Letter To "The Skeptical Review"
Note of introduction: "The Skeptical Review" is a journal of biblical criticism. Its editor, Farrell Till, who also writes most of the content, very keenly dissects the Bible and exposes its many errors. One of the most entertaining features is the publishing in most issues of debates between Till, who is a retired educator and ex-preacher, and Bible defenders such as seminary professors. Till was kind enough to publish the following letter of mine in a 1997 issue. This is the unabridged version:
After reading Dr. James B. Price's article ("Solving the Jeremiah Problem") in the May/June TSR, I became perplexed as to why Dr. Price and other Christians go into such meticulous detail in defending the Bible's content.
In doing so they are violating the spirit of Jesus' ministry.
Didn't Jesus tell his followers to just practice faith, love their fellow man, and preach the gospel, instead of debate to the last drop?
Where in the New Testament are the commands to study theology and use reason? Jesus even chastised rationalistic types with the rebuke "O ye of little faith."
In expounding his reasons for believing the prophecy of Jeremiah 25:11 was fulfilled, Dr. Price is using the opposite of faith: reason. Therefore, when reading him I can't help but think his faith isn't very strong. If his faith was sufficient, why would he proffer so many technical details in search of support for fruition of the prophecy in question? And why would he engage so much logic to prove his case? As a tool of reason, logic is another contrary of faith.
I must admit I admire non-theological Christians more than the Dr. Price types. Believers who sport bumper stickers like "God Said It; I Believe It; That Settles It" are the more consistent Christians, as they follow the attitude and commands of their lord and savior more closely.
Regardless of the degree of Dr. Price's faith, he did make an argument, and now it's time to supplement Mr. Till's lucid and logical refutation of that argument.
The key sentence in the doctor's article is: "The inerrancy of the Bible depends on the truth of fulfilled prophecy, but fulfilled prophecy does not depend on the Bible being inerrant in every detail; it depends only on the truth of the relevant details of the given prophecy."
What a mouthful.
And what a cop-out!
So, in other words, Dr. Price, prophecy is the only aspect of the Bible that matters? In the controversy over divine inspiration and inerrancy, or lack thereof, all the contradictions, cruelties, incongruities, plagiarism, mythological transference, absurdities, and obvious untruths in the Bible are insignificant? The only criterion that counts is whether a prophecy comes true? That offsets all of the unholy attributes of the Holy Bible and its deity?
Let's consider the first one-third of Dr. Price's mouthful: "The inerrancy of the Bible depends on the truth of fulfilled prophecy..." Dr. Price cannot accuse me of taking this segment out of context because it is a separate point and can be written as a free-standing sentence.
Saying biblical inerrancy is dependent on fulfilled prophecy is analogous to saying only the debits in a bookkeeper's ledger amount to any importance and the credits have no value.
What about the Bible's recording of past events? Shouldn't a Bible author recounting the story of Adam and Eve be just as accurate in looking back at the past event and putting the information onto the sacred page as a prophet is in writing about the future? The author of the Creation and Fall of Man events was not a spectator at those events, just as Jeremiah was not around at the time his prophecies were to be fulfilled.
The Bible logically must be as reliant on "reverse prophecy" for its inerrancy as it is upon correct predictions of the future. Therefore, Price's doctrine "the inerrancy of the Bible depends on the truth of fulfilled prophecy" is incomplete and fallacious.
Furthermore, by emphasizing prophecy so strongly, Dr. Price de-emphasizes not only the retelling of past events but other elements of the word of God as well, such as family values, social ethics, morality, promise-keeping, historical accuracy, and harmony of content among the books of the Book.
Now we come to the middle segment of the key mouthful: "...fulfilled prophecy does not depend on the Bible being inerrant in every detail..." To the skeptic, I'm afraid it does. After learning of the copious failed prophecies and contradictions in the Bible, the skeptic cannot acknowledge a "fulfilled" prognostication as anything but a coincidence or a product of editing ex post facto.
My final question for Dr. Price regarding this middle third is: "Does 'in every detail' encompass other prophecies besides the ones in Jeremiah 25:11?"
If yes, Dr. Price implicitly admits that some prophecies can be errant, can be unfulfilled, without affecting the validity of other prophecies. In other words, the totality of prophecy is true even if details of particular prophecies never come to pass.
This is illogical to the max. If divine, the Bible is automatically a work of consonance.
The last section of the mouthful says Bible inerrancy, via fulfilled prophecy, "depends only on the truth of the relevant details of the given prophecy."
Restated and reduced to a state of purity, this example of convoluted logic redundantly says a fulfilled prophecy depends on the truth of itself.
We can also fairly ask: "Well then, who determines what details are relevant?" I for one cannot help but get the impression that Dr. Price deems a detail relevant if he finds historical correlation to support it or another passage of the Bible which harmonizes with it, and that he discards a detail as irrelevant if he finds no supporting evidence.
Dr. Price seems to "pick and choose" his pet prophecy details, just as Christians pick and choose their own pet verses and commands of God and Jesus they agree to follow, all the while selecting those which comfortably fit into their lifestyles and socioeconomic niche while conveniently ignoring those they find uncomfortable or that would involve sacrifice or change.
In going back to the initial paragraph of "Solving the Jeremiah Problem," we discover yet another of many weaknesses in Dr. Price's argument.
This weakness reads: "Further, the fulfillment of the prophecy is documented by contemporary extra-biblical historic records, the validity of which is denied by none."
I'm afraid this is simply not true. Three well known authorities on the Bible who do deny validity come to mind. These authorities give different durations for the Babylonian captivity than the duration Dr. Price so stubbornly insists upon. And the fact that two of these authorities are self-proclaimed atheists and one a Bible apologist certainly does not help resurrect Price's sagging argument. Such a balance in biases puts a kink in his hose.
The first of these men is Isaac Asimov, who was an expert on just about everything, including the Bible. The erudite Asimov wrote in 1967:
"...the period of exile was not seventy years. From the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C. to Cyrus's proclamation in 538 B.C. was a lapse of time of only 48 years.
"Of course Jeremiah and the chronicler may not have thought of seventy years as representing a precise length of time...Seventy years may merely have meant the 'lifetime of a man' to them.
"On the other hand, the seventy years that were accomplished at Babylon may refer to the duration of the Chaldean Empire, which from the accession of Nebuchadnezzar to that of Cyrus lasted sixty-seven years." - Asimov's Guide To The Bible: Volume I, The Old Testament.
As if one were needed, here's another blow to Dr. Price's insistence on a literal fulfillment of seventy years, by eminent Bible scholar Robin Lane Fox:
"In 597 B.C. the king of Judah was sent east as a royal captive to Babylon. Some of his subjects went with him and ten years later, in 587, the city of Jerusalem fell to a second invasion by Babylonian troops." - The Unauthorized Version: Truth And Fiction In The Bible.
So, based on the historical information in this quote, the beginning moment in the Babylonian captivity of Jeremiah 25:11 cannot even be pinpointed and it involved two phases.
A third authority who is at variance with Dr. Price's opinion of a 70-year exile is Werner Keller, author of The Bible As History. This work, which is most definitely pro-Bible, lists the years of the "Babylonian exile" as 586 to 539 or 538 B.C., concurring with Dr. Asimov and falling short of Dr. Price by 22 years.
Taking our focus momentarily off of Dr. Price's text and turning to the text at issue, we extract two aspects which collapse Dr. Price's case beyond the point of propping it back up.
First is the matter of context. The context of Jeremiah 25 weakens Dr. Price's argument beyond repair. The entirety of chapter 25 is rich in hyperbole. Therefore, since the figure of "seventy years" is aswim in a sea of metaphors, it may also be metaphorical.
Few other chapters, if any, in the entire Holy Bible are as replete with extreme exaggerations and obvious figurativeness as the 25th chapter of the book of Jeremiah. We notice such phrases as "all the people," "all the inhabitants of the earth," "all the nations," "all the kings," "perpetual desolation," "for ever and ever," and "all the kingdoms of the world."
Such a prevalence of hyperbole degrades specificity.
We can fairly conclude that, to be consistent, Dr. Price must believe that if the "prophecy" of verse 11 was fulfilled the other predictions of its chapters also came true.
If he does so, however, he should retire as a theologian.
Surely the doctor doesn't believe the latter part of verse 29 ever came to pass: "...for I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith the Lord of hosts."
Surely the good doctor wouldn't call verse 30, about the Lord God shouting and roaring at everyone on the planet, a consummated prophecy. This has never happened and hopefully never will, literally or metaphorically! If it did, the Lord God would have a severe case of sore throat.
Surely Dr. Price would not tell us verse 31, about a noise from above being heard to the ends of the earth, was or will be a fulfilled prophecy, because in doing so he would be committing academic suicide.
And surely Dr. Price would not characterize verses 32 and 33, warning of a colossal whirlwind (maybe a tornado or hurricane?) wiping out human life "from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth" as true.
Let us pray that noone, including Dr. Price, would be irrational enough to think that Jeremiah actually "spake unto all the people of Judah, and to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem" (verse 2). What happened - did the prophet use mass telepathy or a P.A. system transported from the future?
Let us also pray that everyone, including Dr. Price, would recognize verses 15-17, about Jeremiah taking a wine cup to "all the nations" and forcing them to drink out of it, as hyperbolical.
Mr. Till was right. Jeremiah 25:11 is a "bad example" of prophecy fulfillment! But he was much too kind. It is a very bad example.
Why does Dr. Price persist in saying verse 11 is a fulfilled prophecy, when it is surrounded by so much allegory? Will he next turn eschatological and say the predictions of Jeremiah 25 will be fulfilled later, in the Battle of Armageddon and the other horrors of the Book of Revelation?
Since Bible-believers continually pound unbelievers with the matter of context, it's about time Dr. Price pays a lot more attention to the figurative, allegorical, mythical, and metaphorical context of Jeremiah 25.
The second textual aspect of Jeremiah 25 which relegates Price's argument to the realm of hopelessness is the fact that seventy is a mystical number.
Along with three, seven, 12, 40 and other numerals, 70, sometimes described as "threescore and ten," just shows up too often in the Bible to be taken seriously, except as an undercurrent of deeper symbolism.
Returning from our journey into the word of God back to the word of Dr. Price, we read in the first paragraph of "Solving the Jeremiah Problem," after accusing Mr. Till of "poisoning the pot," Dr. Price accuses still others who disagree with "the date of the prophecy" of using "subjective theories" to do so. He follows this with a subjective display of his own, another mouthful: "After all, it is possible for a prophecy recorded in the Bible to be accurately fulfilled without the Bible being necessarily inerrant in non-relevant details."
I'm not an interpreter, but I can't resist offering an interpretation. I believe he's really saying: "If a detail is found to be 'errant,' it's non-relevant. So just keep the good stuff and throw away or ignore the bad stuff."
Again we can ask the doctor: What is relevant and what is non-relevant, and who determines both? Is Dr. Price the sole arbiter of irrelevance and relevancy?
After implicitly admitting the Bible may contain some elements of inerrancy, will the doctor be logically consistent and admit that since many of the cornerstones of Christianity, including the Deluge, the Creation, the Egyptian captivity, the Passover, the virgin birth, the miracles, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension, and the teachings of Jesus, as related in the Bible, are teeming with errancy (including plagiarism and self-contradiction), they are therefore "non-relevant"?
Later in his presentation, Dr. Price declares: "History is full of unlikely events." Then necessarily it is possible that a prophecy could be "fulfilled" by coincidence, not because God spake it through his mouthpiece Jeremiah. Either way, it would be an unlikely event. Dr. Price must acknowledge the possibility of coincidence.
Moreover, what about the many unfulfilled prophecies in the Bible? Even if Dr. Price was ever proven to be correct about Jeremiah 25:11, this one prophecy (if proven to be fulfilled because God said it would be) would be quite insufficient to counterweigh all the prophecies which have failed miserably. One fulfilled prophecy does not a divine document make.
Concerning the doctrine of burden of proof, Dr. Price's haughty declaration that "the burden of proof" lies with the one who challenges the validity of the date given in the book of Jeremiah is preposterous.
The burden of proof is squarely on the shoulders of Jeremiah, his editors, and his modern supporters, including you-know-who. When thumping Bibles, the burden of proof is always on the Bible-thumper, not the Bible-doubter.
The very words on the cover of "Holy Bible" lay an enormous burden of proof upon it.
Therefore, Mr. Till was very astute in entitling his rebuttal "Whatever Happened To The Burden-of-Proof Factor?" and quite accurate in placing the burden not on himself, but on Dr. Price.
By asserting "the inerrancy of the Bible depends on the truth of fulfilled prophecy," Price not only prioritizes prophecy but puts himself on offense and throws the ball in his court.
The skeptic says "Show me" and Dr. Price is obligated to do the showing.
I'll close with a couple of more thoughts on Dr. Price and about his precious Bible.
Based on his writing abilities alone, Dr. Price is obviously an intelligent man, and quite rational and logical. It's a shame he's wasting his intellectual energies on religion when he could be devoting them to freethought and humanism.
Although intelligent and well educated, however, is Dr. Price a man of morals? If yes, why does he defend the prophet Jeremiah in the first place?
Disregarding the other blood-soaked chapters of Jeremiah and the Old Testament itself and concentrating solely on the text in dispute - chapter 25, we see a god that noone should worship, except men like Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Chairman Mao and Idi Amin.
Throughout chapter 25 we see a god of revenge, a god of death, a god of misery, a god who plays chess with "all the kingdoms of the world." Dr. Price's conscience should bother him mightily for worshiping and vindicating such a beastly deity, and for trying to prove his "prophecy" of verse 11.
Reading verse by verse, we notice Yahweh's intention to "utterly destroy" (verse 9). We read how he removes happiness from the land of Judah and promises a lack of joy (verse 10), how he vows to punish his chosen people with enslavement for seven decades in verse 11, how in verse 12 he then punishes the enslavers for doing what had already been divinely decreed. He rigged the game then made both contestants losers.
In verse 15, this wonderful, loving God sends forth a wine cup of fury, following up with another instrument of death: the sword, in verse 16.
In verses 18 through 27, the benevolent God extends his temper tantrum worldwide, and in verse 29, He delivers evil and again a sword. I know of only one use for a sword.
In verse 31, we notice that God "hath a controversy with the nations." Imagine that - the god of the universe can't even peacefully coexist with his own creation on tiny planet Earth.
And in verse 32, the god of evil (I don't mean Satan) scatters his evil everywhere; He goes global. "The slain of the Lord" of verse 33 needs no comment.
Dr. Price's conscience should really be bothering him, since he so heartily defends the utterances of the mass murderer in the sky.
How can Dr. Price or anyone else believe in the God of the Bible? To worship the Hebrew God is truly an act of immorality.
And where, oh where, is Dr. Price's Christian love? His diatribe is indicative of hatred and vindictiveness, not to mention a fear of being proven wrong by a master like Till. And how can he unnecessarily and absurdly accuse the brilliant Till of being "naive," as he did in "Solving the Jeremiah Problem"? Noone, absolutely noone, is as naive as a Bible-believer.