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Being a Muslim and a student of comparative religion, I am interested to know what is the Jewish notion of prophethood particularly pertaining to gentiles. I have come to know that Job and Bilaam were among the gentiles but are still recognized as prophets.

What really made the Jews of Arabia reject Muhammad's prophethood as he was also among the gentiles just like Job and Bilaam?

May peace and blessings be upon all the prophets of God (amen).

As Torah testifies that: "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him." (Deuteronomy 18:18), therefore a prophet can also be raised among other nations associated fraternally("among their brothers") to the Children of Israel.

So why not him?

Looking forward to authentic, logical and unbiased replies. Thanks

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There have been billions of gentiles (and Jews, for that matter) whom the Jews have not identified as prophets. There is no reason, a priori to expect Judaism to identify this particular person as one. –  Isaac Moses Nov 21 '13 at 23:14
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Job and Bilaam are Mentioned in the bible. Bilaam explicitly received prophecy. This is far different than someone coming much later, claiming to be a prophet, and founding a competing religion. –  josh waxman Nov 22 '13 at 1:30
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@Maxood Are you claiming Moses never said Leviticus 11:4 or Deuteronomy 14:7? –  Double AA Jul 13 at 21:28
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@DoubleAA Absolutely! That is a concocted text. A lot of its matter is not what Moses(may peace and blessings be upon him) ever said or preached. –  Maxood Jul 13 at 21:31
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@maxood all of the arguments against the authenticity of the bible in the link you provided are either easily dismissed or based on the Qur'an, which we do not accept as authoritative. If you wish to see answers to those questions, I recommend browsing this site (many of them have been asked here) or asking a question. –  Daniel Sep 18 at 13:38

7 Answers 7

Maimonides describes the qualifications of a Jewish prophet. He also describes how to discern a prophet who appears to meet the qualifications, but still is shown to not be an authentic prophet. Among them:

Therefore, if a prophet arises and attempts to dispute Moses' prophecy by performing great signs and wonders, we should not listen to him. We know with certainty that he performed those signs through magic or sorcery. [This conclusion is reached] because the prophecy of Moses, our teacher, is not dependent on wonders, so that we could compare these wonders, one against the other. Rather we saw and heard with our own eyes and ears as he did.

He goes on in the next chapter to describe something specific that would dispute Moses' prophecy:

Similarly, if [a "prophet"] nullifies a concept which was transmitted by the oral tradition, or states with regard to one of the Torah's laws that God commanded him to render such and such a judgment, or that such and such is the law regarding a particular instance and the decision follows a certain opinion, he is a false prophet and should be [executed by] strangulation. [This applies] even if he performs a wonder, for he is coming to deny the Torah, which states: "It is not in the heavens."

As far as I know, one of the claims of the Muslim religion (or perhaps the Koran itself?) is that the correctness of the texts of the Jewish Bible is disputed. This contradicts the idea of what is "transmitted by the oral tradition" at the most fundamental level.

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What about Bilam? –  Shmuel Brin Nov 21 '13 at 23:34
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@ShmuelBrin, Bilam was a personally very flawed person, but what prophecy did he give that contradicts this? –  Yishai Nov 21 '13 at 23:40
    
doesnt the rambam say elsewhere sorcery does not exist? –  ray Sep 18 at 18:43
    
@Ray, yes. See this question. –  Yishai Sep 18 at 18:46
    
i think the muslims claim the sages lied so this does not really answer from their perspective. would be improved to add some verses on this –  ray Sep 18 at 21:01

There are many reasons why Muhammad could not have been a true prophet, according to Jewish belief. I'll summarize at the top of this answer and then drill down into particulars.

  1. Because of Bilaam's wickedness, as emblematic of the wickedness of gentile prophets, God removed prophecy from the gentiles (Midrash Tanchuma, Balak, siman 1).

  2. Muhammad was born too late. Prophecy was taken from the world at the beginning of the second Temple period. (Talmud Yomah 9, Sotah 48)

  3. The set of gentile prophets appears to be a closed set, limited to seven at most (Bava Batra 15b). This reflects the idea that prophecy from God is generally restricted to the people of Israel.

  4. Muhammad founded a religion which differs greatly in theology and matters of Biblical history from that established by the Torah. Such a contradiction would render a prophet a false prophet. For instance, who was bound by Abraham? Was it Ishmael or Isaac?


Now to examine each of these in turn, in greater detail.

1

According to Midrash Tanchuma, prophecy was explicitly removed from the gentiles in the time of Bilaam. The other gentile prophets, including Iyov, lived about the same time.

This midrash reads:

וכל גדולה שנטלו ישראל, את מוצא שנטלו האומות כיוצא בה. העמיד משה לישראל שהיה מדבר עמו כל זמן שירצה. העמיד להם בלעם, מדבר עמו כל זמן שירצה.

ראה מה בין נביאי ישראל לנביאי האומות. נביאי ישראל מזהירין את האומות על העבירות. וכן הוא אומר: נביא לגוים נתתיך. ונביאים שהעמיד מן האומות, נותנים פרצה לאבד את הבריות מן העולם הבא.

ולא עוד, אלא כל הנביאים היו במידת רחמים על ישראל ועל אומות העולם. שכן ישעיה אומר: על כן מעי למואב ככנור יהמו וגו' (ישע' טז יא). וכן יחזקאל אומר: בן אדם שא על צור קינה (יחז' כז ב). ונביאי אומות העולם, היו במידת אכזריות, שזה עמד לעקור אומה שלמה חנם על לא דבר. לכך נכתבה פרשת בלעם, להודיע למה סלק הקדוש ברוך הוא רוח הקדש מאומות העולם, שזה עמד מהם, וראה מה עשה:

My translation:

And every greatness you find that Israel took, the nations took likewise. He established Moshe for Israel, who spoke with him any time he wished. And He established for them [the gentiles] Bilaam, who spoke with him any time he wished.

See the difference between the prophets of Israel and the gentile prophets. The Israelite prophets warn the gentile nations about sins. And so is said [regarding Jeremiah] 'I have set you as a prophet for the nations. And the prophets He established from the gentile nations, they placed a breach to remove people from the world to come.

And not only that, but all the [Israelite] prophets worked via the trait of mercy upon both Israel and the nations of the world, for so Isaiah says, 'therefore my bowels for Moav vibrate like a harp, etc.' (Isaiah 16:11) And the nations of the world acted with a trait of cruelty, for this one [Bilaam] arose to uproot an entire nation for absolutely nothing.

Therefore the parasha of Bilaam was written [in the Torah], to inform why the Holy One, Blessed Be He removed the holy spirit [prophecy] from the nations of the world, for this one arose from them, and see what he did!

2

Muhammad, like Minever Cheevy, was born too late. According the the Talmud (Sotah 48b), at a specific point in time, prophecy was removed from the Israelites.

In Sotah 48b:

Our Rabbis have taught: When Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi died, the Holy Spirit10 departed from Israel; nevertheless they made use of the Bath Kol.

One can draw a kal vachomer (a fortiori), that if it was removed from Israel, surely it was removed from outside Israel.

In Bava Batra 12b, this is stated about prophets in general:

R. Johanan said: Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children.

3

The list of gentile prophets appears to be a closed set of a maximum of seven. These were all people in the generation of Bilaam. From Bava Batra 15b:

Seven prophets prophesied to the heathen, namely, Balaam and his father, Job, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite, and Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite.

Bilaam and his father (Beor) lived approximately the same time, and the other characters are from the book of Job, who is chronologically often placed at the same time at Bilaam. The Talmud continues to specify that many some of these were not gentiles, but just had prophesied toward the gentiles. This includes Job, which strips one of your two examples from your list. Another rabbinic position is that the entire book of Job is fictional wisdom literature. While Job the person, and his righteousness, were historical, the events depicted in the book of Job did not occur.

Vayikra Rabba 1:13 also lists many restrictions on gentile prophecy, in terms of its status. And one such restriction is that it ended with the erection of the Tabernacle (Mishkan):

אמר רבי יצחק: עד שלא הוקם המשכן היתה נבואה מצויה באומות העולם. משהוקם המשכן נסתלקה מביניהם, שנאמר: (שיר ג)אחזתיו ולא ארפנו. אמרו לו: הרי בלעם מתנבא?! אמר להן: לטובתן של ישראל נתנבא. (במדבר כג) מי מנה עפר יעקב. (שם ) לא הביט און ביעקב. (שם) כי לא נחש ביעקב מה טובו אוהליך יעקב. (שם כד) דרך כוכב מיעקב. (שם) וירד מיעקב.

Bilaam seems a counterexample but it explains why he was the exception, that he prophesied for the benefit of Israel.

The general trend and assumption of Rabbinic sources then seems to be that even in their days, gentile prophecy no longer existed.

4

Muhammad founded a religion which differs greatly in theology and matters of Biblical history from that established by the Torah.

Such a contradiction would render a prophet a false prophet. Indeed, some Biblical books, by Israelite authors, were going to be tossed out of the Biblical canon for contradicting the Torah. For instance, the Qur'an has Abraham binding Ishmael rather than Isaac:

In the tale of binding (surah 37:99-110) Muhammad identified the son who was to be sacrificed as Ishmael and, indeed, the opinion of the traditionalists were also divided on this subject.

This is not the place to debate differences between Jewish and Muslim theology, and between Biblical and Quranic history. But there is certainly enough for one to argue that they differ.

For all these four reasons, at least, Jews would not have believed that Muhammad was a true prophet.

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+1 - but a couple of notes. #1 and #3 aren't really different points, and have a common flaw. Could G-d remove that decree and make one of the Chassidei Umos HaOlam a prophet? If he passed all the tests in the Rambam, would he really be rejected? On point #2, the same question - if someone came along today and passed the tests of the Rambam, we would say no because he came too late? Note that the Rambam doesn't say that it can't apply again until Moshiach comes (although I suppose you could argue that he expected Moshiach very soon, so didn't feel he needed to). –  Yishai Sep 19 at 13:22
    
thanks. i think (1) and (3) share features, but the focus of (1) is that there is explicit removal of prophecy from the nations, while the focus of (3) is that one should not necessarily extrapolate from a closed (rather than open) set, from Bilaam to the possibility of other prophets, as was implied in the question. in terms of #2, yes, I would argue that at the very least the level of suspicion one must regard any claimed prophet with nowadays is greater than that in the days of David. And that in messianic days, it will return. (is מחמד different re אכזריות, in terms of Tanchuma?) –  josh waxman Sep 19 at 14:25
    
also the K"V in 2 could use a bit more support, I would think. Like adding, "given the mannerisms of gentile prophets as opposed to Israelite prophets, seen above". The support is there, but not in the same section. –  Baby Seal Sep 19 at 18:00
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Bilaam's father beor did not prophesy for posterity –  josh waxman Sep 19 at 19:09
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@joshwaxman, re אכזריות, I think a better answer doesn't rely on the specific character of the alleged prophet. Of course we could go there if we had to, but it would be a shouting match all the way down. Anyway, the Rambam said in Igerres HaTeiman that prophecy would return at a date that turned out to be some 12 years after his death. –  Yishai Sep 29 at 19:39

Coming in late to the party, so this just comes to reinforce Yishai's answer, but I feel compelled to mention the Rambam's "Iggeret Teyman".

Background: The "Epistle to Yemen" was written by Maimonides back in 1172, specifically to answer the rabbis of the Jewish community in Yemen who were being forced to convert to Islam. There was apparently a self-proclaimed "prophet" who had converted recently Islam and was claiming to be the messiah. The confusion in the community had prompted them to write the Rambam for an answer. The Rambam carefully explains why we do not not accept Islam (or Muhammad as a prophet), and declares this convert to be mad.

The whole Iggeret is worth reading, but Here are some choice quotes:

"Our disbelief in the prophecy of Omar and Zeid is not due to the fact that they are non-Jews, as the unlettered folk imagine, and in consequence of which they are compelled to justify their standpoint by the Biblical statement "from thy midst, out of thy brethren." For Job, Zophar, Bildad, Eliphaz, and Elihu are all considered prophets and are non-Jews."

"Any prophet, therefore, no matter what his pedigree is, be he priest, Levite, or Amalekite, is perfidious even if he asserts that only one of the precepts of the Torah is void, in view of the Mosaic pronouncement "unto us and unto our children forever." Such a one we would declare a false prophet and would execute him if we had jurisdiction over him. "

"If a Jewish or Gentile prophet urges and encourages people to follow the religion of Moses without adding thereto or diminishing therefrom, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the others, we demand a miracle from him.... ...However, if the would-be-prophet teaches tenets that negate the doctrines of Moses, then we must repudiate him. "

Basically, as soon as Muhammad claimed that the texts of the Torah are no longer relevant, he is automatically considered by Judaism to be (at best) a deluded individual. At worst, his is a False Prophet, with all the negativity that implies.

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Better late then never - +1 –  YEZ Oct 6 at 16:58

I have been wrestling with this question for a while now. The question seems valid as worded "Why don't Jews accept that Mohammed was a prophet?"

Job is not considered a prophet and Bil'am was a prophet in that he had to carry a message from god, but not as a prophet giving prophecy to the Jewish people. Bil'am was speaking about the Jews but was telling Balak (a non-Jew) that the Jews would survive and be blessed. So since the text attests to his being a prophet and he wasn't giving any prophecy binding to the Jewish people, we accept them as such.

The textual definitions of prophet (requiring that he arise from among the Jews and that his words to the Jews are consistent with earlier prophesies or pronouncements) and the talmudic discussion of prophecy (that it was removed "from Israel" with the deaths of Chagai, Malachi and Zechariah) wouldn't seem to apply to the notion of whether anyone else might also be a prophet, but there would be the proviso "as long as the outsider receiving prophecy doesn't say anything which contradicts the validity of what the Jewish prophets said or expect any acceptance for anything said to or about Jews." The initial Jewish rejection of Mohammed stems from the era of prophecy having been closed and the content of the prophecy and the prophet not conforming to textual standards.

So was Mohammed a recipient of prophecy from god to deliver to people who weren't Jews and which had nothing to do with Jews? This I don't know but it stops being relevant within Judaism.

Just my humble opinion. Feel free to downvote.

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@Danno Nothing to do with Jews???? Sorry brother.... "O Children of Israel! call to mind the special favour which I bestowed upon you, and that I preferred you to all others (for My Message)." Quran(Chapter 2: Verse 122) :) –  Maxood Jul 8 at 17:56
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@Maxood nope, nothing to do with Jews. If I told you I was a prophet to Muslims and printed up a document to support that, but it wasn't a document which had any authority in Islam, would you say I was a valid prophet to Islam? You can't wonder why Jews didn't accept Mohammed and support your contention through a text Jews also don't accept. –  Danno Jul 8 at 21:42
    
God clearly spoke to Job. what do you mean by "Job was not a prophet" –  ray Sep 19 at 7:56

Anyone whose "prophesy" contradicts the prophecy of Moses even if they are able to perform wonders and miracles is automatically known to be false as the Torah is not a historical document nor bound to any specific time period but is applicable for all times and generations. One easy source to look up fundamental Jewish beliefs are the 13 principles of faith (Maimonides)

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Seems very similar to Yishai's answer (just without sources) –  Shmuel Brin Nov 25 '13 at 23:02
    
Comments removed: Please keep it civil. –  Monica Cellio Nov 26 '13 at 0:11

There's a huge difference. Job and Bilaam are described as prophets by the Torah.

We don't accept Muhammad as a prophet because we have no mesorah (tradition) from our sages that he was a prophet, and because his teachings do not necessarily sync with Jewish views.

According to our tradition, one does not have to be Jewish per se to serve God, he just has to fulfill the 7 commandments given to Noach.

So technically, a Muslim who fulfills these seven commandments along with his own commandments merits the distinction of a 'righteous gentile'.

In fact, we have a tradition from the Zohar, written by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai 500 years before Muhammad, detailing the rise of Islam.

There is also a tradition from the days of the Exilarch in Arabia stating similar views. Rabbi Chofni, who was the greatest rabbi in the time of Muhammad, was of the opinion that Islam was introduced to the world to prepare it for the coming of the Jewish Messiah.

I think that the reason we do not accept Muhammad as a prophet is that some years after the rise of Islam, when Muhammad started to persecute Jews, the Exilarch-to-be concocted a plan to speak with Muhammad, involving Muhammad's Jewish wife having a 'dream' in which Gabriel told her that a son of David would honor him with a visit. Muhammad believed this, and in fact, when the Exilarch did come, Muhammad told him about Gabriel telling him that the son of David would come.

Maybe Muhammad did have a lower version of prophecy. We are told that dreams are 1/60 of prophecy. Since Muhammad was epileptic, and epileptic seizures are like sleep, a vision seen could be counted as a dream.

However, anyone can have dreams. If we were to count Muhammad as a true prophet, we would have to say that everyone alive is a prophet.

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The sentence "There is also a tradition of the Exilarch in Arabia stating similar views" which appears to reference someone's views cited earlier, but it is not clear what those views were or who cited them. Please edit this to make that clear. –  Bruce James Jul 7 at 20:15

after the death of the later prophets, the era of prophecy ended as written in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 11a) "תנו רבנן משמתו הנביאים האחרונים חגי זכריה ומלאכי נסתלקה הנבואה מישראל"

(until the messiah comes and rebuilds the temple, etc)

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How do you know when it will come back? –  Double AA Sep 19 at 5:15
    
we cannot know the exact details of this as the Rambam says chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1188357/jewish/… but we will see the prophecies being fulfilled such as the ingathering of the exiles to israel. Certainly someone like muhamad who went around beheading people who did not believe in him, (and who ISIS is following his example today) does not fit the bill. –  ray Sep 19 at 6:30
    
So your answer has nothing to do with time period because you agree we have no knowledge of the issue. –  Double AA Sep 19 at 14:44
    
@DoubleAA no. we know more or less what will happen as the rambam explains there. we're just not sure about the details. return of prophecy is part of the final redemption (Geulah). how about you bringing a source that it is separate from the Geulah. –  ray Sep 20 at 20:43
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@Maxood, if you would like to learn more about what Talmud is and how it and Scripture are related, I suggest the WP article on "Oral Torah" as a starting point. –  Isaac Moses Sep 24 at 12:41

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