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Nevu'at ha-Yeled

NEVU'AT HA-YELED (Heb. נְבוּאַת הַיֶּלֶד; "The Prophecy of the Child"), a medieval Hebrew short story. The body of the tale is followed by a number of occult prophecies in Aramaic. First printed at the end of Sefer Nagid u-Meẓavveh by Jacob *Ẓemaḥ (Constantinople, 1726) and published many times since, it was known already as early as the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th when some kabbalists, among them R. *Abraham b. Eliezer ha-Levi , wrote commentaries on the prophecies in Nevu'at ha-Yeled. The story tells of a wonder child, Naḥman, born in the fifth century to a kabbalist; the child died very young, but immediately upon birth began to tell his mother secrets of the heavenly worlds. His father cautioned him not to reveal mysteries forbidden to man, and from then the child spoke only obscurely and enigmatically.

Modern scholars have attempted to date the story and the prophecies therein by tracing known historical events hinted at, and relating them to the text. The obscurity of the text makes this very difficult, but it seems probable that historical events in the 15th century, especially in the East, are referred to in the prophecies. However, the purpose of the story and its prophecies was to anticipate the coming of the Messiah and to describe the major political and historical events and catastrophes bringing about his final revelation. The kabbalists interpreted the prophecies as hinting at the coming of the Messiah in the early 16th century.

In literary genre, there is a great similarity between the prophecies of the Jewish child and comparable phenomena in non-Jewish literature, e.g., the cryptic prophecies of the wizard Merlin (according to legend, told when he was a boy) which many medieval Christian scholars interpreted as foretelling future events. A parody on Nevu'at ha-Yeled was written by R. Joseph *Delmedigo in his Maẓrefle-Ḥokhmah (Basel, 1629) about a child in Poland whose duplicity was revealed.


A.Z. Aešcoly, Ha-Tenu'ot ha-Meshiḥiyyot be-Yisrael, 1 (1956), 283–6; Scholem, in: KS, 2 (1925/26), 115–9:13. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Avraham ben Eli'ezer ha-Leṿi, Sheloshah Ma'amre Ge'ulah: Nevu'at ha-Yeled… Mashra Ḳaṭrin… Igeret Sod ha-Ge'ulah… A. Gros (ed.) (2000); D. Tsadik, in: Iranian Studies, 37:1 (2004), 5–15.

[Joseph Dan]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.