Roosevelt Resistance Reports: Friday, December 5th 2008

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the SFTS does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog for Friday, December 5th 2008.

Yes, the title above is a joke. When wrapping up the night on the microphone, Todd told the dwindling crowds about the STFS, the Mill Avenue Resistance, “Perhaps we’re the Roosevelt Resistance at the moment—I don’t know.”

The STFS hit First Friday in force and I followed in their wake because, well, I haven’t been to First Friday in so long and I guess I can give up on Mill Ave for a night… Sigh.

I noticed that there were at least twelve of the various evangelical preachers who visit Mill Avenue out tonight. Taking various turns on the loudspeaker (whom the Resistance moved quickly to set up against) were Valerie, Sean, and Linda.

I also saw two very young girls handing out tracts with the evangelical group. I received at least two tracts from them.

Discussions at length

The most conversant among the different speakers against happened to be Joe. Bringing with him his vast Biblical scholarship. And there were some fun discussions about misinterpreting the Greek in the Bible, the fact that there are multiple translations of the Bible; which ones people accept, which ones various groups don’t… I heard about an Oxford Annotated Bible that is very good for people who want to examine the literary criticism of the work as well.

These discussions realistically denuded the veil of provenance atop the usage of the Bible for anything. It should be apparent to anyone discussing this subject that if there are thousands of different schisms that use this book as their holy book and each one chooses a different translation that somehow the actual knowledge was never written clearly enough to be propagated in situ. Multiple rewrites, editing, rejection and acceptance of books by various councils and histories have rendered a vast and glorious mythology but no basis to argue truth from. The mere fact that wide swaths of it are interpreted different between different agencies of history and community says that often the book itself is irrelevant to the message. It’s a religious MacGuffin used only for its semiotic relevance.

Some of the more interesting conversations occurred out of the various translations of Greek words. And thus one of my favorite Greek words came up, logos [λόγος]; near and dear to my heart as a linguist and an author. I am extremely familiar with how languages shift, how translations themselves are always a psychological transference from the translator; even language itself shifts within a single culture over a century enough to change the meaning of any work and we can watch this happen.

While Valerie spoke to the crowds, Lux, wearing a gothic styled plague doctor outfit came by and took up the mike. She posited to use a truncated version of the Epicurean paradox—to which most replies are woefully inadequate or require a revision of commonly understood positions by Christianity about the nature of their gods. After getting a titter from gathered moral philosophers, she melted back into the night; her black parasol bobbing through the crowds to vanish finally in the distance. (You can read more about her on my First Friday Nights post.)

Joe got himself some kudos from Valerie tonight because he is polite, well spoken, and extremely scholarly. So I’m glad to see that there is at least a great deal of glowing respect between the parts of this divide. I would like that to remain for the most part.

The Prayer Station

The evangelicals set up a strange booth out of PVC pipe and a table with a large, crimson banner, white lettered: PRAYER STATION. At least one group of passersby actually came to pray with them.

Kevin wanted to know about the station and the hand-outs of glowing noodles; but didn’t want to speak to them with accompaniment, so I offered to go. By in large the evangelicals are not hard or harsh people, they’re people. Which is part of the reason why I’m out here writing about the interactions.

There was little to be learned, though, because the person manning it happened to be eating at the time. However, Kevin did score some glowing noodles which John was kind enough to locate and offer… The STFS mostly swung them at each other

Trevor and Brian on addiction

Later that night I discovered Brian, and his spiked-up purple hair, in a discussion with Trevor. The conversation had gone the way of the witnessing from hedonism—or as I’d think it is, “I was addicted to everything, sleeping with anything that moved, but I’m better now.” Basically the “I got bettah,” of the evangelical bag of witnessing. Suggesting that whatever religion they are selling is therefore a panacea for any given lifestyle that they had become unaccustomed or disenfranchised from.

This rankled on Brian because he too had once spent a lot of time taking drugs and watched some of his friends die from it. Trevor gesticulated and shifted his weight a lot every time he fell into mirror-speech, reciting off entire reams of pleated experiences with drugs and trying work his religion into it. Brian—who admitted to being a little drunk at the time—replied with hollow baritone incredulity basing his argument on the addiction for addiction premise.

The trade-off premise posits that religion is just another addiction that was used to replace the previous one. It does not in fact elevate the person out of whatever hole they were digging themselves into; but instead replaces the risky lifestyle with a slightly varied risky lifestyle. I don’t know that I can fully advocate this sort of a position entirely. While religiosity is apparently addictive in pattern—since the deeply seated forms of it represent a fundamental break from reality—it indeed is often visibly less risky than irresponsible drug culture. It is indeed a totally different type of irresponsibility when used as a bludgeon on good reason and sanity about reality. It is apparent that Trevor is either poorly socialized or he is deliberately provocative and both of these are tied to his religiosity.

I am probably not quite framing Brian’s argument properly here. I would like him to come and give us a clearer example of how he argues these topics.

The Agnostic Position and Mount Rushmore

A newcomer to the fray, Travis, was having a poorly-gone discussion with Sean. Unfortunately, it literally went nowhere for either of them, primarily because Sean wasn’t listening and constantly misrepresented Travis’s position with gross misunderstandings. For example, when Travis brought up that he was Agnostic, Sean attempted to counter with, “The position of the agnostic is that they cannot prove anything; they look at something like Mount Rushmore and state that they cannot say how it got there. Man or God.”

The agnostic position doesn’t apply to Mount Rushmore. No sane agnostic need say that they cannot say how Mount Rushmore got there because of their agnosticism; it only applies to the supernatural. The supernatural is not manifest; Mount Rushmore is manifest. We can go to it. Test it. Examine it. Look at the documents of its creation—if we really want to verify them we can look at the stones themselves and find evidence of tool usage, wear, and repair. All of these things are evidence that will corroborate documentation and other provenance about Mount Rushmore.

Sean has been misinformed by someone about the agnostic position and is promoting a baldly stupid argument against it.

Mill Avenue Resistance: Saturday, November 29th 2008

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the SFTS does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog for Saturday, November 29th 2008.

After I arrived on Mill Ave and got to work with my usual interviews and observations, I noticed that the STFS—in the form of the Resistance—arrived with their amplification to locate the evangelicals gathering in front of Border’s. Kazz, Rocco, Rachel, Todd, Kyle, Brian, Kevin, and Ashley making up the Resistance; and the preachers had some familiar faces in Erin, Al, Suzanne, and a few others.

I really like having Suzanne around because she’s a good speaker, actually spends the time to converse with people, and listens thoughtfully to what they have to say—of course, she found herself locked in a conversation most of the night with Rocco and in spite of his geeky expression he is extremely good at holding a conversation.

Border’s

This part of the night made for an interesting environment for the Resistance because the preachers did not set up any sort of amplification. They just stood around passing out tracts and talking to passersby as per normal operations. This lasted about two hours or so at most, and occupied most of the time of the Resistance during that part of the night.

I spent most of my time getting to know the various players, movers and shakers actually in the region, keeping track of people; I’ve collected some tracts from the preachers but they’ll be stowed amid my other documented manuscripts and missives from the Ave.

This was something of a social gathering pretty much for all involved.

Pamphleteering seems to be the primary role of that part of the night.

Post Office

Eventually things moved out in front of the Post Office after the pianist vacated his location. Al moved from Border’s out to there. I found him because I had holed up there primarily to get a soda from the Thirsty Dog, but to also see what the pianist was up to (since he had mentioned he was also a street rat at some point.) He is part of my observation now because he seems to also have been proselytizing to the crowd around him and I’m sure the Resistance would like to know about him.

Unfortunately, I didn’t learn much—he didn’t stick around long enough for me to speak to him.

Instead, I got myself into a conversation with John—who came out with Lee—and we talked about some nostalgia about the Ave and other interesting tidbits about anthropology and how to study people. The conversation seemed to turn into one of those of Biblical misanthropy. I am becoming a little bit concerned about this particular product of the religion: beginning at a base state of dehumanizing other people by presenting them as evil and unruly seems like a good way to dismiss them as peers and as respectable people.

I hate to quote Ayn Rand, but I believe that the evanescent saying would be, “You cannot rule an innocent man.” A great deal of the meme here seems to be that everyone is wicked and therefore they need to be ruled by something; and, unsurprisingly, that something is going to be whatever religion made the unsupported assertion that everyone is bad.

I don’t believe that people who promulgate this meme realize that they are deliberately dismissing everything good that anyone does by trying to shackle it to their religion.

Trevor

I met him last week and I have the same criticism of his presentation as the above; that people drown themselves too deep in this misanthropic meme they are setting themselves up for dangerous, xenophobic separation from the rest of what could be a loving community. By approaching the world, and other people, as if they were terrible, horrible things we are essentially becoming Aristotle’s “lover of war” because we are immediately judging other people as evil rather than peers.

People who say things like this may spend their time saying things like, “I am just as bad,” but this is a sallow and cowardly divorce from what they just said before—really, we do not approach other people from a philosophy that suggests that we’re both evil and actually have a sane relationship.

I am being unfair to him at the moment, though, as we didn’t get a lot of time to speak.

It’s difficult to talk to him because he is so deep in his mirrorspeech that I’m not sure when the real person is going to surface. Today he wanted to know when I would, “Start preaching the gospel,” when his god would “raise me from the dead and bring me to life.” Perhaps I am just looking at a profound form of culture shock with these weird metaphors that he uses; because I am not sure that even the most diplomatic person that he talks to would take metaphors like that as proper conversation.

Brant

Wow. He misspeaks a lot.

At about 11:30pm amplification was set up outside the Post Office and first Trevor took to it—but I didn’t hear much of it because I had interviews to do—but then finally when the Resistance arrived on the scene, having moved from Border’s, they came head-to-head with a new evangelical preacher named Brant.

He has a somewhat square face and punchy cheeks, real farmboy build, short but slicked up brown hair, flat matte in the Mill Ave lights. He had a white sweater and blue jeans; amid his support crew were a pair of girls carrying tracts. He showed distinct signs of being barely trained to speak in front of crowds, although he seems to have practice; but he had little way in preparation for the siege that the Resistance was bringing with them.

For some parts Vince decided to speak with Brant on the microphone; he’s pretty good at what he does and he’s a real raconteur so that one didn’t go so well for proselytizing. Vince is a street rat, extremely into mystery religions, well studied, and excels at standing on his own turf—while he’s not distinctly part of the Resistance, he certainly helped them hold their own with some fun and interesting criticisms.

Brant to Vince, “If you’re not a Christian, then I can talk it over; but if you aren’t a Christian, then I don’t care.”

Brant did attempt to run the Good Person Test on Kyle—which was not going to go well because as a member of the Resistance he’s wise to the misinterpretations of scripture; the emotional blackmail; and the general immoral structure of the test. That ran a strange gambit as Kyle’s replies were split between Brant and Kazz/Todd as they replied themselves on the Resistance’s amp. Score another point for the siege style criticism that the Resistance brings. Of course, a bit of this was in part that Brant was just not prepared for this sort of encounter.

Eventually Todd took over—and that just went downhill for Brant. During the Good Person Test against Kyle it was brought up by Rocco (and others) that the very basis for the test didn’t even apply to Gentiles (that’s anyone who is not from the tribes of Israel.) They even went to a bible and found the part of Exodus that says so.

Brant to Todd, “Todd is going to read from the Bible, and he professes to be an atheist—but he knows in his heart that there is a god.”

It was actually Rocco who found it; but he had a lot of trouble getting the Resistance microphone or even Brant’s attention in order to reply to the challenge. Normally, I don’t think that it’s proper to debate the evangelicals on the Bible (as Kyle and/or Joe pointed out once) because it’s just psychic masturbation and doesn’t really lead anywhere. A lot like how Jewish people deal with Christians is by totally dismissing the New Testament; the atheists and other cultures really shouldn’t be going into that book in order to prove points—cross culturally there is only culture shock and the scriptures of either mythology aren’t as important as the social bridge between them.

However, this was an interesting blow because it did manage to point out a serious flaw in the design of the Good Person Test.

Brant may have some training in crowd control and speaker mollification but he’s not very good at deploying it. He tends to use, “Fair enough,” too often in the wrong places and mistakes it not for the affirmative that it is because he uses it and then contradicts what the person said. This creates a sort of backlash from the entire crowd who hear him say “yes,” and the in the same breath “no.”

For anyone who is familiar with the Good Person Test, here’s something that you should never accept from them. If they’re doing the bit where they ask, “Have you ever stolen anything?” And you’re hemming and hawing because most people have never actually stolen anything and the questioner says, “Have you ever downloaded music illegally from the Internet?” If you have: You have not committed theft.

Don’t let people get away with this stupid, ignorant-of-the-law meme. Copyright infringement is not theft. It’s not. Assault is not theft; murder is not theft; arson is not theft; vandalism is not theft. There are millions of illegal acts that are not theft and copyright infringement is one of them. The Supreme Court of the United States themselves has rendered decision after decision to make this clear to the public and the judicial system as if it were necessary.

The entire concept of Intellectual Property is an extremely infantile idea; the Bronze Age culture and dogma from which the Ten Commandments is derived had no conception of what IP was—it is not covered by any of them.

Brant: You are on notice. You have been told twice now that it’s not theft. Learn or be left behind. I expect you to be a rational, intelligent, and healthy peer of mine and actually do your homework and learn why copyright infringement cannot be theft. Stop trying to say that it is simply because it is convenient for this immoral, toxic, and psychologically abusive tool “The Good Person Test.”

The Resistance did not take well to Brant, probably because he’s particularly loud and refuses to be conversant—probably all part of his training in crowd control. This is particularly galling to the members of the Resistance who are there to create a public dialogue. Certainly I’ve heard others mention that they’re, “Not here to debate; but preach the gospel.” Okay, but what is not being understood here is that they’ve entered into a public forum and part of the function of the forum is to become part of a play-by-play of interaction and conversation.

Break that and you’re going to cause friction, and here’s the friction.

Some of the things that I noticed was that Brant would fall quickly onto saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

And more than once he found irritated fury in the mouths of the Resistance who had faced up to his crowd control techniques and didn’t like what they were hearing; except that he absurdly replied with, “I’ll take that as a compliment,” to things like Rachel’s flagellations:

Rachel to Brant, “You are an ignorant airhead!”

Brant said, “I take that as a compliment.”

Well… “Oh, how clumsy of me: I meant to insult you,” Captain Von Trapp, The Sound of Music.

I don’t know what he said to elicit that reaction, and I didn’t get a chance to post interview Rachel to find out; but there was shortly some sort of dialogue about brainwashing involved. I fear that Brant misspeaking and his use of crowd control techniques was causing abrasions, which spiral rapidly into frustration on both sides. I’d warn people to use caution with flat ridicule “on the first date” but since I missed part of that exchange I cannot properly comment on it.

If I see more of this sort of sparks between the two groups I will try to make comments on how social critique and public rebuke work—especially in the context of siege protests. Irony, sarcasm, parody, and other swift, sharp kicks in the delicate sensibilities have to be tempered with careful contextualization. Both groups are producing a sort of production for an audience; like a pair of entertainment troupes playing off of each other.

Castigat ridendo mores,” Jean-Baptiste Poquelin.

If anyone can give me experiences, how they feel when these events are going on, and what they can remember from their interaction and what they want to present and what obstacles they feel they have I will try to include that in my future critique.

Funny

I almost want to call the Resistance “The Résistance” instead just to be funny but … I think that I’ll stick with the less high faulting’ name.

Preacher Math: Prophetic Probabilities (Part IV)

In Part I and Part II we laid out some basic requirements we should expect any real prophecy to fulfill. In Part III we examined a single prophecy, often referred to as the “Triumphal Entry”, which Christians claim is referring to Jesus. In Part IV we will attempt to draw some conclusions, not about the improbability of Jesus accurately fulfilling a long list of prophecies as Christians claim he did, but about the probability that he actually did.

Since Biblical prophecy is such a broad subject, because we have been dealing specifically with prophecies about Jesus, and because the prophecies about Jesus are the ones most often discussed by Christians, we will continue to focus on them.

Looking just at the prophecies related to Jesus, here are some of the basic things we should see before we believe that they were made and fulfilled:

What we want to see What we actually see
Prophetic manuscripts accurately dated in their current forms to some time BCE. There actually are some manuscripts of Jewish scripture dating to the 2nd century BCE.
Evidence that the events which were foretold actually occurred. We have no contemporary extra-Biblical evidence for even the existence of Jesus, let alone anything he may have done.
The prophecies should be identified as prophecies, or at least spoken by people identified as prophets. Many of the “prophecies” Jesus is said to have fulfilled actually came from non-prophetic material such as Psalms.
Furthermore we would like to see the following.
The prophecies should be clear and specific. At least some of the prophecies are reasonably specific, but many are not.
The prophet in question should have a high degree of accuracy. In the cases where a prophet is even identified, this is difficult to determine due to lack of extra-Biblical evidence for the outcomes of their prophecies.
The event should not be easy to intentionally fulfill. As we can see from our discussion of the “triumphal entry” prophecy, this is not always the case. Some events would be much more difficult to manufacture in reality, but all are trivially easy to write about whether they happened or not.

Although it is not a requirement, it would also be nice to see one or more prophets in the Bible laying out a clear and specific set of prophecies about Jesus, as they do with other subjects.

Cherry-Picking Prophecies

If all of these “prophecies” were intended as such then why are so many of them simply a single verse or small section of a larger passage that, when read in its entirety, does not seem the prophecy that it is claimed to be?

For example, Psalm 41:9 is said to be a prophecy of Jesus being betrayed by Judas. If you read the entire 13 verse Psalm though, it is one man’s song about how the Lord will aid and protect people, and verses 9-10 are asking God to have mercy and help him through if he is betrayed by a close friend so that he can “repay them.”

Unless this is supposed to be someone writing a song as Jesus long before he was born and asking God to raise him up so that he can punish Judas for betraying him, it just doesn’t make sense. The idea of Jesus asking to be raised so that he can get Judas back really doesn’t fit with his character either, and again, the Psalms are just supposed to be songs, not prophecies.

Again this prophecy fails miserably to meet even the most basic prophetic requirements.

The Bible’s “prophecies” about Jesus are unusually scattered and disjointed, and many are not prophecies to begin with. It makes little sense to scatter a verse or two, seemingly randomly at times, in the works of each of a number of prophets without clearly identifying the subject of the prophecies, but the Bible does this. It does not inspire confidence in their validity.

Conclusion

It is difficult to be precise and accurate when dealing with all prophecy in the Bible, or even when dealing with all passages identified as prophecies about Jesus, so again we must break it down to the individual prophecy level.

Looking at the “Triumphal Entry” prophecy we have already examined in Part III, we see that it fails on one of the three most basic requirements. There is no need to look further at that point because it can not be honestly viewed as a fulfilled prophecy, unless the Bible’s accuracy as a historical document is taken on faith, and this is not a defensible position. Considering the historical, geographical, temporal, prophetic and other types of inaccuracies it contains, that is far more trust than it has earned.

It is true that the Bible contains stories about many real people and places, but so do many works which we know are embellished or largely fictional. The works of Homer for example were used to find the lost, and otherwise unknown, city of Troy. Does this make the Greek gods and monsters real? Of course not.

Neither does the author of Matthew’s knowledge of Herod The Great make his description of “the massacre of the innocents” or the author of Job’s the fire-breathing sea monster Leviathan real. Pseudo-historical documents are not only possible, but common.

In future articles we will examine some of the known inaccuracies of the Bible and prove the veracity of our claim that the Bible is not inerrant.

So where does this leave us?

Sadly this leaves us with many unanswered questions, many of which may never be answered. However, we can say with confidence that supporters of Biblical prophecy have not even come close to proving the Bible is inerrant, even on the issue of prophecy alone.

Even if we take the 10157:1 chance of Jesus fulfilling 48 prophecies as an accurate measure of probability, we know that many of these “prophecies” were never meant to foretell future events, and the probability that some or all of these supposed prophecy-fulfilling events were embellished or completely made up by the authors seems to be approaching 1:1.

Unless or until prophecy proponents can produce some reliable, extra-Biblical evidence of their fulfillment, that leaves the improbability of fulfilled prophecies argument dead in the water.

Skip to: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

Preacher Math: Prophetic Probabilities (Part III)

In Part I we looked at the basic criteria for any prophecy, and in Part II we made the requirements a little more strict to differentiate the impressive prophecies from the mundane.

Today we will examine a single popular prophecy that Jesus is said to have fulfilled, and we will start with the passage describing the event in Matthew 21.

Matthew 21:1-7 (New King James Version)

1 Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. 3 And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”

4 All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:
5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

6 So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them.

First we should examine verse 5 which is a quote from Zechariah 9:9. Taken in context, this appears to be about the coming of a military king who would rule “from sea to sea”. This is often interpreted as talking about a future kingdom after Jesus returns to Earth, but the text does not appear to be a prophecy of Jesus riding into Jerusalem, dying, and then coming back to rule a kingdom thousands of years later. This prophecy is already on shaky ground and we’ve barely even started.

Next let’s examine the alleged fulfillment of the prophecy. It is told both in John 12 and Matthew 21, but there are several important differences between the two accounts:

  1. The author of Matthew makes a big deal of saying that this was all done not for any normal reason, like Jesus was already riding a donkey when he got to Jerusalem, but specifically to fulfill a prophecy (Matthew 21:4).

    For the skeptical reader, this verse is very telling. A prophecy (at least a good one) should not be foretelling something that will be done simply to fulfill the prophecy, as the author clearly states this was.

    Furthermore if the author says that this was done just to fulfill the prophecy, and we have no evidence that it ever happened, why should we not think it at least as likely that it was simply written to satisfy the prophecy and not done at all?

    The author of John is a little more subtle, tying his description back to the prophecy with a partial quote (John 12:15) and a description of people cheering as the prophecy said they would (John 12:13). The disciples are oblivious to the significance of this event until later though (John 12:16), which is itself strange if this were a famous prophecy about a coming Messiah and any of Jesus’s followers had any idea that he might be the Messiah.

  2. In John, Jesus looks for and finds a young donkey, then he sits on it and rides into Jerusalem. This makes sense.

    In Matthew on the other hand, having just arrived from another city and not having entered Jerusalem yet, Jesus already knows where a donkey and her colt are tied up. He tells his disciples to go get both of them for him, and when they bring the donkeys back they lay their clothes over them and put Jesus on both of them. He rides two donkeys into Jerusalem. This makes a lot less sense.

  3. As we saw above in Matthew 21:7, the author is so concerned with fulfilling the prophecy using a very literalistic reading of Zechariah 9:9 that he actually has Jesus ride into Jerusalem on not just one young donkey but 2 donkeys, the mother and its colt at the same time!

    One wonders how this might be done…perhaps something like waterskiing, standing with one foot up on the mother and the other down lower on the colt? Unless Jesus also had superhuman balance, he would have to be holding onto long sets of reins for each animal and comically swaying and jerking as they jostled him through the gate into Jerusalem?

    Maybe Jesus was flexible enough to ride into Jerusalem doing a straddle split? Perhaps they used the slightly less comical method of draping him over them like a sack of potatoes? Or maybe there is a more reasonable way. He could have ridden the mother sidesaddle while using the colt as a furry ottoman, but that may be stretching Matthew’s reading of the prophecy too far.

    John takes a more reasonable approach, simply putting Jesus “on a donkey’s colt” (John 12:14), but for those who take the Bible to be inerrant, this discrepancy is still a problem.

Throughout the gospels there are numerous passages where the authors have tried hard to fulfill a very literalistic reading of various prophecies along with passages they may have thought were prophecies but which actually were not.

The authors are even kind enough to pinpoint when they do this by stating that an action was taken “that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” or other similar language. They certainly draw attention to the supposed prophecy fulfillments, but they also show clearly that the authors were very aware of and concerned with the perfect fulfillment of these “prophecies”. The Biblical record of these events may smell like victory to the faithful, but a skeptic is likely to smell a rat.

If we ignore the discrepancies between these two accounts of the same event, and even ignore the fact that it is questionable whether or not the original prophecy could have been referring to Jesus as he is described in the gospels, we are left with yet more problems.

Let’s go through the criteria we set out in Parts I and II of the article, point by point, starting with the 3 most basic requirements:

  1. The prophecy was made before the event happened.

    The exact dating of this prophecy is not known, but it is known to have existed before the time of Jesus.

  2. The event actually did happen, in the manner specified, and at the time specified (if such was given).

    We have absolutely no evidence of this outside of the accounts in the Bible, and as we have seen they are highly questionable, particularly when you consider that they were written with the intent of convincing people to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

  3. The supposed prophecy was actually intended to be a prophecy of this future event.

    Zechariah 9:9 does appear to be foretelling a future event, but does Jesus sound like the warrior king ruling a physical kingdom “from sea to sea” that this passage seems to be foretelling when read in context?

Using the most basic of criteria, already it fails on 1 or 2 of the 3 points! We need not go further to dismiss this as unproven, but while we’re at it we may as well examine it a little more using our stricter criteria:

  1. It must be specific.

    This prophecy is specific (a little too specific for the author of Matthew, apparently).

  2. The person who made the prophecy should not have made a large amount of failed prophecies along with the accurate one(s).

    Since we do not have exact dating for the book of Zechariah, because it can be difficult to pick out what is and is not intended as a prophecy, and because it is much more difficult to verify the events in most cases, we do not know exactly how accurate or inaccurate the prophecies in this book are.

    The fact that we only have to look a single verse away (Zechariah 9:8) to see a clear failure (saying that the Israelites would never be oppressed again) does not inspire much confidence though.

  3. The event should be something that a person reading and intending to fulfill the prophecy could not just decide to do to fulfill the prophecy.

    As Matthew 12:4 clearly states, this was not the case at all. Not only was it trivially easy to fulfill, but it says that it actually was done specifically to fulfill the prophecy.

Another 1 or 2 out of 3 criteria failed. This is quite an unimpressive showing for one of the most popular prophecies about Jesus!

If we simply take it on faith that Jesus fulfilled hundreds of prophecies as many claim, or even just the 48 that Stoner used to get his 10157:1 odds, it sounds very impressive. If we break it down to the level of individual prophecy and examine each one though, we begin to see how hollow this claim actually is.

In Part IV we will wrap up and attempt to draw some conclusions about the supposed extreme improbability of these “accurate” prophecies.

Skip to: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

Preacher Math: Prophetic Probabilities (Part II)

In Part I we examined the basic criteria that every prophecy should meet. Today we will strengthen the requirements to a level that actually makes them impressive.

Using just the basic criteria of a prophecy, being made (with the intent of telling the future) and fulfilled, anyone can make prophecies all day long with nearly 100% accuracy. Even saying “I prophesy that within the next 10 minutes you will breathe” would meet the basic criteria, but it would also almost always be true for a living person, so it is very unimpressive. So what would make it more impressive?

To be truly amazing, after meeting the most basic criteria a prophecy would also have to meet at least three further requirements:

  1. It must be specific.

    Saying in 1920 “One day The Soviet Union will dissolve” would not have been much of a prophecy, just a statement of the overwhelmingly probable.

    On the other hand, saying in 1820 that the Soviet Union would rise in 1917, spreading from Russia through much of eastern Europe and Asia, and then it would collapse in 1991 following a failed coup against a man with a coffee-stain-like birthmark on his head, that would be much more impressive.

  2. The person who made the prophecy should not have made a large amount of failed prophecies along with the accurate one(s).

    Anyone can make hundreds or thousands of predictions about the future, and if they are trying then they are likely to get at least some of them correct. This is not impressive.

    If we assume that the Bible is actually a complete and accurate record though, it does not appear to have a huge number of failed prophecies along with the accurate ones. However, it does have failures.

    Ezekiel’s prophecies of the destruction of Tyre and Egypt by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon for example. Despite the semantic games some apologists try to play to make them appear to have been fulfilled, they were not and can not be now that Nebuchadnezzar is dead.

    If we believe that the Bible is inerrant, as many Christians do, then it should have no failed prophecies at all, but even if we assume that the Bible is a completely accurate record of prophecies made by a series of real prophets, there are prophecies which have clearly failed, and in some cases we can see clear proof of their failures today.

    We can not know how many unrecorded prophecies were made, or whether or not they were fulfilled, but even looking only at prophecies recorded in the Bible, we can see that the Biblical prophets are not infallible.

  3. The event should be something that a person reading and intending to fulfill the prophecy could not just decide to do to fulfill the prophecy.

    An example of this is the difference between prophecies of a series of plagues as depicted in Exodus, which would have been far beyond the means of a person of that time to instigate, and riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as Jesus is said to have done in John 12 (or on two donkeys as Matthew 21 claims).

    If you wanted people to believe you were the Messiah, and there was a prophecy saying that you would do something so simple, would you not do it? If a famous psychic said “The reincarnation of Elvis will ride into Graceland in a pink Cadillac.”, do you think there would not be a nearly endless parade of Elvis impersonators “fulfilling the prophecy”? And this isn’t the savior of the world, just a human celebrity!

Evidence of Jesus?

The most commonly used “evidence” of Jesus is the single passage about him in the works of Josephus (a Jewish historian born just a few years after Jesus is said to have died).

Unfortunately we do not have the original documents and in the copies we do have this passage has clearly been altered at least, or quite possibly just completely added by a later scribe.

One of the main reasons we know this is not Josephus’s original work is that the passage calls Jesus the Messiah, and since Josephus lived and died as a Jew, never converting to Christianity, this is not something he would have said.

The biggest problem we have when trying to determine the validity of Biblical prophecies is that we can not establish any of the most important elements in most cases!

It’s true, there is evidence that certain cities were destroyed at some time in the past, but proving that they were destroyed at the right time, in the right manner, and that accurate prophecies of these events were made before the events happened has proved to be much more difficult.

Jesus’s birth, miracles, death and resurrection fare worse still. Even his historical existence seems to lack any real evidence. (See Evidence of Jesus?)

It may be true that a single person accurately fulfilling dozens or hundreds of prophecies while not failing to fulfill any prophecies from “real prophets” would be a near impossibility, but we have no evidence to suggest that many (if any) of these prophecies were real.

Maybe we are looking at the wrong set of probabilities. The probability that the Bible’s authors simply wrote their stories to appear to be fulfilling prophecies is starting to seem like a much more plausible explanation.

Tomorrow in Part III we will delve further into just one of the prophecies of Jesus to see if we can determine anything about its authenticity, and then we will attempt to draw some conclusions about these probabilities.

Skip to: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

Preacher Math: Prophetic Probabilities (Part I)

Have you ever heard a preacher say that the odds against Jesus accurately fulfilling so many prophecies is essentially statistically impossible? They will happily tell you about as many supposedly fulfilled prophecies as they can remember, and they will probably expect you to take them at face value.

One of the most common sources used in this argument is from Peter Stoner who claimed in “Science Speaks” in 1963 that the probability of one man (Jesus) fulfilling 48 Biblical prophecies was 1 in 10157, and they make it sound even more impressive by stating that it is more than the number of electrons in the universe (estimated at 1079).

The main reason for this astounding number is that the believers are assuming from the start that these prophecies were all made and fulfilled perfectly. When we look at them in more depth though, how accurate and amazing do the prophecies really seem?

To consider a prophecy made and fulfilled, we should first prove that it at least meets these three criteria:

  1. The prophecy was made before the event happened.

    This is a simple demand, but difficult to prove. Unless manuscripts have been found which predate the supposed fulfillment of a prophecy, we can not know that the prophecy was written before the event.

    In cases where we do not have the original manuscripts and can not absolutely date their writing, it is also insufficient evidence to prove that a prophecy was not made prior to the event, but this should not lead us to just assume greater antiquity and credibility.

    Prophecies which can not be verified to have been written before the events they foretell must be viewed as suspect.

  2. The event actually did happen, in the manner specified, and at the time specified (if such was given).

    Again this can be difficult to prove or disprove in the cases of many Biblical prophecies, but the astonishing lack of evidence for even such monumental events as “the massacre of the innocents” and many other prophecy-fulfilling elements of Jesus’s life leads to the conclusion that these events are unlikely to have happened.

    If we have no evidence of the fulfillment of a prophecy other than the uncorroborated word of someone who has ulterior motives for saying that it happened, as the Bible’s authors and editors did, we are unwise to take it as definitively true.

    When there is no supporting evidence of an event, it can only be taken on faith. When evidence is expected but not found, or when contrary evidence is found, then belief in the event even pushes the limits of faith.

  3. The supposed prophecy was actually intended to be a prophecy of this future event.

    Strangely some New Testament authors inappropriately used certain Old Testament passages as if they were prophecies when they were never intended to be. Some of the best examples are the from Psalms where at least a dozen different supposed prophecies are made and later fulfilled by Jesus.

    Psalms is a book of songs, similar to a modern hymn book, and the songs included in it were never meant to be used as prophecy. Therefore, not being prophecies at all, they could not be fulfilled and the supposed fulfillment of these non-prophecies is only more evidence to support the idea that the New Testament authors were embellishing the truth or completely making things up.

Already the probability that Biblical prophecies are true and accurate is dropping rapidly, and the foundation of the “1 in 10157” chance is looking pretty shaky.

Tomorrow in Part II we will add the basic requirements for an impressive prophecy, and then finally in Part III we will examine a specific prophecy and then attempt to draw some conclusions.

Skip to: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.