Sunday, January 4, 2015

Prophecies in the Holy Scriptures: Word of God or Folly of Man? - Part I

Prophecies in the Holy Scriptures: Word of God or Folly of Man?
 Part I – Prophecies in the Tanakh 

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“Prophecy is an intercept from the mind of an all-knowing and all-seeing and all-powerful God.”

-         Joel C. Rosenberg (a Christian Apologist)[1]
   
         Prophecies are often used to prove the “truth” of a religion, since they serve as evidence of supernatural knowledge which no person would know under normal circumstances.  Hence, a man who claims to be a “prophet” and the recipient of “God’s Word” can be tested by the accuracy of his “prophecies”.  Moreover, this same test can be applied to scripture.  Since scripture is supposed to originate “from the mind of an all-knowing and all-seeing and all-powerful God”, the prophetic accuracy, or lack thereof, of a religious book would serve as powerful evidence of its truth or falsehood.[2]  In the latter case, it would prove that the book in question is not “from the mind of…God”.  It is with this idea that we begin our newest series: Prophecies in the Holy Scriptures: Word of God or Folly of Man?  In this four-part series, we will examine the prophecies contained in the holy scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and test whether they have been accurately fulfilled.[3]  To begin, in this article we will first examine the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Tanakh, which is often touted as containing prophecies written thousands of years ago which were fulfilled in the later events of history.  In Part II, we will examine New Testament prophecies.  In Part III, we will examine the Holy Quran and in Part IV, the Ahadith of Muhammad (peace be upon him). 

Prophecies in the Tanakh

            The Tanakh is a voluminous book and it would be outside the scope of this article to examine every single prophecy found in it.  Therefore, for the purposes of this article, we will analyze only a small sample of the numerous passages that make prophecies about future events.  These prophecies have been selected based upon the condition that only those prophecies from the Bible that apply to events that can be historically verified (for example, prophecies regarding Babylon and other enemies of the Israelites) will be examined, rather than prophecies which cannot be verified at all (such as the prophecy that the Israelites would stay in Egypt for 400 years).[4]  All translations are taken from the New International Version.      

1.  Psalm 89:3-4 – 

“…I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant, ‘I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations.”

Discussion: In this verse, the psalmist claimed that God made a covenant with David (peace be upon him) promising to establish his bloodline forever and to secure his kingdom for all time.  This prophecy hardly came true.  Neither David’s line nor his kingdom has survived.  Even if David’s bloodline has survived into the present day, there is no way to prove that it exists.  On the other hand, it is an undeniable fact that his kingdom has not existed for more than 2,500 years, when it ended with the removal of Zedekiah from the throne and his death in a Babylonian prison.[5]  As C. Dennis McKinsey correctly observes: 

“God promised that there would always be a Davidic king, but the Davidic line ended with Zedekiah and no king returned to the Davidic throne for 450 years.  Moreover, what descendant of David is now ruling in the Middle East?”[6]

            The only possible way for believers to salvage this prophecy is to interpret it as referring to Messianic times, when the Messiah, who would be a descendant of David (peace be upon him), would re-establish the Davidic kingdom.  From that point on, the Davidic line and throne would be established forever.  But this argument fails since the psalm is very clear that David’s line and throne would be “firm through all generations”.  In fact, verses 35-37 of the same psalm repeat the promise, and refute the claim of the apologists that the prophecy refers to the Messiah: 

“Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness—and I will not lie to David—that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun; it will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky.”  

The apologists must be honest and admit that this simply did not happen.  The sun has continued to “endure” and the moon has continued to be a “faithful witness in the sky” since David’s time, but his line and his kingdom have not.

Status: Failed

2.  Isaiah 13:19-20 – 
“And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.  It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.” 

Discussion: In this prophecy, Babylon’s destruction was foretold.  However, Babylon is warned not only that its doom was imminent but that the destruction would be so severe as to leave this “glory of kingdoms” uninhabited.  In short, it would be left as a ruin, never again to be inhabited by people, but rather wild beasts.[7]

            Yet, it is established history that Babylon continued to be inhabited even as late as the 2nd century CE, as evidenced by the so-called “Theater Inscription”.[8]  The fact is that even though control of Babylon passed from conqueror to conqueror, it remained a vibrant city for almost a thousand years after the alleged prophecy was made by Isaiah (peace be upon him).  When the Persian king Cyrus the Great captured Babylon in 539 BCE, it remained an important center of culture, and when Alexander the Great conquered the city from the Persians in 331 BCE, he simply annexed it and established it as an important center of his empire.[9]  What the prophecy stated would happen and what actually happened to Babylon are polar opposites.  To deny this would be futile. 

            Of course, some apologists may argue that this prophecy can be applied to modern times, either in the sense that Babylon is now just crumbling ruins or that it somehow refers to a future conflict between the Arabs and Israel.  However, in either case, the apologists would be wrong.  Desperate in their attempts to salvage the prophecy, they make absurd suggestions which actually contradict the Bible itself.  It is clear from the Bible that the prophecy against Babylon was to be fulfilled during the time of the Babylonian empire.  According to Jeremiah 50:41-43, Babylon’s destruction would occur soon and not thousands of years later: 

“Look! An army is coming from the north; a great nation and many kings are being stirred up from the ends of the earth.  They are armed with bows and spears; they are cruel and without mercy.  They sound like the roaring sea as they ride on their horses; they come like men in battle formation to attack you, Daughter Babylon.  The king of Babylon has heard reports about them, and his hands hang limp.”

In this passage, it was stated that an army was coming from the north (see also verse 3), which the Jewish commentator Rashi identified with the Persians and the Medes.[10]  The prophecy in Jeremiah also stated that the king of Babylon was fully aware that this mighty army was coming for his kingdom and that he was fearful of it.  What this shows is that the prophecy was expected to be fulfilled in a very short amount of time.  Moreover, if even the king of Babylon knew that the end was coming, then it means that this “prophecy” was simply restating what was already known to many people at the time.  The author was obviously aware of the geopolitics of the time and knew that a conflict between Babylon and other nations was imminent.  Hence, it was hardly a “prophecy” of an event that no one was expecting.   

Status: Failed   

3.  Isaiah 17:1 – 

“Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap.”

Discussion: As the book of Isaiah (falsely) prophesied regarding Babylon, it made the same prophecy regarding Damascus.  And as with the Babylon prophecy, the Damascus prophecy has also clearly failed.  Even into the modern age, Damascus has remained an important and vibrant city, even despite the tragic Syrian civil war which continues to rage and which has claimed over 200,000 lives since 2011.[11]  It has never been a “ruinous heap” in the approximately 2,700 years that have gone by since the prophecy was allegedly made.  McKinsey explains that Damascus:

“...is one of the oldest cities in the world, has been continuously inhabited and is the only city in Palestine that has never been completely destroyed.  Never has it been a ruinous heap.”[12]

            And should the apologists (especially the Zionist Christians) again try to argue that this prophecy is to be fulfilled in modern times, they need to be reminded of the context of the prophecy, which shows clearly that it was supposed to be fulfilled thousands of years ago.  Verse 8 of the same chapter shows this context and proves that it cannot be applied to modern times:

“They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles and the incense altars their fingers have made.”

The reference to “Asherah poles” shows that the prophecy was made during a time when the worship of the pagan goddess Asherah was very common, even among the Israelites.  Yet the cult of Asherah, and indeed most of the other pagan cults (like those of Molech, Chemosh, etc.) have long been extinct.  Certainly, no one in modern-day Damascus still worships Asherah, for it is a majority Muslim city!  Asherah-worship has gone the way of the Dodo and so have the desperate apologetic attempts to save this prophecy.

Status: Failed

4.      Ezekiel 26:3, 7-14 –

“…therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves.”

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: From the north I am going to bring against Tyre Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, with horsemen and a great army. He will ravage your settlements on the mainland with the sword; he will set up siege works against you, build a ramp up to your walls and raise his shields against you. He will direct the blows of his battering rams against your walls and demolish your towers with his weapons. His horses will be so many that they will cover you with dust. Your walls will tremble at the noise of the warhorses, wagons and chariots when he enters your gates as men enter a city whose walls have been broken through. The hooves of his horses will trample all your streets; he will kill your people with the sword, and your strong pillars will fall to the ground. They will plunder your wealth and loot your merchandise; they will break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones, timber and rubble into the sea. I will put an end to your noisy songs, and the music of your harps will be heard no more. I will make you a bare rock, and you will become a place to spread fishnets. You will never be rebuilt, for I the Lord have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

Discussion: This prophecy, allegedly made by the Prophet Ezekiel (peace be upon him), speaks of coming calamities to befall the city of Tyre.  The first part of the prophecy foretold that Tyre would be the target of “many nations,” while the second part stated that the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar would destroy the city to such an extent that it would “never be rebuilt”. 

            However, while Nebuchadnezzar did lay siege to Tyre for 13 years, the city actually never fell, though it did agree to capitulate to Babylonian rule.[13]  Whereas the prophecy stated that Tyre would never be rebuilt, it escaped relatively unscathed from the Babylonian assault.  Indeed, it has survived thousands of years of history to become a modern city, being the fourth largest city of modern-day Lebanon.[14]

            The irony is that the book of Ezekiel confirms elsewhere that Nebuchadnezzar did not destroy Tyre, as had been prophesied earlier!  Ezekiel 29:18 states: 

“Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon drove his army in a hard campaign against Tyre; every head was rubbed bare and every shoulder made raw. Yet he and his army got no reward from the campaign he led against Tyre.”

Here, it was admitted that Nebuchadnezzar received “no reward” for the siege against Tyre, yet Ezekiel 26:12 specifically prophesied that his army would:

“…plunder your wealth and loot your merchandise…”

Obviously, this did not happen.  How could Nebuchadnezzar simultaneously
“plunder” Tyre’s wealth and yet receive “no reward”?   

            Some apologists have tried to get around this difficulty by claiming that the prophecy was fulfilled not in Nebuchadnezzar’s time, but in the time of Alexander the Great, who captured the city and destroyed it.[15]  But even if this argument could be successfully defended, the fact remains that Tyre was supposed to have been destroyed completely and never rebuilt.  Yet, even after Alexander the Great destroyed Tyre, he eventually rebuilt it![16]  Apologists try to get around this difficulty by foolishly comparing it to the “ancient use of hyperbole”, as seen in the boasts of the Pharaohs claiming that they had completely destroyed their enemies.  But surely, to compare what is supposed to be a divinely-inspired prophecy to the ramblings of tyrannical and polytheistic kings is absurd.  Why did a divinely-inspired prophet have to resort to “hyperbole” like the foolish kings of antiquity?  Should we not hold the supposed “word of God” to higher standards?[17]  We must conclude that this argument is a desperate and dishonest attempt to deny the clear fact that the “prophecy” did not succeed.  Instead of admitting the truth, the apologists are willing to live in denial and to blaspheme God by comparing Him to petty kings who liked to exaggerate their victories.

Status: Failed

5.      Ezekiel 29:10-12 – 

“I will make the land of Egypt a ruin and a desolate waste from Migdol to Aswan, as far as the border of Cush.  The foot of neither man nor beast will pass through it; no one will live there for forty years.  I will make the land of Egypt desolate among devastated lands, and her cities will lie desolate forty years among ruined cities. And I will disperse the Egyptians among the nations and scatter them through the countries.”

Discussion: As with Babylon, Damascus and Tyre, the book of Ezekiel claimed that Egypt would suffer a great catastrophe, which would cause it to be uninhabited for a period of 40 years.  Once again, it is Nebuchadnezzar who would be the instrument of God’s vengeance: 

“Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to give Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will carry off its wealth. He will loot and plunder the land as pay for his army.  I have given him Egypt as a reward for his efforts because he and his army did it for me, declares the Sovereign Lord.”[18]

Yet this prophecy also failed to come true.  Nebuchadnezzar did indeed attack the Egyptians, although the exact details of what actually happened are not known.  As Professor Bill T. Arnold of Asbury Theological Seminary states: 

“The scope of Nebuchadnezzar’s imperial aspirations may be seen in his thirteen-year siege and apparent victory at Tyre (Josephus, Ag. Ap. 1:21; Ezekiel 26:7-14) and his invasion of Egypt in 570 B.C.E.  However, it should be noted that historical evidence from the latter part of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign is sparse and that the evidence of his Egyptian invasion is open to other interpretations.”[19]

What is known is that there has never been any period in Egyptian history when the land was not occupied.  No evidence exists for this extraordinary event.  If it indeed happened, then there should be evidence for it, given Egypt’s prominence in the geopolitics of the time.  If it had been rendered unlivable for 40 years, it would have been a momentous event which people would not have forgotten, especially the Egyptians themselves.

Status: Failed/Partially Unverifiable
 
Conclusion

            In this article, we have examined five famous prophecies from the Hebrew Bible.  Each prophecy foretold certain events, which never happened.  In the first example, David (peace be upon him) was allegedly promised that his line and throne would endure forever.  The Davidic kingdom, however, was eliminated a few centuries after the death of King David (peace be upon him).  In the second example, the prophet Isaiah (peace be upon him) allegedly claimed that Babylon would be destroyed, and would be uninhabited.  Yet despite conquests by Cyrus and Alexander, Babylon remained an important city, and remained so for almost 1,000 years after the prophecy was made.  In the third example, a similar prophecy was made against Damascus, and as with the prophecy against Babylon, this one also failed to come true.  Damascus has been continuously inhabited, including in the modern age.  In the fourth example, the ancient city of Tyre was warned of impending doom at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.  Not only did Nebuchadnezzar not conquer the city, but the book of Ezekiel even admitted that he gained “no reward” for his efforts.  Finally, in the fifth example, it was prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Egypt, rendering it as an uninhabited land for a period of 40 years.  While not much is known about the campaign itself, what is certain is that there was no period in Egypt’s history where it was uninhabited.  

            It is clear from our examination that these are false prophecies.  Therefore, Bible believers must reconsider their acceptance of the Tanakh as the “word of God”.  As the quote at the beginning of the article explained, a true prophecy is from God.  Hence, the false prophecies that we have studied are not from Him.  They are, therefore, the folly of man.  This, in turn, proves that the Tanakh (or at least the parts we have studied) is not the word of God, but the folly of man as well.  And Allah knows best!



[2] Even if one false prophecy is found in a book, it would obviously invalidate the claim that it originated from God.  But what if in addition to false prophecies, we also find seemingly true prophecies?  We will attempt to answer this question as the series progresses.

[3] Readers may also be interested in reading our article “The Gospel of Matthew and Tanakhic Prophecies of the Messiah”, in which we examined the “Messianic prophecies” of the Tanakh that were supposedly fulfilled in the life of Jesus (peace be upon him) as told in the New Testament.

[4] Genesis 15:13.  There may be a contradiction regarding whether it was 400 years or 430 years, but for the purposes of this article, that is not what concerns us.  Rather, we are only concerned with verifying:

1.       That a prophecy was made regarding a future event which no person would have known under normal circumstances.

2.      That the prophecy was fulfilled in a future event.

Since it is impossible to historically confirm exactly how long the Israelites stayed in Egypt, it is a prophecy which we cannot verify and thus one that we can ignore in this article.  Indeed, many of the events of Genesis (and most of the other books) obviously cannot be historically verified and are largely a matter of faith.  Also, since most of the books of the Tanakh were written after the events in question (especially the Pentateuch), many of the “prophetic” verses are actually not prophetic at all, and thus can be ignored.    

[6] C. Dennis McKinsey, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy (New York: Prometheus Books, 1995), p. 297.

[7] Isaiah 13:21-22.  According to some translations, among the “wild beasts” that would dwell in the ruins of Babylon would be “dragons” and “satyrs”.  Obviously, these mythological creatures have never inhabited Babylon or any other place.    


[12] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 304.


As a result of the battle:

“…6,000 Tyrians were killed during the fighting in the streets. 4,000 Macedonians were wounded, perhaps 500 were killed. Alexander's [sic] indulged in his anger: he ordered 2,000 Tyrians to be crucified on the beach (text). After this, he repopulated Tyre with Greek emigrants and loyal Phoenicians, together with a permanent Macedonian garrison. This was the beginning of the Hellenistic age.”

[17] In fact, the prophecy was literally the “word of God”, having come upon “Ezekiel”:

“…the word of the Lord came to me… (Ezekiel 26:1)

So, it was actually God speaking through the prophet!  Are the apologists really expecting us to believe that God was speaking like some petty human king, by exaggerating the destruction of Israel’s enemies? 

[18] Ezekiel 29:19-20.

[19] Bill T. Arnold, Who Were the Babylonians? (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2004), p. 96.

2 comments:

  1. Great blog, I feel inclined to continue reading the fascinating and indispensable information. I hope you continue to update and not follow the examples of the many Muslims who give up on such a worthy endeavor.

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    1. As-salaam alaikum. Thank you for your kind words. I hope you will continue reading the articles and benefiting from the information. InshaAllah, I will continue writing these articles and spreading the truth of Islam.

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