Critique of Josh McDowell’s Non-Messianic Prophecies
In chapter eleven of Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell attempts to illustrate the power of God by fulfilments of seemingly impossible predictions.
(Note the reference numbers in the sections do not tie up with the outline reference numbers in the introduction.)
1B Definition of a prophet.
McDowell says the definition of a prophet is to tell God’s will. However, there are clearly 2 different kinds of prophets in the Bible. There is a great difference between the prophet figures of the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, and those in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the minor prophets. The early prophet figures almost never prophesize in the modern sense. The later prophets sometimes do but a large part of their books is devoted to commenting on current conditions.
2C Scriptural definition.
McDowell says `The first prophecy goes all the way back to Adam and Eve with the predicted and promised Divine Redeemer of Genesis 3:15-16′. Genesis 3:15-16 says – `I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel. To the woman he said `I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing. In pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.’ Has McDowell given us the wrong reference? I can find no prophecy here to a Divine Redeemer.
McDowell says `Some of the early prophets were Enoch, Abraham and Moses’ Genesis does not call Enoch a prophet. The reference is from Jude 14, who is quoting the Book of Enoch 1:9. The book of Enoch is not a Biblical book. It was used by the early Church and then fell out of favour. It was written in stages between 200 BC and 100 AD, yet Jude treats it as though it really did contain the words of Enoch.
McDowell also quotes Numbers 12:6-8. Numbers 12, supposedly written by Moses, says that `Moses was very humble, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth’ (NIV translation) and then goes on to say that Moses was a very special servant and prophet of God. Does this sound like the writings of the most humble man in the world?
McDowell also quotes 1 Samuel 9:9. This is the passage that explains that formerly in Israel, people used to go to prophets to inquire about God, because a prophet used to be called a seer. The NIV has this in brackets. Why would Samuel write about this practice in the past tense? Surely if Samuel was written by Samuel, no note explaining what happened long ago would be necessary.
McDowell also quotes 2 Samuel 24:11 and then goes on to say that `nothing will occur which the Father has not foreseen’. Sadly for him, 2 Samuel 24:11 has a prophecy where God gives 3 options to David and lets David choose which disaster God will visit upon Israel. David does leave it up to God to choose which plague God will send but it is clear from the prophecy that God did not know that David would do that.
2B Tests of a prophet
Naturally, we need to know who is a false prophet and who is a true prophet. Deut. 18:21-22 gives us clear instructions telling us how we can tell the difference. `You may say to yourselves “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken.’ This is a very silly idea as you have to wait to see if the prophecy does not happen before you can know whether or not to believe it. Of course, we need something better than this and we need it at the time of the prophecy. McDowell tries to give us some rules but as even he admits there are no hard and fast rules.
He gives a rule that prophecies given in `prophetic ecstasy’ are often false. This seems to me to rule out most Christian revivalist meetings. It also rules out a lot of Ezekiel who seemed to spend almost all his time in an altered state of consciousness or ecstasy, as McDowell admits.
McDowell gives a rule that false prophets were usually on a paid staff under the king. Again McDowell has to admit this is not a final test as it rules out a lot of Biblical prophets. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel had close connections with the priesthood. Isaiah’s vision and calling occurred in the temple.
McDowell says that Deut. 13 `strikes a clear and ringing blow’. If a prophet gives a prophecy which comes true, but says that his prophecy does not come from Yahweh, then that prophet must be put to death. This undermines the whole of Chapter 11 of Evidence that Demands a Verdict. The Bible admits itself that a true prophecy is no proof at all that the God claimed to be responsible for the prophecy does actually exist.
McDowell quotes Jeremiah 23:22 which says that a true prophet `would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.” In other words, a true prophet is one who is listened to and gets results. McDowell tries to change this to a true prophet is merely one who `calls the people to righteousness and obedience.’ This is necessary because a lot of the `true’ prophets in the Bible did not turn people from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.
McDowell also quotes Jeremiah 23:29 which he says `presents a message of conviction and repentance’. My Bible reads for Jer. 23:29 ` “Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.” Perhaps, McDowell could explain what he means here.
Amusingly, the very next verse has God say ‘I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me’. Later, I shall give examples of where Jeremiah steals words from Isaiah.
So to summarise the Biblical teaching as presented by McDowell, a prophet whose prophecies come true can still be a false prophet. How then can we ever know that any prophet is a true prophet?
McDowell says that `one of the reasons the books have been carved up so much by the critics is because of the mistaken impression that true prophets have only one message — doom.’
Naturally, Biblical criticism has never used such a mistaken impression to decide that eg. Isaiah is the work of at least 3 people. McDowell is , once again, setting up a straw man and refusing to give any of the arguments used by Christian Biblical scholars.
3B Objecting to Predictive Prophecy – Postdating
1C Dating of Prophecy
McDowell gives a list of dates from Unger’s Bible dictionary for the prophet’s ministries. A lot of these dates are quite wrong according to modern Christian Biblical scholarship. For some reason, McDowell gives the date of Matthew. I never knew Matthew was considered to be written by a prophet. The date of 50 AD will also come as a surprise to most people.
He says that the OT prophets were translated into the Greek Septuagint by 280-250 BC. That is when the translations were started.
The following is by Bernard Katz (1) from the American Rationalist 1982
Or take the date McDowell says the Jews who lived in Egypt translated the Bible into Greek and his conclusions regarding the prophetic books based on that date: ‘All of the Old Testament prophets were translated into Greek in the Greek Septuagint by about 280 – 250 BC Therefore, we can assume that all of the prophets (including Joel and Obadiah) were written before this time’
This is simply not so according to another highly reputable source, the Abingdon Bible Commentary, edited by F. C. Eiselin, E. Lewis, and D. G. Downey. In the chapter ‘The Transmission of the Old Testament,’ pp. 103-4, we are given this information about the Septuagint: ‘The books were translated at different times by men unequally prepared for the task, the whole process extending over a period of approximately two hundred years, from about 250 to 50 BC. Notice that where McDowell says that the cut-off date for the Greek translation is about 280 BC, Professor I. M. Price, author of the Abingdon article, tells us that that is when the translations were actually started!
2C Dating of Ezekiel
Why has McDowell chosen Ezekiel? He says he has done it because he will use Ezekiel than any other book. He seems , though , to use other books just as much. It is probably because Ezekiel is one of the few books where indeed the date he gives is accepted by the majority of scholars. He has no hope of getting a date of 606-538 BC accepted for Daniel or 1500 BC for Leviticus. The other two big books of prophecy are Isaiah or Jeremiah. These are much less of a unity then Ezekiel.
Even in Ezekiel, though, the book (particularly chapters 40-48) gives clear indications of later editing or compiling by his disciples.
The following is again by Bernard Katz (1)
In regard to the dating of Ezekiel, which has been the subject of much controversy, McDowell uses as a witness the famous archeologist W. F. Albright who, according to McDowell, stated this in his ‘The Old Testament and Archeology’ this critical attitude [i.e., to the dating of Ezekiel] is not justified in the least, and to his way of thinking [i.e., Albright’s], there seems to be every reason for going back to a more conservative attitude.’
This statement, unfortunately for McDowell’ a case, is contradicted by the very same Albright, who says in his From the Stone Age to Christianity p. 326: …. . it is clear, however, that the manuscript tradition [i.e., of Ezekiel] must have been very corrupt, since the present masoretic text is full of doublets and conflate readings, many of which were not yet incorporated in the recension used by the Greek translators of the second century BC … Since McDowell places the book of Ezekiel at 592-570 BC, we have caught this apologist through his own witness!
For some strange reason, McDowell tells us that fragments of Ezek. were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. What relevance can this have to a dating of Ezekiel?
He also says that H.H. Rowley has defended `the essential unity’ of the book. But has he defended the `complete unity’? Later, I will give a quote from a book by Rowley showing that he disagrees with McDowell’s dates.
He quotes Cooke as saying that Ezekiel `is the basic author of the book.’ Why do people use phrases like `the essential unity’ and `the basic author’ if they believe that every word is by Ezekiel?.
McDowell quotes E.J.Young as saying that one of the reasons we can trust the book is that `the first person singular is employed throughout’. I take it then that a book like Daniel which switches between the first person and third person is regarded by McDowell with great suspicion.
3C Prophecies of specific places.
McDowell quotes Peter Stoner in `Science speaks’ “Others may say that these accounts in the Bible are not prophecies, but historical accounts written after the events occurred. This is absurd, for all of these prophecies are found in the Old Testament, and everyone will date its writing before Christ.”
This is just funny. There are hundreds of years between the OT happenings and the time of Christ. Plenty of time to add a few details here and there after the events.
McDowell says that Peter Stoner’s book has been reviewed by the American Scientific Affiliation. As this is also a fundamentalist body, we have the normal McDowell situation of one fundamentalist saying that another fundamentalist is correct, but presented as though they were completely impartial sources.
4C Presuppositions of critics.
McDowell says that most critics of predictive prophecy say we live in a closed system, there is no God and miracles cannot happen. If this is true then few Christians would be among the critics of predictive prophecy. However, a great many Christian scholars reject McDowell’s view of prophecy.
A lot of the time I shall be using the New Jerome Bible Commentary (NJBC). There are a few reasons for this. The first is that it is a good commentary. The second is that it is widely available in both the USA and UK where I am writing. The third is that it is written by a raft of Catholic scholars. Nobody can accuse Catholics of not believing in God, the supernatural and miracles. Indeed, they believe in more miracles than Protestants do. I’m sure that McDowell, with his Protestant anti-miracle bias, refuses to accept the miracle of transubstantiation or the miracles done by the Catholic’s community of saints.
4B. Specific fulfilment of prophecy
Again, McDowell just quotes people who say that they agree with him. The fact that some people agree with McDowell is not evidence.
He gives a strange quote by Bernard Ramm ” The enemy of Christianity must silence all our guns: we need to fire only one of them” In other words, non-believers must show that everything in the Bible is false. Believers can still believe even if just one thing cannot be shown to be false. As McDowell is the one who is claiming that the evidence supports him, then the burden of proof is on him. I need prove nothing.
I shall now look at all 12 prophecies McDowell gives in turn.
McDowell says that Ezekiel 26 was fulfilled in the minutest detail. He makes the strange statement that the prophecy that ` The city was never to be rebuilt’ has come true. Even if there were not a town of 10-15,000 people there, this prophecy can never be seen to have come true. You would have to wait a very long time to see if a prophecy that something would never happen would come true.
The following is again by Bernard Katz (1)
Let’s scrutinise some of the specific prophecies he uses for Christian evidences. He starts off with those concerning the ancient city of Tyre because the prophecies about its destruction are so easily proven. McDowell refers to chapter 26:8 of Ezekiel which predicts that Nebuchadnezzar will destroy the mainland city of Tyre.
To avoid confusion and to add precision to this prediction, it should be pointed out that Tyre consisted of a mother-city located on an island off the east coast of Palestine and a trading colony situated across from it on the mainland. McDowell assumes that the prediction applies to that part of Tyre located on the mainland because he says: `The mainland city of Tyre was destroyed in 573… but the city of Tyre on the island remained a powerful city for several hundred years.’ (If only part of the city were destroyed, how can the prediction be true?)
But there are two further objections. One is that McDowell has actually misread the Scripture! The actual biblical passage, and McDowell gives it correctly is: `He (i.e., Yahweh) will slay,, your daughters on the mainland with a sword.’ .. Now McDowell thinks this refers to the main or mother city of Tyre. But he’s got his P’s and Q’s backwards! The metropolis of Tyre was actually on the island fortress and the so-called mainland city was what we would today call a suburb. How do we know? Because the text tells us so. It says: `He will slay your daughters on the mainland…’ All ancient cities which sent out colonies designated them as either `sons’ or `daughters’ depending on whether the inhabitants were kin-folk or simply allies. In this case the Tyranians on the mainland were allies and so were labelled `daughters’ Therefore the prediction of Ezekiel means the opposite of what McDowell thinks!
The second objection is much more serious, and is once again due to McDowell’s ‘sins of omission.’ . To see that Ezekiel’s prophecy did not come true, all one has to do is to read two chapters further on, to Ezekiel 29:17-20. Here he will be shocked, if he’s a Christian in the mold as McDowell, to find that Ezekiel admits that he was wrong in this prediction; that Nebuchadnezzar never got anything from Tyre to pay for the labour that he had performed against it. Therefore says the Lord God… I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar. In other words, after Ezekiel admits he was in error, he says that the Lord will recompense the king of Babylon with Egypt for his troubles against Tyre! Why doesn’t McDowell point this out? Because his best evidence of a fulfilled prophecy would, naturally, explode his whole argument. After all, selectivity is the basis of Christian apologetics!
I would like to add that Nebuchadnezzar never conquered Egypt as Ezekiel prophesied. Not even Nebuchadnezzar claimed that.
Notice also that Ezekiel 29 refers to Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Tyre in the past tense. This means that the book of Ezekiel was not finished until after the events that it ‘prophesied’!
McDowell states that Alexander used the debris to build a mole across the straits. He did but he did not uses the walls of the city of Tyre to do so as Ezekiel 26 prophesied. He used the stones from the mainland, daughter city of Tyre to lay siege to the walls mentioned in Ezekiel 26. Verse 7 and 8 of Ezekiel 26 says quite categorically that Nebuchadnezzar will build the siege walls. There is no change of subject!
McDowell tries to get around the fact that Tyre still exists and has a big population by implying that it is only used by fisherman. Indeed that is what the prophecy says. Are there really 12,000 fishermen living in Tyre.?
I quote from MS Encarta (2)
Tyre or Sur (Latin Tyrus; Hebrew Zor), town, southern Lebanon, on the Mediterranean Sea. Its name was first applied to a small island just off the coast, the site of the earliest settlement here. Tyre was the most important city of ancient Phoenicia. Herodotus, the Greek historian, records a tradition that traced the settlement of Tyre back to the 28th century BC. In the 7th century AD it came under the dominion of the Saracens. In the 12th century it was taken by the Crusaders, who kept it until 1291, when the town came under Muslim rule. It was badly damaged during Arab-Israeli Warfare in 1982. Population (1988 estimate) 12,000. “Tyre,” Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall’s Corporation.
Before the Arab-Israeli conflict, Tyre had a population of 23,000
McDowell does mention that there is city of Tyre but he says it is built down the coast. Curiously, he does not say how far down the coast. He says himself that the island is only 200 feet from the mainland. This does not seem very far down to me.
McDowell then uses Ezekiel 28:22-23 about Sidon. It is worth quoting this in full. ” And say “thus says the Lord God -‘Behold, I am against you, O Sidon, and I shall be glorified in your midst. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I execute judgments in her and I shall manifest my holiness in her. For I shall send pestilence to her and blood to her streets and the wounded will fall in her midst by the sword upon her on every side. Then they will know that I am the Lord’.
Let us ignore the dubious morality of God manifesting his holiness by sending pestilence.
McDowell makes great play of the fact that Ezekiel does not mention the destruction of Sidon and Sidon still exists today.
Uncanny isn’t it. In fact, Ezekiel does not mention that Sidon would be the headquarters of the UN and he does not mention that Sidon would host the 1948 winter Olympic games or that Sidon would be the birthplace of Beethoven and not *one* of those things happened either! All McDowell can say is that Ezekiel did not make a false prediction that Sidon would be destroyed. He cannot claim that Ezekiel made a prediction that Sidon would not be destroyed because no such prediction was made.
As far as I can see, the prophesy about Sidon could apply to any city. Most cities have had battles and pestilence at some time in their histories. The prophecy is totally unspecific. It does not say when or how many times Sidon would suffer or if the sufferings would stop or who would attack Sidon. In fact, the references to wounded and blood in her streets could apply to the attackers of Sidon, not only the Sidonians.
Is this prophecy about Sidon really one of the 12 best examples in the Bible? If one of the best 12 examples is the non-mention of something that never happened then McDowell’s arguments are in big trouble.
McDowell uses Hosea and Micah about the fall of Samaria. He uses Hosea 13:16 and Micah 1:6.
Do we have the original words of the prophets or has there been later editing?
Dennis J. McCarthy (3), late Professor of Old Testament Studies, Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome and Roland E. Murphy, Professor Emeritus, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina say in the NJBC about Hosea `There are, of course, glosses in the text, but they are identified easily enough (eg several insertions of the name of Judah). Aside from thse, it is agreed that the substance of Hosea comes from the prophet, which does not minimise the difficult problem of textual corruption. The book of Hosea has suffered more than almost any other OT book in this regard.’
Leo Laberge (3), Professor of OT, Saint Paul University, Ottawa writes in the NJBC about Micah :- `The concluding verses 7:8-20 seem to be a liturgical text from the days after the exile’ and about Micah 2:12-13 – `These verses are usually considered additions composed during the exile, because they interrupt the flow of sentences which constitute a unity of thought between chapters 2 and 3. We find here a promise of restoration, in terms quite similar to the ones found especially in Deutero-Isaiah [45:1-2, 52:11, 62:10]’
So the books are in parts textually corrupt and in parts edited much later.
Samaria fell in 722 BC. McDowell’s own dating of the books is 748-690 BC and 738-690 BC.
How hard was it to foresee the fall of Samaria by someone that even McDowell must admit was writing only a few years before? What was the political situation? I quote the NJBC again. It is talking about the 20 years before the fall of Samaria.
`The renewed pressure which Tilgath-pileser III soon applied to the states of Syria and Palestine revealed the hollowness of Israel’s power. In the 20 years between Jeroboam’s death (746) and the end of the kingdom , six kings reigned in Israel. Menahem was the king who had to accept Assyrian overlordship and pay a heavy tribute. He was succeeded by Pekahiah. Pekah at the head of an anti-Assyrian party murdered Pekahiah. To the folly of opposing the invincible Assyrian, Pekah added an alliance with Damascus.’
Laberge writing about Micah in the NJBC adds ‘ The times were bad. The Assyrian armies of Tilgath-pileser III conquered Damascus in 732, Samaria in 722, Ashdod fell in 711, Jerusalem was besieged in 701.’
In other words a succession of weak and murderous kings of Israel tried to play power politics with a mighty superpower and to break away from overlordship. Any half-decent political commentator of the time should have been able to see what was coming. It hardly took divine guidance.
Ok, the reader will ask but what about the so detailed prophecies Hosea and Micah made. McDowell states that ` it is now in vain to look for the foundations of the stones of the ancient city `. However in the very next paragraph, he states that `her foundations stones, those greyish ancient quadrangular stones of the time of Omri and Ahab, are discovered and lie scattered about on the slope of the hill’.
McDowell states that the hill has upon it `olive and fig trees’ and that this is a fulfilment of a prophecy that `vineyards will be planted there’. I thought vineyards had to do with grapes.
McDowell sates that `The remains of magnificent buildings of that period… can easily be identified today’. This is from `Israel: an Uncommon Guide’. I do not have this book. Does anybody know which period the book refers to?. There are definitely ruins from very magnificent buildings of a much later period, namely the time of Herod.
I quote MS Encarta (2)
On the ruined site of the ancient place, there still exist parts of a colonnade from the age of Herod, remains of a temple to Augustus, and other antiquities. A Harvard University expedition (1908-11) made important discoveries on the site, which was subsequently excavated in the 1930s and the 1960s by other major Palestinian archaeologists.
“Samaria,” Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall’s Corporation.
OK, some people may say, McDowell has gone a little overboard and perhaps it was not so hard to prophesy the fall of Samaria. But they still did prophesy that. Some other people might accuse me of circular reasoning. OK, we know now that Assyria was invincible and was bound to conquer the rebellious Israelites but we only know that because Assyria *did* capture places like Samaria. Let us see just how accurate Hosea and Micah were. Let us look at Hosea 14, the very next chapter after McDowell quotes.
Hosea 14:4-8 says that God’s anger has turned away from Israel. Israel will blossom like a lily. His splendour will be like an olive tree. God will answer and care for Ephraim and Ephraim will be fruitful. In other words, according to Hosea, the downfall of Israel is not prophesied. Israel can still flourish. This is dependent upon Israel repenting but the text as we have it seems to imply that Israel will repent and not perish. Even if the salvation from Assyria is conditional, the simple fact that it is made means that Hosea is not giving the fall of Israel as a definite fact to happen in the future.
McDowell is right that Micah 1:6 prophesied the fall of Samaria. However, he fails to mention that Micah 1:9 prophesied the fall of Jerusalem and Jerusalem was not taken by the Assyrians. Compare Micah 1:6 with Micah 3:12. If McDowell is right that Micah 1:6 means that Samaria will be a heap of stones in the field, then Micah 3:12 means that today Jerusalem must be a heap of rubble and there should be no buildings on the Temple Mount.
McDowell uses Amos 1:8 , Jeremiah 47:5 and Zephaniah 2:4,6 and 7 ( but not verse 5) about Gaza and Ashkelon.
Let us take Jer. 47:5 first as it is the easiest . `Baldness has come upon Gaza, Ashkelon has been ruined.. O remnant of their valley, how long will you gash yourself?’
McDowell quotes Peter Stoner who says `What better description could you give of a city buried under sand dunes than to say that it had become bald?’ Well, just off the top of my head, `buried under sand’ strikes me as a better description. Was Jeremiah incapable of saying flat out that it would be buried under sand? In fact, I don’t quite know what a bald city could mean. The New International Version of the Bible has the translation ‘Gaza will shave her head in mourning’. This makes much more sense, but it refers to the people of the city and not the city itself as McDowell claims.
McDowell admits himself that it took 2,000 years for Ashkelon to be destroyed and 700 years for any rebuilding to start. In 2,700 years almost anything could happen, especially in the Middle East. How can you go wrong if you are allowed to chooses the time scales that McDowell chooses? How can McDowell justify phrases like `precisely as predicted’? To the nearest 2,700 years is not precise in anybody’s dictionary.
Let us look at the Amos quote. Amos has been subject to post-exilic redaction. Amos 1:2 quotes the Lord’s words from Joel 3:16, a book written much later. (I will ignore the possibility that God is quoting Amos). Rememeber, Jeremiah 23:30 warns prophets about stealing from each others books!
McDowell says there are two cities on the Mediterranean coast west of the Dead Sea, Gaza and Ashkelon, which have been mentioned in prophecy. Now Gaza and Ashkelon were a group of 5 not 2 cities. Joshua 13:3 groups them as Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron. All 5, not just 2, are mentioned by Amos. Why does McDowell omit the reference to the other 3 cities? Just one verse later in Amos (1:9-10), Amos prophesies about Tyre. Why does McDowell mention the prophesy in Ezek. 26 about Tyre in great detail and ignore the prophecy in Amos, just one verse from the verse he uses? Could it be that Amos prophesied that Tyre would fall in flames and that never happened? Just a few verses in Amos, Amos prophesies about Jerusalem (Amos 2:5) `I will send fire upon Judah that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.’ It seems that Amos could hardly miss. He prophesies doom for everybody and everything. At lease one of his prophecies was bound to come true.
Some of Amos’s prophecies are very doubtful. Amos 7:11 is reported to have said that `Jeroboam will die by the sword and Israel will surely go into exile away from their native land’. 2 Kings 14:23 says that King Jeroboam `slept with his fathers’ a phrase that usually means a peaceful end and his death did not coincide with any exile. Of course, Amos’s words are reported by a hostile priest but Amos (or the editor) does not deny them .
In any case, John R Bartlett (4) ,formerly Associate Professor of Biblical Studies and Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin and now Principal of the Church of Ireland Theological College and someone who has taken part in excavations in Jerusalem and the regions of Edom and Moab, states in his book ` The Bible – Faith and Evidence’ (1994 p.98 ) `That is to say, our present book Amos may derive from the exilic period, with Amos’ oracles edited and arranged so as to provide a message appropriate to that period.’
Finally, McDowell uses Zephaniah 2:4 and 6b-7 but not verse 5. What then does verse 5-6 say? ` Woe to you who live by the sea, where the Kerethites dwell, the word of the Lord is against you, O Caanan, land of the Philistines. I will destroy you and none will be left. The land by the sea where the Kerethites dwell will be a place for shepherds and sheep pens’. (NIV translation)
It is strange that McDowell misses a verse and a half out of his prophecy. P. Wahl (3) , Assistant Professor of Theology, Saint John’s University, Minnesota ,writing in the NJBC, explains that the Kerethites came from Crete. He also explains that pasture (karot) as mentioned by Zephaniah is a play on words on Crete. This is a sign that we are dealing with metaphor here and not literalism.
McDowell says that ‘Judgment fell upon the Philistines precisely as predicted. Sultan Bibars destroyed Ashkelon in 1270 AD.’ However, Joel 3:4-8 states clearly that the inhabitants of Philistia will be sold to the Sabeans. Did this happen in 1270 AD? Certainly, 1270 AD has nothing to do with the Philistines. They had been quietly absorbed into Syria in the 2nd and 1st century BC.
McDowell quotes Ezekiel 25:4 and Jeremiah 48:47 and Jeremiah 49:6 about Moab and Ammon.
It is worth quoting Ezekiel 25:4. ‘Therefore, behold, I am going to give you to the sons of the east for a possession, and they will set you encampments among you and make their dwellings among you. They will eat your fruit and drink your milk’. Now McDowell says that this means that Ammon will be a site for palaces. Where on earth does it say that? Surely encampments means tents not palaces.
Sons of the east is also hardly specific. It could mean anything. McDowell also says that the prophecy means that Moab and Ammon will be inhabited by the original Moabites and Ammonites. He also says that it is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to see it happening in the future. Where are these lost tribes of Moabites and Ammonites to come from?
Let us look more closely at Jeremiah 48 and 49. Jeremiah 48:5 seems to come from Isaiah 15:5, a prophecy written about 200 years earlier. In fact, verses 29-37 seem to be a scrambled version of Isaiah 16:6-8, 16:10, 15:4-6, 16:11, 15:2-3 in that order. Isaiah 16:14 says that the prophecy, which the book of Jeremiah recycled, was supposed to have come true within 3 years. Jeremiah 48:43-44 comes from Isaiah (not 15 or 16 this time) but chapter 24:17-18 about not just Moab, but the whole world!
What did Jeremiah 23:30 say about plagiarism?
The least we can expect from the Word of God is a new prophecy and not just a rehash of a mixture of old prophecies.
McDowell quotes Howard Vos who says that a purely secular encyclopaedia supports him. What is the name of this work? Alas, we shall never know, for McDowell quotes not the name of the book but instead an UNPUBLISHED work from the Dallas Theological Seminary. Would it have been too much trouble to give us the name of the encyclopaedia?
6. Petra and Edom
McDowell refers to the kingdom of Edom and its capital Petra. Immediately, this is a mistake. The capital of the Edomites was Bozrah, later called Buseirah. Petra was the capital of the Nabataean Arabs who displaced the Edomites after the 4th century BC.
McDowell quotes 6 prophets who prophesied against Edom. He quotes Obadiah and Jeremiah 49. Anyone glancing at Obadiah can see that half the book is just a scrambled version of Jeremiah 49. I could take the verses from Jer. 49 and mix them up, but few people would say that was the word of God.
Let us look at the scripture McDowell gives. He gives Isaiah 34:6-15 but misses out a few verses on the way. Why does he miss out verse 9? Is it because it says `Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulphur, her land will become blazing pitch’? Is this really the condition of the land today?
Isaiah 34 continues into Isaiah 35 with no change of subject. Chapter 35 says the desert will bloom. Chapter 35:8 says the land will become a way for pilgrims.. As McDowell says that it was foretold that trade would cease and he quotes William G. Blaikie as saying that `none shall pass through it’, it is not surprising that McDowell stops his quotes from Isaiah at 34:15.
McDowell also quotes Ezek .25:13 `…I will stretch out my hand against Edom and cut off man and beast from it. And I will lay it waste; from Teman even to Dedan they will fall by the sword.’. The plain meaning of this is that the people of Teman are in trouble. As McDowell quotes Floyd Hamilton to say that Teman is still a prosperous town, he cannot allow it to mean this. Instead he takes it to mean destruction *as far as* Teman.
First of all, Ezek 25:13 says *from* Teman not *as far as* Teman. Just to make things totally clear, here are some other prophesies about Teman. Jer. 49:20 (just 2 verses from where McDowell stops quoting Jer. 49!) `Therefore hear the plan which the Lord has made against Edom and the purposes which he has formed against the inhabitants of Teman: Even the little ones of the flock will be dragged way, surely their fold will be appalled at their fate.’
Or look at Amos 1:12 `So I will send a fire upon Teman and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah’. Obadiah 9 `Your mighty men shall be dismayed, O Teman’.
McDowell has had to do some very,very selective quoting about Teman.
McDowell quotes Howard Vos about the history of Edom . `The freedom which Edom gained from Judah proved to be only the preparation for more bondage – this time to Assyria’. Vos continues ` with the passing of Assyrian virility, Chaldean hordes swept down from Transjordan, gobbling up Edom along with the rest of the nations’. This authoritative source is an UNPUBLISHED doctoral dissertation from the Dallas Theological Seminary.
Wayne T. Pitard (5), Associate Professor for the study of Religion at the University of Illinois, writing in the `Oxford Companion to the Bible’ says `The Assyrian presence appears to have been economically and politically beneficial to Edom’ and `Edom seems to have survived the violence and the Babylonian campaigns under Nebuchadnezzar’.
McDowell says that Israel conquered the Edomites. This is a strange way of looking at things. The Edomites were displaced and moved to a region south of Judah, called Idumea. The most famous Idumean was Herod the Great who ruled the Jews. Although the Jews and the Idumeans fought ,it is hard to say that the Jews conquered the Idumeans if they ended up being ruled by one of them. Even McDowell can go no further than to say that the Edomites were incorporated with the Jewish nation. He says that the Idumeans were admitted to the Holy City. This sounds like immigration to me, not conquest. However he does quote another UNPUBLISHED Dallas Theological Seminary paper to say that the Edomites went home. Where would this home be?
Finally, McDowell makes great play of the desolation of Petra (never populated again), although as mentioned, this was not the capital of the Edomites. He quotes Encyclopaedia Brittanica (6) but forgets the final part of the entry which says that some of the tombs in Petra are still used as dwellings.
7. Thebes and Memphis
McDowell uses Ezekiel 30:13-15 and takes them to be prophecies about Thebes and Memphis.
There is doubt about whether Chapter 30 of Ezekiel is all by Ezekiel or not. Lawrence Boadt (3) , Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Washington Theological Union, Silver Spring, MD, writing in the New Jerome Bible Commentary, says. “This chapter neither gives a date nor addresses the Pharaoh. It seems to be a loose collection of various words against Egypt”.
I have previously mentioned what Professor Fohrer said about the integrity of Ezekiel in general. Walter Eichrodt (7) in ‘Ezekiel – A Commentary’ (SCM Press, p415) says “This passage (Chapter 30) differs from its surroundings ,in being the only one without any exact indication of its period, whereas the others are all precisely enough dated. Its structure recalls Ch. 26 : a word of judgment moving in brief phrases and held together by one dominant idea….. So only the first section (30:1-8), which is marked out by the full introductory formula and command from God to proclaim it, is an original saying of Ezekiel’s, which has been taken as a basis to which disciples of the prophet’s have appended further variations on the same theme.”
Even so, is it not a prophecy about the far future? No. Verses 15-16 say when the prophecy is to apply and it does not apply on the time scale given by McDowell. Verses 15-16 mention Pelusium where Psammetichus III lost his power and freedom at the hands of Cambyses in 525 BC. Given that this chapter has been edited by admirers of Ezekiel, it is not too hard to guess when the section mentioned by McDowell was written.
Even if by some chance this was a prophecy that the Persians would conquer Egypt and not an undated history of the event, it would contradict Ezekiel 29, which states clearly that Nebuchadnezzar would loot Egypt.
Finally, McDowell says that the multitude of Thebes was cut off and never returned there and that Thebes would be broken up into multiple villages. First of all, this seems to be the one and only time in which McDowell takes a prophecy of `destroyed’ to mean `broken up into multiple villages’. I wonder why McDowell takes `destruction’ to mean `broken up’ this one time. Could it be that he is fitting the prophecy to outcome? Secondly, I do not know what McDowell counts as a village but the city of Luxor, built on the site of Thebes, has a population of over 125,000.
As for Memphis, McDowell quotes Amelia B. Edwards ,who says that “Much of what remains is hardly worth the effort of observing; and the leftovers are so few, they can be listed with ease”. OK, let me list them. There are , inter alia, the temples of Ptah, Isis, and Ra, the Serapeum, two statues of Ramses II, and many dwellings. Let me assure McDowell that these are well worth seeing. One statue of Ramses II is over 43 foot tall. What does Evidence that Demands a Verdict say about there being no idols left in Memphis?
I do not know what to make of McDowell’s claim that Egypt `s government has been headed since 350 BC by foreigners. Surely Egypt is ruled today by Egyptians? It is true that Ptolemy was Greek and his descendants ruled Egypt for a long time but how many generations does it take before they can be accepted as Egyptian? Perhaps McDowell would say that America is ruled by foreigners. After all, no Native American has ever been elected President. All Presidents have been the descendants of immigrants.
Finally, it is worth looking at the part of this prophecy that McDowell leaves out. Ezekiel 29 prophesies that Egypt would be desolate for forty years . No one will live there for forty years. Chapter 29 of Ezekiel is a dated prophecy, unlike chapter 30, and it has clearly not come true. There has been no period of time in which Egypt has been uninhabited for forty years.
McDowell quotes the book of Nahum, which he says foretells the fall of Nineveh in great detail. The book of Nahum is very unpleasant to read. It is a gloating, taunting, mocking piece of nationalistic propaganda in which the author rejoices over the fate of the Ninevites. However, McDowell wants us to consider this book as having been written by the prophet of an omnibenevolent God.
When was Nahum written? McDowell gives a date of between 663 BC which was when Thebes was sacked and 612 BC when Nineveh fell. I think we can be a little more accurate than that.
In chapter 4 of Evidence that Demands a Verdict and also in this chapter 11, McDowell quotes H.H Rowley as an authoritative source, who wrote an `excellent introduction to the study of modern criticism of Ezekiel’. What does Rowley say about the dating of Nahum? In `The Old Testament and Modern Study’ p. 146 (New Clarendon Press, 1951), Rowley (8)says `The book of Nahum is ascribed by A.Haldar `Studies in the book of Nahum’, 1947, to a cultic prophet who foretold about 614 BC the nearly approaching destruction of Nineveh’. This was the date of the first attack by Cyaxares. In other words, Rowley believes Nahum wrote at a time when Nineveh was clearly in great trouble.
Irene Nowell (3), Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Benedictine College, Atchison KS writes in the New Jerome Bible Commentary, ` It is likely that Nahum wrote in Judah close to 612 BC during the reform of Josiah (note the absence of castigation of Judah’s sins)’. Nahum 1:15 praises Judah for keeping the festivals and vows reintroduced by Josiah after 621 BC.
On a large scale, Nineveh was doomed as soon as the Babylonians, Medes and Scythians stopped fighting each other and started cooperating. That it took the combined efforts of 3 major powers quite a while to defeat Nineveh is a tribute to the strength of Assyria. Certainly Nahum deserves much credit for saying that Nineveh would fall but I feel that any good political commentator writing after 620 BC should have been able to spot the coming downfall, without needing divine guidance.
It is no more startling than the prophecy by Arthur C. Clarke in 1945, twelve years before Sputnik, there would soon be geosynchronous satellites. How specific to Nineveh are the motifs in Nahum? Rowley (ibid) says `These motifs are parallelled in Sumero-Accadian and Ugaritc texts.’ Scholars have denied that the first part of Nahum is by Nahum at all.
The first part of Nahum is an acrostic poem as far as the letter mem. There has been slight textual corruption. Professor Fohrer (9), Professor of Old Testament Studies of the University of Erlangen-Nuremburg writes in `Introduction to the Old Testament’ (Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, p412) , “Now the psalm does not reflect any particular historical situation, but rather speaks in general terms of Yahweh’s vengeance upon his adversaries, as is appropriate in a hymn. This fact and the alphabetic form do not argue against Nahum’s authorship but the psalm does differ from the rest of Nahum in both style and content. Stylistically it exhibits no idiosyncrasies and no refinement beyond what is usual. It is, however, informed with genuine religious conviction. The reverse is true of Nahum’s sayings. There we find marked poetic creativeness placed in the service of ideas that are more political and nationalistic than religious. Although this means that we must deny Nahum’s authorship of the psalm, it remains possible that he himself placed it at the beginning of his utterances, the more so because the psalm breaks off precisely at the point where the prophetical sayings thematically begin.”
There are a couple of mistakes in Nahum. Nahum 3:8 says that Thebes is surrounded by water. Thebes is on the river Nile but it is not surrounded by water. Nahum 3:14 tells the Ninevites to prepare for a siege by stockpiling water. McDowell is adamant that rivers flowed thru Nineveh. In this case there would seem to be little need to stockpile water.
Nahum mentions a flood a few times so, naturally, McDowell says that Nineveh was destroyed in a flood. The main source he gives for this is an UNPUBLISHED thesis by George Meisinger. For some bizarre reason , he quotes as supporting evidence Gadd who says that heavy downpours swelled the Euphrates. But Babylon is on the Euphrates, not Nineveh! McDowell produces no concrete evidence (the best he can come up with is a layer of pebble and sand, not at Nineveh but at Nimrud) and is left to conclude that ` We can honestly assume that Nineveh was destroyed in a flood’. It seems that the `Evidence that Demands a Verdict’ has turned into an assumption.
The only evidence that McDowell gives for the flood which weakened Nineveh and the feasting and drinking of the Ninevites which left them off their guard, is a paraphrase from Diodorus of Sicily. For some unaccountable reason , McDowell forgets to mention that Diodorus lived more than 500 years later and cannot reasonably be called an eye-witness of the events.McDowell also forgets to mention that books 21-40 of Diodurus, which McDowell uses, exist only in fragmentary form.
Couldn’t McDowell find any writer between 612 BC and 50 BC who backs up his claim that a flood destroyed Nineveh? It would be interesting to see where Diodorus got his story from. Thucydides and Herodotus were the two first Greek historians and they lived much closer to the fall of Nineveh. Thucydides never mentions the fall of Nineveh. Herodotus, despite a promise to the contrary, never described the fall of Nineveh.
McDowell uses Isaiah 13:19-22, Isaiah 14:23 and Jeremiah 51:26 and Jeremiah 51:43 as miraculous prophecies about Babylon.
Let us take Jeremiah first. McDowell gives a date of 646-586 BC for these verses. However, Jeremiah 51:45 warns the Jews to run out of Babylon. Clearly, this section of Jeremiah was written during the exile after 586 BC, when many Jews had been transported to Babylon. Furthermore, the very next verse reports that there was at the time a lot of rumours about forthcoming violence of ruler against ruler. Clearly, even ordinary Jews, not just divinely guided prophets, could tell that something was in the air.
Jeremiah 51:28-31 states clearly that the Medes will capture and destroy Babylon. However, it was the Persians, led by Cyrus who captured Babylon and not the Medes. Also, Babylon surrendered. There was no large-scale destruction. Joseph Jensen (3), Associate Professor of Old testament Studies, at the Catholic University of America, writing in the NJBC, says `yet the Medes were at one time allies of Babylon and the city fell, not to them, but to Cyrus the Persian’. Indeed, Nebuchadnezzar’s wife was a Mede.
Curiously, Jeremiah 51:15-19, which is part of the prophecy about Babylon, is a doublet of Jeremiah 10:12-16, which is part of a prophecy about Israel. Is it asking too much of the Word of God, when prophesying about two nations with two totally different fates, to use different words to describe these fates? How can two IDENTICAL sayings about Israel and Babylon both have come true?
The specific prophecy that McDowell gives from Jeremiah 51:25 is that no stones would be removed for new buildings. However, the Encyclopaedia Brittanica (6) says `Humra contains rubble removed by Alexander the Great from the ziggurat in preparation for rebuilding, and a theatre that he built with material from the ziggurat’.
McDowell also uses Isaiah 13 and 14. About this section, Professor Jensen writes in the NJBC. `The growth of this collection was complicated. The beginning of it appears to have been a collection of oracles against Babylon and other foreign nations from the late monarchical or early exilic period, before the fall of Babylon, but with other, later pieces added to it.’ It can’t really be dated 783-704 BC as McDowell gives.
Again, the book of Isaiah, in a verse curiously omitted by McDowell, says that the Medes will capture and destroy Babylon, when Babylon surrendered peacefully to the Persians. McDowell uses Daniel as history for this. However, Daniel was written about 167-164 BC and says that Darius the Mede, son of Xerxes, was ruler of Babylon. As stated, it was Cyrus the Persian who captured Babylon. Darius was Persian, not Median, and the father, not the son of Xerxes. Daniel is not good history for Babylon.
McDowell also says that this is recorded in Daniel 8. Presumably, this is a misprint. He must mean Daniel 5. Daniel 5 does not, though McDowell says it does , record that Belshazzar’s feast was a celebration of victory over the Persians. Isaiah 21:5 does not, though McDowell says it does, speak about the death of the king of Babylon. Indeed, Isaiah never mentions Daniel or Belshazzar or Nabonidus, who was the last king of Babylon.
McDowell says that Isaiah 44:27 is relevant to the capture of Babylon. Isaiah 44:27 says `who says to the watery deep – Be dry and I will dry up your streams.’. This is God talking about the actions of God. It is not about Cyrus diverting a river. The `watery deep’ is the sea – not a river.
McDowell says that Isaiah 14:18-20 is about Belshazzar’s death. Pity that it never mentions his name or says how he will die.
McDowell says that Jeremiah 51:57 is about the death of Belshazzar. Jer. 51:57 says `I will make her officials and wise men drunk, her governors, officers and warriors as well. They will sleep for ever and not awake’. Apart from the fact that this denies the Christian doctrine of the resurrection, Daniel 5 states clearly that Daniel was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom by Belshazzar. By McDowell’s logic, Jeremiah foretold the death of Daniel at the hands of Cyrus!
McDowell states the prediction in Isaiah that Babylon would be like Sodom and Gomorrah has been fulfilled. What does this mean? Sodom and Gomorrah, if they existed at all, have vanished from the pages of history. Babylon is well documented and still has ruins.
Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed in one day. McDowell records that Babylon was still functioning in AD 363, a mere 1000 years after McDowell’s date for the prophecy.
10. Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum
In this section McDowell tells of the fate of the 4 cities near the shores of the Sea of Galilee. These four cities were Capernaum, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Tiberias. Three of these cities have perished. Only the last named is standing today. McDowell uses Matthew 11:20-24.
McDowell starts off this section by saying “A fulfilled New Testament prophecy is unique indeed”. Does this mean that no other New Testament prophecy has been fulfilled? This is a surprising admission from someone who claims that Biblical prophecies are divinely guided.
As McDowell says that there are four towns near Galilee, it will come as no surprise that he mentions a fifth – Tabgha. There is a sixth – Gennesaret, near Capernaum. McDowell says that it was astonishing that no word was spoken about Tiberias and it is still standing. Well, no word was spoken about Tabgha or Gennesaret either so the fate of Tiberias is hardly unique.
What does McDowell say that Matthew 11:20-24 mean? He says that it means that Jesus prophesied that God’s displeasure was visited on these towns. The towns were selected for destruction because the people in them did not follow Jesus. Do the phrases `Prince of Peace’ , `forgive your enemies’, `turn the other cheek’ mean nothing to Christians? What a wonderful portrait of Jesus McDowell paints!
Notice that these towns were not ruined until much later. McDowell gives a date of 400 AD. Assuming this is true, and I shall have more to say on this shortly, this means that God’s judgment was visited not on the people who rejected Jesus’s message but on their descendants centuries later. Is this the work of an omnibenevolent God?
McDowell quotes George Davis who says that Capernaum was destroyed around 400 AD and doubtless Chorazin and Bethsaida perished around the same time. Actually, there is considerable doubt. This gives no evidence at all that Chorazin and Bethsaida were destroyed at the same time. Indeed, the fate of Chorazin is not clear. Chorazin is only mentioned in the Bible and only mentioned in terms which do not pin down its location. There is a site near Galilee which probably was Chorazin but it is not totally certain.
What caused God to choose 400 AD as the right time for an earthquake to hit Capernaum? Here, I follow J.P.Kane (10), Lecturer in Hellenistic Greek at the University of Manchester, England, writing in `The New Bible Dictionary’, published by Intervarsity Press 1962. F.F.Bruce was a contributing editor to this book so it is hardly a book written by out-and-out sceptics. Kane says that a Christian named Joseph petitioned the Emperor Constantine for permission to build a church in Capernaum. Capernaum was traditionally the site of the house of Peter. A shrine was built. Up to then Christians had not been welcome in Capernaum.
People have found plaster graffiti with the Greek words `amen’ `Lord’ and `Jesus’ on them at the site of the shrine. It would appear that according to McDowell, Capernaum ,for the centuries that it had rejected Christianity, had been spared God’s judgment but almost as soon as Christian pilgrims start to visit it , an earthquake was sent to destroy it.
Happily for Christianity, George Davis’s date of 400 AD for an earthquake may possibly be doubtful. Not having his book, I do not know what evidence he had for his date. The New Bible Dictionary gives a date of 350 AD – 450 AD for the Christian shrine and the Jewish synagogue found in Capernaum. This is established by coins found in trenches around the synagogue.
Equally happily for Christianity, Matthew 11:20-24 seems ,to me at least, to postpone judgment day for these towns until the end of the world. I do not agree with McDowell’s reading that these towns were doomed in just a few hundred years.
Finally, McDowell says that Tiberias is still standing. Indeed it still is. Can we take it that Tiberias accepted Jesus? After all, no prophecy was made against it while towns which did reject Jesus’s message were sentenced to an awful fate. Hardly. According to the New Bible Dictionary, Tiberias, after the fall of Jerusalem, became the main seat of Jewish learning. The Mishnah and the Palestinian Talmud were compiled there. The highest rabbinical court, the Sanhedrin, convened there. The Sanhedrin, of course, was the body which condemned Jesus as worthy of death.
Why did Jesus spare Tiberias, centre of Jewish learning and home of the Sanhedrin, and destroy Capernaum, site of Peter’s house and place of pilgrimage for Christians? McDowell’s prophecy just does not make sense to me.
11 Jerusalem’s Enlargement
McDowell takes Jeremiah 31:38-40 to be a prophecy of the growth of Jerusalem in the twentieth century. He says the prophecy has come true, defying odds of 80 billion to one. This is quite impressive. The reader might like to guess which of the following aspects of the growth of Jerusalem in the 20th century Jeremiah prophesied, which would justify these odds. Was it the airport, the university, the Knesset, the cafes, the restaurants, the police stations, the hospitals, the fire stations, the Zoo, the railway station, the schools, the libraries, the car parks, the high-rise apartment blocks?
Of course, Jeremiah mentions not one of these. Apparently, you can prophesy the growth of a city in the twentieth century without mentioning one aspect of twentieth century life!
This whole section is one of the more desperate attempts of McDowell to fit the facts to the Bible. The size of the city, as mentioned by Jeremiah, corresponds to the size of the city in Jeremiah’s time. McDowell gives us a map of Jerusalem. This is one of the worst maps I have ever seen. He leaves out all the city to the south of the Old City walls! The municipal boundaries of Jerusalem extend almost as far as Bethlehem to the south.
McDowell says `Most maps will show that it has been growing mainly northward’. I have looked at maps of Jerusalem and there seems to be almost as much land mass to the south as to the north. Certainly the difference is nothing like enough to justify the word `mainly’.
McDowell says that the growth of the city has followed, point by point, the itinerary in Jeremiah. Encyclopaedia Brittanica (6) says `The first neighbourhoods outside the Old City walls, built from the 1860’s onwards, were scattered chiefly along the main roads leading into the city’. Residential quarters established between World War 1 and World War 2 include Rehavya in the centre, Talpiyyat in the south and Qiryat Moshe and Bet ha-kerem in the south. The growth of Jerusalem has been piecemeal and does not resemble McDowell’s map.
What is worse is that the itinerary in Jeremiah is unclear to us. The hill of Gareb and Goah are mentioned only in Jeremiah and their precise location has been lost to us. McDowell says that he knows where they are. Perhaps he would be kind enough to tell Guy. P. Couturier (3), Professor of Scripture at the University of Montreal, where they were as the Professor writes in the NJBC that their location can only be guessed at.
Finally, McDowell gives a fairly strange fulfilment of prophecy. Jeremiah said that Jerusalem shall be holy unto the Lord. McDowell implies that this part of the prophecy came true in 1948. This is a strange thing for an evangelical Christian to say as Israel is a Jewish state and not a Christian state.
McDowell uses Leviticus 26:31-33 and Ezekiel 36:33-35 as prophecies about Israel.
I found this section of Evidence that Demands a Verdict extremely unpleasant and dispiriting to read. The bias of someone like McDowell shines through in almost every paragraph.
Let us look at his use of the Bible first. He states that Leviticus 26:31-33 was fulfilled in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. Now, Leviticus says nothing specific. It does not mention any date. It does not mention Romans. It does not mention Jerusalem. It does not even mention the temple . It just says sanctuaries – plural. There was only one temple.
Furthermore, Leviticus 26:29 says that the Jews will indulge in cannibalism. Nobody, not even McDowell, says that that came true in 70 AD. Leviticus 26:22 says that plagues of wild animals will reduce the numbers of Jews. Nobody, not even McDowell says that that came true in AD 70. McDowell has gone in for selective quoting and fitting the facts to the prophecies again.
In a previous chapter McDowell gives the persecution of Christians by Jews and Romans as evidence of the truth of Christianity. Of course, to McDowell, the Jewish martyrs in 70 AD at Jerusalem and Masada are evidence that Judaism was wrong and that the Jews were being punished by God for their sins. Can anybody detect any double standards here?
What is doubly puzzling is that Christians like McDowell claim that the Jews in the time of Jesus were TOO committed to the Law in the Pentateuch. If they religiously followed the letter of the Law ,as Christians claim, then why did God punish them for breaking the Levitical laws?
In the preface to Evidence that Demands a Verdict, McDowell says that 5,000 hours were spent tracking down source documents. We can see in this section why so much time had to be put in to get just the quotes McDowell wants. Astonishingly, he quotes Mark Twain as an authority on Palestine! Mark Twain is one of my all time favourite authors, but I have never thought of him as a great expert on the 19th century Middle East. How many of the 5,000 hours were put in to scanning 2,000 years of literature looking for something which might back McDowell up?
McDowell goes on to talk about persecution of Jews. Another of his biases comes to the fore. He says that the Jews helped the Persians massacre their Christian captives. However, he is strangely reluctant to tell us the religion of the people who began the Crusade. It seems that they were `Gentiles’. These `Gentiles’ were Christians.
McDowell mentions the massacre in York. Again, he does not tell us the religion of the people doing the killing. They were Christians.
McDowell mentions Frederick the Great’s despotism over the Jews. Again McDowell does not tell us that Frederick was a Christian.
McDowell mentions the persecution in Spain. Again, this was done by Christians.
McDowell says that `These people were hated aliens in a sin-filled world’. This sin-filled world was a Christian world. I’m not a Muslim, but I have to admit that Muslim persecution of Jews has been far less than Christian persecution of Jews.
McDowell seems to imply that the cities of Palestine were a waste and that no Jews lived there until after 1948. He says `Even as late as 1927 – a land of ruins’.
However, everybody knows that Jerusalem has been a thriving city for a long time. There were many other cities in 1927, such as Jaffa (see below). In a previous section, McDowell said that Tiberias had always been standing and McDowell boasted that it had never been destroyed. There were and always has been at least some Jews.
I quote from Microsoft Encarta. (2) I have made a few comments in brackets.
Two more Jewish revolts erupted and were suppressed in AD 66 to 73 and 132 to 135. After the second one, numerous Jews were killed, many were sold into slavery, and the rest were not allowed to visit Jerusalem. Judea was renamed Syria Palaistina. Palestine received special attention when the Roman emperor Constantine I legalised Christianity in AD 313. His mother, Helena, visited Jerusalem, and Palestine, as the Holy Land, became a focus of Christian pilgrimage. A golden age of prosperity, security, and culture followed. Most of the population became Hellenized and Christianized. Byzantine (Roman) rule was interrupted, however, by a brief Persian occupation (614-629) and ended altogether when Muslim Arab armies invaded Palestine and captured Jerusalem in AD 638.
(A golden age of prosperity does not sound like a land of ruins to me)
The Arab Caliphate The Arab conquest began 1300 years of Muslim presence in what then became known as Filastin….. The Muslim rulers did not force their religion on the Palestinians, and more than a century passed before the majority converted to Islam. The remaining Christians and Jews were considered “People of the Book.” They were allowed autonomous control in their communities and guaranteed security and freedom of worship. Such tolerance (with few exceptions) was rare in the history of religion…..
Ottoman Rule The Ottoman Turks of Asia Minor defeated the Mamelukes in 1517 and, with few interruptions, ruled Palestine until the winter of 1917 and 1918. The country was divided into several districts (sanjaks), such as that of Jerusalem. The administration of the districts was placed largely in the hands of Arabized Palestinians, who were descendants of the Canaanites and successive settlers. The Christian and Jewish communities, however, were allowed a large measure of autonomy. Palestine shared in the glory of the Ottoman Empire during the 16th century, but declined again when the empire began to decline in the 17th century……..
German settlers and Jewish immigrants in the 1880s brought modern machinery and badly needed capital………
The rise of European nationalism in the 19th century, and especially the intensification of anti-Semitism during the 1880s, encouraged European Jews to seek haven in their “promised land,” Palestine. Theodor Herzl, author of The Jewish State (1896; translated 1896), founded the World Zionist Organization in 1897 to solve Europe’s “Jewish problem” (see ZIONISM). As a result, Jewish immigration to Palestine greatly increased. In 1880, Arab Palestinians constituted about 95 percent of the total population of 450,000. Nevertheless, Jewish immigration, land purchase, and claims were reacted to with alarm by some Palestinian leaders, who then became adamantly opposed to Zionism.
(Is a population of 450,000 a desolation?)
The British Mandate …. The Zionists envisaged large-scale Jewish immigration, and some spoke of a Jewish state constituting all of Palestine. The Palestinians, however, rejected Britain’s right to promise their country to a third party and feared dispossession by the Zionists; anti-Zionist attacks occurred in Jerusalem (1920) and Jaffa (1921)….. After 1928, when Jewish immigration increased somewhat, British policy on the subject seesawed under conflicting Arab-Jewish pressures. Immigration rose sharply after the installation (1933) of the Nazi regime in Germany; in 1935 nearly 62,000 Jews entered Palestine. Fear of Jewish domination was the principal cause of the Arab revolt that broke out in 1936 and continued intermittently until 1939. By that time Britain had again restricted Jewish immigration and purchases of land. “Palestine,” Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall’s Corporation.
I find it fascinating that in section 10 of this chapter McDowell can say that `one city, Tiberias, …, still standing and flourishing after nineteen long centuries’ and in section 12 McDowell can say `The cities have resembled waste.’
13. Other prophecies
So far, I have looked at McDowell’s prophecies. Most of them have been very vaguely worded. McDowell had to choose the vaguely worded ones to give himself at least a chance of showing that they might have come true. However, the Bible contains a lot of other, very definite prophecies. Let us look at a couple.
I quote from Robin Lane Fox’s book `The Unauthorised Version’ (1992) pages 271-273. (11) His book has an excellent bibliography. It includes, unlike McDowell’s, a number of books written by people with opposite viewpoints, such as R.K. Harrison `Introduction to the Old Testament’ (1970). Here he is talking about Ezra, Haggai and Zechariah.
Here, we can turn to primary sources, the books of Haggai and Zechariah themselves. After Cyrus’ death `in the second year of Darius’ the prophet Haggai is told by God to tell Zerubabbel, leader of the Jews in Judaea, that he will shake the heavens and the earth, and honour Zerubabbel as a king. Zerubabbel is a Jew with a Babylonian name, but he is a very important person: the grandson, no less, of Jehoiachin, king of Judaea, who had been exiled and maintained by Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. Prophecies of upheaval and a new kingship were most dramatic to this particular person at this moment, but their dating has long been a puzzle. On the usual reckoning, the Babylonians’ season of spring is the best-known `New Year’ for a king’s reign, but it would date Haggai’s prophecy to a time when Darius was firmly established on his throne and predictions of a local royal upheaval would be widely eccentric.
The puzzle has now been sorted out by applying another system of reckoning. A king’s years could also be reckoned from the time of his accession and could be credited with the short reign of a previous usurper. Darius claimed to have defeated just such a predecessor: if we reckon by this system, Haggai’s prophecies fit beautifully into October and December 521 BC. At this time we know from the official royal inscription of Darius himself that large area of the Persians’ conquests had been shaken by revolt; in autumn 521 Babylon rebelled for a second time. An Armenian stood forward there as a new King Nebuchadnezzar IV and was only defeated on November 27. Haggai’s first messianic prophecy belongs neatly in this context; there was a new king in Babylon, why not a new king in Judaea ? The second prophecy, a mere three weeks later, either assumes that the revolts will continue, or is already aware of another upheaval which was to preoccupy Darius in the next year around Susa itself.
This understanding of Darius’s years in the books of the prophets allows a further, suggestive connection. Zerubabbel, the new rebuilder of the Temple, turns out to have reached Jerusalem between 23 July and 21 August 522, a time when Darius was not yet fighting for power and when Persian affairs were being controlled by a previous usurper at court. The Jews, it seems, took shrewd advantage of this interlude in the Persian monarchy to reassert their position and go ahead with their rebuilding.
We can understand, better than ever, why hostile neighbours tried to stop the rebuilding in Jerusalem by writing to Darius and why the Jews then insisted that their action had Cyrus’s approval. Darius had not permitted the building himself, but the new Jewish leaders could not justly cite the support of the Persian usurper in whose name they had taken the new initiative. Instead, they cited the precedent of Cyrus.
In October 521 Babylon was in revolt under a new Nebuchadnezzar and Haggai was hailing a new king from Judah’s old royal dynasty. His candidate, the royal prince Zerubabbel, was laying the new Temple’s foundation, but by late November Babylon’s latest Nebuchadnezzar had been captured and impaled, The prophet Haggai continued to speak of God choosing Zerubabbel, overthrowing the thrones of kings and breaking the great king’s power, but he was too optimistic. Darius survived unbroken, and by February 520 Zechariah the prophet was announcing a very different vision. He had seen a horseman on a red horse, among myrtle-trees and other horseman, and learned that they were envoys reporting a different message: `all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest’ (Zechariah 1:11). Peace had replace the expectations of chaos. Darius had indeed established himself as king, and so far from finding a new David, Jews as far away as Egypt ended up with a copy of King Darius’s narrative of his victory over his rivals.
Thus the Bible throws a powerful but intermittent light on the crucial years from Cyrus to the early reign of Darius…. but the book of Ezra muddles it through its author’s poor arrangement of his sources.
As always Fox backs this up with references eg Bickerman, Studies in Jewish and Christian History (III) (1986) p. 331-336 Greenfield and Porten, The Bisitun Inscription of Darius the Great (1982) Oppenheim Cambridge History of Iran II (1985) 563-5 Ackroyd, Achaemenid History III (1988) p.33
It seems that in only a few months specific prophecies about people could become false. It also seems that the prophets were well attuned to the political situation of their time. Even considered as political commentators though their record is not perfect.
Notice also that `sceptics’ are not interested in bashing the Bible as such. They use the Bible and contemporary documents which shed light on the Bible to try to find out what was really happening, what the Biblical writers really meant to say. If it turns out that they were divinely inspired prophets, then that would be accepted. It just so happens that they weren’t and the archeological evidence discovered this century and the Biblical texts themselves show that they weren’t.
That’s just the way it is. Sorry, Josh.
(1) Bernard Katz , American Rationalist 1982
(2) Microsoft Encarta 1995 – various contributors
(3) New Jerome Bible Commentary – various authors (Cassell Publishers, 1990)
(4) John R Bartlett – ‘The Bible – Faith and Evidence ‘ (1994 )
(5) Oxford Companion to the Bible – various contributors. (Oxford University Press, 1993) One of the two editors was Bruce Metzger.
(6) Encyclopedia Britannica (18th edition )
(7) Walter Eichrodt – ‘Ezekiel – A Commentary ‘ (SCM Press,
(8) H.H. Rowley – `The Old Testament and Modern Study’ (New Clarendon Press, 1951)
(9) Professor Fohrer – `Introduction to the Old Testament’ ( SPCK)
(10) The New Bible Dictionary’ , F.F. Bruce et al , Intervarsity Press 1962.
(11) Robin Lane Fox – `The Unauthorised Version’ (Penguin Books,1992)