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Tyre by the Numbers

I just finished my series on Ezekiel’s prophecy of Tyre, and in one of the comments, we started discussing Ezekiel’s accuracy percentage. One commenter rounded off the accuracy to about 75%, which I thought was a bit high. This site gives Ezekiel about a 67% accuracy. But thinking of percentages made me curious, so I decided to break out the different parts of the prophecy to see how well he fares.

  1. Many nations: √
  2. Destroy walls: √
    • While this portion of the prophecy doesn’t say who will do this or when, I’ll go ahead and count it.
  3. Break towers: √
    • Same as above…
  4. Scrape clean: X
    • Nope, this never did happen.
  5. Place for spreading of nets: √
    • This one is actually not so clear. Does the prophecy mean that’s all it will be used for? I tend to think so, but since a lot of fishing is done there, we’ll go ahead and count it.
  6. Nebuchadnezzar come against it: √
  7. Neb destroy mainland: √
  8. Neb put battering rams against walls: X
  9. Neb break down towers: X
  10. Neb enter gates with army: X
  11. Neb trample streets: X
  12. Neb kill citizens: X
  13. Neb tear pillars to the ground: X
  14. “They” plunder riches: √
    • If this is talking about Nebuchadnezzar, then it’s false, but since this did eventually happen, we’ll count it.
  15. “They” destroy houses: √
    • Same as above…
  16. Cast the city’s debris in the sea: X
    • Again, while this did happen to the mainland settlement during Alexander’s siege, it never happened to the actual city.
  17. Stop songs/lyres: X
  18. Never be rebuilt: X

Out of 18 prophecies, I show him getting 8 right — an accuracy of about 44%.

But before we run with that number, let’s look at the kinds of things he got right and the kinds of things he got wrong. He successfully predicted that Tyre would be attacked by many different nations. Since there’s no timeline given, this could apply at any point in the future. That’s playing it pretty safe. He also accurately predicted that Tyre’s walls and towers would one day be torn down, its riches plundered, and its houses destroyed. So as long as at least one of these “many nations” eventually succeeded in defeating Tyre, this would be fulfilled as well. Finally, he predicted that Tyre would be a place where fishermen spread their nets. While I think this probably means that’s all it would be for (which would fail), we’ll go ahead and let it count. But at this low standard, fishermen would already have been doing this at the time Ezekiel gave the prophecy.

In other words, these are pretty safe predictions, and it shouldn’t surprise us very much that they eventually came true.

On the other hand, when Ezekiel got specific, his accuracy was much lower. While he was right about Nebuchadnezzar coming against Tyre and destroying its mainland suburbs (which seems to have already happened at the time he “predicted” this), he was wrong in every other detail. Tyre was never “scraped bare” and Nebuchadnezzar did not succeed in tearing down its walls, entering the city, and killing its inhabitants. While Tyre was eventually defeated, it was rebuilt.

If we look at his track record on the 12 specific and unlikely prophecies (#s 4, 6-13, 16-18), he only got 2 of them right — an accuracy of 16.7%.

39 thoughts on “Tyre by the Numbers”

  1. The site you linked to that said 67% accuracy also had, under “reasons to say yes” that it was never rebuilt…which it was. So, your 44% appears more factually accurate.

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  2. I make the following prophecy: The spot of earth you’re presently on will be razed, folded, burned, ripped apart, shattered, eroded away, flooded, drowned, pressured-packed, and liquefied.

    Given enough time, this will be 100% true. Now come an worship me for I have seen the future 🙂

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  3. now all John needs are martyrs and his divine inspiration will be undeniable.

    and he needs a book.

    but how?

    40 authors over 1500 years? too long to wait for, so let’s whittle it down.

    4 authors over 150 years? I dont think i have that long to live

    1 author over 37.5 years? Go for it John. if the god wills, it shall be so.

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  4. I wouldn’t be surprised if these numbers could be massaged to get you some wide range of values within reason. I think your analysis doesn’t seem way off the mark. Either way I don’t think we can get 0 or 100% without some difficult straining which wouldn’t be reasonable.

    Now let’s expand that to our interpretation of the entire bible.

    When the writer of the gospel says that Jesus said “No one comes to the Father except through me.”, perhaps this was a fact that either the writer or even Jesus got wrong. Do we have some way of verifying that this is true or false? Given that there are such a huge amount of people in the world who think they have some connection to their gods or God without Jesus perhaps that is falsification of this. Not a foolproof argument, but what is when we are dealing with nebulous things like this? And given that so many that believe in a higher power would be willing to concede that they don’t really have any real kind of “connection” (rather just a belief and perhaps some warm feelings when going to church), and scientific studies don’t seem to have found convincing empirical evidence for gods acting in our world, perhaps these are indications that it’s all in the mind.

    This is one of the problems that the inerrantists see once we concede that the bible has some percentage wrong – the parts we are relying on as true could actually be part of that percentage that is incorrect, and we have to rely on our own subjective interpretations of both the text as well as the world to form conclusions.

    Let’s also expand this to religious documents of other religions. So you have found some issues in the Bhagavad Gita? What’s your problem, don’t you know that it can still be inspired by God even though it isn’t perfect?

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  5. Thanks Nate and William – I suppose the 3 of us, plus or minus a few minor details, are usually on very similar wavelengths. Nate, I loved hearing it but I’m not sure I “nailed it”. 🙂 I thought it was a bit too much of a mish-mosh of ideas, and if I wanted to I suppose I could come up with some reasonable arguments against what I said. And actually, as far as communicating your viewpoints effectively you are one of the best.

    As far as arguing against my comment, I think I would respond to myself that we could do a broad review of all the major religions and some religion would end up coming out looking the best out of that. I’ve seen people try this in fact, and given how popular Christian apologetics is on the blogosphere it’s no surprise it’s usually been from a Christian viewpoint.

    But then arguing back I personally see 3 problems:
    1) Can we really do an objective analysis of religions in that fashion? What about religious documents which have less or no prophecies in them? Are there objective mathematical ways we could factor stuff like that in? I don’t see how one could objectively do something like this.
    2) Analyses that I’ve seen typically neglect one important point. They will rule out religions that don’t have a lot of adherents. But what the people who do these kind of analyses don’t think about is that their own religion at some point in history had a very small number of adherents. Take Christianity for example, since that seems to be the popular thing on these blogs – a person in Spain back in 50AD trying to do an analysis like this would have automatically ruled out Christianity with this method. What if the Christian today who does this is ruling out some small religion which ends up being true?
    3) People doing these comparisons want to do them on religions and not worldviews. This is very wrong in my opinion. Instead we should be thinking about what worldview matches best with reality. “Non-religious” worldviews (of which there are more than one, no matter how one defines that) should also be considered in the analysis.

    Do you guys ever argue with yourselves like I do, or do I need to get that checked out by a professional? 😉

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  6. Hi Nate, I have said already that the number of items Ezekiel was literally successful on is not all that important to me. In my previous review of this matter, I looked at both inerrantist christian views and sceptical non-christian views, and I though both overstated their cases. I think you have done the same. I don’t think a long discussion would be much value, but I thought I would give a reaction to your assessment here.

    1. I have a lot of difficulty with your methodology. Which are separate items and which should be lumped together? Are all items of equal weighting? Why limit yourself to the verses you did? I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me here – numbers are pretty arbitrary and all you’re doing is doing an exercise.

    2. Many of your ticks and crosses depend on broader interpretation, particularly of two key issues – which locations did Ezekiel mean by ‘Tyre’ and which bits refer to just Neb and which bits to “many nations”?

    Thus you say #16 (debris) didn’t happen, but Alexander did do it to the remains of “Old Tyre” (mainland Tyre). Likewise #8-13 are only untrue if applied to the island, for I think they all happened to mainland Tyre.

    3. You take an excessively literal (and I believe anachronistic) view of prophecy. For example #17 (songs) is surely figurative, meaning there will be woe, which happened. Verse 15 says: “Will not the coastlands tremble at the sound of your fall, when the wounded groan and the slaughter takes place in you?” but hopefully no-one is going to check if an earthquake happened!? Many of the things on your list can be taken as picturesque ways of describing doom, and probably only a modern would be as literal as you are.

    4. Was the prophecy against the physical city (did God or Ezekiel have something against dirt and stone???) or against the people and their culture and behaviour? If this was so, discussion of whether this was rebuilt or thrived takes a different aspect. My understanding is that Tyre never recovered its pre-eminence and wealth.

    5. For these reasons, when I originally analysed this (“inspired”, I must admit, but some of your previous writings on the subject), I didn’t try to separate out all these details, but just considered the two matters I raised above – (1) which locations did Ezekiel mean by ‘Tyre’ and (2) which bits refer to just Neb and which bits to “many nations”?

    On this basis, I judged that (1) Ezekiel’s prophecy was only partly fulfilled because the city was rebuilt, but (2) some parts were fully fulfilled if we allow both Neb and Alexander to be fulfilment. So that’s how I got 75%. I would now score each of those main questions slightly differently, but I think the conclusion would be the same.

    I’ll say again – I think both you and those who promote this prophecy as “proof” of God’s inspiration are anachronistic, looking at detail that was poetic and window dressing. If they interpret in that way, I can understand that you would use their methods to attack their conclusions. But I still think you are both mistaken, and I still think Ezekiel was an amazing and strange man used by God, just in a different way that others think and you (understandably) reject.

    Thanks, it has been fascinating.

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  7. Hi Gary,

    Thanks for the compliment. It took a while to find the comments about the Daniel posts, but I finally did. I haven’t read them all yet, but I would echo what a couple of other people said yesterday (it may have been Ruth): you’ve given these folks something to think about, but I don’t think I would push them on it anymore if I were you. As one of the commenters (tODD) said: now that they have the link, they can check it out whenever they want.

    Who knows, some of them might be intrigued enough to research some of the issues on their own more thoroughly? But I think I’d find a graceful way to bow out, if I were you. Right now, it sounds like they’re starting to think of you as a troll, and that’s not what you want.

    Anyway, just my two cents! Thanks again for all your recent comments! 🙂

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  8. UnkleE,

    I think I see what you’re saying, but i have trouble understanding such a position. This is probably because I, like nate, came from a literalist sect of christianity, which may be hindering my interpretation if things now.

    I have a few questions though:

    1) If people should view the nature of prophecy like a poetic riddle, is that because that’s how prophecy works, or is it because prophecy isnt real, and prophets must resort to vague and mysterious descriptions in order to pawn their “prophecies” as true?

    2) If the bible is very figurative on things like this, then where does this end? I mean, how do we know that jesus really dies, really rose from the dead, and really flew into heaven? How do we know he’s really the son of god? Why couldnt each of those be metaphor?

    3) and why say ezekiel was being figurative? This is supposedly a powerful god we’re talking about. A god who flooded the earth. a god who kills people. a god who has utterly destroyed cities before. why would anyone think it was just flowery language that was really talking about a fate that was similar to other cities at that time? Do we say so now only because it was not literally fulfilled, so therefore it must be figurative? And if so, isnt that really just saying you’d believe it regardless of the outcome?

    4) If the koran or another religion had a similar prophecy, would you believe that it was from god as well?

    5) and you may believe most of the bible is allegory… but that makes me want to say, see question #2 and then ask, wouldnt believers of other religions be able to claim the same things?

    6) what am i missing?

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  9. Hi unkleE,

    1) Yes, I agree with this point — these numbers could be twisted in a number of different ways, depending on how one broke down or grouped the various parts of the prophecy. I think my breakdown is fairly reasonable, but it’s definitely a subjective thing.

    2) Yeah, but I think it’s very hard to apply the prophecy to the mainland. He makes the distinction between the two (“daughters in the field / on the mainland”), so it seems pretty clear to me.

    3) I don’t think it references woe when he says “your songs will be heard no more.” While I agree that he’s using figurative language, I think he’s saying that they will be destroyed — the end — never rebuilt, as he says elsewhere in the passage.

    4) Actually, I don’t think Tyre’s subsequent history supports the idea that they never recovered. Every source I’ve consulted says quite the opposite. If you really wanted to make this point, you’d need to use Tyre’s fall in 1291, since it took centuries for it to recover from that. And yes, by now, Tyre’s culture is pretty different. I still think the cultural argument is being too forgiving of the prophecy, but if you want to use it, I think it’s hard to make the case that it happened after Alexander’s attack.

    But I don’t want to sound overly argumentative. I appreciate your perspective on this, and I think it’s a valuable one to have here. Again, when it comes to viewing this as literature, or the way that other people in his time might have viewed prophecy, I think our views are very, very similar. I just see that kind of writing as being strictly human, and that’s where we differ.

    At least we agree that the literalists / fundamentalists are wrong! 😉

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  10. Whoa Gary,

    I’ve clicked on the link u posted and I must say that to me they are the one that are arguing in circles.

    Not that this would give you comfort though. What I realized is that like minded people tend to support each other and hence the term “circle jerk” lol. I only hope that I will be able to catch myself and also ourselves should I/We fall into the same trap.

    Well, at least we try eh? Chances are most others (eg those pple like Todd in the other blog) won’t even realize they could be susceptible to such biasness. And in my personal experience, it’s always those who think they are never biased who ends up being to most biased.

    Dunning-Kruger effect eh?

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  11. “I’ve clicked on the link u posted and I must say that to me they are the one that are arguing in circles.”

    It is amazing to me how they cannot see their circular arguments.

    When I ask for evidence of the Resurrection, they give me the usual answers:

    1. The disciples would not have died for a lie.
    2. The gospels were written, printed, published, and a free copy given to every person in Judea and Galilee the day after the Resurrection, so that eyewitnesses could verify the accuracy of the stories (slight exaggeration).
    3. There are tons of evidence that the traditional authors of the gospels really wrote them and did not sign them just out of modesty.
    4. It is impossible for Christianity to have grown as fast as it did if the story wasn’t true. It isn’t as they were claiming to have seen an angel with Golden tablets like those stupid Mormons! Sheesh!

    When I point out all the assumptions in this “evidence”, their next response is, “Well, (stupid), Christianity cannot be believed by evidence, it must be accepted by faith.”

    I then ask, “So you are asking me to have faith in….faith. No evidence. How is that different from the Mormons and Muslims?

    “We have evidence!”

    And the cycle repeats itself.

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  12. Hi William, yes I think our experiences of christianity have been somewhat different, and that probably reflects in the way we think now. I’ll try to answer your questions briefly.

    “1) If people should view the nature of prophecy like a poetic riddle, is that because that’s how prophecy works, or is it because prophecy isnt real, and prophets must resort to vague and mysterious descriptions in order to pawn their “prophecies” as true?”

    I think you (and Nate) see things in too much a black and white manner (not being personally critical, just trying to describe). I don’t think prophecy is a poetic riddle, that is too simplifying, but I think it sometimes has some characteristics like that. I think it is real and has aspects of literal prediction, warning, parable, etc. That is because people (and God) don’t operate like computers – we have imagination, presumptions, feelings, fears, biases, loyalties, prejudices, etc, as well as rationality. So God may appeal to all or any of those things, by using parable, imagery, hyperbole, metaphor, etc. Also God limits himself (IMO) in how he communicates to preserve our freedom, and even OT prophets may make mistakes (IMO). Also, when he says “the word of the Lord came to me”, was there an overwhelming vision, a booming voice and total accurate recall, or was it more subtle than that, and if so, what does that mean for the literal accuracy of what he wrote?

    It wouldn’t have accomplished Ezekiel’s purpose to predict the future in detail, even if he was capable of doing it. He was trying to get across a difficult message that was very difficult for his fellow Jews to receive, and he tried to do it in memorable ways (and succeeded in being memorable!).

    “2) If the bible is very figurative on things like this, then where does this end? I mean, how do we know that jesus really dies, really rose from the dead, and really flew into heaven? How do we know he’s really the son of god? Why couldnt each of those be metaphor?”

    There are two answers to this. (1) From a christian perspective, the Holy Spirit guides us if we ware willing to ask and “listen”. (2) Genre. The experts tell us the gospels are biography, a literary form which required accuracy on the main facts though allowed some creativity around the edges and in quoting speech (which they couldn’t easily record verbatim). That doesn’t solve all such problems, but I think it answers most of them.

    “3) and why say ezekiel was being figurative? This is supposedly a powerful god we’re talking about. A god who flooded the earth. a god who kills people. a god who has utterly destroyed cities before. why would anyone think it was just flowery language that was really talking about a fate that was similar to other cities at that time? Do we say so now only because it was not literally fulfilled, so therefore it must be figurative? And if so, isnt that really just saying you’d believe it regardless of the outcome?”

    See #1. I don’t say it was all figurative or all literal, or all anything. I think we have to judge by the evidence. What were the ‘norms’ (if any) for prophecy at that time? What was the prophet’s purpose and main message? What do the historians tell us? Etc. In some theoretical sense God “could” do all sorts of things, but I believe God constrains himself quite a lot, because that suits his purposes.

    I think I do accept it for what it is, and that includes the outcome, but I don’t necessarily believe it is literally true. My starting point is not this prophecy, just as yours isn’t either. We both bring beliefs and attitudes to the discussion. I believe Jesus was the son of God. I believe I have good reasons for that belief, but you don’t have that belief. So I believe God exists and operates in a certain way, and I would believe that regardless of Ezekiel. So I could conclude Ezekiel was 100% right or 100% wrong or anywhere in between and it wouldn’t make any difference to my belief in Jesus – because my reasons to believe in Jesus have nothing to do with Ezekiel.

    So I am free to base my conclusions on the evidence, and when I look at the evidence (and I studied OT prophecy as part of a degree course a long time ago) I conclude what I have been sharing here. And it seems to me that the best conclusion for a christian is that Ezekiel was inspired by God, got a lot but not all “right” and achieved what he set out to do. I can understand that a non christian wouldn’t conclude that, but I would hope that you would consider it as an option when arguing against Ezekiel.

    “4) If the koran or another religion had a similar prophecy, would you believe that it was from god as well?”

    No, but I would accept it for what it was. Because I don’t believe Mohammed spoke from God as much as Ezekiel did, I take less notice of it, but I wouldn’t write it off either.

    “5) and you may believe most of the bible is allegory… but that makes me want to say, see question #2 and then ask, wouldnt believers of other religions be able to claim the same things?”

    Everyone is free to claim what they want, and I am free to assess everything as best I can based on the evidence.

    “6) what am i missing?”

    I’m not sure it is my place to answer this. To summarise my conclusion:

    1. I believe God exists and Jesus was/is his “son” because of the evidence of philosophy, science, history and human experience.
    2. I accept in broad terms what historians say about the OT.
    3. I bring the two of these together to draw conclusions about Ezekiel.
    4. I don’t expect you to draw the same conclusions unless you come to the same belief as me about God. But I would hope you would not criticise christianity or a christian view of Ezekiel based only on fundamentalist christianity, but also on the more progressive form of christianity I’ve based my comments on.

    I’m sorry I’ve written at such length, but they were good questions and I wanted to address them as best I could. Thanks.

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  13. Hi Nate, I appreciate what you say even while we disagree over some matters, for at least we agree over some too! 🙂 I think this is a good place for me to conclude on this matter. Thanks.

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  14. Just a quick question unkleE:

    2. I accept in broad terms what historians say about the OT.

    To the best of my knowledge I am under the impression that most historians do not agree that Exodus happened. E.g. there is no way that Moses led 2 million Israelite out and the common christian lore that it’s the Israelite that built pyramids are patently false.

    You will also be hard pressed to find any historians talking about global flood.

    Which brings me to your point 1:

    Evidence of philosophy – most modern philosophy thinking are atheistic
    Science – leaning towards evolution and debunks miracles
    History – stated earlier

    The only thing you have going for you is human experience. But haven’t you learnt that your eyes lie, and what you feel, see may not be real? (and then we throw in Philosophy that ask is anything really real hur hur). Furthermore, different religions have different human experiences. So what makes you so sure that you can rely on your own?

    Take a look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Z0_n7tGnK0#t=66

    The guy that was “knocked back” really felt that he was pushed down. But obviously the person using the “chi” to push doesn’t have that power. This is what happens when your mind fully believes that something works so much so that it affects your physical being.

    So do you still trust your own human experience? I will take my experience will a huge pinch of salt.

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