Friday, March 20, 2009

Did Nostradamus see the Future?

Nostradamus by Dr. Norman Geisler
(from Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Book House, 1999)

Nostradamus (1503-1566) was known by the Latin name of Michel de Notredame or Nostredame. He was graduated from University of Montpellier in France and was a physician and astrologer. He published a book of rhymed prophecies titled Centuries (1555). He is reputed to have predicted accurately the death of Henry II of France and many other things.

According to Andre Lamont, Nostradamus Sees All (“Preface,” 2d. ed., v), “he was well versed in the arts of astronomy, the kabbala, astrology, alchemy, magic, mathematics and medicine.”

Predictions of Nostradamus. Some critics of Christianity hold up Nostradamus as an example of someone who made predictions on the level with those in the Bible, thus canceling the claim of supernatural uniqueness made for biblical prophecy. However, on examination they fall far short of this claim. The predictions of Nostradamus show signs of an occult source and may be explained according to purely natural processes.

A Great California Earthquake. Nostradamus is alleged to have predicted a great earthquake in California for May 10, 1981. This was reported on May 6, 1981, in USA Today. However, no such quake occurred. As a matter of fact, Nostradamus mentioned no country, city, or year. He spoke only of a “rumbling earth” in a “new city” and a “very mighty quake” on May 10 [no year].

Hitler’s Rise to Power. Lamont claims that Nostradamus gave “a prophecy of the coming of Hitler and Nazism in a world divided within itself” (Lamont, 252). However, Hitler is not mentioned and the prediction gives no date and is vague. It reads: “Followers of sects, great troubles are in store for the Messenger. A beast upon the theater prepares the scenical play. The inventor of that wicked feat will be famous. By sects the world will be confused and divided” (ibid.). In this context there is a reference to “Hister” (not Hitler) by Nostradamus (C4Q68), which is obviously a place, not a person. The attempt to read back into this both his name and birthplace is stretched. What is more, Hitler grew up in Linz, Austria, not in any place called Hister.

Quatrain 2-24 reads: “Beasts mad with hunger will swim across rivers, Most of the army will be against the Lower Danube [Hister sera]. The great one shall be dragged in an iron cage when the child brother [de Germain] will observe nothing.”

This is allegedly a prophecy concerning Adolf Hitler. According to followers of Nostradamus, the lower portion of the Danube is known as either “Ister” or “Hister” (Randi, 213), which seems to be close enough to “Hitler” for their purposes.

However, the substitution of “l” for “s” in Hister, and the inversion of “t” and “s,” is totally arbitrary. In another quatrain (4-68), Nostradamus mentions the Lower Danube in conjunction with the Rhine (“De Ryn”). But if “Hister” refers to Hitler, then to what does “De Ryn” refer? Followers of Nostradamus are inconsistent, treating one river as an anagram and taking the other literally. The Latin phrase de Germain should be interpreted “brother” or “near relative,” not “Germany” (Randi, 214). Even if these highly questionable interpretations are allowed, the prophecy is still quite ambiguous. What are we to make of the “Beasts” and the “iron cage”? To say that Adolf Hitler (“the great one”) will be “dragged in an iron cage” while Germany “will observe nothing” is so ambiguous and confusing it renders the entire prophecy meaningless.

Quatrain 4-68 is also alleged to refer to Hitler. It reads: “In the year very near, not far from Venus, The two greatest of Asia and Africa From the Rhine and Lower Danube, which will be said to have come, Cries, tears at Malta and the Ligurian coast.”

As in the previous example, “Lower Danube” is here taken to mean “Hitler.” “The two greatest of Asia and Africa” are taken to refer to Japan and Mussolini, respectively. Thus, the second and third lines refer to the Tripartite Pact between Japan, Italy, and Germany. The fourth is taken as a reference to the bombing of Malta and the bombardment of Genoa (Randi, 215).

In addition to the reasons given above, this prophecy claims these events would take place in a “year very near;” but the Tripartite Pact (1941) came almost 400 years after the prediction. It is not clear how Asia could refer to Japan, and even more so, how Africa could refer to Mussolini or Italy. Again Nostradamus’s followers are inconsistent, for they interpret Asia, Africa, and the Lower Danube figuratively while providing no corresponding interpretation for the Rhine. Finally, this prophecy is ambiguous on the whole. It could be interpreted in various ways so as to fulfill many different events.

The Second World War. According to Lamont, Nostradamus forecast that, after the first World War, the Spanish Civil War, and other wars, a more furious one was foretold—the Second World War, with its aerial warfare and suffering. But no such details are given. It is typically vague and could be easily forecast without any supernormal powers. The passage reads simply: “After a great human exhaustion, a greater one is being prepared. As the great motor renews the centuries, a rain of blood, milk, famine, iron and pestilence [will come]. In the sky will be seen fires carrying long sparks” (Lamont, 168).Evaluation Nostradamus’s forecasts are general, vague, and explainable on purely natural grounds. Furthermore, Nostradamus shows clear signs of demonic and occult influence.

False Prophecies. An evident sign of a false prophet is false prophecy (cf. Deuteronomy 18). If Nostradamus’ predictions are taken literally, many are false. If they are not, then they can fit many “fulfillments.” As John Ankerberg put it, “it is an undeniable fact that Nostradamus gave numerous false prophecies” (Ankerberg, 340). Noted Nostradamus scholar Erick Cheetham said flatly of his prognostications in his Almanachs: “Many of these predictions were wrong” (Cheetham, 20). Some interpretations are so diverse that while one claims it is a reference to “Calvinist Geneva,” another believes it refers to “atomic power” (The Prophecies of Nostradamus, 81).

Vague Predictions. The truth is that the vast majority of his prognostications are so ambiguous and vague that they could fit a great variety of events. Consider this one: “Scythe by the Pond, in conjunction with Sagittarius at the high point of its ascendant—disease, famine, death by soldiery—the century/age draws near its renewal” (Centuries 1.6). The lines can be interpreted so as to fit any number of events in the future. When something is judged to be a fulfillment, Nostradamus will seem supernatural. Astrologers and fortunetellers use vague descriptions and imagery all the time. Nostradamus was a master at this art.

Contradictory Interpretations. There is no unanimity among Nostradamus’ interpreters about the meaning of his predictions. This lack of agreement is further proof of their ambiguity and lack of authority. In The Prophecies of Nostradamus the editors note contradictory interpretations (see I, 16; I, 51; II, 41; II, 43; II, 89; III, 97, etc.).

Predictions after the Fact. Nostradamus himself acknowledged that his predictions were written in such a manner that “they could not possibly be understood until they were interpreted after the event and by it” (Randi, 31). There is nothing miraculous about reading a fulfillment back into a prophecy which could not be clearly seen there beforehand. Not a single prediction of Nostradamus has ever been proven genuine. This means that either he is a false prophet or else he was not really seriously claiming to be giving real predictions. Perhaps he was a con artist or a literary prankster.

Tongue-in-Cheek Prophecies? His prognostications were so vague and unproductive that even the encyclopedia of Man, Myth and Magic suggests that “Nostradamus composed them with tongue in cheek, as he was well aware that there is an enduring market for prophecies and particularly for veiled ones” (Cavendish, 2017). As James Randi put it, “The marvelous prophecies of Michel de Nostredame, upon examination, turn out to be a tiresome collection of vague, punning, seemingly badly constructed verses.... From a distance of more than 400 years, I fancy I can hear a bearded Frenchman laughing at the naiveté of his 20th century dupes” (36).
Confessed Demonic Source. Nostradamus admitted demonic inspiration when he wrote: “The tenth of the Calends of April roused by evil persons; the light extinguished; diabolical assembly searching for the bones of the devil (damant—”demon”) according to Psellos” (Lamont, 71). Commenting on this, Lamont noted that “The utilization of the demons or black angels is recommended by ancient writers on magic. They claim that they have much knowledge of temporal matters and, once under control, will give much information to the operator.” He adds, Nostradamus could not have avoided such a temptation” (ibid.).

Various Forms of Occult Practices. Nostradamus was associated with various occult activities. Lamont observes that “Magic—Astrology—Symbolism—Anagrams—[are a] Key to Nostradamus” (ibid., 69). In Centuries, Quatrain 2 is translated: “The wand in the hand seated in the midst of the Branches, He (the prophet) wets in the water both the hem (of his garment) and the foot. A fearfulness and a voice quiver through the sleeves; divine splendor, The Divine is seated near” (ibid., 70). Lamont comments that here “Nostradamus followed the rites of magic according to Iamblichus. It is night—he is seated on the stool or prophetic tripod—a little flame rises. He has the divining rod in his hand” (ibid., 70-71).

In addition to the use of the occult divining rod, Nostradamus was widely known for his knowledge of astrology—another occult practice condemned by the Bible (Deuteronomy 18). But whatever their source, these predictions in no way rival the clear, specific, and highly accurate predictions of Scripture concerning both human history and salvation history.

Conclusion. There is no real comparison between Nostradamus’ predictions and those of the Bible. His are vague, fallible, and occult. Those of the Bible are clear, infallible, and divine. The Bible made numerous clear and distinct predictions hundreds of years in advance. Nostradamus did not. There is no evidence that Nostradamus was a prophet at all; certainly he was like none in the Bible. Biblical prophecy stands unique in its claim to be supernatural.


Sources J. Ankerberg, et al., Cult WatchM. Cavendish, “Nostradamus” in Man, Myth and Magic, new ed., vol. 15
E. Cheetham, The Final Prophecies of Nostradamus
A. Kole, Miracle and Magic
A. Lamont, Nostradamus Sees All
M. Nostradamus, Centuries
J. Randi, “Nostradamus: The Prophet for All Seasons,”
The Skeptical Enquirer (Fall 1882)[no editor named], The Prophecies of Nostradamus


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