Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Nostradamus in the 21st Century

by Peter Lemesurier (London: Piatkus Books 2000) pbk. 325pp)
ISBN: 0749921633

 

From The Presbyterian Banner, September 2002


Peter Lemesurier appears to be one of the more sane followers of Michel de Nostredame (1503-66), if that is not a contradiction in terms. Nostradame, later known as Nostradamus, was a contemporary of his fellow Frenchman John Calvin (1509-65), but was a far different character. Nostradamus was of Jewish extraction but a practising Roman Catholic. He achieved considerable fame as a physician of the plague, although his medical qualifications are uncertain, and he did not claim great success himself. He was also famed somewhat as an ‘astrologer’, but preferred, rather wisely one would think, to call himself an ‘astrophile’, or ‘star-lover’. On his semi-retirement in around 1550 he turned to writing, particularly in the area of astrology and prophecy. This brought him into great public prominence, and he became particularly influential at the French court where he was a favourite of Catherine de Medici. Twice married, he had two children by his first wife (all three died) and six by his second. He was careful not to fall out with the Roman Church.

His prophetic writings included annual books of predictions for the following year. The success rate of the 6,338 or so predictions thus made has been calculated by Bernard Chevignard at only 5.73%. He also produced more general and usually undated prophecies of the future history of the world. These include 1,000 4-line verse prophecies called quatrains. There are many obscure expressions in them, but these are the writings that attract most interest today. The success rate cannot be determined because the commentators vary so widely on their interpretation. Lemesurier suggests only a dozen or so are agreed on by all (p. 32f). His published horoscopes show, according to Pierre Brund’Amour, that he was ‘astonishingly incompetent’ as an astrologer. Roger Prevost [Nostra-damus, le mythe et la realite, Laffont, 1999] suggests that many of Nostradamus’ prophecies were based on past events drawn often virtually word for word from ancient histories and medieval chronicles. The idea seems to have been belief in cycles in history so, given the same celestial conditions, the potential for the same terrestrial occurrence existed.

According to Lemesurier, in a website on the subject <http://nosrepos.tripod.com/faq.html> :
‘The most up-to-date research into Nostradamus’ prophecies generally is contained in Bernard Chevignard’s Présages de Nostradamus (Editions du Seuil, 1999). The latest and most reliable work on his astrology is contained in the late Pierre Brind’Amour’s Nostradamus Astrophile (Lincksieck/Univ. of Ottawa Presses, 1993), and possibly the most reliable analysis of the first-edition verses (1.1 to IV.53) in the same author’s Nostradamus: Les Premières Centuries (Droz, 1996) – but both, like Chevignard’s work, are of course also in French. Even James Randi’s characteristically sceptical The Mask of Nostradamus (Prometheus, 1993) contains – for all its many errors of detail – far more up to date, correct information on the seer than most of the popular books in English put together!’

One of the most interesting aspects of Lemesurier’s book is the way in which he understands free will and prophecy. ‘If we respond to those warnings appropriately, the prophecies – this time around at least – will fail. And so Nostradamus will be proved wrong – which, of course, is the fate of all good prophets’ (p.8).

From a Biblical perspective there is a certain truth in this. God may announce judgement yet relent if there is changed behaviour, as with Jonah and the Ninevites. In such cases there is an implied condition. But Lemesurier’s view seemingly does not allow God to control his creation, nor allow the credibility of the prophet to be demonstrated by predictions that are absolute. It’s a neat way of making prophecy meaningless, as if 5.73% accuracy makes you a better prophet than one who is 100% right! Of course, it also assumes one knows the meaning of the prophecy so as to act to counter it.

In the Bible the true prophet’s predictions never fail, except insofar as any implied conditions are fulfilled. If they do fail then it is a sure sign God is not speaking by him (Deut 18:21-22). Further, even if the prediction comes true but the prophet leads away from the truth of God, he is not a true prophet, but one God is using to test his people (Deut 13:5).

Nostradamus is an interesting character. Yet isn’t it amazing that the Hebrew prophets’ predictions do not gain the interest and attention that Nostradamus receives, a man who failed both Biblical tests? That’s man, however. If he will not subject himself to the word of God, he’s open to believe anything.

Book Review: The Bible, Protestantism and the rise of natural science by Peter Harrison

 By Peter Harrison (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), xii + 313pp., A$105

This review by Rowland S. Ward appeared in the Reformed Theological Review, December 1999.

 

Peter Harrison is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Bond University, Qld. He has authored a volume that is well-written and rsearched and which is very valuable in understanding the origins of the natural sciences.

A common view since the 1930s has been that the Puritans were the key to the rise of the sciences since so many of them were involved in the founding of the Royal Society. They were also over-represented in the sciences compared to their proportion in the total population. However key elements of the scientific approach lie before the Puritan influence (Galileo, Descartes), and so a modified view has been proposed which claims that the spirit of enquiry promoted by Protestantism generally, and the breaking of clerical censorship, is a better way of explaining the rise of the natural sciences. However, Harrison suggests a more refined thesis. To him the key is the approach to the interpretation of texts fostered by the early reformers and their successors, and he makes a convincing case.

Biblical texts had early been subjected to non-literal exegesis in the interest of giving difficult parts moral or figurative value. In the same way, nature was seen as intended to illustrate moral and spiritual matters, and was not viewed in its own terms. It was a vast lexicon of meanings. With the return to a literal reading of Scripture, that is, to the meaning the author intended to convey by his words, we not only had a reformation in the church, we also had nature now viewed in terms of its usefulness at a practical rather than a symbolic level.

Dr Harrison provides a quite fascinating survey of early approaches to biblical hermeneutics and the understanding of nature. He does not overlook the emphasis, not only in Calvin, on ‘accommodation’ to the capacity of the unlearned in the narratives of Scripture so that simplified, observational ways of speaking are found in Scripture rather than strictly scientific statements.

It will not have escaped the attentive reader that this thesis is saying that the recovery of the literal meaning (as defined above) was the key to unlocking the world of nature, yet today it is the literalists who are considered the great opponents of scientific enquiry. Of course, modern literalists, operating in a developed scientific age, are not really in the same category as those who took a literal meaning of Scripture when the natural sciences were in their infancy.

Harrison provides copious interesting, instructive and sometimes amusing references from the 17th century which illustrate the struggles of early scientists who assumed the scientific nature of certain parts of Scripture. Approaches to the creation, fall and Flood narratives receive attention. Harrison concludes by noting the way in which the scientific impulse was increasingly secularised from the beginning of the 18th century leaving Christians with only a body of doctrines with which to concern themselves. The Western quest for redemption was now focused on a secular salvation. So there is a very relevant message here. This is an excellent book although unhappily expensive. It would be very valuable to any tertiary student of the humanities and the sciences.

Note: A paperback edition is now in print.