This is a "2-part question" (hope it's OK to do that.)

The language used by most of the prophets is metaphoric, for the most part. Are they conveying the literal words of God, or are they interpreting, paraphrasing or adding some of their own, personal flourishes? Often I see the term "Thus said Hashem". So, I guess that at least those sections are the literal words of Hashem - maybe not?

2nd question is why are they using metaphors that both peole, then and now, have to translate? (Rashi wasn't alive at the time, after all.) Why not use a "direct" approach?


4 Answers 4


Rambam Yesodei HaTorah 7:3

הדברים שמודיעין לנביא במראה הנבואה--דרך משל מודיעין לו, ומיד ייחקק בליבו פתרון המשל במראה הנבואה, ויידע מה הוא

(My paraphrasing): The prophet is shown a prophetic image, as a type of parable, and immediately realizes the resolution of the parable, and knows what it is.

Ramchal, towards the end of Da'as Tevunos (siman 186-188), explains this further. He explains that the understanding of the prophet went according to his individual makeup, and that all prophets except Moses saw a vision that was not entirely clear.

As to the second questions, in siman 190, he explains why this system was the way prophecy worked.

The first point he says is that Hashem wanted to reveal Himself to mankind according to the nature of mankind, which is that the form which is assumed "below" (in this world) is a representation of the spiritual flow which is its source. So too the prophecy would be presented as a manifestation, with a form, of its source. In this way prophecy parallels the rest of creation, in that the supernal matters are not directly revealed, but are perceived through their relationship to the creations.

The second point he makes is that certainly everything that exists is the way it is in order to reflect some aspect of spiritual reality. Therefore, for example, man was created with eyes in order to reflect Hashem's providence. And everything is exact in that way, and if not that Hashem wanted to reflect some concept in this way, it wouldn't be created this way. Therefore, the prophecy, by using images, is shown to the prophet in order that he understand how this flow is connected from the spiritual to the physical world. (See there at length for greater detail)

The Malbim in Parshas Beha'aloscha, on the words במראה אתודע אליו, explains this with a different approach. He explains that all prophets grasped Hashem through His emanation into this world - they perceived this world as having a reality to it, and they related to Hashem from within the world (as opposed to Moshe, who, to a degree, was able to grasp Hashem as He exists beyond the confines of finite existence). Therefore, when they receive a Divine message, it is through the medium of this world and its tools that they receive the message. Thus the verse describes that "regular" prophets see Hashem במראה (with a komatz), which means a mirror - they can only see the side of the vision that they are standing on. Moshe on the other hand, sees במראה (with a segol), which means a lens - he is able to see through to the other side.


According to Abarbanel, No. He writes (Intro to Yirmiyahu) that one of the reasons there are so many Kri\Ktiv in Jeremiah is because Yirmiyahu was young when he started getting Nevua and didn't know Hebrew spelling and grammar, and Chazal corrected all of his mistakes later.

In addition, as is clear from Jeremiah chapter 1, God presents images to the prophet, who then has to interpret it himself.

Finally, the Gemara (Baba Batra 15a) says that Hezekiah's people "wrote" the book of Yishaya (Isaiah), and that the Anshei Knesset haGedolah "wrote" Yechekzel (Ezekiel) and Trei Asar. Even if "wrote" means "edited," it's clear that these books are not the literal word of God.

However, it may be that the parts starting with "Thus said God" were unedited by Chazal, and are the literal words of God. But these books as a whole are clearly not.

Re 2nd question - "Why?" I don't know.


there is a principal that no two prophets receive the same prophecy in the same words (as explained here)

this is because the shefa (spiritual flow) of prophecy is channeled through the individual prophet and therefore condenses according to the prophet's spiritual level, soul traits, character etc.

the prophet acts as a kind of prism and this is why each of the books of the prophets has a distinctive style.

the only exception to this was Moses.

This is explained in Shaarei Kedusha part 3 gate 5: "...One is the prophecy of other prophets (besides Moses). When the light descends and reaches in its descent to the intellectual soul in him, and from there to the "life soul" to form into the 5 senses of the imagination..."

  • @Matt that link i provided says this, no? vbm-torah.org/archive/melakhim/28melakhim.htm
    – ray
    May 19, 2014 at 6:19
  • @Matt I don't know why I wasn't pinged, but why is your Maharil Diskin better than the Ramchal? If they weren't seeing entirely clearly, obviously they weren't getting exact words. May 19, 2014 at 17:44
  • @Matt Sorry - I thought you were addressing the same criticism to me. Still not sure if you were. You could delete your comments and flag any that you then see as obsolete. May 19, 2014 at 17:56

Sanhedrin 89a

דאמר רבי יצחק סיגנון אחד עולה לכמה נביאים ואין שני נביאים מתנבאין בסיגנון אחד עובדיה אמר זדון לבך השיאך ירמיה אמר תפלצתך השיא אותך זדון לבך

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya, Mr. Rabbi Lampel! (Are you the Rabbi Lampel?) Is your answer adding anything over this answer? May 19, 2014 at 17:42
  • Thank you. I am the Zvi Lampel who wrote Dynamics of Dispute. My answer provides a source in the Talmud for the principle that each prophet expresses the prophecy in his own style. This source also states that this is so even though several prophets commonly receive the same prophecy in one style.
    – Zvi Lampel
    May 20, 2014 at 1:43
  • Your source is quoted in the source linked to in that answer, if you follow the link. May 20, 2014 at 2:18

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