The Branch: Named hundreds of years before his birth

We saw how Isaiah began the prophetic theme of The Branch.  A ‘he’ from the fallen dynasty of David, possessing wisdom and power was coming.  Jeremiah followed up by stating that this Branch would be known as Adonai (the Lord) himself.

Zechariah continues The Branch

Zechariah returned after the Babylonian exile to rebuild the Temple
Zechariah returned after the Babylonian exile to rebuild the Temple

Zechariah lived 520 BC, just after the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem from their first exile.  At that time, they were rebuilding their destroyed temple.  The High Priest then was a man named Joshua, and he was re-starting the work of the priests. Zechariah, the prophet, was partnering with his colleague Joshua, the High Priest, (and Zerubbabel the political leader) in leading the Jewish people. Here is what G-d – through Zechariah- said about this Joshua:

‘”Listen O High Priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch.” …, says the LORD Almighty, “and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day”.’

(Zechariah 3:8-9)

The Branch!  Started by Isaiah 200 years beforehand, continued by Jeremiah 60 years earlier, Zechariah develops ‘The Branch’ further.  The Branch is now also called ‘my servant’ (the Servant of Adonai).  In some way Zechariah’s colleague, the High Priest Joshua in Jerusalem at 520BCE, was symbolic of this coming Branch.  But how? It says that in ‘a single day’ the sins will be removed by the LORD. How would that happen?

The Branch: Uniting Priest & King

To understand we need to know that the roles of Priest and King were strictly separated in the First Temple Period. None of the Davidic Kings could be priests, and the priests could not be kings. The priest’s role was to mediate between G-d and man by offering animal sacrifices to G-d for atonement of sins, and the King’s job was to rule with justice. Both were crucial; both were distinct. This separation of role was cemented in that priests could only be Levites descended from Aaron, while the kings were from David’s line within the tribe of Judah. Yet Zechariah wrote that in the future:

‘The word of the LORD came to me: “…Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest Joshua. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says, ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD… and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two’’

(Zechariah 6:9-13)

Here, against all previous rules, the high priest Joshua in 520 BCE was to put on the kingly crown symbolically as the Branch. (Remember that Joshua was ‘symbolic of things to come’). Joshua the High Priest, in putting on the kingly crown, foresaw a future uniting of King and Priest into one person – a priest on the King’s throne.  Furthermore, Zechariah prophesied that ‘Joshua’ was the name of the Branch. What did that mean?

The name ‘Joshua’ is the name ‘Jesus’

To understand we need to review the history of the Tanakh’s translation. The original Hebrew Tanakh was translated into Greek in 250 BCE by Jewish rabbis and is today known as the Septuagint or LXX.  Still widely used, we saw how ‘Christ’ was first used in the LXX and we now follow that same analysis through the Masoretic Hebrew and the Greek Septuagint for ‘Joshua’

Hebrew & Greek roots of 'Joshua' and 'Jesus' in the Bible
Hebrew & Greek roots of ‘Joshua’ and ‘Jesus’ in the Bible. Both come from the Hebrew name יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ

You can see that Joshua is an English transliteration of the original Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’ (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ).  Quadrant #1 shows the Hebrew ‘Joshua’ (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ) as it was first written.  It is transliterated to ‘Joshua’ in English (#1=> #3). ‘Yhowshuwa’ (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ) in Hebrew is the same as Joshua in English.  

יְהוֹשֻׁ֥עַ = Joshua (= Branch) in Hebrew-English Interlinear Masoretic Text

When the LXX was translated Hebrew to Greek in 250 BCE (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ) was transliterated to Iesous (#1 => #2). ‘Yhowshuwa’ (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ) in Hebrew is the same as Iesous (Ἰησοῦ) in Greek.

LXX Greek-English Interlinear of Zechariah 6:11-12: Ιησού=Joshua

When the Greek is translated to English, Iesous is transliterated to ‘Jesus’ (#2 => #3).  Iesous (Ἰησοῦ) in Greek is the same as Jesus in English.

Brit Chadasha Greek-English Interlinear: Ιησού = Jesus

Jesus was called Yhowshuwa (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ) in Hebrew, but in the Greek Brit Chadasha his name was written as ‘Iesous’ – identical to how the Greek Tanakh LXX wrote that name. When the Brit Chadasha is translated from Greek to English (#2 => #3) ‘Iesous’ is transliterated to the familiar ‘Jesus’.  So the name ‘Jesus’ = ‘Joshua’, with ‘Jesus’ going through an intermediate Greek step, and ‘Joshua’ coming directly from the Hebrew.  Both Jesus of Nazareth, and Joshua the High Priest of 520BCE had the same name, יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ in their native Hebrew. In Greek, both were called ‘Iesous’

Is Jesus of Nazareth the Branch?

Is this a prediction, made in 520 BCE, that the name of the coming Branch would be, in English terms, ‘Jesus’, pointing directly to Jesus of Nazareth?

Jesus of Nazareth is well-known outside the gospels.  The Jewish Talmud, Josephus and all other historical writers about Jesus, both friendly and hostile, always referred to him as ‘Jesus’ (Iesous) or ‘Christ’, so his name was not invented in the Gospels.  But Zechariah predicted this name 500 years before he lived.

Jesus of Nazareth is ‘from the stump of Jesse’ since Jesse and David were his ancestors. Jesus possessed wisdom and understanding to a degree that sets him apart from others.  His shrewdness, poise and insight portrayed in the Brit Chadasha continue to impress both critics and followers.  His power through miracles in the gospels is undeniable. One may choose not to believe them; but one cannot ignore them.  Jesus fits the quality of possessing exceptional wisdom and power that Isaiah predicted would one day come from this Branch.

Now think of the life of Jesus of Nazareth in the gospels. He claimed to be a king – The King in fact. This is what ‘Christ‘ means.  But what he did while on earth was actually priestly. The priest’s job was to offer acceptable sacrifices to G-d on behalf of the Jewish people.  The death of Jesus in the Brit Chadasha was significant in that, it also, was an offering to God, on our behalf. The sins of the land were thus literally removed ‘in a single day’ as Zechariah had predicted – the day Jesus died and paid for all sins. In his death he fulfilled the requirements as Priest, even while he is mostly known as ‘The Christ’ or The King.  Thus, as Zechariah prophesied, he did bring the two roles together.

But this is the view of Jesus’ death taken in the Brit Chadasha. Does the Tanakh support the same point-of-view?  We explore this by following up on the related theme that Zechariah above equated with the Branch – that of the Servant.

The Sign of the Branch: The Dead Stump reborn – in Messiah

We learned that both the terms ‘Messiah’ and ‘Christ’ originate in the Tanakh and that they are equivalent titles.  The use of this title ’Messiah’ to signify a coming ruler, a ‘Son of God’, in Psalm 2 opened the door for related themes that later books in the Tanakh developed.  Isaiah (750 BCE) initiated this with the Branch of the Lord.

Isaiah and the Branch

Historical TImeline with Isaiah and other writers of Tanakh
Historical TImeline with Isaiah and other writers of Tanakh

Isaiah wrote in the First Temple Period during the Davidic dynasty. In his day (ca 750 BCE) the dynasty and the kingdom was corrupt. Isaiah pleaded that the Kings return back to G-d with the practice and spirit of the Mosaic Law.  But Isaiah knew that Israel would not repent, and so he also prophesied that she would be destroyed and the royal dynasty would end.  Isaiah chapter 3 details this coming judgment.  But then the book changes its tone and foresees:

In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. (Isaiah 4:2)

He does not give much detail about this coming Branch, but a little further on, he explains what he foresaw with a specific metaphor, or image, of the royal dynasty – picturing it like a great tree. This tree had at its root Jesse, the father of King David. On Jesse the Dynasty was started with David, and from his successor, Solomon, the tree continued to grow and develop.

David’s Royal Dynasty pictured as a Tree from Jesse (father of David)

First a Tree … then a Stump … then a Branch

Isaiah wrote that this ‘tree’ would soon be cut down, reducing it to a stump. Here is how he pictured this ‘tree’, which then he turned into the riddle of a stump and Branch:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him–the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

Dynasty pictured as a Stump of Jesse
David’s Dynasty pictured as a Stump of Jesse

The cutting down of this ‘tree’ happened about 150 years after Isaiah, in 586 BCE, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and dragged its people and king to Babylon (the red period in the timeline above). Jesse was the father of King David, and so was the root of David’s Dynasty. The ‘stump of Jesse’ was therefore a metaphor to the coming shattering of David’s dynasty.

The Branch: A coming ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

A 'him' pictured as a shoot from the stump
A ‘him’ pictured as a shoot from the dead stump of Jesse

But this prophecy also looked further into the future than just the cutting down of the kings. Isaiah predicted that though the ‘stump’ would look dead (as stumps do), one day in the further future a shoot, known as the Branch, would emerge from that stump, just like shoots can sprout from tree stumps. This Branch is referred to as a ‘him’ so Isaiah is talking about a specific man, coming from the line of David after the dynasty would be cut down. This man would have such qualities of wisdom, power, and knowledge it would be as if the very Spirit of G-d would be resting on him.  This was a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, using the theme of ‘Branch’.

Jeremiah and The Branch

Jeremiah in Historical Timeline with other writers of Tanakh
Jeremiah in Historical Timeline with other writers of Tanakh

Like a signpost laid down by Isaiah in history, it was only the first in a series of signposts that developed this theme of the coming ‘Branch’.  Jeremiah, living about 150 years after Isaiah, when David’s dynasty was being cut down before his very eyes wrote:

“The days are coming,” says Adonai
when I will raise a righteous Branch for David.
He will reign as king and succeed,
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Y’hudah will be saved,
Isra’el will live in safety,
and the name given to him will be
Adonai Tzidkenu [Adonai our righteousness] (Jeremiah23:5-6)

The Branch: ADONAI our Righteousness

What will this Branch be called? He would be called the ADONAI who will also be ‘our’ (that is – us humans) Righteousness. As we saw with Abraham, the problem for humans is that we are ‘corrupt’, and so we need ‘righteousness’.  In naming the Branch Adonai our Righteousness, Jeremiah hints that people in his future would get needed ‘righteousness’ from the LORD – ADONAI himself.  But how would this be done?  Zechariah provides the answer as he develops this theme of the Coming Branch further, prophesying even the name of the Messiah – which we look at here.

Jerusalem & the Hebrew Prophet vs. Jewish skeptic (Pt 3)

Previously, I argued that Ezekiel had foreseen the Jewish exile and subsequent loss of sovereignty in the land of Israel 606 BCE -> 537 BCE -> 1948 CE as he prophetically lay on his side for 430 days.  This addressed Sam Harris’s demand that the Biblical prophets foretell something specific for our time.

The Prophetic Timetable for Jerusalem

This same sequence also holds true for the city of Jerusalem and the Kotel (Temple site) – it is just shifted from the above dates.  To see this we need to know some details of Jewish history.  The Jewish Kingdom of Judah lost its independence to the Babylonians in 606/605 BCE when it became subject to Babylonia, and the first wave of deportations to Babylon occurred.  Daniel was in this group of exiles.  This started the countdown for Jeremiah’s 70 year exile.  However it was not until the failed revolt a few years later that the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, destroying and burning both the city and the First Temple.  The accepted date for this is 586 BCE.  This started the exile and desolation of Jerusalem proper.

The Jerusalem Temple – also desolate for 70 years

The Jews returned under the Persian Emperor Cyrus’s Edict in 537 BCE that fulfilled the 70 years of exile that Jeremiah had predicted.  But after returning they were not able (because of lack of interest and local opposition) to rebuild their temple.  That work was not begun in earnest until 520 BCE under the promptings of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.  The Second Temple was finally inaugurated in 516 BCE.  So from 586 BCE to 516 BCE the Temple was also desolate for 70 years.  The length of time was the same as that of the formal exile, but the start and end dates were shifted over 19 years.

Jerusalem in 1967

I suggested that the re-birth of Israel in 1948 was the conclusion to Ezekiel’s prophesy but this did not include Jerusalem.  In the 1948 war of Independence Israel did not get Jerusalem as it was not able to hold the city of Jerusalem or the Kotel and it was lost to Jordan.  It was later, in the six-day war of 1967, that Jerusalem with the Kotel was regained by Israel.

Applying the same prophetic timetable that we had used for Israel but now using Jerusalem dates (destroyed 586BCE, Temple rebuilt 516BCE, regained 1967CE) we get the following result:

586BCE + [70+(360*7)]*360/365.24 + 1 => 1967CE [1]

Ezekiel foretells the dispersal and re-gathering to Jerusalem, as a frame-shift of the schedule of Israel proper
Ezekiel foretells the dispersal and re-gathering to Jerusalem, as a frame-shift of the schedule of Israel proper

In other words, the prophetic schedule given by Ezekiel (and Leviticus) can shift so that Jerusalem also fits the prophetic timetable of national exile.  The dates of 586 BCE (destruction of Jerusalem & First Temple) -> 516 BCE (restoration of 2nd Temple) -> 1967 CE (return of Jerusalem & Kotel to Israel) matches the predictions of Ezekiel exactly as the dates of 606/05 BCE (first exile of Israelites to Babylon; Kingdom of Judah under Babylonian power) -> 537 BCE (first Jewish return from exile under Cyrus) -> 1948 CE (re-birth of modern Israel).  Both sets of events follow the same intervals and thus both are fulfilled with Ezekiel’s drama of lying on his side.  As the saying goes, Ezekiel “killed two birds with one stone”.

Coincidence or Prophecy?

So what are we to make of this?  On the one hand it does not hurt to be cautious.  If you look long and hard enough you can match some sequence of numbers matching different historical events.  For example, the interval of 2300 days is prominent in Daniel 8.  World War II was very close to being 2300 days long.  Is it possible that WWII is a ‘fulfillment’ of Daniel’s 2300 days because of the close match?  We would  see this as a coincidence since the context of Daniel 8 does not fit WWII.  Why would we treat Ezekiel’s prophecy differently?

The Persistent Theme of Dispersal and Re-gathering

Ezekiel’s ‘lying on his sides’ prophecy is not being matched with any event that ‘fits’ but with his explanation of it. Here is what Ezekiel wrote that the 430 days on his side meant:

I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. (Ezekiel 4:5) ….

Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations. (Ezekiel 5:8)…

and a third [of the Jews] I will scatter to the winds and pursue with drawn sword (Ezekiel 5:12b)

To then assign a meaning of 430 years of exile and punishment for Israel and Jerusalem is not assigning any meaning to the prophecy, but the meaning that the prophet himself put on it.  This prophecy of exile and punishment is part of an overarching theme that runs through the Torah and Tanakh – this theme of a dispersion and a re-gathering of the Jews.  It starts with Moses and continues through other books of the Old Testament including Isaiah. and Ezekiel’s vision of Dry Bones.

This ensures that we are not just grabbing any set of numbers presented in Ezekiel and looking for any set of events that matches these numbers.  Moses and Ezekiel (along with Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and a few others) together develop a consistent theme with some remarkably precise elements within that theme.   Ezekiel matches modern-day Israeli events with a precise and measurable chronology.  I know of no other writings, modern or ancient, that does this in a remotely comparable way.


[1] As in the previous timetable there were 430 years of exile, 70 of which were paid in the initial exile but the remainder (430-70=360) multiplied by 7 as per Leviticus.  This is the ‘[70+(360*7)]’ part of the calculation.  We, like before and like in Daniel, convert to 360 day years (the ‘360/365.24’ factor).  The ‘+1’ because there is no year 0 in going from BCE->CE.  These factors are exactly the same as used in the previous calculation of the exile of Israel.  What is different now is that we start with 586 BCE rather than 606 BCE since we are starting from the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.  586 BCE is like -586 so the whole equation become -586 + [70+(360*7)]*360/365.24 = 1967, which corresponds to 1967 CE.

The Hebrew Prophet vs. Jewish skeptic (Pt. 2)

Ezekiel’s Bizarre Siege Drama

We saw how Ezekiel’s vision of Dry Bones coming back to life predicted the modern re-birth of Jewish Israel.   We also saw how Jewish skeptic Sam Harris was unimpressed with Bible prophecy.  He wanted to see a time-specific prediction relying on the Torah.  As if anticipating this challenge, Ezekiel was also commanded to do out something bizarre.  Here is what G-d, blessed be He, commanded him to do in a prophecy acted out:

4 “Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the house of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. 5 I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the house of Israel.

6 “After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. 7 Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. 8 I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege.  (Ezekiel 4: 4-8)

Ezekiel was commanded to remain bound on one side and then on the other for over a year!  To give a little background, Ezekiel was writing from Babylon just before the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem (thus the reference to a siege).  This siege lasted many months but finally Jerusalem was conquered in 586 BCE by the Babylonians, the city was burned, the First Temple destroyed and the Israelites sent to exile in Babylon.  Ezekiel would soon meet the captives brought from the siege of Jerusalem after he had acted out this prophecy.

But why were the Babylonians besieging Jerusalem?  They had defeated the Jewish nation in a war in 606 BCE and so the Israelites had, in effect, lost their independence that year.  Most were permitted to remain in Judah, but some, like Daniel, were sent to Babylon in this first wave of deportation that occurred in 606 BCE.  The Jews in Jerusalem at first grudgingly swore allegiance and paid tribute to the Babylonians but later on revolted against them.  So the Babylonians came and laid siege to Jerusalem, mercilessly crushing it in 586 BCE.  The kings of David have never reigned since then.

Note how Ezekiel referred to the ‘House of Israel’ and the ‘House of Judah’.  After Solomon, around 900 BCE, the Israelites had split into two political countries – Judah and Israel.  This was a similar situation to Koreans today – one people divided politically into the two countries of North and South Korea.  The ‘House of Israel’ had already been conquered as a political entity around 722 BCE by Assyrian.  See more details on history of Israel here.

Ezekiel’s Prophecy

In this acted drama, Ezekiel prophesied a period of 390 days + 40 days = 430 days, with each day representing a year (v. 5 & 6).  So he was prophesying 430 years to pay ‘for sin’.  Where does this idea that such a payment for sin was required?  The parting Blessings and Curses of Moses stated that if they sinned they would pay for their sin in being exiled from their land.  So Ezekiel was now prophesying from this principle rooted in Deuteronomy that they were to enter 430 years of exile.

The 360 day year

Today we commonly use the 365.244-day year (the Gregorian calendar) and the traditional Hebrew calendar based on lunar months with extra ‘leap-months’ added to keep lunar year from moving away from the solar year.  In ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian and Greek civilizations a 360-day calendar was common, and it was the year length that Daniel used and is the basis of the prophetic year used in the Torah. We will need to convert Ezekiel’s 360-day years to our solar years to understand his prophecy in our calendar.  But there is another twist to consider first.

Jeremiah’s 70 year Prophecy of Exile

While Ezekiel was in Babylon prophesying 430 years of exile his contemporary, Jeremiah, living through the siege in Jerusalem wrote:

8 Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “… 11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years12 “But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD,  (Jeremiah 25:8-12)

Jeremiah prophesied 70 years … not 430.  So which was it – 70 or 430?  It turns out that in 539 BCE the Babylonians were conquered by Medes and Persians.  King Cyrus of Persia then permitted the Jews in Babylonian exile to return to Jerusalem.

So the Babylonian exiles arrived back in Jerusalem 537 BCE.  From the initial deportation in 606 BC to 537 BC – Jeremiah’s prophecy of destruction of the Babylonians and return to Jerusalem in 70 years was fulfilled.  Now this is precise, but not impressive.  Sam Harris would certainly point out that it would have been easy for later editors of Jeremiah’s book to insert the ‘prophecy’ to ensure a ‘fulfillment’.  Since the earliest existing copies of the prophetic books are the Dead Sea Scrolls from 200-100 BCE we cannot be sure that it did not happen this way.  If this was all we had we would have to agree with Harris that it would be inadequate evidence of Omniscient prophecy.

The Leviticus Principle

But is there not also a contradiction between Jeremiah and Ezekiel?  They seem to be predicting mutually exclusive things – one an exile of 70 years and the other an exile of 430 years.  It would be impossible for both to be right.  Or is it?  Because if you go to the ‘principles in Leviticus’ that Harris had asked for you will see the following:

if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: … 17 I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you.

18If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. 19 I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze…

21 ” ‘If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve…

23 ” ‘If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, 24 I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over….

27 ” ‘If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, 28 then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over

40 ” ‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers—their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, 41 which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, 42 I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 43 For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees.  (Leviticus 26: 14-43)

G-d, blessed be He, stated that if they did not obey the Law they would be defeated by their enemies who would rule over them (v. 17).  This warning provided the background for Jeremiah’s declaration of a 70 year exile which started with the first Babylonian deportation (606 BC) and ended when a Jewish remnant returned back to their land in 537 BC.

Then v. 18 says ‘If after all this…’ (i.e. the sequence of events from disobedience, conquest, exile and return) they still remained ‘hostile’ to G-d and did not ‘listen’ to His commands the punishment for sins would be multiplied seven times over.  This is repeated directly in v. 21, 23 and 28.  Events unfolded just that way.  The Jews were to return to the Land to renew their hearts – which they never really did.  Only a small remnant returned … they struggled for years to be motivated to rebuild the Second Temple which they grudgingly accomplished but few were interested in putting out the effort … Nehemiah brought another group 80 years later when permission to rebuild Jerusalem was given.  But as a people they continued to pursue their own interests and are scolded by Nehemiah for their exploitation of the poor and intermarriage.  Malachi, the last book of the Tanakh written, was a plea for them to remain faithful in their marriage covenants and in their offerings to G-d – which they did not do.  They remained hostile to Him.

So the punishment, according to this Leviticus principle, was multiplied seven times over.  Only after the full seven-times payment was made would G-d, blessed be He, remember the covenant made with Isaac, Abraham and the land (v.42).  What was that covenant?  G-d had promised Abraham that He would give his descendants the land.  In other words, only after the full seven-fold payment was made would Jews be allowed to claim and rule that land that G-d had originally promised to the Hebrew patriarchs.  When they returned by Cyrus’s Edict they only did so as a vassal province within the Persian Empire.  The Persians still ruled and controlled the land.  Jewish rule would have to wait until the seven-fold payment was made.

Leviticus, Jeremiah & Ezekiel Converge – in Modern Day History

With the insight from the ‘principle in Leviticus’ we can understand Ezekiel’s prophecy.  He had predicted 430 years of exile for their sin.  They paid 70 years (as per Jeremiah) which brought the ‘debt’ down to 430 – 70 = 360 years.  This remainder was multiplied by seven (as per Leviticus) to get: 360 * 7 = 2520 years.

Let us now convert these to our solar years and put it on a timeline:

The Babylonian exile lasted from 606 BCE -> 537 BCE = 69 years.  This was exactly as specified by Jeremiah if we convert his timeframe into solar years (70 years * 360/365.2422 = 69 Gregorian solar years of Jeremiah’s exile).

Ezekiel’s remaining seven-fold years would be:

  • 2520 years * 360/365.2422 = 2484 Gregorian solar years of Ezekiel’s exile
  • Adding 2484 years to 537 BCE (when the exiles returned and this seven-fold period started) we come to 1948 AD.[1]

 Historical Timeline of Jews from Moses to Present-Day, showing Ezekiel & his Exile Prophecy
Historical Timeline of Jews from Moses to Present-Day, showing Ezekiel & his Exile Prophecy

What happened in 1948?  That was the year Israel was re-born as a modern nation – an independent and self-ruled Jewish country.  Most remarkable, Ezekiel, with some ‘principles from Leviticus’, saw it 2500 years ago – precise to the year!

So let’s reflect. Sam Harris challenged the Bible to predict something for “the latter half of the 20th century”, using “principles from Leviticus”, and doing so would show it to be a “product of omniscience”.  Harris gave this challenge because he figured it was impossible – but he never actually looked.  He thought that ‘within half a century’ was hard enough so no one would attempt it.  Ezekiel, with some principles from Leviticus, was bang on to the year starting about 2500 years ago, in predicting the re-birth of Israel in 1948, and in the process, managed to resolve a seeming contradiction with Jeremiah.  I’d say that is pretty good.  At the very least, whether we are Zionist, anti-Zionist, ultra-orthodox, Reformed – or Christian, Muslim, atheist or something else this is something worth being informed about even as we may weigh the implications differently.  In my next post I will look at how Jerusalem and the Temple Mount (Kotel) fits Ezekiel’s (with some principles from Leviticus) far-seeing predictions.


[1] 537 BCE is like -537.  So -537 + 2484 + 1 = 1948 (the +1 is because there is no 0 on this number line, it goes from -1 to +1 (1 BCE –> 1 AD) – in an interval of 1

The Hebrew Prophet vs. the Jewish Skeptic (Part 1)

We saw how Moses in the Torah and how Isaiah in the Prophets (Nevi’im) prophesied the dispersal, exile and the re-gathering of the Jews to the Land of Israel – events that are facts of Jewish history as well as modern-day happenings.  In doing so, they pass the test for Divine inspiration laid down long ago in the Torah

21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.  (Deuteronomy 18: 21-22)

It is because these are persistent prophecies throughout the Tanakh that add credibility to this evidence.  For example, take the book of Ezekiel.  Ezekiel lived during the first exile (550 BC) in Babylon as shown in the timeline.

Ezekiel in Historical Timeline of the Temple Periods
Ezekiel in Historical Timeline of the Temple Periods

In his book he describes a bizarre vision

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. (Ezekiel 37:1-10)

A man is whisked away to a valley full of bones which start to rattle as they join together forming skeletons, and then dead flesh and skin wraps around the lifeless skeletons so that they become corpses. Then the wind blows wildly from all directions and the bodies all come to life and they stand up to become a great army.  This sounds like a script from a horror movie for Halloween!  But Ezekiel was not interested in sending shivers down our spines. He claimed that this script was a message from G-d Himself, Blessed be He.  To remove all guesswork, he explicitly wrote the meaning of his vision

Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

One Nation Under One King

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, ‘Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.’ Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, ‘Belonging to Joseph (that is, to Ephraim) and all the Israelites associated with him.’17 Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand.

18 “When your people ask you, ‘Won’t you tell us what you mean by this?’ 19 say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in Ephraim’s hand—and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick. I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.’ 20 Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on 21 and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 37:11-23)

The Jews in Ezekiel’s day did return from the Babylonian exile a few decades after this vision, but that was a return only from Babylon, and they remained only a province within the Persian Empire.  Ezekiel wrote of a return from ‘the nations’ ‘all around’ back to Israel where they would be ‘one nation’ with their own ‘king’ or government. That did not happen until thousands of years later when the modern state of Israel was formed in 1948.  For a nation of 8 million people, having 40% of the population do aliyah from almost half the countries of the globe in the 70 years since independence, after an exile of 1900 years, is nothing short of remarkable. Even more remarkable is that Ezekiel ‘saw’ it in his vision 2500 years ago.

But some who have reflected on this are unconvinced. Prominent among them is Sam Harris, a well-known Jewish American atheist.  Here is his objection:

“But just imagine how breathtakingly specific a work of prophecy would be, if it were actually the product of omniscience. If the Bible were such a book, it would make perfectly accurate predictions about human events. You would expect it to contain a passage such as ‘In the latter half of the 20th century, humankind will develop a globally linked system of computers-the principles of which I set forth in Leviticus-and this system shall be called the internet” The Bible contains nothing like this. In fact, it does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century. This should trouble you.”

Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation. p.60

Harris mocks the prophecy in the Bible as being just coincidence. In his view, if you ‘predict’ something vague enough (regathering of Jews to Abraham’s Promised Land), eventually it will happen just by chance. He would be impressed if Ezekiel had prophesied timing it to the 20th century and linking the prophecy back to Leviticus. That would be real sign of G-d!

Unfortunately for Harris, Ezekiel was not yet finished. Because Ezekiel, in another really dramatic prophecy does predict the time – to the 20th century – and, almost as if there is some Divine humor in addressing Harris’s taunt, links it back to … the book of Leviticus. We take it up next here.