Yirmeyahu's Confrontation With Chananyah1


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One of the great challenges of Yirmeyahu’s prophetic career was the presence of false prophets who prophesied, in contrast to Yirmeyahu, that the Beit Hamikdash would not be destroyed and that Am Yisrael should not concede to Bavel (for example, see Yirmeyahu 7:4, Yirmeyahu 27:9).  Since the prophecies of the false prophets were not demonstrably heretical, it was difficult for Yirmeyahu to prove the veracity of his own prophecy and for Am Yisrael to know whom to trust.2

Yirmeyahu 28 describes Yirmeyahu’s confrontation with the false prophet Chananyah ben Azor, who prophesies that Hashem will liberate the Jewish people from Bavel and will return the vessels of the Beit Hamikdash from Bavel to Jerusalem in two years.  Yirmeyahu seeks to prove the authenticity of his own prophecy, ultimately foretelling Chananyah’s death later that year.  The narrative of this confrontation encapsulates the challenges inherent in Yirmeyahu’s position vis-a-vis the false prophets of his time. 

How to Determine Whose Prophecy is True?

The fundamental question of Yirmeyahu 28 is how the Jewish people were meant to know that Yirmeyahu’s prophecy was authentic whereas Chananyah’s was false, given that both were plausible within the context of Jewish belief.  Yirmeyahu’s speech to Chananyah in Yirmeyahu 28:6-9 sets forth how to determine the truth of prophecy.  The crux of the speech is found in verses 8-9, which read: 


(ח) הַנְּבִיאִים אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ לְפָנַי וּלְפָנֶיךָ מִן הָעוֹלָם וַיִּנָּבְאוּ אֶל אֲרָצוֹת רַבּוֹת וְעַל מַמְלָכוֹת גְּדֹלוֹת לְמִלְחָמָה וּלְרָעָה וּלְדָבֶר. (ט) הַנָּבִיא אֲשֶׁר יִנָּבֵא לְשָׁלוֹם בְּבֹא דְּבַר הַנָּבִיא יִוָּדַע הַנָּבִיא אֲשֶׁר שְׁלָחוֹ י״י בֶּאֱמֶת.

(8) The prophets that have been before me and before thee of old prophesied against many countries, and against great kingdoms, of war, and of evil, and of pestilence. (9) The prophet that prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the Lord hath truly sent him.'

The purpose of this speech is ostensibly to explain how it can be determined that Yirmeyahu’s prophecy is true while Chananyah’s is false, but the meaning of the speech is ambiguous and open to multiple interpretations.  In addition to the multiple conceptual interpretations that are possible, these verses are difficult to understand linguistically, as verse 8 seems to contain an incomplete, dangling thought; it is difficult to read as a grammatical sentence.  How should these verses be interpreted conceptually and linguistically? 

How Does Yirmeyahu’s Speech Relate to Devarim 18:22?

In Devarim 18:18-22, the Torah sets forth the criteria for determining the authenticity of a prophet’s message. Devarim 18:22 reads:


אֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר הַנָּבִיא בְּשֵׁם י״י וְלֹא יִהְיֶה הַדָּבָר וְלֹא יָבֹא הוּא הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר לֹא דִבְּרוֹ י״י בְּזָדוֹן דִּבְּרוֹ הַנָּבִיא לֹא תָגוּר מִמֶּנּוּ.

when a prophet speaks in the name of Hashem, if the thing doesn’t follow, nor happen, that is the thing which Hashem has not spoken: the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you shall not be afraid of him.

How does Yirmeyahu’s speech relate to the criteria of Devarim 18, and how do commentators interpret the verses in Devarim and in Yirmeyahu in light of each other?

Respect for Chananyah’s Prophecy? 

A puzzling aspect of Yirmeyahu’s speech is that he uses language that seems to accord respect to Chananyah’s prophecy, apparently undermining his goal of proving that Chananyah’s prophecy is false.  For example, in verse 6 he says “amen” to Chananyah’s prophecy and refers to it as an actual “prophecy.”  How can this language be understood?  Does Yirmeyahu intend to demonstrate respect for Chananyah’s prophecy?  If so, why?  If not, why does he speak in a way that would be likely to further confuse his audience?

The Purpose of Chananyah’s Death

Whereas Yirmeyahu seems to speak respectfully of Chananyah in 28:6-9, his tone shifts in 28:15-16, where he explicitly states that Chananyah is a false prophet and foretells Chananyah’s death.  What is the reason for this shift, and what is the purpose of giving the sign that Chananyah will die?  Was this necessary in order to prove the veracity of Yirmeyahu’s prophecy, or is there another reason for it?