On one of my recent posts, a commenter claimed that the Bible predicts that the United States will split into four parts. I’m always interested in tackling claims about Biblical prophecy, so I looked it up. His claim is based on Daniel Chapter 8. Now, supposedly, the book of Daniel was written during the Jewish exile in Babylon – around the sixth century BC. Daniel has a number of visions and interprets them. I’ll say up-front that the interpretation that Daniel 8 involves the United States is ridiculous fantasy; I won’t even deal with that idea because it’s not at all reasonable. However, it seems to involve a prediction about ancient Persia, Greece, and Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC – or about 250 years after Daniel’s vision. Daniel 8:
1 In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, I, Daniel, had a vision, after the one that had already appeared to me.
4 I watched the ram as he charged toward the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against him, and none could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great. 5 As I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between his eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground. 6 He came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and charged at him in great rage. 7 I saw him attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering his two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against him; the goat knocked him to the ground and trampled on him, and none could rescue the ram from his power. 8 The goat became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven.
17 As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. “Son of man,” he said to me, “understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.”
19 He said: “I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end. 20 The two-horned ram that you saw represents the kings of Media and Persia. 21 The shaggy goat is the king of Greece, and the large horn between his eyes is the first king. 22 The four horns that replaced the one that was broken off represent four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power.
Now, if you look at the prophecy, it says Persia becomes powerful. Then Greece comes and destroys Persia. Then Greece splits into four kingdoms. As it turns out, this seems like a fairly good prediction of history. (You can see an animated history of the Middle East here.) Persia did become powerful, but a century or two later, Alexander the Great comes along – he’s Greek, he conquers Persia, he dies in 323 BC, and in 301 BC his kingdom is split into four parts. So what’s wrong with it?
Well, the first problem is that no one is quite sure when Daniel was written. It very well could have been written after Alexander the Great, and then claimed as a ‘divine prophecy’. It’s not just the fact that Daniel “knows” the future that makes people question the sixth-century date. Daniel’s knowledge of the sixth century BC seems a bit fuzzy:
What we do know is that Daniel was written before the first century BC because it is included with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some scholars put the book of Daniel’s writing between 167 and 164 BC. (Christians, of course, continue to argue against that, but articles I’ve read on the subject seem remarkably weak at arguing for a sixth-century authorship.) If the later date is true, then these predictions become unremarkable (and deceptive) post-dictions.
The second issue here is the fact that this prophecy concerns “the time of the end”. Obviously, the world did not end shortly after Alexander the Great. But, if Daniel was written after these events, then the writer of Daniel apparently believed he was living in the end times. (Which hardly seems surprising – it just goes to show: people often think they’re living in the end times.) The Bible makes numerous predictions about the end of the world, and it has a bad record when it comes to accuracy. Even Jesus and the New Testament authors believed they were living in the ‘end times’:
Jesus predicting that he will be “coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” before “this generation” dies:
30 At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. 32 Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Matthew 24:30-34)
And Paul instructing people not to marry because the end times is upon them. And, if they are married, people should live as if they aren’t married – so that they can more effectively preach the gospel before the eminent end of the world:
27 Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. 29 What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7:27-31)
Christians like to claim that fulfillment of Biblical prophecy confirms the Bible’s divine authorship. I’ve looked into these claims of ‘fulfilled prophecy’ and found them woefully exaggerated. They also like to ignore all the unfulfilled prophecies. It just goes to show that the Bible isn’t a divinely-inspired book. Of course, it’s exactly what all the other religions do as well – but everyone ignorantly believes their own religion’s “fulfilled prophecy” claims.