כ״א בתשרי ה׳תשע״ח (October 11, 2017)

Sanhedrin 89a-b: A False Prophecy

Another case of someone who will receive the death penalty of ḥenek – choking – is a navi sheker – a false prophet. According to the Mishna on today’s daf, someone who offers a prophecy that he did not hear, one that was not directed to him by God, will be charged and prosecuted by the courts. Other cases of prophecy – e.g., if a navi refuses to share his prophecy (like Yonah) or if someone makes light of a true prophecy, or if the navi does not keep the instructions that he receives as a prophecy – these situations are left for God to mete out punishment.

How can someone know whether a prophecy that is being told is true or not?

One example that is offered by the Gemara is the case of Tzidkiyahu ben Kena’anah. According to the story in the Navi, (see I Melakhim chapter 22 and II Divrei HaYamim chapter 18 ) Aḥav, the king of Israel, the northern kingdom and Yehoshafat, the king of Judah, the southern kingdom were poised to join forces in a war against Aram, the northern power. King Yehoshafat suggested that before beginning the attack it would be appropriate to turn to hear the word of God. In response, King Aḥav called 400 prophets and put the question to them: ‘Shall I go against Ramot-gilead to battle, or shall I forbear?’ And they said: ‘Go up; for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king.’

Hearing the words of the prophets, King Yehoshafat asked: ‘Is there not a prophet of the Lord, that we might inquire of him?’

Before Mikhayahu ben Yimlah could be brought before them, Tzidkiyahu ben Kena’anah stepped forward with horns of iron, and said: ‘Thus said the Lord: With these you will gore the Arameans, until they be consumed.’

The Gemara explains that King Yehoshafat recognized the falseness of the prophecies based on a principle set out by Rabbi Yitzḥak, that although several prophets may receive and share the same prophecy, no two nevi’im will prophesy using precisely the same language. The Maharsha explains that Yehoshafat could not have known all of the nevi’im brought by Aḥav, so there must have been another reason that he knew that they were false prophets. The Arukh LaNer adds that Tzidkiyahu ben Kena’anah must have been among the original 400 who spoke in unison, but upon hearing King Yehoshafat’s request for a true navi stepped forward to offer a different version of the false prophecy.

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