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Understanding Prophecy: Moses vs. Nostradamus

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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 blog commenters say: 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?

"Delve into it and delve into it, for everything is in it." --Mishna

Around the Web

Bible prophecy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

JewishEncyclopedia.com - PROPHETS AND PROPHECY.

Nostradamus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Maimonides #7 - Prophecy of Moses