From Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers

Jump to: navigation, search
Cassandra witnesses the fulfillment of her prophecy; painting by Evelyn De Morgan, 1898

Prophecy is a specific, divinely-inspired way of seeing the future and carrying a message to the public. Some people use the words Divination , prediction, and prophecy interchangeably, but they are not the same.


Divination and Prophecy: How Do They Differ?

Noah and his sons building the Ark, from a Sunday School bible card
The prophet Elijah being fed by ravens in the wilderness, from a 19th century Sunday School card
Elisha raising the Shunammite's Son, from an early 20th century Bible Card
The Cushite eunuch Ebed-Melech supervising the rescue of Jeremiah from the pit
Moses receiving the tablets of the law by João Zeferino da Costa. 1868;
Jesus Christ holding the Holy Bible
Black Elk, revered visionary of the Oglala Lakota
Handsome Lake preaching at Tonawanda, painted by Jesse Cornplanter, the last male descendant of Handsome Lake's brother, Chief Cornplanter
Tenskwatawa, painted by George Catlin, 1830

Divination, prediction, and prophecy are all attempts to reveal the future, but otherwise they are quite different.


Divination is a private act, usually performed for an individual client. It often includes the use of fortune telling tools such as tarot or playing cards, crystal balls, spirit boards, bones, or other objects. It starts with the client’s questions and concerns.


Prediction has to do only with foretelling the future, and is not necessarily a magical act. A weather report is a prediction; so is a scientific hypothesis. Prediction is often a feature of both divination and prophecy. Whether materialist or magical, divination and prediction can both involve tools; tarot or playing cards, crystal balls, a trained intuition, rain gauges, thermometers, or barometers.


A prophet is an emissary of the divine sent to a community, church or nation. His message is addressed to a group or its leaders — whether a community or a nation. The prophet often calls to purity, cultural renewal or reform, a return to ancient wisdom and morality, and criticizes the institutions of his culture and time. The role of a prophet is to speak to the public the truths that he or she belives must he hear, but prophets are often disregarded. The prophet Jesus spoke of this paradox more than once. He said that "a prophet has no honour in his own country" (John 4:44), that "no prophet is accepted in his home town" (Luke 4:16-30), and that "only in his home town and in his own house is a prophet without honour’ (Matt. 13:54-57).

Prophecy in Pre-Modern Times

Some of the most famous prophets of pre-modern times are:


Cassandra was a Greek woman cursed by the god Apollo to make true prophesies but never to be believed.


Elijah was a renowned prophet whose name means "Yahweh is my God." Many miracles are attributed to him including calling fire down from the sky and raising the dead. He defeated death when he was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, and is honoured during Passover. (Read More ...)


Elisha lived from about 700 to 663 BCE; without any warning or training, he was suddenly appointed the successor to the prophet and miracle-worker Elijah when Elijah threw his garment onto him. (Read More ...)


Esther is the Jewish Queen and prophetess with the most complete and detailed life story, for an entire book of the Bible has been written about her deeds. (Read More ...)


Isaiah, the son of Amoz, was the prophet who wrote the Book of Isaiah during the 8th century BCE; his text concerns the restoration of the nation of Israel from the era of Babylonian captivity.


Jeremiah (c. 650 - 570 BCE) was a major Jewish prophet who wrote the Book of Jeremiah, the two Books of Kings, and the Book of Lamentations, and predicted the Babylonian Captivity, the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 BCE, and the return of the exiles to Jerusalem. (Read More ...)

Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ, whose teachings were passed on orally and preserved by the apostles and later disciples. He continued the themes of his Jewish predecessors, as well as performing miracles up to and including resurrection of the dead. (Read More ...)

The Minor Jewish Prophets

The Minor Jewish Prophets, also known as The Twelve, The Twelve Prophets, or The Minor Prophets, were the prophetic and visionary authors Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. (Read More ...)


Miriam, daughter of Amram and Jochebed, is one of seven female prophets of the Bible, and the sister of Moses and Aaron. (Read More ...)


Moses or Moishe was the lawgiver and prophet recognized in Judaism, Christianity and Islam who went up to Mount Sinai and emerged with the 10 Commandments. (Read More ...)


Muhammad, the final prophet of God and the founder of Islam.


Noah was the tenth and last of the pre-flood biblical Patriarchs, the son of Lamech and his wife Adah; he was a prophet who built an ark and saved the animals of the world from God's devastating flood. (Read More ...)


Rachel was the favorite wife of Jacob, and is considered one of the four Matriarchs in Judaism. (Read More ...)


Rebecca, also spelled Rebekah, was a Jewish matriarch, the ancestress of the nations of Israel and Edom, the wife of the Biblical patriarch Isaac, and the mother of twin sons, Jacob and Esau.(Read More...)

Saint John of Patmos

Saint John of Patmos, the author of the Book of Revelation (also called the Apocalypse) a lengthy prophetic allegory which Christian are trying to interpret to this day.


Sarah the prophetess was the wife of Abraham and the mother of Isaac. For many years she was barren but was promised a child by Yahweh and finally did conceive Isaac. (Read More ...)

Prophetic Reaction to Colonization and Political Pressure

In North America, a Native American prophetic tradition burgeoned when the indigenous nations were contacted by Christian missionaries. Their messages centered around the theme of resistance and cultural renewal and preservation, as well as the hope of liberty. Famous examples include:

Black Elk

Black Elk was a Native American Oglala Lakota visionary prophet and, later, a Catholic lay preacher who lived from 1863 to 1950. (Read More ...)

Handsome Lake

Handsome Lake or Sganyodaiyo (1735-1815) was a Seneca leader and visionary prophet. (Read More ...)


Tenskwatawa, known as the “Shawnee Prophet,” was born in January 1775 and died in November 1836; he was the younger brother of Tecumseh, the famous leader of the Shawnee Native American tribe. (Read More ...)


Neolin (“The Enlightened” in Algonquian), known as "the Delaware Prophet," was a visionary prophet of the Lenni Lenape people who inspired a traditionalist movement that extended all along the Mississippi Valley and invigorated the rebellion led by himself and Chief Powhatan. (Read More...)


Wovoka, or Quoitze Ow, was a Native American visionary prophet of the Paiute people, born sometime between 1856-63 in Smith Valley, Nevada. (Read More ...)

Messianic identity

Although the term "messiah" is now used generically, it also has a specific meaning, and there are specific terms for such a predicted leader-to-be within various religious cultures.

The Messiah

The Messiah ("anointed one") is a Jewish concept that originated in the Hebrew Bible; the word refers to a king or high priest who has been anointed with Holy Oil.

The Christ

The Christ ("anointed one") is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah; it is also the root of the word Christianity, named after Jesus of Nazareth, also known as Jesus Christ.

The Mahdi

The Mahdi ("guided one") is a predicted redeemer in Islam who will rule for a certain number of years until the Day of Judgment and Ressurrection, and will rid the world of evil.

The Kalki Avatar

The Kalki Avatar ("empowering voice") or coming tenth avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu is revered as the one who will bring about the end of the Kali Yuga or current world age.


Cakrin is a coming leader who is predicted to end civilization's degeneration by assembling an army to eradicate Islam, and inaugurate a new era of righteousness and long life, according to the Kalachakra Tantra, a sacred text of Buddhism.

While claimants to messianic identity may not make great prophecies themselves, the accession of such a claimant to worldly power is frequently associated with prophecies of widespread political or natural upheaval followed by a Messianic Age during which the Messiah will rule the world.

Proclaimed and Self-Proclaimed Messiahs

The following list of claimants to the role of Messiah, Christos, Mahdi, or Kalki Avatar is selective and incomplete, but should serve to give some idea of the widespread nature of personal prophetic aspirations.

  • Ann Lee was the founder of the Christian Shakers.
  • Bernhard Müller announced himself to be "The Lion of Judah" in 1829, in a letter to a number of religious communes in the United States. He also claimed to be a prophet who possessed the Philosopher's Stone, and awarded himself a number of fictitious titles of nobility. These actions seemed to fulfill prophecies believed by the Harmony Society, so Müller joined their commune in Pennsylvania. After a schism, Muller and 250 of the Harmonites split off to found a new colony, and later ended up in Louisiana, where they established the Germantown Colony. By 1834, Müller had died and the colony was dwindling away. The Civil War effaced the colony. Today, nothing is left but the Germantown Colony and Museum.
  • Father Divine (1876 - 1965), also known as George Baker, was an African-American Baptist preacher who became a member of the New Thought Movement, prophesied under the name "The Messenger", and by 1914 proclaimed himself to be God; in later years his religious Peace Mission Movement was notably allied with the wider Civil Rights Movement.
  • Hong Xiuquan (1814 -1864), born Hong Huoxiu and known as Renkun, was the leader of the Taiping Rebellion against the Qing Dynasty and the founder of the God Worshipping Society, a blend of Protestant Christian and Chinese folk religion.
  • Jesus of Nazareth (1 - 32) was widely considered to be a Messiah by Jews under Roman occupation, but with his death by crucifixion, his followers for the most part abandoned their hope that he was the Christos; however a small remnant congregation of faithful believers eventually went on to form the major religion of Christianity. (Read More ...)
  • Mírzá Ḥusayn-`Alí Núrí, known as Bahá'u'lláh, (1817 - 1892) was a Persian follower of the Báb; in 1863 he claimed to be the Mahdi and founded the Bahá'í religion.
  • Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835 - 1908) claimed to be the Mahdi and was the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam.
  • Muhammad Ahmad (1844 - 1885), known as Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah or Muhammad al-Mahdi, was a Nubian Sufi sheikh born in Sudan; in 1881 he was proclaimed to be the Mahdi, after which he overthrew the region's Turkish-Egyptian administration, and established the Mahdist State; the new nation was obliterated by combined English and Egyptian forces in 1898.
  • Muhammad Jaunpuri (1443 - 1505) was born in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, India and claimed to be the Mahdi; he was the founder of the Mahdavia sect, also known as the Zikri sect in Islam.
  • Riaz Ahmed Gohar Shahi (1941 - ) was proclaimed to be the Messiah, the Mahdi, and the Kalki Avatar in 1985; he is the leader of the Messiah Foundation International.
  • Sabbatai Zevi (1626 - 1676) was a Jewish rabbi and kabbalist born in Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey); in 1648 he claimed to be the Jewish Messiah who would lead the return of Jews to Jerusalem, but he converted to Islam in 1666 under Ottoman Turkish governmental pressure of torture or death, abandoning his many followers, the Sabbateans.
  • Simon bar Kokhba, (? - 135), also known as Simeon bar Kosevah, led the Jewish Bar Kokhba Revolt against the Roman Empire in 132; he established an independent nation and his admirers proclaimed him to be the Messiah, but he was killed, along with 580,000 of his followers, by the time the Romans put down the rebellion in 136.
  • Simon Magus was a Samaritan sorcerer and religious figure who lived during the 1st century.
  • Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shírází, the Báb ("the Gate") (1819 - 1850) claimed to be the Mahdi, was the founder of Bábism, and was executed, along with thousands of his followers, by the Persian government; after his death he came to be a central figure in the Bahá'í religion founded by Bahá'u'lláh.
  • Wallace D. Fard (1877 - 1934), also known as Wallie Dodd Ford, Wallace Fard Muhammad, and W.D. Fard, is described as "Allah," "God in Person", the Messiah, and the Mahdi by leaders of the Nation of Islam.

Famous Fulfilled Prophecies

A prophecy is said to be "fulfilled" when events play out as predicted. Applying this test for fulfillment, and taking the written records as historical fact, it is safe to say that among the most famed prophets whose predictions came to pass we will find the names of Cassandra, Noah, Moses, and Jeremiah.

However, given the emphasis placed upon prophecy in many religions, it is not unexpected to find conflicting viewpoints about prophetic fulfillment, especially when current events can be projected backward in a manner that casts a prophecy in a new light. For example, Christians may say that Jesus Christ fulfilled Jewish Bible prophecies, whereas Jews may say that the creation of Christian "type and antitype theology" -- in which past events and poetic tropes are identified as "echoes of the future" -- represents a backwards projection of prophetic fulfillment amounting to a Christian attempt to overthrow the Jewish religion.

Famous Failed Prophecies

Given our varied relationships to a variety of religions, cultures, and prophetic beliefs, it is not always possible to distinguish who can be categorized as a failed prophet and who as a ungrounded zealot.

More remarkably, one person's "failed prophecy" may become another person's theological revelation. Historically speaking, it is not uncommon that a "failed prophet" is honoured as the founder of a religion which was originally based on a failed prophecy but outlived its prophet and nevertheless thrived.

Great Wars, Natural Disasters, End of the World

Generally speaking, prophecy refers to a coming major change in the order of the world. Prophecies at this level of magnitude can predict great wars, widespread natural disasters, the downfall of nations, and even the end of the world or the end of time. If a prophecy fails to materialize as predicted, the prophet may retreat from the prediction or recalibrate it.

The following is a list of well-known prophets whose foretellings of upheaval and catastrophe failed to materialize within the predicted time-frames they gave to their followers.

  • Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), known as "The Sleeping Prophet," was an American who described prehistoric and future events; he foretold that in 1958, the United States would rediscover a death ray that had been used on Atlantis, and that Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City would be destroyed between 1958 and 1998.
  • Harold Camping, working in a Protestant Christian context, predicted that the Rapture and Judgment Day would occur on May 21, 2011, and the end of the world would take place on October 21, 2011.
  • Criswell, born Jeron Charles Criswell King (1907-1982), predicted that the end of the world would take place on Wednesday, August 18, 1999. On that day, the Earth was to have been covered by a suffocating jet black and ebony rainbow which was to have left us silently gasping for air as we all died.
  • Jeanne Dixon, an American astrologer, predicted that a dispute over the offshore Chinese islands of Quemoy and Matsu would trigger the start of World War III in 1958.
  • William Miller predicted the return of Jesus Christ and the end of the world in 1844; his followers, the Millerites, became the 7th-day Adventists, a form of evangelical Protestant Christianity.
  • Nostradamus, born Michel de Nostredame (1503–1566), was a French astrologer, physician, and seer, who specifically did not call himself a prophet, but was considered to be one by many of his followers; he predicted many political upheavals and disasters, and his book, "Prophesies," has remained in print since 1555.
  • Elizabeth Clare Prophet, born Elizabeth Clare Wulf (1939-2009) was a New Age "Messenger" who related that the Ascended Masters predicted the end of the world by nuclear war in 1990. Her adherents began building a large bomb shelter in Corwin Springs, Montana, USA. The project was stopped by local authorities when diesel fuel leaked and contaminated the area.
  • Charles Taze Russell broke with the Seventh-Day Adventists and formed the International Bible Students Association, a religious movement which published a seven-volume series, Studies in the Scriptures, which diverged sharply in many respects from the traditional doctrines of Protestant Christianity. He predicted the return of Jesus Christ and the end of the world in 1914.
  • Joseph F. Rutherford, Russell's successor, predicted the return of Jesus Christ in 1918, later maintaining that it had happened invisibly in heaven. He then predicted the resurrection of the biblical patriarchs in 1925, later abandoning the date but not the prophecy itself. In 1931 he renamed the International Bible Students Association, who are now known as Jehovah's Witnesses, a form of Protestant Christianity.

Explaining and Reclaiming Failed Prophecies

There are several ways that followers and adherents of failed prophets and unfulfilled prophecies deal with their disappointment. Among these strategies are:

  • Renouncing the Formerly Acclaimed Prophet: More formally known as False Messiah Syndrome, this can be found several times in Jewish traditions .
  • Declaring the Prophecy Nullified by Repentance: Occasionally, a prophet will declare that due to the mass repentance or moral regeneration of the intended audience, the predicted disaster was called off by the group's deity.
  • Recalculation of the Predicted Date: This has been a significant component of failed Protestant Christian prophesies.
  • Reattribution of the Inspiration from Divine to "Over-Zealous Members" or "Misguided Messengers": This modern idea is seen in some Protestant Christian groups, it often results in a denominational schism.
  • Stating That the Events Came True but in Another Dimension: This modern idea is characteristic of some Protestant Christian groups.

See Also


This category has only the following subcategory.


Pages in category "Prophecy"

The following 19 pages are in this category, out of 19 total.














Personal tools