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Introduction

The accepted date of authorship by critical scholars for the visions in Daniel (7-12) is the second century BC (Maccabean revolt 167-3 BC). The reasoning goes that the predictions in chapter 11 regarding the Maccabean revolt are too accurate to be merely coincidental. So, they postulate that the author of Daniel lived during these turbulent times and witnessed the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes and so wrote these "prophecies" (prophecies that were written after the fact) to bolster credibility and then added his own predictions of the end of the Seleucid empire so that people would believe that the end of times is near and that soon the persecution would be over.

The Apocalypse of the Weeks

In line with this reasoning, scholars believe that the Apocalypse of the Weeks in Daniel 9 was written by this anonymous author to reassure his fellow brothers that the end of Gentile sovereignty is near. They believe that the author of Daniel believes himself to stand in the last week (7 years) of the 70 weeks (Sabbatical cycles) or 490 year prophecy, after which the suffering of the Jews is supposed to end according to the author himself, see 9:24-27; 12:9-13. The idea is that since the prophecies up to the time of the author were all fulfilled (since they were after the fact), this will lend credibility to the author's genuine prophecy of the "end of times", which is not too far in the future (less than seven years away). In other words, bible critics believe that the real time of the author is the last week of the 70 week prophecy, which according to them coincides with the period of the Maccabean revolt.

This is how the leading scholar in apocalyptic texts, John J. Collins, explains Daniel 9 in his book The Apocolyptic Imagination, p. 109,

The first seven weeks represent the period “from the going forth of the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (at the time of Daniel’s prayer, 9:23) to the coming of an anointed one, a prince (either Zerubbabel or, more probably, Joshua, the first postexilic high priest). Then sixty-two weeks pass virtually without comment. The focus of the prophecy is on the last week, the real time of the author. This is marked by the murder of an anointed one (Onias III, see Macc 4:34) and the profanation of the temple… His main concern is not in speculating on the future but in providing an assurance that the predetermined period of Gentile sovereignty is coming to an end.

The problem with the calculation of the 490 year prophecy

However I find this theory troubling as it doesn’t seem to meet the quota of 490 years as prophesized by Daniel 9 (the calculation seems to be exact, if it isn’t then there is no point in identifying the prince and the time of the profanation of the temple as Collins and others do). The author of Daniel is pretty clear that we are to begin to reckon the 490 years (most critical scholars agree that the author intended a calculation of 490 years or 70 weeks of years) from the time of Cyrus’ edict which is usually dated to around 538 BC, subtract from it 490 years and you will get a date around 50 BC as the “end of times” prophesized by Daniel; this date is well beyond the Maccabean period, and actually coincides with the beginning period of Roman rule! Since the terminus ad quem for the book of Daniel can be no later than 125 BC (evidence from Qumran scrolls), then biblical scholars should be forced to admit that the prophecies in Daniel (at least chapter 9) are genuine and not written after the facts.

In other words, how can critical scholars support their position from Daniel 9 when in fact the text points in the opposite direction and clearly contradicts the idea that the last week of the 490-year prophecy is the real time of the author?

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  • 1
    I am similarly mystified by claims of the "Higher Critical" scholarship set. The earliest you could begin the calculation is the arrival of Cyrus in 539 BC which would put the beginning of the 70th week at 56 BC - well beyond the time of Judas Maccabaeus.
    – user25930
    Jan 22, 2019 at 2:46
  • I can't post an answer because I do not know of a critical scholar who pays attention to the context of Daniel 9 and fits what Gabriel says into that context. In Daniel 9:2, Daniel begins reading the word that Jeremiah wrote. In verse 25, Gabriel tells Daniel that there will be 7 sevens between "the going forth of the word" to "anointed prince". Read Jeremiah 25:8-11 and Isaiah 45:1 - Jeremiah's word was about the 70-year destruction of Jerusalem and Cyrus was anointed. From the destruction of Jerusalem (going forth of the word, 585 BC) to Cyrus (the anointed prince, 536 BC) is 49 years.
    – colboynik
    Jan 22, 2019 at 12:30
  • See this answer to another question.
    – colboynik
    Jan 22, 2019 at 12:32
  • @Jack how do you interpret the "going forth of the word to restore" as the year 587 BC the date of the destruction of the temple and the opposite of its restoration?
    – bach
    Jan 22, 2019 at 14:58
  • 1
    @Keelan I was actually struggling with that. I edited it now as per your suggestion.
    – bach
    Jan 22, 2019 at 19:16

4 Answers 4

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A good overview of arguments in favour and against both a 6th-century and a 2nd-century date is provided by Wenham, 1977, "Daniel: The Basic Issues", Themelios 2(2), 49–52. He indeed lists the issue of 490 weeks as the third issue with a 2nd-century date, along with two possible solutions:

  • A Messianic interpretation suggesting that it points to Jesus' crucifixion
  • 490 As a symbolic number

It is impossible to squeeze in 490 years between the decree of Cyrus (538 BC) and the Maccabean period, c. 170 BC. Messianic interpreters argue that if the decree of Artaxerxes in Ezra 7 (458 BC) is the starting point, this prophecy gives a fairly accurate date for Christ’s crucifixion c. AD 32. But more probably 490 is a symbolic number, equal to ten jubilees (Lv. 25).

Another solution is given by Athas, 2009, "In Search of the Seventy 'Weeks' of Daniel 9", Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 9(2). He argues that the 70 weeks need not be contiguous and successive. The 62+1 weeks are linked by וְאַחֲרֵי and must thus be considered successive, but the 7 weeks are followed by the waw in וְשָׁבֻעִים, which does not suggest successiveness as וְאַחֲרֵי does. (This does not violate the mention of 70 weeks in v. 24, because the prophecy still concerns 70 weeks in total — they are just not successive.) Athas therefore proposes to read v. 25 as (pp. 14–15):

(9:25a) Know and understand from the issuing of the word to return and rebuild Jerusalem:
(9:25b) Until an anointed leader there will be seven ‘weeks’.
(9:25c) In sixty-two ‘weeks’ you will have returned with street and conduit rebuilt, but with the anguish of the times.

This reading also has literary advantages (chiastic structure, parallelism, etc.), which Athas gives on pp. 15–16.

The seven weeks then refer to the 49-year period without anointed leadership during the Babylonian exile (p. 16):

Candidates for the anointed leader, therefore, are Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel, and Joshua ben-Jozadaq. With the rise of the anointed leader in 538 BCE, the beginning of the seven ‘weeks’ can be placed forty-nine years earlier at 587 BCE. This is notable as the year that the Babylonians destroyed the Jerusalem temple and that Judah lost its statehood. This seven ‘week’ period, therefore, represents the forty-nine-year hiatus in anointed leadership (Davidic and/or priestly) within Jerusalem.

The 62 weeks are taken from the date of the prophecy (605 BCE; Dan. 1:1) leading to the year 171, the last week to 164. This aligns well with events during the Maccabean revolt. That the calculations seem a bit forced can be attributed to the fact that "the author of Daniel is constrained by both the 70-year schema of Jeremiah and the course of actual history" (p. 16).

This image, from p. 17, clarifies Athas' interpretation:

enter image description here

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  • Thank you Keelan for summarizing the solutions. However, I'm still trying to understand how “from the going forth of the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem" would correspond to 587 BC the date of the destruction of the temple which is the opposite of restoration and rebuilding? I would think that "the issuance of the word to restore" refers to Cyrus' edict to return to Jerusalem.
    – bach
    Jan 22, 2019 at 14:43
  • I can't say that I find Athas' theory very convincing. Especially in light of the fact that Daniel is reinterpreting Jeremiah's 70 year prophecy here, which is made impossible by Athas' claim that the 70 weeks are not successive. Furthermore, he chooses two different starting points for the 62 weeks (605) and the seven weeks (587) which to me is unwarranted and wholly unsatisfactory.
    – bach
    Jan 22, 2019 at 14:54
  • @Bach I can understand that you don't find it convincing. But for critical scholars there is not much alternative; the messianic interpretation has the same problem as a 6th-century date (accurate prophecy) and 490 as a symbolic number is ad hoc. The fact that the 70 weeks are not successive I don't see as a big problem. We see similar odd actualizations of prophecies in Qumran pesharim. The commentator has to deal with a literary text and the historical reality. There is not always a neat solution. The correspondence of 587 BCE is a bigger problem in my opinion.
    – user2672
    Jan 22, 2019 at 16:18
  • @Bach The word translated into "word" (Jeremiah's word) in Daniel 9:2 is the same Hebrew word in Daniel 9:25 you are calling an edict. That is where the confusion is coming in. The "word" in Daniel 9:25 is referring to the same word in Daniel 9:2 - the word - the matter - the issue at hand - the 70-year interval Jeremiah wrote about (and Daniel read about at the beginning of Daniel 9). From the going forth - the start - of that word to "anointed prince" was 7 sevens. Daniel was not reinterpreting Jeremiah's 70 years - Gabriel was adding more detail to them and extending them.
    – colboynik
    Jan 22, 2019 at 18:05
  • @Keelan to me it seems like the basic premise accepted within the biblical-critical community that Daniel was written by an author during the Maccabean revolt is more of a dogma than an objective evaluation of the text and what the book actually says. But this is just personal opinion.
    – bach
    Jan 22, 2019 at 19:12
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I will start my answer by disagreeing with this statement in the question:

The author of Daniel is pretty clear that we are to begin to reckon the 490 years (most critical scholars agree that the author intended a calculation of 490 years or 70 weeks of years) from the time of Cyrus’ edict which is usually dated to around 538 BC,

To support my alternative exegesis, I start by noting that king Cyrus the Great is called "anointed" in the book of Isaiah:

Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: (Is 45:1)

and that the time from the destruction of Jerusalem to Cyrus' edict [1] to rebuild it is 587 - 538 = 49 years, i.e. seven weeks of years.

From this, I interpret that the decree meant in "the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem" in Dan 9:25 is the divine decree, which God issued as soon as Jerusalem was destroyed. Note that this is fully consistent with God having decreed from eternity that Jerusalem would be destroyed and later rebuilt, because it is only God's issuing of the decree to restore Jerusalem what comes after Jerusalem's destruction, not the conception of the decree in God's intellect. Because, in order for people to make sense of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, the decree has to be issued once Jerusalem has been destroyed.

According to this interpretation, the sense of the passage in Dan 9:25 is:

From the issuing [by God] of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until an anointed one, a prince arrives [to carry it out], there will be a period of seven weeks.

As for the 70th week, the "anointed one" that "will be cut off and will have nothing" is High Priest Onias III [2], whose murder in 171 BC at the behest of his second successor, the hellenizing High Priest Menelaus [3], marked the beginning of the 70th week, in the middle of which Jerusalem was taken and ravaged and the Temple desecrated by Antiochus IV Epiphanes [4], whose death in 164 BC marked the ending of that week.

So, the "prince" of v. 26, who is also spoken of in v. 27 as the one who "will confirm a covenant with many for one week" and "in the middle of that week" "will bring sacrifices and offerings to a halt", as well as the "one who destroys", is clearly Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

Of course, the problem is that, whereas the initial 7-week interval (in we understand it as stated above, from 587 to 538) corresponds to an actual interval of exactly 49 years and the final 1-week interval corresponds to an actual interval of exactly 7 years, the intermediate 62-week interval does not correspond to an actual interval of 62 x 7 = 434 years but to one of 538 - 171 = 367 years, i.e 52.5 weeks, and as a consequence, the whole 70-week interval does not correspond to an actual interval of 70 x 7 = 490 years but to one of 587 - 164 = 423 years, ie. 60.5 weeks. So why did the author of Dan ch. 9 speak of 70 weeks instead of 60 weeks?

I have developed a hypothesis to explain this discrepancy between the symbolical and actual intervals, whose basis is this statement at the beginning of the chapter:

In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years, which came by the word of YHWH through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish in the desolations of Jerusalem: seventy years. (Dan 9:2) [5]

Two things are quite clear from this passage:

  1. By stating "I understood by the books the number of the years", the author is meaning far more than just "I read in the books the number of the years".

  2. The number of the years that the LORD "would accomplish in the desolations of Jerusalem" are not necessarily the number of years that those desolations would actually last.

The relevant passages in the book of Jeremiah are:

And this whole land will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years. (Jer 25:11)

These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem. [...] “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. (Jer 29:1-2,10)

My hypothesis is that what the author of Daniel ch. 9 meant when he wrote that he had "understood [...] the number of the years" is that he had become aware of the difference between

  • the number of (mystical) years that the LORD would accomplish in the desolations of Jerusalem, which were 70 years, and

  • the number of (actual) years that those desolations would last, which, if computed from the first siege of Jerusalem and the consequent deportation of 10,000 people [6] (as was clearly the case per the mention of King Jeconiah that I emphasized in the quote) to Cyrus' edict, were 598 - 538 = 60 years [7].

Thus the author of Daniel ch. 9, being aware that prophet Jeremiah had assigned a mystical duration of 70 years to an actual interval of 60 years, followed suit and assigned a mystical duration of 70 weeks of years to an actual interval of 60 weeks of years.

References

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrus%27s_edict

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onias_III

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menelaus_(High_Priest)

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiochus_IV_Epiphanes

[5] https://biblehub.com/text/daniel/9-2.htm

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Jerusalem_(597_BC)

[7] From 2 Kings 24:13 and 25:8, plus Eze 33:21, it is clear that we must adopt either (598, 587) or (597, 586) for the BC years of the first and second falls of Jerusalem, respectively. I adopt the first option.

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  • Gabriel/Daniel mark out 62 sevens in verse 25. They even reiterate 62 sevens in verse 26 when they say an anointed is cut off at the end of that period. This answer ignores that specific detail of 62 sevens and replaces that specific detail with speculation about other numbers that are not even recorded, so I downvoted. Also - correct me if I misunderstand - does this answer imply Antiochus is the anointed in verse 26?
    – colboynik
    May 4, 2019 at 2:32
  • The answer says: As for the 70th week, the "anointed one" that "will be cut off and will have nothing" is High Priest Onias III.
    – Johannes
    May 12, 2019 at 2:15
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The 490-year prophecy begins in 457 BC. This is the time when Artaxerxes issues his command. The date of 457 BC confirms this starting point since it is also the end of the 3rd Great Jubilee Cycle ( which becomes the start of the final 4th Great Jubilee Cycle. This final cycle is from 457 BC to 33/34AD.

It also serves as the start date for the “Chazon” vision revealed in Daniel chapter 8.

The 70 weeks of years prophecy has nothing to do with the period after Alexander or the end times.

It is a Messianic prophecy that reveals God’s plan of restoration for the Jews and mankind.

This prophecy will reveal those physical things that must be restored after the Jews return to Jerusalem. It also includes those things such as the Sabbatical cycles, the seven feast days, the sacrificial services, etc., that must also be fully restored before the arrival of the Messiah on the first day of the 70th week of the prophecy. Everything must be restored before His arrival of all the things that were taken away or destroyed by the Babylonians. The only piece of furniture to be restored is the Ark of the Covenant, which was the very first piece taken away by Jeremiah in 606 BC. It will also be the last piece restored in 30 AD when the Messiah is baptized in the Jordan. This begins the start of the final week of the prophecy, the start of His ministry, the start of the final week which was specifically carved out by God for the Messiah to fulfill His 6 requirements found in 9:24.

Despite being “cut off” in the middle of the week (the final seven years of the prophecy), Jesus would complete all six of His God-given elements (His part in the restoration).

The 70 weeks of years prophecy has been completed with one and only one exception.

  1. First, the Jews fulfilled all of their obligations to restore the city, the Temple, the walls and streets, etc. (all the physical things). They also completed or reinstated all the Levitical ceremonies and practices including the 7 feast days, the Sabbatical cycles, etc. Everything was completed before the arrival of the Ark (Messiah).

  2. Jesus would arrive on day one of the 70th week, fulfilling His responsibility of symbolically restoring the Ark.

  3. There are only two remaining events or actions to complete this prophecy. a) Jesus would have to fulfill His six requirements during this last set aside week, and b) The Jews would have to accept Jesus as their Messiah.

  4. Jesus would fulfill all six requirements before He was crucified.

  5. Because the Jews rejected their Messiah, this will stop the counting of the 4th and Great Jubilee Cycle. They would be not standing with their God. Thus, the 490-year 4th Great Jubilee Cycle stopped at exactly 486.5 years of the required 490 years.

  6. Therefore, the only remaining action must be accomplished by the Jews (not the Messiah).

  7. At the end of the time of the Gentiles, God will remove the blindness from the eyes of the Jews. They will recognize the “One they have pierced.” Then, they will preach the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus to the world (as Paul did), for 3.5 years and that will complete their requirement for the 490-year 4th Great Jubilee Cycle. The completion of this will bring in the Messiah.

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  • Hello, Charlie744. Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – agarza
    Dec 3, 2023 at 4:34
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Just as with their Jewish and Christian counterparts who believe the Book was Daniel was written during the Babylonian Exile, those who adopt a historical-critical approach are not of one mind concerning the calculations mentioned in the OP. They do agree that it was written around the time of the Maccabean Revolt and they tend to emphasize that the number of weeks or years in the prophecies are not meant to be taken literally or exactly. In other words, they are approximations at best. Below are three examples:

From the editors of the NABE:

The author of Daniel, living during the persecution of Antiochus, extends Jeremiah’s number to seventy weeks of years (Dn 9:24), i.e., seven times seventy years, to encompass the period of Seleucid persecution. Just as Jeremiah’s seventy years was an approximation, the four hundred and ninety years here is not to be taken literally. Similarly, the distribution of the “weeks” in the following verses indicates only relative proportions of the total figure.

The Interpreters Bible is more specific. An important interpretation here is that the anointed one who is "cut off" - thought by Christians to be Jesus - is actually the high priest of the author's own time, who was persecuted by Antiochus. It accounts from the discrepancy mentioned in the OP as a miscalculation by the author:

The end of the first group of seven weeks (49 years) brings an anointed prince. The reference is probably to Cyrus... the second group of sixty-two weeks (434 years) is inaccurately thought by the author to fit the interval between Cyrus or Joshua [the high priest] and the beginning of the final 7-year period, within which he is writing. At the start of the 70th week an anointed one , i.e. the high priest is cut off...

The Expositor's Bible goes into the greatest deal of the three mentioned here. It has the benefit of dealing directly with the question asked in the OP, although its answer (as author William Robertson Nicoll admits) is not exactly clear-cut:

As to the terminus ad quota... the prediction may point to many subsequent and analogous fulfilments; but no competent and serious reader... can have one moment’s hesitation in the conclusion that the writer is thinking mainly of the defilement of the Temple in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, and its reconsecration (in round numbers) three and a half years later by Judas Maccabaeus (December 25th, B.C. 164). It is true that from B.C. 588 to B.C. 164 only gives us four hundred and twenty-four years, instead of four hundred and ninety years. How is this to be accounted for? Ewald supposes the loss of some passage in the text which would have explained the discrepancy; and that the text is in a somewhat chaotic condition is proved by its inherent philological difficulties, and by the appearance which it assumes in the Septuagint...

Dr. Nicoll provides several other possibilities and concludes with something of a shrug.

Summary: Historical critical scholars tend to see the numbers of year in Daniel 9 as approximations. They do not necessary begin with the decree of Cyrus, but with other earlier dates such as the destruction of the Temple. They share the view that these prophecies are meant to refer to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes and shortly afterward, but they are not agreed as to how the calculations should be understood.

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