Who Says Jesus Couldn't Predict the Fall of Jerusalem?

The Romans destroyed Jerusalem's temple in A.D. 70. Does the fact the gospels predict this mean they were written after A.D. 70?
The Romans destroyed Jerusalem's temple in A.D. 70. Does the fact the gospels predict this mean they were written after A.D. 70? (photo: Register Files)

One of the reasons that people often date the gospels after A.D. 70 is that they contain predictions of the destruction of the Jewish temple, which happened in that year.

Jesus couldn't have predicted that event in advance, it is supposed. Therefore, the gospels had to be written after the event.


Would it surprise you to learn that Jesus wasn't the only person to predict the fall of Jerusalem and the temple before it happened?

Or that we know this apart from the Bible?


I find your lack of faith disturbing

First things first: Jesus is God. He knows the future.

If he chooses to disclose to man part of what he sees, that's well within his ability.

The idea that Jesus couldn't predict the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, or any other future event displays a lack of faith.

That is to be expected from people who don't profess to have faith, but it is not expected from professedly Christian biblical scholars.


Why invent a postdiction?

There's also a question of why the evangelists would make up a postdiction (a "prophecy" given after the fact).

Sure, if they wanted to paint Jesus as a prophet, making up predictions known to be fulfilled by subsequent developments would be one way to do that.

Writing after A.D. 70, they could know all about the fall of Jerusalem and--to make Jesus look like a far-seeing prophet--they could come up with a postdiction and put it on his lips.

But if that were what they were doing, they would have done it differently.


Not enough detail

One characteristic of postdictions is that they tend to be specific about the details. After all, if you're making up a prophecy, the more it detail it contains about what happened, the more impressive it will be.

And so when we find people in history making up prophecies after the fact, they tend to be very detailed.

But Jesus' prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple are not detailed. They're quite general.


No "and he was right!"

Then there's the fact that none of the New Testament authors--including the evangelists--speak of the event as a past fact.

In particular, they never add--after recording the prophecy--the note that it it was fulfilled. They never say, "and he was right!" or "and it came to pass, just as Jesus foretold."

This is significant because it is precisely the kind of thing that would have been said. The evangelists love to record the fulfillment of prophecy.

Matthew, in particular, makes repeated references to how events in Jesus' life fulfilled various Old Testament prophecies. And in Acts, Luke gives an example of a contemporary prophecy that was fulfilled:

And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world; and this took place in the days of Claudius [Acts 11:28].

If the evangelists were writing in A.D. 80 or 90 (or any time after A.D. 70), they would have little reason to try to make their documents appear a handful of years older than they were.

The "I told you so" value of recording the prophecy's fulfillment would have outweighed any slight benefit that might arise from making it look like your gospel was written in A.D. 60 rather than A.D. 80.


He wasn't the only one

But the fact is that one could predict what would happen before A.D. 70, and we know that someone else did predict it.

What's more, we are not dependent on the Bible for that knowledge.

It's found in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus (himself writing about A.D. 75-80) described several portents of the destruction of Jerusalem, including this one:

But, what is still more terrible, there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for every one to make tabernacles to God in the temple, he began on a sudden to cry aloud,

"A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house [i.e., the temple], a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!"

This was his cry, as he went about by day and by night, in all the lanes of the city [Jewish War 6:5:3].

Josephus says this occurred "four years before the war began." The war began in A.D. 66, so this would have been A.D. 62, "at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity."

So what happened with Jesus ben Ananus (also called Jesus ben Ananias)?


Trouble with the law

Ben Ananus basically ticked off the local leadership, including the Roman governor, and suffering ensued:

However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did not he either say any thing for himself, or any thing peculiar to those that chastised him, but still went on with the same words which he cried before.

Hereupon our rulers, supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator, where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare; yet he did not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was, "Woe, woe to Jerusalem!"

And when Albinus [for he was then our procurator] asked him, Who he was? and whence he came? and why he uttered such words? he made no manner of reply to what he said, but still did not leave off his melancholy ditty, till Albinus took him to be a madman, and dismissed him.

Amazing stick-to-it-ive-ness

Ben Ananus displayed amazing determination in driving home his message:

Now, during all the time that passed before the war began, this man did not go near any of the citizens, nor was seen by them while he said so; but he every day uttered these lamentable words, as if it were his premeditated vow, "Woe, woe to Jerusalem!"

Nor did he give ill words to any of those that beat him every day, nor good words to those that gave him food; but this was his reply to all men, and indeed no other than a melancholy presage of what was to come.

The end of ben Ananus

Eventually, ben Ananus stopped prophesying doom to Jerusalem and its temple. Joseph records the circumstances, which are tragic, touching, and funny.

This cry of his was the loudest at the festivals; and he continued this ditty for seven years and five months, without growing hoarse, or being tired therewith, until the very time that he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased; for as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force,

"Woe, woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house!"

And just as he added at the last, "Woe, woe to myself also!" there came a stone out of one of the [Roman siege] engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately; and as he was uttering the very same presages, he gave up the ghost.

There is, of course, a remaining question . . .


How did ben Ananus know?

There are a number of possibilities.
  • Maybe he was a nut who made a lucky guess four years before the war.
  • Maybe was a shrewd observer of the political scene and knew that the pent up Jewish resentment of Roman rule was likely to burst forth under zealot and sicarii agitation--and that the Romans would inevitably crush the rebellion.
  • Maybe God gave him a private revelation.
  • Maybe--like Agabus (mentioned above)--he was a Christian prophet of the New Testament period.
  • Maybe he was a Christian--or even just somebody who heard about Jesus of Nazareth--and knew of Jesus of Nazareth's prophecy.
Whatever the case, whether you have a faith or non-faith perspective, it was entirely possible for someone before A.D. 70 to predict the fall of Jerusalem.

Therefore, it was possible for Jesus of Nazareth to do this.

Therefore, there is no reason to date the gospels to A.D. 70 or after simply because they contain such a prediction.

In fact, the absence of a "and it was fulfilled, just as Jesus said" points to them being written before A.D. 70.


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