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An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and…

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and… (1995)

by James Randi

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The subtitle for this book is James Randi's Decidedly Skeptical Definitions of Alternate Realities. The definitions are organized alphabetically beginning with ABARIS (whose legendary credentials include being the teacher of Pythagoras, flying like a witch on a Golden Arrow, and becoming invisible like a magician) and ending with ZOMBIE (a Haitian superstitious belief related to voodoo).

Regrettably, this very fine encyclopedia is marred by Randi's flippant attitude toward the Bible and its miracles. For example, in his article on the Bible, Randi lightly ridicules the Judeo-Christian Scriptures by citing a few silly errors of translation from early English renditions.

About the King James Version of the Bible, Randi writes, "The 1611 King James Version of the book is now recognized as the authorized edition." This sweeping generalization is a careless conclusion by a researcher and writer who, for the most part, appears to be careful and accurate in his writing. In fact, the King James translation of the Bible was commissioned for the Church of England in 1611. It was recognized by them at that time, not by most Christians today, as the Authorized Version.

If the KJV were recognized by believers today as the once-and-for-all-and-forever Authorized Version, there would be no market for the plethora of modern Bible translations into English. Furthermore, believers who don't speak English would be denied a Bible in their own tongues if the KJV were the one-and-only Authorized Version for all mankind. Yes, there are some King-James-Version-only Christians who cling to the Authorized Version as the solitary Word of God. But most Christians today believe that the King James Version was provincially authorized for benefit of the Church of England in 1611, and not for the worldwide churches of North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, Antarctica, and the Islands of the Sea in the succeeding centuries.

John Piper, Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, was asked, "What is the best Bible version?" He answered, "Whichever one you will read." This answer satisfies most Christians today. The words "authorized edition" do not enter into the equation.

In Appendix 2, Randi turns his attention to forty-nine end-of-the-world prophecies that failed. Number One in his list is Jesus' prophecy in Matthew 16:28 about "the Son of Man coming in his kingdom," which Randi interpreted to mean the end of the world. Based on what Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, "There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom," Randi concluded that "The End should have occurred before the death of the last Apostle." Alas, the Apostles died and the world did not end. (Randi 1, Jesus 0?)

Does "the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" really mean the end of the world? What do Jesus' followers think He was saying when He told his disciples that some of them would not taste of death "till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power" (Mark 9:1)?

Eschatologically speaking, Jesus was not really talking about the end of the world in Matthew 16:28 and Mark 9:1. If you want to know what Jesus prophesied with respect to the end of the world, read Matthew Chapter 24. He said that only His Father in Heaven knows the time of the end. "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Matthew 24:36).

In The People's New Testament (1891) with explanatory notes, B.W. Johnson explains Matthew 16:28 this way: "The reference is not to his final coming to judge the world, but to his spiritual coming to establish his kingdom. This was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. Mark shows the meaning by substituting, 'Till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power' (Mark 9:1). 'The coming of the Son of man in his kingdom' means, therefore, the same as 'the kingdom of God come with power.' Compare Acts 1:8 and Luke 24:49. The kingdom came with power on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1)."

Speaking of the end of the world, Randi's Encyclopedia includes a brief article on Armageddon because of its popular designation as the scene of the final battle between the kings of the Earth at the end of the world. Randi says that the Apostle John's Book of Revelation predicts a battle at Armageddon between good and evil that will produce a "river of human blood 'to the height of a horse's bridle' for a distance of 200 miles."

Randi makes a strong case for the physical impossibility of such an event with nary a thought for a spiritual interpretation of said vision. Apparently it is up to me to bring to the reader's attention the fact that the Apocalypse of John is the most symbolic and emblematic book in the New Testament. The Book of Revelation is filled with fantastic figures and scenes that were seen by John in his visions. I am of the opinion that a strictly literal interpretation of the signs and symbols that are found in apocalyptic literature is incompatible with sound biblical exegesis. When the Apocalypse of John tells about his visions in which he saw things that looked like frogs, dragons, beasts, false prophets, and rivers of blood, it seems to me that it behooves the reader to interpret these figures spiritually and figuratively, not literally.

There are other problems with Randi's view of Armageddon. These problems arise because Revelation 16:16 is the only verse in the book that even mentions Armageddon. For proper understanding, this singular reference to Armageddon needs to be considered within the larger context of Chapter 16, a chapter devoted to John's visions of the Seven Bowls of God's Wrath.

Vision 1. The first bowl of judgment (Revelation 16:2) was poured out on the earth from heaven and caused those who had the mark of the beast to be covered with ulcerated sores.

Vision 2. The second bowl of judgment (Revelation 16:3) was poured out upon the sea, "and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died."

Vision 3. The third bowl of judgment (Revelation 16:4) was poured out "on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood."

Vision 4. The fourth bowl of judgment (Revelation 16:8-9) was poured out "on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire."

Vision 5. The fifth bowl of judgment (Revelation 16:10-11) was poured out "on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness."

Vision 6. Now we come to the vision of Armageddon. The sixth bowl of judgment (Revelation 16:12-16) was poured out "on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East." A lot more detail is contained in John's vision of the sixth bowl than was provided for the first five bowls. John continued, "Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty" (Revelation 16:13-14). Then in the final verse about the sixth bowl of judgment, we find the one and only mention in Revelation of Armageddon as follows: "Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon" (Revelation 16:16).

Vision 7 This brief reference to Armageddon is followed immediately with the seventh bowl of judgment (Revelation 16:17-21) which was poured out "into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'It is done!'"

Here are the facts about Armageddon as told by the John the Revelator. First, popular notions notwithstanding and Randi's Encyclopedia article about Armageddon notwithstanding, there is no Battle of Armageddon. The stage is set for the great Battle of Armageddon, but God preempts the actual battle with the seventh bowl poured out into the air. I repeat, there are preparations for battle and the armies gather for battle, but there is no battle. Plagues from heaven bring the preparations to naught. Before a shot could be fired, God announced, "It is done!" End of Story.

Second, Randi's pronouncement notwithstanding, there is no mention in Revelation Chapter 16 at Armageddon about a "river of human blood 'to the height of a horse's bridle' for a distance of two hundred miles." Randi takes this reference about a river of blood from a different context in Revelation 14:20 and misapplies it to Armageddon in Revelation Chapter 16.

Revelation Chapter 14 tells about John's visions of the 144,000 redeemed, the angel with the everlasting gospel, the fall of Babylon, the doom of the beast's worshipers, the blessed dead, the harvest of the earth, and the great winepress of God's wrath. In the last of these seven visions, John saw clusters of grapes thrown into the winepress of God's wrath. It was then and there, not at Armageddon, that the grapes of wrath "were trampled in the winepress outside the city [Jerusalem], and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia" (Revelation 14:20).

There is no formal connection of the visions in Revelation Chapter 14 with the visions in Chapter 16. Randi's joining of the two is a leap of faith. (Oops! My bad! Randi is a skeptic. Therefore, his association of the grapes of wrath with Armageddon is apparently a leap of incredulity.)

Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) interpreted John's apocalyptic language spiritually and figuratively, not literally, in the Battle Hymn of the Republic:

Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage
where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning
of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!...

Third, Randi brushes aside John's mention of a "river of human blood 'to the height of a horse's bridle' for a distance of two hundred miles" by concluding, "It appears that St. John's figures are poorly arrived at. But perhaps that is one of the properties of a miracle."

A miracle? Theologically, eschatologically, and exegetically, Randi completely misses the point. We are not looking at miracles in Revelation Chapters 14 and 16. We are looking at apocalyptic visions -- fantastic, grotesque, vivid, wondrous, nightmarish, hair-raising, magnified, hyperbolized sights and sounds experienced by the Apostle John on the Island of Patmos at the end of the First Century AD.

Professor Randi, it's okey-dokey to express honest doubts about miracles, but it is picayune to niggle over visions.

About James (The Amazing) Randi. James Randi is a writer, educator, historian, skeptic, magician, escape artist, investigator of paranormal boasts, debunker of occult claims, revealer of faith healers' tricks, exposer of flim-flam artists, Uri Geller's truth detector, and challenger of psychics everywhere.

The James Randi Education Foundation is offering one million dollars to anyone who can show incontrovertible evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. Since 1964, more than 1,000 people (including psychics, mediums, dowsers, astrologers, faith healers, exorcists, and hustlers) have submitted applications to claim the prize. As of November 5, 2008, no one has ever demonstrated the paranormal ability they claimed to possess. ( )
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What is wanted is not the will to believe but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite.
--Bertrand Russell
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(Foreword by Arthur C. Clarke): Let me declare my interest right away.
(Introduction): This volume is designed to provide a guide to the many subjects that are usually included in the "supernatural" category.
Abaris: Said to be the teacher of Pythagoras, Abaris was a magician of Scythia, an ancient culture on the north shore of the Black Sea.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312151195, Paperback)

James Randi, professional magician and skeptic, has put together an encyclopedia with something for everyone. Yes, no matter who you are, unless you're a thoroughgoing atheist, Randi is bound to offend your beliefs at one point or another. As Arthur C. Clarke says in his introduction, the book "should be issued with a mental health warning, as many readers--if they are brave enough to face unwelcome facts--will find some of their cherished beliefs totally demolished." Randi is dryly sarcastic about hundreds of topics, including Catholic relics, speaking in tongues, Jehovah's Witnesses, yoga, the origins of Mormonism, dowsing, magnetic hills, UFOs, and every spiritualist of the past several centuries. A typical entry defines a nymph as: "in the real world, the immature form of the dragonfly and certain other insects, or a young woman with robust sexual interests. Take your choice." Comprehensive, exasperating and exasperated, witty, and unsparing, Randi's encyclopedia provides more debunking per page than any other resource. --Mary Ellen Curtin

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:37 -0400)

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