Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The destruction of Tyre - what Ezekiel got wrong.

NOTE: This article has been updated on 15 Jan 2015.

In Ezekiel 26:7, the prophet Ezekiel apparently predicts Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of the ancient city of Tyre. Many Christadelphians point to this prophecy as evidence that the Bible must be divinely inspired.

As an aside, I never hear Christadelphians pointing to the Ezekiel 29 or 30 as examples of fulfilled prophecy. I have challenged several Christadelphians directly over that one, only 1 has attempted an answer (which I will post an article on in due course). You can read about that prophecy here.

As for the prophecy regarding Tyre, was the prophecy actually fulfilled? Let's take a closer look...

The prophecy
First, let's look at what the prophecy actually says. It's quite a long one but I will be referring to it a lot so it's worth reproducing it in full here:

3 Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, O Tyrus, and will cause many nations to come up against thee, as the sea causeth his waves to come up.
4 And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock.
5 It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God: and it shall become a spoil to the nations.
6 And her daughters which are in the field shall be slain by the sword; and they shall know that I am the Lord.
7 Behold, I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, a king of kings, from the north, with horses, and with chariots, and with horsemen, and companies, and much people.
8 He shall slay with the sword thy daughters in the field: and he shall make a fort against thee, and cast a mount against thee, and lift up the buckler against thee.
9 And he shall set engines of war against thy walls, and with his axes he shall break down thy towers.
10 By reason of the abundance of his horses their dust shall cover thee: thy walls shall shake at the noise of the horsemen, and of the wheels, and of the chariots, when he shall enter into thy gates, as men enter into a city wherein is made a breach.
11 With the hoofs of his horses shall he tread down all thy streets: he shall slay thy people by the sword, and thy strong garrisons shall go down to the ground.
12 And they shall make a spoil of thy riches, and make a prey of thy merchandise: and they shall break down thy walls, and destroy thy pleasant houses: and they shall lay thy stones and thy timber and thy dust in the midst of the water.
13 And I will cause the noise of thy songs to cease; and the sound of thy harps shall be no more heard.
14 And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the Lord have spoken it, saith the Lord God.
15 Thus saith the Lord God to Tyrus; Shall not the isles shake at the sound of thy fall, when the wounded cry, when the slaughter is made in the midst of thee?
16 Then all the princes of the sea shall come down from their thrones, and lay away their robes, and put off their broidered garments: they shall clothe themselves with trembling; they shall sit upon the ground, and shall tremble at every moment, and be astonished at thee.
17 And they shall take up a lamentation for thee, and say to thee, How art thou destroyed, that wast inhabited of seafaring men, the renowned city, which wast strong in the sea, she and her inhabitants, which cause their terror to be on all that haunt it!
18 Now shall the isles tremble in the day of thy fall; yea, the isles that are in the sea shall be troubled at thy departure.
19 For thus saith the Lord God; When I shall make thee a desolate city, like the cities that are not inhabited; when I shall bring up the deep upon thee, and great waters shall cover thee;
20 When I shall bring thee down with them that descend into the pit, with the people of old time, and shall set thee in the low parts of the earth, in places desolate of old, with them that go down to the pit, that thou be not inhabited; and I shall set glory in the land of the living;
21 I will make thee a terror, and thou shalt be no more: though thou be sought for, yet shalt thou never be found again, saith the Lord God.
Ezekiel 26:3-21 
When was it written?
Verse 1 tells us that the prophecy was given "in the eleventh year" and then goes on to indicate that Jerusalem has already fallen by this time. It appears to be accepted that the "eleventh year" is referring to Jeconiah's captivity, where the 11th year is the year Jerusalem fell. We know this happened in 587BCE.

Nebuchadnezzar attacked Tyre the following year. Pretty neat prediction, assuming the text was actually written when it was claimed to be (which is an assumption I am not prepared to make).

Note: The above date has been revised since I realised I had made an error in my interpretation of the chronology. I apologise for that. If you notice any other errors, please let me know.

Why predict the fall of Tyre?
Israel had already been defeated and taken captive by the Babylonians, and the Israelites had cleverly reinterpreted that as God's punishment on them for their wickedness. So when Ezekiel saw the Babylonians attacking other nations, it would have seemed to him that God must have been using the armies of Nebuchadnezzar to bring about judgements on those nations as well. He later wrote a prophecy against Egypt, also at a time when Nebuchadnezzar had already begun his attack. Rather than prophecies of a future event, these are actually cases where Ezekiel knew the beginning, and tried to predict the end. Since it didn't end well for Israel, it was only natural that he would predict the same fate for the other nations. But he was wrong.

What Ezekiel predicted:
Ezekiel predicted that Nebuchadnezzar would break down the walls of Tyre, and break down their towers, that his horses would tread down the streets of Tyre, and that he would slay the people of Tyre with the sword.

What actually happened:
From 586 until 573 BC, the city was besieged by Nebuchadnezzar until Tyre agreed to pay a tribute. 
The siege lasted for 13 years, after which time Nebuchadnezzar returned home, without having taken the city.
In 585 BCE, just two years after besieging and destroying Jerusalem, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked Tyre to capture its trading resources. His siege would last thirteen years and would prove unsuccessful - although it was probably around this time that residents of Tyre began to abandon the mainland part of the city in favor of the island city where the walls were said to be 150 feet high. Some believe that Nebuchadnezzar was primarily interested in containing rather than destroying Tyre, but what it clear is that Tyre came through largely unscathed and with significant autonomy - a much better fate than what Jerusalem experienced.

Tyre is still here
The biggest problem for the prophecy is that Tyre still exists today, and has always existed since the prophecy was given.

"He" vs "They"
Many Christians will point out that verse 3 mentions that "many nations" would come up against Tyre, and that the prophecy changes from "he" to "they" in verse 12. They claim that in fact other nations did battle against Tyre and eventually it was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 332BCE. It is therefore claimed that the "he" refers to Nebuchadnezzar but the "they" refers to these "other nations".

Alternatively the "they" may well refer to other nations that accompanied Nebuchadnezzar during his siege of Tyre. Nowhere does it mention that the "many nations" would be in series nor at later times. Rather, the prophecy naturally reads as if all of the events would be carried out in succession in the immediate future.

However even if we accept the "they" to be speaking of later conquests by other nations, the prophecy still does not hold up.

Not only did Nebuchadnezzar not do anything like what it says in the "he" verses, the later verses claim that Tyre would be made "like the top of a rock", and be "built no more" (The NET says "You will never be built again").

None of these claims have come to pass. The prophecy claims that the rocks from the city would be thrown into the sea after the destruction of the city, however Alexander the Great made a bridge using rocks and timber from the mainland, not from the island (where the city of Tyre was), and he did so in order to get to the island, BEFORE the city was captured.

It is often claimed that the city was destroyed by Alexander the Great, which is not entirely correct. The city of Tyre again underwent a siege in 315BCE, which requires that the city still existed intact at that time. In fact, it had been rebuilt since the previous attack, despite the prophecy saying it would never be built again.

The area became a Roman province in 64BCE and Tyre remained commercially successful. The city of Tyre is also mentioned in the New Testament.

Tyre's predicted demise
Finally the prophecy predicts Tyre's final days:
When I shall make thee a desolate city, like the cities that are not inhabited; when I shall bring up the deep upon thee, and great waters shall cover thee;
Verse 19 
Verse 20 mentions "that thou be not inhabited".

But Tyre has always been inhabited since then. It has never been a desolate city. It has been rebuilt several times, and indeed the partially rebuilt old ruins are still there on the old site. There are even ruins of Roman and Greek-era buildings, which are evidence that the city was rebuilt several times before being destroyed again. It has also never been covered by water, let alone "deep" or "great" waters.

Ezekiel admitted he got it wrong
In Ezekiel 29, he writes:
Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyrus: every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled: yet had he no wages, nor his army, for Tyrus, for the service that he had served against it:
Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall take her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army.
 Ezekiel 29:18-19
Ezekiel is here saying that God would give Egypt into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar as a consolation for his failure to defeat Tyre. Unfortunately for Ezekiel, that prophecy failed as well.

Below are the main points in the prophecy:

  • Nebuchadnezzar would besiege Tyre - SUCCESS
    (Nebuchadnezzar only attacked the mainland city, but we'll let that slide)
  • Nebuchadnezzar would break down the walls and towers of Tyre - FAILED
  • Nebuchadnezzar would breach the walls and enter the city gates - FAILED
  • Tyre's strong garrisons would fall to the ground (at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar) - FAILED
  • Nebuchadnezzar would slay the people of Tyre with the sword - FAILED
  • Many nations would plunder the city of Tyre - UNKNOWN
    (Many nations tried, but with limited/varying success)
  • They would break down the walls and destroy the houses - FAILED
  • They would throw the stones and dust from the city of Tyre into the water (after breaking down the walls and destroying the houses) - FAILED
  • The city would be made like the "top of a rock" - FAILED
  • The city would never be rebuilt - FAILED
  • The city would be uninhabited and desolate - FAILED
  • The city would be covered by water - FAILED
  • The city would never be found again - FAILED

Yet Christian apologists still use the prophecy against Tyre as evidence of the divine inspiration of the Bible.

But wait, I forgot one last prediction that Ezekiel makes:

  • Tyre would be a good place to go fishing (v14) - SUCCESS

Who would ever predict such a thing about a city that was surrounded by sea?

UPDATE 6 July 2014:
Another article much more thorough than this one can be found here (with references):
My main source is: Tyre Through the Ages by Nina Jordanian (1969), a scholar who lived in Lebanon. At 264 pages, with illustrations, maps and notes, not to mention a serious bibliography, it may well be the standard work on the long history of Tyre. The forward was written by Emir Maurice Chehab, Director General of Antiquities of Lebanon. Jordanian makes one thing very clear: Tyre proper always referred to the island and not to a mainland site.

UPDATE 15 Jan 2015:
While preparing for an upcoming article, I was reading through this one and realised I had made a mistake with the chronology. Ezekiel claims to have written the prophecy in the 11th year, which I have discovered is referring to the 11th year of Jeconiah's captivity. I have corrected this and updated the article to reflect the new information. I apologise for any inconvenience.

I have also posted a second article regarding the prophecy against Tyre. Click here to read that article.