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Fulfilled Prophecy:
An Unprovable Claim (2)
by Farrell Till


1996 / March-April



In the previous issue, I began a response to Dr. Hugh Ross's article claiming that prophecy fulfillments prove the divine origin of the Bible. In continuing my rebuttal of Ross's individual prophecy claims, I will state again the obvious factors that must be present before a prophecy fulfillment can be proven:

In order to prove--and I mean *prove,* not just surmise--prophecy fulfillment, one would have to establish four things:
(1) the claimant of a prophecy fulfillment is properly interpreting whatever text he is basing his claim on,
(2) the prophecy was made *before* and not after the event that allegedly fulfills the prophecy,
(3) the prophecy was made not just *before* an event but far enough in advance of it to make educated guesswork impossible, and
(4) the event that allegedly fulfilled the prophecy did in fact happen (TSR, January/February 1996, p. 3).

As I also said in my first rebuttal article, when Dr. Ross's claims of prophecy fulfillment are examined in terms of these four characteristics of valid prophecy, we will see that none of his alleged prophecy fulfillments can pass all points of this test. That being true, he has no logical basis for claiming that any of his examples were real prophecy fulfillments.

In his fifth example, for instance, Ross argued that 150 years before the birth of Cyrus, Isaiah specifically named him in prophecies predicting the destruction of Babylon and the defeat of Egypt. The relevant passages here are Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1,13. These verses do name Cyrus in a long context predicting the defeat of Babylon and Egypt, but in order to prove the unlikely claim that Isaiah mentioned a king 150 years before his birth, Ross will have to show that these passages can pass test number 2 in the list above. He must prove, in other words, that Isaiah really wrote these verses and that they were not redactions that someone added after the fact to make it appear that Isaiah had had remarkable prophetic abilities.

Needless to say, Ross cannot do this, because the original copy of Isaiah's work does not exist, so we have no way of knowing how much editing his book underwent before it was finally standardized by the invention of the printing press. Through critical analysis, however, responsible scholarship has determined that the book of Isaiah in its present form is not the work of a single author. The literature on this subject is too extensive to review at this point, but the following statement from Eerdman's Bible Dictionary presents the view that is held by most scholars concerning the authorship of the book of Isaiah:

From a literary standpoint, the book can be divided into two major sections, Isa. 1-39 and 40-66, on the basis of content and, concomitantly, theological concerns. Indeed, the majority of critical scholars accept the view suggested as early as Abraham ibn Ezra (twelfth century A. D.) that only the first portion can be ascribed to the eighth-century B. C. prophet Isaiah, a contemporary of Amos, Hosea, and Micah. The second section is attributed to an unknown prophet, commonly designated Second or Deutero-Isaiah, living among the Jews in Babylon toward the end of the Exile (ca. 550-538). Many scholars further identify chs. 56-66 as the work of a Third or Trito-Isaiah, addressed to the restoration community perhaps in the period immediately preceding Ezra and Nehemiah. More extreme critics posit even more "Isaiahs" (Grand Rapids, MI, 1987, p. 531).

Ross, of course, mentioned nothing about this widely held critical view of the book of Isaiah, and this speaks volumes about his intellectual integrity. Biblical scholars have suspected for at least 800 years that Isaiah did not write the last half of the book bearing his name, but in making the unlikely claim that a king was mentioned by name 150 years before his birth, Ross said nothing about the widely held critical view that the part of Isaiah that mentions Cyrus was written well after Cyrus had become king of Persia. Ross has resorted to the familiar fundamentalist tactic of depending on the ignorance of his audience not to know any better than to believe an outrageous claim. What is really sad is that the tactic works, because most Christians lack the incentive to check such claims.

Timing is also a problem in some of Ross's other prophecy-fulfillment examples. He cited the case of the prophet who allegedly foretold that a king named Josiah would one day burn on Jeroboam's altar the bones of all the priests of the "high places." This "prophecy" is recorded in 1 Kings 13:2 in a setting that was approximately 300 years before Josiah was even born, and the "fulfillment" is recorded in 2 Kings 23:15-18.

If a prediction this specific had actually been made, it would certainly have been remarkable, but unfortunately for Dr. Ross, there are some obvious problems that he didn't even bother to address. For one thing, the prophet who made this alleged prediction wasn't even identified by name, as Ross acknowledged in parenthetically noting that the man was "unnamed but probably Shemiah," so he is apparently arguing that it is reasonable to believe that an "unknown" person remarkably predicted *by name* the reign of a king who wouldn't even be born until 300 years later. Would Ross be willing to believe the genuineness of such a prophecy if it were found in any book other than the Bible? I seriously doubt if he would, but since this little yarn is in the Bible, he expects everyone to accept it without question.

In order to prove that this is a case of prophecy fulfillment, Ross would have to prove that an "unnamed" prophet actually did make this prediction at the time claimed (300 years before the fact), and I see no way for him to do that except through an a priori assumption that if the Bible says that it happened, then it has to be true. This, however, would be a flagrant resort to question begging, because the whole purpose of Ross's prophecy-fulfillment claims is to prove that the Bible is true. Therefore, he cannot assume that something as extraordinary as this particular prophecy claim is true until he has proven his original premise, i.e., the Bible is God's word and therefore true in what it says.

In the absence of any corroborating evidence that an unnamed prophet predicted *by name* the reign of a king 300 years before the fact, I feel entitled to question that this happened. Common sense tells me that it would have been quite simple for a copyist or editor of 1 and 2 Kings to fabricate an "unnamed" prophet or at least to put into his mouth the words he presumably spoke about Josiah in 1 Kings 13:2 and then later to insert a claim in 2 Kings 23:15-18 that Josiah's actions in burning bones on the altar at Bethel was what "the man of God had proclaimed" years before. In other words, to prove that this is a case of prophecy fulfillment, Ross must prove that everything happened exactly as recorded and that the story wasn't deliberately written to give an appearance of remarkable prophecy fulfillment. Needless to say, he cannot do this, because he has no other records to corroborate the biblical account. This claim of prophecy fulfillment fails, then, for the simple reason that Ross cannot prove that the prophecy was written before the fact or for that matter that the alleged fulfillment event ever happened. Ross is simply assuming that if the Bible says that it happened, then it happened.

This same problem occurred throughout Ross's article. Ross cited the alleged curse pronounced by Joshua after the destruction of Jericho (an event that many reputable scholars say the archaeological evidence doesn't support) upon the man who tried to rebuild the city. Joshua said that the man would lay the foundation at the cost of his eldest son and the gates at the cost of his youngest son (Josh. 6:26). Well, guess what happened? About five centuries later lived a man named Hiel, and 1 Kings 16:34 assures us that "Hiel of Bethel built Jericho" and "laid its foundation with Abiram his firstborn, and with his youngest son Serug he set up its gates, *according to the word of Yahweh, which He had spoken through Joshua the son of Nun.*"

Now isn't that truly amazing? Biblicists probably read this and wonder how anyone can deny that the Bible is the inspired word of God. How would it have been possible for Joshua to know 5 centuries before the fact that these deaths would occur? Well, I have some better questions. How do Ross and his biblicist friends know that Joshua actually pronounced this curse on Jericho? Through painstaking scientific analysis of the Bible, critics know that many of its books are actually collages put together by many writers and editors (as in the case of Isaiah just cited), so that being the case, does Ross not understand how simple it would have been for an editor of the book of Joshua to insert in the text a statement that would make it appear that Joshua had predicted deaths that were known to have occurred in the reconstruction of Jericho, or that it could have happened the opposite way, i.e., the "original autographs" of the book of Joshua could have contained the statement about Jericho, and so the writer of 1 Kings just made up the deaths of Hiel's sons in order to fabricate a fulfillment of what Joshua had predicted? Or it could easily be that Joshua never made the statement and that the deaths never happened. Biblical writers just made up the whole thing. Ross put the odds against fulfillment of this curse-on-Jericho prophecy at 1 in 10^7, but I would say that the odds would be about 1 in 1 that the writers and editors of Joshua and 1 Kings could have used any of the above methods to make it appear that prophecy fulfillment had happened in the rebuilding of Jericho.

Ross must remember that in order to prove prophecy fulfillment, he has to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the event alleged to be a fulfillment actually happened. So what is his proof that (1) Joshua did in fact make the prediction, and (2) the deaths of Hiel's sons did actually happen? There is no corroborating evidence for either one in nonbiblical records. Ross must return to the drawing board and look for another case of prophecy fulfillment, because this one has fizzled out on him.

Even more simplistic than the curse-on-Jericho prophecy is Ross's claim that "(t)he day of Elijah's supernatural departure from Earth was predicted unanimously--and accurately, according to the eyewitness account--by a group of fifty prophets" (2 Kings 2:3-11). It's almost embarrassing to respond to such simplistic nonsense as this. In the first place, where is the proof that Elijah departed from the earth supernaturally? I know the Bible says that "a chariot of fire appeared with horses" and separated Elijah and Elisha as they walked along and that Elijah was then taken up into heaven "by a whirlwind," but to argue that he can know, with enough certitude to claim prophecy fulfillment, that such an extraordinary event as this really happened is to assume the inerrancy of the scriptures, and isn't that why Ross is citing his cases of prophecy fulfillment, i.e., to establish the accuracy and divine origin of the scriptures? He needs to bone up on circular reasoning.

So what Ross is claiming is that on the day that this unverifiable event allegedly happened a group of 50 prophets predicted it would happen on that same day. To evaluate this claim, we need to look at the entire passage:

And it came to pass, when Yahweh was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. Then Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here, please, for Yahweh has sent me on to Bethel." But Elisha said, "As Yahweh lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!" So they went down to Bethel. Now the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that Yahweh will take away your master from over you today?" And he said, "Yes, I know; keep silent."
Then Elijah said to him, "Elisha, stay here, please, for Yahweh has sent me on to Jericho." But he said, "As Yahweh lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!" So they came to Jericho. Now the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho came to Elisha and said to him, "Do you know that Yahweh will take away your master from over you today?" So he answered, "Yes, I know; keep silent!" (2 Kings 2:1-5)

To make a long story short, Elijah and Elisha continued their journey together, and wherever they went "sons of the prophets" would come out to meet them and tell Elisha that Yahweh was going to "take" Elijah that day. The remaining verses in this fanciful yarn tell us that altogether these prophets numbered 50 and that as Elijah and Elisha continued on their journey, sure enough, just as the prophets had predicted, a chariot of fire suddenly appeared and separated Elijah and Elisha, and then Elijah was taken into heaven in a whirlwind.

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to see the absurdity in claiming this as a case of amazing prophecy fulfillment. In the first place, there is nothing in the narrative that even remotely suggests that this is an "eyewitness" account. Not a one of these "sons of the prophets" was ever identified by name, and there is nothing in the text that even implies that Elisha, the only person who was with Elijah when the event allegedly happened, was the author of the text. In fact, we don't know who the author of 2 Kings was, but we do know that it could not have been Elisha, because 2 Kings records events that happened after Elisha was dead. So in the matter at hand, we know only that some unknown writer SAID that "Elisha saw it (the taking of Elijah in the whirlwind)" (v:12). That is hardly eyewitness testimony.

Secondly, the story is as transparent as cellophane. Anyone could sit down and write a narrative in which he claims that extraordinary events happened, and indeed such fantastic claims as these were characteristic of the national literatures of biblical times. They can be found in Egyptian, Canaanite, Sumerian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, and other literature of the times. If this story were in any book besides the Bible, Dr. Ross would laugh it into the next county, but because it is in the Bible, he expects us to accept it without question. This argument, like so many of his others in the article, is rooted in the assumption that the Bible is accurate in everything it says. This is an assumption that he must prove before he can claim the story of Elijah's translation as an example of prophecy fulfillment.

A twin sister to this one is the story Ross cited about Jahaziel's prophecy that King Jehoshaphat would win a great victory over his enemies without even lifting a hand in battle. Such a story is in the Bible (2 Chron. 20), and it indeed asserts that "the spirit of Yahweh" came upon Jahaziel, who then assured Jehoshaphat that he would win a victory without having to fight a battle (v:17). The next day, according to the story, Jehoshaphat took his army out, appointed certain ones to sing to Yahweh, "Praise Yahweh, for his mercy endures forever," and his enemies turned on each other and "helped to destroy one another" (v:23). So, you see, Jehoshaphat won the war without even lifting a hand in battle.

Do I even need to say what is wrong with this wonderful example of "prophecy fulfillment"? Not really, but just for the heck of it, I think I will. (1) There is no evidence of any kind to corroborate the Chronicle writer's claim that a prophet named Jahaziel ever made such a prediction as this. Not even the writer(s) of 1 & 2 Kings who also recorded the history of Jehoshaphat's reign told any such story as this, although one would think that if such an extraordinary event as this had really happened, Yahweh would have had his other inspired historian(s) to include it in his accounts of Jehoshaphat's exploits. The fact is that the parallel accounts of Jehoshaphat's reign in 1 & 2 Kings don't even mention anyone named Jahaziel. Curious indeed! (2) There is no extrabiblical corroboration to confirm that such a confrontation as this ever occurred between Jehoshaphat and the armies allied against him. (3) It is a story that any literate person could sit down and write and, furthermore, is just the type of fantastic story that literate writers of biblical times in all nations liked to sit down and write. One would think that Dr. Ross would have more professional pride than to claim such a silly story as this as an example of prophecy fulfillment.

A favorite of prophecy-fulfillment buffs is Isaiah's prophecy that mighty Babylon, "the glory of kingdoms and the beauty of the Chaldeans' pride" would become "as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah" and never again be inhabited (Isaiah 13:19), and I see that Dr. Ross likes this one too, as well as Jeremiah's prophecy that Babylon would be destroyed and become "desolate forever" (Jer. 51:26). Both prophets predicted the utter and complete destruction of Babylon forever. Isaiah said that "(i)t shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall shepherds make their flocks to lie down there" (13:20). Jeremiah predicted that her cities would become "a desolation, a dry land, and a desert, a land wherein no man dwells, neither does any son of man pass thereby" (51:43).

This is pretty impressive stuff, and it would be even more impressive if it had all come true as these prophets predicted. Let's notice first that Jeremiah was obviously using "Babylon" in the sense of the nation of Babylonia, because he said that her CITIES (plural) would become a desolation and a land where no one dwells. The area occupied by the Babylonian kingdom is now part of the nation of Iraq, and cities exist on the same territory that was once Babylonia, so obviously people pass through the area and dwell there.

But what about the site that was occupied by the city of Babylon? Isaiah said that it would never be inhabited again and that Arabs would not pitch their tents there or shepherds make their sheepfolds there. As a child, I recall a sermon by a preacher who had recently returned from a trip to the biblical lands, and he told about visiting the site of ancient Babylon with a guided tour. According to his story, the group arrived late in the afternoon when there wasn't enough daylight left to complete the tour, so the tourists began to make camp for the night with tents that had been brought along for such occasions. And guess what? Some of the tour guides were Arabs, and they refused to stay in the camp. They went out into the desert away from the city and set up their tents.

I can remember thinking how amazing it was that Isaiah had been able to prophesy with such accuracy as this. Could there be any doubt that the Bible was the inspired word of God? Having since learned to look at matters such as this more critically rather than just gullibly believing everything I hear, I see a lot of problems in this story. For one thing, I have had enough experience with preachers and the stories they use to embellish their sermons to realize that it's not at all unlikely that such an incident as this never even happened. For the sake of argument, however, let's assume that it did. It would prove only that the Arabs on this tour refused to camp overnight at the site of ancient Babylon; it would not establish that no Arabs have ever pitched their tents there since the time of Babylon's destruction.

Also, I now wonder if it never occurred to this preacher that his very presence there had established the inaccuracy of at least part of the prophecies against Babylon, because Jeremiah had said, "Neither does any son of man pass thereby" (51:43), but in the story the preacher was relating several people had passed thereby. Isaiah had said that the site would never be inhabited, and Jeremiah had said that no man would dwell there, but for at least one night, a whole company of tourists had dwelt there. In addition to this, extensive archaeological excavations have been done at the site of ancient Babylon, and I seriously doubt if all this work has been done without crews having lived on the site during the diggings. These are points that preachers apparently never think of when they're trying to prove biblical inerrancy.

There is a final nail to drive in the coffin of these amazing prophecies about Babylon. As anyone can confirm with a little research at a local library, Saddamn Hussein, the present dictator of Iraq, has been engaged for over a decade in the reconstruction of ancient Babylon. Articles in World Press Review (Feb. 1990, p. 74) and U. S. News & World Report (Sept. 25, 1989, p. 37) both discuss this venture and show pictures of projects that have been completed as well as those still in progress. Hussein's intention is not just to build a city on the site but to reconstruct the ancient city as archaeological findings indicate that it once existed. The actual foundations of some of the old buildings are being used in the reconstruction work. This project, incidentally, is being carried out much to the consternation of archaeologists who deplore the history of ancient Babylon that will be lost in the process. If Ross hopes to find an example of accurate prophecy in the Bible, he will have to look elsewhere, because the facts do not support the prophetic claims that Babylon would be destroyed and remain forever desolate, a place that no one would pass through.

Akin to Isaiah's and Jeremiah's prophecy against Babylon is Jeremiah's and Ezekiel's prediction that "the land of Edom would become a barren, uninhabited wasteland" (Jer. 49:15-20; Eze. 25:12-14). The same problem surrounds these prophecies as the ones spoken against Babylon by Isaiah and Jeremiah. The latter said of Edom, "No one shall remain there, nor shall a son of man dwell in it" (49:18), and of the Edomite city of Bozrah, he said that "it shall become a desolation, a reproach, a waste, and a curse" (v:13). Ezekiel declared that Yahweh would make the land of Edom "desolate from Teman even unto Dedan" (25:13). Despite these tirades, the region that once was Edom is inhabited today by Jordanians who now incorporate the territory into their country. The modern city of Buseirah now occupies the site where Bozrah was located, and Tawilan is the modern name for Teman. The prophetic descriptions of what was to become of Edom do not "accurately tell the history of that now bleak region, as Ross claims.

If one investigates prophetic literature, he will see that the Hebrew prophets constantly spewed out invectives and tirades against the nations around Israel. Ezekiel predicted that the stronghold of Tyre would be destroyed and never built again (chapter 26) and that Egypt would be laid waste for 40 years and that "no foot of man or beast" would pass through it (29:11-12). These prophecies never materialized, just as Jeremiah's and Ezekiel's prophecies against Edom never happened.

Three more of Dr. Ross's 13 claims of prophecy fulfillment remain, and I will discuss them in the next issue. Meanwhile, If Dr. Ross wishes to respond to my rebuttal articles, we will publish his reply.
 



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