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