Tuesday, February 10, 2015

From the Archive: Daniel's Seventy Weeks Prophecy

 A statue of Daniel on the West Front of Salisbury Cathedral, UK.
One of the more interesting prophecies in the Old Testament is that given through an angelic visitation to Daniel in Daniel 9. At that time, Daniel was studying the words of Jeremiah concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of the Jews, and realized that the time was near that the 70 year exile was to end. Daniel wrote:
In the first year of his reign [i.e., Darius] I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.
(Footnotes and verse number omitted). He then proceeded to pray and fast that the 70 year desolation of Jerusalem would end. (See Daniel 9:3-19). In response, "about the time of the evening oblation", the angel Gabriel appeared and told Daniel the following:
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
(Daniel 9:24-27) (Footnotes and verse numbers omitted).

To understand the prophecy, it is important to note that the ancient Jews used the term translated as "week" to not only mean a period of seven days, but also a period of seven years. The "week" referred to here is a period of seven years, and, thus, the prophecy is concerned with a period of (70 x 7, or) 490 years.

However, this period is broken up. First, the prophecy describes a period "from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah" of 7 weeks (i.e., 49 years) plus 62 weeks (i.e., 434 years), for a total of 69 weeks (483 years). (It is not clear why the first 49 years is considered separate from the second 434 year period). Second, at the end of the second period (i.e., at the end of the 69th week), the "Messiah [shall] be cut off" (i.e., executed). Finally, there is the last week (7 years) in which there shall be a covenant between "the prince that shall come" for that one week, but which covenant will be broken "in the midst of the week."

The most comprehensive study of the meaning of this prophecy is in The Coming Prince by Sir Robert Anderson. (For those with Kindles, I would note that the Kindle edition is only 99 cents). Anderson recognized that the "year" referred to in the prophecy was a "Levitical" year (or lunar year) of 360 days. Thus, the first 69 weeks until the Savior was executed would be 173,880 days. Anderson determined that the decree issued by Artaxerxes allowing the rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls was on March 14, 445 B.C. According to Anderson's research, Christ's crucifixion was on April 6, 32 A.D. Per Anderson's research, there is exactly 173,880 days between the two dates.

So why hasn't this interpretation been more widely adopted? It is, after all, an incredible prediction, and should be proof of the validity of the scriptures.

First, and foremost, I would put it down to a lack of faith. Even among people that profess to be Christian, there is a strange reluctance to admit the validity of prophecy or that it will be literally fulfilled.  (Turn to almost any article in Time or Newsweek about Christ and whether he was a real person, and you will find many examples of people who profess to be students of Christ, but whose hearts are far from him).

Second, there is a possibility of a discrepancy in Anderson's calculations, which is seized on to dismiss his theory. My copy of Anderson's book indicates:
Based on a subsequent work of Harold W. Hoehner, "Daniel's Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology" -- Bibliothca Sacra, Jan.-Mar. 1975, a discrepancy of ten days was found in the chronology with respect to the beginning of the 70th week [actually, they mean the end of the 69th week].
Assuming that Hoehner is correct, does it really invalidate Anderson's theory? Not really. As anyone that works with data knows, the data you get out is only as good as what you put in. This shows up in the concept of significant digits. The prophecy itself actually only concerns itself with years, not days. While it is necessary to know that you are only dealing with 360 day years, and you may have to calculate out the number of days, and take account of leap years, etc., to translate the period into our reckoning, in the end the prophecy only directs you to a particular year. A ten day discrepancy is not significant.

In the Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, it notes in reference to Isaiah 20:2 (where Isaiah is commended to walk stripped and barefoot for three years) that "[t]he period of three years need not be exactly thirty-six months, because in oriental fashion, any portion of a year is considered a year." (Location 17879). In the same vein, the 483 years in the prophecy need not be exactly 173,880 days. (We do the same thing--e.g., if I told you I was 30 years old, you would not assume that I was exactly 10,950 days old (plus whatever would accrue due to leap years)).

Like most prophecies, there are many levels of meaning to be explored. For instance, the identity of the prince of the people that will come to destroy the sanctuary is apparently a reference to the Anti-Christ's breaking of a treaty with Israel in the midst of the 7 year tribulation period. The city and sanctuary (i.e., temple) were destroyed in 70 A.D. by Roman legions. However, the legions themselves were actually drawn from what is modern-day Turkey. So, is the coming prince "Roman" or Turkish? Based on Ezekiel 38, many would say "Turkish." But this is merely an example of the many layers to what is a very short prophecy.

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