The power of failed prophecy.

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
User avatar
Ben C. Smith
Posts: 6632
Joined: Wed Apr 08, 2015 2:18 pm
Location: USA
Contact:

The power of failed prophecy.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Fri Aug 30, 2019 6:15 pm

I had been wanting to compare early Christianity with the Millerites for some time now, and a bit of recent reading of mine has been furthering that goal:

Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, & Stanley Schachter, When Prophecy Fails, pages 9-10:

A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.

We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief. We are familiar with the variety of ingenious defenses with which people protect their convictions, managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks.

But man’s resourcefulness goes beyond simply protecting a belief. Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong; what will happen? e individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting other people to his view.

How and why does such a response to contradictory evidence come about? ....

Let us begin by stating the conditions under which we would expect to observe increased fervor following the dis-confirmation of a belief. There are five such conditions.

1. A belief must be held with deep conviction and it must have some relevance to action, that is, to what the believer does or how he behaves.

2. The person holding the belief must have committed himself to it; that is, for the sake of his belief, he must have taken some important action that is difficult to undo. In general, the more important such actions are, and the more difficult they are to undo, the greater is the individual’s commitment to the belief.

3. The belief must be sufficiently specific and sufficiently concerned with the real world so that events may unequivocally refute the belief.

4. Such undeniable disconfirmatory evidence must occur and must be recognized by the individual holding the belief.

The first two of these conditions specify the circumstances that will make the belief resistant to change. The third and fourth conditions together, on the other hand, point to factors that would exert powerful pressure on a believer to discard his belief. It is, of course, possible that an individual, even though deeply convinced of a belief, may discard it in the face of unequivocal disconfirmation. We must, therefore, state a fifth condition specifying the circumstances under which the belief will be discarded and those under which it will be maintained with new fervor.

5. The individual believer must have social support. It is unlikely that one isolated believer could withstand the kind of disconfirming evidence we have specified. If, however, the believer is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support one another, we would expect the belief to be maintained and the believers to attempt to proselyte or to persuade nonmembers that the belief is correct.

These five conditions specify the circumstances under which increased proselyting would be expected to follow disconfirmation.

The authors go on to briefly recount several historical examples, including that of the Millerites: their original prediction that Christ would return in 1843–1844, their having to recalibrate after that range of dates fell through, and their eventual dissipation as a millennial sect (followed by their reintegration as various Adventist churches), and of course all five of the conditions listed above are fulfilled in that movement. The result is clear:

Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, & Stanley Schachter, When Prophecy Fails, page 33:: The history of the Millerites shows again the phenomenon we have noted in our other examples. Although there is a limit beyond which belief will not withstand disconfirmation, it is clear that the introduction of contrary evidence can serve to increase the conviction and enthusiasm of a believer.

It seems apparent to me that all five conditions are also fulfilled in the sectarian Judaism from which sprang Christianity. I think in this connection of the generational prophecy, the ambiguous oracle, the 70 weeks, and the 10 jubilees, not to mention the impetus provided by the destruction of the temple in 70.

Among the Millerites, unfulfilled predictions led, not to an abatement of fervor, but rather to an augmentation of commitment both to proselytizing and to recalculating the times and the seasons; I think we find things to be much the same among the earliest Christians. Some of the Millerites eventually claimed that something did happen in 1844, but it was in heaven, not on earth. I think some of the earliest Christians, too, engaged in various kinds of "realized eschatology." At some point the disillusioned Millerites solidified into the far less prophetically charged and far more stable Adventist denominations. The earliest Christians, too, traded in their apostles, prophets, and teachers for bishops and deacons and their ecstatic utterances in the spirit for sound doctrine and dogma.

In short, I think that the unfulfilled predictions I have been investigating might well be more than just a hurdle the nascent faith had to overcome; it may rather be a powerful engine in the very formation of early Christianity. Failed prophecies often increase faith rather than decrease it, as sketched out by Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter. The parallels with other eschatological or messianic movements are many and strong. And a lot of the diversity found in earliest Christianity can at least to some extent be explained as different kinds of reactions to the failed predictions. These possibilities are especially viable given the complexity of the Jewish eschatological beliefs expressed in the scriptures and in related texts; there would have been a lot of different ways at one's disposal to adjust one's expectations or explain what must have happened to thwart them.

The mythicohistorical approach that I once floated on this forum proposed as Christianity's "engine," so to speak, the coincidence in name and mode of death between a crucified revolutionary and a dying and rising deity from a Jewish mystery religion. One main weakness of that proposal, I think, is that I basically had to invent the Jewish mystery religion; I did my best, and it may have existed, but all of the evidence is circumstantial and potential. I have recently been working on ways to replace that purely hypothetical religion with something more concrete, and what has drawn my attention is the known and studied range of Jewish eschatological beliefs. And it turns out that the chronological aspects of that set of beliefs (the 70 weeks, the 10 jubilees, and the ambiguous oracle) come with some fairly potent varieties of explanatory power, for reasons spelled out in the book excerpted above. The urge to reinterpret a failed prediction can be mighty indeed. I am hoping it may be possible to formulate a theory of Christian origins which leverages that explanatory power in a way that makes ancient Jewish trajectories into Christianity just as understandable (and even predictable) as modern Millerite trajectories into Adventism.

I am going on vacation for about a week, starting tomorrow, so I may not be able to respond to critiques (if anyone wishes to venture any, given the unelaborated status of the case so far) in a very timely fashion. But I will catch up in due time.

Ben.
Last edited by Ben C. Smith on Thu Sep 05, 2019 6:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
ΤΙ ΕΣΤΙΝ ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ

Giuseppe
Posts: 6010
Joined: Mon Apr 27, 2015 5:37 am
Location: Italy

Re: The power of failed prophecy.

Post by Giuseppe » Fri Aug 30, 2019 8:23 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Fri Aug 30, 2019 6:15 pm
Some of the Millerites eventually claimed that something did happen in 1844, but it was in heaven, not on earth.
I am curious about this particular feature. What happened precisely in heaven, according to Millerites?
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

andrewcriddle
Posts: 1744
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:36 am

Re: The power of failed prophecy.

Post by andrewcriddle » Sat Aug 31, 2019 2:57 am

Giuseppe wrote:
Fri Aug 30, 2019 8:23 pm
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Fri Aug 30, 2019 6:15 pm
Some of the Millerites eventually claimed that something did happen in 1844, but it was in heaven, not on earth.
I am curious about this particular feature. What happened precisely in heaven, according to Millerites?
The cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religion ... %20people.
The heavenly sanctuary has two areas - the holy place and the most holy place. When Christ went from Earth to Heaven he went into the holy place. Adventists believe that after 2300 years (in 1844), Christ went into the most holy place to cleanse it before his second coming on Earth, and that while he is doing that, the Holy Spirit is working to cleanse God's people.
Andrew Criddle

Giuseppe
Posts: 6010
Joined: Mon Apr 27, 2015 5:37 am
Location: Italy

Re: The power of failed prophecy.

Post by Giuseppe » Sat Aug 31, 2019 3:55 am

Thanks for the info.

What do you think about the following aocaltyptic prophecy:

And one shall come again from heaven, a man Preeminent, whose hands on fruitful tree By far the noblest of the Hebrews stretched,
Who at one time did make the sun stand still
When he spoke with fair word and holy lips, No longer vex thy soul within thy breast By reason of the sword, rich child of God, Flower longed for by him only, goodly light And noble branch, a scion much beloved,
Pleasant Judea, city beautiful, Inspired by hymns

https://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/sib/sib07.htm

Is the text Christian? I don't think.
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

andrewcriddle
Posts: 1744
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:36 am

Re: The power of failed prophecy.

Post by andrewcriddle » Sat Aug 31, 2019 6:21 am

Giuseppe wrote:
Sat Aug 31, 2019 3:55 am
Thanks for the info.

What do you think about the following aocaltyptic prophecy:

And one shall come again from heaven, a man Preeminent, whose hands on fruitful tree By far the noblest of the Hebrews stretched,
Who at one time did make the sun stand still
When he spoke with fair word and holy lips, No longer vex thy soul within thy breast By reason of the sword, rich child of God, Flower longed for by him only, goodly light And noble branch, a scion much beloved,
Pleasant Judea, city beautiful, Inspired by hymns

https://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/sib/sib07.htm

Is the text Christian? I don't think.
I think it is Christian at least in its present form. Joshua/Jesus with hands stretched on fruitful tree. It may be a rewritten or interpolated version of a Jewish messianic text.
See: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Fux ... es&f=false
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=xL0 ... es&f=false

Andrew Criddle

Giuseppe
Posts: 6010
Joined: Mon Apr 27, 2015 5:37 am
Location: Italy

Re: The power of failed prophecy.

Post by Giuseppe » Sat Aug 31, 2019 7:08 am

andrewcriddle wrote:
Sat Aug 31, 2019 6:21 am
I think it is Christian at least in its present form. Joshua/Jesus with hands stretched on fruitful tree.
If I understand well, do you think that the "Christianism" in the text is to be founded in the fact that "Joshua/Jesus with hands stretched on fruitful tree"?

Have you considered that the Joshua of Numbers 13:1-33 can be meant (since also there he is carrying a 'pole' by the his arms being streched on it) ?
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

andrewcriddle
Posts: 1744
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:36 am

Re: The power of failed prophecy.

Post by andrewcriddle » Mon Sep 02, 2019 9:40 am

Giuseppe wrote:
Sat Aug 31, 2019 7:08 am
andrewcriddle wrote:
Sat Aug 31, 2019 6:21 am
I think it is Christian at least in its present form. Joshua/Jesus with hands stretched on fruitful tree.
If I understand well, do you think that the "Christianism" in the text is to be founded in the fact that "Joshua/Jesus with hands stretched on fruitful tree"?

Have you considered that the Joshua of Numbers 13:1-33 can be meant (since also there he is carrying a 'pole' by the his arms being streched on it) ?
It does not seem explicit in Numbers 13 that Joshua is carrying the pole.

Andrew Criddle

Giuseppe
Posts: 6010
Joined: Mon Apr 27, 2015 5:37 am
Location: Italy

Re: The power of failed prophecy.

Post by Giuseppe » Mon Sep 02, 2019 8:37 pm

andrewcriddle wrote:
Mon Sep 02, 2019 9:40 am
It does not seem explicit in Numbers 13 that Joshua is carrying the pole.
It does not seem explicit that in the messianic oracle a "fruitful tree" is just the cross. It may be the "branch bearing a single cluster of grapes", the "fruit of the land". And in the rest of the prophecy the reference is surely to actions of the biblical Joshua.
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

Giuseppe
Posts: 6010
Joined: Mon Apr 27, 2015 5:37 am
Location: Italy

Re: The power of failed prophecy.

Post by Giuseppe » Tue Sep 03, 2019 10:05 pm


First, as regards the cup:
9:3 We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the holy vine of Thy son David, which Thou madest known unto us through Thy Son Jesus;
9:4 Thine is the glory for ever and ever.

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/t ... tfoot.html


Also here there is no reference to the Gospel Jesus, but to the biblical Joshua, the «servant Joshua» ("servant" being translated wrongly as "son" above) per Joshua 5:11, 24:29.


Joshua «made known the holy vine of David» precisely when...

They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land

(Numbers 13:26)


Hence the salvation brought by Joshua was originally related to the mystical knowledge . That was the reason of the Gnostic interest about this Jewish figure. And that was the reason also to cast the knowledge in a sacrifice (to distance Judeo-Christians from gentile Gnostics).
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

klewis
Posts: 71
Joined: Mon Apr 15, 2019 9:39 am

Re: The power of failed prophecy.

Post by klewis » Thu Sep 05, 2019 8:46 am

Giuseppe wrote:
Sat Aug 31, 2019 7:08 am
andrewcriddle wrote:
Sat Aug 31, 2019 6:21 am
I think it is Christian at least in its present form. Joshua/Jesus with hands stretched on fruitful tree.
If I understand well, do you think that the "Christianism" in the text is to be founded in the fact that "Joshua/Jesus with hands stretched on fruitful tree"?

Have you considered that the Joshua of Numbers 13:1-33 can be meant (since also there he is carrying a 'pole' by the his arms being streched on it) ?
An example of the use of synonym, pole, and tree, are used, can be found in a parallel between Moses and Adam where as in Adam's story there is a snake in the tree the kills and in Moses' story there is a snake on a stick the heals.

The parallel represents an earlier version of Genesis-Exodus. As the story changed the old text got thrown into Numbers and the new stuff stayed in Exodus. The way of writing Genesis-Exodus is the same way that Matthew, Luke-Acts, Jude-2 Peter, 1 Timothy - Acts of Thecla, and Revelation was written. Synonyms like this is commonly used to obscure source or maintain a different storyline.

Adam a Snake in the trees that kills and the Sin of Eating the Fruit(Gen 3:1-24) Moses the Bronze Serpent on a stick that heals and the Sin of Striking the Rock
  • Adam and Eve lived in a garden with everything provided (J) (Gen 3:1-3).
  • The snake was sent to cause Adam and Eve to sin (J) (Gen 3:1-4).
  • All who eat of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were to be killed (J) (Gen 2:17; 3:3).
  • People in the wilderness without food or water complaining to God (E) (Num 21:5).
  • God sent venomous snakes to those who sinned against God (E) (Num 21:6).
  • All who looked upon the snake on a stick were healed (E) (Num 21:8-9).
  • Adam’s sin caused all subsequent generations to be exiled from the garden (3:23-4).
  • God places a cherubim, with a flaming sword, east of the garden of Eden to prevent Adam and Eve to enter it (J) (Gen 3:23).
  • Adam’s son’s offerings to God (J)(Gen 4:1-5).
  • Moses struck the rock without speaking to it denying Moses from entering the promise land (P) (Num 20:6-12).
  • The king of Edom denies entry into Edom by the sword (J) (Num 20:18-21).
  • Aaron dies and the priesthood is passed to his son (RP) (Num 20:22-29).
  • Cain in fear that he will be captive travels, away from Adam, east of Eden (J)(Gen 4:17).
  • Cain built a city (J)(Gen 4:17).
  • Lineage of Cain - Lamech slays someone and thinks he will be avenged (J) (Gen 4:23-24).
  • The Canaanite king of Arad travels to the Israelites and took some of them captive (P) (Num 21:1).
  • The Israelites utterly destroyed the Canaanite cities (J) (Num 21:2-3)
  • King Sihon was killed by an Israelite’s sword and lived in all of his cities (J)(Num 21:23- 35).
The Yahwist Version of Noah’s Ark (Gen 6:1-8; 7:1-5, 7, 16-20, 22-23; 8:2-3, 9-13, 20-22; 9:18-27; 10:1-32). The Story of Phinehas (Num 22:1 - 26:65 )
  • Son’s of God mixed with the daughters of the Men (J)(Gen 6:2).
  • Yahweh closes the door of the Ark so that the wicked does not enter (J)(Gen 7:7, 16).
  • The whole world was flooded -- all flesh drowned (J)(Gen 7:22).
  • Yahweh makes an everlasting covenant with Noah (J)(Gen 9:11-16).
  • Genealogy of Noah’s sons (J)(Gen 10:1-32).
  • The men of the Israelites had sex with daughters of Moab (J)(Num 25:1).
  • Phinehas at the door of the Tent of Meeting, kept wickedness out (P)(Num 25:6-11).
  • 24,000 died of plague (P) (Num 25:9).
  • Yahweh makes an everlasting covenant with Phinehas (P)(Num 25:13).
  • The census of the children of Israel (P)(Num 26:1-65).


Post Reply