Wait a minute—another interpretation of Daniel 9? We recently explored one Christian interpretation here. If several interpretations are possible, this is clearly a malleable text, which doesn’t give much confidence in any clear and unambiguous prophecy in the Bible.
In fact, it’s worse than that. This has been fertile ground for imaginative Christians for two millennia, and many conflicting ideas have arisen. For a long list of scholars and amateurs who weighed in with their interpretation of the evidence, go here and search for “List of Historicist Biblical Expositors.”
(For the first post in this series, go here.)
Christian interpretation #2
This is the Dispensationalist interpretation (which gets into the rapture, premillennialism, Revelation as prophecy, and so on). I summarized Daniel 9:24–7 in a previous post, so go there if you need a refresher on the steps in that prophecy.
With this interpretation, start the clock with the Decree of Artaxerxes to rebuild the Temple given to Nehemiah in 444 BCE (Nehemiah 2:1–8). If we count ahead as before using 7 weeks + 62 weeks (–444 + 483 + 1 = 40 CE), the final week would be 40–47 CE. This is obviously too late to align with any popular dates associated with the death of Jesus.
The clever (or desperate) solution is to declare a “prophetic year” to be twelve 30-day months, creating a 360-day year. Supporters defend this by pointing to several verses where round numbers are used (42 months are equated with 1260 days, for example).
If this is correct, our years have been too long. They need to be scaled by 360 (days in a “prophetic year”) divided by 365.25 (days in a Julian year). Our 483-year jump is now only 476 years, and the final week begins in 33 CE. If we say that Jesus died in this year, we have the Anointed One dying at the right time (again assuming that we can add 7 weeks to the 62 weeks).
But what about that final week? Proponents of this hypothesis imagine an unspecified amount of time before this Tribulation Period starts, though the prophecy says nothing about this. If we allow this, however, the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE can explain the reference to destruction. But that has its own problems: the “ruler who will come” who destroyed the Temple is the one in the final week, so the Tribulation must’ve already happened in the first century, which means no rapture or tribulation in our own future.
Some proponents go so far as to imagine that this prophecy accurately predicts the crucifixion to the day. To those prophecy enthusiasts, I ask if anyone decoded the puzzle before the event. If it’s clear to you, some of the smart Jews of that time must’ve figured it out. They had almost five centuries, after all.
And what about Jews today? Daniel is their holy book, too. Are they convinced by this claim that Jesus is prophesied within Daniel? If not, I wonder what possible use this undecipherable prophecy could’ve had.
But this interpretation don’t work so good either
The first Christian interpretation of Daniel didn’t work, and this one is also full of problems.
Problem 1: We still have the initial verse saying that the atonement is at the end of 70 weeks. Christian theology says that the death of Jesus is the atonement, but this interpretation of Daniel demands that the final week is still in our future.
Problem 2: The “prophetic year” is nonsense. The Jewish calendar alternates between 29- and 30-day months, giving a 354-day year, and it has a complicated mechanism that adds months to keep it in sync with the solar year. Yes, there are Bible verses that give time spans of days that, if precise, would point to a 30-day month. No, there is no reason to think that a special, grossly wrong calendar was ever used. Do those who argue for the prophetic year use it to calculate the millennium as only 985 years? Do they scale time periods used in other prophecies? Consistency, please.
Problem 3: A floating final week isn’t what the prophecy says. There was no gap after the 7 weeks; why imagine one after the 62 weeks (I mean, besides that you’re trying to shoehorn the facts into your presuppositions)?
And most of the problems from the previous attempt apply as well. It makes no sense of the 7 week/62 week distinction, there is no justification for picking this start date out of the alternatives, and it ignores the evidence in Daniel that the final week was roughly 171–164 BCE.
Looking back to Daniel chapters 11–12, the prophecy discussed earlier, we saw the same idea of half of a 7-year period. Clearly, chapter 9 is yet one more interpretation of the same time period, and we need to bring in Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid mustache-twisting villain of the Maccabean Revolt.
Reinterpreting the end as being during this time makes a lot more sense of the text. We’ll explore that interpretation in the final post in this series.
To surrender to ignorance and call it God
has always been premature,
and it remains premature today.
— Isaac Asimov
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 3/27/14.)
Image credit: DominÖ, flickr, CC