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The prophecies of the Book of Daniel have fascinated readers and created controversy for the past two thousand years. Evangelical Christians believe that the prophet Daniel, an official in the courts of Near-Eastern emperors in the sixth century BC, foretold the future of the world from his own time to the end of the age. Actually, the book was written in Palestine in the mid-second century BC by an author who expected God to set up his everlasting kingdom in his own near future, as we read in the mainline commentaries[1] and Bible dictionaries[2] :

Seeing four immense beasts coming up out of the sea, Daniel becomes duly horrified. Now it is Daniel's turn to seek enlightenment as to the meaning of the vision, as the pagans did of him in the earlier narratives of the book. An angel explains that the lion symbolizes the Babylonian kingdom; the bear, the Median; the leopard, the Persian; and the terrifying monster with the ten horns, the Hellenistic (Seleucid). Three of the horns are uprooted by a small horn which sprouts up and speaks arrogantly (Antiochus IV Epiphanes). The Ancient One, symbol of God, appears in glory and judgment. The four beasts are slain, and finally everlasting dominion is given to "one in human likeness," symbolizing the holy ones of the Most High, or the faithful Jews who had been devastated by the wicked Antiochus for three and a half years.[3]

The angel Gabriel again appears and reveals that the seventy years are in reality seventy weeks of years upon the completion of which justice will be done and the temple reconsecrated. The accuracy of Gabriel's mathematics is apparently of little concern, Daniel's true interest being the last week of years, from the death of Onias III in 171 B.C. to the inauguration of the Kingdom of God in 164, which followed the roughly half week of years during which Antiochus IV abolished sacrifices and defiled the temple by placing on the altar the "appalling abomination" (or "abomination of desolation").[4]

The failure of his prediction refutes evangelical claims that the Bible is inerrant and prophecy proves its divine inspiration.

The original purpose of the Book of Daniel was to comfort and encourage persecuted Jews during the Maccabean revolt. It all began in December of 167 BC, when the Seleucid emperor Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem with an idol bearing his likeness. He went on to force his Jewish subjects to abandon the Sabbath, circumcision, and food laws, torturing and killing all who opposed him. At this outrage, the Jews revolted under Judas Maccabeus, driving the Seleucid armies out of Palestine and recapturing the Temple. In December of 164 BC, they rededicated the Temple to Jewish worship on the first Hanukkah.

During the revolt, pious Jews began to circulate an anthology of stories allegedly written four hundred years earlier by a Jewish hero named Daniel. These stories relate how Daniel and his friends, while serving as officials in the courts of pagan kings, risked their lives to avoid breaking Jewish food laws or worshipping false gods. When the mightiest kings on Earth tried to force them to compromise their religious principles, they passively waited on God's miraculous intervention to save them. The success of Daniel's prophecies of events up to and including the atrocities of Antiochus supposedly demonstrated that God would miraculously intervene on schedule to rescue the Jews from Antiochus as well.

The prophet Daniel supposedly predicted that four great empires were to rise and fall in succession between his day and the end of the world: Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece. Alexander the Great's Greek Empire was to break up into four smaller empires, the most important being the Seleucid Empire in Syria to the north, and the Ptolemaic Empire in Egypt to the south. After seven Greek kings ruled in succession, the eighth was to snatch the throne from three candidates who had more right to it than he did. This king, Antiochus Epiphanes, provoked the Maccabean War. The Book of Daniel predicted that God would miraculously destroy Antiochus Epiphanes, resurrect the righteous dead, and set up an everlasting, worldwide Israelite Empire three and a half years after the desecration of the Temple; in other words, the Messianic Empire should have begun in June of 163 BC. Since these predictions largely came true until the middle of the war and failed thereafter, we know that the author lived in Seleucid times, not Babylonian times.

Many critical scholars attribute the obvious historical errors of the book of Daniel to naïveté. I find it more likely that the author generally knew what he was doing and wrote honest anachronistic inspirational fiction, the literary equivalent of the faith-promoting Left Behind series of our own time. His friends and contemporaries already expected God to set up the messianic kingdom very soon in their own lifetimes, and his cycle of short stories regarding Daniel merely gave literary expression to their preexisting beliefs.

Scholars like Leonard J. Greenspoon have suggested that the Hellenistic authors of Judith, Tobit, Esther, and Daniel intentionally salted their works with blatant anachronism as a literary device for cluing readers in that their books were novels rather than history, although later readers did not always take the hint. Judith, for instance, begins with King Nebuchadnezzar of Assyria defeating King Arphaxad of Media in the east, and then sending General Holofernes west of the Euphrates to attack the Jews shortly after their return from the Babylonian Exile. In reality, the lands of Media, Assyria, and Judea were all solidly under Persian rule at the time. According to Greenspoon:

Another characteristic shared by these novels (and the Book of Daniel as well) relates specifically to their historicity. They contain what appear to be historical notices that contradict the historical record preserved elsewhere. So, for example, we know of no Jewish queen in Persia, the forces said to have massed against Judith's hometown come from different periods, and Daniel is replete both with otherwise unknown -- and impossible -- personages and with a collapsed or convoluted chronological framework. Although some fundamentalists have sought to expand or correct the generally accepted historical record on the basis of their interpretation of these "historical" details, such efforts must be judged misguided when we realize that their authors were not writing history. They were aware that these things never happened and that these individuals never lived, and their audience had the same knowledge.[5]

As with Esther, Judith, and Tobit, there are [in the Book of Daniel] several deviations from the historical record as known elsewhere. Their utilization in a fully ironic, even mocking, manner makes it unnecessary to charge either ancient author or modern reader with ignorance or carelessness. The author and his initially intended audience fully understood and appreciated Daniel's novelistic context.[6]

The author of Daniel and his readers knew their history too well for his historical inconcinnities to be an accident. From Daniel 11. we see that he was well-acquainted with the history of the Seleucids and Ptolemies up to a century and half before his time. The author of Bel and the Dragon. an apocryphal addition to Daniel, knew that the last Median king, killed by Cyrus, was Astyages rather than "Darius the Mede," and presumably this was common knowledge among his contemporaries. The author of 1 Maccabees 1:1 knew that Alexander the Great had defeated "King Darius of the Persians and the Medes" when he conquered the Persian Empire, and he must have known that this king was not the Darius the Great mentioned in the Bible. The Greek historians were well aware that the conqueror of Babylon was Cyrus the Persian, and this was probably common knowledge, so probably the character Darius the Mede was a literary device rather than a crude blunder.

The divergent interpretations of history in the different chapters of Daniel make better sense under the theory that it is honest fiction than under the theory that it is a crude forgery. The book as a whole clearly focuses on the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes and his ultimate destruction by God's supernatural intervention at the end of the age, but otherwise the author's description of history varies somewhat from story to story. In some stories, he emphasized the continuity between the Median and Persian empires, but in others, he emphasized the distinction between them. In one chapter, he treated the tyranny of the Seleucid Empire as the direct continuation of the might of Alexander's empire, but elsewhere, he emphasized that the Seleucid Empire and the other successor states of Alexander's empire lacked his power. Even while emphasizing that Darius the Mede is the absolute monarch of an independent empire, he betrays an awareness that the empire that destroyed Babylon comprised both the Medes and the Persians. In describing the desolation of the land of Israel under the Babylonian Empire, he uses Jeremiah's cliché figure of the seventy-year exile, yet betrays an accurate knowledge that the actual period of Jerusalem's desolation from 587 to 538 BC was forty-nine years. These variations more likely arose from literary considerations than from mere ignorance. A novelist can get away with more creative anachronism than a mere propagandist, just as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could get away with a number of contradictions in his Sherlock Holmes stories that a historian could not.

Scholars have proposed a number of theories for the compositional history of the book. It can be divided into two halves of six chapters each: the stories and the visions. The six stories trace Daniel's career chronologically through the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius the Mede, and Cyrus the Persian. The four visions are likewise arranged chronologically, but they overlap with the stories. Many argue that the stories were composed perhaps a century before the Maccabean revolt, pointing out that although Kings Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius the Mede were hardly models of religious tolerance, at least it never entered their minds to exterminate Judaism outright as Antiochus tried to do. Some insist that the vision of chapter 7 was added as an appendix to the original core of six stories to form a chiastic structure in which chapters 2 and 7 are visions of the four empires, chapters 3 and 6 are stories of Jews resisting pressure to worship false gods, and chapters 4 and 5 are stories of the humbling of proud and arrogant kings. This theory helps explain why chapters 2 through 7 (except for the first three and a half verses of chapter 2) are written in Aramaic, whereas the rest of the book is in Hebrew. It makes little difference to my interpretation, however, whether the writer who assembled these components into their final form was their author or merely their editor. Either way, he crafted his inspirational fiction to inspire and comfort his fellow Jews who were loyal to their religious faith in the face of persecution.

Old Testament chronology is not always an exact science. Depending on the commentary one consults, one finds the fall of Jerusalem variously dated at 587 or 586 BC, and the first year of Cyrus' conquest of Babylon dated at 539 or 538 BC. Turning to Maccabean times, we find that some commentators place the desecration of the Temple in December 168 BC and its rededication in December 165 BC, whereas the majority shifts both events one year later. I elect to the use the majority chronology as found in Knight and Hartman & Di Lella, which places the fall of Jerusalem at 587 BC, the fall of Babylon in 539 BC, the desecration of the Temple in December of 167 BC, and its rededication in December of 164 BC.

The prophecies in the Book of Daniel all end with the destruction of Antiochus Epiphanes as punishment for his atrocities and sacrileges at the beginning of the Messianic Age, as we shall see in some detail later on. However, different chapters in Daniel arrive at this same destination through two different paths. Chapter 8 emphasizes the continuity between Media and Persia, treating them as Phase 1 and Phase 2 of a single empire. Chapters 2 and 7, on the other hand, emphasize the distinction between them, treating them as two separate entities. Let us begin by examining the four-empire scheme of chapters 2 and 7 and the author's probable motives in inventing it. In these chapters, the four successive empires are Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece. They are represented by the golden head, silver chest, bronze loins, and iron legs in the vision of the statue in chapter 2, and by the lion, bear, leopard, and dragon in the vision of the four beasts in chapter 7. Clearly our author's scenario is counterfactual, for Persia under King Cyrus conquered Media in 550 BC before conquering Babylonia in 539 BC.

The evidence for this identification of Daniel's four empires is as follows. Most importantly of all, the fourth empire is clearly Greece. The second half of Daniel consists in four visions: the vision of the four beasts in Daniel 7. the vision of the ram and the he-goat in Daniel 8. the seventy weeks prophecy in Daniel 9. and the prophecy of the kings of the north and the south in Daniel 10-12. All four end with an antichrist figure who blasphemes God, overthrows the Jewish law, and persecutes righteous Jews for three and a half years. This is clearly Antiochus Epiphanes, the ruler of the main successor state of the fourth empire. The visions go on to say that God would supernaturally overthrow the blasphemous king and impose his righteous rule over the whole world at the appointed time of the end. The failure of this prediction demonstrates that the four purported prophecies of Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabean revolt were actually written after the fact.

Actually, Daniel would still be a false prophet even if the evangelical interpretation were correct. Under this theory, the Roman Empire was to be the last world empire before Jesus' second coming, and all four were important to the author of Daniel because they controlled Judah and Jerusalem. In real history, however, the Islamic and Ottoman Empires falsified Daniel's prophecy because they succeeded Rome and likewise occupied Judah and Jerusalem. In fact, they were much larger and lasted far longer than the Babylonian Empire of Daniel's prophecy.

In the vision of the statue in Daniel 2. the four empires are symbolized by four metals: viz. the golden head of Babylonia, the silver chest of Media, the bronze loins of Persia, the iron legs of Greece, and the iron-and-clay feet of the successor states of Greece. The metals decrease in monetary value yet increase in strength from the top to the bottom of the statue.

Our author probably got the idea of the four ages from Hesiod, an eighth-century BC Greek poet. Hesiod taught that the world has gone through four ages, each one morally inferior to its predecessor: viz. the ages of gold, silver, bronze, and iron (Works and Days 106-201).[8] Our author need not have read Hesiod; he and his fellow Jews probably picked up the idea from Greeks living in that part of the world.

The add-on attributes of each beast indicate its rank. Since the kingdom of God ranks first in splendor and glory, the four earthly empires can rank only second through fifth. Babylonia, the second in rank, is symbolized by an otherwise normal lion that has two wings and walks on two feet. Media, the third, is symbolized by a bear that has three ribs or tusks in its mouth and apparently walks on three legs, for it is "raised up on one side." Persia, the fourth, is symbolized by a leopard with four heads and four wings. Greece, the fifth, is symbolized by a dragon with apparently two rows of five horns each. [9]

Evangelicals argue that the critics' distinction between Media and Persia is artificial and arbitrary. Actually, our author borrowed the idea from the Greeks, forcing real history to fit into a four-empire scheme that was already a part of the culture of his times and familiar to his readers. Greeks and Romans in the Hellenistic Age believed that in all history there had been four consecutive world empires: Assyria, Media, Persia, and Greece. Some contemporary Romans, like the historian Aemilius Sura, who flourished between 179 and 171 BC, believed that their own empire had the messianic destiny of supplanting the four empires forever:

Aemilius Sura in his book on the chronology of Rome: The Assyrians were the first of all races to hold power, then the Medes, after them the Persians and then the Macedonians. Then, when the two kings Philip and Antiochus, of Macedonian origin had been completely conquered, soon after the overthrow of Carthage, the supreme command passed to the Roman people.[10]

The four-empire scheme is also found in the works of later Greek and Roman historians: viz. Tacitus (Histories 5.8-9), Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1.2.1-4), Appianus (Roman History introduction), and Polybius (Histories 38.22.1-3).[11] Even before the Greek Empire arrived on the scene, the Greek authors Herodotus (Histories 1.95,30) and Ctesias (quoted in Diodorus Siculus 2.1-34) alluded to a scheme of three world empires: namely, Assyria, Media, and Persia.[12]

The Book of Daniel follows the pagan four-empire scheme in distinguishing Media from Persia, yet differs in substituting Babylonia for Assyria. The reason for the switch is that direct foreign rule over Judah had begun with the Babylonian Empire and was destined to last though the four empires. The reason Babylonia does not figure in the pagan Greek scheme is that it was weaker than and mostly contemporaneous with Media.

Daniel's four beasts also correspond to the four winds (Daniel 7:2-3 -- cf. Zechariah 2:6 ; 6:5 ; Ezekiel 37:9 ; Enoch 18:2 ; 2 Esdras 13:5 ). A map of the ancient Near East confirms that Babylonia lay to the south, Media to the north, Persia to the east, and Greece to the west. The Babylonians used animals to symbolize the cardinal points of the compass: the lion, bear, and leopard represented the south, north, and east, respectively.[13]

Contemporary documents prove the nonexistence of Darius the Mede beyond reasonable doubt. The documents and contracts produced after the fall of Babylon routinely mention Cyrus by name and are dated in terms of year of his reign. For an entire year after Cyrus' takeover, Cyrus appointed his son and crown prince Cambyses as the nominal king of Babylonia, so business documents are dated both in terms of Cambyses as "King of Babylon" and Cyrus as "King of Lands." None of these documents ever mentions "Darius the Mede."[16] The presence of Cyrus as emperor and Cambyses as king precludes the possibility that Darius the Mede held either office.

There are three problems with this theory, however. To begin with, Gobryas was a mere governor who owed allegiance to Cyrus and the Persian Empire. If he valued his job and his life, it would be foolish and reckless of him to challenge the authority of Cambyses and Cyrus by arrogating all worship and homage to himself as we read of Darius in Daniel 6 .

Thirdly, ancient Aramaic documents demonstrate that the expression "to receive the kingdom" was just the normal way of saying that someone became king. As for the statement that Darius "was made king," evangelicals have to assume the accuracy of the vowels in the traditional Hebrew text, known as the Masoretic text. The problem here is that the Hebrew Bible was written for many centuries without vowels. The currently used system of vowel points was first invented ca. 600 AD, at the beginning of the Middle Ages, by the Masoretes, the Jewish scribes of Tiberias in Galilee. To this day, the vowels are considered optional punctuation, not letters of the alphabet. Thus Torah scrolls for synagogue use are written without vowels, and in Israel vowels are only written in schoolbooks for children. Therefore, with different vowels, the word "was made king" in Daniel 9:1 can be rendered as "became king." This is the rendering followed by the ancient versions of the Bible: namely, the Septuagint, Theodotion, the Peshitta, and the Vulgate.[19]

In cases like this, evangelicals normally retort, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." I admit arguments from silence must be used with caution. However, silence does amount to denial if a contemporary author would have probably mentioned a particular event if he had known about it, and if he would have probably known about it if it had really happened. The silence of classical Roman authors, for instance, is excellent evidence that planes, trains, and trucks were not used in Rome in the days of Jesus. If the sole sovereign of Mesopotamia after the fall of Babylon in 539 BC were a man who ruled under the name of Darius the Mede as we read in Daniel 6. it would be inconceivable that the documents of the time should contain copious references to Cyrus as emperor, Cambyses as king, and Gobryas as governor, but no references whatever to Darius.

Silence carries even more weight as evidence if positive facts get in the way. Babylonian documents happen to contain copious references to Cyrus as emperor, Cambyses as king, and Gobryas as governor in Babylonia -- but no references whatever to Darius. These known rulers leave no room for Daniel's Darius the Mede as the sole sovereign of Babylon, thereby proving his nonexistence at that time beyond a reasonable doubt.

I'm not interested in what's possible; I'm interested in what is most likely. If several competing hypotheses purport to explain the same body of evidence, the historian selects the best of the lot, the one that explains the most evidence the most simply and straightforwardly. In other words, historians insist on making the inference to the best explanation.

Is it possible that Darius the Mede really existed more or less as described in Daniel 6. Yes, barely. However, that would require some outrageous and convoluted concatenation of events not explicitly mentioned in Daniel. Maybe Gobryas suffered from delusions of grandeur, or maybe he began to assume imperial authority over an independent Babylon as soon as he heard a false rumor of Cyrus' death. However, the best and most likely explanation of the evidence is that Darius the Mede is an imaginary character.

Earlier in this essay, I pointed out that our author utilized two different prophetic paths for arriving at the messianic kingdom in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, depending on which one made a better story at the time. The tension between the two schemes is real, but the author cavalierly varied his approach on the basis of literary rather than historical considerations, and his initial readers apparently did not mind.

In chapters 2 and 7, as we have seen, he emphasized the distinction between the Median and Persian Empires where he wanted to utilize and adapt the four-empire scheme of the Greeks, which was familiar to his readers.

The empires of the Macedonian Greeks were unusual in one other respect as well. Whereas most empires consist of ethnic states that annex their neighbors, the Greek ruling class of Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria were aliens in their own empires. Our author expected the Babylonians, Medes, and Persians to survive as ethnic groups and small kingdoms, despite their loss of empire, until the arrival of the Messianic Kingdom (Daniel 7:7,11-12 ), but at that time God was to supernaturally destroy the evil Seleucid Greeks in person.[30]

When Alexander the Great died, his generals (the Diadochi or successors) carved up his empire into four smaller kingdoms in the wars of succession, represented by the four horns on the ram in Daniel 8:8,22 and the four winds in Daniel 11:4. Ultimately, Seleucus seized Syria, Babylonia, and Persia; Ptolemy seized Egypt; Lysimachus seized Thrace and Asia Minor; and Cassander seized Greece and Macedonia.[31] The empire founded by Seleucus I Nicator was the primary successor state of Alexander's empire, being larger and more powerful than the other three combined.[32]

Different chapters in Daniel put two different spins on the wars of succession. Daniel 2, 8, and 11 stress the discontinuity, saying the four successor states were but a pale reflection of the glory and strength of Alexander's empire. In the vision of the four beasts in Daniel 7. on the other hand, our author treated the empires of Alexander and Antiochus as two different phases of the same evil and powerful empire because of the exceptional arrogance and brutality of the latter.

The ten horns of the fourth beast of Daniel 7 are probably the ten Greek kings of the Fourth Empire and its primary successor state from Alexander the Great to Antiochus Epiphanes and the end of the world. Now scholars have proposed several different theories for identifying the ten kings, but in all probability, the seven successive kings are Alexander the Great, Seleucus I Nicator, Antiochus I Soter, Antiochus II Theos, Seleucus II Callinicus, Seleucus III Soter Ceraunus, and Antiochus III the Great. The little horn that uproots three other horns is Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The three supplanted horns are three individuals who had more right to the throne than Antiochus did, and stood in his way: King Seleucus IV Philopator and his two sons, the crown prince Demetrius and the infant Antiochus.[33]

Evangelicals insist that since the horns of the fourth beast appear simultaneously in the vision, they must represent kingdoms that exist concurrently rather than consecutively, namely ten states that formed out of the dissolution of the Roman Empire.[34] This assertion is refuted by the dreams of the chief butler, the chief baker, and Pharaoh himself in Genesis 40-41. Here items that appeared concurrently in the dream symbolized events that were to occur consecutively in the real world. In particular, the seven fat and seven lean cows appear concurrently in Pharaoh's dream, but they symbolize fourteen consecutive years of plenty and famine. The four metals that symbolize four consecutive empires likewise appear concurrently in the vision of the statue in Daniel 2. The other problem with the evangelical interpretation is that the ten horns of Daniel do not plausibly correlate with ten successor states of the Roman Empire.

With Antiochus Epiphanes on the throne, the stage is set for the Maccabean revolt. According to the seventy-weeks prophecy of Daniel 9. God was to intervene in the war and enable the Jewish rebels to restore the Holy Place and usher in an era of everlasting righteousness. The following discussion of these predictions is adapted from Andre Lacocque.[35] He and the mainline commentators concur regarding the big picture,[36] although they differ in their interpretation of verse 25 as discussed below.

Jeremiah had predicted that the Babylonian Exile would last seventy years. However, our author apparently believed that seventy years of desolation and Babylonian rule in Judah were not enough to atone for the sins of pre-Exilic Jerusalem. Despite the rebuilding of the Temple, the Jews in his lifetime still suffered under the oppression of a foreign empire as punishment for their sins.

This 490-year scheme is subdivided into three periods: seven sevens or 49 years, sixty-two sevens or 434 years, and one seven or 7 years. To make his scheme fit real history, our author artificially broke off the seven sevens and made them concurrent with the sixty-two sevens, making them almost superfluous. If he did not have a seventy-week scheme to defend, he could have simply eliminated the three words "seven weeks and," and the rest of his prophecy would have made perfect sense without them.

Three prophetic periods overlap in an interlocking pattern. The sixty-two weeks of Daniel are probably the period of general pagan dominion over the Holy Land from 605 to 171 BC. The "seventy years" of Jeremiah are the sixty-seven-year period of Babylonian dominion over the Holy Land from 605 to 538 BC. The "seven weeks" or 49 years of Daniel are the time that the Babylonians left Jerusalem in ruins from 587 to 538 BC.

Lacocque makes the seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks concurrent. The advantage of his theory is that the dates and numbers come out almost exactly, unlike the majority theory. Also, it is more natural to place the starting point of the sixty-two weeks in 605 BC as discussed above. Now the second-century Greek astronomer Ptolemy of Alexandria compiled a list of kings from Assyrian times down to his own time, with the length of their reigns in years. It was cited by subsequent ancient astronomers to calculate absolute dates of lunar and planetary observations that had originally been dated in terms of the years of the reign of one king or another. Known as Ptolemy's Canon, it forms the backbone of the chronology of Persian and Babylonian times.[44] Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that the author of Daniel was similarly well-informed. The accuracy of his account of the Seleucids and the Ptolemies in Daniel 11 demonstrates that he could recount accurate history when he wanted to.

The majority theory, on the other hand, makes the seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks consecutive. The advantage of this theory is that this arrangement is more natural and straightforward. However, the sixty-two-week period is sixty-seven years too long. Under this theory, one must assume the author either did not know any better, or simply did not care. The Jewish historian Josephus was thirty to sixty years off in his dating of events in Persian times,[45] so it is equally reasonable to suppose that the author of Daniel was similarly hazy about the chronology of those times. His legends of Belshazzar's feast in Daniel 5 and Darius the Mede in Daniel 6 demonstrate that he could indulge in creative anachronism when he wanted to.

The Traditional Christian Interpretation of the Seventy Weeks

The advantage of this theory is that it interprets the 490-year period in a straightforward way, and it has more-or-less plausible starting and ending points. However, it does have its problems. To begin with, the classical Christian theory does not provide a plausible explanation for Daniel's clear distinction between the seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks.

To make their scheme work, adherents of the classical Christian theory must interpret verses 26 and 27 as references to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The problem here is that the fall of Jerusalem lies thirty-seven years outside of the seventy-weeks scheme. Since "desolations are decreed," the Romans under General Titus, "the people of the prince who is to come," were to "destroy the city and the sanctuary" of Jerusalem in 70 AD, long after the seventieth week is over, to punish the Jews for their murder of their Messiah. This is an awkward and arbitrary leap.

Another problem with this interpretation is that the Hebrew word here translated in verse 26 as "destroy" is shakhat. In its various grammatical forms, it only means to "mar," "injure," "spoil," "ruin," "pervert," or "corrupt."[51] This can easily refer to the trashing of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes, but not to Titus' razing of Jerusalem and its Temple to the ground.

The Dispensationalist Christian Interpretation of the Seventy Weeks

Dispensationalist Christians like Dr. Harold Hoehner have a totally different theory.[52] They claim the seventy weeks begin in 444 BC with the decree issued by Emperor Artaxerxes I in the twentieth year of his reign authorizing Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:1-8 ). The obvious problem with this theory is that the seventieth week would then last from 40 to 47 AD -- too late to connect with the crucifixion of Jesus in 30 or 33 AD, or with any other plausibly significant event.

Hoehner's theory has several flaws. First of all, the Jews have never used an inflexible 30-day month or 360-day year in either biblical or postbiblical writings in their entire history. They have always used a lunar calendar that varies between 29 and 30 days per month, and has 354 days per year. Since this is eleven days too short, the Jews add a thirteenth month to the calendar every few years to keep it in sync with the solar year. As complex as this system may seem, it succeeds in keeping the agricultural holidays of the Jewish Torah in the seasons where they belong, unlike Hoehner's 360-day fantasy.

Now admittedly, some calendars like the French Republican Calendar[53] and the calendar of ancient Egypt[54] consist of twelve months of thirty days each because these make nice round numbers. (Efforts by Hoehner to document this claim by citing Immanuel Velikovsky, among others, in six separate footnotes will certainly raise eyebrows among serious scholars.)[55] However, one way or another, these nations have always added at least five extra days each year to make the calendar year track the solar year. To the best of my knowledge, no nation anywhere on Earth at any time in history has ever used a 360-day calendar without the additional days to track time over a period of many years.

If God used a 360-day "biblical year" in Daniel 9 as Hoehner claims, then consistency demands that he should have used it elsewhere in the Bible as well, or at least elsewhere in biblical prophecy. Thus Jeremiah's seventy prophetic years would have to be 367.5 days (5.25-day shortfall X 70 years) shorter than seventy real years -- in other words, a little less than sixty-nine years. Similarly, the Millennial Reign of Jesus will have to be at least 5,250 days or over fourteen years shorter than a real millennium -- in other words, only a little less than 986 real years. I have never run across a dispensationalist author who takes the prophetic year theory to this logical and absurd conclusion.

Thirdly, Hoehner's theory ends on the wrong day even if his math is correct. If the Crucifixion took place on Friday, 3 April 33 AD, then the Triumphal Entry on 30 March must have fallen on a Monday. To place this event on Palm Sunday where it belongs, we must place the beginning of the sixty-nine weeks on the last day of the month before Nisan of 444 BC, contrary to the requirements of Nehemiah 2:1 as interpreted by his theory.

Fourthly, Hoehner's math is actually incorrect. To explain why this is so, I must first digress and explain the difference between the Julian versus the Gregorian calendars. Before 1582, Christian countries used the Julian or "Old Style" calendar as originally devised by Julius Caesar. Every fourth year was made a leap year without exception because it was assumed that the solar year was exactly 365-1/4 days long. Since the actual solar year is actually a bit shorter, namely 365.24219879 days, the calendar since the days of Caesar had deviated 11 days out of sync with the seasons. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar to repair this defect. Of course, most years divisible by 4 are still leap years in the Gregorian or "New Style" Calendar as they were in the Julian calendar. Any year divisible by 400 is still a leap year, but any year divisible by 100 and not by 400 is not a leap year. Thus the year 2000 AD was a leap year, but the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not.[56]

Hoehner miscalculates the number of days between 5 March 444 BC and 30 March 33 AD by confusing the two calendars. He admits the two dates are Julian dates, but then proceeds to use the Gregorian figure of 365.24219879 days/year in an inappropriate manner as follows. The difference between 5 March 444 BC and 5 March 33 AD is exactly 476 Julian years. (In calculating this figure, one must remember that there was no year zero. In other words, the year 1 BC was immediately followed by the year 1 AD.) It so happens that 476 years X 365.24219879 days/year = 173,855.2866 days, which rounds down to 173,855 days. We must add an extra 25 days to the 173,855 days to arrive at the 173,880 days required by Hoehner's sectarian interpretation of Daniel 9. This takes us from March 5 to March 30 of 33 AD.[57]

Hoehner should have multiplied by the Julian figure of 365.25 days/year instead. Calculating with the correct figure, we find that 476 Julian years X 365.25 days/Julian year + 25 days = 173,884 days between March 5 of 444 BC and March 30 of 33 AD instead. This result places the last day of Hoehner's sixty-nine "weeks" or 173,880 days on 26 March rather than 30 March, four days too early for Hoehner's "Palm Monday." Now admittedly, this error is not fatal to his theory, since Artaxerxes could have given his decree on 4 Nisan rather than 1 Nisan to have the sixty-nine weeks end on Palm Sunday of 33 AD. However, it does show that Hoehner is operating outside his area of expertise.

Fifthly, Hoehner's theory starts on the wrong month, dating Nisan a month too early. Parker & Dubberstein provide tables of the Julian equivalents of Babylonian dates for the Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenistic kings. Hoehner misquotes these tables to prove that 1 Nisan 444 BC in the 20th year of the reign of Artaxerxes I fell on 5 March.[58] Actually, they say that 1 Nisan 444 BC fell on 3 April, and 4 March was actually 1 Adar, the first day of the previous month.[59] This places the endpoint of the 69 weeks about a month too late for Palm Sunday and Good Friday of 33 AD.

Hoehner cites Horn and Wood to prove that the Jewish year according to Nehemiah 1:1 ; 2:1 began in the fall in the month of Tishri.[60] However, Horn and Wood actually agree with Parker & Dubberstein in placing the month of Nisan too late for Hoehner's theories. They cite fourteen Jewish documents spanning the fifth century BC from among the Elephantine Papyri in Egypt with equivalent dates in both the Egyptian solar calendar and the Babylonian lunar calendar in use at the time. This supplies us with enough information to calculate the Julian equivalent of the dates in each document, as well as the Julian equivalent of 1 Nisan of each year. These documents show that for the fourteen years in question, 1 Nisan fell on Julian dates ranging from 26 March to 24 April.[61] This demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that Hoehner is one month off in his calculations.

Now admittedly, Horn and Wood disagree with Parker and Dubberstein by one whole year. On the basis of certain ancient documents, Parker and Dubberstein place 1 Nisan of Artaxerxes' 20th year on 13 April 445 BC rather than 3 April 444 BC.[62] If they are right, then Hoehner's theory is off by a year. Conversely, Horn and Wood argue on the basis of their fourteen double-dated papyri that the accession year or "year zero" of Artaxerxes' reign lasted from fall 465 BC to fall 464 BC, a finding that places the Nisan of the 20th year of his reign in 444 BC. This would be more congenial with Hoehner's theory. Even so, both sources agree that even if Hoehner got the year right, he still got the month wrong.

Finally, the biggest problem of all with the dispensationalist theory is that the seventieth week never happened. The Roman "people of the prince who is to come" should have cruelly oppressed the Jews and destroyed Jerusalem along with its Temple from 33 to 40 AD, after which Jesus should have come to rule the Earth. To dispose of this error, dispensationalists have argued that God postponed the seventieth week to the distant future because the Jews crucified Jesus instead of accepting him as their king on his terms rather than theirs. Under this interpretation, Daniel's seventieth week is the Tribulation Period in our future, and the "prince who is to come" is the Antichrist, who will desecrate the Tribulation Temple in the middle of the period. The Church Age, a mystery that God had kept hidden until Pentecost, fills an invisible gap of many centuries separating the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. To describe this theory is to refute it.

Christian apologists frequently argue that if Daniel were full of historical errors, as the critics say, learned Jews would have spotted those errors and prevented the book from being canonized in the Hebrew Bible. Actually, this argument carries little weight because successful religious forgeries have been common throughout history.

To begin with, many a Mormon today embraces Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon, an alleged history of ancient America miraculously translated from gold plates that had been buried in a hill in upstate New York fourteen centuries before his time. Some of our nation's most brilliant doctors, lawyers, engineers, computer scientists, and corporate executives are devout Mormons. This dubious book demands and receives self-sacrificing morality, honesty, and obedience from its adherents. Alas, mitochondrial DNA studies show that Native Americans are Asian rather than Jewish.[66] In addition, the Book of Mormon contains many other errors demonstrating that it was written by a modern American rather than an ancient Native American.[67]

The Mormons are not the only ones to embrace forgeries. Ignatius of Antioch had written seven genuine epistles in the early second century, but a fourth-century impersonator interpolated false passages into his genuine epistles, and forged six more epistles in his name. The fraud was exposed only in modern times, but for centuries the Catholic Church used the expanded collection of Ignatius' epistles to support the authority of the Catholic hierarchy.[68]

The Donation of Constantine is a forgery produced by eighth-century Catholic leaders to support the Popes' temporal claim to the Papal States of Italy and their spiritual claim to rule all Christendom. Emperor Constantine supposedly issued this decree early in the fourth century to donate the Papal States to Pope Sylvester I in gratitude for his miraculous cure from leprosy upon his baptism.[69]

The Donation of Constantine is one part of a much larger collection, the False Decretals. These documents are a collection of papal letters and decrees of church councils purportedly compiled by Saint Isidore of Seville around 600 AD. Many of the documents happen to be genuine. However, many of the letters, including all those dating from the first three centuries of the Church's existence, were forged to prove that the clergy have always had political rights that secular kings dare not interfere with. The ninth-century pope Nicholas I declared the Decretals authoritative, and had them incorporated into the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church. Although the Church has admitted for some time that these works are forgeries, they were official Church documents for many centuries.[70]

Millions of Arabs and other enemies of the Jews continue to cite the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to this day as proof of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. This infamous forgery supposedly comprises the minutes of twenty-four meetings of a congress in Basle, Switzerland, in 1897. Supposedly, Jewish political and economic leaders from all over the world collaborated with the Freemasons to hatch a diabolical plot to subvert the morals of young people and foster liberalism and socialism. Thus they hoped to destroy the economies of all nations and thereby take over the world.[71]

The canonization of the Book of Daniel was probably a matter of politics. Pious Jews apparently embraced the book, despite its historical errors, false predictions, and recent origins, because it supported their political movement. Even if the age of everlasting righteousness did not appear as expected, the political independence of the Jews for the first time in over four centuries seemed to be miracle enough to confirm Daniel's prophecies. The details of the unfulfilled predictions were probably reinterpreted in a more figurative and "spiritual" manner, much as Jehovah's Witnesses have repeatedly rationalized the failure of their own predictions for the imminent end of the world. Thus religious fantasies like the Book of Daniel will survive if the political factions that embrace them prevail in the end, and it is the winners who write the history books.

Many skeptics do not realize that conservative Christians for centuries have been well aware of errors in the Bible, and that they have contrived many ingenious but unlikely damage-control hypotheses to explain this evidence away. In this essay, I have addressed the most important of their objections to the critical interpretation of Daniel. Admittedly, each individual error can be demonstrated only with probability rather than certainty, and the believers always have their excuses at the ready. However, the weight of the evidence is cumulative, just as it is in a court of law.

Let's translate this into the language of everyday life. I was late for work one morning many years ago because I had negligently forgotten to set my alarm clock the night before. When I finally arrived at work, to save face, I told the story that my cats had knocked a bottle of olive oil from the kitchen counter and onto the floor, where it shattered with dire results. Of course, that was not the sort of accident a person could just walk away from. Now it happened that my story was believed because I am normally quite punctual, and freak accidents like this do happen once in a great while. However, you know perfectly well what a boss would think if a habitually tardy employee offered outrageous excuses like this two or three times per week.

Similarly, if there were only a half dozen errors in the entire Bible, then the fundamentalist excuses for these errors might be tolerable, since strange and unlikely things do happen once in a blue moon. However, with hundreds if not thousands of errors to dispose of, the credibility of the damage-control explanations offered by the Christian apologists wears mighty thin. Fundamentalists who struggle to explain away the errors in the Bible frequently attack the errors of the holy books of other religions as eagerly as any freethinker,[73] and I see no reason to treat the Book of Daniel any differently.

Whenever critical scholars point out that Daniel's purported predictions were written after the fact, Christian believers routinely retort that they are merely showing a philosophical prejudice against the possibility of supernatural prophecy. Actually, it is not a question of philosophical presuppositions, but a question of hard evidence and inference to the best explanation. Daniel's "predictions" of events up to the desecration of the Temple in 167 BC and the beginning of the Maccabean revolt substantially came true -- yet its predictions of a new invasion of Egypt by Antiochus and the Resurrection of the Dead soon thereafter totally failed. The author correctly "predicted" the rise of Alexander the Great, and the history of the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kings, but he fared far worse in his predictions that God would supernaturally slay Antiochus Epiphanes, raise the dead, and inaugurate the messianic age in 163 BC. The most likely explanation of this strange pattern is that these prophecies were first composed just before the time they started to fail by an author who had no genuine talent for predicting the future.

The biblical prophets themselves admitted that their credibility stands or falls with the fulfillment or failure of their predictions.[74] We read, for instance, in the Book of Deuteronomy:

Now of course nobody should ever be executed for their religious beliefs, and the Book of Daniel is probably just a novel rather than a serious prophecy. Even so, the dramatic failure of the prophecies in the Book of Daniel demonstrates that whatever else it is, it is not the inspired word of God.

[1 ] Louis F. Hartman and Alexander A. Di Lella, The Book of Daniel. Anchor Bible Series, vol. 23 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978); Arthur Jeffery, "The Book of Daniel: Introduction and Exegesis" in Interpreter's Bible ed. George Arthur Buttrick, 12 vols. (New York & Nashville: Abingdon, 1951-1957), vol. 6 (1956): 339-549; George A. F. Knight, "The Book of Daniel" in Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. ed. Charles M. Laymon (Nashville & New York: Abingdon, 1971): 436-450; Andre Lacocque, The Book of Daniel. trans. David Pellauer (Atlanta: John Knox, 1979).

[2 ] Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. ed. George A. Buttrick and Keith R. Crim, 4 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1962), s.v. "Daniel, Book of"; Anchor Bible Dictionary ed. David Noel Freedman, 6 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), s.v. "Daniel, Book of."

[3 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. p. 5.

[5 ] Leonard J. Greenspoon, "Between Alexandria and Antioch: Jews and Judaism in the Hellenistic Period" in Oxford History of the Biblical World ed. Michael D. Coogan: 317-351 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998), p. 323.

[7 ] King James Bible Commentary. 2nd ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), p. 970.

[8 ] John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Vision of the Book of Daniel (Missoula, MT: Scholar's Press, 1977), p. 40.

[10 ] Quoted by the ancient author Velleius Paterculus, Roman History 1.6.6, cited in Collins, Apocalyptic Vision. p. 37.

[13 ] Elias Bickerman, Four Strange Books of the Bible (New York: Schocken Press, 1967), p. 102.

[14 ] James B. Pritchard, ed. The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1958), pp. 118-132; D. Winton Thomas, ed. Documents from Old Testament Times (London: Thomas Nelson, 1958), pp. 124-128.

[15 ] Pritchard, Ancient Near East. pp. 270-275; Thomas, Documents. pp. 245-249.

[16 ] H. H. Rowley, Darius the Mede and the Four World Empires in the Book of Daniel (1935; repr. Cardiff: Univ. of Wales Press Board, 1964), p. 12, 26.

[17 ] Klaus Koch, Anchor Bible Dictionary. s.v. "Darius the Mede." Whitcomb offers a more intricate version of this theory: John C. Whitcomb, Darius the Mede (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1963).

[19 ] Rowley, Darius the Mede. pp. 51-53. In the traditional Hebrew text of Daniel 9:1. the verb homlak in the hoph'al verb form is rendered "was made king." However, the vowels are a guess invented centuries after the book was originally written. With different vowels, the word himlik in the hiph'il verb form, by analogy with the Aramaic aph'el verb form, can be rendered "became king."

[20 ] Collins, Apocalyptic Vision. p. 107, 121n34; Lacocque, Book of Daniel. p. 157, 160.

[21 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. pp. 301-302.

[22 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. pp. 301-302; Lacocque, Book of Daniel. p. 232.

[23 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. p. 42, 302; Lacocque, Book of Daniel. p. 153.

[24 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. p. 253, 299.

[25 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. p. 301; Lacocque, Book of Daniel. p. 141, 231.

[29 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. p. 302, 305.

[31 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. p. 5, 288; Lacocque, Book of Daniel. p. 161.

[32 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. p. 289.

[33 ] Knight, "The Book of Daniel," p. 445, commentary on Daniel 7:7-8 ; Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, "The Book of Daniel: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections" in New Interpreter's Bible. ed. Leander E. Keck, David L. Peterson, and Thomas G. Long, 12 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995-2002), 7: 17-152 (1996), pp. 102-103, commentary on Daniel 7:7-8 .

[36 ] E.g. Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. pp. 238-254; Jeffery, "Book of Daniel," pp. 484-498; Knight, "Book of Daniel," pp. 447-448.

[38 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. pp. 33-34, 128.

[39 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. p. 34, 247.

[40 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. pp. 35, 190-191, 240, 251.

[41 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. p. 252; Lacocque, Book of Daniel. pp. 225-226.

[45 ] Josephus placed the interval from the end of the Babylonian Captivity in 539 BC to the death of the Hasmonean King Hyrcanus and the crowning of Aristobulus as king in 104 BC as 481 years, an error of 46 years (Antiquities XIII.xi.1). The actual interval from the first year of Cyrus the Great (in 539 BC) to the first year of Antiochus Eupator (in 164 BC) was 375 years, but Josephus gives the interval as 414 years, an error of 39 years (Antiquities XX.x.i). Josephus mistakenly synchronized the building of the Second Temple, which took place in the days of Haggai in 515 BC, with "the second year of Cyrus the king" in 538 BC. Either way, he says the Second Temple lasted 639 years until it was destroyed by Emperor Vespasian in 70 AD. Depending on the starting point, the error is either 32 years or 55 years (Wars VI.iv.8).

[46 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. pp. 41, 296-297; Lacocque, Book of Daniel. p. 228.

[47 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. pp. 41-42, 297-299; Lacocque, Book of Daniel. p. 228.

[48 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. p. 42, 299; Lacocque, Book of Daniel. p. 229.

[49 ] Archer, Encyclopedia. pp. 289-292; Henry H. Halley, Halley's Bible Handbook. p. 349.

[50 ] Gary Demar, End Times Fiction: A Biblical Consideration of the 'Left Behind' Theology (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), pp. 42-46; Henry H. Halley, Halley's Bible Handbook. p. 349; Steve Wohlberg, End Time Delusions: The Rapture, the Antichrist, and the End of the World (Shippensburg, PA: Treasure House, 2004), pp. 39-47.

[51 ] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906), pp. 1007-08.

[52 ] Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977), pp. 115-139; Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict. 2nd ed. (San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1979), pp. 170-75.

[53 ] Encyclopaedia Britannica: Micropaedia. 15th ed. s.v. "French Republican Calendar."

[54 ] Encyclopaedia Britannica: Macropaedia. 15th ed. s.v. "Calendar: Ancient and Religious Calendar Systems."

[55 ] Hoehner, Chronological Aspects. p. 135n63-66, 136nn67-68, citing Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1950).

[56 ] Encyclopaedia Britannica: Macropaedia. 15th ed. s.v. "Calendar: The Western Calendar and Calendar Reforms."

[59 ] Richard A. Parker and Waldo H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C.-A.D. 75. 2nd ed. (Providence, RI: Brown University Press, 1956), p. 32.

[61 ] S. H. Horn and L. H. Wood, "The Fifth-Century Jewish Calendar at Elephantine," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 13 (January 1954): 1-20.

[62 ] Parker & Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology. pp. 17-18, 32.

[63 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. p. 305.

[65 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. pp. 215-216, 253-254.

[66 ] Thomas W. Murphy, "Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics" in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon. ed. Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature, 2002), pp. 47-77.

[67 ] Jerald Tanner and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? (Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm, 1972).

[68 ] Encyclopaedia Britannica: Micropaedia. 15th ed. s.v. "Ignatius of Antioch, Saint."

[71 ] Ibid. s.v. "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion."

[72 ] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel. pp. 310-311.

[73 ] E.g. Walter R. Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults. rev. ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1985).

Copyright ©2007 Chris Sandoval. The electronic version is copyright ©2007 by Internet Infidels, Inc. with the written permission of Chris Sandoval. All rights reserved.

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