Prophet or Charlatan?
“Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)
“The devil can cite Scripture to his own purpose…” (Antonio in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare)
Just three days after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., Amazon.com reported on its website that three of the top ten best-selling books concerned the prophesies of Nostradamus, a 16th Century seer whom many claim prophesied modern events.1
Within a week after 9/11, the Internet began to buzz with email messages about the attacks being the fulfillment of a prophecy by Nostradamus. The prophecy was quoted as follows:
“In the City of God there will be a great thunder,
Two brothers torn apart by chaos.
While the fortress endures,
The great leader will succumb.
The third big war will begin when the city is burning.”
— Nostradamus, 1654
The “two brothers” were, of course, the Twin Towers in New York, and “the fortress” was the Pentagon.
The first problem with this “prophecy” is that Nostradamus died in 1566, 88 years before these particular lines were supposedly written. Second, Nostradamus wrote in quatrains — that is, four line verses. This stanza contains five lines. Finally, no such lines can be found in any of the published works of Nostradamus.
Several months after these lines appeared, it was revealed that they came from an essay about Nostradamus that was posted on the Internet in 1997. The essay was written by a student at Brock University in Canada. He fabricated the first four lines of the stanza to illustrate how easily an important-sounding prophecy can be crafted through the use of abstract imagery. He pointed out how the terms he used were so deliberately vague that they could be interpreted to fit any number of cataclysmic events.
It now appears that someone took this illustrative example from this essay and then added the fifth line about a world war. A fabrication was thus further enhanced by another fabrication. In short, the “prophecy” was a complete hoax.2
But that wasn’t the end of it. Someone quickly added another verse to the quotation:
“On the 11th day of the 9th month,
Two metal birds will crash into two tall statues
In the new city,
And the world will end soon after.”
At least it was a quatrain. But it was just as bogus as the original “prophecy.”
The Nature of the Man
Who is this Nostradamus that people are so anxious to quote and others are so willing to believe? Was he a true prophet? If so, what is the proof? And why would people rush to his writings in search of enlightenment instead of the prophecies contained in the Bible?
As we consider these and other questions, let’s begin by examining the identity of this mysterious seer from the Middle Ages.
Michel de Nostradamus (1503-1566) was born into a family of Christianized Jews in the town of St. Rémy in France. His father was a prosperous grain trader.3 His grandfathers served as the personal physicians of King René. Both of them shaped the mind and life of their grandson by seeing to it that he was instructed in the classics, history, medicine, astrology, and herbal folk lore. He was also introduced to the secret arts of the Kabbalah and alchemy.4
In his mid-teens, Nostradamus began studying philosophy, grammar, and rhetoric under the supervision of Catholic priests in Avignon. In 1525 he graduated from the University of Montpillier, and in 1529 he became a physician.5
His first wife and their two children died of the plague in 1537. After this tragedy, his prophetic gifts began to manifest. He married a rich widow in 1544 and settled in Salon, France, where he lived the rest of his life.6
The Nature of His Writings
In 1555 he published a book of prophecies entitled Centuries. The book was a collection of 100 quatrains (rhyming verses with four lines each) containing predictions dating from his time to the end of the world. His total output over the next eleven years consisted of ten volumes containing nearly one thousand prophecies.
According to the preface of the first volume, the verses were intended to be mystifying. Nostradamus said he was afraid he would be persecuted and his work would be destroyed if authorities in his lifetime fully understood his predictions. He insisted that his cryptic prophecies would be better understood by enlightened people in the future.7
Keys to His Success
Much of his success as a “prophet” can be attributed to the ambiguity of his writing style. He wrote in French, Latin, Greek, and Italian, and he filled his verses with anagrams, obscure images, and even words that he apparently invented. Most of his quatrains read like nonsensical gobbledygook:8
“There will go forth from Mont
Gaulfier and the Aventine one
Who through a whole will give
Information to the army.”
Another key to Nostradamus’ longevity is that his quatrains are so ambiguous that they can be translated in many different ways. In all languages, context determines the meaning of many words. If the context is not understandable, the words can be translated in a great variety of ways, often depending upon the result desired by the translator. In other words, a creative translation often makes one of his prophecies seem relevant to a current event.
Take, for example, one of Nostradamus’ most famous prophecies. It is contained in Century 2, Quatrain 24:
“Beasts ferocious with hunger will cross the rivers.
The greater part of the battlefield will be against Hister.
Into a cage of iron will the great one be drawn
When the child of Germany observes nothing.”
Advocates of Nostradamus usually translate the second line of this stanza to read: “The greater part of the battlefield will be against Hitler.” They argue that “Hister” was just a code name for Hitler! The fact of the matter is that Hister was a geographical term for the Lower Danube River. In contrast, when a true prophet of God, Isaiah, prophesied that the children of Israel would be released from Babylonian captivity by a man named Cyrus — he meant Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28). And that prophecy was given 150 years before Cyrus came to power!
Another reason Nostradamus has received so much attention is because a number of his prophecies were very biblical in nature. He warned that in the future there would be signs in the heavens and earthquakes. He warned of a coming world dictator called the Antichrist. He spoke of the resurrection of the dead. He even prophesied that the Jews would go back to Israel and that the Middle East would be the focal point of end time events.
His prophecies are, in fact, full of words and expressions taken from the Bible. All of which prove that Nostradamus secretly read the Scriptures, something forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church of his day. As one author has put it, in some of his prophecies, Nostradamus “merely hung his own clothes on the body of Holy Scripture, and when the body came alive, he claimed to be the Creator.”9
His Initial Fame
Nostradamus was catapulted to fame in 1557, two years after the publication of volume one of his prophecies. It all had to do with the accidental death of France’s king, Henry II, who was wounded in a jousting contest and died ten days later.10 This event was proclaimed to be a fulfillment of a prophecy contained In Century 1, Quatrain 35:
“The young lion will overcome the old one
On the battlefield in a single fight.
He will put out his eyes in a cage of gold.
Two wounds in one, then he dies a cruel death.”
The first problem with the “fulfillment” of this prophecy is that there was only seven years difference in the ages of the king and the younger man who was his opponent in the tournament. It was not a contest between a young man and an old one. Second, the accident occurred during a friendly sporting event, not on a battlefield. Third, there is no evidence that King Henry II was wearing a gold helmet. Finally, the king’s eyes were not damaged. Rather, a splinter from his opponent’s lance pierced his skull and tore through his brain.11
The Source of His Prophecies
Nostradamus always claimed that God was the source of his prophecies. He described his inspiration in the following terms:
“Although for a long time I have been making predictions of events which have come to pass, naming the particular locality, I wish to acknowledge that all have been accomplished through Divine power and inspiration.”12
He repeated this assertion in letters to his son and to the King of France. Keep in mind that in his day and age, people were burned at the stake for sorcery, so Nostradamus did everything he could to convince people he was a spokesman for God. His letter to the King stated: “… I confess truly that all comes from God, for which I give Him thanks, honor, and praise, without having mixed anything of the divination…”13
But Nostradamus was either deceived or purposefully lying. In Century 1, Quatrain 1, he revealed the method he used to obtain his prophecies:
“I sit at night alone in secret study
Resting upon a brass tripod.
A thin flame comes forth from the solitude
Making successful that which should not be believed in vain.”
The second quatrain in that same volume reveals even more about the methods he used:
“The divining wand in hand is placed in the middle of the tripod’s brass legs.
With water he anoints the hem of his robe and foot.
Fear! A voice is heard. He trembles in his robes.
Divine splendor. The divine one sits nearby.”
What Nostradamus is describing here is a method of trafficking in spirits that was practiced by Branchus, an occultic Greek prophetess. A man named Iamblichus of Chalcis described her techniques in his writings in the 4th Century:
“The prophetess of Branchus either sits upon a pillar, or holds in her hand a rod bestowed by some deity, or moistens her feet or hem of her garment with water… and by these means… she prophesies.”14
Likewise, Nostradamus would sit on a brass tripod with his spine erect to keep him alert and supposedly to create a force field which would sharpen his psychic powers. Another tripod was placed at his feet. It held a cauldron filled to the brim with steaming water and stimulating oils. In this atmosphere he would then do incantations. Here’s how he described what would happen:
“I emptied my soul, brain and heart of all care and attained a state of tranquility and stillness of mind which are prerequisites to predicting by means of the brass tripod… Human understanding, being intellectually created, cannot see hidden things unless aided by a voice coming from limbo by help of a thin flame…”15
It is obvious that Nostradamus was up to his ears in the occult. The “divine one” who sat nearby him was none other than Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44). The man was demon possessed, and Satan continues to work through him today to divert people from the truly inspired prophecies of God that are contained in the Bible.
The fact that so many people prefer to search the cryptic writings of Nostradamus rather than study God’s Word is proof of the innate depravity of Mankind. A true prophet of God, Isaiah, spoke of the same tendency in his day and time 2,700 years ago (Isaiah 8:19):
“And when they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?”
The only one who knows the future for certain is the Creator of this universe, and what He wants us to know, He has revealed in his Holy Word, the Bible. When we go searching for the future elsewhere, we open ourselves to demonic deception.
- Barbara Mikelson, “False Prophecy,” Urban Legends reference pages, www.snopes2.com, accessed 10/14/02. See also at the same site, David Emery’s article entitled, “Rumor Watch: Terrorist Attacks on the U.S. – Did Nostradamus Predict the Tragedy?”
- Gary Vaterlaus, “The Authority of Bible Prophecy,” Sola Scriptura magazine, Autumn 2002, pp. 15-19, 23-34.
- Tom Harris, “How Nostradamus Works,” www.howstuffworks.com, accessed 10/16/2002, page 3.
- JC, “Nostradamus,” www.mm2000.nu, accessed 10/14/2002.
- Comfort, The Secrets of Nostradamus Exposed, (Living Water Publications, 1996) page 18.
- Harris, page 4.
- Nostradamus, Century 5, Quatrain 57.
- Comfort, page 67.
- Anonymous author, “Nostradamus,” http://users.cybercity.dk, accessed 10/ 14/2002, pages 2-3.
- Wayne Jackson, Nostradamus: Prophet or Pretender? (Courier Publications, 1998).
- Comfort, page 23.
- Ibid., pages 30-31.
- Francis X. King, Nostradamus, (St. Martin’s Press, 1997), pages 138-139.
- Comfort, pages 24-25.