Another thing I’ve seen mentioned before, but thought very little of, is the mathematics of prophecy. I thought “Meh, it’s just a few people that even the more dogmatic people are like ‘Ehhhhh… I don’t know him.'” But as I looked into some more prophecy stuff for one of my posts last week, I came across it again, and I was left (suitably, I think) confused by the whole enterprise.
I’m using two sources for this article, but it doesn’t really matter which I use; the whole enterprise is silly in both cases.
To really point out the fun times I had researching this, I am going to try to use only prophecies that are mentioned in both writings.
First, the book of Zechariah chapter 11; in this book, 30 pieces of silver are paid to Zechariah for his having tended a flock of sheep (literal sheep, near as I can tell, but perhaps they are people sheep). In any case, for some reason, someone paying Zechariah 30 pieces of silver (and with no mention of a future Messiah in the whole chapter) counts of prophecy (WHO KNEW?!). The first linked article has this prophecy being fulfilled as a 1 in 10^11 (that is, 1 in 100,000,000,000). Wow! So unlikely!
The other article, citing the same source (Zechariah 11:12-13) has that SAME prophecy as 1 in 1000. That’s… That’s quite a swing in estimates. Neither show work, so I can’t even really comment on which one is closer. WE MOVE ON!
The next common prophecy is the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem. The first cites 1 in 10,000, the second 2.8 in 10,000. Well, they are pretty close there, though the historicity of Jesus having been born in Bethlehem is in doubt. If Joseph was actually there for a census, as the Bible states, one would think there would be a very strong record of Jesus of Nazareth being born there, but we are out of luck on that count (Jesus is not mentioned in the census primarily because A) That is not how censuses in Roman territories were conducted, and B) there is no evidence for a census having been taken at the time of Jesus’ birth. Biblical literalists have to do some fun gymnastics on this point, but we are talking about math here).
Here’s another fun one; Psalm 22:16 (frequently cited, and one I cited just recently). The Messiah will have his hands and feet pierced. The first cites a chance of 1 in 10^13 (10,000,000,000,000) as Crucifixion hadn’t been invented yet. The second cites 1 in 100,000. The weird thing is that this is cited as “clear evidence” that the prophets knew Jesus would be crucified. Well, that doesn’t sound like crucifixion to me, though it is odd that he would have had his hands and feet nailed to the cross as this was not standard procedure — but we have very little evidence stating that he was nailed there outside of the Gospels (read: no evidence at all). That being said, if you have full faith in the Gospels, I can see why you’d think it was a fulfillment of this prophecy… But here’s the thing; we can call that prophecy in hindsight, as we know how Jesus died… But if you were a Jew in, say, 15 CE (after Jesus’ birth, but before his ministry), what are the chances you would read the passage saying “his hands and feet will be pierced”, and think “Oh yeah, they’ll clearly nail him to a cross, even though crucifixion is generally performed by tying them to the cross. Makes perfect sense. I’ll watch for a Messiah that gets nailed to a cross.”
See, there is a reason that the Jewish people do not accept Jesus as the savior; he does not fit the prophecies. As much as Christian hindsight and wordplay say “he is the Messiah because prophecy,” they can really only connect those dots when they already have the answer (think of a connect the dots figure where the dots aren’t numbered, but someone has already drawn the picture). The prophecies are great, but only when you already have the answer.
One that is cited as prophecy (and one of the VERY FEW prophecies that actually claim to be prophecies (rather than about the writer himself)) is from the book of Daniel Chapter 9, verse 25-26. The odd thing is that the passage itself reads “69 ‘sevens’ will pass’, and for some reason this is supposed to be “years” according to … People? I guess? I read it as 69 weeks, but maybe I am, again, the crazy one.
Perhaps it is just my closed mind not understanding prophecy correctly.. But even the prophecy stating “He will ride into the city lowly, on a donkey,” also states that he will do it as the king of a kingdom that stretches from sea-to-sea. At the time of Jesus riding into the city, he was only known as an itinerant preacher. He sent his disciples on ahead of him to work up the crowds, and even then you would be hard pressed to stretch his reputation as far as to say “There is a king riding a donkey.” At best you’d have “Huh. It’s weird that a rabbi is riding a donkey, but everyone else seems excited, so I’m on board.”
In any case, and like I said, there are a few things that make these prophecies falter. First, pretty much everything quoted from Zechariah is out of context. The prophecy in Psalms is misrepresented. Malachi’s prophecy didn’t even come true (or, if it did, no history ever recorded it). Even with all that in mind, to even start to do the acrobatics required to make all of these puzzle pieces fit together, you have to assume that the Gospels record a literal history. After assuming the Gospels are literal history, you then have to make further jumps to connect the out of context passages (they don’t even claim to be prophecies) to the life of Jesus.
It’s a lot of work. Maybe it’s not the chances that Jesus would fulfill the prophecies that is 1 in 10^17… Maybe it was the chances that someone would look at the Old Testament and shoe horn it all together, then have billions of people believe it despite a stunning lack of evidence.
That makes more sense, at least to me.