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Coronavirus ‘Postdictions’

By COVIDMarch, 2020January 18th, 20244 min read

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Crazy times, and for some the global turmoil evokes a sense the pre-messianic era. Combine this with the memes flying across our screens and phones faster than any virus could actually spread and you end up with a very dangerous combination.

This morning on my phone was a post based on a quote from Isaiah (26.20): “Go, my people, enter your chambers, And lock your doors behind you. Hide but a little moment, Until the indignation passes” with an explanation quoted from the medieval French commentator Ralbag that interpreted this and included (alleged) references to China, Iran, the similarity between the words “corona” and “crown”, and other current events, such as the bizarre political situation in Israel.

It was enough to pique my interest, so I started digging. The verse was correct, but some of the linkages made in the comment are very tenuous. The Ralbag has commentary on Chumash and some of the Prophets, but he does not have one on the book of Isaiah. This may have come from one of his philosophical works, but no such detail was in the post.

Statements like this are postdictions: predictions or prophesies that have many possible interpretations, and are reinterpreted in the context of current world events to mean – really – whatever we want. We see them in times of turmoil, as people try to make sense of what is going on around them.

In addition to (and worse than) postdictions, Rabbis and other religious leaders suggest that various catastrophic events are divine retribution for a specific sin (and sadly, that has happened with Coronavirus as well). Unless those leaders know what God thinks (having seemingly forgotten that other classic from Isaiah 55.8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts”), we should give them no credence at all. According to reputable Jewish theological sources, times of great troubles should be a time for personal introspection. The word “personal” is important here. It’s not for any mortal to tell us why God does what He does.

Postdictions are easy to spot: they are light on attribution of all their sources, they purport to come from people with great authority, they make very tenuous links and claims, they include some things that makes sense and some that are outrageous, and many conclude with the mandatory “share this with all your friends”. Funnily enough, that description applies to so much of what we see on our democratised social media. You might also use the term “fake news” (though I would not because they typically stem from ignorance rather than from malicious intent).

There are two healthy responses: ignore, or question/check. With the entirely of world knowledge in each of our pockets, it only takes minutes to verify statement sources. Always add a healthy serve of common sense, as the adage states “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is (not true)”.

Postdictions and other such statements play with our emotions, which are already fragile enough in times of crisis. Especially now, it’s important to be vigilant and not let them spread.

PS If this does all turn out to be pre-messianic, I take everything in this article back.

This was also posted at [Times of Israel].

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