Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Moses Vs. Nostradamus: a Prophetic Analysis

I decided that this needs it's own post...

Most of the world's religious systems attempt to add gravitas and authenticity to their tenets by claiming them to be the products of a deeply enlightened seer or prophet. This person, by virtue of his or her advanced state of consciousness, pious life and transcendental awareness, is thought to possess the ability to tap into hidden stores of information that reside in a plane of ephemeral existence higher than our own. By and large, religions are established by a single individual claiming prophetic insight such as Jesus, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, et al. By contrast, Jewish tradition claims 1.2 million prophets throughout the approximately 900 year span of the first and second Temples. Across the board, the rabbinic authorities held that the prophecy of Moses was qualitatively unique within this huge group as Maimonides recorded in his 13 Principles of Faith: "I believe with complete faith that the prophecy of Moses, our teacher, peace be upon him, was true -- and that he was the greatest of the prophets -- both those that preceded him, and those who followed him."
Let's do a little comparison. Let's look at a few of Moses' predictions to see if we believe that they actually came to pass and then contrast them with the perennially popular 16th century French prophet Nostradamus. There are two criteria that need to be employed to authenticate a prophecy -- a true prediction must have both specificity and non-predictability to be viable. So saying something like "a great king will arise in the West" would be disqualified due to both its vagueness and relative likelihood, while something like "Dweezil Zappa will become Secretary of State in 2016" would be a home run.
Leviticus 26:33 states:
"And you, I will scatter among the nations, I will unsheathe the sword after you, leaving your country desolate and your cities in ruins."
The Torah predicts here that the Jewish people will be exiled from their land. Does the prediction seem clear? It does. And how about the likelihood factor? Interestingly, exile was a rare phenomenon in the ancient world (less than 10 in recorded history) as the conquering nations preferred to tax and work the vanquished population. In short, this prophecy is quite specific and was not likely to occur.
Here's one from Nostradamus (Prophecies 1:8):
"From the Orient will come the African heart, To trouble Hadrie and the heirs of Romulus: Accompanied by the Libyan Fleet, The Temples of Malta and nearby islands shall be deserted."
Ummmm, OK. I did my best to make sense of this but it's obviously extremely vague and to the best of my knowledge, no clear world historical event is associated with these words. As the kids say these days: fail.
Back to Moses in Deuteronomy 30:1-5:
"Then the Almighty will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you; and He will return and gather you from among all of the nations where he has dispersed you. If your dispersed ones will be even at the ends of the heavens, from there God Almighty will gather you and from there He will take you. And God your Lord will bring you to the land that your fathers inherited and you shall inherit it."
Once again, extremely clear, and extremely unlikely to have transpired. No other people has even so much as survived an exile, let alone returned to reestablish their historical homeland. In fact, the Jewish people have done this twice -- once at the hands of the Babylonians and later by the Romans. What Average Joe author would have been dumb enough to predict an outcome that was so exceedingly unlikely to ever come about? Unlikely to be exiled and impossible to come back -- not a very good wager, especially considering the world could now easily proclaim your book worthless. Better to stick with vague and meaningless Nostradamus-type musings like:
"From the three water signs will be born a man, Who will celebrate Thursday as his holiday: His renown, praise, rule and power will grow, On land and sea, bringing trouble to the East." (Prophecies 1:50)
Ah yes, those powerful, aquatic, 5th Day People. They were always giving the East hell. I think we're all on the same page when I say: gong!
Now just permit me to pre-defend myself from the inevitable charges of "cherry picking." I have discussed here only two of many. It's important to note to that many of these Mosaic prophecies preclude the others from coming about. That is, if one happens, it makes it less likely for the others to come about. For instance, the Jews are told that they will be an eternal nation (Genesis 17:7, Leviticus 26:44 ). Already very unlikely, but all the more so considering the exile we discussed. On top of this we are told that we will always remain few in number (Deuteronomy 4:27), which is certainly a hindrance to eternality. So perhaps we'll be small but so universally loved that the world will always take good care of us? Alas no. Indeed, the Torah predicts that we will be very unpopular in our host countries (Deut. 28:65-67). And there are more.
So what say you dear reader? I can see some of you you rushing to pick up your King James's to school me with some prophecy that did not come to pass (as some of them have not yet) or others that seem vague and general to you and therefore not one iota better than our man in France. I'd love to hear it all, but let's try to focus on the ideas presented here. Were they accurate predictions or not? It's not tenable to suggest that out of hundreds of inaccurate ones, I just plucked the two or three that worked. It's not the case. If you feel yourself drawn to the "cherry picking" defense, consider that it may be because you (as of yet) have no way to logically explain it. If these examples are accurate and conform to our "likelihood index," what conclusions can be drawn about the book, its author and its information?


  1. you haven't addressed the issue...How do you know, or what proof have you, that these prophecies (i.e. moses's) were written before events like the exile happened.

  2. Well, just when would the "prophecy" have been introduced to the people? After the events already happened they were presented with something that's clearly meant to be predictive? How would that work? Who introduced this information and why would the people accept it?

    1. >>>> Well, just when would the "prophecy" have been introduced to the people?

      I don’t know. I could speculate and offer all kinds of scenarios.
      One reasonable time frame would be just after Isaiah, around or just before King Josiah’s time.. Mainly because the book of Samuel and Isaiah (chapt 1-39) are totally devoid of references to the Torah and then the Book that is found (major or some parts of Devarim) in Josiah's time. Also, Isaiah promulgates many messages warning about troubles that are coming to Israel, yet never quotes the Torah’s warnings. That makes no sense to me unless he had NO Torah to quote.

      >>>> After the events already happened they were presented with something that's clearly meant to be predictive?

      Why is it “clearly” ? Maybe it was meant to confirm that for certain actions by the people they can expect these re-actions from God.
      >>>> why would the people accept it?

      Your fixation of the validity of the Kuzari Principle is strong, but misguided.

      1) masses are generally gullible.
      2) In particular, the Jewish people have shown to be very trusting of their leadership. So, if someone like Ezra presented them with a scroll, proclaimed it be Torat Moshe, a term that was likely already in their national lexicon, they readily accepted its contents, which maybe included the Tokhacho.

      A superb example of such easy acceptance of something novel, is the acceptance of the Sefer “Zohar” which although generally or maybe totally unknown suddenly makes it appearance ca 13th century, claims to have been authored by Rashbi and then over time overwhelms Jewish Hashkofot.

    2. I think your conclusion is a non-sequitur and that it's simply not presumable to imagine that that sort of information could suddenly be introduced after the fact and then accepted as valid. "What if's" are generally weak arguments.

      Very few people (nations) as gullible as you are suggesting and to the contrary, the Jews have a strong history of resisting innovation.

      If Ezra did such a thing don't you think we might have recorded it somewhere? We recorded all of his other innovations - which were made publicly and openly.

      The Zohar was indeed introduced to the masses suddenly, but much of it's contents were already known and its quite a stretch to suggest that it "overwhelms Jewish Hashkofot." It changed very little in our practice and added on to what we already knew.

  3. Deuteronomy 30:1-5 a failed prophecy - what about the Northern Tribes ?

    1. Not at all. Our tradition doesn't say that this verse refers to every single original exiled individual (or their offspring). What's impressive (and it really is) is that Jews have indeed returned from all over the world. What's more impressive is that it was predicted thousands of years ago. Don't miss the forest for the trees.

  4. "From the Jewish Publication Society Torah Commentary Leviticus by Baruch Levine 1989 beginning on page 275 Regarding Levit 26:3-46 “The Epilogue to the Holiness Code is patterned after other biblical blessings and curses and after other similar ancient near eastern compositions”. The author also writes concerning Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 epilogues that the Biblical curses and ancient near east curses are related in their diction. Levine offers several examples. These examples include among others - ‘scattering of the people’ common in ANE diction. The code of Hammurabi uses the same term. Levit 26:37 the inability to stand before enemies is paralleled in the vassal treaty of Esarhaddon: ‘may you not be able to stand before your enemies’. Levine writes it is clear even from the sample he provided (see his book for others) the epilogue represents a genre of ane literature." From

    1. These examples seem pretty loosey goosey to me. There are only so many ways to say something and who's to say that it wasn't common to speak that way back then and therefore the Torah is using terminology that people are most apt to grasp? R' Joshua Berman has a great article on this:

      In any event, it doesn't change the challenge for those who would want to dismiss it. No matter what the seeming parallels, the fact remains that it was the Jews who were scattered and brought back - and no one else. How odd.

      Finally, see Yechezkel Kaufmann for a thorough demonstration of the lack of connection between the Torah and the other religions of its day. "The Religion of Israel."