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Testing the Null Hypothesis
by Farrell Till


1997 / July-August



In alleging that Jeremiah accurately prophesied that the Judeans would be in Babylonian captivity for 70 years, Dr. Price has said that "(i)n a scientific investigation one must prove the null hypothesis" ("Solving the Jeremiah Problem," TSR, May/June 1997, p. 2). What Dr. Price meant, of course, is that when biblicists make extraordinary assertions (no matter how outrageous and far-fetched they may be), those who question the assertions have the responsibility to prove that they are not true. Aside from the fact that there is about as much "science" in the hermeneutic methods of prophecy-fulfillment proponents as there is in astrology and fortune-telling, Price's continual efforts to shift the burden of proof onto me in the matter of Jeremiah's alleged prophecy runs completely contrary to a recognized principle of argumentation that says the one who asserts must prove.

Debaters who try to shift the affirmant's burden of proof onto their opponents are nothing new to me. I encounter the tactic almost every time I debate a biblical inerrantist. In my debate on the resurrection with Dr. Norman Geisler, he told the audience that it was "incumbent" upon me to prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead (TSR Transcript, p. 7), and so did Michael Horner in our debate on the same subject (TSR Transcript, p. 14). In my debate with Bill Lockwood, who was affirming that "God is," he charged late in the session that I had not proven that God does not exist. Now along comes Dr. Price, asserting that a prophecy made by Jeremiah was remarkably fulfilled, but when the weakness of his position is exposed, he says that it is my responsibility to "prove the null hypothesis." Apparently, I must remind Dr. Price again that he is the one who is asserting the extraordinary claim of prophecy fulfillment, and so it is his responsibility to prove all of the facts necessary to establish that prophecy fulfillment did indeed occur. Needless to say, he hasn't even come close to doing that.

Criteria 2 and 3: In my first response to Dr. Price, I listed criteria of valid prophecy fulfillment, which Dr. Price has described as "satisfactory" ("Solving the Jeremiah Problem," May/June 1997, p. 2). The second of these criteria requires the claimant of a prophecy fulfillment to prove that the alleged prophecy was made before and not after the alleged fulfillment. The third one requires the claimant to prove that the prophecy was made not only before the alleged fulfillment but far enough in advance to preclude the possibility of educated guessing. These are the two criteria that spell doom for Price's position, because there is no way that he can satisfy either criterion.

I have shown that the existence of two very different versions of the book of Jeremiah (the Septuagint and the Masoretic) is sufficient to cast suspicion on the integrity of the text. How else can these two versions be reasonably explained except by postulating a time when there was no standardized canon and the scribes and clerics of different theological communities felt free to alter texts to conform to their particular views? This is certainly a more reasonable assumption than the ridiculous claim that Yahweh inspired Jeremiah to write two infallible versions.

The Septuagint problem, however, doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of evidence that shows extensive editing in the book of Jeremiah. Biblical scholars with no fundamentalist axes to grind have long recognized that the book of Jeremiah is the work of not one but several writers. The introduction to Jeremiah in The Interpreter's Bible described the disorder and confusion that one encounters in reading Jeremiah and then explained why the train of thought is so hard to follow.

This seeming lack of order arises from the fact that this book, like many others in the Old Testament, is not the product of one person or of a small group of persons. It is the product of growth over a long period of time, to which many contributed (Vol. 5, p. 787, emphasis added).

If Dr. Price is a typical fundamentalist-- and I suspect a professor at a Baptist seminary would have to be--he will very likely dismiss this as "liberal" rubbish, but that would not explain why so many biblical scholars view the book of Jeremiah as a composite put together by several writers rather than the work of a single religious mystic who lived in the 6th century B. C. Surely, Dr. Price won't argue that this view of Jeremiah is held only by liberal theologians who purposely look for ways to discredit the Bible, because that doesn't explain anything. There must be good reasons why so many scholars reject the claim that Jeremiah in its present form was written by a single author, so to make his case, Dr. Price must show that those reasons are without merit.

In Who Wrote the Bible? Richard Elliott Friedman explained that careful examination of style, grammar, syntax, vocabulary, theme, and literary structure enables critics to recognize where redacting and editing occurred in the biblical text (pp. 130, 137). These methods require an expertise in biblical languages that laymen do not have, but sometimes the evidence of textual editing and tampering is so obvious that even a layman can see it. The final chapter of Jeremiah, for example, is so similar to the conclusion of 2 Kings that even a layman can see that either one was copied from the other or they were both copied from another source. The sections are too long to examine in their entireties, but a comparison of the final verses of both books will illustrate the almost verbatim similarities.

Jeremiah 52:31-34, In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of King Jehoiachin of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, King Evil-merodach of Babylon, in the year he began to reign, showed favor to King Jehoiachin of Judah and brought him out of prison; he spoke kindly to him, and gave him a seat above the seats of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes, and every day of his life he dined regularly at the king's table. For his allowance, a regular daily allowance was given him by the king of Babylon, as long as he lived, up to the day of his death.

2 Kings 25:27-30, In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of King Jehoiachin of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, King Evil-merodach of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, released King Jehoiachin of Judah from prison; he spoke kindly to him, and gave him a seat above the other seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes. Every day of his life he dined regularly in the king's presence. For his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, a portion every day, as long as he lived.

As an incidental aside, I will call attention to the fact that although these passages are almost identical, one says that Evil-merodach released Jehoiachin from prison on the 25th day of the month, whereas the other says that the release occurred on the 27th day. This is a curious discrepancy to find in a book that is supposed to be the verbally inspired, inerrant word of an omniscient, omnipotent deity, and the problem becomes even more complicated when both are compared to the Septuagint account, which says that Jehoiachin was released on the 24th day.

Dr. Price will dismiss these differences on the grounds that inerrancy is not the issue, but, as pointed out in my second rebuttal, in the consideration of prophecy claims, the issue of errancy in the Bible can't be just waved aside. To believe Price's fulfillment claim requires a high degree of confidence in the integrity of the Jeremiah text, but such confidence is hard to maintain when obvious discrepancies, revisions, additions, and plagiarisms are evident in the text. Such flaws as these, which can be proven, give sufficient cause to wonder how many other textual flaws are in the book that cannot be proven.

At any rate, the striking similarities between the two passages quoted above certainly don't support the fundamentalist claim that a book written in the 6th-century B. C. by the prophet Jeremiah has been preserved over the centuries essentially as he wrote it. A comparison of Jeremiah 49 with the book of Obadiah will also show textual similarities that cast further suspicion on the integrity of the Jeremiah text.

Jeremiah 49:15-16, For I will make you least among the nations, despised by humankind. The terror you inspire and the pride of your heart have deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, who hold the height of the hill. Although you make your nest as high as the eagle's, from there I will bring you down, says Yahweh.

Obadiah 1:2-4, I will surely make you least among the nations; you shall be utterly despised. Your proud heart has deceived you, you that live in the clefts of the rock, whose dwelling is in the heights. You say in your heart, "Who will bring me down to the ground?" Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, says Yahweh.

Jeremiah 49:9, If grape-gatherers came to you, would they not leave gleanings? If thieves came by night, even they would pillage only what they wanted.

Obadiah 1:5, If thieves came to you, if plunderers by night--oh, how you have been destroyed!--would they not steal only what they wanted? If grape-gatherers came to you, would they not leave gleanings?

The fundamentalist view of biblical authorship is that Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, David, Solomon, etc. wrote certain books whose texts have been accurately preserved through the centuries, but biblical criticism paints instead a picture of textual evolution over extended periods of time. Did Jeremiah write both the final chapter in his book and the conclusion of 2 Kings? Did both writers use a common source, did one copy from the other, or did a late revisionist add the same ending to both books? Did Jeremiah copy Obadiah, did Obadiah copy Jeremiah, or did the similarities result from the revisions of later editors? How can we ever know for sure what really happened? But until we do know, Dr. Price's naive view of biblical authorship must be called into question.

Dr. Price may argue that textual variations such as those that exist between the Septuagint and Masoretic versions of Jeremiah do not materially affect his 70-year prophecy, because the prophecy is in both the Septuagint and the Masoretic versions. That may be true, but the most that this can prove is that the 70-year prophecy has been in the Jeremiah text since the 3rd century B. C. (when the Septuagint was translated). Dr. Price cannot know if it was in the text significantly prior to that time. Since Jeremiah was a 6th-century B. C. character, there would have been three centuries for editors to insert the 70-year prophecy into the text, and this is exactly what some textual critics believe happened.

The literature on the subject is far too extensive to review, but The Interpreter's Bible discusses the evolution of the Jeremiah text from the simple scroll that Baruch wrote "from the mouth of Jeremiah," which was short enough to be read publicly three times in one day (36:10-22), to the Deuteronomic edition that was compiled toward the end of the Babylonian exile and even later postexilic editions that followed the Deuteronomic version (Vol. 5, pp. 787-791). If this critical theory is correct, it is quite easy to see how that "Jeremiah" could have made his 70-year prophecy. It would have been made through a simple process of retrojection by a postexilic editor, and as long as this possibility has wide critical support, Dr. Price cannot make a convincing case for his claim that Jeremiah predicted the exact duration of the captivity.

The Interpreter's Bible identifies sections in chapters 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 24, 26, 32, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 42, and 45, that were added or revised by the Deuteronomic editor(s). Chapters 30-31, 33, and other passages are identified as postexilic additions. These are critical determinations that scholars have made through the methods previously quoted from Friedman (examination of style, grammar, syntax, vocabulary, theme, and literary structure), so to prove his case, Price will have to demonstrate that these critical methods are invalid. Otherwise, his prophecy-fulfillment claim stands impeached by his failure to provide unequivocal proof that the prophecy was made before and not after the alleged fulfillment

In listing above the Deuteronomic sections of Jeremiah, I purposely omitted chapter 25, in which textual critics claim that there is a Deuteronomic addition to the book. Verses 1-13 in this chapter contain "Jeremiah's" prophecy that Dr. Price is defending, but The Interpreter's Bible attributes this part to the Deuteronomic editor.

In ch. 25, vss. 1-13a in their original form were written by D to provide the conclusion to what he believed was Baruch's scroll of 604 B. C. The words "this book" in 25:13 refer backward rather than forward. The Septuagint form of 25:1-13 is closer to the original, as written by D, than the Masoretic Text. It does not have the references to Babylon and Nebuchadrezzar, and makes clear that the condemnation was originally directed against Judah and Jerusalem (Vol. 5, p. 789).

If this were not bad enough for Dr. Price's position, the ditors point out that chapter 29, verses 10-20, were also written by the Deuteronomic editor, and this passage is the other place that contains "Jeremiah's" prediction that the captivity would last seventy years. None of this is good news for Dr. Price, and if he wishes to see evidence that supports what he calls a "null hypothesis," he might want to investigate what textual critics have written about the Deuteronomic and postexilic editions of the book of Jeremiah. Enough has been published on the subject to keep him busy for a lifetime.

To conclude this part of my rebuttal, then, I would simply ask Dr. Price to show us undeniable evidence that satisfies criteria 2 and 3. What is his proof that Jeremiah himself, significantly before the alleged fulfillment, actually predicted that the Babylonian captivity would last for 70 years? It isn't sufficient that Dr. Price would like for it to be this way. He must prove that it was this way.

Criterion 1: Even if we conceded for the sake of argument that the 70-year prophecy in Jeremiah is an authentic utterance of the 6th-century prophet, Dr. Price would still not be out of the woods. The first criterion of valid prophecy fulfillment, which Dr. Price has said is "satisfactory," requires that the claimant of a prophecy fulfillment prove that he is properly interpreting the alleged prophecy, but Dr. Price hasn't even come close to doing that. His own dating of the beginning and end of the captivity stretched the rules of literary interpretation beyond the limits of probability but still fell short of 70 years. Obviously anticipating that I would point this out, he said in his first article that "(t)his may seem to be only sixty-nine years from our perspective, and thus not an exact fulfillment; however, the number seventy is a round number that is sufficient for the facts" (March/April 1997, p. 3). You see, in the Never-Never Land of biblical fundamentalism if a forced interpretation of a biblical passage solves a discrepancy, the interpretation is always "sufficient for the facts," and this appears to be the Procrustean game that Dr. Price is playing. If the facts don't fit his theory, he will simply twist them, stretch them, or truncate them to make them fit. Let's notice how he has been doing that.

To get even 69 years so that he can claim a "round number that is sufficient for the facts," Dr. Price dated the captivity from 605 B. C. (the first year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign) to 536 B. C. This last date was three years after Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 (Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, 1987, p. 251), but both 2 Chronicles 36:22 and Ezra 1:1 state that in the first year of his reign, Cyrus issued his proclamation that released the captives to return to their homeland. In order to fudge three more years into his scenario, Price argued that (1) the first year of Cyrus's reign didn't really count, (2) Cyrus's decree probably wasn't issued until late in the first "real" year of his reign, and (3) a large group of captives probably wouldn't have arrived in Judah until "some time in 536." Let's examine the merits of these arguments.

When biblicists encounter chronological discrepancies in the Bible, they can usually be expected to argue that ancient cultures dated events and reigns differently from modern societies, so Dr. Price has not disappointed us. He said that "(a)mong these ancient neareastern people, the regnal year of a king was counted from the New Year's day following the king's ascension to the throne" (May/June, p. 5). Then he "explained" that Cyrus captured Babylon on October 16, 539, but that the "following New Year's day was not until March 24, 538." So, just like that, Price has lopped five months off the first year of Cyrus's reign and put us into 538 B. C. I assume that those who have been following this discussion noticed, as I did, that Price merely asserted, but cited no references in support of his claim, that the Persians calculated regnal years in the manner he described. I couldn't help wondering how the Persians would have calculated the first year of Cyrus's reign if he had conquered Babylon on March 25, 539. Would he have reigned one day short of a year without the Persians counting this as the first year of his reign?

I'm not saying that Price is wrong about the Mideastern method used in counting regnal years, but even biblicists themselves will sometimes argue that this method wasn't always used. An apparent discrepancy exists between Jeremiah 25:1 and Daniel 1:1. The first says that the 4th year of Jehoiakim's reign was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign, but the other says that the 3rd year of Jehoiakim was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar. How do biblicists resolve this problem? You guessed it. They say that Jeremiah was calculating from the actual time that Jehoiakim began to reign but that Daniel was calculating from the first full year of Jehoiakim's reign. If their solution to the problem is correct, then it isn't true that Mideastern writers always counted regnal years in the way that Price claims. According to 2 Kings 8:25, Ahaziah of Judah began to reign in the 12th year of Joram of Israel, but 2 Kings 9:29 says that he began to reign in the 11th year of Joram. To resolve this discrepancy, Gleason Archer argued that the "nonaccession-year system" was used in 2 Kings 8:25 and the "accession-year system" in 2 Kings 9:29 (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 1982, p. 206). Hence, biblicists want to have it both ways. When the accession-year system will help their case, they argue for the accession-year system (as Dr. Price has done), but when the accession-year system works against them, they argue for the nonaccession-year system. To prove his case in the matter of when Cyrus issued his proclamation, Dr. Price needs to present evidence, rather than speculation, that the writers of 2 Chronicles and Ezra used the accession-year system when they said that the proclamation was made "in the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia." Without that evidence, Price's claim is merely unsubstantiated conjecture.

After arbitrarily making the first year of Cyrus's reign his second, Price further argued that "(i)t is likely that the decree was issued late in the year, because administrative duties would have been heavy for the months immediately following the conquest of Babylon," so Price concluded that "less important details, like the affairs of foreign captives, would naturally be postponed" (p. 5). At this point, speculation was running wild in Price's attempt to shore up his position, so let's notice exactly what he was asking us to believe. By moving the beginning point of Cyrus's first year as king from October to March, Price gained a leeway of five months. Then after this maneuver, he asked us to believe that pressing administrative duties during this delayed-action first year of Cyrus's reign probably deferred issuance of the decree until "late in the year." If we assume that "late in the year" was, say, ten months into the year, then this would give Price ten more months to work with, but the problem is that Price has offered us nothing but speculation to support his claim. Where is the proof?

If speculation is allowed, I can play that game too and argue that freeing the captives would "likely" have been a pressing administrative concern of Cyrus and not the "less important detail" that Price says it was. Although Cyrus had conquered Babylon, Egypt was a potentially powerful enemy sitting on his southern border, so freeing the Jewish captives would have reestablished Judah as a loyal buffer state between the Persian Empire and Egypt, an administrative matter that Cyrus would surely have attended to more expeditiously than Price contends. Indeed, this is exactly how many historians interpret Cyrus's motives (Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, 1987, p. 252). According to the Cyrus Cylinder (now in the British Museum), Cyrus didn't just allow foreign captives to return to their homelands; he also permitted the Babylonians to continue worshiping their deities (Ibid., p. 251). These enactments indicate that Cyrus considered civil peace and secure borders a much higher priority than Dr. Price imagines. Since Cyrus left Babylon in 538 and returned to his palatial residence in the Median city of Ecbatana (Ibid., p. 251), it is hardly likely that he delayed issuing his decree until late in 538. At any rate, Dr. Price is arguing for prophecy-fulfillment, so to make his case, he needs unequivocal supporting evidence. Mere speculation won't satisfy that requirement.

The long journey home: Dr. Price also speculated that a "large company of returnees" could not have arrived in Judah "until some time in 536." Ezra indicated that the captives were back in their cities "when the seventh month was come" (3:1), so if Cyrus issued his decree reasonably soon after conquering Babylon, the captives could have been back in Judah as early as 538, so this would have reduced the captivity (if calculated from 605) to only 67 years, a number that wouldn't be quite as "round" as 69. When the captives may have returned to Judah is irrelevant, however, because the prophecy that Dr. Price is so excited about said that the nations taken captive would "serve the king of Babylon seventy years" (Jere. 25:11). After the captives had been released, however much time it may have taken them to journey back to Judah wouldn't have mattered, because once they had been released, it couldn't very well be argued that they were still "serv[ing] the king of Babylon." Furthermore, once Babylon fell in 539 B. C., the captives were no longer serving the king of Babylon, period. Whatever time they may have remained in captivity after Babylon had fallen would have been in service to the king of Persia.

Another problem for Dr. Price's pat little scenario of captives straggling back to Judah is in the repetition of the prophecy in 29:10, where the "prophet" said, "For thus says Yahweh, after seventy years are completed in Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place." If the captives were released in 538 or 537 and didn't reach Judah "until some time in 536," then it couldn't very well be said that Yahweh "visited" the captives after 70 years were completed in Babylon. The "visiting" would have happened after only 67 or 68 years in Babylon had been completed. Dr. Price, however, will no doubt argue that 67 or 68 would be close enough to a "round number" to be "sufficient for the facts," but it does seem to me that a prophet predicting by the inspiration of an omniscient, omnipotent deity could have spoken with a little more precision than this. Why didn't Yahweh have Jeremiah hit the prophetic nail right on the head so that there would be no room for nasty skeptics like me to dispute that he was a prophet inspired of God to see into the future?

The 605 date: There are also serious problems on the other end of Dr. Price's dating of the fulfillment. As noted earlier, he has contended that the captivity should be dated from 605 B. C., because this is the year that Jeremiah dated his prophecy: "The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (the same was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon" (25:1). Dr. Price assured us in his first article that it was in 605 B. C. that "Nebuchadnezzar's father died, and Nebuchadnezzar ascended to the throne of Babylon" (March/ April, p. 2). It's interesting to note, however, that with reference to the first year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign, Dr. Price has said nothing about Mideastern methods of calculating "regnal years," so we have to wonder why in his dating system, Dr. Price thinks that the first year of Cyrus's reign didn't really begin until five months after he had conquered Babylon but that the first year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign should be calculated from the moment that he became king. Well, no, we don't really have to wonder why Dr. Price calculates in this manner, because we know why he does. If Dr. Price dated the first year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign from the new year following his accession to the throne, that would move the beginning of his alleged fulfillment down to 604 B. C., so he has to stretch the years a bit on each end in order to get a figure close enough to a "round number" to call it "sufficient for the facts."

According to extrabiblical records Nebuchadnezzar did indeed accede to the throne in 605 B. C., but this doesn't help Dr. Price's case. The prophecy quoted above says only that the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah in the first year of Nebuchadnezzar; it does not say that this should be considered the beginning of the 70-year captivity he was predicting. In commenting on Nebuchadnezzar's "conquest of the Palestinian area," Dr. Price said that "(t)he conquest was temporarily interrupted by the death of his father, but the following year he returned and completed the conquest" (March/April, p. 2). Price then said that "Jehoiakim became the vassal of Nebuchadnezzar, and although there were some times of short-lived rebellion, for all practical purposes Judah was under the servitude of Nebuchadnezzar or the Babylonians for seventy years, some of that time as captives exported from their native land to Babylon."

In response to this, I have only to note that if Nebuchadnezzar did not complete his conquest until the year following his accession to the throne, the captivity must be dated from 604 B. C., not 605, and that will make Price's number a little less round. Also, the prophecy stated that 70 years would be completed in Babylon, so it hardly matters how much "for all practical purposes" the Judeans may have served Nebuchadnezzar in Jerusalem. Those years could not be counted toward fulfillment of a prophecy that said 70 years would be completed in Babylon.

The really big problem for Dr. Price's beginning date, however, is the fact that "Jeremiah" clearly indicated that the captivity he was prophesying had begun not with the subjugation of Judah as a vassal state during the reign of Jehoiakim but from Nebuchadnezzar's capture of Jerusalem in 597 B. C. To see this, we have only to compare a few scriptures. First, let's look at a letter that Jeremiah sent to the captives in Babylon:

Jeremiah 29:1-2, These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. This was after King Jeconiah, and the queen mother, the court officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the artisans, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem.

The dating in this passage is quite clear. It was written to the captives after king Jeconiah, his mother, and various Judean officials had been taken "into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon." I assume that Dr. Price will not dispute the fact that Jeconiah was an alternate name for Jehoiachin, so I won't waste time showing that the two names were used interchangeably for the same person. With that in mind, we can look at the passage that describes Jeconiah's capture:

2 Kings 24:8, Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign; he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Nehushta daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh, just as his father had done. At that time the servants of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to the city, while his servants were besieging it; King Jehoiachin of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself, his mother, his servants, his officers, and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign.

This text clearly claims that Jeconiah, his family and officials, and other leaders were taken captive in the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign. If we accept 605 or 604 B. C. as the first year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign, then his eighth year would have been in 597 or 596 B. C. Verse 15 in this passage states that Nebuchadnezzar "carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon; the king's mother, the king's wives, his officials, and the elite of the land, he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon." So clearly this was the group to whom Jeremiah addressed his letter mentioned in 29:1. The full context of this "letter" shows that Jeremiah's 70-year prophecy was directed to this group.

29:3-10,The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom King Zedekiah of Judah sent to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. It said: Thus says Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to Yahweh on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says Yahweh. For thus says Yahweh: Only when Babylon's seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

So the 70-year prophecy was directed to those who had been taken captive in 597 B. C., and the use of "you" in the last sentence makes that very clear. Although Daniel 1:1-3 claims that some of "the royal seed and nobles" of Israel were taken captive when Nebuchadnezzar made Judah a vassal state in the third year of Jehoiakim's reign (605 or 604 B. C.), the account in 2 Kings 24 states that it was in the 8th year of Nebuchadnezzar that the Judeans were taken to Babylon in great numbers:

2 Kings 24:13-17: He [Nebuchadnezzar] carried off all the treasures of the house of Yahweh, and the treasures of the king's house; he cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of Yahweh, which King Solomon of Israel had made, all this as Yahweh had foretold. He carried away all Jerusalem, all the officials, all the warriors, ten thousand captives, all the artisans and the smiths; no one remained, except the poorest people of the land. He carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon; the king's mother, the king's wives, his officials, and the elite of the land, he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. The king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, seven thousand, the artisans and the smiths, one thousand, all of them strong and fit for war.

Although there is undoubtedly exaggeration in describing the size of the multitude taken captivity, if there is any truth at all in this passage, then it is reasonable to date the captivity from the events described here, which would have occurred in 597 B. C. So we have this description of a massive captivity, and we have "Jeremiah's" letter that was directed to the people taken captive at this time, to whom he had Yahweh saying that he would visit them after 70 years had been completed. They both dispute Dr. Price's claim that the captivity should be dated from 605 B. C. So even if we accommodate Dr. Price and allow 537 B. C. as the end of the captivity, it would have lasted only 60 years (597 - 537 = 60). Sixty is a nice round number, but in this case it isn't close enough to 70 to be "sufficient for the facts."

A figurative view: To satisfy criterion 1 in the list that Dr. Price has agreed to, he must prove that the 70-year prophecy means what he claims it means, but some scholars think that the number 70 was never intended to represent a literal 70-year period but only a long period of time. Isaiah prophesied the destruction of Tyre, but, unlike Ezekiel, he didn't rashly predict that Tyre would never be rebuilt. He said only that it would be "forgotten seventy years" but that "after the end of seventy years... Yahweh will visit Tyre, and she shall return to her hire and shall play the harlot with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth" (Isaiah 23:15-17). There were periods in history when Tyre lay in destruction, but it was always rebuilt and still exists today, so unless biblicists want to admit to a prophecy failure here, they must claim that Isaiah was using the number 70 only in a figurative sense to represent a period of time.

In Daniel 9:24, "seventy weeks" was used in an obviously figurative sense to represent a period of time for which biblicists have had more interpretations than Carter has pills. So if the number 70 was used figuratively elsewhere in prophetic literature, how does Dr. Price determine that it was intended in a literal sense in Jeremiah's prophecy? Anyway, if I were he, I would think about arguing for a figurative application of the number 70 in Jeremiah's prophecy, because the literal interpretation has obviously backfired in his face.

The Mormon ploy: Dr. Price waved aside my example of a "prophecy" in the Book of Mormon as just a "ploy" and "an old illustration that [I have] used in other debates" (May/June 1997, p. 2). To be sure, I have used this example in other debates, but I have yet for any opponent to respond to the argument that I base on this Mormon prophecy. The intention of the example is to show that even biblicists are able to see the transparency of fabricated prophecies in other religious books, but for some reason they can't apply the same common sense to biblical prophecies.

Price said that because "some Mormon elders evidently falsified records," this does not "give Till the right to conclude that such falsification has necessarily happened in all religious literature" (Ibid.). No, but the fact that the falsification of records has happened rather routinely in religious literature should cause people to think more critically than they do when reading their holy books. I have certainly presented enough evidence for tampering in the book of Jeremiah to give Dr. Price pause, so instead of waving the Mormon example aside, he should explain to us why biblical prophecies that could easily be fabrications and falsifications deserve more consideration than the prophecies of other religions.

Averaging textual variations: Dr. Price accused me of exaggerating because I mentioned that over 6,000 textual variations exist between the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text. He tried to minimize this by pointing out that this would be an average of only 6 variations per chapter. That may be true, but even 6 variations per chapter in a work purported to be the inspired word of an omniscient, omnipotent deity is certainly nothing to sneeze at. After all, a problem is a problem is a problem, whether 6 per chapter or 60 per chapter. Furthermore, averaging the variations as Price has done merely clouds the picture. Some chapters, and even some books, have long sections without variations, so this means that other sections have far more than just 6 variations per chapter, as in the cases of the books of Samuel and Jeremiah. Omissions that make a book in the Septuagint 15% shorter than the Masoretic version can hardly be considered an inconsequential matter. What we need is less effort to gloss over the problem and more effort to offer a reasonable explanation for why an omniscient, omnipotent deity could not have done a better job of preserving his inspired word so that we could have a text that has zero variations per chapter.

Numerous Dead Sea Scrolls: Dr. Priced accused me of resorting to misinformation, but in the same section where he made this charge, he said that "numerous scrolls of nearly every book of the Old Testament found in the caves of the Dead Sea, dating from the 1st century A. D. to as early as the 4th century B. C., verify that the Masoretic text in all its essential details was in existence at that time" (May/June 1997, p. 3). Of course, Dr. Price didn't specify what the "essential details" of the Masoretic text are, but if misrepresentation is at all possible, we certainly have it in Price's claim that the Dead Sea Scrolls verify that the Masoretic text was intact in its "essential details" as early as the 4th century B. C. I assume that Dr. Price will agree that Frank Cross of Harvard University is a recognized biblical scholar and authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls. In Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, he said this about textual variations in the Old Testament:

(T)he history of the text of the Hebrew Bible has been confused and obscured by an assumption, or rather a dogma, on the part of the ancients--rabbis and Church Fathers alike--that the Hebrew text was unchanged and unchanging, unaltered by the usual scribal realities that produce families of texts and different recensions in works that have survived over long periods of transmission ("The Text Behind the Hebrew Bible," Random house, 1992, p. 143).

Prior to this, in the same chapter, Cross had addressed the problem of variations in ancient versions of the Old Testament.

In the medieval Hebrew manuscripts, there are hundreds, even thousands of differences, mostly minor, rarely major. In the old versions, especially in the Old Greek version (which was written beginning in the third century B. C. and is commonly called the Septuagint), there are thousands of variants, many minor, but also many major (Ibid., p. 143, emphasis added).

What about a 4th-century B. C. verification of the "essential details" in the Masoretic text? Was such verification obtained from the Dead Sea Scrolls? In the introduction to Cross's chapter, editor Hershel Shanks certainly gave no support to Price's claim.

The earlier group (from Qumran), however, shows wide variations, sometimes even different editions of the same book. Cross is able to identify among these different texts three families of texts that appear to have originated in different geographical localities--Palestine, Egypt, and Babylonia (emphasis added).

There's no consolation here for Price either. Furthermore, he has probably misled readers into believing that numerous complete copies of almost every book in the Old Testament have been found at Qumran, but in reality many of the discoveries have been fragments. In his chapter quoted above, Cross said that "some 170 manuscripts of biblical books" have been discovered in the 11 caves of Qumran but that "most of them [are] in a highly fragmented state" (p. 144). I fail to understand how that "highly fragmented" manuscripts could verify the Masoretic "in all its essential details," because unless there were fragments of every verse in the Old Testament in which Price thinks there are "essential details," verification of all these details simply would not be possible.

Popular Magazines: In my first rebuttal, I quoted an article that Joseph A. Fitzmyer contributed to America magazine. In the article, Fitzmyer stated that the discovery of a Hebrew text of Jeremiah at Qumran that was parallel to the Greek (Septuagint) version was evidence that the "fuller form of Masoretic tradition represents a Palestinian rewording of the book" (October 31, 1987, p. 302). Rather than addressing Fitzmyer's statement, Dr. Price dismissed it with the charge that I seem "to rely on articles in popular magazines that are necessarily limited and slanted" (May/ June 1977, p. 4). Such a comment would be parallel to dismissing all that Carl Sagan had to say on scientific subjects that he wrote about in his many articles published in Parade magazine, but surely Price knows that the truth or falsity of a statement is always independent of its source. Does it matter that Fitzmyer published his opinion in America magazine? He is a recognized authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, the contributing writers cited Fitzmyer's opinion four times. I haven't noticed a single reference that any of them made to Dr. Price's opinion of the scrolls.

Clearly, Dr. Price has failed to make a convincing case for his prophecy claim. Although it was not my duty to formulate a "null hypothesis" and defend it, I believe that I have, in effect, done that by showing that the text of Jeremiah is too unreliable to hang on it one's claim that an ancient tribal deity spoke prophecy through a 6th-century B. C. Hebrew mystic. I have tried to address all of Dr. Price's major points, and if any were skipped, that was an oversight. If he wishes to respond to my rebuttals, I will publish his reply in a later issue.
 



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