Research Project


Hebrew Prophets and Confucian Sages: Two types of Wise Man Who Knew the Divine Mandates

Prof. Dr. Youde Fu

Divine mandates were recognized in both Biblical Judaism and Pre-Qin Confucianism. However, the ways of knowing the divine mandate in these two systems are entirely different. In Judaism, God revealed himself to Moses and other prophets by words which were spoken when God encountered Moses on Mount Sinai or while He met other prophets in dreams or visions in various places and times. In early Confucianism, however, because the Heaven as deity does not speak, the issue of whom were the knowers and how they knew the Heavenly mandates becomes very complicated and confusing. We will demonstrate that, in contrast with the prophets who were the recipients of the divine commandments, the sage-kings in the Confucian tradition were the knowers of the mandate of heaven. Unlike the Hebrew prophets who could receive and convey divine words, the Confucian sages gained the mandate firstly by observing and speculating on people’s reactions to social events and affairs; secondly by listening to the voices of the wise men in the present or from earlier times. The sages can learn the Heavenly mandates from the peoples’ reactions to social events and affairs because the people and Heaven were united with each other a priori. Since the sage-kings participate in the process of apprehending the Heavenly mandates with human faculties, it is reasonable to consider them as prophet-philosophers who are more philosophical than the Hebrew prophets. The differences in knowing the divine mandates between early Confucianism and biblical Judaism explain why the former is a sort of religious ethics and the latter a typical religion.

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