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|Chapters of the Book of Daniel|
The Prophecy of Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9 in the Book of Daniel) is a prophecy in which Daniel, pondering the meaning of Jeremiah's prediction that Jerusalem would remain desolate for seventy years, is told by the angel Gabriel about various things that would take place within a time span of seventy weeks of years.
The Book of Daniel is set in the late 7th and 6th centuries BCE, the period of the Babylonian exile; the majority of scholars do not take this at face value and see it as a product of the 2nd century BCE. Apocalyptic authors of the Hellenistic age reinterpreted the prophets (in this case, Jeremiah) in the light of their own circumstances, so that the 70 years predicted by Jeremiah was taken to mean seventy weeks of years, or 490 years.
Daniel 9 consists of an introduction (verses 1-3), a prayer (commonly called the Prayer of Daniel, verses 4-19), and an angelic discourse explaining verses 25:11-12 and 29:10 from the Book of Jeremiah (verses 20-27):
The Book of Daniel is an Israelite apocalypse, one of a large class of writings in which an ancient seer is given a revelation relevant to the age in which the books were written. Like these other writings, Daniel is pseudonymous, probably taking its prophet from the figure mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel alongside Noah and Job as righteous and wise men of the distant past. The broad consensus in mainline scholarship is that the stories in the first half of the book (chapters 1-6) are legendary, and that the visions in the second (chapters 7-12) were composed by unknown authors during the 2nd century in response to the Maccabean crisis.
The Book of Daniel is set during the Babylonian exile of the Jews, although only a minority of scholars accept this at face value. The exile lasted approximately fifty years, from the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE (the deportation in 606 BCE mentioned in Daniel 1 seems unlikely, and is apparently based on a passage in 2 Chronicles 36:6) to the fall of Babylon to the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 538. (Verse 1 gives the setting for Daniel's prophecy of the seventy weeks as "the first year of Darius the Mede, ... who was made king over Babylon", but no such person is known to history).
Persian rule lasted some 200 years before being overthrown by Alexander the Great. After Alexander's death in 323 BC his empire split into rival kingdoms, and two of these, the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Selucid dynasty in Syria, fought for control of Palestine. By 202 BCE the Seleucids had the upper hand, but the wars had left them almost bankrupt. Antiochus IV Epiphanes attempted to recoup his fortunes by selling the post of high priest to the highest bidder, and the existing high priest, Onias III, a man respected for upholding Jewish tradition, was deposed and later murdered. Jerusalem became split between those Jews who supported the Greeks and those who supported tradition. In 168 BCE Antiochus came down forcefully on the side of the Hellenisers: Jewish worship was forbidden, the daily sacrifice abolished, and an altar to Zeus set up in the Temple (December 168 BCE). As persecutor of the Jews, Antiochus became the new Nebuchadnezzar for the generation that wrote Daniel.
In verse 2 Daniel reads Jeremiah's prediction that Jerusalem would remain desolate for seventy years. Daniel doesn't identify the passage, but chapters 25:11-12 and 29:10 are the obvious candidates: "This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years..." (Jeremiah 25:11-12); "This is what the Lord says: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place..." (Jeremiah 29:10).
The Babylonian exile ended in 538 BCE with the decree of Cyrus, the Persian conqueror of Babylon, inviting exiles (not only the Jews) to return to their homes. That was several centuries before the time of the authors of Daniel in the 2nd century, yet it seemed to them that the desolation of Jerusalem had not ended: the people had returned and the Temple had been rebuilt, but salvation for Israel had not been achieved and the people were still suffering. As Jeremiah's seventy years could not apply literally to the time of Antiochus, the author of Daniel provided a creative solution that transformed its meaning. Daniel turns to God in prayer, and the angel Gabriel clarifies Jeremiah's words for him: Jeremiah's "shiv'im" (seventy) is to be understood as "shavu'im shiv'im" (seventy weeks), 490 years. This reinterpretation was based ultimately on the idea of the jubilee year taken from Leviticus 25; similar number schemes are found in other Jewish apocalypses from the same time as Daniel, such as the "seventy generations" of 1 Enoch.
In verses 20-27 Gabriel explains the meaning of the 70 weeks. After a preamble in verses 20-23 he tells Daniel that the "seventy sevens" are decreed for the people and city (i.e., the Jews and Jerusalem) "to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal (i.e. validate) both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place". The "sin" and "iniquity" are not specified, but probably include the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus and the Hellenizing Jews. Because the series focuses on the re-dedication of the Temple at the end of the time period, it is apparent that is not an ongoing process for the full seventy weeks, but will happen at the end and coincide with the re-dedication of the Temple (the anointing of the "most holy place").
Gabriel then gives a more detailed explanation. "From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven sevens" (verse 25). The first "seven sevens," or 49 years, thus begins with the "word" to rebuild Jerusalem, and ends with the arrival of an "anointed prince", meaning either Zerubbabel, the Davidic prince sent by the Persians to become governor of Judah, or (more likely) Joshua, the first high priest after the exile.
The next 62 weeks, or 434 years, pass without comment, and the prophecy focuses in verses 26-27 on the events of the final week. Gabriel has already told Daniel that these events are preordained, and the prophetic message is that the period of Gentile power is coming to an end. "After the 62 sevens the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed" (verse 26). The ruler "will confirm a covenant with many for one seven, he will put an end to sacrifice and offering, and at the Temple he will put up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him" (verse 27). This is a broad outline of the oppression of the Jews by Antiochus (the "ruler who will come") and his allies the Hellenizing Jews (the "many" with whom he "will confirm a covenant"), from the murder of Onias the high priest (the "anointed one" who is "cut off") in 171 BCE, to December 168, when sacrifices in the Temple were ended and replaced with a pagan altar, the "abomination that causes desolation".
Rashi  explains that the 7 and 62 weeks mentioned in Daniel 9 verse 25 encompass the whole 70 weeks mentioned in verse 24, that the missing week is split between the two groups (of 7 and 62). He explains verse 25 that after 7 weeks of years plus 3 more years (after the destruction of the first temple in 3338) the Mashiach Nagid, King Cyrus the great (elsewhere called a messiah), began to rebuild the temple. The verse goes on to explain that the temple would stand until 62 weeks (of years). Rashi explains that this is 62 weeks of years plus the remaining four years. Accordingly, the second temple stood until 490 years after the destruction of the first temple. Rashi here follows the Rabbinic chronology of the second temple period.
One can further notice a seemingly blatant contradiction between verse 24 and verse 26. Verse 24 indicates that after the 70 weeks of years the holy of holies would be anointed, whereas verse 26 says the exact opposite that the temple would then be destroyed. Rashi explains that the destruction of the temple was the beginning of the process of purifying Israel until the Messiah would come in the end of days. Rabbi Saadia Gaon, however, takes the literal approach. His opinion is that the anointing of the holy of holies (of verse 24) is not referring to after the 70 weeks of years, but to during the 70 weeks of years. Accordingly, verse 24 refers to the second temple period which had the holy of holies of the second temple as well as the atonement of sin through sacrifices. Furthermore, the sealing of prophecy mentioned does not refer to the fulfillment of prophecy, rather, as Rabbi Saadia Gaon explains, to the end of the era of prophets during the second temple period. Now verse 24 and 26 are in full agreement that after this period the second temple would then be destroyed.
Traditional interpretation of Bible prophecy starts with the position (contrasting with modern scholarship noted above) that the book of Daniel was written by Daniel, a noble Jew exiled to Babylon, in the 5th century BCE, not by anonymous Jewish authors of the 2nd century BCE. Daniel has challenged prophetic interpreters for over two millennia.
The early Christians took Daniel 9's "anointed one" to be Jesus, with Daniel 9:26, which says that an "anointed one" would be "cut off" after sixty-two weeks, being a reference to his death. The "abomination that makes desolate," described in 1 Maccabees 1:54 as a pagan altar erected over the sacrificial altar in the Temple, was understood in the New Testament (Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14) as meaning the future destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and in later traditions it was sometimes interpreted as the Antichrist.
Daniel 9:25 states that the 'seventy weeks' (generally interpreted as 490 years according to the day-year principle) is to begin "from the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem," but it fails to specify what this "word" is, who issues it, or when. As a result the start-date of the prophecy remains vague. Possible answers have included the date of Jeremiah's original prophecy, the first year of Darius during which Daniel received his revelation, the decree of Cyrus allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem, or one of two directives issued by the later Persian king Artaxerxes I, the first to Ezra, the second to Nehemiah. No matter which of these explanations is used, 490 years will not extend to the modern period.
The Historicist method began before the 1st century CE and continues to the present. Biblical Scholars have interpreted the 70 weeks vision in the Historistical methodology for nearly two millinia as illustrated in the following table.
|List of Historicist Biblical Expositors who commented on the 70 weeks|
from the 3rd to 19th centuries
The vision of the 70 weeks is interpreted as dealing with the Jewish nation from about the middle of the 5th century BCE until not long after the death of Jesus in the 1st century CE and so is not concerned with current or future history. Historicists consider Antiochus Epiphanies irrelevant to the fulfillment of the prophecy.
The Seventh-day Adventist interpretation of Daniel chapter 9 presents the 490 years as an uninterrupted period. Like others before them they equate the beginning of the 70 weeks "from the time the word goes out to rebuild and restore Jerusalem," of Daniel 9:25 with the decree by Artaxerxes I in 458/7 BCE which provided money for rebuilding the temple and Jerusalem and allowed for restoration of a Jewish administration. It ends 3½ years after the crucifixion. The appearance of "Messiah the Prince" at the end of the 69 weeks (483 years) is aligned with Jesus' baptism in 27 CE, in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar. The 'cutting off' of the "anointed one" refers to the crucifixion 3½ years after the end of the 483 years, bringing "atonement for iniquity" and "everlasting righteousness". Jesus is said to 'confirm' the "covenant" between God and mankind by his death on the cross in the Spring (about Easter time) of 31 CE "in the midst of" the last seven years. At the moment of his death the 4 inch (10 cm) thick curtain between the Holy and Most Holy Places in the Temple ripped from top to bottom marking the end of the Temple's sacrificial system. The last week ends 3½ years after the crucifixion (i.e., in 34 CE) when the gospel was redirected from only the Jews to all peoples.
Some of the representative voices among exegetes of the last 150 years are E. W. Hengstenberg, J. N. Andrews, E. B. Pusey, J. Raska, J. Hontheim, Boutflower, Uriah Smith, and O. Gerhardt.
|Illustrations explaining the beginning and ending dates of the 70 weeks|
according to Historicist interpretation
Similarly to the historical-messianic interpretation, Jehovah's Witnesses believe the 70 'weeks' represent 490 years. However, they believe that Artaxerxes' first year of rule was 474 BCE (rather than the secularly determined 464 BCE), and that the period began when Nehemiah went to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem "in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes", which they believe was 455 BCE.
They hold that the sixty-ninth week ended in 29 CE, when they believe Jesus was identified as the Messiah at his baptism. In their interpretation, Jesus was then "cut off" (executed) half way through the seventieth week, which ended in 36 CE.
In the view of historic premillennialism, Philip Mauro (1921) proposed that the discourse on the Mount Olivet (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) is an expansion of Daniel's "seventy weeks" prophecy. His research was influenced by the works of Martin Anstey (1913). In addition to the historical-messianic interpretation above, Mauro adds that, "the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary" (9:25) is prophetic of the "desolation" of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 CE (Matthew 24:1-22; Luke 21:20-24) Mauro compares the words of Gabriel: "seventy weeks are determined upon thy people to finish the transgression" (Daniel 9:24) with Jesus' words: "Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers" (Matthew 23:32), interpreting these narratives as referring to the rejection and crucifixion of the Christ.
The Dispensational interpretation (beginning in the 19th century) extends the last week beyond the present day as in:
The consistent symbolical interpretation reads the numbers in verses 24 to 27 as symbolic. In this view the 490 years begin with the edict of Cyrus in 538 BCE, which permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem2 Chronicles 36:22-23 = Ezra 1:2-4. The first division of 7 weeks ends with the first advent of Christ. The second division is the period of the Christian church, stretching from the first and to Second Advent. The third division of one week is the last period of history—the time of tribulation caused by the Antichrist—which begins with the advent of the Antichrist and ends with his defeat.
Supporters of this view include Kliefoth, who is credited to be the first to establish exegetically the symbolic interpretation. He is followed, by and large, by Keil, Delitzsch, Leupold, Philip, Grelot and others.
The dispensational interpretation begins the 490 years with the permission Artaxerxes I Longimanus gave to NehemiahNehemiah 2:5-8. This is dated by most dispensationalists to 445 BCE (e.g. Sir Robert Anderson), but by some to 444 BCE. The “messiah” at the end of the 7+62 weeks is Jesus Christ, but because 7+62 = 69 weeks = 483 years from 445/4 BCE would extend to about CE 40—far beyond the lifetime of Christ—the 483 years are reduced to 476 years by interpreting these 490 years as "prophetic years" each consisting of only 360 literal days. Consequently the 483 years end with the crucifixion in CE 33 or 32. The 70th week is separated from the 69th week by a vast gap of over nineteen centuries. The entire "church age" is a gap during which the prophetic clock has stopped ticking. The 70th week does not start until the end of the church age, when the church will be "raptured” from the earth. During the 70th week the Antichrist—a revived Roman tyrant that will oppose God—will oppress the Jews and bring upon the world, during the latter half of a delayed seventieth week, a 3½ year tribulation.
The dispensational interpretation of the chronological scheme of 9:24-27 is very widely used today in the English-speaking world and beyond. Of the leading voices the following are representative JA Seiss, Sir Robert Anderson, The Scofield Reference Bible; LS Chafer; AJ McClain and HA Ironside.
In dispensational premillennialism, described in more detail above, a 'hiatus', which some refer to as a 'biblical parenthesis', occurs between the 69th and 70th week of the prophecy, into which the "church age" is inserted (also known as the "gap theory" of Daniel 9). The seventieth week of the prophecy is expected to commence after the rapture of the church, which will incorporate the establishment of an economic system using the number '666', the reign of the beast (the Antichrist), the false religious system (the harlot), the Great Tribulation and Armageddon.