Swinburne’s account of revelation reflects a common view of what is taking place when an Israelite prophet tells us he is speaking words that have been taught to him by God. But...this view is mistaken as an interpretation of what is meant by God’s speech in Hebrew Scripture. One obvious indication that there is something wrong with this interpretation is the fact that the biblical prophets explicitly reject the second plank of Swinburne’s account, namely, the supposition that the prophet’s words have to be taken on authority or faith because their truth cannot be tested by those that hear it. Indeed, Moses himself is presented as rejecting Swinburne’s position in what is perhaps the most significant passage concerning the nature of prophecy in all of Scripture, the law of the prophet in Deuteronomy:
I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren… and put my words in his mouth…. And if you say in your mind, “How will we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?” Know that if a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, and the thing is not, nor does it come, that is a thing that the Lord has not spoken, but the prophet has spoken it out of presumption, so do not fear what is from him.
In this passage, Moses hands down God’s law respecting the recognition of prophets by the broader public. Earlier, Moses has already rejected appeals to signs or miracles as being a legitimate means of authenticating the prophet’s message. Here he tells the people that if they wish to distinguish God’s word from what has been spoken presumptuously, the test is whether the things that are spoken really come to pass: If “the thing is not, nor does it come,” then anyone can know that what has been said in God’s name “is a thing that the Lord has not spoken.” ...Moreover, there are numerous additional passages that suggest that the wisdom in God’s teaching can in principle be recognized by anyone, from any nation; and that the people of Jerusalem would be able to distinguish right teaching from wrong if only they would make a careful comparison using their own senses and judgment. Together, these passages suggest that in Hebrew Scripture—or at the very least, in some of its most prominent texts—God’s word is not at all something that must be accepted on faith due to the credibility or authority of the prophet. On the contrary, the prophet bearing a teaching that is truly God’s word is supposed to be recognizable by anyone, using conventional human experience as the basis for judgment.
If this is right, then a reasonable account of God’s word as it appears in Hebrew Scripture will not be able to include Swinburne’s third plank either, which calls for a sharp distinction between knowledge that has been “revealed,” and the products of philosophy and science that are derived from conventional human experience. As the empiricism of the Mosaic test of the prophet’s message suggests, Israelite prophecy was a forerunner and family relation of what later generations knew as philosophy and science.--Yoram Hazony, Jerusalem Letters: What is Revelation?
In context, Hazony is criticizing an important distinction (reason vs revelation) that he takes to be underwriting a key hermeneutic move common in (Protestant) analytical theology/metaphysics: that the authority of Biblical prophets ultimately rests on faith. While this is an important issue, it is part of a larger project (with which I have considerably affinity) in which Hazony defends the integrity of what he calls the Hebrew Bible from Christian reinterpretation (one of his targets his Plantinga) in which some of the Biblical prophets have as much claim to wisdom as Greek philosophers. (A key part of this move is that history and social analysis are integral to philosophy.) One consequence of Hazony's move is that a central part of the Hebrew Bible becomes continuous with what later became known as "philosophy and science." I call this Hazony's continuity thesis.
Hazony's continuity thesis position was not un-common among a strain of seventeenth and eighteenth century English, protestant natural philosophers with a fondness for King Salomon, Jeremiah, and Ecclesiasticus, especially. This strain includes Bacon (recall), Clarke (recall), and -- the biggest prize of all, Newton (e.g., the General Scholium).* This is useful to keep in mind because it allows us to recognize that Hazony's continuity thesis is also available to non-Jewish readers of the Hebrew Bible. It also raises the very important historical-conceptual question of why the continuity thesis fell out of fashion among the Protestant learned. (This presumably has something do with theological responses to the Enlightenment thought of Hume and Kant.)
Here I raise a problem for Hazony's position. For, with his appeal to Deuteronomy 18:18, he has left the reader without enough resources to distinguish between true and false prophets. (Hazony accepts the distinction because he treats Parmenides as a false prophet, although "not entirely false.") A true prophet speaks "truly God’s word." Let's grant, for the sake of argument, that "whether the things that are spoken [prophesied] really come to pass," that is, predictive accuracy, is a necessary condition for true prophecy. It is not sufficient. Because as the Hebrew Bible recognizes false prophets are also capable of accurate prediction--Balaam is the exemplar in this category.** To put the point anachronistically, not all predictively accurate science is moral science.
This is why in addition to predictive accuracy the Hebrew Bible also adds a content restriction on true prophecy. So, for example, at Deuteronomy 13:2-3, in the midst of discussion of prophecy, the Bible remarks that if a predictively accurate prophet also adds "Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; [then] thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams." So, Hazony needs to explain the evidential basis for the authority of such content restriction(s). If Hazony wishes to deny faith and revelation a role here, he is presumably left with either an appeal to tradition or an appeal to the principle of sufficient reason. The former is not shared by everyone, while the latter goes against his empiricist sensibilities; presumably I have overlooked some options, but I would welcome learning which ones.