Christianity believes the Bible is packed with prophecies because it is God’s Word, and he knows the future. I this article, I shall address supposed biblical prophecies claimed by Christian denominations and determine whether they are genuine.
I think the examples of biblical prophecies Jehovah’s Witnesses give in their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? are typical representatives of what the majority of other Christian denominations believe. They are staunch believers and defenders of the Bible, so all their accounts are biblically attested: needless to mention, most, if not all, Christian denominations never question the Bible’s text anyway. So, I shall use their examples and arguments as a template for the belief of mainstream Christianity in biblical prophecy. (Please note that I am not talking about their theology and practices here, which admittedly might be well outside that of mainstream Christianity, but strictly about the prophecies they perceive in the Bible.) I am confident the reader will agree with me regarding this topic after reading this article.
To start with, they claim there are many ancient prophecies in the Old Testament that transpired in such minute detail that many Bible critics argue they were written after the fact. Of course, they object strongly to such a suggestion; they assert, biblical prophesies that came true are evidence of divine inspiration, not of late authorship (p. 117). I do believe in miracles, and I would therefore have no problem believing in prophecies as well. However, can it be shown, beyond any reasonable doubt, that they were not indeed after-the-fact reports? This is the question this article will try to answer.
As their first example, Jehovah’s Witnesses mention Isaiah’s late-eighth-century-BCE supposed prophecy of the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah (consisting of the two Hebrew tribes of Judah and Benjamin), which was to be carried out by Babylon, even though it was very unlikely at the time it was reportedly prophesied. Jeremiah reiterated the prophecy one-hundred-odd years later, that is, a few years before it indeed happened.
According to Isaiah, around 703 BCE (NAB, Isaiah 39:1n), God allowed King Hezekiah of the kingdom of Judah to recover from a mortal illness (NAB, Isaiah 38:5n); after which, he was visited by a Babylonian delegation. At this, the king might have felt somewhat important and started to show off his treasuries; more than likely, however, it was because he wanted to set up an alliance with Babylon against the Assyrian Empire, which had previously annihilated the other ten northern Hebrew tribes in 722 BCE. The prophet Isaiah objected strongly to this, maintaining that the king should rely solely on God’s power of deliverance, not on Babylon’s help.
I don’t think I would have agreed with the prophet Isaiah because I believe that “God helps those who help themselves”: not to just sit there and wait for God’s intervention or deliverance. By the same token, I don’t agree with Jehovah’s Witnesses’ assessment of the situation: namely, that Hezekiah’s best defense was to trust in God rather than seek Babylonian assistance (p. 118). I think this is equivalent to trying to sell a product that doesn’t work. Normally, God does not come down with his angels to defend the righteous: occasionally, I surmise, he uses human means (other people, say) to achieve his aims—if indeed he does. Take, for example, a good man like John the Baptist; God did not come to deliver him: he was beheaded by evil people (see Matthew 14:3–13).
Of course, Hezekiah’s showing off his treasures may not have been a prudent action; it shows indiscretion: it might even have stirred up envy or dreams of plunder in the neighboring nation. Moreover, I’m not condoning the king’s policy of social injustice and frivolity at the time, to which Isaiah also objected strongly; evil has a tendency of catching up on one, in the long run, and making one suffer the consequences of one’s actions. Anyway, following this incident (i.e., around 703 BCE), Isaiah reports,
“Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, ‘Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: “Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left,” saith the Lord.’” (Isaiah 39:5–6, KJV)
For the next one-hundred-odd years, Judah’s kings, in general, persisted in their evil ways; so again, around 605 BCE the prophet Jeremiah renewed Isaiah’s prophecy (NAB, Jeremiah 25:1–14n):
“Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; ‘Because ye have not heard my words, Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ saith the Lord, ‘and Nebuchadrezzar [Nebuchadnezzar] the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations. Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle. And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.’” (Jeremiah 25:8–11, KJV, emphasis mine)
In their book, Jehovah’s Witnesses sketch the following approximate history concerning the kingdom of Judah: (a) 612 BCE, Jeremiah made the above prophecy; (b) 608 BCE, Judah became part of the Babylonian Empire; (c) 605 BCE, a few Jews were taken captives, and some of the Jerusalem Temple wealth was taken to Babylon; (d) 601 BCE, Judah revolted against Babylon; and (e) 597 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, appropriated all its wealth, and took many Jews captives into his kingdom: thus, confirming Jeremiah’s (as well as Isaiah’s) prophecy (p. 119).
Now, according to the New American Bible (which is a Catholic Bible), the above prophecy was originally made by Isaiah himself (NAB, p. 863), so there is no way he could have known beforehand what would happen one-hundred-odd years later: considering that Babylon was still a relatively weak nation back then, and Assyria, at that time, was still a very strong nation. Although it does not specify exactly when it was going to happen, at first blush, it seems like a genuine prophecy.
One problem in checking this out is that our earliest manuscript of Isaiah only dates back to 150 BCE—at best: it was discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts. Luckily enough, unbelievable correspondence was verified between the present version of Isaiah and this complete copy found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. If one excludes the time following the invention of the printing press, one notes that Isaiah was copied faithfully from the middle of the second century BCE to the middle of the fifteenth century CE: that is, about sixteen centuries.
It is only reasonable, then, to assume that it was copied faithfully prior to that: that is, from the eighth century BCE to the second century BCE, which is only about six centuries. Still, even so, it might be difficult to convince skeptics who refuse to believe such a thing. Why? According to the New American Bible, more than a third of Isaiah was written, by disciples of Isaiah, many years after his death: it contends that chapters 1 through 39 were written by Isaiah himself starting around 742 BCE, chapters 40 through 55 were written before the end of the Babylonian exile in 538 BCE, and chapters 56 through 66 were written before the building of the second Temple in 515 BCE (NAB, pp. 862–63).
It is not unheard of that religious people try to make God look better than he, in fact, reveals himself to be: thinking that, by so doing, they are doing him a favor or giving him commendable service. In reality, God does not need the manipulation of evidence to hold his own: one should let the dice fall whichever way they will; that is good enough for God because he is always on the side of the truth. Conceivably, therefore, pseudo-Isaiah writing Second Isaiah (i.e., chapters 40–55) could easily have tweaked the text in First Isaiah.
If, for example, authentic Isaiah simply expressed his concern about the then-current social injustice and/or Hezekiah’s indiscretion in showing his treasures, someone much later, during the time of the Jews’ exile, could have added the prophecy of Judah’s fall. I am not saying this is what happened—I don’t know; but it shows a plausible scenario undermining one’s belief in prophecies, and hence, in the inspiration of the Bible. Needless to add, the onus of proof lies on the Bible believer’s shoulders.
So, to summarize, is the above recorded prophecy of Isaiah genuine? In my opinion, it can go either way: it’s possible but not provably so. The odds turn heavily against its authenticity when one considers the evidence we have of later editing by disciples of Isaiah: such as the one we encountered in my previous article “Bible Prophecies (Textual)” in the section on “Emmanuel,” namely, the addition of Israel’s demise after sixty-five years from the time of the alleged prophecy to Ahaz (see Isaiah 7:9). Unfortunately, we shall encounter more instances of tweaking in Isaiah later in this article. So, I doubt whether Isaiah’s alleged prophecy, regarding the Jews’ exile to Babylon, is authentic: there are a too many question marks.
I also lean toward disregarding Jeremiah’s prophecy since it started to transpire only four years later. Given the then-current situation of social injustice, frivolity, and Babylon’s strength, human intuition could possibly foresee the future that far. Not to mention (as we shall see more clearly in the section on “Christ”), the fact that the Babylonian exile only lasted fifty-seven years—rather than seventy years as reportedly foretold by Jeremiah—shows that Jeremiah’s so-called prophecy was partly wrong anyway.
The second example in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ book is Ezekiel’s foretelling the destruction of Tyre. Ezekiel was a Jewish priest who was deported to Babylon in the early sixth century BCE; God commissioned him as his prophet while the nation was in exile (NAB, p. 1013). At that time the city of Tyre was built on a coastal island and had subordinate towns and villages on the Phoenician mainland (NAB, Ezekiel 26:4–5n, Ezekiel 26:6n). Their book claims that this Bible prophecy was fulfilled meticulously (pp. 120–22). Let me start with the biblical account: it portrays Ezekiel as God’s oracle saying,
“It came to pass in the eleventh year, in the first day of the month, that the word of the Lord came unto me [Ezekiel], saying, ‘Son of man [Human being], because that Tyrus [Tyre] hath said against Jerusalem, “Aha, she is broken that was the gates [gateway] of the people [nations]: she is turned unto me: I shall be replenished, now she is laid waste”’: therefore thus saith the Lord God; ‘Behold, I am against thee, O Tyrus, and will cause many nations to come up against thee, as the sea causeth his waves to come up. And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it,’ saith the Lord God: ‘and it shall become a spoil to the nations. And her daughters [towns and villages] which are in the field [mainland] shall be slain by the sword; and they shall know that I am the Lord.’ For thus saith the Lord God; ‘Behold, I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadrezzar [Nebuchadnezzar] king of Babylon, a king of kings, from the north, with horses, and with chariots, and with horsemen, and companies, and much people. He shall slay with the sword thy daughters in the field: and he shall make a fort against thee, and cast a mount against thee, and lift up the buckler [shield] against thee. And he shall set engines of war against thy walls, and with his axes he shall break down thy towers. By reason of the abundance of his horses their dust shall cover thee: thy walls shall shake at the noise of the horsemen, and of the wheels, and of the chariots, when he shall enter into thy gates, as men enter into a city wherein is made a breach. With the hoofs of his horses shall he tread down all thy streets: he shall slay thy people by the sword, and thy strong garrisons shall go down to the ground. And they shall make a spoil of thy riches, and make a prey of thy merchandise: and they shall break down thy walls, and destroy thy pleasant houses: and they shall lay thy stones and thy timber and thy dust in the midst of the water. And I will cause the noise of thy songs to cease; and the sound of thy harps shall be no more heard. And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the Lord have spoken it,’ saith the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 26:1–14, KJV, emphasis mine).
As usual, the prophecy does not specify ahead of time when it was going to happen, it is open-ended; however, at least, it does specify that Nebuchadnezzar was going to deal the blow.
The reader may have noticed the standard formula of these so-called doom-prophecies: they throw everything at the accursed. “Throw enough mud at a wall and some of it will stick.” Then, typically, Bible-inerrancy believers will only look at one or two details that transpired and say, “Oh, wow! Look at the detail in which the prophecy was fulfilled: it must have been God’s inspiration.”
Let us now look at what happened to Tyre according to the Bible itself later in the same book. Perhaps needless to remind the reader, practically all of Christianity believes the Bible to be God’s Word—not just Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“It came to pass in the seven and twentieth year, in the first month, in the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came unto me [Ezekiel], saying, ‘Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyrus: every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled: yet had he no wages, nor his army, for Tyrus, for the service that he had served against it’: therefore thus saith the Lord God; ‘Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall take her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army. I have given him the land of Egypt for his labour wherewith he served against it, because they wrought for me,’ saith the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 29:17–20, KJV, emphasis mine).
So, the prophecy of Tyre’s demise apparently ended sixteen years later: that is, from the “eleventh year” to the “seven and twentieth year” (27-11 = 16). Now, history tells us that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the mainland towns and villages of Tyre, but then spent thirteen years (587–574 BCE) sieging the island city unsuccessfully until it surrendered on condition of its not being plundered by the Babylonian army (NAB, Ezekiel 26:4–5n & Ezekiel 26:6n). Thus, Ezekiel’s so-called prophecy was presumably uttered just three years (16-13 = 3) prior to Nebuchadnezzar’s initial attack on the mainland; so again, probably one could humanly foresee such an attack was about to happen.
True, the towns and villages on the mainland were destroyed completely and “slain by the sword” as supposedly foretold; however, nothing of what was allegedly prophesied of the city proper (on the island) actually happened. The Babylonian army was supposed to “destroy the walls,” “break down [its] towers,” “destroy [its] pleasant houses,” “lay [its] stones, … timber, and … dust in the midst of the water,” “scrape her dust from her,” and “make [it] like the top of a rock”—“a place to spread nets upon.” God also allegedly foretold that the Babylonian army would “make a spoil of [its] riches,” and “make a prey of [its] merchandise”; Tyre was supposed to “become a spoil to the nations.” None of all this, in fact, ever happened—as the Bible itself tells us later. Finally, regarding the island city of Tyre being “built no more”: it is still inhabited today: there were about 117,000 inhabitants in 2003. Of course, one could still insist that history is wrong, and the Bible is right, as is argued by Bible-inerrancy believers in the case of science; but when the Bible itself tells us what happened, where can one go? There is nowhere to hide or run, so to speak.
Incidentally, what is one supposed to think of God’s rewarding Nebuchadnezzar by allowing him to despoil Egypt instead, for his supposed “service” in attacking Tyre? The Bible makes a joke of divine justice here. As I suggested several times before in my website, despite their good intentions, sometimes the biblical authors got things wrong: thus, proving the Bible is only a book written by humans—not inspired by God.
Now, despite all the above evidence against this alleged prophecy, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ book still insists that Tyre’s prophecy came true, but in 332 BCE through Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king. Where did that come from? Nebuchadnezzar was the only king mentioned in Ezekiel, no? Anyway, they point out that according to The Encyclopedia Americana 1989, Alexander bridged the mainland to the island.
“With the debris of the mainland portion of the city, which he had demolished, he built a huge mole [bridge] in 332 [BCE] to join the island to the mainland.”
Hence, they conclude,
“Ezekiel’s prophecy was fulfilled in all its details. Even the ‘stones and … timber … and dust’ of Old [mainland] Tyre were placed ‘in the midst of the water.’“ (p. 122)
Oh, really? First, Alexander was not even mentioned in Ezekiel’s so-called prophecy—only Nebuchadnezzar was mentioned. Second, this happened more than two and a quarter centuries after Nebuchadnezzar had died (in 562 BCE). In my opinion, a completely open-ended prophecy disqualifies it from being a genuine prophecy: it is only hindsight that might suggest it. Third, if one reads the biblical text carefully, it was the island’s—not the mainland’s—“stones, timber, and dust“ that were supposed to be laid in the sea making it a naked rock and “a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea.” In short, Ezekiel’s prophecy regarding the utter destruction of Tyre was far from fulfilled.
It never ceases to amaze me how Jehovah’s Witnesses (as well as most Christian Bible-inerrancy exegetes) can split hairs and even refer to the original Greek or Hebrew texts to prove a dubious point and yet be so sloppy in interpreting certain obvious biblical details when it suits them. The information they give is truncated at strategic points, and certain information is stretched to fit their preconceived notions: thus, fooling the gullible, Bible-ignorant person. Naturally, the reader might think their interpretation involving Alexander here is an outlandish one; however, this is not something unheard of: as I amply show in my book Faith and Reason: Disturbing Christian Doctrines, the Catholic Church also often quotes the Bible out of context to buttress dubious doctrines. Despite their good intentions, God does not need anyone to manipulate facts in his favor; he can hold his own under any circumstances: he is always on the side of truth.
Incidentally, in the chapter prior to Tyre’s alleged prophecy, Ezekiel also prophesied similar destructions to another four nations surrounding the Jews: namely, the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, and Philistines. When a nation is situated in the middle of other nations, being attacked by those nations comes with the territory: it is the price one must usually pay. As one can see, these doom prophesies are levelled against everyone in sight; it would be interesting for the reader to investigate for oneself whether they transpired or not, but I lack the space for it here. I could be wrong, but I think I am quite safe in betting that none of them transpired.
Jehovah’s Witnesses’ third example refers to Isaiah’s supposed prophecy against Babylon in the late-eighth century BCE: the book portrays the prophet as God’s oracle foretelling its destruction:
“Behold, I [God] will stir up the Medes against them [the Babylonians]. … And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.” (Isaiah 13:17, 19–20, KJV, emphasis mine)
First note that it was Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, who in 539 BCE invaded Babylon—it was not the Medes but the Persians who defeated the Babylonians.
The New American Bible contends that this section of Isaiah has been edited significantly by later writers (NAB, Isaiah 13:1–23:8n). For example, it points to the fact that Babylon was not yet a great empire at the turn of the seventh century BCE, the presumed time of its writing: so, it was not yet “the glory of kingdoms” at the time of Isaiah: that is, not until about a century later when in 609 BCE it defeated Assyria. Clearly, then, we have an anachronism in the above Isaian text. However, the fact that pseudo-Isaiah mentions the Medes (rather than the Persians) also suggests that this particular supposed prophecy was edited prior to 550 BCE, at which time the Persians overpowered and subjected the Medes (NAB, Isaiah 13:1–22n).
Now, this date is not that far from the fall of Babylon in 539 BCE: possibly many people could foresee or perhaps even desire the collapse of the Babylonian Empire by the Medes since they were a world power at that time. Of course, the sub-author of First Isaiah could not foresee (or better guess) the unexpected; namely, that the Persian king Cyrus the Great would oust his grandfather, the Median king Astyages: thus, turning the Median Empire into the Persian Empire overnight (Wikipedia: “Medes”). But God should have been privy to this information, no? So, should not the Bible have prophesied that Babylon would be overthrown by the Persians rather than by the Medes? After all, it was only a few decades ahead.
Anyway, in their book Jehovah’s Witnesses continue their account of the fall of Babylon by mentioning that it was no easy task to attack Babylon: it was fortified by high walls all around, and the Euphrates River, running through it, enhanced its protection. They refer to Greek historian Herodotus’s account of how Cyrus took possession of the city (p. 124).
“He [Cyrus] placed a portion of his army at the point where the river enters the city, and another body at the back of the place where it issues forth, with orders to march into the town by the bed of the stream, as soon as the water became shallow enough. … He turned the Euphrates by a canal into the basin (an artificial lake dug by a previous ruler of Babylon), which was then a marsh, on which the river sank to such an extent that the natural bed of the stream became fordable [walkable]. Hereupon the Persians, who had been left for the purpose at Babylon by the river-side, entered the stream, which has now sunk so as to reach about midway up a man’s thigh, and thus got into the town.” (Herodotus bk. 1. 191)
To show the prophecy’s detail in its fulfilment, Jehovah’s Witnesses then cite the following two verses from Jeremiah, which portray God’s foretelling how the city of Babylon would fall.
“There is a devastation on her waters, and they will be dried up.” (Jeremiah 50:38, NWT)
“The mighty men of Babylon have forborn [declined] to fight, they have remained in their holds: their might hath failed.” (Jeremiah 51:30, KJV)
They argue that Babylon was defeated exactly as foretold by Jeremiah (as well as previously by Isaiah); they then ask the reader to note the detail in which the prophecy, as reported, was fulfilled:
“There was literally ‘a devastation on her waters, and they [were] dried up.’ It was the lowering of the waters of the Euphrates that enabled Cyrus to gain access to the city. Have ‘the valiant men of Babylon … forborne to fight’? … The Bible … records that the Babylonians were actually feasting when the Persian assault occurred.” (pp. 124–25)
They also point out that both Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophon confirm this account; they add that the “Nabonidus Chronicle”—a cuneiform (Sumerian writing), clay-tablet document—states that Cyrus’s army entered Babylon “without battle.”
At first blush, it sure looks like the alleged prophecy materialized in quite some detail. However, on reading the entire oracle text in Jeremiah, one notices that there are a whole slew of doom verses prophesied against Babylon; namely, 46 verses in one chapter and 64 verses in the next. To pick and choose a couple of favorable verses out of 110 verses is not exactly scientific analysis.
For example, I cannot understand how Jehovah’s Witnesses could simply ignore something as significant as the following verse, which was prophesied in the same oracle but did not transpire at all:
“Shout against her [Babylon] round about: she hath given her hand [surrendered]: her foundations are fallen, her walls are thrown down: for it is the vengeance of the Lord: take vengeance upon her; as she hath done, do unto her.” (Jeremiah 50:15, KJV, emphasis mine)
Recall that Babylon’s walls were not destroyed: it was surrendered without a fight. Nevertheless, let me play ball in their home court.
According to Wikipedia, the battle between the Babylonian and the Persian armies, which took place in September 539 BCE at the city of Opis, situated on the Tigris River, was a “major military engagement” that ended in a “decisive victory” for the Persian army. The city of Sippar, situated on the Euphrates River, “was captured without battle” a couple of weeks later; consequently, Cyrus and his Persian army were allowed to enter Babylon, a couple of days after the surrender of Sippar, again “without a battle.”
Wikipedia also points out that the above information comes from two contemporaneous sources: (a) the “Nabonidus Chronicle,” which consists of a cuneiform-inscribed, clay tablet forming part of a collection of similar tablets known as the Babylonian Chronicles on which Babylon’s history was recorded; and (b) the “Cyrus Cylinder,” a cuneiform-inscribed, clay cylinder from Cyrus’s lifetime.
Wikipedia adds that the Greek historians mentioned above, fifth-century-BCE Herodotus (c. 485 BCE–c. 425 BCE) and fourth-century-BCE Xenophon (c. 430 BCE–354 BCE), not only fail to mention the battle at Opis but also their accounts of Cyrus’s Babylonian campaign are significantly different from the above-mentioned contemporaneous sources. Naturally, “most scholars prefer to use the Nabonidus Chronicle” as the more reliable source, since it is a contemporaneous document and the discrepancy is significant.
Although the Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophon agree with the biblical account in Daniel: namely, that the Babylonians were celebrating and taken by surprise; they were probably relying on traditional “folk tales and legends” or they were simply “inventing” such historical details (Wikipedia: “Battle of Opis”). Wikipedia finally states,
“Scholars are in general agreement that Herodotus’s account is an invention, while [historian Amélie] Kuhrt comments that Xenophon’s account in his Cyropedia is ‘virtually impossible to use … as a strictly historical source’ due to its literary form, as a moral treatise on Cyrus in the form of an historical novella.” (Wikipedia: “Battle of Opis”)
Now, Persia is east of Babylon, and the Tigris River is east of the Euphrates River. So, from the Persians’ perspective, both Sippar and Babylon, which are on the Euphrates River, were past Opis, which is on the Tigris River. Yet, Herodotus and Xenophon do not even mention the battle at Opis.
So, since there seems to have been only one battle, at Opis, unlike what Jehovah’s Witnesses contend, apparently there was no draining of the Euphrates River at all. However, they take the later (and therefore usually less accurate) accounts of Herodotus and Xenophon because they conform better to the above biblical verses in Jeremiah and the account in Daniel (chapter 5)—even though both historians and biblical scholars agree that they are not historically reliable. Typical of Bible-inerrancy exegetes, it is not the case that they were unaware of the “Nabonidus Chronicles” since they quote a portion of it that serves their purpose. This is not exactly a candid, historical analysis of the alleged prophetic account of the fall of the city of Babylon.
(4) World Powers
There is significant disagreement between what Christian denominations believe and what biblical scholars contend regarding the following supposed prophecies in Daniel. According to the New American Bible, Daniel was probably written around 165 BCE (pp. , 1065); still, in their book, Jehovah’s Witnesses insist that Daniel was written as claimed in the book’s text, namely, in the early sixth century (c. 600) BCE. They believe that Daniel prophesied the succession of world powers from that time to the establishment of the British Empire in the early seventeenth century (c. 1600) CE: that is, more than twenty-two centuries later (pp. 125–30). At first blush, their interpretation might seem outlandish or somewhat idiosyncratic and dubious, but as I shall show later they are not the only Christians who believe so. These so-called prophecies in Daniel are in the form of visions the protagonist of the book reportedly had; the visions consist of a succession of symbolic animals.
“I [Daniel] saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made [to] stand upon the feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given to it. And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse [different or unlike] from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things [arrogantly].” (Daniel 7:2–8, KJV, emphasis mine)
To understand this and subsequent visions in Daniel, the reader is asked to focus on the “little horn” that grew out of the fourth beast, which originally had “ten horns,” and the “little horn” grew “among them” replacing “three” of them. Daniel also observed that this fourth beast was, somehow, unlike the other three; I shall show how it differed later in this section. Try to remember these details regarding the fourth beast since there is a great deal of disagreement in its interpretation. Also keep in mind that the previous beast, that is, the third beast, had “four heads.” Daniel asks one of the supernatural beings, who were attending to God in his vision, to explain the meaning of the vision; he replies,
“These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. But the saints [holy people] of the most High [God] shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.” (Daniel 7:17–18, KJV)
Daniel then asks the supernatural being for further information regarding the fourth beast; he goes on,
“The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse [different or unlike] from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another [the ‘little horn’] shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first [those before him], and he shall subdue three kings. And he shall speak great [arrogant] words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints [holy people] of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing [half] of time.” (Daniel 7:23–25, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice again the phrase “ten horns” representing “ten kings” all of whom belonged to this fourth kingdom (“ten horns out of this kingdom”); so also did the “little horn” that came “after them,” ousting “three kings,” belong to the same kingdom: note also that it arose out of the same beast (“rise after them”). Incidentally, look at the last phrase, “until a time and times and the dividing [half] of time”—talk about cryptic language in so-called biblical prophecies.
Anyway, two years later, Daniel had a second vision.
“I [Daniel] saw in a vision, and I was by the river of Ulai. Then I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, there stood before the river a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last. I saw the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward; so that no beasts might stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand [withstand it]; but he did according to his will, and became great. And as I was considering, behold, an he goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable [great] horn between his eyes. And he came to the ram that had two horns, which I had seen standing before the river, and ran unto him in the fury of his power. And I saw him come close unto the ram, and he was moved with choler [anger] against him, and smote the ram, and brake his two horns: and there was no power in the ram to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground, and stamped upon him: and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand. Therefore the he goat waxed [grew] very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones [horns] toward the four winds of heaven. And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land [Israel]. And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven [heavenly army]; and it cast down some of the host [heavenly army] and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them. Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince [commander] of the host [heavenly army], and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of the sanctuary [the Temple] was cast down [desecrated]. And an host [strength] was given him against the daily sacrifice by reason of transgression [because of sins], and it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practised, and prospered.” (Daniel 8:2–12, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice again the reference to the “little horn” in this vision: it is the critical link in this puzzle. Observe also that this “little horn” succeeded in removing the “daily sacrifice” offered to God and desecrated his Temple—“the place of the sanctuary was cast down.”
A canonical (official) book of the Catholic Bible, First Maccabees, which was written around 100 BCE (NAB, p. 540), confirms such a thing happening during the reign of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes around 167 BCE—about the time the book of Daniel was written.
“The king [Antiochus] sent letters by the hands of messengers to Jerusalem, and to all the cities of Juda [Judah]; that they should follow the law of the nations of the earth [Hellenism]. And should forbid holocausts and sacrifices, and atonements to be made in the temple of God. And should prohibit the Sabbath, and the festival days to be celebrated. And he commanded the holy places to be profaned, and the holy people of Israel. And he commanded altars to be built, and temples, and idols, and swine’s flesh to be immolated, and unclean beasts.” (First Maccabees 1:46–50, DRC).
Admittedly, neither Protestants nor marginal Christian denominations consider First Maccabees as part of their Bible, and so they don’t consider it God’s revelation; but in any case, it is a contemporaneous book that sheds some light on the above puzzle in Daniel.
At Daniel’s request, the Archangel Gabriel explained this second vision to him.
“The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia. And the rough [he] goat is the king of Grecia [Greece]: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king [Alexander the Great]. Now that being broken [dead], whereas four [kings] stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his [same] power. And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors [sinners] are come to the full, a king [the “little horn”] of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences [skilled in intrigue (NAB)], shall stand up. And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people. And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without [a] hand [being raised (NAB)].” (Daniel 8:20–25, KJV, emphasis mine)
I’m sure the reader is utterly confused by now; however, a case in point, this is the type of obscure scriptures Bible-inerrancy believers and the overwhelming majority of Christian denominations rely on to convince themselves that the Bible is inspired directly by God himself. Not only that, regrettably, they also fashion their entire lives and the lives of others accordingly. Nonetheless, let me try to sift through this maze and let the reader decide whether there is any justification to their claims.
There is not much disagreement, among Christian denominations and biblical scholars, regarding this last vision of Daniel because the explanation is given in the book itself, and it is quite explicit. The two horns of the ram represent Media and Persia; with Persia eventually overpowering Media. The great horn of the he-goat represents Alexander the Great, the first king of the Greek or Hellenistic Empire, which was subsequently divided between “four kings” immediately after his death in 323 BCE. The Douay-Rheims Bible explains that the “four horns” refer to,
“Seleucus [I Nicator], Antigonus [I Monophthalmus (i.e., the one-eyed)], Philip [III Arrhideus], and Ptolemeus [Ptolemy I Soter], the successors of Alexander [the Great], who divided his empire among them.” (DRC, Daniel 8:8n)
There were significant changes to the above distribution of the Hellenistic Empire following the battle of Ipsus (a village in the ancient district of Phrygia in modern Turkey) which occurred in 301 BCE; however, Alexander’s empire still remained divided in four major portions: (a) Cassander ruled in Greece, Macedonia, and Thrace (which adjoined Macedonia & Turkey); (b) Lysimachus ruled in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and Syria; (c) Ptolemy I ruled in Egypt and the neighboring regions, including the eastern Mediterranean: starting the Ptolemaic Dynasty in Egypt; and (d) Seleucus I ruled in Mesopotamia (Babylon), Persia, Central Asia, and India: founding the Seleucid Empire. Daniel’s author is mainly concerned with the last of these four kingdoms since it was the one that affected the Jews most: it carried out oppressive and even violent religious persecution against them under Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Now, in their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s, Jehovah’s Witnesses interpret Daniel’s first vision above as follows:
“The Babylonian [Empire (612–539 BCE)] was pictured by a lion, the Persian [Empire (550–331 BCE)] by a bear, and the Greek [or Hellenistic Empire (336–31 BCE)] by a leopard. … [The] fourth wild beast prefigured the powerful Roman Empire [(264 BCE–1453)].” (pp. 127–28)
The Calvinists (Presbyterian/Reformed Churches) too, following Jerome of Stridon (c. 347–420 CE), agree with this interpretation; it has also been the traditional interpretation of the four kingdoms in Daniel by both Jews and Christians alike for two millennia. Also Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians share in the belief that the fourth kingdom is the Roman Empire, and that the bishop of Rome, the pope, is the “little horn” emerging from the breakup of the Roman Empire. (Wikipedia: “For Kingdoms of Daniel”) So, one can safely conclude that Jehovah’s Witnesses’ interpretation is in line with that of several other Christian denominations.
They further explain that in the early fifth century (c. 500) CE, the Western Roman Empire started to fall apart, resulting in smaller kingdoms being formed: so, the “ten horns” arise—they do not specify them. Ultimately, they contend, Britain defeated Spain, France, and the Netherlands forming the British Empire (1606–1997 CE): thus, they conclude, the “little horn” subdued “three” of the original “ten horns.”
In short, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the first beast represented Babylon, the second Persia, the third Greece, and the fourth Rome. What about Britain? There was no fifth beast in Daniel’s vision. Can one argue that Britain was a part of the Roman Empire too? I don’t think so.
I had heard this explanation before, in my early teens, but it never made much sense to me. It would have been truly amazing were Daniel’s author capable of predicting world history until the establishment of the British Empire in the early seventeenth century CE; even though he did not give us exact dates.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the New American Bible (which prides itself of 1,200-odd biblical scholars possessing an advanced degree in biblical studies) interprets Daniel’s first vision very differently. It explains that the ancient Babylonian Empire was symbolized by a winged lion with forepaws raised (NAB, Daniel 7:4n), the Median Empire was symbolized by a bear (NAB, Daniel 7:5n), and the Persian Empire was symbolized by a leopard. The leopard’s swiftness, it adds, paralleled the speed with which the Persian Empire was established by Cyrus the Great; and the “four heads” stood for the four kings of Persia. (NAB, Daniel 7:6n) Recall what I pointed out at the beginning of this section: that the third beast had “four heads.” We again find another reference to the four kings of the Persian Empire in a third vision—an angelic vision—Daniel had; in it, the angel tells Daniel,
“Now will I shew thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings [Cyrus II (the Great), Cambyses II & Darius I (Wikipedia: “Achaemenid Empire”)] in Persia; and the fourth [Xerxes I] shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia [Greece]. And a mighty king [Alexander the Great] shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will.” (Daniel 11:2–3, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice especially, in this last vision, the phrase “in Persia”: meaning that the third beast represents the Persian Empire; consequently, the fourth beast must represent the Greek-Hellenistic Empire as indeed the biblical text implies—not the Roman Empire as several Christian denominations contend.
Now, recall also what was said of Daniel’s first vision: that the fourth beast was “unlike” the other three. Commenting on this word, the New American Bible points out that Alexander’s empire was different from the other three because, unlike all the other empires which originated from the east of Israel, it originated from the west; moreover, it was much more powerful and occupied a far greater geographic area. It adds that the “ten horns” belonging to the fourth beast stood for the ten kings of the Seleucid Empire: the empire that concerned the Jews most. The “little horn” was, of course, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who seized the throne, replacing three rulers (Seleucus IV Philopator, Heliodorus & Demetrius I Soter, according to Wikipedia: “Antiochus IV Epiphanes”), and started persecuting the Jews. (NAB, Daniel 7:7–8n)
In Daniel’s undisputed second vision given above, the same phrase, “little horn,” is used there as well; recall the relevant verses:
“The he goat waxed [grew] very great: and when he was strong, the great horn [Alexander the Great] was broken [died]; and for it came up four notable ones [the Hellenistic Empire’s four divisions] toward the four winds of heaven. And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land [Israel].” (Daniel 8:8–9, KJV, emphasis mine)
Undoubtedly, therefore, the phrase “little horn” is a derogatory term referring to Antiochus IV Epiphanes—for his persecuting the Jews, the people of Daniel’s author—not to the British Empire or the pope as several Christian denominations contend.
I think the confusion stems mainly from the fact that in Daniel’s undisputed second vision, the author combines the Medes and the Persians together in one animal—the ram. But he does mention that it had two horns, and that one, Persia, grew stronger than the other, Media.
“The two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last.” (Daniel 8:2, KJV)
Media was northwest of Persia, and Cyrus II (the Great) defeated his Median grandfather, Astyages, without a military battle in 550 BCE. They were so close to each other that it was not easy for outsiders to distinguish them: like England and Scotland, say; but neighbors are often rivals too.
Consequently, several other Christian denominations were possibly misled by this second of Daniel’s vision, and they completely missed the boat in their ensuing explanation of the supposed world powers prophecy.
One of the historical facts that probably threw them off is the fact that the Medes never defeated the Babylonians in 539 BCE. It was the Persians who defeated them. If one were to assume the Bible to be infallible, as most Christian denominations do, it can easily mislead one to come to the wrong conclusion. But the fact is that the Median Empire was inexistent for more than a decade by then. Still, there was another empire, the Median Empire (605–550 BCE), that existed immediately before the Persian Empire, but it never ousted the Babylonian Empire. Historically, it never entered the fray, but it is included as one of the four successive kingdoms in Daniel. This is where Daniel’s author got confused; most probably because, as we shall see, that is what more ancient scriptures reportedly foretold: that the Medes will oust the Babylonians.
Now, why did Daniel’s author confuse the history of allegedly his own time (the sixth century BCE) but know more about the alleged future history (the second century BCE)? The answer is very simple; he did not belong to the time he claims (the sixth century BCE): he was writing in the second century BCE. His information is much more accurate regarding Antiochus’s persecution of the Jews around 165 BCE.
In support of this hypothesis, the New American Bible explains that Daniel is an early case of a special type of literature termed apocalyptic. This type of literature started around the early second century (c. 200) BCE and continued until the early fifteenth century (c. 1500) CE. Both Jews and Christians used it, predominantly in times of persecution. It was a kind of code-form writing understood mainly by insiders, thus avoiding the watchful eye of the ruling nation. So, the symbolic style of literature used in Daniel, luckily or unluckily (depending on how one looks at the Bible), reveals the approximate date when it was written: like the fashion of certain clothes would reveal the date of a movie setting. The New American Bible, in its introduction to Daniel, tells us clearly when it was written:
“This work [the Book of Daniel] was composed during the bitter persecution carried on by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (167–164 B.C.). (NAB, p. 1065)
It adds that its aim was to help the Jews get through these difficult times. This view is also supported by many others, for example, The Encyclopedia Americana 1977 (vol.8, p. 482).
Moreover, in the same introduction to Daniel, the New American Bible states, point blank, that the book is not historically accurate; here is exactly what it says:
“The stories bristle with historical problems and have the character of historical novels rather than factual records.” (NAB, p. 1065)
Is it not interesting that such a statement should come from believers in God’s inspiration and infallibility of the Bible—Catholics? One might therefore ask, “Where are these historical errors in Daniel?”
To begin with, the author writes about Darius the Mede (see Daniel 5:31; 11:1) who never even existed in history. According to Daniel, after the protagonist interpreted the writing by a ghostly hand on the wall (see Daniel 5:25–28), the Babylonian “king” (coregent rather) Belshazzar was slain, and he was succeeded by Darius the Mede (see Daniel 5:30–31). The New American Bible comments bluntly on this verse that “Darius the Mede [is] unknown outside the Book of Daniel.” (NAB, Daniel 6:1n)
Why? Technically, the Median Empire was inexistent at the time of this account because, as we have seen, it was superseded by the Persian Empire. Darius’s character in Daniel, however, resembles that of Darius the Great (522–486 BCE), the third king of the Persian Empire. Daniel’s author seems to be confusing the Medes with the Persians, at times.
Indeed, the New American Bible contends that Daniel’s author seems to follow biblical prophecy rather than actual historical facts: according to which the Median Empire would defeat the Babylonian Empire and follow it immediately afterward. (NAB, Daniel 6:1n) For example, in Jeremiah, we read,
“Make bright the arrows; gather the shields: the Lord hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes: for his device is against Babylon, to destroy it; because it is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance of his temple.” (Jeremiah 51:11, KJV, emphasis mine) See also Jeremiah 51:28–30 & Isaiah, 13:17–19.
Oddly enough, it seems that Daniel’s author prefers scriptural prophecy, to actual history. I wonder what Bible-inerrancy believers think of that.
Let us now quickly compare history with Daniel. History says: (a) The last Median king, Astyages, surrendered to Cyrus in 550 BCE. So, technically, the Median Empire did not even exist when Belshazzar died in 539 BCE: so, he could not have been succeeded by a Median king. (b) Belshazzar was never a king of the Babylonian Empire; he was coregent from 550 BCE to 539 BCE: his father, Nabonidus, was the king. (c) Nebuchadnezzar was the first king of the Babylonian Empire; Nabonidus was the last.
Daniel’s book is far from historically accurate: (a) Unlike what Daniel says (see Daniel 5:1, 9, 30; 7:1; 8:1), Belshazzar was never king of Babylon; he was the first-born of the last Babylonian king, Nabonidus, (who reigned from 556 BCE to 539 BCE). His father only handed over to him all responsibility, but not the title of king. (b) Unlike what Daniel says (see Daniel 5:2, 11, 18), Belshazzar’s father was not King Nebuchadnezzar (who reigned from about 605 BCE to about 562 BCE); Nebuchadnezzar was the first king of Babylon—far from being the last. (c) Darius the Mede (see Daniel 5:31; 11:1) never even existed.
As just mentioned, according to Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s father; but someone might argue that by the word “father” in the Bible may mean ancestor. Clearly though, the New American Bible does not even hint at such an interpretation (NAB, Daniel 5:2n). This is probably because Nabonidus, Belshazzar’s father, is not even mentioned in Daniel. From the book’s context, it is clear that Daniel’s author indeed thought Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s father. As I also pointed out above, Daniel’s author did not know the history of the alleged time of his protagonist (i.e., the sixth century BCE) too well: yet he knew much more accurate details about the history during which his book was probably written (i.e., the second century BCE).
Now, in another symbolic dream the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar reportedly had, Daniel’s author erroneously reaffirms that the Median Empire was in power in between the Babylonian Empire and the Persian Empire. Just prior to the following passage, God had somehow revealed Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to Daniel, who then proceeded to retell and explain it to the king.
“Thou, O king [Nebuchadnezzar], sawest, and behold a great image [statue]. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands [human intervention], which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. This is the dream; and we [Daniel] will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. And after thee shall arise another kingdom [of silver] inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men [intermarriage]: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.” (Daniel 2:31–45, KJV, emphasis mine).
The New American Bible explains Daniel’s interpretation very succinctly as follows:
“The four successive kingdoms in this apocalyptic perspective are the Babylonian (gold), the Median (silver), the Persian (bronze), and the Hellenistic [or Greek] (iron).” (NAB, Daniel 2:36–45n)
It was obviously the Greek-Hellenistic Empire that was, metaphorically, fractured into iron and clay: exhibiting both strength and weakness. Recall that after Alexander the Great died, his generals divided the Hellenistic Empire among themselves. Later, the emergent emperors were unsuccessful in trying to reunite the original mega-empire through intermarriage and war. Two of the empires that eventually emerged affected the Jews most: (a) Syria (ruled by the Seleucids—on which Daniel’s author concentrates) and (b) Egypt (ruled by the Ptolemies). The “stone cut out of the mountain without hands” represents God’s future kingdom—the messianic times.
Notice that the legs of the statue in the king’s vision consist of solid iron: that is, while Alexander the Great was still alive, it was a solid empire. It is only the feet and toes that consist of both iron and clay: that is, after his death it developed weaknesses. Yet, it was still made partly of the same material (iron): because Alexander’s successors were his own generals. While Alexander was still alive, they were united (they were solid); but after his death they were divided, and so became vulnerable.
Keep in mind what I mentioned above, however, that, historically, the Medes never ousted the Babylonians—the Persians did. As the New American Bible scholars allude to above, it is only an apocalyptic perspective tailored on biblical prophecy, which imagines that the Babylonian Empire was immediately followed by the Median Empire. The Median Empire existed prior to the Persian Empire, yes, but as an aside—like an appendix.
Could one interpret the iron legs, feet, and toes of the statue as representing the Roman Empire, as several Christian denominations contend? Well, to begin with, the Roman Empire did not start strong and become weak; on the contrary, it started weak (c. 500 BCE) and got stronger (c. 100 BCE); however, it did get weak again after a significant length of time (c. 500 CE). If this were the case, however, the previous empire, the Greek-Hellenistic Empire, would be represented by the brass belly and thighs. Now, if one were to assume the brass belly and thighs represented the Greek-Hellenistic Empire, there would be no indication of its becoming weak through division after Alexander’s death: it was solid (strong) all along—which was certainly not the case historically.
As mentioned above, Jehovah’s Witnesses disagree strongly with the New American Bible scholars that Daniel was written around 165 BCE: they claim all the above is real prophecy, not an after-the-fact account; and they give supporting evidence. They state that: (a) Daniel is mentioned in the second-century-BCE Catholic canonical book First Maccabees at 2:60. (b) It is also included in the Septuagint version of the Bible—a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that was started in the mid-third century BCE. (c) Moreover, fragments of Daniel were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were carbon-dated around 100 BCE. Their conclusion is that it must have been written long before any of these dates: that is, allowing for the time required for wide circulation (p. 129).
However: (a) According to the New American Bible, First Maccabees was written around 100 BCE (p. 540). (b) According to Wikipedia, the Septuagint translation was only started in the mid-third century BCE; it was completed in 132 BCE (Wikipedia: “Septuagint”). (c) The fragments of Daniel found among the Dead Sea Scrolls were dated around 100 BCE, which Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves confirm.
Notice that the earliest of these three dates is 132 BCE, which is more than thirty years after Daniel was presumably written. Admittedly, it may be cutting it a little close for a book to become popular in those days; however, one cannot absolutely rule out the possibility.
Jehovah’s Witnesses also aptly point out that historians, such as Herodotus in the fifth century BCE, Xenophon in the fourth century BCE, and Berossus in the third century BCE, do not mention anything about Belshazzar, the last Babylonian ruler (see Daniel, 5:1, 9, 22, 30; 7:1; 8:1). Their inference is that Daniel’s author could not have known about him, unless he was in fact present at the time, namely, around 539 BCE (pp. 129–30). In other words, they contend that if historians didn’t know about him, neither would the biblical author have known about him.
One must concede that the case of Belshazzar (coregent: 550–539 BCE) is rather strange; it is still possible, however, that Daniel’s author had some fragmentary information about him that was unavailable to the historians mentioned above—possibly because he lived in a different location—the information being eventually lost. Recall, however, that Daniel’s author is inaccurate in his Belshazzar account and even downright wrong about sixth-century-BCE history.
In summary, Daniel’s apocalyptic writing style was never used prior to 200 BCE: a style used mainly in times of persecution (Antiochus’s). The author is much more in line with second-century-BCE history and downright wrong regarding sixth-century-BCE history. Evidently, this shows it is more likely that he lived and wrote in the second century BCE rather than in the sixth century BCE. Belshazzar’s mention in Daniel is insufficient to override the biblical scholars’ contention; besides, the author’s information on Belshazzar is inaccurate anyway.
In their book, Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Daniel also foretold the coming of Jesus Christ—the Messiah first promised to King David.
Before we embark on our discussion, we first need to understand that, probably needless to mention, “Christ” is not Jesus’s last name: it is our English rendering of the Greek word christos, meaning “anointed,” which is the translation of the Hebrew word mashach, from which we get the word “Messiah.” But, at the same time, we need to keep in mind that there were many ‘messiahs,’ or ‘anointed ones’: that is, people delegated by God or the Hebrew nation to perform a mission or a task—like a king or a high priest, for example. In an article entitled “Messiah” in the Bible Study Tools website, theologian and Old Testament scholar Gerard Van Groningen informs us that
“Persons who were anointed had been elected, designated, appointed, given authority, qualified, and equipped for specific offices and tasks related to these.”
These people were officially/ritually commissioned/delegated by a superior’s anointing of their head with a perfumed ointment.
Jehovah’s Witnesses start their discussion of the supposed prophecy foretelling the coming of Jesus Christ in Daniel by quoting a portion of the following passage portraying the Archangel Gabriel telling Daniel,
“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish [atone for] the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah [Christ (DRC)] the Prince [an anointed ruler (NAB)] shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two [i.e., 62] weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.” (Daniel 9:24–25, KJV, emphasis mine).
Why most religious institutions, including biblical scholars, interpret the word “weeks” in this text as ‘weeks of years’ (i.e., seven years) has always been puzzling to me; but I shall explain, in this section, why the New American Bible agrees.
Personally, I would simply write off this so-called prophecy, right at the start, if one must interpret the word “week” as ‘week of years’ to make it meaningful: this is another classic example of the type of cryptic language used in so-called biblical prophecies. Naturally, trying to sell such an interpretation as reliable prophecy to an outsider is sheer lunacy. But since biblical scholars do so without second guessing, I shall play ball in their home court.
Now, as we have already seen in the section on the Jews’ “Exile” above, Jeremiah supposedly prophesied that they would be deported to Babylon for seventy years. Seventy was a perfect number for the Jews: what nowadays we might call a round number, like one hundred or one thousand. Recall that the book portrays the prophet as God’s oracle to the Jews saying,
“This whole land [of Judah] shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” (Jeremiah 25:11, KJV)
“Thus saith the Lord, ‘That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.’” (Jeremiah 29:10, KJV)
Historically, there were two main groups of Jewish deportations to Babylon: one in 598/597 BCE and the other ten years later in 588/587 BCE. For simplicity, I shall totally disregard a third deportation of fewer people, which took place six years later around 582/581 BCE. Contrary to what Jeremiah’s prophecy supposedly foretold, the Jews were out of the Babylonian captivity after only sixty-odd years (598/597–539/538 BCE) or fifty-odd years (588/587–539/538 BCE), depending on which date one takes as the beginning of their exile—even less for the third deportation.
The New American Bible explains that, although Jeremiah prophesied a Jewish exile of seventy years in Babylon (Jeremiah 25:11, 29:10), it was only intended as a rough estimate—comparable to the complete passing away of the then-current generation. This supposed prophecy was considered fulfilled by the Jews when the Persian king Cyrus the Great defeated Babylon (in 539 BCE) and allowed them to return to their country. In my opinion, however, God’s word should be more precise: that is the only way of telling that it is coming from God—otherwise it becomes just human guesswork.
Anyway, as we have seen in the last section on “World Powers,” in the second century BCE (i.e., between 175 and 164 BCE), the Jews were being oppressed once again by the Seleucid Empire. Although that was four-hundred-odd years later, they felt that God had not really delivered them from oppression. And this oppression seemed even worse; it was destroying them at the core: they could not even practice their religion. Apparently, Daniel’s author, writing in this period, felt uneasy changing the ‘magical’ number seventy, used by the prophet Jeremiah; so he arbitrarily changed it to “seventy weeks,” implying ‘weeks of years,’ of course: that is, four hundred and ninety (70×7 = 490) years; thus, extending the Jews’ oppression close to his time (i.e., about 430-odd years later). The New American Bible explains it as follows:
“The author of Daniel, living during the persecution of Antiochus, extends Jeremiah’s number to seventy weeks of years (Daniel 9:24) to encompass the period of Seleucid persecution.” (NAB, Daniel 9:2n)
This seems to be the reason why the word “weeks” is usually interpreted as ‘weeks of years’: quite a massaging of a previous supposedly prophetic text, in my opinion.
Naturally, in deciphering the above so-called prophecy about Jesus Christ in Daniel, one must first figure out the initial, or reference date: that is, where one starts counting from. In the above quote, the reference date seems to be “from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem.” This date, however, is not so easy to interpret: there is significant disagreement between biblical scholars and Christian denominations. So, I must warn the reader beforehand that the following interpretations can get rather confusing.
On the one hand, we have Jehovah’s Witnesses saying,
“The command to restore and build Jerusalem ‘went forth’ in ‘the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king’ of Persia, that is, in 455 B.C.E. (Nehemiah 2:1–9).” (p. 131)
They cite the following account in Nehemiah.
“It came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king [of Persia] … I [Nehemiah] said unto the king, ‘If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres [tombs], that I may build it.’ And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) ‘For how long shall thy journey be? And when wilt thou return?’ So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.” (Nehemiah 2:1, 5–6, KJV) On the other hand, we have the New American Bible that interprets the start date: “from the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy” (NAB, Daniel 9:24n); that is, around 605 BCE. This interpretation might seem a bit odd to the reader at this point, but I would like to keep things simple for a little while: I shall show, later in this section, why its scholars interpret it this way. Right at the very start, therefore, we have a difference in opinion of about 150 years. This is the first major problem. Who is right?
The biblical text seems to, legally, support what Jehovah’s Witnesses say is the starting date. However, I suppose it also depends, to some extent, on how one interprets the biblical texts because, in reality, things did not happen that simply.
For example, according to Ezra, the order to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple (not the city) came in the first year of Cyrus the Great, the first king of the Persian Empire in 539/538 BCE:
“Now in the first year of Cyrus [the Great] king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, ‘Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God), which is in Jerusalem.’” (Ezra 1:1–3, KJV).
Admittedly, there is no mention, in Ezra, of an order to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, but naturally, besides the Temple, the Jews also proceeded rebuilding the city anyway. So, the then-residents of the land wrote a letter to the Persian king complaining,
“Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations.” (Ezra 4:12, KJV)
That is, until the king forced them to stop:
“Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me.” (Ezra 4:21, KJV)
So, practically, one could also propose 539/538 BCE as the starting date for the above supposed prophecy: which would still have given us a difference of more than 80 years. Now, would Bible-inerrancy believers have refrained from using this date as the starting point had it fitted what they want to believe?
Next, we have the question of when Jesus was anointed. This is another problem because, in fact, he was never anointed. He was only anointed by a woman—possibly a sinner—but certainly not by a superior (see Mark 14:3–9; Matthew 26:6–13; John 12:1–8); and he was obviously not commissioned by her because women were considered inferior to men in the Old Testament.
Like most Christians, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus’s baptism substituted his anointing: they contend that Jesus was anointed by a spiritual ointment—the Holy Spirit. Like baptism with the Holy Spirit instead of water (see Matthew 3:11; John 1:34; Acts 1:5), I suppose.
Accordingly, Jehovah’s Witnesses write,
“Counting the full 483 years (7 plus 62 weeks of years) [see Daniel 9:25] from 455 B.C.E., we arrive at 29 C.E. This was, in fact, ‘the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,’ the year when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptizer. (Luke 3:1) At that time, Jesus was publicly identified as God’s Son and began his ministry of preaching the good news to the Jewish nation. (Matthew 3:13–17; 4:23) He became the ‘anointed one’ or Messiah.” (p. 131)
They are not the only ones who think so, of course, the Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible, for example, seems to concur: a note annexed to Daniel 9:25 says,
“From the going forth of the word, etc. … That is, from the twentieth year of king Artaxerxes, when by his commandment Nehemias [Nehemiah] rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, 2 Esdras 2 [i.e., Nehemiah 2]. From which time, according to the best chronology, there were just sixty-nine weeks of years, that is, 483 years to the baptism of Christ, when he first began to preach and execute the office of Messias [Messiah].” (DRC, Daniel 9:25n)
Since Jesus was never formally anointed, why do they not use his year of birth as the fulfilment of Jeremiah’s alleged prophecy? Jesus was even recognized as “the Christ” when he was presented in the Temple forty days after his birth (see Luke 2:26–32). I suppose it is because this date does not happen to fit: had it fitted, you can bet your bottom dollar that they would have chosen Jesus’s birth instead of his baptism.
I propose that God never bothered to prophesy Christ’s coming in Daniel or elsewhere in the Bible: same as he never even tried to officially anoint him according to established protocol. No? You don’t agree? Keep reading.
Let me now show why the New American Bible came up with 605 BCE as the initial reference date and then the reader may decide whether it makes more sense. Now, even though this goes against my grain, keep in mind that the New American Bible takes a more liberal approach regarding the dates given; it claims that they are only approximate rather than hard and fast dates—somewhat like Jeremiah’s Babylonian captivity prediction. Recall that they contend the “seventy years” were only a rough approximation (NAB, Daniel 9:24n): they turned out to be less than sixty years. Keep in mind also that according to these biblical scholars, Daniel was written around 165 BCE: things will be much clearer for the reader to understand.
The first interesting detail one observes in Daniel’s supposed prophecy, quoted above (Daniel 9:25), is that there are two dates given: “seven weeks” and “threescore and two [i.e., 62] weeks.” This suggests that the author is referring to two ‘messiahs’ rather than one, but in the ordinary sense of an ‘anointed of the Lord’—at different times, of course. Thus, the first “anointed prince” (or “ruler”), in Daniel, came after “seven weeks” of years, that is, after forty-nine (7×7 = 49) years; the second “anointed one” came after “sixty-two weeks” of years: that is, after four hundred and thirty-four (62×7 = 434) years. Let us see how these dates fit in.
According to the New American Bible, the first “anointed prince/ruler” is not Jesus Christ (as contended above); he is either the Persian king Cyrus, who freed the Jews from captivity and was called God’s “anointed” in Isaiah 45:1, or the high priest Jeshua mentioned in Ezra 3:2, who led the rebuilding of the Jerusalem altar after the Jews’ return home from the Babylonian captivity (NAB, Daniel 9:25n). “Seven weeks” of years, or forty-nine (7×7 = 49) years, was the exact time of the second Babylonian exile of the Jews (588/587–539/538 BCE); that is, if one were to give Daniel’s author the benefit of the doubt in the starting date of the Babylonian exile, which indeed was the most numerous. Remember that seven was a magical number for the Jews: even more so was seven times seven or forty-nine; so, a Jewish author would bend over backwards to use such a number rather than any other odd number.
Again according to the New American Bible, Daniel’s author considers the beginning of the Seleucid persecution to be 171 BCE; that is, when the high priest Onias III was murdered (see below). Going back “sixty-two weeks” of years or four hundred and thirty-four (62×7 = 434) years from this date brings us to the year 605 BCE (171+434 = 605), which is around the time Jeremiah apparently predicted the Babylonian exile: this is the initial reference date the New American Bible suggests. Not bad, right? However, one must keep in mind that Daniel’s author was writing in hindsight—not exactly prophecy!
Daniel portrays the Archangel Gabriel concluding the above supposed prophecy concerning “Christ” (or rather the “anointed ones”) as follows:
“After threescore and two  weeks [of years] shall Messiah [Christ (DRC); an anointed one (NAB)] be cut off [slain], but not for himself [with no one to help him (NAB)]: and the people of the prince [a leader (NAB)] that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined [decreed (NAB)]. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week [of years]: and in the midst of the week [of years] he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate [the desolating abomination (NAB)], even until the consummation [end], and that determined [decreed ruin (NAB)] shall be poured upon the desolate [desolator].” (Daniel 9:26–27, KJV, emphasis mine)
Jehovah’s Witnesses interpret this passage as follows. Jesus preached almost exclusively to the Jews and Samaritans who followed the Mosaic Law, so they believe that the word “many” in the above quote refers to them; mid-way through the last seven years of the Archangel Gabriel’s supposed prophecy (“in the midst of the week” of years), Jesus “sacrificed” his life: he was “slain.”
Then they resort to first-century-CE theology to explain why Jesus “caused the sacrifice … to cease”: they cite a couple of verses from Paul’s Galatians, which basically say that Jesus’s death implied the end of the Mosaic Law.
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the [Mosaic] law, being made a curse [himself] for us: for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.’” (Galatians 3:13, KJV)
“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” (Galatians 24–25, KJV).
In other words, in their opinion, after Jesus’s sacrificial death, “the sacrifice” in the Temple stopped.
But, historically, the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem did not stop until long after Jesus’s death, which was around 30 CE; they continued until the year 70 CE when the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Romans: this does not fit their interpretation at all.
Anyway, they proceed to explain that the early Christian church continued Jesus’s mission with the Jews and Samaritans, exclusively, for the remaining half of the final seven years of the Archangel Gabriel’s supposed prophecy. Then in 36 CE (i.e., 7 years after Jesus’s baptism in 29 CE), Peter, the apostles’ leader, was divinely inspired to preach to and baptize the gentiles, starting with Cornelius (see Acts 10:1–48): thus, ending the covenant with the “many”—that is, the Jews and Samaritans.
Finally, they conclude, in 70 CE the Roman general Titus (the “leader”) destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple. They contend that God did not protect the Jews from the Romans because they not only rejected Jesus but also plotted to have him crucified. Thus, they close, the prophecy “the people of the prince [leader/ruler] that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” was also fulfilled (pp. 131–32).
But 70 CE is too far out in time with reference to the alleged prophecy: following their very own interpretation, the entire prophecy should be over by 36 CE (29+7 = 36). So, their interpretation does not hold much water.
Now, recall that the New American Bible interprets the second “anointed one” differently: it does not think that Daniel’s author was even thinking of Jesus Christ at all (as Jehovah’s Witnesses contend above); it says that he was referring to Onias III, a high priest who was killed in 171 BCE while in exile. It also adds that Daniel’s author takes this date as the starting date of the Seleucid persecution (NAB, Daniel 9:26n).
Consequently, the New American Bible contends that the “leader” mentioned in the alleged prophecy above was Antiochus IV Epiphanes; and the “many” were the Jews who went along supporting the Hellenistic regime: abandoning the Mosaic Law. Now, historically, Antiochus’s persecution of the Jews lasted seven years (“one week” of years) until his death in 164 BCE (171-7 = 164). Mid-way (“in the midst of the week” of years) through his persecution, that is, in 167 BCE (171-4 = 167), he desecrated the Temple: “sacrifice ceased” and there shall be in the Temple “the desolating abomination”: the “abomination” was probably a pagan altar or a statue the Greek god Zeus Olympios (NAB, Daniel 9:27n & 8:13n) or a statue of the emperor himself. Recall that the Jews objected strongly to statues of gods (or emperors declared divine) especially in the Temple.
However, there is just one snag with the above interpretation by the New American Bible: the numbers do not add up exactly. Yes, seven weeks plus sixty-two weeks plus one week add up to seventy weeks (7+62+1 = 70); however, keep in mind that the first seven weeks are included in the sixty-two weeks. So, Daniel is fifty-odd years (“seven weeks” of years = 7×7 = 49) out in its alleged prophecy calculations. I presume this is why the New American Bible makes the stipulation that the seventy weeks of years, the sixty-two weeks of years, and the seven weeks of years are only approximate (ballpark figures): just like Jeremiah’s “seventy” years of captivity, which turned out to be sixty-odd or fifty-odd years, depending on when one deems the start of the Jewish captivity. I shall let the reader decide which interpretation is best.
Not without reason does American Episcopalian clergyman James Alan Montgomery describe the history of this supposed prophecy’s interpretation as a “dismal swamp” of critical exegesis. I think all this confusion shows clearly that, most probably, there is no prophecy at all about Jesus Christ in Daniel. But try to explain all this, in a nutshell, to Bible-illiterate believers.
(6) Jesus’s Life
Jehovah’s Witnesses end their discussion on so-called prophecies on Jesus by referring to several supposed Old Testament prophecies concerning his life: his birth, passion for God’s Temple, preaching, betrayal for thirty silver pieces, and lots cast for his garments. (Needless to add, most Christian denominations have similar beliefs.) They conclude that the fulfillment of all these so-called prophecies leaves no doubt that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah originally promised to King David, and that, consequently, the scriptures were divinely inspired (pp. 132–33). I don’t have enough space to address all their claims here: I think I addressed enough alleged prophecies in this article; still, I do address some of them, sporadically, in the various chapters of my book Faith and Reason: Disturbing Christian Doctrines.
I will only make one more observation regarding these claims in the previous paragraph. Assuming the four evangelists knew the Old Testament scriptures well, is it not possible that they made up gospel accounts to satisfy the alleged prophecies in these scriptures? They were all written after the fact: that is, after Jesus had died, and I have shown such an instance of historical fabrication by the evangelists in my last article “Bible Contradictions (Textual).” People who believe they are on God’s side have been known to do strange and also evil things, thinking they are doing him a favor; even to the point of crashing passenger airplanes into high-rises.
As I have shown in my book Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation, personally I do believe Jesus is the Christ, the promised Davidic Messiah (pp. 517–21); however, not because of alleged prophecies in the Old Testament, but because there is compelling evidence for his resurrection in the New Testament—especially in Paul’s seven undisputedly authentic letters.
In Genesis, right after the Fall of Adam and Eve, God tells the serpent,
“I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed [offspring] and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, KJV)
To most Christians, this seems to foretell or promise the coming of a ‘Savior,’ presumably Jesus Christ. They even interpret the child’s heel-bruising as Jesus’s death and the serpent’s head-bruising as Jesus’s resurrection. In fact, they dubbed it by the Latin term of protoevangelium or ‘proto-gospel’—the first hint of the gospel. Is this a prophecy of Jesus Christ then?
The problem I have with this supposed prophecy is that, as I show in my article “Adam and Eve—Original Sin,” the story of Adam and Eve is an adopted Sumerian myth adapted to monotheism. Being a myth, in all practical probability, therefore, it never even happened; consequently, God could not possibly save us from something that never happened.
Moreover, if one examines this supposed prophecy, it has no specifics whatsoever: it does not say, for example, that God would send “the Prophet,” “the Messiah,” or “his only Son” to accomplish this. It seems to be a very general prediction of ‘good’ prevailing over ‘evil.’
Furthermore, it always bothered me why the Jews did not pick up on this so-called prophecy: to this day, they do not believe anything of the sort; after all, the Old Testament is their Bible. Were it clearly a prophecy about a ‘Savior,’ and Jesus was truly its fulfilment, how could they miss him for all these centuries, despite our inculcation? To many of us Christians, it might be a matter of faith, but it does not seem to be an obvious prophecy to outsiders: to say the least, therefore, it is debatable.
In fact, while Jehovah’s Witnesses concur that Jesus was foretold in this biblical verse, they disagree with most Christian denominations that Mary is the “woman” mentioned. They contend that “the woman … is spirit and not human.” Go figure! They believe that the “woman” represents God’s “heavenly organization of spirit creatures, from which Jesus descended” (p. 158).
Now, since the Jews don’t believe Jesus was this promised Savior, what might this alleged prophecy mean to them? I suppose Genesis’s author is simply predicting the permanent conflict between good and evil: evil might seem to be winning at times, but good will eventually prevail in the end. This may be just wishful thinking for humanity, of course, but it sure gives hope to people of good will during tough times in their battle against evil.
On the other hand, it may not be just wishful thinking; it might just work out: because evil or violent people tend to eliminate one another, while good-willed people tend to cooperate with one another. As light has a certain advantage over darkness, good has a similar advantage over evil, deep down in our human nature: God seems to have hardwired us this way. Naturally, I do not preclude the possibility that God might be there, at times, to help us somehow: as he did when he conceived his Son.
(8) End Times
I will add one last alleged biblical prophecy that keeps many Bible believers on edge: even to the point of giving them sleepless nights.
In their book, Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to predict that the present condition of the world will soon come to an end; and that Jesus will be coming back shortly afterward to rule the ensuing new world order—termed Second Coming or Parousia. They contend that, starting in 1914, the beginning of World War I, the world started on a downhill roll to total annihilation. They claim that this alleged biblical prophecy is currently being fulfilled before our very eyes and that it will even happen in our time—maybe not mine.
I wish I had a dollar every time I heard the prediction that the end of the world is near: I would probably be filthy rich by now. John the Baptist said it, Jesus of Nazareth said it, Paul of Tarsus said it, all four evangelists said it, John of Patmos said it, practically every televangelist airs it, Seventh-day Adventists preached it prior to 1844 (Wikipedia: “Seventh-day Adventist Church”), and so many other Christian denominations I would not even try to enumerate.
The reader might find it strange that also Jesus said so, but after predicting the end of the world as we know it (see the full passage below), Matthew’s gospel portrays him saying,
“Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:34–35, KJV, emphasis mine)
No doubt, Jesus’s generation is all dead; yet, heaven and earth are still here: and so also will Christianity’s or Jehovah’s Witnesses’ end-time predictions turn to dust.
Let us first look at the entire biblical passage they cite. In the following passage, Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple followed, shortly afterward, by the end of the present world order—or disorder, rather.
“Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, ‘See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.’ And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?’ And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, “I am Christ”; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows [labor pains]. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended [led into sin (NAB)], and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, “Lo, here is Christ,” or “there”; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, “Behold, he is in the desert”; go not forth: “behold, he is in the secret chambers”; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase [carcass] is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman [man-in-charge] of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.’” (Matthew 24:1–44, KJV, emphasis mine; see also Mark 13:1–37 & Luke 21:5–36).
It is undoubtedly true that there were several false messiahs prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 CE. However, the evangelist Matthew knew all about them because he wrote his gospel around 80 CE (NAB, p. 10), so it was not really prophecy, was it?
In their book, Jehovah’s Witnesses go through a whole list of wars, famines, earthquakes, plagues, and “wild beasts” (a metaphor for violent, predatory people) to prove that starting in 1914 evil has increased exponentially, and that the end of the world must therefore be near as we are told in the above supposed prophecy (pp. 134–48). May I ask, however, could it perhaps be the case that nowadays we get to know more news than in the past since communication has also increased exponentially, especially in the last century? Now, as I already pointed out above, whatever else Jesus supposedly prophesied about the end of the world should have happened before Jesus’s generation had passed away, say by 100 CE—not in our time—the gospel text itself says it (Matthew 24:34). So clearly, Jehovah’s Witnesses are here interpreting the above passage in Matthew out of context. Whatever they say, therefore, is all irrelevant. It is ludicrous to try to assert that a God-inspired prophecy would happen centuries after the time limit clearly spelled out in the prophecy itself.
I was thinking to myself: why do they leave out such an important detail in their treatment of this alleged prophecy? Do they translate the relevant Bible verse the same way? So, I decided to check it out; and the answer is yes, they do translate it the same way. The verse in their New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures reads,
“Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things happen.” (Matthew 24:34, NWT, emphasis mine)
It makes one wonder therefore why they do not reveal the whole truth; but then scare tactics have always been the favorite method used by all religious institutions to control their followers—they have no police to enforce the rules, so they don’t have much choice.
These are the people who pride themselves to be an “outstanding example of human behavior” (p. 181), the “most honest … tax payers,” and most exemplary citizens (p. 182); not to mention that they also claim to possess “accurate knowledge [of] the Bible” (p. 178).
Had I believed in God’s inspiration of the Bible, I would have thought that God inserted this gospel verse in there simply to tell us to disregard such nonsense as trying to predict the end-times. As if inserting it once were not enough, it seems that God wanted to make sure we got the message right by inserting it in the Bible, not just once, but three times—in three of the four gospels—the synoptic Gospels:
“Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” (Matthew 24:34, KJV)
“Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.” (Mark 13:30, KJV) and
“Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:32, KJV)
Notice the word “all” in the clause, “till all these things be fulfilled.” There was never a catastrophic upheaval of the earth or the universe; nor did the Son of Man come to earth in judgement.
So, when all is said and done, the above end-times prediction is all smoke and mirrors. Apparently, Jesus thought the end of the world would come in his generation, but it didn’t: so the alleged prophecy did not transpire. And if Jesus truly said these words, he was wrong—end of story.
A few decades ago, I started my own search for the truth regarding God’s inspiration of the Bible. Ever since, whenever I researched proposed biblical prophecies, all I found was cobwebs. This clearly demonstrates that the Bible is simply a human book because the odds of us humans foretelling the future are miniscule. Therefore, concerning proposed or declared prophecies in the Bible, my conclusion, also from this decisive aspect, is that the Bible is not God’s Word—but man’s. To preach otherwise is, in my opinion, to do a disservice to the Christian religion and to humanity in general—wherever missionary activity is undertaken. The so-called ‘biblical prophecy’ does not measure up to its reputation as the ultimate ‘litmus test’ of the Bible’s infallibility.
Attard, Carmel Paul. Faith and Reason: Disturbing Christian Doctrines. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2020. (ISBN: 9781663210937)
Attard, Carmel Paul. Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2019. (ISBN: 9781532078446)
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Van Groningen, Gerard. “Messiah”: http://www.Biblestudytools.com/dictionary/messiah/, 1996.
Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. International Bible Students Association, 1989.
Wikipedia s.v. “Achaemenid Empire,” last edited October 25, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achaemenid_Empire.
Wikipedia, s.v. “Antiochus IV Epiphanes,” last edited October 19, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiochus_IV_Epiphanes.
Wikipedia s.v. “Battle of Opis,” last edited October 19, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Opis.
Wikipedia s.v. “Four Kingdoms of Daniel,” last edited October 4, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_kingdoms_of_Daniel.
Wikipedia s.v. “Medes,” last edited October 19, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medes.
Wikipedia, s.v. “Septuagint,” last edited October 11, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septuagint.Wikipedia, s.v. “Seventh-Day Adventist Church,” last edited October 22, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seventh-day_Adventist_Church.