I. Vague prophecies.
Imagine you could go back in time, just as a human being with no omniscient knowledge of the future like god would surely have. You could make very precise predictions of the future without the need to hide in ambiguity. Some of my predictions would look like this:
“In the 21st Century, there will be a system by which information is spread throughout the entire world, and this system shall be called ‘the internet.’”
“Currently, people think that deafness and blindness are a result of being afflicted by the devil or demons. This is not true. These maladies are the result common flaws in DNA replication and you should treat them as equals, since it’s not their fault, rather than ostracizing them from church and social gatherings.”
“Stars are not tiny points of light, as you currently believe. They are actually huge – they’re just really far away. They’re not going to fall to the Earth. Oh, and the Earth is not going to ‘abideth forever’ (Ecclesiastes 1:4) – its life will be finite.”
“In the second century of Rome there shall be five emperors, and they will be named Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius.”
This is what I could offer with a knowledge of what has transpired between then and now that is far inferior to what god’s would have been. Why is it that I could have been infinitely more clear and accurate than god, even with only the capacity of a fairly young mortal?
Precise prophecies are risky – they have a very high probability of being wrong. The bible almost always shies away from any such attempt at prophecy (I’ll touch on the “almost” later) choosing to make ambiguous prophecies that could be “fulfilled” by any number of different criteria instead.
For an example, consider the following “prophecy” from Luke 7:27:
“his is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.”
Jesus proudly proclaims this prophecy was fulfilled by John. Compare this hazy line to my rather precise prophecies from above. Is this really as specific as an all-knowing god can be? Obviously not, as I could do better off the top of my head – give me access to the internet and I’ll really give you some VERY precise prophesies.
Here’s a prophecy I just made up.
“There will come a time when three evil men rise to power, and a woman will oppose them, leading the people against them!”
I’d wager good money that this would be “fulfilled” within 20 years. Do I really need divine inspiration for this?
If the scripture from Luke (and the litany of “prophecies” just like it) constitutes prognostication, what’s your take on my horoscope from today?
You experience a burst of great energy that should help you achieve almost anything close to your heart. A new love, a big win in business or even a quiet reconciliation are all possible.
By jove, it’s a miracle.
So vague prophecies are not impressive at all.
II. Trivial prophecies.
How impressed would you be by the following prophecy?
Tomorrow, the Sun will rise.
Not very impressive, is it? Prophecies that are not falsifiable (ones that involve no risk) are not exactly spectacular. Ponder for a moment how bold it would be to predict that the Sun would not rise tomorrow! Prophecies like that are very easy to get wrong, which explains why the bible almost (again, I’ll touch on the almost later) always averts them.
III. Jesus knew the prophecies he was supposed to fulfill.
Jesus, if he existed (I don’t believe he did, see David Fitzgerald’s Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All), was a Rabbi, which means he was educated in Jewish literature. A prophecy that frequently gets brought up as supposedly being fulfilled is Zachariah 9:9:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.”
Jesus would have known precisely what to do. But this is a great deal more than mere speculation: the bible fully admits it. See Matthew 21:2-5.
“Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.”
How difficult is it to fulfill a prophecy you knew about beforehand? It’s not.
(Incidentally, in Zachariah 9:10-13, the scriptures go on to show that the person in question riding the donkey was a military king with an army that would “rule from sea to sea.” Jesus had no army and no kingdom, and therefore could not have fulfilled this “prophecy”. Also, in Zachariah 9:8 we have god decreeing that Israel shall never again be oppressed, which is a flagrantly inaccurate prophecy. It is also a perfect example of how specific prophecies tend to bite people in the hind-quarters, which is why biblical authors, mystics, and other shills tend to avoid them – see section 6 of this portion of the post.)
IV. Biblical authors lied or wrote allegorically.
Jesus wasn’t the only one who knew what the OT or other parts of the bible had to say. Consider for a moment that it’s the consensus of the historical community that the gospels were not authored by Jesus’ disciples (even the vast majority of Christian scholars concede this point). The gospels were written long after Jesus’ death with the first one, Mark, being written about 70 CE and the last, John, coming circa 95 CE. Additionally, historians believe that the gospels following Mark were based upon a reading of that book. So how hard would it be to corroborate anything from that book? Not very.
Still, mistakes are plentiful. It is clear that the authors of Luke and Matthew both read the Greek translation of Isaiah 7:14 and consequently thought that Jesus should be born of a virgin. However, the Hebrew text uses the word “alma” which simply means “young woman”. It does not imply virginity in any way. This is why Mark and John don’t seem to be aware of Mary’s virginity, and do not sync up with Luke and Matthew on that point. Doesn’t that seem like kind of an important detail?
It would not take omniscience (or even mild competence) to write a story about some dude who fulfills every prophecy in a book you already have. You or I could do it easily (J.K. Rowling has pulled it off herself, and nobody wonders if her witches are fiction or not).
V. Biblical prophecies are not backed up by any evidence outside the bible.
Here’s Matthew 2:6:
And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
In this scripture, he’s quoting Micah 5:2:
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
The bolded disparity is very important, because the Micah scripture was referring to a military leader from the clan Bethlehem Ephratah (many versions of the bible still use the word “clan” in the Micah scripture, though it is always omitted from the Matthew) rather than a man from the village of Bethlehem.
But here’s a quirk: there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Jesus, if he existed, was born in Bethlehem. None. Zilch. Believers, thinking the two passages refer to the same thing, simply insert Jesus into this ‘prophecy’.
Not all claims leave such open-ended space for the believer to insert facts though. This is one of the good things about the gospels (at least as far as we skeptics are concerned): they provide historical claims that can be tested empirically. Such as the claim in Luke that Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census be taken of the entire Roman world (the census covered only Judea, and has some other interesting implications about Jesus’ birthday – Luke sets it at least a decade after Matthew).
There is also no documentation of any out of the ordinary celestial events at that time, even though such things were very accurately recorded then. Another example would be the historical absence of any corroboration to the idea of Herod’s slaughter of innocent children (the closest thing we have are Josephus and Philo writing about how he murdered some of his family members). This tends to be the kind of thing that historians write about. The list could quite literally go on forever.
When prophecies are having to compete with history, they stop being ‘prophecies’. There is no corroboration of biblical prophecy outside of the bible and plenty of historical conflict with what’s in it.
VI. Numerous prophecies were unfulfilled.
Remember how the bible tends to almost universally avoid specific prophecies because of how you can actually get those wrong? Well, here’s where the ‘almost’ comes in. Look at Ezekiel 26:
“For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, a king of kings, from the north, with horses, and with chariots, and with horsemen, and companies, and much people…And I will make thee [Tyre] like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the LORD have spoken it, saith the Lord GOD.”
I use an ellipse (…) to skip the gory description of just how Nebuchadrezzar will conquer Tyre. Feel free to go read it for yourself. However, Nebuchadrezzar did not defeat Tyre – try as he did. Alexander the Great conquered them about 200 years later.
Other versions of the bible spell out that god expressly says that Tyre shall never be rebuilt (see the bolded section). Of course, Tyre was rebuilt and remains one of the oldest inhabited cities to this day (2750 BCE – present).
This is why the authors of the bible tend to avoid specific prophesies, like you or I could make if we went back in time. Imagine if the author had just written, “Tyre will be destroyed.” You can bet that Christians would have been chalking up Alexander’s work to biblical prophesy. See how other ambiguous passages easily conform to just about anything? Fortunately for those of us who demand falsifiable data, the type demanded in science, Ezekiel (and a host of other biblical writers who wrote unfulfilled prophesies) goofed.
The bible speaks of an omniscient god, and that clearly cannot be the case if even one ‘prophecy’ is wrong. That’s clearly the case we find ourselves in. Ask yourself if the above really looks like the product of omniscience.
Hey, he can’t get things right all the time. Who do you think he is, god?
VII. Self-fulfilling prophecies.
These are prophecies along the lines of saying, “Tomorrow I’m going to go fishing” and then going fishing the following day. A similar case would be saying you’re going to rebuild a temple and then doing it. You can find many cases of this in the bible, and Christians all-to-eager to brand them as fulfilled prophecies.
So, my advice? Go find a site that lists biblical prophecies and read them. Ask yourself how difficult or miraculous such prophecies would be to make. Though I wouldn’t recommend it (in my opinion, the bible is one of the worst-written, least-informing, and most awful books ever written), you could even read the bible. See for yourself.
Remember, there is a stark difference in approach from people who view doubt as an important tool in keeping one’s self from being scammed and those who view doubt as a threat to believing as you ‘should’. Doubt: it’s your friend.
The bible is not a morally wise text
Getting past prophecies, the bible does not at all look like what an all-knowing being would write (or even influence). Consider the fact that the bible contains scripture instructing us on the proper way to keep slaves (Leviticus 25:44-46, Exodus 21:2-6) , which includes how to sell your daughter into sexual slavery (Exodus 21:7-11) and how we should beat them (Exodus 21:20-21). It also contains instructions on the proper way to sacrifice animals (Leviticus 3:1-5).
Consider for a moment what could have gone in place of stuff like this. Explanations of DNA, electricity? How to build a telescope? Perhaps it could have mentioned how to avoid diseases (rather than Jesus telling us to not bother washing our hands in Mark 7:1-15), or even explained that they weren’t caused by demons but rather by germs. The list could go on and on and on.
The bible, given its position on slavery and ritual animal sacrifice, is obviously not the kind of book any decent (or competent) moral philosopher would write. The paltry non-offenses worthy of death in the bible include many of the ten commandments (commandment 1: no worshiping other gods, Deuteronomy 17:3-7; commandment 2: no graven images, Deuteronomy 12:2-3; commandment 4: keep the sabbath, Exodus 35:2; commandment 5: honor your mother and father, Leviticus 20:9; and commandment 7: no adultery, Leviticus 20:10), along with being gay, being a witch, being a fortuneteller, pre-marital sex (it’s only pre-marital if you intend to get married), and so on and so forth.
There are two responses to this. The first is that supposedly god had to have some way of instilling morality in his subjects. But he’s all-knowing (or at least smarter than us), surely a better, less painful way could be found (or created). The second is that this blood-thirsty, hedonistic type of enforcement was the best we could do at the time. This is simply not true. Several philosophers managed better. Mahavira, the Jain Patriarch, summed it all up very nicely in a single sentence well over 500 years before Jesus was supposed to have walked the Earth:
“Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture or kill any creature or living being.”
The Buddha managed to realize that punishment was to teach, not to torture or kill. Lao-Tsze came up with the golden rule long before it was borrowed by biblical authors. Zoroaster produced the rule of action (if you don’t know if it’s good or bad, don’t do it) during that time. In the 4th century B.C., Socrates had determined that striking or killing in reciprocation was a bad thing:
“One who is injured ought not to return the injury, for on no account can it be right to do an injustice; and it is not right to return an injury, or to do evil to any man, however much we have suffered from him.”
Cicero had managed to figure out that forgiveness was better than violence as well.
“Let us not listen to those who think we ought to be angry with our enemies, and who believe this to be great and manly. Nothing is so praiseworthy, nothing so clearly shows a great and noble soul, as clemency and readiness to forgive.”
The Hindus (whose holy texts predate the old testament) produced the idea of turning the other cheek when Krishna said,
“If a man strike thee, and in striking drop his staff, pick it up and hand it to him again?”
Clearly we could have done better at the time. And if human beings could do better then what reason do we have to believe the bible was so much as influenced by omnipotence? Omnipotence would not be so wrong.
None of this barbarity was ever necessary, and could not be the product of an ethically wise mortal, let alone an omnipotent, caring, father-figure type of god. The bible looks like something that was written by people ignorant of almost the entirety of human knowledge. We should treat it that way.
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