The War moves on, and in my prior discussion I talked about how there are many different traditions about Jesus that few historians believe can say anything about the historical figure, but how some of them came about are rather mysterious and as of now unexplained. But to attempt an answer for it, at least the one I want to put forward, I need to establish some interesting background information. I may start to sound like an evangelical prophet, but I ought to be grounding what I say in that which can be verified. In particular, I want to look at the prophecies of Daniel, notable from chapter 9.
The Book of Daniel is said to have been written by a man named Daniel who was a member of the royal court first to the Babylonian and then the Persian king during the 7th/6th centuries BCE. He was an interpreter of dreams, a loyal Jew, and apparently good with animals (or is he lion?). Daniel is also supposed to be a contemporary of another prophet, Ezekiel, and someone by the name of Daniel is mentioned in Ezekiel 14:14, 20. However, there is another prophet of interest, that of Jeremiah, who claimed that after 70 years of captivity for the Jews the king of Babylon would be punished, make the lands desolate forever, and the Jewish nation would be on top. That isn’t what happened, and in Daniel 9:2 we have the prophet asking God what gives. Those 70 years were long gone. As we find out, according to this book, God means “weeks of years”, that is sevens of years, so instead of 70 years it is 7*70 = 490 years. Well, duh, right?
Now, that’s all well and good, but what is interesting is that in Daniel 9 we get a timetable. This event will happen so many years after that one or another, and then at the end Armageddon. Good times. But problem is, that timetable has been figured to mean that Daniel was talking about events up to the uprising of the Maccabees in the 2nd century BCE against Antiochus Epiphanes, and the end times came in 164 BCE. But then again, we also figure that Daniel was a made-up figure, and the book was composed during that same rebellion. It’s filled with historical problems, and its prophetic powers seem to end around the time the Maccabees were fighting. So, already what we have is a made-up book with a failed prophecy that was trying to fix another failed prophecy. This is the Charlie Sheen version of winning.
Well, the prophecy is failed unless you think that it is misinterpreted. And so there have been many attempts to figure out when events are really supposed to happen this time. So you get MIllerites, Seven-Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, and any number of other interpreters of Scripture that use this prophecy, among others, to calculate Judgement Day (that is, when that aren’t abusing the Maya). And in antiquity, that was also the case. The Book of Daniel was considered canon for Jews, so they were not going to say that its prophet was wrong. The recalculations existed back in the days of old.
(Please note that I’m not going to discuss Preterism, Futurism, or other interpretations of the Second Coming of Christ as it has little to nothing to do with the evidence I will be overviewing and analyzing. I want to look at pre-Christian and early Christian ways that prophecy of Daniel 9 was and could have been interpreted, not what more recent theologians have come up with.)
For example, from the Dead Sea Scrolls we have various scraps of Daniel, including from chapter 9. One scrap, 11Q13, specified it is from Daniel, and it quotes Dan 9:25 or 26 (the text is too fragmented to know which verse it quotes for certain). In the context of the papyrus, it speaks of the coming Day of Salvation, using other prophets such as Isaiah, and it tries to look for the signs of the desired judgement of the wicked.
There also seemed to be the use of this text around the time of the First Jewish Revolt going by the testimony of Suetonius (Vespasian 4) and Josephus (Jewish War 6.312-6). It was apparently also used by Jesus; Mark 13:7 alludes to Dan 2:28; 13:14 alludes to Dan 8:13, 9:27, & 12:11; 13:19 alludes to Dan 12:1; 13:26 alludes to Dan 7:13. And as it says in Mark 13:30, “This generation shall not pass” until the things described happen. (Matthew’s version of Jesus’ speech has even more Daniel references.) It also seems that the prophecies of Daniel were used for the Bar Kochba revolt in the 130s CE (1). So we know this prophecy was important to Jews and Christians in the first century or two of the Common Era (see also Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 1.21 and Tertullian, Answer to the Jews 8 for using this prophecy).
So we know that there were Jews that were interpreting this prophecy, but there is one more detail that makes this of interest for studying Christianity: it predicts rather clearly that there is a Messiah figure that is killed even though he is innocent (Daniel 9:26). The prophet specified that after 62 weeks of years the Christ will be “cut off” (i.e. killed). So not only does this prophecy spell out when the End Times would come, it specified when the Christ will die. That makes us wonder then: what sorts of ways could the calculation be done? To do that, we need to look at the specifics of the Daniel prophecy and see what it could refer to. That I will tackle next time.
(1) Hermann L. Strack und Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (1922-61), IV, 2, pp. 1010f.