Monday, August 6, 2012

No Future in the Bible


Psalm 22 "decoded"
Back in 1997, an enterprising journalist named Michael Drosnin published a book claiming that the Bible contained a complex code, describing events that took place long after the texts were actually written.  Called The Bible Code, the book was a best seller that captured the imagination of millions.

For the deeply religious, the book “proved” that the Bible was truly God’s word.

You haven’t heard much about it lately, have you?

That’s because the Bible Code was used to make predictions.  Not one of them has come true.  Moreover, scholars examining the text found basic flaws in the logic behind the code, which looks plausible, but really isn’t.

The code involved arranging all 304,805 Hebrew letters of the Bible into a matrix without spaces or punctuation – in short, the way the original text was written.  Then, a computer looked for matches that created words.  The work was done in original Hebrew, but it’s easy to understand.  Take any quote from the Bible, look for letters in a row that form words.  

One published example drew on Genesis 31:28 And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Thou hast now done foolishly in so doing.

 daughtersthouhastnowdonefoolishlyinsodoing.

See?  You end up with Roswell, the site of the supposed UFO landing in 1947.  

Some of the words are uncovered by going in a straight line, but others can come from other lines above, below or next to each other.

Unfortunately, you can do the same thing with any book or even this essay.  With enough letters, you can spell anything.  In reality, the code is nonsense.  

So is the idea that the Bible predicts anything.  In reality, that idea stems from a mistaken use of the word “prophet.”  In modern parlance, that’s someone who predicts the future, like Cassandra of ancient Troy who could see the future but was doomed to be ignored.

Nostradamus
History is replete with such prophets, including Jeanne Dixon in this country and France’s Nostradamus (left). Their success records were extraordinarily tiny.  You could achieve better results by flipping a coin.

Biblical prophets were no better.  More importantly, those folks were not looking into the misty future, but relaying (at least in their mind) the word of God.  They were mouthpieces for the deity and threatened listeners.  Their point was that if God was not observed, bad things would happen.  That’s not much of a prediction: bad things happened all the time to impoverished people tiptoeing on the knife’s edge between foreign armies, starvation and disease.

The idea linking these prophets with prophecy owes its existence to Christian exegesis.  After the formation of Christianity, apologists scoured the only holy texts they knew, the ones now in the Bible, and plucked predictions of Jesus from the musty pages.  Any mention of a messiah was culled as were predictions meant for a distant time period.  

For example, Isaiah said: Isaiah 7:14."Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."(7:14) Isaiah was talking about his time period and not the Christmas story.  To early Christians, the prediction was too appealing to pass up.
The connection is tenuous at best: Mary was supposedly a virgin, and Jesus’ name was not Immanuel.
Regardless, once the Jewish Bible was seen to predict Jesus, all seemingly prophetic comments were turned to forecasts.

Lindsey
Predictions have rolled along ever since.  They are inevitably wrong.  For example, conservative Christian icon Hal Lindsey (right) is still living off his 1970 book predicting the Russia would soon invade Israel and precipitate World War III.  Today, he says he got the date wrong.

Prophets in the past had the good sense to couch their predictions with conditional words like “could” and “may.”  Invariably, if they made a prediction after the event took place, they were always right.  A predication made before an event was invariably wrong, just like the Bible Code.

Using the Bible as anything more than to initiate conversations about morals and ethics is equally mistaken.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1

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