Flawed Methodologies in interpreting Old Testament Prophecies
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13 October 2002
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A common staple of Christianity (and Judaism) is the explanation of "Failed Prophecies" as not really failed, God has not fulfilled them because they are intended for another time or period, usually interpreted by Christian (Jewish) exegeis as "this current age".
The problem with this line of reasoning though is that the Bible suggests that prophecies were intended to be fulfilled within the lifetime of the listening audience, not thousands of years into the future as frequently maintained by various Christian groups (Catholic and Protestant).
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."
Now, if God DID NOT INTEND to fulfil this prophecy within the lifetime of the listening audience, how are they to know that this is really God speaking through a true or a false prophet?
Another verse suggests again, that the ONLY way the people can know if a prophet is a False Prophet, is to WAIT for a sign, the fulfilment of the prophecy. However, in the below example, the people are warned that although God accomplished the prophecy, vindicating the prophet, if the prophet then encourages them to seek after other gods, he is a False prophet, and God is "testing" his peoples' loyalty to him:
Deuteronomy 13:1-3 RSV
"If a prophet arise among you, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign
or a wonder, and the sign or wonder which he tells you comes to pass, and
if he says "Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us
serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer
of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the
Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul."
Somewhat surprising is the Hebrew Bible's _admission_ that at times, God sends false prophecies to prophets in order to entrap and destroy men. That is to say, apparently, on occasion, God is portrayed as being _the author of false prophecies_ rather than Satan taking "all" the blame:
1 Kings 22:19-23 RSV
And Micaiah said, "Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right and on his left; and the Lord said, 'Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?' And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord saying, 'I will entice him.' And the Lord said to him, 'By what means?' And he said, 'I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' And he said, 'You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go forth and do so.' Now therefore, behold, THE LORD HAS PUT A LYING SPIRIT IN THE MOUTH OF ALL THESE YOUR PROPHETS; the Lord has spoken evil concerning you."
The prophet Jonah is portrayed as angry with God because God failed to accomplish the destruction of Nineveh within the lifetime of the audience, the Nineveites. God has, in effect made "his prophet" appear to the audience to be a False Prophet. I regard this verse as being an attempt by the author at coming up with an excuse for "failed prophecies," attributing their failure to God and NOT to the prophet, which goes against the grain of the earlier above warnings in De 18:20-22.
Jonah 3:10, 4:1) RSV
"...God repented of the evil which he said he would do to them; and he
did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.
Jeremiah prophecized that Babylon would be utterly destroyed, her walls would be razed, and she was to be submerged beneath the waters of the Euphrates (Just as Sennacherib did to the city ca. 689 B.C.). Yet this event never happened. Babylon was also to be abandoned and no man would live there. Now this prophecy was allegedly given by Jeremiah ca. 587 B.C., and it was to be fulfiled within a space of 70 years.
Babylon was never destroyed, her walls were never razed, and she was not submerged beneath the waters of the Euphrates never to rise again as a city. Priests lived in Babylon as late as the 1st century A.D. (clay tablets found in the city attesting to priests still serving the Babylonian gods).
Parthians and Sassanians also dwelt in the city ca. 300 B.C. to 600 A.D. Arabs then lived in the city, creating several small villages from Babylon's baked bricks, Koldeway noting four Arab villages within the city walls when he came to excavate it for the German Archaeological Institute at the turn of the 20th century.
Now some Christians would have us believe God did not fulfill his prophecy because it was intended for our age. Just think of all the hopeful "believers" back in 587 B.C. who were patiently waiting for a sign from God that Jeremiah was a true prophet and not a false prophet, looking forward to the day they would witness the destruction and abandonment of the city. He said the event would take place in 70 years. Obviously many realized they wouldn't see the prophecy fulfilled but the next generation would surely be around to witness the veracity of God's words. But it didn't happen. Babylon never was destroyed in a hail of arrows and bloodshed, her idols toppled and destoyed by blood-crazed warriors as depicted by Jeremiah. Babylon died a slow economic death from 300 B.C. to 70 A.D., with her priests still officiating at her temples according to clay tablets found there. In a way it really is quite amazing that the Jews would come to preserve and revere the failed prophecies of Jeremiah and Isaiah, and that Christianity would also honor these prophets who prophecies failed to materialize.
Obviously Jeremiah's contemporaries must have come to realize he was a "false prophet" because his predictions did not come to pass in their life times. If one wants to argue this is because God intends the prophecy is for "our age", then God has played a "cruel joke" on his people, when he told them to WAIT for a sign (fulfilment of the prophecy) TO KNOW FOR SURE if the prophet was false or not.
The bottom line in all this is that Christianity has employed a flawed methodology, in my opinion, regarding Old Testament prophecies. They "excuse" the failed prophecies by claiming they were intended two thousand years into the future for our age. I quite disagree, The prophecies were
intended to be fulfilled within the lifetimes of the listening audience, to assure them these were God's words.
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's 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 fulfiled. 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 NOT to be fulfilled in the lifetimes of the audience CONTRA his admonitions in De 18:20-22.
Today I chanced across a comment made by Thomas Paine (1737-1809), revealing that he understood that the prophecies in the Old Testament were intended for the hearing audience, NOT an audience hundreds or thousands of years into the future. Thomas Paine is best known to most Americans for his phamplet titled Common Sense in which he advocated that the 13 American Colonies declare their independence from England. His work was influential and within a year of its publication just such a declaration was proclaimed!
Paine in his work titled The Age of Reason, written and published in three parts at different times between 1793 to 1807, while a prisoner of the French Revolution, in a Paris prison and believing his execution was imminent for defying Robiespierre in voting _against_ the execution of King Louis XVII and his wife Marie Antoinette, saw this as his "last written bequest" to his fellow man, did NOT believe that God at any time spoke to anyone, and that all claims to divine revelation be they Moses', the prophets of the Old Testament, or Christ and the Apostles of the New Testament or Mohammed and his Koran were all bogus. He was NOT an Atheist however, as has been claimed by some, and in fact he thought anyone espousing Athiesm was foolish. He was a Deist, he believed that the "Creation" or "Cosmos" revealed a Creator. He understood that the ONLY way to know this Creator was NOT via reading "forged and spurious" Sacred Scriptures, but by studying Nature itself.
Needless to say, almost 200 years have passed since his insightful writings, and very few have given up belief in the divine origin of the Bible or Koran and the failed prophecies contained therein. I would dare say hardly more than a few thousand have ever been aware, down through the ages, of his research into the "Origins of the Bible," a subject dear to my heart these past 30 years. It was not until the age of 61 (this year, 2004) that I came across this remarkable man's insights, which mirror so much my own. For I too believe in a Creator and understand that only by studying the Creation can we know this Cosmic Intelligence.
Paine (Emphasis mine):
"According to the modern meaning of the word prophet and prophesying, it signifies foretelling events to a great distance of time, and it became necessary to the inventors of the Gospel to give it this latitude of meaning, in order to stretch what they call the prophecies of the Old Testament to the times of the New; but according to the Old Testament, the prophesying of the seer, and afterward of the prophet, so far as the meaning of the word seer incorporated into that of prophet, had reference only to things of the time then passing, or very closely connected with it, such as the event of a battle they were going to engage in, or of a journey, or of any enterprise they were going to undertake, or of any circumstance then pending, or of any difficulty they were then in; all of which had immediate reference to themselves (as in the case already mentioned of Ahaz and Isaiah with respect to the expression, "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,") and not to any distant future time. It was that kind of prophesying that corresponds to what we call fortune-telling, such as casting nativities, predicting riches, fortunate or unfortunate marriages, conjurring for lost goods, etc.; and it is the fraud of the Christian Church, not that of the Jews, and the ignorance and the superstition of modern, not that of ancient times, that elevated those poetical, musical, conjuring, dreaming, strolling gentry into the rank they have since had."
Further on Paine mentions the prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel being mis-applied to modern times:
"As to the romantic interpretations and applications, wild as the dreams and visions they undertake to explain, which commentators and priests have made of those books, that of converting them into things which they call prophecies, and making them bend to times and circumstances as far remote even as the present day, it shows the fraud or the extreme folly to which credulity or priestcraft can go.
Scarcely anything can be more absurd than to suppose that men situated as Ezekiel and Daniel were, whose country was overrun and in the possession of the enemy, all their friends and relations in captivity abroad, or in slavery at home, or massacred...I say, can be more absurd, than to suppose that such a mind should find nothing to do but that of employing their time and thoughts about what was happen to other nations a thousand or two thousand years after they were dead..."
"...I totally disbelieve that the Almighty ever did communicate anything to man, by any mode of speech, in any language, or by any kind of vision...We imitate the moral character of the Creator by forbearing with each other, for he forbears with all...Deism, then, teaches us, without the possibility of being deceived, all that is necessary to be known. The Creation is the Bible of the Deist. He there reads, in the handwriting of the Creator himself, the certainty of his existence and immutability of his power, and all other Bibles and Testaments are to him forgeries...it is the fool only, and not the philosopher, or even the prudent man, that would live as if there were no God...We can know God only through his works..."
"I here close the subject. I have shown in all the foregoing parts of this work, that the Bible and Testament are impositions and forgeries; and I leave the evidence I have produced in proof of it, to be refuted, if anyone can do it; and I leave the ideas that are suggested in the conclusion of the work, to rest on the mind of the reader; certain as I am, that when opinions are free, either in matters of government or religion, truth will finally and powerfully prevail."
(Thomas Paine. The Age of Reason.)
Paine's conclusion is alluding to his study of the the various books of the Old Testament. Although he did not have access to modern archaeological data to prove or disprove the Bible (a concern of this website), he did possess powerful literary insights being an author himself. He used these insights to reveal that the books attributed to Moses, Joshua and Samuel could not possibly be their creations, but were of a much later age, which he suggested was the Exilic period. Today, numerous Bible scholars hold the same view, but in his day, 1737-1809, the mainstream of biblical scholarship held these books were by these authors.
Paine's work, The Age of Reason: Part Three (privately published by Paine in 1807 in New York), annotated by Frank R. Zindler, is available at Amazon.Com Bookstore please click on the following title to purchase it: Thomas Paine. The Age of Reason: Examination of the Prophecies. Product Description ( From Amazon.Com Bookstore):
"Until the publication of this annotated edition , Thomas Paine's third part of "The Age Of Reason" was extremely rare and almost unknown. Titled "Examination of the Prophecies," the book examines all the supposed prophecies of Jesus in the Old Testament alleged by the evangelists of the New Testament. With great wit and penetrating logic, Paine showed that not one of the Old Testament passages cited had anything to do with the Christian's would-be Messiah."
"It is the duty of every man as far as his ability extends, to detect and expose delusion and error. But nature has not given to everyone a talent for the purpose; and among those to whom such a talent is given there is often a want of disposition or of courage to do it...In the following treatise I have examined all the passages in the New Testament, quoted from the Old, and called prophecies corncerning Jesus Christ, and I find no such thing as a prophecy of any such person, and I deny there are any.
The passages all relate to circumstances the Jewish nation was in at the time they were written or spoken, and not to anything that was or was not to happen in the world several hundred years afterward; and I have shown what the circumstances were to which the passages apply or refer."
(p. i. "Author's Preface." Thomas Paine (edited and annotated by Frank Zindler). The Age of Reason, Part Three, Examination of the Prophecies. Austin, Texas. American Athiest Press. 1993. ISBN 0-910309-70-1. paperback. 115 pages)
Paine, however much I admire his penetrating mind, and bravery, is human and makes errors. One such error was that no records from Antiquity existed mentioning Christ, he thus concluded that Christ never existed and was an allegorical character. In fact, a number of records from Roman times, mention Christ and his movement, a reality Paine was apparently unaware of (Zindler's annotations also note other errors made by Paine).
"These repeated forgeries and falsifications create a well-founded suspicion that all the cases spoken of corncerning the person called Jesus Christ are made cases...that so far from being the son of God, he did not exist even as a man- that he is merely an imaginary allegorical character, as Apollo, Hercules, Jupiter and all the deities of antiquity were. There is no history written at the time Jesus Christ is said to have lived that speaks of the existence of such a person, even as a man."
(p. iv. Zindler's "Foreword." citing p. 65 of Paine's work)
From the following New Testament verses it is quite clear that the Early Christians believed that God's prophets were truly inspired by the Holy Spirit and that their utterances were not of their own imaginations but of God :
2 Peter 1: 20-21; 2:1 RSV (Emphasis mine) :
"First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. But _FALSE PROPHETS_ also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who brought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction."
2 Peter 3:1-2 RSV
"This is now the second letter that I have written to you...that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets..."
BUT ---it is interesting to note here that the "TEST" whereby an Early Christian was to determine if a Prophet is "False or not," is _DIFFERENT_ from De 18:20-22; No mention here of "waiting for the fulfillment of a sign, the predicted event coming to pass," rather, the emphasis is on the False Prophets or Anti-Christs _denying_ Christ in word or deed:
1 John 4:1-3, 6 RSV (Emphasis mine):
"Beloved, DO NOT BELIEVE EVERY SPIRIT, but TEST the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many _FALSE PROPHETS_ have gone out into the world. BY _THIS_ YOU KNOW the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh _is_ of God, and every spirit which DOES NOT CONFESS Jesus _is not_ of God. This is the spirit of antichrist...We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By _THIS_ WE KNOW the spirit of truth and the spirit of error."
The Early Christians understood that the God who appeared at Mount Sinai was NOT God the Father, but rather "the Son," Jesus Christ as The LOGOS, "the Word." We are told God does NOT contradict God, yet at Mount Sinai, the Logos told Israel that the way to distinguish a False Prophet was to WAIT for a SIGN, the fulfilment of the prophecy (De 18:20-22). But the LOGOS when "made flesh" as Jesus Christ, CONDEMNS Israel for "seeking after a sign, " the fulfilment of prophecy", CONTRADICTING his earlier instructions :
Matthew 12:38-39 RSV
"Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah."
As _I see it_ Christianity is INVERTING a number of instructions allegedly from God, and these INVERSIONS in effect NULLIFY the key beliefs of Judaism derived from the Old Testament. The notion that personal righteousness is obtained by attempting to adhere to Torah or "the Law" (De 6:25); Circumcision is a requirement (Ge 17:10; Lev 12:3); taboo foods are to be observed; Holy days like the 7th day Shabbat are to be observed, NOT Sunday the 1st day (Ex 20:8), as well as Yom Kippur, a day when _ANNUALLY God FORGIVES ALL HIS PEOPLE THEIR SINS_, without having "his son" descend from heaven and being killed , etc. The instruction that the Nation is NOT TO BELIEVE a prophet UNTIL a sign is fulfilled (De 18:20-22); _ALL_ of these important "markers" for identifying the "faithful" from the "unfaithful"are NEGATED by Christ's teachings! Is it any wonder then, that Judaism "rejected" Christ, for how can "God be against God" and _nullify_ his earlier instructions to his people?
Another "problem" on the theme of "Flawed Methodologies in Interpreting Old Testament Prophecies," as noted by Thomas Paine, is that the Early Christians have taken a number of statements out of their historical contexts and then claimed that these statements are "clues" from God predicting the future birth of Christ in the flesh, to die and suffer, his shed blood reconciling a sinful mankind to God the Father.
As any scholar is well aware, CONTEXT IS ALL IMPORTANT in understanding a statement. Lifting a statement from its CONTEXT, allows it to be misinterpreted. In fact a common complaint of some Christian Apologists against Secular Humanist Critics is that these Critics are taking certain statements out their CONTEXTS and misunderstanding them, the very thing Early Christianity _did_ to the Old Testament! What is sauce for the Goose is sauce for the Gander, if Christianity is allowed to take statements out their historical contexts and claim they "prefigure" Christ's mission and birth, then why can't Critics of Christianty apply the same "dubious methodology" as well?
"I have now, reader, gone through and examined all the passages which the four books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, quote from the Old Testament and call them prophecies of Jesus Christ...The practise which the writers of these books employ is not more false than it is absurd. They state some trifling case of the person they call Jesus Christ, then cut out a sentence from some passage of the Old Testament and call it a prophecy of that case. But when the words thus cut out are restored to the place they are taken from, and read with the words before and after them, they give the lie to the New Testament."
(p.63. "The gospels as imposture: how 'prophecies' are invented'. Paine [Zindler]. 1993)
When Jewish scholars in the past attempted to point out to Christian Apologists that they were employing a "dubious methodology," taking a statement out of its historical context and then claiming it "prefigured" Christ's mission and death, they were simply dismissed as "God-blinded" reprobates, so that the "believing Gentiles" might be saved in the great Cosmic Scheme of God.
I was once naive enough to think that my articles exposing the failed prophecies of the Bible as revealing that the prophets, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc., were ALL FALSE PROPHETS would CONVINCE peope (Christians and Jews) of the ERROR or their ways, that ALL of the Bible's prophets were False Prophets, ergo the Bible could not be God's holy word. But _NOW_
I realize that people are NOT going to give up "their cherished beliefs," for they find "comfort" in them, a "fellowship", a "networking" of friends and family, and MOST do NOT see ANY comfort in disavowing and exiting a religious establishment leaving all these cherished contacts behind "in a search for _The Truth_".
Cf. the below article on religious groups' ability to recover _repeatedly_ from a long history of failed prophecies, they having"rationalized away" the failed prophecies, grew even stronger, and continued believing.
Please click here for Farrell Till's Prophecies: Imaginary and Unfulfilled (49 printed pages), which I HIGHLY reccomend be "printed" and studied carefully.
The late Professor Carroll (Glascow University, Glascow, Scotland) explored by what "mechanisms" the community of believers, Jewish and Christian, dealt with "failed prophecies." He noted that instead of acknowledging the prophets as being false, the community came up with "reinterpretations" of the prophecies claiming a "future" fulfillment. My interest in Carroll's work however is in his analysis of why Israel was 'ambivalent' and 'sceptical' toward prophets and their prophecies and unable to distinguish a false from a true prophet.
"The central problem was one of distinguishing the authentic prophet from the one with a false vision. The legislators saw the problem and in Deuteronomy provided two simple criteria for regulating the behaviour of the prophets. The first regulative principle concerned the prophet who attempted to lead the community away from Yahweh by preaching in the name of another god; such a prophet was ipso facto false and should be executed as a rebel against Yahweh (De 13:1-5). This ruling dispensed with all prophets of other cultures but hardly touched the problem of the Yahwistic prophets who all prophesied in the name of Yahweh, only the content of their oracles differed significantly.
The second regulative principle dealt with the issue of determining which prophet spoke the word of Yahweh: 'And if you say in your heart, "How may we know the word which Yahweh has not spoken?" -when a prophet speaks in the name of Yahweh, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which Yahweh has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him' (De 18:21-22). There we have it -a straightforward falsification principle allowing the community to distinguish between the prophet with the word of Yahweh and the prophet lacking that word. So the two criteria for identifying the authentic prophet were: he must speak in Yahweh's name and the word so spoken must come to pass. The two were cumulative in that if he spoke in some other god's name and the word came to pass it did not count (cf. De 13:1-2), whereas if he spoke in Yahweh's name but the word did not come to pass he had spoken presumptuously. Both kinds of prophetic action were punishable by death (De 13:5; 18:20)."
(p. 185. Robert P. Carroll. When Prophecy Failed, Cognitive Dissonance in the Prophetic Traditions of the Old Testament. New York. A Crossroad Book. The Seabury Press. 1979, ISBN 0-8164-0441-0)
Carroll noted that this Deuteronomic formula for distinguishing a false from a true prophet was not without its "pitfalls" in that the emphasis was upon a "wait and see" attitude of the audience, which in effect, nullified any action by the community to respond to the prophet's warnings (Take actions to avoid the predicted disaster about to befall the community). They were not to believe the prophet _until_ the prophecy was fufilled:
"Reflection on the criteriology of Deuteronomy will quickly reveal serious defects in it. In the first place it was too oversimplified an approach to the complex matter of prophecy. No doubt it accurately reflected Deuteronomistic outlook because their historians produced a very lengthy account of the monarchies using such principles of prophecy as part of the construction of that history. In the second place it put a good deal of emphasis on hindsight in that only by waiting until the prophetic word had come to pass would the community have been able to ascertain a prophet's authenticity. Such a hindsight assessment factor ignored or outlawed long term predictions (cf. Ezek 12:27), yet other Deuteronomists were prepared to include in their history long term predictions (cf. I Sam 2:31-36; I Kings 13:2; II Kings 13:15-19) and their edition of Jeremiah contained a seventy year prediction (Jer 25:11-12; 29:10)! Furthermore it operated with a simplistic model of prophecy as predicting of events that could be checked off a list as they occurred.
However prophecy as it appears in the prophetic traditions was essentially a preaching for a decision type activity. To have asked for a suspension of judgement until the catastrophe had happened would have vitiated the whole prophetic endeavour. So would a 'wait and see' reaction to their preaching have outraged prophets such as Amos, Isaiah or Jeremiah. Thus the criteria of Deuteronomy were both theoretical and unrealistic and probably far removed from the reality of the working prophets. This inadequate and unrealistic criteriology was probably due to a combination of the writers' lack of experience of prophecy in action, lack of serious reflection on the subject, part of their ideological approach to the subject and the great difficulty of clearly establishing adequate criteria for determining prophetic authenticity.
The demand for short term predictions which could be assessed for truth within the memory of the audience must have been highly idealized in view of the more complex features of the prophetic traditions. It also would have falsified many of the prophets whose traditions contain fulfilled and unfulfilled expectations. Any criterion that would falsify so much was not a helpful one."
(p. 186. Carroll)
Carroll on why Israel and Judah took so little heed of the prophets (They were unable to distinguish true from false prophets):
"The analysis of the criteria for distinguishing the authentic prophet from the rest has shown that they were too ambiguous to be helpful and that 'one must admit that there is no such thing as an external test by which to tell true prophecy from false, such as all reasonable persons may safely apply'. This being the case it is small wonder that the community gave little heed to the prophets except to register a complaint about their falseness (cf. Lamentations 2:14). Any social phenomenon as ambiguous and opaque as prophecy, as torn by conflict, polemic and abuse, must have been a defective vehicle for mediating effectively the divine will in ancient Israel. After the Exile the power blocks in the new community were the priesthood and the wise men whose epistemologies were based on much less subjective factors than that of prophecy. At some stage in that reconstruction of the community the prophet came to be regarded as a disreputable figure as may seen in the attacks on them in Jeremiah 23:33-40; Zechariah 13:2-6 and the satire on the prophet in the book of Jonah...The decline of prophecy brought on by many reasons, not the least the inability of the prophets to convince the community that they were reliable, contibuted to substantial changes in the movement that were to redirect its course in the direction of apocalyptic. These changes helped to transform prophecy so that it survived and maintained both visions and traditions in the subsequent centuries, but never again as the producer of individuals who challenged community and cult."
(pp. 197-198. Carroll)
Carroll on Yahweh as a deceiver of his own people, sending them false prophets:
"Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Deuteronomists all recognized that Yahweh could and did deceive communities and individuals. The widespread agreement on this motif in the traditions indicates that it came to be taken very seriously as a part explanation for the Exile. Without a complex account of causality, a sophisticated psychology of human perception and behaviour or a general theory of political economy the biblical writers were forced to use a primitive transcendentalism to explain problems of prophetic conflict and the destruction of the community. The Hebrew doctrine of causality attributed to Yahweh the one effective will in creation so that he was behind everything that happened or was done. He it was who killed and made alive (cf. I Sam 2:6), created well-being (shalom) and catastrophe (ra, Isa 45:7; cf. Amos 3:6), and caused manslaughter (cf. Ex 21:13). If Israel reguarly experienced evil destruction and lived on the edge of disintegration then Yahweh was the source of such terrors...
The notion of the deity deceiving people through the medium of prophecy is given classical form in the account of Micaiah ben Imlah's prophetic conflict with the royal court prophets...(I Kings 22:19-23). A similar principle is embodied in the claims of Jeremiah and Ezekiel that Yahweh had deceived community and prophet (Jer 4:10; 15:18; 20:7; Ezek 14:9). Now if Yahweh used the false prophets or the idolaters to deceive the community and individuals, or if he tested the community by false dreamers or prophets (Deut 13:3), in what sense were Jeremiah and Ezekiel right to claim that Yahweh had not sent the prophets who proclaimed such false visions (Jer 23:21; Ezek 13:6)? For the two claims are incompatible in that prophets cannot have been sent by Yahweh with a deceitful message and at the same time have produced messages out of their own minds. The inclusion of the two motifs in the traditions illustrates the difficulties the prophets had accounting for the disaster of the Exile and the behaviour of various prophets.
The main thrust of the relevant prophetic traditions made the disaster of the Exile the result of the community's corruption and its failure to turn. Such corruption did not require assistance from prophets sent by Yahweh to deceive the community so why the motif in the traditions? Perhaps there was an attempt to answer a question raised by some in the community" 'how could a people have been so blind to all the warnings they received from the prophets if it had not been Yahweh's will all the time to destroy it?'"
(p. 200. Carroll)
"The collapse of the life and history of the peopple was explained as prophetic deception caused by the deity -an aspect of the hidden god enigma (cf. Isa 8:7; 45:15; 54:7-8). This explanation for the Exile was only one of many given by different traditions...It is difficult to determine to what extent the prophets were blamed for the Exile, either as preachers of it or deceivers of the community, but their stock in the community steadily declined after the Exile."
(p. 202. Carroll)
"The fact that Yahweh was believed to operate occasionally by lies and deceit to the detriment of individuals and communities constitutes the demonic in relation to prophecy...The failure of expectations could then be explained as intentional due to the deity deceiving the community...Many problems may be associated with the divine deception motif but the one that had most consequence for the prophets was the problem it caused for any community that tried to take prophecy seriously. The appearance of a prophet preaching a specific message could have been taken as a genuine message from Yahweh or a message designed to deceive. How could the community determine which it was? If the community accepted the prophet's message and it turned out to have been false then it had been deceived into destruction. If it excercised caution and did not accept the message and it turned out to be genuine then the community was destroyed because it failed to heed a prophet sent by Yahweh. Such a 'double bind' must have contributed considerably to the decline of prophecy as a significant force in the community. If very few people in the community paid much attention to prophecy it was because of this acute problem posed by the many prophets active in Judah during the period leading up to the Exile."
(p. 204. Carroll)