Palm Sunday, the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, inaugurates the historical events leading up to Christ’s betrayal, crucifixion, and resurrection. Together with the “Remembrance of the Raising of Lazarus” the day before, it also inaugurates the dense liturgical time of Holy Week. With joyous shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” the residents of Jerusalem greeted Jesus, telling those who were unsure of what was happing, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” Jesus, Himself greeted as a prophet, was also the fulfillment and culmination of prophecies. This fulfillment is in part why we celebrate the Resurrection of Lazarus the week before Easter: just like Jonah in the belly of the whale for three days is a type and a prefiguration of Jesus, so the resurrection of Lazarus prefigures and is a type of the Resurrection of Christ which all Christians celebrate on Easter. In a few short verses, less than half of Chapter 21 of Matthew, either the evangelist of Christ Himself references the fulfillment of prophecies three times: first the entrance of Jerusalem on a donkey (verse 5), then when Jesus overturns to tables of the money changers (“It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers”), and finally in response to the priests’ concerns about the crowd’s enthusiasm, Jesus asks them if they have never read that praise will come “out of the mouths of nursing infants and babes.” Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, and the entire economy of salvation that culminates in Easter Sunday is intimately connected to the idea of prophecy and the fulfillment of prophecy.
Prophets were central cultural types among Jewish people. The forefathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—are often referred to prophets. Moses was the ultimate prophet of the people of Israel, in daily and direct contact with God. David is referred to as the “prophet-king” in part because of his beautiful Psalms that read as direct conversation with God. This contact with God is the heart of what it means to be a prophet—the Hebrew word usually translated as prophet means spokesperson. Over time, in part through connections to classical Greek traditions of prophecy such as the one that propels the Oedipus narrative, prophecy became more directly associated with the meaning of its compound Greek root, “to tell in advance.” Hence, prophecy in many religious traditions and in the popular imagination is about “knowing the future.” This aspect of prophecy does occur in the Old Testament, since Deuteronomy warns, “If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken” (18:22). At its Biblical core, however, prophecy is about contact with God.
After the death of Moses and Joshua, through the Babylonian Exile and different Jewish kingdoms, the prophet as a figure became solidified. While the forefathers and Moses were unique in their social position, “the prophet” develops as a recognizable cultural figure, inhabiting an important role in Jewish society. This role was one of correction and admonition. It fell to the prophets to remind Israel about their covenant with God and try to correct their behavior when they went astray. In the Old Testament, the prophets have traditionally been divided between the “major prophets” of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah and the “twelve minor prophets” including Hosea and Amos, among others. Many of these prophets, in addition to their cultural role admonishing and correcting the behavior of the people of Israel also made prophecies about future events. Such prophecies, especially those concerning the Messiah, the Savior of the people of Israel, include those the Christian believes Jesus fulfilled and which the Armenian Christian celebrates through the beautiful liturgical services spanning Lazarus Saturday and Easter Sunday, including the Triumphal Entry celebrated on Palm Sunday.
|Armenian Apocrypha: Relating to the Patriarchs and Prophets||Compiled, translated, and edited by Michael E. Stone, a collection of apocrypha about the prophets in Armenian. These additional stories about the lives of the prophets in Armenian demonstrates the deep veneration Armenian Christianity has for Old Testament prophets.|
|Meknutʻiwn Margarēutʻeann Esayeay ew i Meknutʻenē Margarēutʻeann Esayeay (hatuatskʻ)||Two Armenian commentaries on the Prophet Isaiah, one by an anonymous author and the other by the 12th century scholar Sarkis Kund. This book is one of series of Armenian commentaries on the books of the Old Testament published by Etchmiadzin. There were many Armenian commentaries on the prophets.|
|The Armenian Version of Daniel||Prepared by S. Peter Cowe, this book presents a classical Armenian text of the Book of Daniel along with several essays about the translation and transmission of the book in Armenian. While not counted among the prophets in the Jewish tradition, Daniel is considered a prophet by most Christians.|
For Christians, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, prophecy takes on a different character. If Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Jewish prophecies, then an entire, crucial class of prophetic pronouncement has found its purpose. From the Christian perspective, there are no more messianic prophecies—though this of course has not stopped Christian speculation about the Second Coming. Yet in the New Testament we do still hear about prophecy: the events of Pentecost bear a strong resemblance to prophecy. Prophecy and speaking in tongues are also discussed together by St. Paul in Chapter 14 of I Corinthians. Calling prophecy a greater gift than speaking in tongues, St. Paul says “those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” Christian prophecy after Jesus’ resurrection, then, is less about making claims on the future and more about being in contact with God for the uplifting of others.
Nevertheless, for many centuries the idea of prophecy as telling the future retained a strong sway throughout Christendom. Early Christians especially considered the Second Coming imminent. Though Christ Himself said, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angles of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36), He also knew that “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matthew 24:11). Expectation of the Second Coming, though explicitly unknowable, nonetheless holds out as a kind of final, ultimate prophecy.
Scholars such as Reinhart Koselleck have argued that expectation of the Second Coming and the fulfillment of this final “prophecy” was the fundamental factor in a Christian understanding of time for centuries. Christians wait in expectation, ready for the coming of Christ, who Himself encouraged readiness in the parables scattered throughout Matthew 24 and 25. According to Koselleck, nothing truly novel occurs until the Second Coming—the eschaton is the event at the end of time which also marks the abolition of time as we humans experience it. Until then, things can happen within human time, but none of them are radically new.
If prophecy is understood even in part as “telling future events,” then our understanding of prophecy both shapes and is shaped by our conception of time. If, following Koselleck, nothing radically new happens until the eschaton, then prophecy as future telling is at least possible: the future is knowable or at least predictable because it will not be radically different than the past. In this view, it is not until overwhelming consensus breaks down about the eschaton that a kind of “secular time” emerges sometime around the Renaissance. Machiavelli’s discussions of fortune, “fortuana,” in his classic The Prince, for instance, heralds a slightly different idea of time. Here, prognostication but not prophecy is possible—the future can now be radically new and therefore unknowable. At best, we can make predictions. Slowly, a new conception of time emerges, one where ideas of progress and the potential for humanity to create the radically new future take hold. Prophecy as future telling becomes ever more marginalized.
Others have challenged Koselleck’s account of things. More importantly for us, the conception of time expressed in the Armenian liturgy bears some resemblances to the time of the expectant eschaton but is not identical to it. Consider the beautiful Easter hymn we will sing in only a couple short weeks: over and over again it insists that the Easter of today is Easter: “Today He is risen from the dead…” “Today the ineffable light from light shone…” “Today he has expelled the darkness of ignorance….” This resonates with Koslleck’s description of time, but includes a notion of the fullness of time, of the ability to participate—through liturgy—in God’s time. With such a conception of time, prophecy understood as telling the future becomes redundant.
Of course, this hasn’t stopped Armenians and Armenian Christians from prophesying about the future. In many Armenian historical sources, such as The History of Daron we have discussed before, prophecies and the fulfillment of them play a major role in the plot of the history. Perhaps the most prominent example of this is The Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa, a thoroughly apocalyptic history detailing the Crusades and other invasions into the area of Armenian Cilicia. Matthew presents the prophecies of the vartabed Hovhannes Kozern. Kozern’s prophecies of the release of Satan from his thousand-year imprisonment equated Turkish invasions with the increased activity of Satan. Clearly, prophecy in all its forms remained an active part of Armenian Christian life. As we prepare for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Easter, and the fulfillment of messianic prophecies in the person of Jesus Christ, we can emphasize prophecy as connection to God rather than the apocalyptic prognostications of the Armenian medieval histories. As connection to God and as the uplifting of fellow Christians, prophecy remains a vital source for us today!
|Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time||An important collection of essays by Reinhart Koselleck. The book includes his arguments about eschatology and the experience of time.|
|The Prince||Machiavelli’s political classic, which includes a discussion of fortune and the forces of history.|
|Patmut‘iwn Matt‘ēosi Uṛhayets‘woy||The Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa, written in the early 1100s, documents the difficult times facing Armenians in Cilicia and includes important prophecies by Hovhannes Kozern.|
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