Did Nostradamus, the 16th-century French physician-turned-seer, predict the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center? Was he a true prophet?
Numerous popular books and thousands of websites suggest that Nostradamus was a true prophet, but was he?
Nostradamus (1503-1566) came from a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism before his birth. As he grew up, he studied medicine and astrology. He became a respected physician in Aix, the capital of Provence, France, for minimizing the number of deaths from bubonic plague among local residents.
When he began studying the occult, he wrote an almanac, which was a fashionable thing to do in the day. Soon nobility and other prominent persons began asking him for horoscopes and psychic advice. With this success, he continued to write a new almanac each year.
Then he set to writing his book of 1,000 quatrains—a quatrain being four lines of a poetic stanza—which he called The Prophecies. This work was first published in 1555. In it, he deliberately mixed words from different languages, which made his predictions so vague as to make them impossible to use in predicting the future. It was only after an event that people could try to link what he had written with what had occurred.
Nostradamus’ obscure style—which made understanding anything in advance impossible—also prevented others from declaring him a fraud and a false prophet. Furthermore, he was careful not to practice any magic arts in order to avoid being executed by the Catholic Church.
His book got mixed reviews. Some thought he was a servant of evil, a fake or insane. Others, including many of the elite, thought his quatrains were spiritually inspired prophecies.
Most of his quatrains dealt with disasters, such as plagues, earthquakes, wars, floods, invasions, murders, droughts and battles. In the preface to The Prophecies, Nostradamus stated that his prophecies would extend from the time of his writing (1555) to the year 3797.
The Prophecies’ popularity seems to be partly due to the fact that the vagueness and lack of dating make it easy to quote his quatrains selectively after every major dramatic event and retrospectively claim them as fulfilled prophecies. Critics point out that there is no evidence in the academic literature to suggest that any of his quatrains have ever been interpreted as predicting a specific event before it occurred, other than in vague, general terms that could equally apply to any number of other events.
Nostradamus and the World Trade Center?
In its “Top 10 Prophecies of Nostradamus Debunked,” Listverse.com identifies some of his quatrains that have drawn special attention.
First on its list of top 10, Listverse.com quotes the English translation of a Nostradamus quatrain that some say predicted the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City:
“Volcanic fire from the center of the earth
“will cause trembling around the new city:
“Two great rocks will make war for a long time.
“Then Arethusa will redden a new river.”
The article continues by giving the following analysis: “This quatrain has been so distorted that some examples barely resemble the real text. Some go so far as to mention New York City by name, and others describe flying metal machines. As you can see—neither of these things are actually mentioned in the true text. Many people say that the two great rocks are a reference to the planes used in the attack. Arethusa was a mythological Nymph who turned into a fountain.”
Nostradamus and Adolf Hitler?
Next, Listverse.com analyzes whether Nostradamus predicted Adolf Hitler’s part in World War II:
“In the place very near not far from Venus,
“The two greatest ones of Asia and of Africa,
“From the Rhine and Hister they will be said to have come,
“Cries, tears at Malta and the Ligurian side.
“This is one of the more popular quatrains; it is said to describe Hitler (Hister) at a meeting with Mussolini in which they made plans for Italy for formally enter[ing] the Second World War. The problem here is that Hister is a term used in the time of Nostradamus to describe the Danube river. It does seem to describe a war that has some relation to Germany, but there is no way of connecting this to Hitler or the Second World War.”
God’s warning to beware of false prophets and false teachers
On several occasions in his writings, Nostradamus rejected the label prophet in a biblical sense. In an open letter to Privy Chancellor Birague, June 15, 1566, he wrote: “I do but make bold to predict (not that I guarantee the slightest thing at all), thanks to my researches and the consideration of what judicial Astrology promises me and sometimes gives me to know, principally in the form of warnings, so that folk may know that with which the celestial stars do threaten them. Not that I am foolish enough to pretend to be a prophet” (Peter Lemesurier, The Unknown Nostradamus: The Essential Biography for His 500th Birthday, p. 109).
Still, admittedly, he was a diviner and practiced astrology. A diviner is someone who attempts to contact supernatural powers to determine answers to questions hidden to humans and usually involving the future.
God long ago warned His people against listening to diviners: “For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you” (Deuteronomy 18:14).
Christ’s apostles understood that, just as false prophets had come before Christ’s ministry, they would continue to come afterwards under the guise of being teachers: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1, emphasis added throughout).
The Bible reveals the existence of evil spirits, led by Satan, who fill the earth with lies, superstitious beliefs and deceptions. Revelation 12:9 describes Satan as “the great dragon … that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world.”
What God says about prophets
God warned people against assuming the role of prophet without His direct appointment:
“‘But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
In the last 450 years Nostradamus has not had a record of accurate fulfillment of his so-called prophecies. It is obvious that God did not call him to be a prophet nor speak through him to declare events that are happening in our generation. Instead of superstitions and myths, God tells us to look to Him as the source of true predictions of world events.
Be sure to read what Jesus Christ—a true prophet of God—has to say about the future in our article “The Book of Revelation.”