Daniel 9 and the Historical Jesus


***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.***

Here I think we may reach he apex of this year’s War on Christmas, and here I need to summarize what has been done up to this point.

I first started arguing how the date of Dec 25 for Christmas had nothing to do with the actual date that Jesus may have been born, that this tradition did not start until much later in time. To explain this date, I looked at the ‘traditional’ explanation of how it was a co-option of the birth date of Sol Invictus/Mithras, but that seems to not fit the data we have. Instead, it seems that it can be explained as a feature of beliefs about Jesus having the same birth and death date, which was then adjusted so that the conception and death date were the same, and with an execution right on the vernal equinox we get a birth nine months later on Dec 25.

With that calculation, I wanted to explore how other calculations may explain other features of the timeline of Jesus’ life. But I also wanted to try and explain the other timelines that different from the canonical version by as much as a century. To do this, I explored the well-known prophecy of Daniel 9 and how it was being used in around the time of Christianity’s beginnings. I then looked at how it was originally used by the author of Daniel (whoever that really was), and I showed how it could explain a Jesus dying around 100 BCE and in 59 CE. But this same method could easily point to the time when Jesus was supposed to have ministered and died according to the Gospels in the Bible.

So that leaves us here to ponder what this means for history. Could this sort of explanation I propose be useful to see how Jesus was able to captivate people into thinking he really was the Messiah? Or could it be evidence that attempts were made to put a Jesus into history, and those attempts were derived from Daniel 9, thus implying the whole thing could be a fiction? For the following, I want to assume that my derivations from the earlier posts are basically right, that the Daniel 9 prophecy could have been easily interpreted by ancient Jews and Christians to get dates of ~100 BCE, ~30 CE, and 59 CE; if that premise if false, then the following discussion may not mean much. But I have to assume that for what what I want to explore; I can’t go exploring based on something I think is false, after all.

As I previously discussed, there was a messianic fervor in Judea in the first century, and the Daniel prophecy could help explain why it was in this period of time that so many came to believe the Messiah and the End Times were nigh. Such a situation can then also explain, in part, why there were people willing to follow Jesus. Moreover, that the Messiah must die yet be innocent according to Daniel 9:26 can explain how the Christian message could have emerged even if their leader had been killed; it was all part of the plan. If a few calculations can prove that, all the more to help the fledgling early cult of Christ. This can even be consistent with conservative, evangelical scholarship, so no one in historical Jesus studies of any stripe need not have to revolutionize their thoughts on the subject. Moreover, the discussion at this point need not cast doubt on the historicity of Jesus; it can actually help explain how the man from the Galilee made it to eventual godhood.

However, there is a problem: those other times Jesus is said to have existed which can also fit the Daniel prophecy timetable. How does a historical Jesus hypothesis fit with this? Let’s state the problem we have here. There were Jews and Torah-observant Christians, mostly in the eastern part of the Roman Empire and Persia, that knew of their Messiah as a figure long in the past in the reign of Alexander Jannaeus. How does the story of Jesus become completely divorced from the times he was set in and instead remembered long, long in the past? We have good reason to assume the 100 BCE Jesus is not historical, so it seems we need an explanation for this based not on historical facts but other means. Thus, it seems the Daniel 9 prophecy was what informed Jewish Christians to place their Messiah well into the past. But again, to do that you have to have no knowledge of the historical Jesus. No memory that he was baptized by John, that he died under Roman occupation of Judea, his execution was under the prefect Pontius Pilate, that he had to contend with the Herodian family, he had sayings such as “give unto Caesar”, he talked of the destruction of the rebuilt Temple, and so on. So much of the Jesus we talk about has to have been lost and then reconstructed based on exegesis.

That is something rather difficult to explain on the thesis of Jesus’ historicity. How could his life and historical context be so completely lost? If we assume that transmission of that message was just bad, then we undermine the tradition we do have based on those same transmitters of the Jesus tradition. If they failed so miserably in making Jesus have the correct time frame for Jewish Christians, why believe what they told to Gentiles? Moreover, as bad as oral transmission is, one would be hard-pressed to have this radical a change from Jesus dead under Roman Pilate to Jesus dead under Jewish Alexander. And again, if it were just bad oral tradition, that both traditions happen to nicely line up with the calculations of Daniel 9 is quite amazing. It gets even hairier when we include the timeline that says Jesus died in 59 CE, long after Pilate or even direct Roman control of Judea.

However, let us consider this under the hypothesis that Jesus was originally not a historical figure. In particular, I want to look at Jesus being something like that described by Earl Doherty in The Jesus Puzzle. Jesus was, in his view, originally a cosmic being that died and rose again in a different realm of the universe, and later he was put into a historical context based on biblical exegesis and story-telling. In that case, there was no historical memory to loose or corrupt, and the time frame he was placed in could be most anywhere. However, if the life of Jesus is based on interpretation of the Old Testament, then the timeline of Daniel 9 is the best place to go. It has a dying Messiah, exactly what Jesus was supposed to be. So different groups of Christians could come to different interpretations of scripture (how many times has that happened? Aleph-1 times?); some came to believe in a Jesus in ~100 BCE, and another came to ~30 CE.

So, on this consideration, a mythicist position can fit the data better. The dates can naturally fall out when creating a Messiah in a historical context where one did not exist before; the historicist position has to create some way of one group of Christians forgetting almost everything historical about Jesus, coming up with some other time that just happens to fit Daniel 9 (as does the canonical Jesus), and do so without discrediting the major sources for early Christianity.

Now, for some possible objections.

1.) The 100 BCE Jesus is a much later tradition; the 30 CE tradition is earlier. That is something we may not be certain of. Indeed our sources for the 100 BCE Jesus are later (4th century at best), while our sources for Jesus’ life in 30 CE are no later than 2nd century (Mark, the earliest extant Gospel, was written after ~70 and its first clear citation is in Justin Martyr ~150 CE). However, the 100 BCE Jesus could be an older tradition; we just know it must have come to be no later than the 4th century. But there is a problem with making it late: the later the tradition becomes, the harder it is to explain. If the 30 CE Jesus had been the dominant belief for 3 centuries, then how this other timeline could come about is harder to explain. The less time the 30 CE Jesus is the well-known version, the easier the 100 BCE Jesus is to explain as to how some could come up with it. Basically it is this: the more people who know the story, the harder it is to have a blatantly contradictory version pop up and become dominant among certain groups.

But there is also the confusion as to how Jewish Christians, who were closer to the traditions of the early church before it became Gentile-friendly with Paul, are going to be closer to the events of Jesus’ life. It is in Gentile-friendly literature (Mark) that we get a Jesus in 30 CE, but this means we have people farther from the place of action than the Jewish Christians were, and the earliest church was in Jerusalem, again as we gather from Paul’s letters. No matter what, we have the strange circumstance that the tradition that is older, that of Torah-observant Christians (basically, ancient Jews for Jesus), was more off-based historically than a group traditionally farther from the original Jesus (Paul’s Christianity).

2. Historians of the time place Jesus under Pilate; therefore that is the right time. This would be a fair point. If we have outside sources independently confirming something, we can give it more credibility, and we don’t have any non-Christian Gentile sources like Tacitus helping out the 100 BCE Jesus view. However, the key thing is that independence of that information. The earliest, certain mention we have of Jesus killed under Pilate outside of Christian traditions is with Tacitus in the 2nd century. However, that is distant from the actual times. and we cannot know what his sources may have been. It may well have been the sorts of Christians that his friend, Pliny the Younger, was having trials for in modern-day Turkey, also in the 2nd century. If Tacitus is just repeating what Christians were saying to him, then all we can know is that by ~115 CE there had been established the belief in a Jesus that died under Pilate. Of course, if Mark was written before then we aren’t really limiting the time frame in which a mythical Jesus put into the 30s was concocted.

But then there is Josephus. Let’s first suppose that at least some of what he wrote about Jesus is actually original to his pen and papyrus. Josephus is writing in the 90s, and again we don’t know his sources about Christians. We cannot discount that he heard about these people from Christian sources, and so again he is just repeating the version of events that some had concocted. But we cannot even be sure that Josephus wrote anything about Jesus. so that uncertainty must multiply with the uncertainty of his independence to the original Jesus tradition, which reaches the point that we cannot use it to decide with any 50+% probability.

But we still see from these sources that the Jesus in ~30 CE is the dominant view; that makes sense actually. The Jewish Christians were the minority and likely devastated when Jerusalem and its Temple were sacked. The Gentile-friendly version of Christianity spread and survived more effectively, so their version of Jesus was going to be the popular one. The 100 BCE Jesus was relegated to the losers of history, so no wonder it left fewer tracers and had a weaker impact.

3. It’s not likely that people would have made up dates for Jesus’ life based on calculations. That’s just silly. I can expect that the idea seems outlandish at first. However, that was part of the reason I looked at the calculation hypothesis for Christmas. If we can find an example of computations at a relativity early point in Christianity using arithmetic based on folklore and the like to create a “historical” chronology for Jesus’ life, then that makes it all the more plausible for it to be the case here. Besides, we know people were interpreting Daniel 9 and running the numbers to find the Messiah. If the author of Daniel was willing to do number-stuff, why not early Christians? Besides, at this point I find no other explanation for the odd dates of ~100 BCE and 59 CE for Jesus’ death year. Until a better hypothesis is put forward, we do have reason to think at least some Christians did such calculations to get these odd dates.

If the issue is that a bunch of illiterates like Peter couldn’t have done these calculations, than only shows that the attempts much have come after enough lettered people entered the cult who could do this. I also see it as plausible that these calculations happened after the shattering events of the Jewish Revolt. But that is a hypothesis dependent on another I am arguing, so let’s leave it aside.

4. Paul says he met a brother of Jesus (Gal 1:19); so Jesus must have lived around the time Paul converted. This is the point that will be the most likely to swing things; Paul is our earliest source, and if brothers of Jesus are running around in 40 CE we can’t say Jesus was just as likely to have been in 100 BCE or mythical. However, there has been a lot of discussion about this passage that mentions “James, the brother of the Lord.” Other possibilities besides biology are a) a formal title for any Christian, b) simply specifying he is not an apostle and ‘just a brother’, c) a certain rank in the church hierarchy. (Interpolation of this verse or forgery of this letter are possible, but I do not consider them demonstrable enough to affect the probability significantly.) Since this verse from Paul may be the battleground of where mythicism stands or falls, then the way this argument goes most likely the rest of my analysis goes in as far as it could favor a mythicist hypothesis.

In my view, I think (b) is the more probable interpretation, though (a) is also part of the equation. Paul is making the point in Galatians 1 that his knowledge of Jesus is all from scripture and revelation, and when he went to Jerusalem he wasn’t seeing anyone. He admits to seeing Peter, but James is there and the text is actually a bit difficult to translate. It could mean simply a brother (cf. Anchor Bible: Galatians, pp. 173-4), that he isn’t as good as Peter and just a Christian brother. This also makes sense when Paul talks of a James in Galatians 2 who seems to run the Jerusalem church and can influence Peter hundreds of miles away. The mere ‘brother of the Lord’ wouldn’t also be the leader of the Torah-observant church, so these Jameses are plausibly different people. This also helps maintain Paul’s point that he didn’t get any significant influence in his message about Jesus; he didn’t see an actual biological brother of Jesus, just another Christian. If Paul meant James was an actual biological sibling, one would have expected him to say “brother of Jesus”; “brother of the Lord” fits any Christian since all baptized followers were adopted sons of God and thus brothers of Lord Jesus Christ. But again, there is debate to be had.

So, what I have done here I do not claim disproves Jesus existed. In fact, the research I have done here could well explain things about the historical context of the historical Jesus. However, this research fits rather well in a mythicist paradigm, almost perfectly; in a historicist paradigm, it it more difficult to explain the origins of the other, strange timelines of Jesus. When one paradigm can explain a significant bit of odd data, while another one has to work at just being consistent with it, that gives a significant explanatory advantage to one over the other. So, if my analysis holds, the Daniel 9 prophecy and its interpretation best supports the idea that Jesus was originally a non-historical figure, and the prophecy was used to put him into a time slot.

Here I will stop. This needs critical evaluation, and I dare not call what I have proof or even solid argumentation until other and better minds can look and find flaws. It needs peer-review (and review by my betters). Please comment away, share with people, and think about it.

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6 thoughts on “Daniel 9 and the Historical Jesus

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  5. We have good reason to assume the 100 BCE Jesus is not historical, so it seems we need an explanation for this based not on historical facts but other means.

    I guess that depends on what you mean by “Jesus” and “historical”.

    It’s not all that bad a fit for the Teacher of Righteousness.

    • Not a bad point (though when the Teacher of Righteousness was supposed to be is debatable). However, we have less evidence for the 100 BCE Jesus than we do for the 30 CE Jesus, so if the latter is historically questionable, even more so the former. But my key point here is that the 100 BCE Jesus is not in any plausible way consistent with the Jesus known in the Gospels.

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