All in the Family featured the curmudgeonly Archie Bunker. Archie was television’s most famous grouch, blunt, blustering, straightforward and untouched by the PC crowd. He was the archetype of the conservative male. Michael desprately tried to reeducate him, but he persisted in his breviloquence.

Looking back at the last 40 years, we realize: ARCHIE WAS RIGHT!


Was He, or Wasn't He?

I posed a question to Rabbi B concerning the identity and role of Balaam son of Beor.  My question was to the effect of did Rabbi B and/or Judaism hold Balaam to be a true prophet of Hashem.  The answer Rabbi B gave runs too long for my post to do it justice.  I can boil it down to two letters: no.  It's not my intention to slight Rabbi B, as his thoughts, sources and scholarship is first rate.

I disagree with him.

The first point to look at, is what exactly does it mean to be a "true prophet".  We get a little help in this department from scripture:
Deut 18:20-22
But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.' " You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?' " When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
This passage has several interesting aspects that we could dive into, like the fact that it follows Moses predicting the advent of the Messiah.  There are just three things I want to point out:  The first is that the penalty for being a false prophet is death.  The second is that God Himself allows for the possibility of doubting a prophet speaking in His name.  The third is that God allows a provision for telling who is and who is not a "true prophet".  That test is if the prophecy comes true.

It is possible that a person could correctly predict something without that knowledge coming specifically from God.  For instance I can predict that the Broncos will win their session opener this fall.  God hasn't told me that they will win, but there is nothing keeping someone from making the claim that He did.  (I doubt God pays much heed to the happenings with the Broncos since they got rid of Tebow)  If I got it right (there is a 50% chance of that happening randomly) you still might doubt me as a prophet.  What if every prediction I made, not just in sports but in every other aspect of life came to be 100% of the time?

You'd have to admit to a reasonable chance that there was something more at work than meets the eye.  Which is where we pick up the story of Balaam in Numbers 22.  The Hebrews have just destroyed the Amorites. Balak is the king of Moab and he is distressed that the Hebrews are going to wipe him out because they are great in number.  King Balak needs a miracle, so to speak.

Balak sends for a man in Pethor, Balaam the son of Beor.  There are some interesting historical and archeological facts about this man that were discovered in 1967.  I mention this because his existence is verified independently of scripture, as is the name of the "god(s)" he spoke by.  What Balak says to Balaam is also very interesting:
Num 22:6
"Now, therefore, please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed."
Balaam is known for having what he says come true.  His blessings really bless and his curses stick.  Which is why Balak is willing to pay whatever it takes to get Balaam to curse the Israelites.  There is a good deal written about Balaam and his desire for monetary gain.  The desire to use a form of spirituality or giftedness for profit is even called "Balaam's sin" elsewhere in scripture.  The larger point here is that Balaam could never have sinned in this manner if his ability wasn't real.  More importantly Balak, believed him to be the legitimate prophet of a god whose will he could bend to do man's bidding.
Balak believed that spiritual forces could be brought to bear to do the bidding of men.  Balaam told his messengers that this was not the case and that he could only do and say as he was directed.  This fact alone indicates to me that Balaam was well schooled in the "how" of his office worked.  Balaam also had to tell the messengers that he would have to wait to see "if" God would condescend to speak with him.  Again this is an indication that Balaam wasn't a false prophet whom God used but rather a true prophet that wasn't in control of the outcome.
We know from historical evidence, and scripture (see link above) that Balaam came from the area of Transjordan and that he was known for his connection with the Shadday god(s).  From what I can tell historically, this god known as Shadday (sometimes the name indicates a plurality thus the (s)) is the only god associated with Balaam, his writings and prophecies.  We also know or are as certain as might be considered reasonable that Balaam is not a Hebrew.  In other words he isn't one of the chosen people of Hashem.
Two questions come to mind.  One, did Hashem have interaction with non-Hebrews prior to Moses?  Two if He did, was Balaam one of these non-Hebrew prophets?
As a matter of definition everyone from Adam to Abraham was not a Jew.  So I'm going to say, "Yes Hashem was involved with non-Jews".  Being God's chosen people doesn't automatically rule out God being concerned with everyone else on the planet.  The next question is harder because we need to know who the deity Shadday is.
The name Shadday, with that exact spelling only occurs in one book of the Bible.  It is in the Book of Job.  Job as it happens is the oldest book recorded as scripture.  The word Shadday is used to name the god Job worships.  It means "the almighty" or "the all powerful one".  More commonly "Shadday" is spelled "Shaddai".  "Shaddai" is of course one of the commonly known names of God.
Balaam it seems form archeology was a proclaimed worshiper of Shaddai, known more accurately to the Hebrews as Hashem.  Do we have any other examples in the Torah of non-Hebrews whom followed the same God as Abraham?  Melchizedek comes to mind.  So it is possible that there were some followers of the one true God in the world apart from the Hebrew nation at this point in history.
What about Balaam's sin?
Balaam started off right, without consulting God.  He told Balak's men he could do nothing apart form what God directed him to do.  He even refused to go with them.  Then his greed took over.  He wanted to go and do as Balak requested for the money. 
Because Balaam was a legitimate prophet of God, his words could not "fall to the ground".  In other words God could not be false to Himself by letting a prophecy of Balaam fail.  It was critical that Balaam not make a declaration contrary to what God wanted, which was a blessing on His people.  Which is why Balaam advised Balak how to have God curse the Hebrews for him.  Balaam could not prophecy falsely as he was a true prophet.  However, he could still get paid by giving Balak what he wanted, having Shadday reach out his hand against the Hebrews.
Balaam sinned greatly against the declared will of God, but he was the real deal. 


  1. Susan5:55 PM

    Boy I am going to be chewing on this one for quite a while. Have you ever heard of the book entitled "Praying the Names of God"? It lists all of the names God was known under at one time or another. Great book.

    El Shaddai could very well be the name that God chose to reveal Himself by to the folks of that land. When Moses was talking to God, God told Moses that when the Pharaoh asks for the name of the God that Moses worships, he was to tell Pharaoh that His name was I Am. I think God chose names to be known as depending on the circumstances that were going on at that time.

    Sort of like modern authors writing under several different names other than their own so they could write in more than one genre.

    1. Rabbi B will have to correct or verify this point as needed. I believe that the name given to Moses (YHVH) is the first time that name is used. It is the personal name of God and was only given to the Hebrews. It seems from both scripture and history that the deity we call God was known by different names to different peoples. Historically "Shadday" may be the oldest usage.

      I am aware that the Muslims claim that "Allah" was inscribed in ancient Babylonian finds that are quite old. However, the earliest usage of that term is linked to an astronomical illuminati deity. It would appear that over time "Allah" became a generic term for god or gods as well as a reference to its original goddess which would be either Venus or the moon depending on whose scholarship you find most convincing.

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  4. knew you wouldn't disappoint.

    How does Bil'am's ass fit into your analysis?

    "Balaam also had to tell the messengers that he would have to wait to see "if" God would condescend to speak with him."

    Which G-d does:

    And G-d came to Bil'am and said: Who are these people with you? . . . . And G-d said to Bil'am: Do not go with them! You will not curse this people for it is blessed. (Numbers 22:12)

    I certainly concede your point that Malki Tzedek, a "priest of the G-d Most High", and Iyov (Job) and his friends served the one G-d, and that Bil'am considers himself a servant of the One G-d as well.

    However, I suspect that you might concede that the spiritual level of Bil'am the monotheist is morally inferior and he is light years from Malki Tzedek and Iyov.

    (V'yavo Elohim el Bil'am) . . . "v'yavo Elohim el" (And G-d came to Bil'am) appears elsewhere only in the cases of Avimelech (Genesis 20:3) and Lavan (Genesis 31:24), and the common denominator of these two cases is that G-d came to them unexpectedly and prevented them from carrying out their intention.

    I am not convinced that Bil'am really expected or prayed for this communication from G-d and that what he said in the previous verse (I will give you an answer as G-d will speak to me) is merely a phrase in his mouth.

    In other words, if Bil'am, had truly appealed to G-d for a decision on the matter at hand, the question "Who are these people with you?" would be totally out of place. This question demonstrates that the communication from G-d was a Divine intervention which was completely unexpected by Bil'am.

    All his life he had been playing a game masquerading before his contemporaries, now, all of a sudden, the game had become real - unexpectedly and undesirably so.

    As I argued over at Ashrei, if Bil'am had been a true prophet, he would have accurately conveyed the pronouncement by G-d in verse 12 to Balak's emissaries, and the purpose of G-d's intervention achieved. End of story. (A true prophet is also obedient to G-d's directives).

    Bil'am is careful to omit the essential element in G-d's warning: "You will not curse the people for it is blessed." As these messengers would have understood, "G-d refuses," in the mouth of Bil'am meant nothing other and was code for "Bil'am refuses." They read between the lines . . .

    Space does not permit me to continue, but my overall point is that there is more to being a "true prophet" and more to the office of a true prophet than merely conveying the oracles of G-d accurately (as Bil'am does on four separate occasions), that Bil'am is no more a true prophet than the ass who saves his life three times.

    I would concede that he is diviner whom G-d clearly used to convey His Word, but I am not convinced that this alone qualifies Bil'am as a "true prophet" Jewish or not.

    Perhaps I will be able to offer more for my case in subsequent comments . . . I do not want to monopolize the thread.

    "It's not my intention to slight Rabbi B . . "

    Are you kidding? No need to qualify. This is the most fun I have had in some time. Discussions and disagreement between folks who are committed to the truth and recognize truth as the highest good . . what could be better?

    Our Sages of the Mishneh have a saying: “An argument which is for the sake of Heaven will have a positive outcome, and an argument which is not for the sake of Heaven will not have a positive outcome.”

    The paradigm presented of a sincere argument “is the dispute between Hillel and Shamai. And what was not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his men” [Avot 5:20].

    May all such 'arguments' be of this nature. That is, for the sake of heaven.

  5. However, I suspect that you might concede that the spiritual level of Bil'am the monotheist is morally inferior and he is light years from Malki Tzedek and Iyov.

    I agree with you on this point.

    Prior to the incident in Num 22 Balaam had a reputation for effective prophetic work. As evidenced by Balak's comment.

    The difficulty I see you having is one of reconciling Balaam's unrighteousness and rebellion against God's plan with establishing his position as a true messenger. I don't have this problem. Balaam can be a legitimate prophet and a sinner at the same time. I see this as a clear case of Balaam having a gift and wanting to use it for his own benefit. When he is prevented from doing that he contrives a way to get paid while technically not cursing the Hebrews.

    Points to consider:
    1. If he was a fraud why did he have a reputation for being effective?
    2. If he was a fraud how did he know the righteous standard of Hashem well enough to teach Balak how to cause God to curse them?
    3. If he was a fraud why did Hashem even bother with him at all? Shadday would be under no obligation to uphold the words of a fake.

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  7. 1. If he was a fraud why did he have a reputation for being effective?

    2. If he was a fraud how did he know the righteous standard of Hashem well enough to teach Balak how to cause God to curse them?

    3. If he was a fraud why did Hashem even bother with him at all? Shadday would be under no obligation to uphold the words of a fake.

    I am hoping to prepare a longer answer later when I get more time.

    For now, I think the incident with Bil'am's ass is a key element that I think is missing in your analysis. Three times the ass acts up and saves Bil'am's life, demonstrating more insight and perception than Bil'am. Bil'am later utters three oracles, which are identical in form and function (only with the forth does he dispense with the theatrics that accompany the previous three).

    King Saul, is known to have prophesied and, although people rhetorically wondered aloud if he was among the prophets, yet he was never considered a "true prophet" as far as I know.

    I think I may be holding you to a close definition of "true prophet" (emphasis on "true") in my analysis, more of which I hope to offer later. To me the prophets of Israel are a type sui generis.

    Other ancient religions may have had their shamans and diviners, their priests and oracles, their wise and inspired men, but what have most of the left to posterity? Prophetic incidents, revelatory moments, are believed to have happened to many people in many lands. But a line of prophets stretching over many centuries, from Abraham to Malachi, is a phenomenon for which there is no analogy.

    Zoroaster was an inspired man, and admittedly, so was Bil'am, but it was a spark lost in the darkness. What followed them was superstition or complete oblivion.

    I will concede that man seeks guidance and help from the divine world and to the acquisition of supernatural powers and longs to behold in dreams and visions the mysteries which are hidden from the common eye. However, the prophets of Israel, the true prophets, did not seek such experiences, in fact, they often resisted their call.

    More later . . . G-d willing . . .