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Daniel 4:16 (ESV) reads:

Let his mind be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s mind be given to him; and let seven periods of time pass over him.

This corresponds to the Daniel 4:13 in the MT (Aramaic):

לִבְבֵהּ מִן אנושא [אֲנָשָׁא] יְשַׁנּוֹן וּלְבַב חֵיוָה יִתְיְהִב לֵהּ וְשִׁבְעָה עִדָּנִין יַחְלְפוּן עֲלוֹהִי

Realizing that the literal meaning of the Aramaic word iddan (עדן) is not “year” but “period” or “season,” are the seven times of Nebuchadnezzar's madness to be understood as seven years?

  • Would this have been a lunar year or solar year? – Jerome Feb 28 '18 at 13:10
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The Hebrew word, iddan can simply mean “period” but it can also mean a calendar year. For example, references to “a time, times and half a time” (Daniel 7:25) is half of a 7-year Sabbatical cycle, and probably relates to a soli-lunar formula for intercalating leap-months.

Our understanding of “iddan” as a “year” is deduced from the context, so I will quote here how King Nebuchadnezzar's bout of insanity must have meant actual years.

He boasted,

“Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?” (Daniel 4:30)

When he was humbled, it lasted for seven 'times.'

“O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you! You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the sentence was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws." (Daniel 4:31-33)

The context suggests that the ‘seven times’ lasted a very long time. The description of Nebuchadnezzar's hair and claws provides a clue to the writers use of the word, “iddan.” Secondly, the term, “shall pass over you” suggests literal time units. Thirdly, is the matter of pride. How long does it take to reach humble? Such a question cannot be answered, but it should not be overlooked. Clearly the context is not speaking of a short season in this case.

Lastly, is the sickness itself. Boanthropy is a psychological disorder in which the sufferer begins to believe he is a cow or ox. It is rare and serious. When all these factors are taken together, we can fairly conclude that the text is meant to be taken at face value – 7 years.

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Surveying Wiktionary, Mickel's, and Strong's, it appears that ʿiddân (עִדָּן) can indeed be translated as 'year', though it does more broadly refer to a period of 'time'. Because only a few parts of the Hebrew Bible are written in Aramaic, we find ʿiddân used just eleven times, all in the Book of Daniel.

The Greek version of Daniel translates ʻiddân with a variety of words: καιρός (a period of time), ὅταν ('whenever'), ἅμα ('at the same time'), etc. LXX Daniel 4.16 translates ʿiddân as ἔτη, which Middle Liddell defines as simply 'a year'. So the ancient translators of Daniel plainly understood 'seven ʿiddân' to mean 'seven years'.

  • Thanks,Would this have been a lunar year or solar year? – Jerome Mar 1 '18 at 1:48
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The Barnes’ Notes on the Bible asserts: “The most natural construction of this Greek phrase would be to refer it to years. The Latin Vulgate interprets it in a similar way - et septem tempora mutentur super eum - “And let seven times be changed” or revolve “over him.” In the Codex Chisianus it is: καὶ ἐππὰ ἔτη βοσκηθῆ σὺν αὐτοῖς kai hepta etē boskēthē sun autois - “and let him feed with them seven years.” Luther renders it “times.” Josephus understands by it “seven years.” - “Ant.” b. x. ch. 10: Section 6. While the Chaldee word is indeterminate in respect to the length of time, the most natural and obvious construction here and elsewhere, in the use of the word, is to refer it to years. Days or weeks would be obviously too short, and though in this place the word “months” would perhaps embrace all that would be necessary, yet in the other places where the word occurs in Daniel it undoubtedly refers to years, and there is, therefore, a propriety in understanding it in the same manner here.

Like Barnes said, Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, X:X:6) considers these ‘seven times’ as ‘seven years.’ Theodotion of Pontus (2nd century), between the years 180 and 182 C.E., translated the expression as “seven years” (heptà étē). Similarly, other Jewish commentators did. Between the modern translations which render ‘years’ we have: The New American Bible : “Till seven years pass over him [you].” (Daniel 4:13, 20, 22, 29) A New Translation, by James Moffatt. The Complete Bible—An American Translation read “seven years.” Good News Bible (1976). The New Jerusalem Bible, on the note at the verse: “Here the ‘times’, or indeterminate periods’ are probably ‘years’”. (In the same manner does, the translation La Bibbia - Civiltà Cattolica, Piemme, 1983, an Italian Catholic Bible)

Moreover, I’ve found an interesting citation about the Nebuchadrezzar’s disease period. A fragment of tablet - B[ritish] M[useum] 34113 (sp 123), published by Albert Kirk Grayson [in his text Babylonian Historical-Literary Texts (“Toronto Semitic Texts and Studies”, no. 3; Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1975, pp. 87-92)] partly says:

2 [Nebu]chadnezzar considered

3 his life appeared of no value to [him]

[…]

11 He does not show love to son and daughter […]

12 […] family and clan do not exist […]

[…]

14 His attention was not directed towards promoting the welfare of Esagil [and Babylon].

Granted, this isn't a decisive proof, but seems to me this monarch had in a life period of him - really - a very weird behaviour...

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Here are quotes from my book: Also, we should not neglect the phrase "seven times". (verses 16, 23, 25, 32) In Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus interprets this phrase as seven years, and long before it, when the holy Jewish scriptures were translated into Greek, the Aramaic word for time ( עדּן ) is translated as year. However, it is not evidence that in Bible times and years are the same thing. Daniel himself in many places outside of the fourth chapter, uses the word time. Let's look at Daniel 3: 5: " that at the time that YOU hear the sound of the horn, the pipe, the zither, the triangular harp, the stringed instrument, the bagpipe and all sorts of musical instruments, YOU fall down and worship the image of gold that Neb·u·chad·nez′zar the king has set up. " The word that is translated as "time" is עדּן. Would translation might read: "in the year that you hear ..." I do not know that any normal translator did something similar! Scholars know that "time" can mean season, and that's why some suggest that Nebuchadnezzar madness lasted about two years[3]. For me, it is significant that (one) "time" may include a period of several years, as can be seen from Daniel 8: 13-19[4]. He who believes that seven times meant only seven years, should ask himself why the holy spirit did not encourage Daniel to write it? Why nowhere in the Bible we can find a single occasion where it says that Nebuchadnezzar was mad for or spent seven years in the company of wild animals? When indicates that period, Jehovah's word mentions times and days, and nothing more! I am convinced that behind this is message acknowledging that seven times and seven years do not have exactly the same meaning. We should not forget Paul's warning: "Do not go beyond the things that are written". (1 Cor 4: 6) If all wise God did not put an equal sign, why should I put it? When Joseph (not Flavius, but ​​son of patriarch Jacob) once spoke to Pharaoh's cupbearer and baker, he said: " Do not interpretations belong to God? " (Genesis 40: 8) If the meaning of a verse is unclear, Jehovah will clarify it elsewhere in his writings. We can increase the knowledge of God, our neighbor and ourselves, when we hold firmly to this rule. (Daniel 12: 4)

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