Some of you may have seen GG33 (‘Gary the Numbers Guy’) on your timeline recently. He’s a numerologist that claims to be able to predict the future based on numbers (such as one’s birthdate). In the clip below, he explains what drew him to numerology:
While I disagree with his conclusions, GG33 is right that specific dates have been selected for their historical significance — but only when the decision is between an arbitrary date and a historically significant one.
Hans Blumenberg discusses this phenomenon in his unpublished chapter on prefiguration (from the word ‘prefigure’, which means to imagine or anticipate something before it occurs).
As Eric Auerbach explains in his essay, ‘Figura’, prefiguration, or what he calls, ‘figural phenomenal prophecy’, was most commonly used in the theological study of ‘types’ (i.e. biblical typology): ‘the aim of this sort of interpretation was to show that the persons and events of the Old Testament were prefigurations of the New Testament and its history of salvation’. An example would be Moses prefiguring Christ. The former is the ‘figure’, the latter, the ‘fulfillment’. Matthew, in particular, presents Christ as a second Moses, emphasizing their similarities and thereby legitimizing Christ. As Auerbach writes, ‘figural interpretation establishes a connection between two events or persons, the first of which signifies not only itself but also the second, while the second encompasses or fulfills the first’.
In Blumenberg’s text, prefiguration is a ‘mythical form of thought’ which ‘combines a sense of ‘theological’ authority with the anthropological need for orientation in times of confusion or crisis’ (Nicholls). In the post-mythical age, however, prefiguration is primarily ‘a decision-making aid’. Blumenberg’s example is the events of the Arab-Israeli War of 1973:
the decision made by the Egyptian and Syrian armies to invade Israel on October 6, the tenth day of Ramadan, was ‘prefigured’ by the fact that the Prophet Mohammed had also begun his preparations for the Battle of Badr in 623 on the same day: the tenth day of the month of fasting
Tough decisions are thus ‘predecided by the paradigm’. More often than not, however, prefiguration works retroactively. Instead of prophecy then fulfillment, an event is turned into a ‘fulfillment’ by finding a prophetic prefiguration in the past.
GG33 sees these decisions being made and assumes it is because the dates themselves are significant, when it is really the connection between two events (as figure and fulfillment).