Dating Biblical Texts via Failed Prophecies

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

Please click here for this website's most important article: Why the Bible Cannot be the Word of God.

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09 September 2001

Updates: 10 & 20 Apr 2004 at end of article

The many failed prophecies of the Bible are a helpful clue to dating the texts. We will have a look at some of  these unfulfilled pronouncements allegedly conveying God's word to his people, and then suggest the best time period or context for some these failed prognostications.

The biblical text acknowledges that false prophets did exist. The people asked "How are we to know whether or not a prophet has truly spoken the words of God?"  The biblical text gives a simple answer, if the prophecy doesn't come about, that prophet has spoken presumptuously, and is not to be feared, and will die for this presumptuousness.

Deut 18:20-22 RSV

"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 same prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?'- when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him."

Moses prophecies that Israel will go into Exile, but that while in this Exile, if she repents, God will restore her to her land.

Deut 30:1-10 RSV

"And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you this day, with all your heart and with all your soul; THEN  the Lord your God will restore your fortunes, and he will gather you again from all peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you...and the Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, that you may possess it; and he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live...And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord, and keep all his commandments...The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your body...for the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul."

Moses' prophecy was not fulfilled as above portrayed.  He stressed that restoration was dependent upon the nation's repentance. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah do _not_ show the returning exiles as repentant and eager to do God's will and live by his laws. They violate the Sabbath and marry foreign women. The return from Exile is usually dated ca. 538 B.C., some 80 years later Ezra arrives in Jerusalem ca. 458 B.C. and notes the marriage violations, even amongst the chief people, princes and priests (Ezra 9:1-2). Still later, Nehemiah arrives to rebuild Jerusalem's walls ca. 445 B.C. and he notes foreign marriages still going on, and violation of the Sabbath (Neh 10:28-31).  

I am forced to conclude that Moses' prophecy was a false one, spoken presumptuously. Moses claimed that God would Himself, "circumcise" the people's hearts to permit them to fear him, and obey his laws- it obviously didn't happen, for if God had circumcised the people's hearts upon restoring them to their land, Ezra and Nehemiah wouldn't be contradicting Moses' prophecy!

Not only did God fail to circumcise his people's hearts, he failed to "prosper them" upon the return. Nehemiah notes famine striking the land in his days, the poor are selling their lands and children into slavery in order to survive (Neh 5:1-9). Ezra speaks of the restored exiles as "slaves" or "bondsmen" in their own land yielding up the land's bounty to their Persian masters (Neh 9:36-37)- this is another failed prophecy of Moses.

Moses' prophecy appears to be mirrored in Jeremiah's  prophecy, that God will Himself, place in His peoples' hearts, a fear of Him, enabling them to keep His commandments, upon His restoring them to their lands, after they have repented with weeping (Babylon being destroyed first)-

Jeremiah 50:1-5 RSV 

"The word which the Lord spoke concerning Babylon, concerning the land of the Chaldeans, by Jeremiah the prophet...Babylon is taken...For out of the north a nation has come up against her, which shall make her land a desolation, and none shall dwell in it; both man and beast shall flee away. In those days and in that time, says the Lord, the people of Israel and the people of Judah shall come together, weeping as they come; and they shall seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it, saying, 'Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant which will never be forgotten."

Jeremiah 32:37-44 RSV

"I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation; I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul...Fields shall be bought for money, and deeds signed and sealed and witnessed in the land of Benjamin, in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, in the cities of the hill country, in the cities of the Shephelah, and in the cities of the Negeb; for I will restore their fortunes, says the Lord."

God did "plant" Judah back in the land, but He did not give them "one heart" to fear Him always.

Moses also claimed that upon God's restoration of his people, that their enemies would bear God's curses:

Deuter 30:7 RSV

"And the Lord your God will put all these curses upon your foes and enemies who persecuted you."

Nehemiah rebuilds Jerusalem's walls in fear of his enemies. In fear, he orders that the doors to the city not to be opened until late in the day, so as to avoid an ambush at the gates in the early morning hours and they are to be closed early in the day to avoid ambushes late in the evening (Neh 7:3-4).

Jeremiah portrays God stating that David will never lack a man to sit upon the throne of Israel, nor will the day ever come that a Levite priest shall fail to be in God's presence presenting burnt offerings.  Yet, these prophecies were not fulfilled. David's descendants after the Exile (ca. 587-538 B.C.) never were restored to the throne. In 70 A.D. the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. In 135 A.D. the Romans  put down the Bar Kochba rebellion and this time destroyed Jerusalem carrying off into captivity her people. The Levitical priests who were to be in God's presence performing their duties, that is the feeding of God "for ever," never again offered burnt sacrifices and meal offerings.

Jeremiah 33:17-18 RSV

"For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn cereal offerings, and to make sacrifices for ever. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: "Thus says the Lord: If you can break my covenant with the night, so that day and night not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers."

The Romans in 70 and 135 A.D. _broke_ God's covenant with the Levitical priests, He hasn't had a meal in nearly 2000 years.

Jeremiah envisioned God as stating that the Exile would last 70 years, at the conclusion of these 70 years God would destroy Babylon and it would never be dwelt in again, because of what the Chaldeans had done to Jerusalem and their destruction of the Temple.  The prophecy did not come about as envisioned.  The Exile began ca. 587 B.C. and ended ca. 538 B.C., only 49 years were spent in Exile, not 70 years.  Babylon was not destroyed by the Medes (Jer 51:11). Jeremiah wrote his prophecy around 587 B.C., shortly after the fall of Jerusalem. What he didn't know was that in 560 B.C. the Medes would be defeated by Cyrus of Persia, and that it would be Persians who would set God's people free. Babylon peacefully surrendered to Cyrus the Persian who was welcomed into the city. Babylon would continue to exist with inhabitants until the 1st century A.D. The city went into a long slow economic decline after the Hellenistic Greeks came to power, when  Seleucus I  moved the new capital to a Greek planned city named in his honor, some 60 miles away. The governing classes, followed by artisans, migrated to the new capital. Over the following centuries, more inhabitants abandoned Babylon, the city turned into farmlands, with only a few priests still offering sacrifices at the shrines. By the 1st century A.D. most of the city was in ruins. So much then for the Lord's righteous fury in destroying Babylon and setting his people free with her collapse! I must conclude that Isaiah and Jeremiah spoke "presumptuously" when they declared God had spoken to them.

Jeremiah was quite specific about when Babylon would be destroyed and how and by whom. The Jews would serve the Babylonians as slaves for 70 years, then Babylon would be destroyed. It didn't happen.

Jer 25:11-13 RSV,

"This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, says the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste. I will bring upon that land all the words which I have uttered against it, everything written in this book, which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations."

Jer 29:10 RSV

For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and a hope. Then you will call me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile."

Jer 51:11 RSV

"The Lord has stirred up the spirit of the Medes, because his purpose concerning Babylon is to destroy it, for that is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance for his temple."

Jeremiah has God declaring that He, God, will pardon the iniquity of Israel and Judah upon their restoration from the captivity with the fall of Babylon, and that no more will iniquity be found in the land. As noted earlier, Ezra and Nehemiah contradict Jeremiah's prophecy that no more will iniquity or sin be found in Israel or Judah upon the fall of Babylon and the restoration of his people to their land.

Jeremiah 50:18-20 RSV

"Behold I am bringing punishment on the king of Babylon and his land, as I punished the king of Assyria. I will restore Israel to his pasture...In those days and in that time, says the Lord, iniquity shall be sought in Israel, and there shall be none; and sin in Judah, and none shall be found; for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant."

Evidently God chose not to pardon His people ("the remnant" who returned from the Captivity) upon their restoration, for iniquity abounded in the land, with foreign women being married and the Sabbath not being observed (Neh 10:30-31).

Jeremiah also proclaimed that God intended to write his law upon his people's hearts, such that there would be no need for a man to teach his fellow man about learning God's way, because God will forgive his people's iniquity and remember no more their sins. Jerusalem would be rebuilt with its walls, never again to be uprooted or overthrown.

Jeremiah 31:27-40 RSV

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast...I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.  But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more...Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord from the tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate...It shall not be uprooted or overthrown any more for ever."

Not only did God not write His Law upon his restored people's hearts, Ezra found it necessary to teach his people 'Know the Lord,' (Ezra 10) in contradiction to Jeremiah's prophecy. As for Jerusalem, although it was rebuilt by Nehemiah ca. 445 B.C., the Romans in 135 A.D. destroyed it, and rebuilt it as a Roman city naming it after the emperor Hadrian; Jews were not allowed within the city on pain of death. So, Jerusalem was not only "overthrown" by the Romans, but its peoples were "uprooted" and carried off into slavery.

Isaiah thought Babylon would be destroyed by Medes.

Isaiah 13:1-22 RSV

"The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw...Behold I am stirring up the Medes against them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the whomb; their eyes will not pity children. And Babylon, the glory of the kingdoms, the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them. It will never be inhabited or dwelt in for all generations...its time is close at hand and its days will not be prolonged."

Isaiah, writing all this ca. 704 B.C. (?) was not aware that in 550 B.C. Cyrus the Persian would defeat the Medes and take over rule of their empire. Babylon would fall not to the Medes, but to the Persians. The city was not destroyed, it surrendered peacefully to Cyrus in 539 B.C., there was no great slaughter, no destruction of the city, no going into exile as slaves.

Olmstead noted that Babylon surrendered and was spared any destruction by Cyrus:

"Near the beginning of October, Cyrus fought another battle at Opis on the Tigris...on October 11 Sippar was taken without a battle...and on October 13, 539, Gobryas, governor of Gutium, and the troops of Cyrus entered Babylon without battle. Afterward, when Nabu-naid returned to Babylon, he was made prisoner. The last tablet dated by Nabu-naid is from October 14, the day after Gobyras captured Babylon, but it was written at Uruk, to which the welcome news had not yet penetrated....Babylon was well treated by Cyrus...on October 29 Cyrus himself entered Babylon. Branches were spread in his path, and he proclaimed peace to everyone in the city." 

(pp. 50-51, "Founder Cyrus,"   A. T. Olmstead. History of the Persian Empire. Chicago. The University of Chicago Press. Phoenix Books.  1948, reprint 1963)

Please click here for the original text of the Cyrus Cylinder (in Babylonian) with an accompanying English translation. Of interest is Cyrus boasting of how he _strengthened and improved_ Babylon's walls and defenses, contra the Hebrew prophets' notion that he would destroy Babylon and it would never be rebuilt or lived in again.

Ezekiel claimed that God intended to restore ALL of his people, not SOME of his people and that He would at that time pour out his Holy Spirit upon his people.

Ezekiel 39: 25-29 RSV

"Therefore thus says the Lord God: 'Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob, and have mercy upon the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for my holy name. They shall forget their shame, and all the treachery they have practiced against me, when they dwelt securely in their land with none to make them afraid, when I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them from teir enemies' lands, and through them have vindicated my holiness in the sight of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God because I sent them into exile among the nations, and then gathered them into their own land. _I will leave none of them remaining among the nations any more_; and I will not hide my face any more from them, when I pour out my spirit upon the hose of Israel, say the Lord God."

Ezekiel also understood upon the restoration, that God would dwell with his people for ever more:

Ezekiel 43:8-9 RSV

"They have defiled my holy name by their abominations which they have committed, so I have consumed them in my anger. Now let them put away their idolatry and the dead bodies of their kings far from me, and I will dwell in their midst for ever."

Although SOME of Judah returned, NOT ALL of Judah returned (nor any of Israel). God's Holy Spirit was not poured out on the returnees and God did not dwell with his people in Jerusalem "for ever more". Ezekiel has God declaring that his food, "the fat and the blood," shall be served him only by Levites who are descendants of Zadok.

Ezekiel 44:6-7 RSV

"O house of Israel, let there be an end to all your abominations, in admitting foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, to be in my sanctuary, profaning it, when you offer me my food, the fat and the blood. You have broken my covenant...the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from me, shall come near to me; and they shall attend on me to offer me the fat and the blood, says the Lord God."

Ezekiel apparently contradicts Jeremiah's prophecy, that in the restoration, God will write his Law upon his people's hearts such that no man need teach his fellow 'Know the Lord,' (Jer 31: 31-34) for Ezekiel requires that the priests are to instruct the people in how to honor God.

Ezekiel 44:15; 23 RSV

"They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the clean and unclean."

If God is to pour out his Holy Spirit upon the returnees (Ezek 39:29), why the need "to teach" the people the difference between Holy and Unclean, the Spirit within them should be doing this, not a priest?

Contra Jeremiah, Ezekiel understood that God would punish Judah with an exile lasting 40 years instead of 70 years (isn't it strange that God should contradict Himself with these two prophets?).

Ezekiel 4:6, 13  RSV

"And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah; forty days I assign you, a day for each year...Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations whither I will drive them."

I note that Ezekiel is apparently aware of the Book of Daniel (Ezek 14:14, 20; 28:3). He notes that Daniel, famed for his wisdom, was not able to understand all the visions or revelations shown him by God,  he contrasts Daniel's inabilities with the King of Tyre whose wisdom is superior to Daniel's. I reject the notion that the Ugaritic Dan`el is the Daniel of the Bible, for Dan'el had no problem understanding the revelation of his son Aqhat's death.

Many Liberal scholars understand Daniel to have been written ca. 164 B.C. based on the details of Antiochus IV's activities in Jerusalem. It seems obvious to me that if Ezekiel is a prophet of ca. 587 B.C., then he has been redacted with info from Daniel, some time after 164 B.C. (rather like the Book of Isaiah possessing a First and Second Isaiah of ca. 704 and 538 B.C. according to some scholars).

Haggai confidently prophecised that God was about to overthrow the kingdoms of the world and make Zerub`babel, a descendant of David, king. The event never happened. Commentators on the Book of Haggai have noted that ca. 522-521 B.C. that the Persian king Cambyses died of an accident and upon his death Darius claimed the throne. Rebellions broke out against Darius in various satrapies or provinces of the Persian Empire. Evidently Haggai thought this was God's doing, and that the Persian empire was about to expire, and that God would make Zerub`babel king, having removed the Persians who historically had refused to allow a Jewish kingdom to be restored (fearing a rebellion).  Zerub`babel is not heard of again after 522 B.C., he mysteriously disappears from Jewish history. Some scholars have suggested that he was recalled to Persia, to nip in the bud, any possible rebellion. Darius did permit the restoration of the Temple but not the restoration of the kingdom.

Haggai 2: 20-23 RSV

"The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, "Speak to Zerub`babel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders, and the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his fellow. On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerub`babel my servant, the son of She-al'ti-el, says the Lord, and make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the Lord of hosts."

Surprisingly, the Chronicler understands that Cyrus' release of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, is a fulfilment of Jeremiah's 70 years prophecy. The Exile began in 587 and ended in 538 B.C., it was 49 years duration, not 70 years.

2 Chronicles 36: 22-23 RSV

"Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The Lord, the God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord God be with him. Let him go up."

One of the _most glaring_ of the many failed prophecies appearing in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is Yahweh's declaration that upon the restoration of his people from the Babylonian Exile, that he will NOT PERMIT the rebels among his people to return to the "promised land" ! He will liberate them from the Babylonian Captivity, but they will NOT be permitted "a return" to their ancestral lands.

As we learn from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, this declaration from Yahweh was NOT realized, as the people who did return and settle in Judah continued violating the Torah (Law) by marrying foreign women and violating the Sabbath. Had Yahweh prevented such "rebels" from re-entering the land these Torah-violating practices would never have arisen. That is to say, the alleged Holy Sprit that inspired Ezekiel to utter these words was quite wrong, rebels to the Torah DID RETURN TO THE LAND and subvert Torah authority. God was apparently _impotent_ in keeping such rascals out. And, had God poured out his Holy Spirit on those whom He allowed to return, as He had promised via Ezekiel, the re-admitted "non-rebels" would NOT have engaged in anti-Torah behaviors. Ezekiel was quite "specific" about WHEN God would pour out His Holy Spirit on his people, and cleanse them of their inquities, it would occur upon the return to the land and the rebuilding of the ruined cities. It is an established fact that under Cyrus, the Jews were allowed to return to their lands and they did rebuild the desolated places. Yet Yahweh failed to keep his oath, he allowed rebels to return to the land and continue defying Torah by violating the Sabbath and marrying foreign wives.

Ezekiel 20:33-34, 38 RSV

"As I live, says the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out, I will be king over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out...I WILL PURGE OUT THE REBELS FROM AMONG YOU, and those who transgress against me; I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, BUT THEY SHALL NOT ENTER THE LAND OF ISRAEL. Then you will know that I am the Lord."

Ezekiel 36:24-28, 33-36 RSV

For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you back to your own land. And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. AND I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT WITHIN YOU, AND CAUSE YOU TO WALK IN MY STATUTES AND BE CAREFUL TO OBSERVE MY ORDINANCES. You shall dwell in the land which I gave your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleanesses...Thus says the Lord God: ON THE DAY I CLEANSE YOU FROM ALL YOUR INQUITIES, I WILL CAUSE THE CITIES TO BE INHABITATED AND THE WASTE PLACES TO BE REBUILT. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled...Then the nations that are left round about you shall know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places, and replanted that which was desolate; I the Lord, have spoken, and I will do it."

Judaism, by turning a "blind-eye" to the timetable set by the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, regarding "just when" Yahweh would accomplish His promises (the return from the Babylonian Captivity being the event), a restoration of the nation to its lands and His keeping out rebels, and pouring out His Holy Spirit on the remnant allowed to return by Him, has kept alive for centuries the failed promise of ALL Israel one day in the future being gathered from from all over the world to dwell in its "promised land."  

Is there a "way out" for Bible-believers (Jews and Christians) regarding the failed prophecies? Perhaps: They could argue that God can change His mind at any time and He is not answerable to anyone for His decision NOT to follow the timetable of a restoration from the Babylonian Exile of 70 years. The problem? If we allow this as "an excuse," then what point is there in studying Old and New Testament prophecies as "proofs" God really exists? They are meaningless if God can "change His mind" and decide NOT to implement  the prophecies _in the lifetimes of the audiences hearing them_, thus NULLIFYING His advice via the Holy Spirit to His people that the ONLY way to know if a prophet is false or not, is to NOT BELIEVE until the prophecy is fulfilled (De 18:20-22).

Conclusions :

Moses had prophecised that the nation would go into Exile, but that while in Captivity, upon repentance, God would restore the nation to its land, destroy their enemies, and  prosper them. The events portrayed in Ezra and Nehemiah (538-445 B.C.) contradict Moses' prophecy. There was no repentance accompanying the restoration, enemies were feared, and prosperity didn't exist. 

Jeremiah, and Ezekiel had all foretold that God would bring his people back to their land and that this would be accomplished at the end of 70 years of captivity. The destruction of Babylon by the Medes would be accompanied by the restoration of God's people to their land. God would also forgive them their iniquities and sins, giving them a heart to obey his law and to fear him. He would prosper them and the city of Jerusalem would be restored with its walls, God would dwell for ever more with his people, and their enemies defeated. Jerusalem would never again be overthrown or her people uprooted.  

As we have seen, none of the prophecies were fulfilled. The prophets had obviously spoken "presumptuously." 

Their failed prognostications are however useful in helping us to date the biblical texts. 

Professor Freedman on failed prophecies being employed to date a text, he is speaking of the return from Exile by Judah from the Babylonian Captivity in 539 B.C. (Emphasis mine):

"...the fact that neither of the predictions (the length of the Exile or the period of Babylonian oppression) came true in any precise way, or was on target with respect to the way in which the redemption and release were carried out, IS NEGATIVE EVIDENCE FOR THEIR AUTHENTICITY. No one, in antiquity at least, invented false prophecies after the facts were known." 

(p. 68. David Noel Freedman. The Unity of the Hebrew Bible. Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan Press. 1993)

First Isaiah's (13:17-22) failed prophecy about Medes destroying Babylon makes sense in a pre 550 B.C. world, that being the year the Medes ceased to be a world power, being conquered and absorbed by the Persians under Cyrus. Second Isaiah's rosy prophecy (Isa 44:28) of a soon to be rebuilt Temple and City would be delayed; some 21 years after the return, the Persians permitted the Temple to be completed, and some 90 years after the return, Jerusalem was restored with walls by Nehemiah. Obviously Second Isaiah was not envisioning delays of 20 and 90 years for his soon to be released people. So, Second Isaiah dates from ca. 538 B.C. or thereabouts.

Jeremiah's wistful dreaming of a "day of revenge" by the Lord, via the Medes destroying Babylon and the Babylonians (Jer 51:11), makes sense in world before 550 B.C., before the Medes were conquered and absorbed by Cyrus and the Persians.  The city surrendered peacefully to Cyrus in 539 B.C. and avoided destruction. The city was not abandoned and without inhabitant until the 1st century A.D., it died a slow economic death, being succeeded by Seleucus I's Greek-planned city named after himself.

Haggai's hopeful declarations were not to come about, for by 520 B.C. Darius had succeeded in putting down all the revolts and remained in control of the Persian empire; God had decided not to destroy the kingdoms of the world and install Zerub`babel as a Davidic king.

God's prophets when measured by Deuteronomy 18:20-22, have ALL FAILED THE TEST, ALL HAD SPOKEN PRESUMPTUOUSLY, and to paraphrase the biblical language, "NO-ONE NEED FEAR THEM" (or pay them any heed).

10 April 2004 Update

Reflecting upon all of the above, I have often asked myself the question, "How/Why did the Hebrew Bible come to be accepted as God's word and Truth and His prophets to be "True" prophets and not False prophets?"

I have come to realize that the event which apparently "legitimized" for many, the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament for Christians) was the return from the Babylonian Exile ca. 539 B.C. under Cyrus the Persian. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel had all foretold that the nation would go into Exile and return from Exile.  The "return" apparently _vindicated_   them as "true prophets, and God's Holy word as being reliable.

The problem? When one looks closely at the "details" contained within the prophecies made by the various prophets it becomes readily apparent that these details were NEVER fulfilled. If NOT fufilled, how can the prophets be believed to be "true" prophets ? How can God be the "real" God if he does not fulfil his word down to the last detail?

Evidently for the believing community and its priests, Judaism as well as Christianity and Islam, the fact that there was _any kind of a return from Exile_, "vindicated the Hebrew Bible," God and His prophets. The details NOT being fulfiled were simply dismissed, given a "blind eye" and not mentioned or brought up. The focus was that the unheard of had happened, a nation carried off into exile by its enemies had been allowed to return to its land.  Even today one rarely, if ever, hears of discussion from the pulpit, synagogue, or Mosque about the details within the various prophecies which were NEVER fulfilled. 

I am aware that there are a few scholars of evangelical leanings who claim that the prophecies not yet fulfilled, will be fulfilled in a future age. The problem with this reasoning is that it _contradicts_ the wisdom given by God to his people, that the _only way_ to determine if a prophet is real or false, is to wait for a sign, that is, wait and see if the prophecy is fulfilled, if it isn't, this is not a true prophet. That is to say, the bible itself suggests that the propecies it contains were intended for the present audience NOT a future audience, hundreds or thousands of years into the future.

Deut 18:20-22 RSV

"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 same prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?'- when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him."

Sadly, most of the populace is UNAWARE of the unfulfilled details of many of the prophecies, and believe that God has kept his word and brought about the events that His prophets claimed would come to pass. Clergy and Congregations continue in the footsteps of their forefathers in turning a "blind eye" to the _unfulfilled details or minutiae_ in the prophecies made by the Prophets and God's failure to vindicate His prophets.

20 April 2004 Update

There will always be _disagreement_ as to what constitutes "truth." But in a search for "truth" ideally one should be willing to study _all_ points of view, and weigh for oneself the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments, pro and con, on any given issue. For myself, I study both the arguments of the Faithful in defense of the Bible and the Skeptics, and after 30 years of studying BOTH sides I found that the Skeptic arguments made more sense.

Interestingly enough, the Bible itself, shows an interest in how to determine "the Truth." Israel asks God, how are we to know if a prophet is truly speaking God's words or his own (that is to say, how do we distinguish false from real prophets?)?

God's answer is given in De 18:20-22 RSV

"And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word which the
LORD has not spoken ? - when a prophet speaks in the name of the
LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word
which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it
presumptously, you need not be afraid of him."

So, I collected together various prophecies in the Old and New Testaments and discovered that many were failed prophecies. They were never fulfilled. I then investigated the "Apologetic" rationalizations for why God should be believed in, although the prophecies were never fulfilled, I discovered that the common excuse was that these prophecies were unfulfilled because God intended to fulfill them in a future age, not in the time of the audience hearing these words. But when I reflected upon the above quoted De 18:20-22, I realized this was a _flawed_ "Apologetic." Why? Because God had unequivocably stated, do NOT believe the prophet until the event comes to pass. In other words, prophecies which have never come to pass for over 2000 years, have seen countless millions still "believing" in the Lord and his prophets despite the fact the prophecies are unfulfilled. God has played a "cruel joke" on his people if his intentions were NOT to fulfill the prophecies in their lifetime (and "partial" fulfillment does NOT suffice in the "Apologetic" counter arguments).

I have accordingly "concluded" that most people still worship God and honor his prophets through either:

(1)"ignorance" (not realizing these prophecies were not fulfilled), or 

(2) turning a "blind-eye" to them and ignoring them, regarding them as being irrelevant and of no consequence, or 

(3) accepting the "Apologetic" argument that God intended these prophecies to NOT be fulfilled in the lifetimes of the audience hearing them CONTRA his admonitions in De 18:20-22.

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