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Shalom!

I am debating the issue of whether or not the Tanakh contains errors with a friend, who insists that Ezekiel 26 contains a false prophecy with regards to siege of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar.
Specifically, it says:

11 With the hoofs of his horses shall he tread down all thy streets; he shall slay thy people with the sword, and the pillars of thy strength 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 the houses of thy delight; and thy stones and thy timber and thy dust shall they lay in the midst of the waters.

For more background, see this article about the history of Tyre

I have checked my favorite commentary (ArtScroll Commentary by Eisemann) and the issue is not addressed, although there were helpful notes regarding the breaks in the passage.

There are several proposed solutions:

  1. Ezekiel was simply wrong (especially about Nebuchadnezzar plundering the riches of Tyre). He tries to correct this in chapter 29.

  2. Ezekiel was referring to both Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great (as suggested by some Christian apologists). This is because the pronoun in verse 12 switches from "he", referring to Nebuchadnezzar, to "they" referring to the nations in verse 3. This seems unlikely because verses 7- 14 form a unit within the text. I am not a scholar in this regard but am open to the possibility of the Hebrew grammar allowing for this.

  3. This verse was fulfilled with the siege of Nebuchadnezzar because the related passage in ch. 29 mentions only the plunder not equaling the effort. The old city of Tyre on the mainland was indeed destroyed in the siege, although verse 8 could refer to this with the phrase "daughters in the field". It also seems unlikely that Tyre, which is referred to as being on an island in the sea multiple times, is not in view here. However, this Christian website suggests that it might be the case.

Which one of these would be the most appropriate response in light of the accusation that the account is erroneous? (i.e. that Nebuchadnezzar did not conquer the island portion of Tyre and destroy it in the manner described?)

Per the historical and archaeological records mentioned in the first article, the mainland portion of the city was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, although the island portion was not. The verses above suggest that the island part of Tyre would be utterly destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. This did not happen until the time of Alexander the Great, well after Nebuchadnezzar's death. How can we reconcile this apparent discrepency with what what we know to be true from reliable historians like Josephus?

Thank you for any help!

  • Not every prophecy has to come true. A prophet can only predict what ought to happen, not what will happen. This is the view of Maimonides who held that prophecy is a natural event, a person with a higher level of intelligence. See Rabbi Micah Goodman’s Maimonides book, chapter 2 on Maimonides’ view of prophecy for more information. – Jonathan Feb 10 at 17:04
  • How do you interpret this in light of Deuteronomy 18:15-22? – Don Shrinkle Feb 10 at 22:48
  • Good question. I think that a prophet does not tell what will happen but what ought to happen. This seems to be the view of Gersonides and some Tosaphot. Ralbag, as well as ibn Ezra also felt that G-d does not know the particulars but only the generalities. For example, G-d knows the species of man but not the man. G-d knows the laws of nature but not everything that is occurring in the world. If this is true, how then, could G-d communicate with prophets? – Jonathan Feb 11 at 0:50
  • Maimonides answers this question by saying that G-d gave people intelligence. Thus prophecy is the result of merely higher intelligence. (Did he say this because G-d does not know humans?) – Jonathan Feb 11 at 0:50
  • Needless to say, a prophet must also love G-d, meaning that s/he understands the laws of nature since the command to love G-d means to study the laws of nature that G-d created. By studying these laws, they should be generally correct even though prophecies are generally not fulfilled in the Bible. Nevertheless, the person must have a deep, profound love of G-d and must be able to predict the future, or at last what ought to be. I think that the Bible does not mention the concept of a messiah. – Jonathan Feb 11 at 0:50
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+100

The Abarbanel discusses this issue in his commentary on Yechezkel 26:1:

השאלה השישית בכפל המאמרים שאמר הנביא על מפלת צור כי אחרי שאמר ושחתו חומות צור והרסו מגדליה וסחתי עפרה ממנה ונתתי אותה לצחיח סלע משטח חרמים תהיה בתוך הים מה צורך לומר שנית בתתי אותה עיר נחרבת כערים אשר לי נושבו בהעלות עליך את תהום וכסוך המים הרבים וכן שאר הפסוקים, ומכלל זה שבא נבואה אחד על נגיד צור בן אדם אמור לנגיד צור ואחריה נבואה אחרת על מלך צור ואם הנגיד הוא המלך או המלך הוא הנגיד כדעת המפרשים למה באו שתי נבואות על המלך והיה די באחת מהן ולמה בפרשה הראשונה נזכר שם צר חסר בענין הנגיד ובנבואה האחרת נזכר שם צור מלא בענין המלך. והנני מפרש הפסוקים באופן יותרו השאלות האלה כולם: הכוונה הכוללת בנבואה הזאת היא להודיע לנביא שבעבור שצור עם היותה קרובה ושוכנת אצל ירושלם ואוהבת אותה שמחה בחרבנה בחושבה שכל הסוחרים והסחורות שהיו באים לירושלם ילכו אליה ותמלא צור מחרבנה של ירושלם, לכן הודיע השם לנביא שתי מפלות שתבואנה על צור האחת על ידי נבוכד נצר מלך בבל שיעלה עליה בעם רב ומלכים רבים וכפרי צור אשר בשדה יחרוב ויהרוג אנשיהם ויבא על צור ויבנה עליה דיק וישפוך סוללה ושאר כלי המלחמה ויכנס בעיר כבוא אדם בעיר מבוקעה אין חומה, וירמוס כל חוצותיו ויהרוג אנשיה וישלול שללה והן החומות יהרוס ובתי חמדתם יתוץ והאבנים והעצים והעפר ישליכו לתוך הים ותשאר כצחיח סלע שלא ישב אדם שם אבל לבד יהיה צור משטח חרמים לדייגים שישכנו שמה וישטחו רשיותם וחרמיהם ולא תעשה שם סחורה אחרת, והמפלה השנית הודיעו אחרי זאת שהיא יותר גדולה ממנה לאין שיעור והיתה על ידי אלכסנדרוס מוקדון, ושיכנס הים בצור וכל המדינה תשקע בים ועל זה ירעשו האיים וכל נשיאי הים וישומו על זה איך נאבדה העיר ההוללה הזאת שתשאר נחרבת כערים אשר לא נושבו מעולם ושיכסוה מי הים באופן שלא יהיה עוד במקומה יישוב, ובימים ההם תושע יהודה וישראל ישכון לבטח בארץ החיים, וצוה השם לנביא שישא על צור קינה מסחורותיה ועושרה ומהסוחרים והסחורות שיבאו אליה מאפסי ארץ והאניות והדוגיאות הבאות אליה, ואיך יקוננו עליה עתה כל תופשי משוט וכן המלחים וכן כל חובלי הים המנהיגים אותה, ואחר שהודיעו השם שתי המפלות העתידות לבא על צור הודיעו ענין המושל אם בזמן המפלה הראשונה שהיה עליהם נגיד ויגבה לבו בממשלתו בחכמתו בהנהגה והודיעו שיבואו עליו עריצי גוים שהם הכשדיים ויהרגוהו, ואם בזמן המפלה השנית שיעשה אלכסנדרוס מוקדון שאז יהיה מולך מלך על צור והגיד מחרבנו ושפלותו ושישוממו עליו הבלהות ולא יהיה עוד מלך על צור עד עולם.:

Translation: The sixth question is in the multiplication of the [speeches?] that the prophet spoke about the fall of Tyre, for after he said "And they shall destroy the walls of Tyre, and break down her towers; I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her a bare rock. She 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 she shall become a spoil to the nations.", what is the purpose of saying a second time "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 the great waters shall cover thee" and so the other verses, and moreover, from that one prophecy came about the 'Prince of Tyre' " 'Son of man, say unto the prince of Tyre..." [Yechezkel 28:1] and after her another, different prophecy about the 'King of Tyre', and if the prince is the king, or the king is the prince as some commentators say, why were there two prophecies that came to the king, for one was enough, and why in one place was Tyre mentioned missing-spelling [meaning it said צר instead of צור] in the reference to the prince and in the other prophecy Tyre is mentioned in full-spelling in reference to the king?

[Answer:] The general meaning of the prophecy is to inform the prophet that because Tyre, with her neighboring by Jerusalem and loves her, and is happy for her [Jerusalem's] destruction, believing that all the merchants that would go to Jerusalem will now come to her [Tyre] and Tyre shall be filled from Jerusalem's destruction, therefore God informed the prophet about the two falls that will come upon Tyre: One by Nevuchadnetzar, King of Babylon, who shall rise upon her with many people and many kings and the villages of Tyre that are in the field he shall destroy and kill all their people, and he shall come upon Tyre and build over her a rampart and shall pour over her [dikes?] and other weapons of war and he shall enter the city as a man comes to an open city without a wall, and he shall trample all its streets and kill all her people and plunder her wealth and her walls he'll destroy and their beautiful homes smash, and the rocks and trees and dirt they shall throw into the ocean and she shall remain "a bare rock" that a man never settled upon, but besides Tyre shall be "a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea" for the fishermen who shall settle there and spread their nets and no other industry shall be made there, and the second fall He [God] informed him after this [first fall] that she [second fall] shall be greater than her [the first fall] immeasurably and she was by Alexanderus Mokdon, and he shall enter the ocean by Tyre and the entire state shall sink in the ocean and for this the isles shall be in an uproar and all the lords of the ocean and they shall wonder [incredulously] how was this mirthful city lost that she shall remain destroyed as the [other] cities that weren't resettled ever and that the ocean's waters shall cover her in a way that she won't be able to be resettled, and in those days Judah shall be delivered [/saved?] and Israel shall settle secured in the land of life, and God commanded the prophet to give a lamentation on her merchandise and her riches and her merchants that shall come to her from all over the world and the ships and fishing-boats that come to her... [and how all shall lament her fall],

and after God informed him of the two falls that shall come upon Tyre, He informed him of the issue of the lord, if in the time of the first fall ruled upon them a prince, that his heart rose [he became arrogant] in his wisdom and rulership, and informed him that tyrannical people of the nations shall come upon him, and these are the Chaldeans [meaning Babylonians] and shall kill him, and if in the time of the second fall, that Alexanderus Mokdon shall do, at which time a king shall rule Tyre, and he [Alexander] shall bring upon destruction and desolation and there shall never be a king upon Tyre ever.

Malbim discusses this issue in his commentary on Yechzkel 26:14 and refutes the Abarbanel's opinion:

ונתתיך לצחיח סלע ע''י שאעלה עליך את הים ויסח עפרה ולא ישאר רק צחיח סלע, ולא תהיה ראוי לישוב רק ,למשטח חרמים ועי''כ ,לא תבנה עוד לעולם, והנה המהרי''א שאל הלא נבנית שנית עד שהחריב אותה אלכסנדר מוקדון, ועי''כ פי' נבואה זו הבאה על חורבן שנעשה ע''י אלכסנדר ואין זה קושיא כי אח''כ נבנית במקום אחר שלא על מקומה הראשון כנודע, וכמ''ש עמ''ש בעיר הנדחת לא תבנה עוד לכמות שהיתה אינה נבנית אבל נבנית לגנות ולפרדסים, והנבואה מורה שהכל נבא על החורבן שהיה ע''י נ''נ כמו שית' :

Translation: "'And I will make thee a bare rock' - through that that I shall raise upon you the ocean and cover you with dirt, nothing shall remain but bare rock, and she will be unfit to accomedate a settlement but 'thou shalt be a place for the spreading of nets' and because of that 'thou shalt be built no more', and yet the Maharya [the Abarbanel] asked: After all, she was built a second time and was destroyed again by Alexander Mokdon and because of that he explained this prophecy as to referring to the destruction caused by Alexander, and this isn't a question for afterwards [after the destruction by Nevuchadneztar] she was built in a different location, not where she was first built as is known, and as I wrote similarly on Ir Hanidachat that shall not be rebuilt - she shall not be rebuilt [to the same prosperity] as she was, but she shall be built for gardens and groves, and the prophecy in its entirety is referring to the destruction by Nevuchadnetzar as will be explained [further].

Da'at Mikra in their introduction to ch. 28 write:

בפסקה זו (א'-י') מדובר על 'נגיד צור' ובפסקה ב (י"א-י"ט) על 'מלך צור'. קצת מפרשים, ובראשם אברבנאל, מנסים להבחין הבחנה של ממש בין שני אלה, ומסבירים, שכל קינה מכונת לאישיות אחרת (אך שתיהן משמשות כסמל הממלכה). ברם יחזקאל נוהג להשתמש ליד השם מלך גם בשם נשיא. יתכן אפוא, שגם לגבי הצמד 'נגיד' - 'מלך' גון את לשונו, לא להבחנה מהותית, אלא מטעמים של סגנון. בפסקה א' הוא רוצה להדגיש: 'ותאמר אל אני...ואתה אדם ולא אל' ולכן אפשר להסתפק כאן, ואולי גם ראוי יותר, בתאר 'נגיד'. ואלו בפסקה ב', שבה מתוארת גדלתו ותפארתו של המלך, שם מתבקש יותר התאר הרם 'מלך'.

Translation: In this paragraph (v.1-10) it is talking about [the] 'prince of Tyre' [Nagid Tzor] and in paragraph B (v.11-19) about [the] 'king of Tyre' [Melech Tzor]. A minority of the commentators, lead by the Abarbanel, attempt to differentiate an essential distinction between these two, and explain, that every lamentation is directed at a different person (but both appear as symbols of the kingdom). However, Yechezkel is accustomed to adding near the title 'king' also the title 'prince' [Nasi]. It's therefore possible, that also for the pair of 'prince' [Nagid] and 'king' he diversified his tongue, not for an essential distinction but for stylization purposes. In paragraph A he wishes to emphasize: "and thou hast said: I am a god...yet thou art man, and not God..." and one can be content here with, and perhaps it's even better to use the title 'prince' [Nagid]. And in paragraph B, in which the greatness and grandeur of the king is described, there the title 'king' is more relevant.

Note: Daat Mikra mention previously in their intro to ch. 26 of the story of Tyre's double destruction with Nevuchadnezzar and Alexander but don't make any further mention of Alexander.

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  • 1
    Maharya in Malbim nearly (if not always) refers to R. Isaac Abarbanel. – Meir Feb 11 at 16:16
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    @Meir good to know, I'll edit that. – Harel13 Feb 11 at 16:20
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    @Don Shrinkle what I quoted is the entire Malbim on that verse. I only skimmed the rest of his commentary on the chapter but I don't think he adds anything else on the matter. From what I understood, he believed everything to be fulfilled by Nevuchadnetzar while Abarbanel believed some was referring to Nevuchadnetzar and some to Alexander. – Harel13 Feb 11 at 17:55
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    @Don Shrinkle I need to think about this a bit. BTW, I added Abarbanel's opinion to the question. I was going to go first with Malbim because he seemed to stick more to the straight meaning of the verses, but Abarbanel poses a good question with the discrepancies between the prince, the king, and the two spellings of Tyre. – Harel13 Feb 12 at 10:59
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    @Don Shrinkle, having thought about it some more, I think the Abarbanel's take that includes Alexander in the prophecy makes more sense to me. Abarbanel raises good questions on the identity of the two different rulers and the repetition of the prophecy. Daat Mikra however appear to agree with the Malbim and cite some other examples in which Yechezkel refers to kings as princes albeit with a different word - נשיא, nasi and not נגיד, nagid, and just for this difference between nagid and nasi, I think Abarbanel makes more sense. I can add Daat Mikra to the answer if you want. – Harel13 Feb 16 at 15:09
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The Idea in Brief

The plain reading and normal reading of Scripture indicates that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy the sister cities of Tyre “on the mainland,” which would result in the dissolution of the fame and fortune of the ISLAND city state from that point forward. Centuries later “they” (someone indicated in the text in contradistinction to Nebuchadnezzar) would throw the timbers and debris of the ISLAND city-state into the water.

Discussion

The ancient city-state of Tyre was comprised of the erstwhile island proper (no longer extant) in addition to a cluster of sister cities on the mainland (Ezek 26:6). According to the prophecy of Ezekiel, the city-state would become a place for spreading of fishing nets.

Ezekiel 26:5 (NASB)
She will be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken,’ declares the Lord God, ‘and she will become spoil for the nations.

Ezekiel 26:14 (NASB)
“I will make you a bare rock; you will be a place for the spreading of nets. You will be built no more, for I the Lord have spoken,” declares the Lord God.

The word for Tyre in Hebrew is צֹר (tsōre), which means (island) rock. Ezekiel indicated that Tyre would be stripped of its glory as the center of international trade and commerce, so that what would be left would be a “bare rock” -- that is, a bare “Tyre” where fishing nets would be spread. In other words, the prophecy here was not that the city-state would be uninhabited, but that its glory and fame would never be rebuilt. What the reader must infer is that when fishing nets are spread out, someone necessarily (in this case fishermen) are spreading the fishing nets, since inanimate fishing nets cannot and do not spread themselves out by themselves. So there is no prophecy that the city-state would never be inhabited again, but that the city-state would never be rebuilt (to its former days of glory) from the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s seige of the sister cities of Tyre “on the mainland.” Ezekiel prophesied that the Lord would debase the once glorious city-state, whose glory and arrogance were then compared to an erstwhile anointed but arrogant cherub in heaven (Ezek 28:11-19). It is this glory and fame that would never be rebuilt. (The erstwhile anointed but arrogant cherub was neither eliminated in that narrative.) The glorious rock of Tyre has become a “bare rock” of fisheries, which is the state of the current area and municipality of “Tyre” today.

Now one might ask whether the passage here also speaks of the destruction of the ISLAND city-state by Nebuchadnezzar, when in fact various secular historical sources indicate that it was Alexander the Great, who several centuries later was the one who leveled the ISLAND city-state. That is, secular history indicates that Nebuchadnezzar never leveled the ISLAND city-state proper. We agree with this assessment. Why? Again, the plain and normal reading of the this passage in Ezekiel does not indicate that Nebuchadnezzar was to level the ISLAND city-state, but the daughters of Tyre, who were “on the mainland.”

Ezekiel 26:8 (NASB)
8 He will slay your daughters on the mainland with the sword; and he will make siege walls against you, cast up a ramp against you and raise up a large shield against you.

The phrase “on the mainland” is בַּשָּׂדֶ֖ה (bsä·deh') in Hebrew, which literally means “in the field.” According to Ezekiel, the direct attack was not against the ISLAND city-state proper in the water, but against the cluster of sister cities of Tyre “on the mainland.” The parsing of this verse (through cantillation) makes this logic very evident in a visual sense. Please click on the image to enlarge.

This image depicts the visual parsing of Ezekiel 26:8 through Hebrew cantillation.

One of the most powerful benefits of cantillation is to understand the logical parsing of the verse. That is, cantillation has as much abstract value (musical accompaniment) as logical value (parsing structure of the verse) for understanding Hebrew prose and poetry. In other words, all the words and phrases in the blue box modify all the words and phrases in the red box. (There are also three “sub” arrangements of modifying phrases in the blue box.) The second half of the verse is not referring to the island city-state, but the destruction of the sister cities “on the mainland.”

Summary

So what we can conclude is that the sister mainland cities affiliated with Tyre were to be razed by Nebuchadnezzar. Since these sister cities “on the mainland” were affiliated with the ISLAND city-state of Tyre, Ezekiel refers to them all collectively as “you” (singular pronoun), which causes confusion when we translate these verses into English. That is, while Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx (among others) are separate and distinct boroughs, we may refer to them all as one entity by use of the name of the same city to which they all belong in the singular sense.

Finally, and very important to note, verse 12 goes from the singular (Nebuchadnezzar) to the plural (someone other than Nebuchadnezzar)...

Ezekiel 26:12 (NASB)

Also they will make a spoil of your riches and a prey of your merchandise, break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses, and throw your stones and your timbers and your debris into the water.

The “throwing of timbers and your debris into the water” did not occur until almost 200 years later, when others (not Nebuchadnezzar, but “they”) who would actually level the ISLAND city-state proper.

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  • Do you think it reasonable to claim that Alexander the Great was part of this process? Or is the language of "he [Nebuchadnezzar] shall tread down all thy streets" (verses 11 - 12) more metaphorical in this passage in light of the fact that Nebuchadnezzar never plundered the island portion of the city? – Don Shrinkle Apr 22 '17 at 1:14
  • @DonShrinkle - I just edited the post to clarify my answer in response to your questions and concerns. – Joseph Apr 22 '17 at 16:39

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