Nostradamus and the Bible
Many today wonder what the future holds. Will I be happy and prosperous? What will happen to the economy? Where is our country going? Will I have a long life? What will happen to me when I die? We want to know how things will turn out, and we secretly hope they will turn out well for us.
We humans usually do a rather poor job predicting, but that doesn't stop a lot of us from trying. Each year we see a new crop of psychics telling us what is going to happen. Some predictions turn out to be right, some wrong. Whom can you trust?
Let us look at two of the most famous collections of prophecies in history -- those of Nostradamus and the Bible. Nostradamus was a French astrologer, a Roman Catholic of Jewish ancestry, who lived from 1503 to 1566. Though educated in philosophy and medicine, he began to make predictions about 1547. He claimed to receive spirit guidance for these predictions. They were written up in poetic form, in four-line quatrains, and these were grouped by hundreds, called centuries. They were published in 1555 as The Centuries, and a second expanded edition was issued in 1558.
The Bible was written over a much longer period by dozens of writers between perhaps 1500 BC and 100 AD. All these biblical prophets claimed to be receiving their information from the Creator of the universe, who also knows the end from the beginning. We will look at a sample of four striking prophecies from each of these two sources.
Nostradamus: the Fire of London (2.51)
In quatrain 51 of century 2, Nostradamus predicts:
The blood of the just will make complaint to London,
Burnt by fireballs in twenty-three the sixes;
The antique dame will fall from the high place,
Of the same sect many will be destroyed.
Like nearly all Nostradamus' predictions, the poem contains several riddles the interpreter must try to solve. But here is one of his most striking predictions. Clearly London will be burnt. And the most famous London fire in history occurred in 1666, which could appropriately be called "the sixes." But what does "23" mean? The fire started on September 2 and ended September 5. If we add the numbers 9 (9th month), and 2, 3, 4, and 5, the total is 23! Commentators see the line about the "antique dame" as the destruction of St. Paul's cathedral, which was traditionally built on the site of a pagan temple to Diana. The last line then refers to the destruction of other Anglican churches, seen from Nostradamus' Catholic perspective.
The Bible: Israel's Future (Hosea 3:4-5)
The prophet Hosea, whose marriage was an acted parable of God's dealings with the nation Israel, interprets one of the incidents in that marriage as follows:
For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, and without ephod or household idols. Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the LORD and his goodness in the last days.
Here are listed six things Israel will lack for a long period of time. The three pairs seem to contrast things God provided for Israel vs. their own wayward choices: between a king of God's choice or their own rulers; between the sacrifices God commanded or the pillar-worship of the Canaanites; between God's priests who wore the ephod-vest and idol worship. The striking feature of the prediction is that for a long time Israel will have neither -- corresponding to Hosea's buying back his wife Gomer from slavery but not restoring her to full marital relations. And the amazing thing is that these six features have characterized Israel for centuries, from about 70 AD until recently! The Israelites have had no kings of their own all this time, and have even been a stateless people until 1948. They have had no temple with sacrifices or priests (though their Bible commands them to) to this day, though they have also avoided the idol worship that was such a problem when Hosea wrote.
Nostradamus: Napoleon? (8.1)
Pau.Nay.Loron will be more fire than blood,
To swim in praise, the great one to flee on the confluence of waters,
He will refuse the Agassas entry,
Great bridge Durance he will hold them imprisoned.
Some commentators suggest that Pau.Nay.Loron is an anagram for Roy [king] Na.Pau.Lon. They suggest that the rest of line one indicates he is more a soldier than a nobleman. That the reference to fleeing is to his escape from captivity on the island of Elba. That "agassa" is Provencal for magpie, "pie" in French, which also means "Pius," and so refers to Napoleon's imprisoning both popes Pius 6 and 7. He kept them captive in SE France, where the River Durance runs.
The Bible: Time of the Messiah (Daniel 9:25-26)
As the prophet Daniel prays for the end of the 70-year Babylonian captivity of Israel, he receives a message about another prophetic period of 70 weeks, usually understood to be weeks of years:
Know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing...
The context of Daniel's prophecy suggests that the "weeks" are probably to be understood as the seven-year land-use cycle in which Israel was commanded to let all their farmland lie fallow the last year in each seven, the so-called sabbatical year. The decree which allowed the city of Jerusalem to be rebuilt after the Babylonian captivity was that of the Persian king Artaxerxes 1, given in his 20th year (Nehemiah 2:1-6), or 445 BC. Taking the sabbatical cycle which was then running as the first one, the first seven cycles would be occupied with the rebuilding of the city, and the next sixty-two would lead up to the Messiah being cut off. This 62nd (or 69th) cycle turns out to be 28-35 AD, spanning the ministry and death of Jesus, the only Jewish person claiming to be the Messiah who has also started a world religion of Gentiles (in fulfillment of Isaiah 49:6)!
Nostradamus: Hitler? (5.29)
Speaking from the perspective of a Frenchman living in the 16th century, Nostradamus says:
Liberty will not be recovered,
A bold, black, base-born, iniquitous man will occupy it;
When the material of the bridge is completed,
The republic of Venice will be annoyed by Hister.
"Hister" is an old name for the River Danube. Some commentators think it is an (imperfect) anagram for Hitler. Hitler conquered France and made it a puppet state. The second line could certainly fit Hitler, taking "black" as a reference to a Caucasian with dark hair or dark complexion rather than an African. Perhaps the "republic of Venice" is Italy, and the bridge is a pontoon bridge over the Danube built by the Nazis in February, 1941.
The Bible: Messiah's Burial and Resurrection (Isaiah 53:8-10)
The culminating passage in Isaiah's prophetic section on "the Servant" is found in 52:13-53:12. We quote here just verses 8-10:
By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet he was with a rich man in his death, because he had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in his mouth. But the LORD was pleased to crush him, putting him to grief; if he would render himself as a guilt offering, he will see his offspring, he will prolong his days...
The whole context is an impressive picture of the Servant-Messiah: he will be rejected by his own people, put to death by judicial oppression, but his death will be a sacrificial substitution. Though planned to be put in a common grave with criminals, he will be given an honorable burial in a rich man's tomb. He will be raised from the dead. This is just what Christians claim Jesus did, and it explains why Jews who reject Jesus do not read this passage publicly.
Nostradamus: Depopulation of the World
(preface § 26)
In his preface to The Centuries -- a letter to his son -- Nostradamus makes one of his few predictions that is crystal clear. It is also clearly mistaken.
From the time I am writing this [1 March 1555], before 177 years, 3 months and 11 days, by pestilence, long famine, and wars, and more still by inundations, the world between this day and that, before and after, shall be diminished, and its population so reduced that there will hardly be hands enough to attend to agriculture, and the lands will be left as long without culture as they have been under tillage.
The deadline for this prediction is easily calculated:
Day Month Year
Start 1 3 1555
Add 11 3 177
Total 12 6 1732
i.e., 12 June 1732
The drastic conditions predicted are quite specific and very long-lasting, yet nothing of this sort has occurred and the deadline is long past.
The Bible: Regathering of Israel (Isaiah 11:11)
The prophet Isaiah predicts that one day God will gather his people Israel back to their own land:
Then it will happen on that day that the LORD will again recover the second time with his hand the remnant of his people who will remain, from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.
The reference to a second regathering is presumably to distinguish this from the return from Babylonian captivity, which in any case did not bring people back from all these locations. Seven specific places are named, plus one rather general location. These convert into modern locations as follows:
Assyria = Iraq & Syria
Egypt = Egypt
Pathros = Egypt
Cush = Sudan
Elam = Iran
Shinar = Iraq
Hamath = Syria
Islands/coastlands = Europe and North Africa
In this century, Israel has returned to its ancient homeland, an event unprecedented in two thousand years. And statistics show that it is just the areas mentioned above which have seen significant departures.
We have looked at four prophecies each from the Bible and Nostradamus. Both give impressive examples of successful prediction, much more than one would expect from merely lucky guesses. The Bible's examples are more impressive than those of Nostradamus. Besides the cases we have looked at, both predict events that are still in the future. Only time will tell whether these will be fulfilled or not.
Obscure as he usually is, Nostradamus has clearly missed on one of his major prophecies. Though some have alleged that the Bible has also missed on prophecies, I am satisfied that it has not. You will have to study and judge that for yourself.
The biblical predictions are generally quite straight-forward; those of Nostradamus are almost invariably riddles. It is therefore difficult to guess in advance what fulfillment will look like for Nostradamus' predictions, but relatively easy for those of the Bible. If one reason for seeking someone who really knows the future is to get advice on what we should do, whose advice should you follow? One who is always speaking in riddles, or one who is generally quite clear?
The biblical predictions are intended to validate the Bible's message. While this message is unpopular with many, it certainly makes important claims: God holds us responsible for what we do with our lives. The bad news is that we will one day have to answer for every thought and action that we have ever had, and that these will be judged by God's standards: have we loved God with all our heart? have we loved our neighbor as ourselves? The good news is that God offers to forgive us for all the evil that we have ever done, if we will seek his forgiveness and turn back to him. He can do this and still be just because Jesus has paid for the sins and provided the righteousness of all who will trust in him.
Do you really want to have a life that will have been worth living when all is said and done? Do you really want to have a future in which all things work together for good, even the disasters? You can, if you will seek the God who really exists, and who has given evidence of it by predicting the future.
Robert C. Newman, PhD
Professor of New Testament
Biblical Theological Seminary