***This post contains original research. If you wish to write on this subject and use my ideas, please let me know and appropriately attribute it. Thanks you.***
The War moves on, and there are successes in moving into Tomainia. Chancellor Hynkel will surrender in no time!
In my last post, I talked about the failed prophecy of Daniel 9 and the coming of the End Times and the Messiah that would die. As I said there is a timetable that it establishes, and here I want to look at it and see how it was originally used and in what ways it can be manipulated to get different times. We can see that it may be able to explain some of the more mysterious times when Jesus was said to have existed, including around 100 BCE and 59 CE.
First, a point of method. Prophecies have been mutilated in interpretations to try and fit some particular dating. The number of times that someone has used the Bible to declare when Armageddon would come are nearly countless. So I need to do things to minimize that abuse and simply get the result that I want. So, a basic principle needs to be applied: the more the prophecy has to be re-interpreted, the weaker any given interpretation. More importantly, we want to see how others in the times around the turn of the era could have manipulated the prophecy in Daniel 9; the more we have to manipulate it, the less likely someone would have done those very same changes. Thus, after I consider how the prophecy was first used, the changes need to be minor for them to have the explanatory power I seek. It needs to be plausible that someone would have interpreted the text the way I specify back in antiquity. Moreover, I want to show that flexibility in the interpretation can still lead to similar results, so that way multiple methods can still arrive in the same temporal neighborhood, increasing the chances that someone would have manipulated the prophecy to fit a similar time frame. In other words, the less a calculation needs to be done in a particular way, the more likely something like it was done.
With that, let’s look at the timetable Daniel 9 has and how it fits with the original intent of the author. That timeline is tucked into Dan 9:24-7. We are told of the 70 weeks of years (490 years), and first there are 7 weeks of years between the decree by the Christ and Jerusalem’s destruction. The Messiah/Christ being spoken of here is most likely Cyrus the Great of Persia, the only non-Jews in the Bible to be called the Anointed One/Messiah/Christ (Isaiah 45:1). The decree is likely that of Cyrus in 538 BCE to allow the Jews to return home and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4; 6:1-5), and the temple of Solomon was destroyed in about 586 BCE; we have a different of about 49 years (the 7 sevens).
Then Daniel talks of 62 weeks of years (434 years), but what starting point that has is confused a bit; scholars such as Andre Lacocque argue that the starting point for this is with the prophecy to Jeremiah (25:8-13) during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar in 605 BCE. This gets us to 171 BCE, and in the last week we have the Anointed One die (the referent appears to be the High Priest Onias III) and then in 164 BCE the good times are supposed to come, first with the death of the persecutor the the Jews at that time, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In that last week of years we also have the abomination in the Temple (Dan 9:27), which corresponds to when Antiochus put up a bust of Zeus. There are points that can be confusing in this process (and I haven’t mentioned the change from solar to lunar or ‘prophetic’ years), such as how some times are not additive but are overlapping (such as the 7 and 62 weeks mentioned in Dan 9:25), but these are all points well-established in the scholarly literature analyzing Daniel 9. (See the Oxford Bible Commentary, p. 586 for a similar view.)
So, to highlight what is important: the time of a decree, the time of a Messiah figure, and lastly the time of tribulations. What would be of greatest interests to Christians would have been predicting when the Messiah was to come, and calculations to get there were being done already by Jews of the time (as I pointed out in my last post). So, what sorts of times could one come up with?
How about 30 CE?!? That is what we find in a calculation done by the third century Christian Julius Africanus in his book that is currently in fragments (see Chronology 18.2 for his calculation). Julius starts from the decree of Artaxerxes mentioned in Nehemiah 2:1-9 and dates to 445 BCE. He converts the 490 Hebrew years (with 354 days) to 475 normal, solar years (with 365.25 days), and that gets you to 31 CE. This is pretty much the time frame the Gospels have Jesus running about, though most historians place the crucifixion in 30 or 33 CE (a few go with 29 or 36 CE). This sort of calculation (with extra effort) is done by Harold Hoehner but with more effort to get to a particular year. If instead of the 70 weeks from the decree we use 69 (which fits Daniel 9:26 better) and convert to the ‘prophetic year’ (explained below), we get 32 CE. We also see this sort of calculation being done by Tertullian (Answers to the Jews 8) and Clement (Stromata 1.21.125-6). With simple manipulations you can get years anywhere between 24 and 38 CE, all using the same start date.
Calculations such as this could well explain why there was such a messianic fervor* in the first century; simple calculations of the 70 weeks of years from well-known events in the Old Testament could add up to this time. For example, if one does not convert from Hebrew to solar years, one get the Messiah coming in 46 CE, and that assumes the same starting point with the Artaxerxes decree. Also of utility of looking at the work of Hoehner, he goes through many other proposed dates for the decree as the starting point of the prophecy’s timetable and gives results, such as Darius’ decree mentioned in Ezra, and this was in 519/18 BCE; 490 years forward would get us to about the turn of the Era. Another decree from Artaxerxes in 457 BCE (see Ezra 7:11-26) would put in around 34 CE, about the same time for Jesus as the Gospels say if we don’t make the Hebrew year adjustment. Using the adjustment for the difference in length of a Hebrew and solar year, we can further increase the number of potential dates around the turn of the Era in which someone would think a Messiah was to come (such as 42 BCE and 18 CE). Some has proposed there is also a ‘prophetic year’ of 360 days as discussed by Hoehner, which again increase the range of potential times the prophecy could be interpreted to include in the first century. So there are multiple starting points for the prophecy to use that can all go to about the same time period, all assuming the easiest way to calculate the prophecy, not to mention the other potential ways similar results could be gotten.
Richard Carrier also uses this to explain that the messianic pretenders of the first century were fulfilling the prophecy in part by trying to get themselves killed. That discussion was also expanded upon with some back-and-forth with Thom Stark here. The explanatory power of why there were so many messianic pretenders in this period is great, but it probably also needed the help of a Roman occupation to make the search for a particular time of The End close to the era when the scholars then were re-reading Daniel. That is at least the history with most dooms day prophets (i.e. Millerites).
So we have some reason to think calculations like this were pinning the Messiah in the first half of the first century CE. But what about the Jesus mentioned being around in ~100 BCE? Another simple calculation can derive that. If one uses the 62 and 7 weeks mentioned in Daniel 9:25 as additive, and if it is taken from the decree of Cyrus the Great for the rebuilding the temple and the starting point as the destruction of the First Temple (583 BCE), or more simply taking the 62 weeks from the decree of Cyrus, we get the week of the Messiah coming in 586-483 = ~(538-434) = 103 BCE. Then in that final week of years we have the Messiah getting killed. This fits with the interpretation that was done later by the Jewish rabbi Rashi in the 11th century (1), but nothing needed to happen to make this calculation possible before the Middle Ages. But what you can take from this interpretation is that someone with no goal to come to this particular time to find his true Messiah made the calculation that some early Christians may have done. With less attention to the details of the timeline, one could count the 70 weeks from the destruction of the Temple and get 96 BCE, the same approximate time frame. And with this bit of counting, we can then explain how someone would have thought of putting Jesus the Messiah in the time of Alexander Jannaeus who ruled from 103 to 76 BCE.
Lastly, consider another strange date for Jesus’ death as I mentioned in a previous post: 59 CE. This may be instead a back calculation where instead of a start date to count down to the end times, calculate from some end date to when the Messiah was supposed to be. If you have something definite that someone can call the Big Finale, then it becomes easy to back-calculate, while the forward calculation may be confusing if you aren’t sure about which decree the text of Daniel speaks of. And that end time event was likely the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE, one of the most devastating event in ancient Jewish history. In Daniel 9:26 it talks of war and the destruction of the city and sanctuary, and the next verse speaks of the ruler stopping sacrifices in the middle of a week. So it seems the addition could be as follows: the text specified the Messiah would be killed after the 62 (or 69) weeks, in that 62nd week he dies, and then it seems the text speaks of another week, in the middle of which sacrifices stop and someone desecrates the Temple. So, we may think that the middle of the 70th week happen in 70 CE (with the Temple destroyed there were no sacrifices to God, and the place was desecrated by fire, looting, and the fall of the Temple), and a week before this one the Christ is killed. Half of a week of years is 3.5, added to a full week of years, you get 10.5. And there is about that much time between 70 and 59 CE when this odd text says Jesus was killed. This calculation doesn’t use the Hebrew year or prophetic year adjustment, but those would only cause a small change, perhaps not enough to bother the calculator’s answer depending on their vigilance and rounding (if you take a half-week to be 4 years, then the week and a half of Hebrew years becomes 10.66 years, still getting in the same ballpark).
So there we have a potentially powerful explanation for some very obscure data. The use of the prophecy of the 70 weeks of years can explain the non-canonical dates of Jesus’ life and death. I also show that there can be considerable flexibility in how those calculations could be done to get the same or similar results, making them more plausible as having been done by someone in the past. (This methodology isn’t that different than what we did to figure when Christmas was believed to come on Dec 25; it just had different assumptions, yet all that was needed was a bit of arithmetic.) It must be noted at this point that these claims of mine are not found in the scholarly literature, and my ideas here have not been peer-reviewed, so criticism at this point is well-justified if you see any significant flaws. But it seems that all I have done is justified, and my method of how the prophecy could have been re-interpreted after it was originally composed are not without precedent and are rather easy, just what we would expect for someone rereading the prophecy without a particular goal year in mind.
However, calculations based on Daniel 9 also line up just as well for the time Jesus was supposed to have lived and died according to the Gospels. Does that mean…
Let’s discuss the implications in another post.
* There are some indications of Bieber fever around this time, but nothing certain.