Voice of India
Psychology of prophetism: a secular look at the Bible
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Author : Koenraad Elst (b.1959)
Pages : viii,136p., 21cm.
Year : 1993
ISBN : 9788185990002, 818599000X
Publisher : Voice of India
Place : New Delhi
Binding : Paperback
Price (Airmail) : INR 184.00
About the book:

In this book, the author presents an important new line of research into the origins of prophetic religions like Christianity: the psychological analysis of certain mental phenomena which believers construe as divine revelation. The entire Abrahamic tradition rests on the belief that the One God reveals His will to mankind through privileged messengers, called prophets. Originally a guild of professional diviners and clairvoyants acting as consultants to kings as well as commoners, the prophets in Israel gradually became the spokesmen of a specific tendency within the established doctrine of monotheism: the belief that the hour of reckoning is at hand, when forces from heaven will come and wipe out all those who have opposed or neglected the One True God. They claimed to be conveying God's authentic statements when they were threatening their people with hellfire, and this claim was generally not fraudulent: they genuinely believed that they had heard God speak during moments of revelation. Even Jesus, who for Christians is the Messiah and the Son of God, received His Father's messages in the usual prophetic way, by hearing a momentous voice from heaven. Modern psychology combined with Biblical scholarship has been taking a closer look at the reports, some systematic and some fragmentary, which the Old and the New Testament have given of these instances of revelation, and of the effect they had on the lives and personalities of their recipients. In a number of cases, these reports faithfully reproduce patterns which the modern psychiatrist can recognize as well-defined pathological syndromes. The socially accepted role of the prophet apparently attracted people with a specific mental constitution in which hallucinations and doctrinal convictions were woven into one, to become the prophetic utterances which believers accepted as God's own word. In other cases, basically sane people interpreted odd moments of altered consciousness as divine revelation. Yet other people entered the prophetic tradition merely by imitating the style of the established prophets to give their own viewpoint more weight before an audience brought up on prophetic monotheism. In all these cases, what was once believed to be supernatural revelation, is now understood as an expression of human psychology. In a situation where secularism is advertised as the answer for problems of religious fanaticism and of religion-related backwardness and social evils, it is well worth taking this remedy to its logical conclusion: put religious doctrines to rational scrutiny, investigate religious texts with the same methods and criteria as you would apply in secular discourse. As against the belief of prophetic religions in the supernatural origin of their doctrines, the secular approach maintains that, until proof of the contrary, religious doctrines and practices may be understood as having their basis in purely human experiences. Increasingly, even thinkers with a Christian background are coming around to this human explanation of prophetism. Some of them have developed this research along truly scientific lines, and it is mainly their findings which are currently revolutionizing our understanding of the entire Abrahamic tradition. The author (Leuven 1959) grew up in the Catholic community in Belgium. He was active for some years in what is known as the New Age movement, before studying at the famed Catholic University of Leuven (KUL). He graduated in Chinese Studies, Indo-Iranian Studies, and Philosophy. He took courses in Indian philosophy at Benares Hindu University (BHU), and interviewed many Indian leaders and thinkers during his stays in India between 1988 and 1992. He has published in Dutch about language policy issues, contemporary politics, history of science, and Oriental philosophies; in English about the Ayodhya issue and about the general religio-political situation in India.
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