REVELATION, an act whereby the hidden, unknown God shows Himself to man. To be sure, this phenomenon belongs to the realm of human reality, but it is experienced by man as coming from God. Phenomenologically, every religion finds its starting point in a revelation. The ancient Hebrews expressed this idea in different ways. The reflexive form, nifʿal, of the verb galah ("to uncover, reveal"), is used only rarely to denote divine revelation (Gen. 35:7; I Sam. 2:27; 3:21). In the biblical tradition, revelation consists less in the disclosing of a secret or a mystery, than in the manifestation of the invisible God, unknowable to man on his own. This view of revelation results unmistakably from the widespread use of the nifʿal of the verbs raʿah ("to see"), and yadaʿ ("to know"), to express in biblical Hebrew the idea of revelation.
The word nirʿah, "he let himself be seen, showed himself," refers originally to a visionary manifestation of God in a holy place. It occurs principally in narrative passages whose aim was to explain the origin of a holy place. In fact, holy places are often regarded as sites where theophanies took place. The accounts of such divine appearances belong to the genre of etiological tales. They are found in the Bible too, insofar as the ancient Israelites attributed the sacredness of several holy places to the fact that they were sites of divine revelations. According to Genesis 12:6–7, for instance, Abraham passed through the land to the holy site of Shechem, i.e., to the terebinth of Moreh (cf. Judg. 9:37). There the Lord "showed Himself " to Abraham, and there Abraham built an altar to the Lord. The particular holiness of the altar marking the sacred place is explained by its origin, namely, the appearance of the Lord to the patriarch. It should be noted, however, that no attempt is made to describe the apparition, and only what words were uttered and what promise was made are recorded. Nevertheless, since in this narrative there is no suggestion of a dream, the revelation probably took the form of a vision accompanied
There is, however, the belief, which originated in ancient times, that it is deadly for man to see the Deity (Ex. 33:20; Judg. 13:22). Dreams and the mediation of angels have no mitigating effect, since the dream gives a stronger vision and the malʾakh YHWH ("angel of the Lord") is the epiphanic medium of the Lord, even "the Lord Himself in self-manifestation or, in other words, a personification of the theophany" (J. Skinner, Genesis (1910), 286). It is only rarely and to special persons, therefore, that YHWH makes Himself visible, and communicates to man His purposes and intentions. He does so to Abraham (Gen. 12:6–7; 17:1–2), Isaac (Gen. 26:24), Jacob (Gen. 35:9–10; 48:3–4; cf. Ex. 6:3), Moses (Ex. 3:2ff., 16–17), Manoah (Judg. 13:21–22), and Solomon (I Kings 3:5ff.; 9:2ff.). Nevertheless, He may show Himself to the whole of the people at the Tent of Meeting (Lev. 9:4, 6, 23; Deut. 31:15; cf. 31:11), which is "a kind of permanent image of the revelation on Mount Sinai" (M. Haran, in: JSS, 5 (1960), 50–65, esp. p. 58). What the people see, however, is the kavod, the "Presence of the Lord" (Lev. 9:6, 23), or the ʿammud he-ʿanan, the "pillar of cloud" (Deut. 31:15). The latter indicates the Lord's Presence, but, at the same time, veils Him from sight. The kavod, whose original conception goes back to early times (cf. I Sam. 4:21; I Kings 8:11; Ps. 24:7–10), likewise signifies a veiled appearance of God, an appearance in a manner in which no precise form can be discerned. It probably alludes to a manifestation by fire, light, and smoke, connected initially with the circumstances in which the cult operated.
Other texts use the word nodaʿ, "he made himself known," which avoids the anthropomorphic connotations of the root meaning "to see." The author of the Priestly document of the Pentateuch, however, uses both words, but opposes nodʿa to nirʾah in Exodus 6:3, the latter denoting the Deity's self-identification by name. Exodus 6:2–8, in turn, is obviously the inspiration of Ezekiel 20:5–9 and hence also of Ezekiel 35:11–12, 38:23, and 39:7 as well, where the causative form hifʿil is used with the Lord's Name as object (cf. Isa. 19:21). In all these texts, nodaʿ is connected with the formula ʾani YHWH ("I am the Lord"). These texts may be compared with similar expressions known from Mesopotamia: "I am Ningirsu," "I am Ishtar of Arbela," "I am the god Nabú," etc. The difference between these Oriental self-revelation formulas and the biblical one consists in the fact that the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) is usually followed by the statement that the Lord is the God Who brought lsrael out of Egypt, and Who guides them through history. The God of Israel thus reveals Himself as acting in historical events. It may reasonably be inferred, therefore, that, according to the Bible, history is the milieu of God's revelation.
It has been objected that God's acting in history plays no real role in the biblical wisdom literature. This has, in fact, been a very awkward point for those who assert that revelation in history is central to Hebrew thought. The difficulty, however, seems to have originated in a confusion between revelation as understood by ancient Israelites and as viewed by modern scholars who are aware of a systematic biblical theology.
In the Pentateuch and the Former and Latter Prophets, God reveals Himself, His plans, or His will, through words or events. The other books of the Bible are generally thought not to contain revelations of this kind. In relation to modern theology, it must be emphasized that both revelation and wisdom phenomenologically proceed from experiences of life. Wisdom characteristically classifies the elementary experiences of daily life, whereas revelation results from "prophetic" interpretations of exceptional events in the life of the people or even of the "prophet" himself. (For the revelation on Mt. Sinai, see the Book of *Exodus.)
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