The following survey of apologetic material will cover the prophecy of Ezekiel against the city of Tyre (Ezekiel 26:1-14 vs Ezekiel 29:17-20
), specifically focusing on the supposed retraction of the prophecy in chapter 29. It appears in one chapter that Ezekiel says Nebuchadnezzar will totally devastate the city and carry away plunder and then three chapters later when that doesn't quite work out, he changes the target to Egypt. As is, that would be a fairly clear cut case of "never wrong and sometimes right." After completing this survey I realized my previous conclusions about this set up were mistaken. I will hit up Robert Bradshaw (link
), godandscience.org (link
), Apologetics Press (link
), JP Holding (link
), and atheists Farrell Till (link
) and Richard Carrier (link
) is having a conversation with Bryan Harris (link
) that involves this prophecy and I thought now might be a decent time to double check things.
Robert Bradshaw says:
The prophets predicted that the Lord would bring judgment upon Tyre. Many nations would attack Tyre like the beating of the waves on the seashore (Ezek. 26:3), starting with Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon 26:6-12; cf. Jer. 47:4). Nebuchadnezzar’s army would receive no reward from their campaign against mainland Tyre, but the Lord would give him Egypt instead (Ezek. 29:17-20). The city will be reduced to ruins (26:2; Isa. 23:1, 11) and be subject to Babylon for seventy years. After that it would be allowed to return to its trading (Isa. 23:17-18; Jer. 25:22). The rubble from the city would be thrown into the sea and its treasures taken (Ezek. 26:12). The proud city would become a bare rock (26:4) and would become a place for the spreading of fishing nets (Ezek. 26:5, 14). With the benefit of hindsight we can see that they prophecies were fulfilled with remarkable accuracy. Nebuchadnezzar did ruin the mainland city and make the island subject to him.
Sounds impressive. So does Ezekiel chapter 29 retract the prophecy as a failure?
Apologetics Press says:
After a closer look at the text, however, such an interpretation is misguided. Ezekiel began his prophecy by stating that “many nations” would come against Tyre (26:3). Then he proceeded to name Nebuchadnezzar, and stated that “he” would build a siege mound, “he” would slay with the sword, and “he” would do numerous other things (26:7-11). However, in 26:12, the pronoun shifts from the singular “he” to the plural “they.” It is in verse 12 and following that Ezekiel predicts that “they” will lay the stones and building material of Tyre in the “midst of the waters.” The shift in pronouns is of vast significance, since it shifts the subject of the action from Nebuchadnezzar (he) back to the many nations (they). Till and others fail to see this shift and mistakenly apply the utter destruction of Tyre to the efforts of Nebuchadnezzar.
Furthermore, Ezekiel was well aware of Nebuchadnezzar’s failure to destroy the city. Sixteen years after his initial prediction, in the 27th year of Johoiachin’s captivity (circa 570 B.C.), he wrote: “Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon caused his army to labor strenuously against Tyre; every head was made bald, and every shoulder rubbed raw; yet neither he nor his army received wages from Tyre, for the labor which they expended on it” (29:18). Therefore, in regard to the prophecy of Tyre as it relates to Nebuchadnezzar’s activity, at least two of the elements were fulfilled (i.e., the siege mound and the slaying of the inhabitants in the field).
J. P. Holding agrees:
Our side would say that the "they" in v. 12 refers back the "nations" in v. 3-5, and were represented by Alexander the Great, who did the things described in v. 12, thus fulfilling the prophecy.
So basically there is a preamble that seems to straight forwardly merge the campaigns and attributes final victory to other than Neb, there's a pronoun shift from "he" to "them" just when the prophecy would get messed up, and then there's internal consistency and interpretative charity in regards to three chapters later. All in all, it seems as though we have an argument to the better explanation that chapter 29 is not a retraction. If we allow for some hyperbole, there really isn't a problem if we look at this through the eyes of Ezekiel not being a total dumbass.
Richard Carrier disagrees:
It is significant that Carrier neglects the above apologetic point (Farrell Till makes the same skeptical mistake, link
Ezekiel 26:3-14 predicts that the city of Tyre will be attacked by many nations, its walls torn down and its rubble cleared away, and it will be a bare rock. Then “out in the sea she will become a place to spread fishnets” and will never be rebuilt. The passage specifically predicts that Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon will do this, and his army will throw the stones, timber and rubble into the sea.
I guess I could have noticed earlier the bizarre twist there inherent in his paragraph where he says it predicts many nations will destroy Tyre, but then says only Neb will do it. So which is it? FAIL.
However, the basic gist of how underwhelming the prophecy is still stands:
It is all too likely that Ezekiel is issuing propaganda flattering his captor to get on his good side, while wishing ill on an old enemy of the Jews. Moreover, Ezekiel could easily have intelligence about the king’s plans since he would see the preparations. His prophecy about Tyre was issued in 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar began the siege of Tyre only a year later.
If someone like Neb was interested in taking down Tyre, it follows that perhaps others would be too, later in history. We could issue a specific prophecy against Iran and North Korea (or even Iraq back in the Bush Sr. years) and the fact one country continues to be significant in military campaigns has a certain self fulfilling prophecy quality to it. Some countries and towns just have it coming to them whether from divine retribution or otherwise. God and Science.org says:
One amazing example is the city of Tyre. Ezekiel 26:3-5,7,12,14 and 16 (17)
- Nebuchadnezzar will take the city.
- Other nations will participate in the fulfillment.
- The city is to be made flat like the top of a rock.
- It is to become a place for spreading nets.
- Its stones and timber are to be laid in the sea.
- The old city of Tyre will never be rebuilt.
So it seems Ezekiel may have had insider information on number 1. Three through five appear to be just likely scenarios for any conquering effort. Two is probably a good guess based on how much of a pain in the arse Tyre was in general and its strategic location for military efforts. And six appears to be misrepresentative as though Ezekiel ever specified the "old" city. Maybe it means the mainland would never be rebuilt. I don't know.
Alexander’s successors built up Tyre as the powerful naval and merchant port it had always been and it remained an influential city for over a thousand years. It has never been a bare rock. It still stands even to this day. The modern city of Tyre sits beside and atop the ancient ruins (many of which still stand), and has a population of over 70,000, twice what it was in Alexander’s day. It is now a major Lebanese financial center. And what about the fishnets? Authors like Newman are fond of citing a 19th century tourist who saw fishnets stretched over the rocks of Tyre as proof of the fulfilled prophecy, ignoring the fact that fishnets have always been stretched over bare rocks in every city with a fishing industry since the invention of the net, and they were no doubt stretched across the rocks of Tyre long before Ezekiel was even born.
In fact, Newman never tells his readers that Ezekiel actually went on in verse 26:19 to predict that Tyre would be covered by the sea, and in 26:21 he says it would never be found, two clearly failed predictions.
I suppose that must that last part must be ANE
hyperbole mixing with the Sheol
metaphor? Dunno. Overall, given how much the Bible is allowed to exaggerate and disown specifics, it seems pointless to try to make the prophecy mean anything other "this town is going to get really messed up in some way." It's not like Ezekiel couldn't have seen that coming.
As is, I agree with the apologetic response to the one portion of this issue and can't find anything of substance (other than one bit that Holding responds to) to overturn it. While it is plausible that it was normal for a prophet to get things wrong and find normative ways to roll with it, interpretative charity seems to make a better explanation in this case. I'll await to be corrected on that. Ultimately though, as a "...a flagship prooftext for those who claim divine inspiration for the Scriptures...,"
it falls under the category of too mundane to take seriously since Ezekiel and Neb were contemporaries and the subsequent history seems explicable by probability and chance alone.