Is Prophecy Possible? 


Isaiah Deuteronomy
Dividing Line Track Record
Copernican Revolution Joseph Atwill
70 A.D. Selection Bias
Rabbi Zadok


LogoIsaiah

The Lord through the prophet Isaiah distinguished Himself, the living God, from the non-entities adored by the pagans, pointing to their inutility in informing their devotees of the future:


Byzantine Medallion


  • “Present your case,” says the LORD.
    “Bring forth your strong reasons,” says the King of Jacob.
  • “Let them bring forth and show us what will happen;
    Let them show the former things, what they were,
    That we may consider them,
    And know the latter end of them;
    Or declare to us things to come.
  • “Show the things that are to come hereafter,
    That we may know that you are gods;
    Yes, do good or do evil,
    That we may be dismayed and see it together.
  • “Indeed you are nothing,
    And your work is nothing;
    He who chooses you is an abomination.”


  • (Isaiah 41:21-24).




LogoThe Lord need not consult with other parties to know His plans: “Known to God from eternity are all His works.” (Acts 15:18). There is nothing that predates Him:

“Before the mountains were brought forth,
Or ever You had formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” (Psalm 90:2).

So for the eternal God, knowing 'the future' is not problematical, because to Him it is not future. There is nothing at all conceptually difficult about a God who is neither subject to time nor subject to ignorance communicating to His people what is, to them, veiled and hidden away in the perfectly inscrutable future. To the theist, there is nothing problematical about prophecy. To the atheist, it is impossible. Modern secular Bible study is premised on the assumption that it is impossible; indeed, they will even use identifiable events described in 'prophecy' to establish the date of authorship of certain books. For example, quoting Leviticus 26, a passage threatening Israel with deportation and exile if they disobey the law, Wellhausen intones, "These words undoubtedly cannot have been written before the Babylonian exile. . .I even think it certain that the writer lived either towards the end of the Babylonian exile or after it, since at the close of the oration he turns his eyes to the restoration." (Julius Wellhausen. Prolegomena to the History of Israel (Kindle Locations 6930-6936).) Why? Because the Jews had not yet been exiled! So, like, how could they have known this was something that could happen? Any general threat, of exile, famine, or war, can only have been delivered after that specific event had actually occurred. We can date things by this means; this is partly how Wellhausen 'discovered' that the Mosaic law was post-exilic.

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LogoDeuteronomy

A prophet of the Lord who delivers a false prophecy is a contradiction in terms:

“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).

In some cases, however, as with Jonah and the Ninevites, it seems there may be a unstated condition, i.e., 'unless you repent.' There were more than a few 'volunteers' running around, who ran when they were not sent:



  • “And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who prophesy, and say to those who prophesy out of their own heart, ‘Hear the word of the LORD!’”
  • “Thus says the Lord GOD: “Woe to the foolish prophets, who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! O Israel, your prophets are like foxes in the deserts. You have not gone up into the gaps to build a wall for the house of Israel to stand in battle on the day of the LORD. They have envisioned futility and false divination, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD!’ But the LORD has not sent them; yet they hope that the word may be confirmed. Have you not seen a futile vision, and have you not spoken false divination? You say, ‘The LORD says,’ but I have not spoken.”
  • “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Because you have spoken nonsense and envisioned lies, therefore I am indeed against you,” says the Lord GOD. “My hand will be against the prophets who envision futility and who divine lies; they shall not be in the assembly of My people, nor be written in the record of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord GOD.
  • “Because, indeed, because they have seduced My people, saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace—and one builds a wall, and they plaster it with untempered mortar— say to those who plaster it with untempered mortar, that it will fall. There will be flooding rain, and you, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall tear it down. Surely, when the wall has fallen, will it not be said to you, ‘Where is the mortar with which you plastered it?’”
  • “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “I will cause a stormy wind to break forth in My fury; and there shall be a flooding rain in My anger, and great hailstones in fury to consume it. So I will break down the wall you have plastered with untempered mortar, and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation will be uncovered; it will fall, and you shall be consumed in the midst of it. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.
  • “Thus will I accomplish My wrath on the wall and on those who have plastered it with untempered mortar; and I will say to you, ‘The wall is no more, nor those who plastered it, that is, the prophets of Israel who prophesy concerning Jerusalem, and who see visions of peace for her when there is no peace,’” says the Lord GOD.”


  • (Ezekiel 13:1-16).




LogoThese false prophets are known precisely by the failure of the things they prophesied to come to pass. By contrast, the prophecies of the Bible either have been, or will be, fulfilled. As will be seen, our atheists are as eager as were the false prophets; leaping on ahead, they go above and beyond what is required by atheism. Certainly it is a free country, and atheists are every bit as entitled to study the Bible as is anyone else; however, their anxiety to cling to their own belief-system while so doing sets up some strange perturbations.

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The Dividing Line

No theist finds it problematical that an omniscient God, if concerned for the well-being of His time-bound creatures, can communicate information to them about what, to them, is the 'future.' Of course, an occurrence may be possible yet not have actually happened in a given instance; non-Christian theists need not believe the prophecies of the Bible. No atheist, on the other hand, has any reason to concur that prophecy of future events is even possible; since there is no God, there is no reliable source of this, to us, unknown, information. This doesn't mean an atheist must disbelieve that the Farmer's Almanac can making a steady income predicting a snowy winter in Buffalo and rain in Seattle. But here is an uncrossable dividing line. No atheist can accept the prophecies of the Bible, though no theist finds them inherently incredible.

Modern secular Bible 'scholarship' is premised on the principle that prophecy is impossible, and not only impossible, but impossible one hundred percent of the time, so that fulfilled prophecy may even be used as a dating mechanism. This goes even beyond what atheists must believe, because a statistically literate atheist will allow a prognosticator to guess at coin tosses and succeed 50 percent of the time, which renders a successful coin toss prediction unavailable as a dating mechanism; predictions involving skill are allowed an even higher success ratio. Not only do you have to be an atheist to go along with modern Bible 'scholarship,' you have to be a statistically illiterate atheist!

Certainly it's a free country and atheists as well as theists are at liberty to study the Bible and publish their conclusions. And no atheist, nor even a Deist like Ethan Allen, can subscribe to the notion that the prophets of the Bible were in communication with the living God, who is, and was, and is to come. But then what is their fall-back position?: "For prophecy as well as all other sorts of prognostication must be super-naturally inspired, or it could be no more than judging of future events from mere probability or guess-work, as the astronomers ingenuously confess in their calculations, by saying: "Judgment of the weather," &c" (Ethan Allen, Reason the Only Oracle of Man, Chapter VII., Section I.). "[M]ere probability or guess-work" cannot have a success rate of zero, which is what they assume when they use prophecy as a dating mechanism. There is no TV psychic who has ever been wrong about everything; just stick to the safe stuff, like 'Somebody important will die this year.' This is where they jump the rails of common sense and leap off into their own private world of make-believe.

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Logo Track Record

How do we evaluate the success of a prognosticator, whether it be the Oracle at Delphi or our investment advisor? First, we must avoid the naive error of accepting a single successful prognostication as proof of ability. This is a very common pitfall, even today:



  • “A prime example is the stock market guru Elaine Garzarelli, who is said to have predicted the 1987 stock market crash — the worst since the Great Depression. At no time before or after this famous forecast has she ever made any similar long-shot forecasts that proved to be true. In fact, her long-term stock prediction track record is rather poor, judging from the performance of a mutual fund she ran for seven years. During this time, her fund increased 38 percent while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index increased 62 percent. Her employer at the time finally shut down the fund in August 1994.”
  • (William A. Sherden, 'The Fortune Sellers: The Big Business of Buying and Selling Predictions,' p. 6).




LogoOuch. But at least they didn't accuse her of making the prediction after the fact. The kind of predicting Ms. Garzerelli does does not make the atheists' hands tremble, because it proceeds on a rational econometric basis. Unfortunately, it doesn't work very well:

"Economists' forecasting skill on average is about as good as guessing. It  turns out that most economic forecasts are about as accurate as guessing that next year will be the same as this year — an example of a naive forecast, which economists use to gauge the skill of their own forecasts." (William A. Sherden, 'The Fortune Sellers: The Big Business of Buying and Selling Predictions,' p. 64).

When it does work, there is nothing supernatural about it, and thus no need for atheists to confute the events, to try to change the dates, or any of their usual shenanigans. The blank background for evaluating endeavors of this sort is, not the conviction that, since no one could ever possibly predict the future, every successful prediction is a triumph and vindication. Rather, one compares this approach with the 'throw darts at a chart on the wall' approach. This latter approach wins its victories also, and the professionals ought to be able to show a better result, not the same outcome. The dart thrower boasts of his successful stock picks, just as does the champion newsletter writer, and both must also mourn his losers. The standard for comparison is not a zero success rate, which is very close to being non-obtainable, but dart-throwing. And yet this atheist document-dating agenda expects a zero percent success rate, and cannot otherwise be justified or rationalized.

Certainly the atheists are entitled to adopt whatever means necessary to salvage atheism, but no more! Their dating mechanism takes the flip side of Elaine Garzarelli's success and notoriety: they have generalized statistical naivety into the maxim, 'No successful predication can be made at any time; therefore, all statements that might be taken for successful predictions are to be reclassified as prophecies after the fact, with dates reconfigured as needed.' Notice please that Bart Ehrman (and others) date the four gospels post-70 A.D., for no other reason that because the Lord said,

“Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2).

As is often pointed out, it's a tough break when quoting the Old Testament 'proves' a work was written. . .long after Zechariah's life-time: "For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, but the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city." (Zechariah 14:2). Or Micah: "Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the temple like the bare hills of the forest." (Micah 3:12). Prophesying the downfall of the House was not a new thing for Israel's prophets.

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  • It also appears that the Gospel writers know about certain later historical events, such as the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE (possibly Mark, in 13:1; almost certainly Luke, in 21:20-22). That implies that these Gospels were probably written after the year 70.
  • “This means that our earliest surviving written accounts of Jesus' life come from thirty-five to sixty-five years after his death.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 112).




LogoIt should be apparent that this is the flip side of Ms. Garzarelli's elevation to cult status. In Bart Ehrman's mind-set of statistical naivety, it is simply impossible to make an accurate prediction in advance of the fact. Therefore a single successful prediction may serve as a dating mechanism. In other words, the success of 'naive' predication strategies can only be zero percent: exactly zero, no advance-of-the-fact prediction can ever be vindicated. The atheist would be giving in to supernaturalism if he admitted such an event could occur. But this is preposterous. It is comical or embarrassing, depending on your point of view, to find a pseudo-scholarly and pseudoscientific endeavor ensconced at America's universities built upon statistical naivety of this magnitude. In reality the rational basis for comparison is not zero success, but the occasional success any dart-thrower can achieve, boosted perhaps by mother wit and common sense. In other words, the fact that Joseph Smith successfully predicted the Civil War does not make him a prophet, nor one market move prove the accuracy of Ms. Garzarelli's model:



  • “This is what happened to strategist Elaine Garzarelli, who became famous as the guru of Black Monday, October 16, 1987. On September 9 of that year, Garzarelli, then a research analyst and money manager at Shearson Lehman Bros., noted that her market-predicting model consisting of fourteen monthly indicators turned 75 percent bearish. When the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached 2641 on October 12, her model turned 92 percent bearish — the worst bearish signs she had seen since she created the model in 1980. That day on Cable News Network's Money Line program, she announced her prediction of 'an imminent collapse in the stock market.' Amazingly, four days later the stock market did crash, with the Dow falling more than 500 points to 1739 — a total drop of 902 points from where it was at the time of her prediction. Business Week declared it the 'call of the century.' Unfortunately for Garzarelli and her clients, she remained bearish after the crash, and when the Dow closed at 1939 in December 1987, she declared that 'the odds favored a drop in the Dow to as low as 1,000 to 1,500.' After the market steadily increased over the next couple of months, she reversed her prediction on February 28, 1988, saying 'I'm a little late, but my indicators didn't confirm until recently.'”


  • (William A. Sherden, 'The Fortune Sellers: The Big Business of Buying and Selling Predictions,' pp. 97-98)



LogoThe stock market is a crowd-sourced discounting mechanism which seeks to ascertain future earnings and price shares accordingly. Predicting the future is built into this task. It is notorious how badly the market performs its duties; like they say, the stock market has predicted seven of the last two recessions. The future after all is enveloped in murk. The investor faces the difficult task of predicting, not only the unseeable actual future, but the non-future whose vain expectation will determine prices! Entire investment departments have failed to exceed the results achieved by chimps throwing darts at the financial pages. But some do manage to achieve above-random results, like George Soros, who modestly admits, "Occasionally I develop some conviction and, when I do, the payoff can be substantial; but even then, there is an ever-present danger that the course of events fails to correspond to my expectations." (George Soros, The Alchemy of Finance, p. 301). Indeed! But at least some of the time he gets it right. It will be left to future Solons of the Jesus Publishing Industry to explain that the Historical George Soros never existed.

The atheists can quiet their palpitating hearts and still their shaking hands. Salvaging atheism is really much easier and more simple than they imagined it to be; you don't have to deny so many documented facts about the world as they suppose. All that's even needed is 'selection bias:' we know, from Josephus, that many false prophets misled Israel in the years leading up to the destruction of the temple, not doubt 'prophesying' that God would never sell out His own temple or desert His people in their hour of need. Like Ezekiel's false prophets, they didn't exactly nail it. They promised, not peace, but victory, and victory was not in the offing.

Since it's a known fact that some prognosticators were prophesying that 'the temple will not be destroyed,' how amazing is it after all that one might prophesy 'the temple will be destroyed,' or that, after the fact, the archives of the former 'prophets' attracted little attention or interest in copying and preservation, by comparison with the successful prognosticator? Or do these geniuses want to explain why it is possible to 'prophesy,' falsely, in advance of the fact, that the temple will not be destroyed, while it is impossible to prophesy truthfully that it will be? 'Heads,' yes, but 'tails,' never? And so, to arbitrarily assign a post-70 A.D. date to the gospels is by no means even needed to 'save the hypothesis' of atheism. What other rationale can possibly be advanced in its favor? Yet drop it, and there goes one of the main-stays of atheism: 'the gospels are not a reliable record because they are very late.'

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LogoCopernican Revolution

As noted, modern times have seen a Copernican Revolution in the way the prophetic books of the Bible are handled. Instead of marvelling that God foretold to His prophets events of a later time, they now solve the problem of prophecy very simply, by dating the books subsequent to the events described therein. Thomas Paine had demanded this turning inside-out, and now it is completely non-controversial. It should be apparent, however, that no theist has any reason to endorse this procedure, much less to report its results in the disingenuous manner often resorted to, of 'scholarship has discovered,' etc. Rather say, 'modern scholarship has decreed, no book may be dated any earlier than the latest event described therein:'



  • “What audacity of church and priestly ignorance it is to impose this book upon the world as the writing of Isaiah, when Isaiah, according to their own chronology, died soon after the death of Hezekiah, which was B.C. 698; and the decree of Cyrus, in favor of the Jews returning to Jerusalem, was, according to the same chronology, B.C. 536; which is a distance of time between the two of 162 years.”
  • (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part II, Chapter I - The Old Testament).




Logo This same commentator, however, also wants to accuse Isaiah of false prophecy, where he thinks he can: "Thus much for the lying prophet and imposter Isaiah, and the book of falsehoods that bears his name." (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Volume II, Chapter I - The Old Testament). They all do this, incidentally. But if all Bible prophecies are ex eventu, how could any be discovered false?

The reader who is not an atheist should be able to perceive that, if you are accusing a Bible author of false prophecy, you by by implication admitting he is making prophecies in real time, because how else can they be disconfirmed, as is claimed? They are insisting that the Bible author be allowed ONLY to make false prophecies, in their "books of falsehoods;" any confirmed prophecies will be post-dated, however those believed disconfirmed will be allowed to remain in place. This is the same as to demand that the football team calling 'heads' will always be wrong; it's anything but a rational demand. Where they seem to be right, it was re-enacted; where they seem to be wrong, well, they were wrong. And so why wasn't it re-enacted when they were wrong?



Logo An interesting instance of this too-hasty dismissal of prophecy is what happened to the medieval Muslim thinker Beruni:

"Beruni, a contemporary of Avicenna who entered into correspondence with him and was closely connected with his associates and fellow-philosophers, like most other men of learning, had no very easy life. According to an anecdote, Sultan Mahmud twice commanded him to prophesy; and because in both cases his predictions turned out correct, he was cast into prison. The incensed Sultan explained that 'kings are like little children — in order to receive rewards from them, one should speak in accordance with their opinion. It would have been far better for him on that day if one of those two predictions had been wrong.'" (Soheil M. Afnan, Avicenna, His Life and Work, p. 38).

Like little children indeed! The Sultan could accept a 50/50 split in guessing coin tosses, but anything greater is, undoubtedly, manifest sorcery. Massive sample size: two tries! This is not the way to do it.

Modern secular Bible study is premised on the assumption that, not only prophecy, but miracles of all sorts, are impossible:


An Example Immutable God
Cautionary Note The Enlightenment
Benedict de Spinoza Pinball Machine
David Hume Natural Explanations
Prophecy


Logo Some Bible prophecies, such as those relating to the resurrection and judgment, are as of yet unfulfilled:

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LogoJoseph Atwill

Author Joseph Atwill adopts the approach toward prophecy followed in modern secular Bible 'scholarship,' and carries it to its logical conclusion. For example, he notices that Josephus' histories of the period, if taken as representing fact, confirm Daniel's prophecy 'clock.' Therefore, Josephus was writing fiction, not history:

"His recording of the perfect alignment of events in the time sequences Daniel predicted is either his witnessing of supernatural phenomena or a deliberate falsification. . . .This 'shaping' of time by Josephus to create Flavian propaganda is exactly the same technique he used to create the alignment between the Flavian campaign in Judea and the prophecies of Daniel." (Joseph Atwill, Caesar's Messiah, Kindle location 5792).

On similar grounds, he denies the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth and claims that the gospels are a forgery produced by three Jewish authors, Josephus, Bernice, and Alexander. The wonder is that more prophecy-deniers are not driven to similar conspiratorial conclusions. As goes Josephus, so go the gospels:

"Both the authors of the New Testament and Josephus attempted to have their readers come to the same mistaken conclusion about the prophecies of Daniel, that they came to pass within the first century. This fact suggests that the same person or group produced both works, because two independent authors would not have, by chance, come to such a conclusion." (Joseph Atwill, Caesar's Messiah, Kindle location 6059).

True enough, chance had nothing to do with it. But if salvaging atheism requires one to go to these lengths, is it worth salvaging? This author's understanding of prophecy requires the prophet to be divine, which is not really the case, although of course Christians do confess the deity of Jesus Christ: "This would have 'proven' the divinity of Christ, because he had been able to see into the future. . ." (Joseph Atwill, Caesar's Messiah, Kindle location 4688.) Will other atheists join him in his adventures down the rabbit hole?:

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Last Supper, Polish Salt Mine


Logo70 A.D.

When J. B. Rhine and his associates at Duke University set out to find evidence for 'Extra-Sensory Perception,' which they seem to have conceptualized as a natural process enabling some people to access sources of information about the world other than through the senses, they were disappointed in their results. And so they sequestered those participants in the card-guessing experiments who had scored better than chance, on the theory that these were adepts who possessed this ability (not everyone was thought to have this faculty of ESP). Statisticians, however, criticized them for doing this, and in consequence reporting weakly positive results; of course these adepts scored above average in card-guessing, their results were pulled out from the mass for this very reason! A more interesting question would be, whether the same people qualified as adepts in different runs of the card games, or if it was always a different group. No statistician, however, ever denied that there were these adepts, people who scored above average; if there were not, who would compensate for all the people who missed every single card? Some people have to score above average, if other people score below average.

The world of Biblical criticism, however, is a world where everyone scores below average. There are known to have been very many false prophets roaming the Judaean countryside in the first century A.D. When Jerusalem fell to the Roman legions and the temple was aflame, the last place in the world you would want to be was that burning temple, better to hide in the cellar; and yet false prophets lured gullible residents to their doom by encouraging them to go there and await salvation:

"The soldiers also came to the rest of the cloisters that were in the outer [court of the] temple, whither the women and children, and a great mixed multitude of the people, fled, in number about six thousand. But before Caesar had determined any thing about these people, or given the commanders any orders relating to them, the soldiers were in such a rage, that they set that cloister on fire; by which means it came to pass that some of these were destroyed by throwing themselves down headlong, and some were burnt in the cloisters themselves. Nor did any one of them escape with his life. A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose on the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God; and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes." (Josephus, Jewish War, Book 6, Chapter 5, Section 2, pp. 1742-1743).

There are always, in troublous times, a great many of these false prophets, who see candy-canes and lollipops where there is nothing but disaster; God Himself has complained of this numerous tribe: "I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied." (Jeremiah 23:21). With God's judgment hanging over them, they say, 'Don't worry, be happy:' "They say still unto them that despise me, The LORD hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you." (Jeremiah 23:17). Because these false prophets have a systemic bias toward happy talk, they are surely scoring below average on the prediction scale; and who can compensate for these low scores, if there is none who ever gets it right? Surely no Christian thinks Jesus made a 'lucky guess' in predicting the destruction of the temple, although an atheist is bound to so describe it to himself. But they must concede at least that much, that there can be a lucky guess; what would one make of the atheist who denied that J. B. Rhine's adepts can possibly have existed, because they guessed the cards right? Some people think the problem here is philosophical naturalism, but there is nothing naturalistic about this demand, that all guesses must be wrong, that the card is never what you think it is, not one fifth of the time, not ever, statistics be damned. And if anyone doubts that is the demand, see:



  • “So they choose he earliest possible date as the most likely date of composition. No one denies that Mark 13, the so-called Little Apocalypse, has the immediate destruction of Jerusalem in is sights, so apologists admit Mark must have been written in the general neighborhood of 70 C.E., probably before, since who's to say Jesus' prediction of the destruction couldn't have been a genuine prophecy before the event? The trouble with this reasoning is that it violates the analogy of interpretation all scholars use when dating apocalypses. The whole genre is one of rationalizing and interpreting history after the fact in the manner of 'theodicy,' explaining God's purposes in allowing or causing a catastrophe. That the events are 'predicted' fictively after the fact is a way of saying God's providence had foreseen them and that everything, despite appearances, is under control.”
  • (Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p. 32).




Logo If such is the 'genre,' then why do the Sibyls keep predicting Rome's downfall, in vain? Nevertheless, here are the rules: and so one must expect to see the right card called, not one fifth of the time, but never. People need to stop pretending there is some rational reason for this; there is none. And this is the start of the whole system of error; because the gospels are so late (post-70 A.D.), there must have been a lengthy period of oral transmission, with all manner of possibilities for tampering and creative thinking. This theme is sounded over and over:

"Mark succeeded in collapsing the time between Jesus in the 30s and the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E. . .And yet, Mark's fiction could not have been conceived before the war. It would not have made sense before the war had run its course and the tragic fate of the city was known." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 152).

This childish misconception, that no one can ever get the coin toss right even once, is the foundation stone of an academic discipline pursued in universities.

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LogoSelection Bias

Let us try a thought experiment. Suppose we task a roomful of people with predicting a card draw. Those who are successful, we record, those who are not, we ignore. What, then, would be the success ratio of recorded prophets, as shown in our records? If you answer 50-50, or one in four, or whatever the odds are, dear Reader, you flunk the course. If you answer zero, you must have a publishing contract with Harper & Row!

The Oracle at Delphi specialized in very ambiguous predictions which could be taken either way. Most ancient authors who discuss the matter, freely admit that in many instances where the prediction was intelligible and verifiable, the Delphic Oracle was in error; and yet if we polled ancient literature for known prophecies from this source, we would collect more 'hits' than 'misses.' While I seriously doubt this Oracle on the whole achieved results superior to chance, the surviving record would appear to show that it did. People are struck by the 'hits' and remember them; the 'misses' are uninteresting and are forgotten. We understand false prophecy only too well; it is an amalgam of wishful thinking and self-deception, compounded and amplified by greed and ambition. The same tendency operates for the false prophets in the Hebraic tradition, who, the Bible tells us, are legion. We know that Jeremiah prophesied doom and gloom for Judaea, we know that his happy-talk rivals outnumbered and out-shouted him, but their books have not come down to us, and for the most part we don't even know their names.

While it is dauntingly difficult to give 'odds' in predicting human affairs, which are involved in a maze of complications, let us assume for the sake of argument that the odds of guessing the outcome of the simmering conflict between the Romans and the Jews were 50-50. They say, 'Though the race is not always to the swift nor the fight to the strong, that's the way to bet,' and Rome was that world's sole military super-power, Judaea was not. Once the outcome of this conflict was apparent, Josephus' false prophets would naturally fall by the wayside; who will conserve their writings, when events have exploded their pretensions? But those who predicted accurately, we could naturally expect, would be talked about and looked at; any documents recording their sayings would be studied and conserved. So if five of every ten prophets prognosticated 'defeat,' we would expect, let's say, eight of every ten prophets whose words survive in some form to have prognosticated 'defeat;' the others have been forgotten.

If you walk down the street in one of our nation's great cities, you may come across a raggedy character carrying a cardboard sign bearing the message, 'Repent! The end is at hand!' These people have always been there, and mostly, they are just wrong; tomorrow will be much like today. But if one of these days a comet strikes and destroys the world as we know it, then that day's 'prophet' will prove to have been right. Even atheists must admit such a thing could happen. To say otherwise is to claim that we have bought astronomic fire insurance at the cost of sending a few under-employed individuals to wander the streets carrying cardboard placards. Can anyone be so numb as to agree with the savants of the Jesus Seminar that, if an event is prophesied, then it cannot happen? The problem is, these people are clueless about probability and statistics and do not really have any idea what kind of problems they are creating by avowing that a prophesied event cannot thereafter occur. And this is exactly what they do aver when they use prophecy to date documents.

What is so wildly irrational about 'Bible Criticism' as now practiced is that, even this will not be allowed; all prophecy must be false, 100 per cent of the time! Even the known and documented tendency people have to remember the 'hits' not the 'misses' cannot work for the conservation of the 'hit' books, because there cannot be any. Why are these atheists so nervous? It is not necessary to go to these extravagant lengths to preserve their illusions about the world! They should just say, 'Lucky guess,' and move on. Bertrand Russell explains the mysterious fact that, on the whole, people's hats fit their heads:

"People's hats generally fit their heads, though they were made with no regard to those special heads, but selected, after they were made, as suitable to those heads." (Bertrand Russell, Religion and Metaphysics, Why I am not a Christian, Kindle location 685).

What miracle is it, that Smith's hat fits his head, when the hat-maker did not know Smith, nor Jones, nor was ever able to take measurements of their unique craniums? It is no miracle. The hat-makers made hats of different sizes, spread them out on a table at the men's wear shop, the men came in, tried them on, and left with the one that fit. The 'miracle' is in the sorting. So 'prophets' arose, in first century Palestine, as they have at all times and in all places; people make predictions of the future, to this very day. We know from Josephus that the smooth-talking flatterers were by no means unrepresented; many 'prophets' assured the people that God would never abandon Zion. As was Jeremiah's experience, in troublous times, there is money in reassurance, and that note continues to be struck by many a 'prophet.' But the 'doom-and-gloom' contingent is by no means unrepresented, neither in that day nor in this. Josephus tells the story of one luckless fellow, a true prophet, who was given a cheerless message, from which he derived neither blessing nor comfort. We know from scripture that, if the predicted event does not happen, the prophet was no prophet:

"And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him." (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).

Though a Jonah who makes a prediction with an (unstated) condition attached ['unless ye repent'] is allowed. Who knows about the future? We theists reply, God, and those human beings with whom He is in conversation. Well enough, but remember, we are talking to atheists. So we add another population: the people of the latter day, the next generation; they know what actually happened, and can verify those near-term predictions the prophets made, not because they had mastered time travel, but because they lived after the fact. And guess who is in charge of conserving, or discarding, the documents which enshrine these predictions (contrary to what they tell you, first century Palestine was no 'oral culture')? Why, golly gee, it's that very next generation, those sapient souls who know how it all turned out! Is it remarkable that they would conserve those texts which contain true predictions, and discard those whose predictions ('God will never abandon Zion') have been proven false by history? These are the deceived deceivers, who led Israel into ruin and destruction. The hat-makers, the prophets, put their wares out on the table, and those which fit were selected. So while there is a low probability a given prediction will turn out to be true, given all the different ways things might turn out, there is a high probability that those texts which contain true predictions will be conserved. One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry at the mindless incapacity of those who say, a text which predicts an event which actually occurred in 70 A.D. must have been written after 70 A.D. It just ain't so, and even the atheists who demand that we tailor history to meet their dogmatic requirement of 'no miracles,' can't plausibly set down such an indefensible road-block. They will allow that the next generation can forge, but not that they can conserve differentially, which is all that it actually takes.

Many of the laborers in this pseudo-scholarly vineyard are former fundamentalists, who can't run fast enough from their prior religious commitment. They accept without controversy, however, what they were told from the pulpit: that nothing but a miracle can impel a writer to note down, beforehand, what actually did happen. This is not the whole story however The Bible in isolation is a miracle, just as were the ESP adepts J.B. Rhine discovered at Duke University. What a marvel, that someone can guess every card right! But wait, somebody else guessed every card wrong! Each one of the legitimate prophets of Israel was enveloped by a penumbra of false prophets; these are the ones who ran when they were not sent: "I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied." (Jeremiah 23:21). If our hat-makers are tossing differently sized hats onto the table, and the elementary economics of product differentiation is enough to make that happen, then it turns out there is a hat for every customer.

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Rabbi Zadok

The Talmud mentions a certain Rabbi Zadok, who fasted on and off for forty years, in hopes for the preservation of Jerusalem. Presumably his fast ended when Jerusalem was destroyed, in 70 A.D., either by death or discouragement. This would mean he started his fast on or around 30 A.D. What might have happened on or around that date which would cause Rabbi Zadok anxiety about the future of Jerusalem? Did he overhear a prediction?

Speaking against the temple occurs not only in the 'Little Apocalypse,' but is bound up in the council's accusations against Jesus at His trial. How they hope to post-date all of the material that needs to be dealt with, I couldn't tell you:

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  • For R. Zadok observed fasts for forty years in order that Jerusalem might not be destroyed, [and he became so thin that] when he ate anything the food could be seen [as it passed through his throat.] When he wanted to restore himself, they used to bring him a fig, and he used to suck the juice and throw the rest away.”
  • (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Gittin 56a).