A Jewish scholar clarifies the main terms
Damien F. Mackey
“And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing.
And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.
Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed”.
Daniel’s famous prophecy of the Seventy Weeks “has been”, according to J. Paul Tanner, “one of the most notorious interpretive problem passages in Old Testament studies” (“IS DANIEL’S SEVENTY-WEEKS PROPHECY MESSIANIC?”).
Many see this prophecy as referring to Jesus Christ the Messiah, his Death and Resurrection, and thereby regard it as a most important piece of chronology for dating the era of Jesus Christ, based on Daniel 9:25: “… from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks …”.
That is, 434 years (for the “sixty-two weeks”).
And this is precisely how I have long regarded, and have calculated, this prophecy.
In more recent times though, however, I have come to reject the notion that the prophet Daniel’s periods of “Weeks” are meant to be taken as chronological projections well into the future. And, with this, has inevitably come about the new conclusion of mine that the “cut off” Messiah can by no means be a reference to Jesus Christ himself.
On the contrary, the person to whom I believe Daniel’s prophecy is here pointing was actually a most wicked biblical character who was, in the end – and as according to this prophecy – left with “nothing” (with no descendants).
Not least of my reasons for rejecting that there could have been approximately 500 years (Daniel’s “Seventy Weeks”) between the era of Daniel and that of Jesus Christ is the fact that:
Medo-Persian History [is] Archaeologically Light. Part One: Introductory
For more, read this multi-part series.
In my related article:
Persian History has no adequate Archaeology
I began with the following quotation: “The very existence of a Median empire, with the emphasis on empire, is thus questionable” (H. Sancisi-Weerdenburg, “Was there ever a Median Empire?”). Although there was a Medo-Persian empire, it was far briefer, with far fewer kings, than according to the textbook estimates.
Scholars down through the centuries have not been unanimous in their interpretations of the meaning of the Daniel 9 text.
Whilst many have regarded it as being Messianic (with reference to Jesus Christ), others have not. And even the Church Fathers, who generally tended to relate it to Jesus Christ, were by no means unanimous in their explanations of the various details of the prophecy.
This is apparent from J. Paul Tanner’s introduction to the subject:
THE SEVENTY-WEEKS PROPHECY IN DANIEL 9:24–27 has been one of the most notorious interpretive problem passages in Old Testament studies. As Montgomery put it, “The history of the exegesis of the 70 Weeks is the Dismal Swamp of O.T. criticism.” 1 Early church fathers commonly embraced a messianic interpretation of the passage and sought to prove a chronological computation for the time of Messiah’s coming based on this prophecy. This approach has been favored by many conservatives—both premillennial and amillennial—down through the centuries. Advocates of the messianic view differ over the details of interpretation (e.g., the number of times Messiah is referred to in the passage, the termini of the calculations, or how the final seventieth week relates to the first sixty-nine), but they agree that this passage is one of the most astounding references to the Lord Jesus Christ and the time of His first advent.
On the other hand some writers see no reference to Messiah in this passage. This includes most critical scholars, who typically favor a Maccabean fulfillment (i.e., in the second century B.C.), and Jewish exegetes, who—although differing about various details—tend to see the fulfillment of this passage with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 and/or its aftermath. ….
[End of quote]
I have noted in past articles (particularly relating to early Genesis) how a superficial reading of a given biblical text, without one’s really coming to grips with the proper meaning of the Hebrew words or with the intentions of the ancient scribe(s), can lead to weird and wonderful interpretations of the Bible that such interpreters will then insist is the infallible Word of God. A classic case in point is the great Noachic Flood, which has become, in the hands of sincere Fundamentalists, or ‘Creationists’, a global Flood complete with a Queen Mary sized ship, that I think would have been a complete surprise to Noah and his family.
And the same situation has occurred, I believe, with Daniel 9, which has had all of its Jewish meaning emptied out of it, thereby ‘enabling’ for a marvellous long-range Messianic prophecy, culminating in Jesus Christ himself.
And, in the process, the historical chronology of the ancient world has been totally mangled.
Thankfully, there is a Jewish scholar at hand to clarify certain meanings.
I refer to Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz’s (“Daniel 9 – A True Biblical Interpretation. A brief explanation of Daniel Chapter 9”):
in which article I find some important lessons pertaining to the Hebrew words – though I would not accept the Rabbi’s conventionally-based chronology and dates.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz writes:
The book of Daniel is filled with Messianic illusions and calculations that even left Daniel pondering their meanings. …. Is there something about the Jewish Messiah?
Daniel Chapter 9
The ninth chapter has been of particular interest to both Jews and Christians. The message of a merciful God communicated in verse 18, “for not because of our righteousness do we pour out supplications before You, but because of Your great compassion.” has been a foundation of a Jews personal and spiritual relationship with God. Christians, on the other hand, tend to focus on verses 24 -26. The following is the Christian translation of those verses:
24) Seventy weeks are determined upon your people and upon your 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.
25)Know therefore and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again with plaza and moat but in troubled times.
26) Then after sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off but not for himself and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.”
Many Christians assert that these passages are a prophecy that predicts the exact dates that the Messiah will come and also die. They believe that Jesus fulfilled these predictions. Before examining these verses it is important to point out that: 1) Based on the Hebrew original and context, Jews have very valid reasons for rejecting the Christian interpretation and 2) the New Testament authors never quote these passages and calculations as a proof-text.
To understand this chapter, we must begin with an explanation of the term “weeks.”
Daniel chapter 9 uses the Hebrew word (שבעים ~ Shavuim) to represents a period of time multiplied by seven. For various reasons this word is translated as “weeks” and means a multiple of seven years rather than a multiple of seven days.
- a) We see a similar use in the verse, “You shall count~ שבע שבתת השנים) seven Shabbaths of years), seven years seven times… forty-nine years.” Leviticus 25:8
b) A Shabbath is a period of seven days and shares the same Hebrew root for the word (שבועה~Shavuah) that means “week”.
- c) Normally the plural of week would be (שבעות ~ Shavuot) in Daniel it uses the masculine “ים” ending for ( שבעים~ Shavuim) similar to (years ~ שנים) This indicates that (שבעים~ Shavuim) is referring to a multiple of seven years
d) Both Jews and Christian agree that this is referring to a multiple of years.
Therefore in Daniel chapter 9, each week is a period of seven years.
Christian polemicists interpret these passages in the following way. These passages are being spoken by Daniel after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the evil Babylonian empire. At some point after the destruction, there will be a “decree” issued to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. Starting from the issuing of that decree, 7 and 62 weeks totaling 69 weeks of years (483 years), will pass and then the Messiah will come and in that same seven year period “week” he will be cut off, but not for himself, but for the sins of mankind. Then the city and sanctuary will be destroyed. Christian assert that their calculation proves that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy to the exact day.
After the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, any Jews that survived the Babylonian slaughter were exiled from their land. Daniel, for example, lived in Babylon. Eventually, the Babylonians were conquered by the Persian Empire. Christians claim that the decree mentioned in Daniel 9:25 was issued by the Persian King Artaxerxes in the year 444 BCE, based on Nehemiah 2:1-8. These passages speak about the king giving Nehemiah “letters” (אגרות ~ Iggrot) for safe passage and permission to rebuild the Temple.
The building of Jerusalem was started and halted several times, and there are three additional decrees mentioned earlier in the Bible.
1) In Ezra 1:1-4, King Cyrus issues a proclamation (קול ~ Kol) and writings (מכתב ~ Michtav) granting the Jews permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.
2) Ezra 6:12-13, King Darius issues a decree (טעם ~Taam) granting permission to rebuilt the Temple.
3) Ezra 7:11-16, Artaxerxex, issues a decree (טעם ~Taam) granting permission to rebuilt the Temple. (Artaxerxex is a Persian title of royalty and can refer to different leaders. This is similar to the way Pharaoh is the title of rulers of Egypt)
We will see latter that it is significant that in these verses there are four different words used to describe these proclamations, and none of them match the Hebrew word used in Daniel 9 which is (דבר ~ Devar) that means “word.”
With four different proclamations, there is no historical justification to choose the one mentioned in Nehemiah 2 and there is no reliable source stating that it occurred exactly in 444 BCE. It seems that Christians picked this passage out of convenience and assigned it this specific date, because if you start at 444 BCE and count 69 weeks of years (483 years) you reach 39 CE. Whatever their reason for choosing Nehemiah’s reference and attributing it as having occurred in 444 BCE it is still seven years off from the year 32 CE when Jesus supposedly died.
This seven-year discrepancy is resolved by Christian theologians who redefined the definition of a “year.” They claim that prophecies like Daniel’s are to be understood in “Prophetic years” that have 360 days rather than 365 ¼ days. The argument that Daniel might be speaking to Babylonians who may have had a 360 year is unsubstantiated and refuted by the fact that this particular passage is spoken in Hebrew to Jews who had a different calendar then and Babylonians who spoke Aramaic.
Prophetic Year vs Solar Year
One Christian attempt to prove this concept of Prophetic years is from the New Testament: “They will tread underfoot the holy city for 42 months, and they will prophesy for 1260 days.” Revelations 11:2-3
By dividing 1260 (days) by 42 (months) you get 30 days per month, they claim that each month is 30 days and a Prophetic Biblical year would therefore be being 360 days (30×12=360). An additional proof-text utilizes the events surrounding the flood. The following verses are quoted to show how biblical months were periods of 30 days,
“the water prevailed upon the earth 150 days” Gen 7:24 and
the flood started on,
“the 17th day of the second month” Gen 7:11, and ended on,
“the 17th day of the seventh month.” Gen 8:4.
They argue that by taking this exact five month period and dividing it into the 150 days, you will see that there must be five months of 30 days each and therefore a year would be 360 days. The Christian argument continues that the difference between a solar year of 365 ¼ days and the so-called prophetic year of 360 days is what caused the seven-year discrepancy in their interpretation of Daniel 9, and the resolution of the problem is accomplished by converting the time period from “biblical” years to solar years.
They argue that that by multiplying 360 days by 483 years (69 weeks of years) you get 173,880 prophetic days. To convert this to solar years, you divide the 173,880 days by 365 1/4 (days), and you will get 476 years.
444 BCE plus 476 years will give you the year 32 CE, which they claim is the year that Jesus not only made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Messiah’s arrival) but was also crucified (cut off ).
Before explaining why this line of reasoning is absolutely false and a simply an act of desperation to resolve their 7 year miscalculation, we must explore the correct meaning of Daniel 9 and the concept of a Jewish calendar year.
Translating Daniel Correctly
It is essential to a correct understanding of Daniel 9, to point out that it is incorrect to read this passage as if it were speaking about the Messiah. This may appear obvious to Christians since their translations has the word “Messiah” mentioned twice in this chapter; however this is the result of a blatant and intentional mistranslation of the Hebrew word (משיח ~ Moshiach”).
This word literally means “anointed” and is an adjective as in the 1 Samuel 10:1-2 where the word clearly means an act of consecration. It is not a personal pronoun that refers to a particular individual called “The Messiah.” The word (משיח ~ Moshiach”) is used throughout Jewish Scriptures no less than 100 times and refers to a variety of individuals and objects. For example:
Priests: Leviticus 4:3
Kings: 1 Kings 1:39
Prophets: Isaiah 61:1
Temple Alter: Exodus 40:9-11
Matzot ~ Unleavened Bread: Numbers 6:15
Cyrus ~ a non-Jewish Persian King: Isaiah 45:1
Even in Christian translations, the word Moshiach is translated 99% of the time as “anointed.” The only exception is twice in Daniel 9 verses 25 and 26. This inconsistency is even more blatant since Christian translators translate the word (משיח ~ Moshiach) as “anointed” one verse earlier when it is used in Daniel 9:24. In this instance, it is referring to anointing the innermost chamber of the Holy Temple known as the “Holy of Holies,” (קדשים קדש ~ Kodesh Kedoshim). It is incorrect to translate this, as some missionaries do, to mean the “most holy one” in an attempt to have this refer to the Messiah rather than a place.
Therefore, in Daniel, the passages should be correctly translated as:
Daniel 9:24 “Until an anointed prince” and not as “Until Messiah he prince.”
Daniel 9:25 “an anointed one will be cut off” and not as “the Messiah will be cut off.”
Additionally, in verse 25 there is no definite article (Hey ~ ה) before the word (משיח ~ Moshiach), and it is incorrect to translate this as “the Messiah” or “the anointed one” as if it were speaking about one exclusive individual. When translating correctly as an “anointed individual,7” the passages could be referring any one of a number of different individuals or objects that were anointed and not necessarily “the Messiah.”
A careful examination of Daniel 9 will lead to a clear understand of exactly to whom and what this chapter is referring. An additional mistake made by Christians is the translation of 7 and 62 weeks as one undivided unity of 69 weeks. The Christian version makes it sound as if the arrival and “cutting off” of the “Messiah” will take place sixty-nine weeks (483 years) after a decree to restore Jerusalem. They add the 7 and 62 weeks together and have one person (the Messiah) and two events occurring towards the end of the 69th week.
Actually, according to the Hebrew the 7 and 62 weeks are two separate and distinct periods. One event happens after seven weeks and another event after an additional 62 weeks. Simply put, if you wanted to say 69 in Hebrew you would say “sixty and nine.” You would not say “seven and sixty two.”
Furthermore, in Daniel it is written “7 weeks and 62 weeks rather than “7 and 62 weeks.” The use of the word “weeks” after each number also shows that they are separate events. The use of the definite article (ה ~ Hey) that means “the” in verse 26, “and after the 62 weeks shall an anointed one be cut off,” is sometimes deleted in Christian translations, but it’s presence in the Hebrew original clearly indicates that the 62 weeks is to be treated as separate period of time from the original 7 weeks.
The correct translation should be: “until an anointed prince shall be 7 weeks (49 years),” “then for 62 weeks (434 years) it (Jerusalem) will be built again but in troubled times.” Then after (those) the 62 weeks shall an anointed one will be cut off.” Daniel 9:24-25
Two separate events and anointed ones, 62 weeks (434 years) apart.
Christians also incorrectly translated the Hebrew (V’ayn Lo ~ לו ואין), at the end of Daniel 9:26. They translate it that he will be cut off “but not for himself,” as if it refers to someone being cut off not for himself but cut off for us and indicating a form of vicarious attainment. However the Hebrew original means “and he will be no more” literally “and no more of him” and indicates the finality of his demise. Interestingly the Hebrew word (kares ~ כרת) translated as “cut off” biblically refers to someone who has sinned so grievously that they are put to death by heavenly decree as a divine punishment for their own transgressions.
Mackey’s comment: As I wrote above, “… the person to whom I believe Daniel’s prophecy is here pointing was actually a most wicked biblical character who was, in the end – and as according to this prophecy – left with “nothing” (with no descendants)”.
The Rabbi continues:
An awareness of these eight mistranslations is essential to understanding the ninth chapter of Daniel. To recap:
- (קדשים קדש) mean “holy of holies” not the “most holy one”
- (דבר ~ Devar) that means “word” not decree.
- (משיח ~ Moshiach”) means “anointed” not “Messiah” verse 23
- (משיח ~ Moshiach”) means “anointed” not “Messiah” verse 24
- “seven weeks and sixty-two ” means two events one at 7 weeks and the other
62 weeks later not one event after a cumulative 69 weeks
- (Hey ~ ה) mean “the”
- (V’ayn Lo ~ לו ואין) mean “will be no more” not “not for himself”
- (kares ~ כרת) means death to a transgressor the cuts off their relationship to God.
Jewish Calendar Years
In addition to … these eight mistranslations Christians, as mentioned above, manipulate their calculation of the 69 weeks in Daniel 9 in an attempt to have them coincide with the arrival and death of Jesus in Jerusalem.
Christians based their understand with a belief that the starting point of the prophesy begins in 444 BCE with the decree issued by King Artaxerxex (Ezra 7:ll-16). Sixty–nine weeks (483 years) would bring you to 39 CE. This is 7 years off the commonly accepted date of 32 CE being the year Jesus was put to death. As mentioned above they attempt to resolve this issue by transforming “prophetic years” into solar years. The problem is that according to Jewish tradition and scriptures there is no such thing as a prophetic year of 360 days.
Jewish scripture clearly teaches that the Jewish calendar is both Solar and Lunar. As early as Genesis 1:14, that deals with the creation of the sun and the moon, we are told that “Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years” Both luminaries are used to determine our calendar.
A solar year is 365 1/4 days and a lunar year is 11 days shorter, 354 days long. Unlike the Gentile’s year where the length of the months is set by convention rather than a relationship to the lunar calendar, a Biblical Jewish calendar must coincide with both the sun (for seasons) and the moon. When God, commanded the people of Israel to sanctify the months he established the month that the Exodus took place as the first of the months. Exodus 12:1. God also commanded to observe Passover in the springtime as is says, “Observe the month of springtime and perform the Passover for God, for in the month on springtime God took you out of Egypt.” Deut 16:1.
In other words, a biblical calendar must coincide the months with the seasons creating a Solar-Lunar calendar.
There is an eleven day difference between a solar and lunar year. If Jewish holidays were established solely by a lunar year the holidays would move further and further away from their original seasons. This happens all the time with the Muslim Lunar calendar with Ramadan falling in a variety of seasons. A biblical Solar/Lunar calendar corrects this by adding a 13 month leap year approximately every 4 years. Some years have 12 months and the leap year has 13. The fabricated “prophetic year” of 360 days could not exist because it would not allow Jewish holidays to coincide with both months and seasons.
Now we can return to the beginning of Daniel 9 and establish the correct starting point for Daniel’s prophesy. The Christian major error in establishing the starting point of Daniel prophesy is caused by their mistranslation of the verse, “know therefore and discern that from the going forth of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” Daniel 9:25
Since their translation asserts that the starting point of this prophesy is from the issuing of a certain decree to rebuild Jerusalem, they incorrectly assume that it is the decree of King Artaxerxex. However, as mentioned above, there were a number of different decrees made concerning returning and rebuilding Jerusalem.
In Daniel 9:25, the original Hebrew used the word (דבר ~ Devar) which is significantly different from a human decree. The word (דבר ~ Devar) refers to a prophetic word. In the beginning of Daniel 9 verse 2, this word is used when Daniel says that he wants to understand “the word of the Lord to the Prophet Jeremiah.”
As mentioned above, in all of the passages that mention some form of decree or proclamation concerning Jerusalem, none of them use the Hebrew word (דבר ~ Devar).
The correct translation of Daniel should be: “Know therefore and discern that from the going forth of the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” Daniel 9:25
Therefore the correct starting point of Daniel’s prophesy must be associated with the issuing of a prophetic word and not a human decree. The word (דבר ~ Devar) is used in the beginning of Daniel chapter 9. A careful reading of the beginning of this chapter clarifies the correct meaning of the reference to the “word to restore and to build Jerusalem” mentioned in Daniel 9:25.
Chapter 9 begins as follows: “I Daniel considered (or contemplated) in the books the number of the years which the word (דבר ~ Devar) of G-d came to Jeremiah the Prophet that would accomplish to the destruction of Jerusalem” Daniel 9:2
Here Daniel uses the word (דבר ~ Devar) when pondering the numbers of years that Jeremiah had spoken about. Jeremiah had twice prophesied concerning a 70 year period.
Once Jeremiah said: “and these nation shall serve the King of Babylon 70 years and it shall come to pass when seventy years are accomplished that I will punish the King of Babylon and that nation … and make it everlasting desolation” Jeremiah 25: 11-12
This prophesy states that Babylon would dominate Israel for a total of 70 years.
Jeremiah also says: “After 70 years are accomplished to Babylon I will take heed of you and perform My good word towards you in causing you to return to this place.” Jeremiah 29:l0
This prophesy states, that after the 70 years, in addition to the end of Babylonian domination, the Jews would also return to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile. There are two Jeremiah prophesies concerning: 1) subjugation, and 2) return to Jerusalem.
Jeremiah’s 70 years start from the initial subjugation of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. This took place 18 years before the destruction of Jerusalem, as demonstrated by the following passages, We know that the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in the 19th year of King Nebuchadnezzar. As it says:
“In the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzaradan the chief executioner was in service of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem… and destroyed the Temple of God” Jeremiah 52:12-13
The 19th year means that 18 full years had already been completed. Nebuchadnezzar started to subjugate Jerusalem in his first year of his rule; this can be derived from the following verses;
“in King Yehoyakim’s third year (three completed years) Nebuchadnezzar came to besiege Jerusalem” Daniel 1:1
“in the fourth year (three completed years) of Yehoyakim which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar” Jeremiah 25:1
These verses demonstrate that Nebuchadnezzar started to besiege Jerusalem in his first year and the destruction of Jerusalem took place in his “19th” year. Therefore, 18 complete years had passed from the beginning of the siege until the destruction of Jerusalem. During these 18 years Jerusalem was laid siege and completely surrounded. Scriptures also indicate that the 70 years of Jeremiah were completed with the advent of Cyrus the King of the Persian Empire. As it says:
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled.” Ezra 1:1-3
“Those who survived the sword he exiled to Babylon, where they became slaves to him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia began to reign. This was the fulfillment of the word of God to Jeremiah, until the land would be appeased of its Sabbatical years, all the years of its desolation it rested, to the completion of 70 years. In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, upon the expiration of God’s prophesy spoken by Jeremiah. God aroused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia and he issues a proclamation… to build God a Temple in Jerusalem.” 2 Chronicles 36:20-23
In addition to the Babylonian rule ended in fulfillment of Jeremiah 25:11-12, Cyrus also gave permission, in fulfillment of Jeremiah 29:l0, to the Jews to return to Jerusalem, as it says;
“Whoever is among you all his people, let his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord G-d of Israel.” Ezra 1:4
It is important to remember that from the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, 18 years before the fall of Jerusalem, until the fall of the Babylonian Empire, when Cyrus came into power, 70 years had elapsed. By subtracting the 18 years subjugation before the destruction of the first Temple from the total of 70 years we are left with 52 years. This proves that King Cyrus arose to power and fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophesy 52 years after the destruction of Jerusalem.
Mackey’s comment: This “52 years” is, I believe, too large a figure for the period in question.
I think that Jeremiah’s “70 years” ought instead to be dated from the 13th year of king Josiah, which was 23 years from the 1st year of Nebuchednezzar, as according to this most important of OT chronological entries (Jeremiah 25:1-3):
The word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. So Jeremiah the prophet said to all the people of Judah and to all those living in Jerusalem: ‘For twenty-three years—from the thirteenth year of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah until this very day—the word of the Lord has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened’.
And at this point we can leave the Rabbi’s excellent and most helpful discourse as, from now on, his identification of Medo-Persian kings begins greatly to confuse matters – at least according to my own arrangement and identification of these monarchs.