosts]: ‘I will break the bow of Elam.’” Hananiah made an a fortiori argument for himself: “If Elam, which only came to assist the Babylonians, the Holy One, blessed be He said: ‘I will break the bow of Elam,’ the Chaldeans themselves how much more so!” So he went to the lower market, and said: “Thus said YHWH: ‘I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’”[22]

The midrashic story highlights how Hananiah’s prophecy sounds authentic. He uses tropes that we find in other prophets, including even Jeremiah himself, such as YHWH promising to break the yoke of Judah’s enemy.

Breaking the Yoke: Using a Common Prophetic Message

When Jeremiah, still wearing a yoke that he had donned earlier in the book,[23] challenges Hananiah, unwittingly giving Hananiah a way to make further use of his yoke-breaking imagery:

ירמיה כח:י וַיִּקַּח חֲנַנְיָה הַנָּבִיא אֶת־הַמּוֹטָה מֵעַל צַוַּאר יִרְמְיָה הַנָּבִיא וַיִּשְׁבְּרֵהוּ. כח:יא וַיֹּאמֶר חֲנַנְיָה לְעֵינֵי כָל־הָעָם לֵאמֹר כֹּה אָמַר יְ־הוָה כָּכָה אֶשְׁבֹּר אֶת־עֹל נְבֻכַדְנֶאצַּר מֶלֶךְ־בָּבֶל בְּעוֹד שְׁנָתַיִם יָמִים מֵעַל צַוַּאר כָּל־הַגּוֹיִם וַיֵּלֶךְ יִרְמְיָה הַנָּבִיא לְדַרְכּוֹ.
Jer 28:10 And Hananiah the prophet removed the bar from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, and broke it; 28:11 and Hananiah said in the presence of all the people, “Thus said YHWH: ‘So will I break the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon from off the necks of all the nations in two years.’” And the prophet Jeremiah went on his way.

Hananiah turns Jeremiah’s demonstration on its head. Instead of symbolizing the need for Israel to toe the line, Jeremiah’s yoke is now used to demonstrate that there is no need to submit, since YHWH will break the yoke of Babylon in only two years.

The Yoke of Slavery in Jeremiah

Hananiah’s manipulation of a shattered yoke to hammer home his message is a particularly telling sign of his pretense in light of Maimonides’ characterization of him as a plagiarist. The imagery of YHWH breaking the yoke of Israel’s enemies is also familiar from how Leviticus describes the exodus from Egypt:

ויקרא כו:יג אֲנִי יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִהְיֹת לָהֶם עֲבָדִים וָאֶשְׁבֹּר מֹטֹת עֻלְּכֶם וָאוֹלֵךְ אֶתְכֶם קוֹמְמִיּוּת.
Lev 26:13 “I, YHWH, am your God, who brought you out from the land of the Egyptians to be their slaves no more, who broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.”[24]

Hananiah’s inappropriate exploitation of a shattered yoke as a symbol of liberation is glaring in light of Israel’s own perpetuation of slavery over its citizens.[25] Indeed, Jeremiah complains that Israel had ignored the obligation of sabbatical manumission of slaves since the inception of the monarchy (Jer 34:8–16), and that God says that Judah will be conquered by its enemies because of this (Jer 34:17–22).[26]  

In the face of Israel’s own failure to shatter the yokes of its own slaves, Hananiah’s resort to this imagery can be seen as disingenuousness. How could YHWH use this imagery now, Jeremiah may have asked, when YHWH has also expressed that Judah has been acting like an oppressor an deserves its fate. Hananiah’s doubling down simply coopts a stale-dated message conveyed previously to other prophets, to confront a current crisis.

A Traditional Prophet but False

Hananiah’s sentiments about YHWH protecting Israel from her enemies and not allowing Jerusalem to fall are consistent with those of other prophets. When the Assyrians were besieging Jerusalem and warning King Hezekiah that continued resistance was pointless, the prophet Isaiah stands up and tells the Assyrian army that they will not be able to conquer the city but will return home (2 Kgs 19:6–7), and this is indeed what happens. Hananiah may have seen himself in this same tradition.

This seems to be what Maimonides means by Hananiah adorning himself with other prophets’ messages.[27] Hananiah knows of prophecies about YHWH saving Israel; he even knows the tried-and-true trope of YHWH breaking the yoke of the enemy.[28] The problem, Jeremiah tries to warn the people, is that the earlier prophetic message is not valid in all times, for all situations. Thus, he says, Hananiah never received this prophecy directly and is misappropriating it. In this case, the people must submit to the Babylonians, לָמָּה תִהְיֶה הָעִיר הַזֹּאת חָרְבָּה “for otherwise this city shall become a ruin” (Jer 27:17). 

Wait and See

Jeremiah’s frustration in the first-person narration of the story is palpable. He may be certain that he rather than Hananiah is telling the truth, but he is unable to best Hananiah in their competitive drama. Thus, the story ends with a curse against Hananiah:

ירמיה כח:טו וַיֹּאמֶר יִרְמְיָה הַנָּבִיא אֶל־חֲנַנְיָה הַנָּבִיא שְׁמַע־נָא חֲנַנְיָה לֹא־שְׁלָחֲךָ יְ־הוָה וְאַתָּה הִבְטַחְתָּ אֶת־הָעָם הַזֶּה עַל־שָׁקֶר. כח:טז לָכֵן כֹּה אָמַר יְ־הוָה הִנְנִי מְשַׁלֵּחֲךָ מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה הַשָּׁנָה אַתָּה מֵת כִּי־סָרָה דִבַּרְתָּ אֶל־יְ־הוָה. כח:יז וַיָּמָת חֲנַנְיָה הַנָּבִיא בַּשָּׁנָה הַהִיא בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי.
Jer 28:15 And the prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah. “Listen Hananiah! YHWH did not send you and you have given the people lying assurances. 28:16 Assuredly, thus said YHWH: ‘I am going to banish you from off the earth. This year you shall die for you have urged disloyalty to YHWH.’” 28:17 And the prophet Hananiah died that year, in the seventh month.

While Maimonides imagines prophets proving themselves, nothing in the book of Jeremiah references such a proof. The death of Hananiah may be the closest thing to a demonstration of Jeremiah’s credibility offered in the story. In the end, Jeremiah never succeeds in convincing King Zedekiah of the truth of his views, and sadly, he lives to see his prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction fulfilled.

Published

August 10, 2021

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Last Updated

October 17, 2021

Footnotes

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Prof. James A. Diamond is the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Chair of Jewish Studies at the University of Waterloo and former director of the university’s Friedberg Genizah Project. He holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies and Medieval Jewish Thought from the University of Toronto, and an LL.M. from New York University’s Law School. He is the author of Maimonides and the Hermeneutics of Concealment, Converts, Heretics and Lepers: Maimonides and the Outsider and, Maimonides and the Shaping of the Jewish Canon.