Who Can Be a Prophet?
Tanakh is full of a wide variety of prophets, including even a few female prophetess.1 However, there are very few verses explaining who can become a prophet and how.
In Devarim 18:15-18 we read:
(טו) נָבִיא מִקִּרְבְּךָ מֵאַחֶיךָ כָּמֹנִי יָקִים לְךָ י"י אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֵלָיו תִּשְׁמָעוּן. (טז) כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר שָׁאַלְתָּ מֵעִם י"י אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּחֹרֵב בְּיוֹם הַקָּהָל לֵאמֹר לֹא אֹסֵף לִשְׁמֹעַ אֶת קוֹל י"י אֱלֹהָי וְאֶת הָאֵשׁ הַגְּדֹלָה הַזֹּאת לֹא אֶרְאֶה עוֹד וְלֹא אָמוּת. (יז) וַיֹּאמֶר י"י אֵלָי הֵיטִיבוּ אֲשֶׁר דִּבֵּרוּ. (יח) נָבִיא אָקִים לָהֶם מִקֶּרֶב אֲחֵיהֶם כָּמוֹךָ וְנָתַתִּי דְבָרַי בְּפִיו וְדִבֶּר אֲלֵיהֶם אֵת כׇּל אֲשֶׁר אֲצַוֶּנּוּ.
(15) A prophet will the Lord thy God raise up unto thee, from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; (16) according to all that thou didst desire of the Lord thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying: 'Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.' (17) And the Lord said unto me: 'They have well said that which they have spoken. (18) I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.
These verses propose that the prophet will be from among the nation, and chosen by Hashem.2
The many prophets who received prophecy without having to prepare or train themselves beforehand would support this. Thus, Shemuel becomes a prophet while still a child. He is surprised to hear Hashem and does not even realize that it is Hashem who is speaking to him. Yirmeyahu, similarly, is dedicated to prophesy by Hashem from birth.
On the other hand, there are stories in Tanakh which suggest that preparation is necessary in order to gain prophecy:
- There are a few verses which discuss schools of prophets, called "בְנֵי הַנְּבִיאִים",3 in various cities around Israel. They seem to be training to be prophets as they have much contact with the prophets of the generation and are often sent to fill their tasks.4
- Prophecy is linked to musical instruments by Elisha in Melakhim II 3:15 who asks for a musician to play for him in order so he can prophesy and receive "יַד י"י", suggesting he needed a mental or emotional preparation. Also the "חֶבֶל נְבִאִים" in Shemuel I 10:5 had four different instruments in front of them while prophesying.5
How do we understand what are the requirements in order to be a prophet? Can one be trained to be one or does one need to be chosen by Hashem?
Here are some additional questions:
- Do the verses really exclude all non-Jews from being prophets? How do we understand Bilam's experience, was he not prophesying?
- Is there a difference between a one time prophecy and constant prophesying?
- Can one control when to prophesy?
- And finally, how was Moshe's prophecy unique from all other prophets? What caused this uniqueness?