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Daniel's Seventy Sevens



Four verses of the Book of Daniel have mesmerized modern Christian apologists to no end. In Daniel 9:24-27, we not only have a mention of the Messiah but when he'll come and what would happen to him. Since Daniel is known to have been written before Jesus, if this is supposed to refer to his time, this is no later invention.

What makes this infinitely more interesting is the fact that it offers precise dating from when the counting begins. The calculations that have been presented are also very intriguing. The decree to rebuild Jerusalem mentioned in verse 25 recalls the permission Nehemiah obtained from Artaxerxes I to go and do just that (Neh. 2). The year of this decree is a bit disputed as we'll see.

I. Interpreting the Verses

The actual text of the verses (KJV):

Verse 24: Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.

Verse 25: Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.

Verse 26: And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.

Verse 27: And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.

At this point, the critical verse is 25: does the author try to say, as the ESV has it, that from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem in 445/4 BC the Messiah, or Anointed Prince, will come 7 weeks later (Zerubbabel?), and the city will be rebuilt for 62 weeks? Or is it saying that the Messiah will come after these 69 weeks after which the city has been rebuilt?

First of all, Zerubbabel lived 80 years before this and is connected with rebuilding the Temple, not the city. Nobody in connection with the restoration of Jerusalem, not Nehemiah, not Ezra, nor any of the High Priests, had any distinction of an Anointed Prince. Nehemiah was a Persian appointed governor, and that's as far as any importance is given to his title in the narrative, and the same goes for Ezra and the rest.

Nor is Daniel under any illusions that there was some such "unknown" character because his very statement makes this person very important and he should've been known or else the author would know people would mock his failure of a prediction. The last two verses are dramatic and important enough so that no one ever seriously interpreted verse 25 this way.

Now I have to note that the author is most certainly not talking about an actual 70 weeks or ~1.5 years. 62 actual weeks is a plausible amount of time to rebuild Jerusalem, despite it being spacious and big. First of all, in Daniel 12 there is a recap of the final "week". This is now plainly stated to be 7 years (Dan. 12:7b - compare with vv.11-12). The same language is found in Revelation and it'd be too much of a coincidence if it wasn't in any way referring to Daniel's mini-apocalypse when it has similar events and numbers (1290 in Dan. 12:11 vs 1260 in Rev. 11:2-3, 12:6,14, 13:5). This section follows immediately Daniel's inquiry into the 70 years of Jeremiah's prophecy. This prophecy itself is a collection of the 70 Sabbaths the Hebrews didn't follow since around the days of Saul, so we have one example of non-literal and non-linear time here. Moreover, the years of disobedience by Judah and Israel are symbolized as days in Ezekiel (Ez. 4:4-6). So are the 40 years of Wandering (Num. 14:33-34). Nor are the 70 weeks a reinterpretion of Jeremiah's 70 years because the details, reasons, and nature is completely different. Daniel does not say anywhere that the 70 years are over, he merely pleads with God for clemency, much like the angel in Zechariah 1:12. God responds by distracting Daniel from his present grief by not only comforting him of the fact that Jerusalem will be rebuilt, but that the righteous would then triumph. Since there was no rebuilding of Jerusalem going on during Jeremiah's 70 years, this cannot be a reinterpretation.

So with this in mind, we have to look at the 70 weeks as the time from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, however long this might take, to the events that occur with the Messiah, whoever he might be, at his appearance in the last week.

One final, good objection I want to give some attention is why Daniel splits up the timeframe of 70 weeks into 7 and 62 weeks and the last one. The final week is understandable: it's very eventful. The other two, one has to wonder. But such archaic ways of expression aren't uncommon, and he probably did this because of the symbol of 7 - very prominent both for Persians and for Jews. Ezekiel does the same thing with sums of shekels totaling a mina (Ez. 45:12). He divides the 60 shekel mina into "20 shekels and 25 shekels and 15 shekels" for no reason other than to relate it to the common people who probably never saw more than 25 shekels in one place most of their life. Moreover, Daniel's random number of 2300 days (Dan. 8:14) is very close to the multiple of 30 times an equally special 77, rounded down from 2310.

II. The Date of the Decree to Rebuild Jerusalem

If one is convinced that this decree has any significance here, two immediate questions come up:

  1. Which decree - Ezra's or Nehemiah's?
  2. When is this decree to be dated?

The first option is the time Ezra gives for his journey from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:9):

  • Leaves: Day 1, Month 1, Year 7 of Artaxerxes I
  • Arrives: Day 1, Month 5, Year 7 of Artaxerxes I

Artaxerxes I began his reign in 465 BC. However, since the Persians used Accession Reckoning, his first year actually begins in the Spring of 464 BC. This would make the first and fifth months of Artaxerxes' 7th year - 458 BC. Ezra also used the religious calendar of Nisan to Nisan reckoning (Ezra 3:1-6). If Ezra used Non-Accession Reckoning, this would mean 459 BC. So the time is 459/8 BC.

The other option is the permission given Nehemiah by the same king in his 20th year (Neh. 2). Before I go into details as to what year that would be, I want to explain why I don't think it's the time given in Ezra.

First of all, there is no decree of any rebuilding of Jerusalem in Ezra, and nothing of the sort happens in the book. The king bids Ezra to go and instruct the Jews in the Law. There is not a single verse that mentions any kind of rebuilding of the city. Ezra 9:9d speaks of "...and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem," but this is a clear metaphor in the community that emigrated back to the homeland. It's Judah as well as Jerusalem. If anything, it could be a reference to the walls of the Temple (Ezra 5:8), but it's just the protection of not being Exiles anymore, despite the city still being in ruins. Just the mere fact of a reorganization of the people - the true city/synagogue - is enough at this point.

In Nehemiah, however, we have no doubt of Jerusalem being rebuilt, with official letters (Neh. 2:5-10). Moreover, if we are to make any kind of chronological sense of the fact that Ezra is in Jerusalem over 10 years before Nehemiah arrives, yet gives the first instructions for the religious observance of the Feast of Tabernacles to the Exiles (Neh. 8), this means Jerusalem wasn't rebuilt in Ezra's day. It is true, Tabernacles is also observed 70 years earlier in Ezra 3:1-6. But there is no mention of the temporary shelters there (Neh. 8:17 - this verse says this hadn't been celebrated like this since Joshua's day). It's possible that Ezra simply did not have enough authority and manpower to enforce the threat in Ezra 10:7-8, despite v.9, which doesn't mean some couldn't have avoided, or a general relapse like the one Nehemiah encountered [Neh. 13]; how strong or lasting could such a drastic change be without official enforcement like Nehemiah's anyway? At any rate, we don't need to push that point, since we can easily remind that there simply is no rebuilding of Jerusalem or mention of that in Ezra - it reads and very much ends like a lot more work is needed to be done; something Nehemiah completes well.

So when was the decree in Nehemiah? The text says Nisan 20th year of Artaxerxes (Neh. 2:1). This means Nisan 1 when the day isn't mentioned (cf. Ezra 7:8-9). That would make it Nisan 1, 445 BC, or April 18, 445 BC. However, an interesting chronological piece in the very beginning, Nehemiah 1:1, has the royal servant receive news of Jerusalem's plight in...Kislev of the 20th Year of Artaxerxes - in other words December of 445 BC! Did Nehemiah time travel? Certainly there's a calendar issue of the kind with the Judahite and Israelite kings.

The fact is that Nehemiah must've been using Judah's Tishri-to-Tishri Calendar which began the new year in the Fall, roughly around September. This would explain why the spring (Nisan 1) of the following for us year is still Artaxerxes' 20th. The Persians, like the Kingdom of Israel and the religious calendar of the Old Testament, began their year in Nisan 1. They used the Accession Reckoning, but so did Judah's Tishri Calendar.

Nehemiah was a governor of Judea who returned to it, apparently permanently, after honoring his promise to return to king Artaxerxes I. It's likely he would have used the civil Judean calendar that started in the Fall and used Accession Reckoning. This is unlike Daniel, who was also an administrator but seems to have remained in Persia, and used their Spring Accession

The time when Artaxerxes I ascended the throne now matters a little more than just the year. Xerxes I was assassinated by his chief bodyguard, Artabanus, in August 465 BC. A short set of intrigues followed where Artaxerxes was led to believe the Crown Prince Darius was the murderer, but eventually before Artabanus could seize the throne, Artaxerxes was informed of the truth and removed the attempted usurper. All these events took some months and it's generally accepted Artaxerxes was crowned in December 465 BC (Encyclopedia Iranica). This means that for Nehemiah's Fall Accession Reckoning Calendar, Artaxerxes' I first year was from ~September 464-463 BC, not March/April 464-463 BC as it was for the Persians. This makes Kislev of the 20th year of Artaxerxes, as Nehemiah counted it, December 445 BC. And Nisan 1 of his 20th was not March/April 445 BC, but March/April 444 BC - a very important point for later. Specifically, March 3, 444 BC.

III. 360-Day Year

If we go back to the fact that Daniel's 70 Weeks are 70 sets of 7 years, then we've received a timeline as to when he expected the Messiah to come! What the nature of this Messiah's actions or their result exactly is according to him, we don't need to discuss here. What's important is to do the math and see where these 490 years take us.

Now I'm going to repeat a pretty familiar for many line of reasoning. But I'll provide enough justification for it so that at least someone can see why I'm convinced of this reasoning. The usual interpretation amongst many Christian circles is that Daniel's 490 years aren't exact solar years. Meaning one can't simply take 444 BC and add 490 years to it to get his timeline for the Messiah's arrival. It's not because this brings us to 47 AD when there wasn't any Messiah other than some ripoff revolutionary Josephus records for the twentieth time.

If we notice the length of the months given throughout Daniel and elsewhere, especially in apocalyptic (canonical!) literature, these are generalized, rounded 30 day periods. For example, as we noted in Daniel 12:7, he speaks of 3.5 years, and then in Dan. 12:11 he speaks of 1290 days which is exactly 43 30-day months (slightly over 3.5 years) - something happened in that month, and then another 30-day month and a half brings the total to 1335. Revelation is even more obvious in this, where in Rev. 11:2-3, 12:6,14, 13:5 - 42 months are exactly 1260 days. And Revelation's author, who was much closer to the time and culture of Daniel than we are, is using the same language for 3.5 years as Daniel 12:7 (Rev. 12:14).

Aside from this, only an explicit statement from Daniel or the Archangel Michael saying, "I am using a 30-day lunar month to round my anyway symbolic prophecies"; something the ancients never did when they were being direct, let alone cryptic angelic apocalypses.

IV. The Time from the Decree to Jesus

IV.A. The Math

Why does this matter and who cares? A very justified question at this point. Knowing that we're dealing with 490 years, 360 days each, we should convert them into solar years to see where we go from March 3, 444 BC.

We remove the last week because that's when the Messiah arrives and begins his confirmation of the Covenant which is a dual symbolism for Jesus' three and a half year ministry and the three and a half years of the Jewish War, as well as the Passion Week (where he also teaches many, more publicly and openly vs earlier [cf. MT 13:10-17 vs 26:55]). So we have the 7 and 62 = 69 in Daniel 9:25, leaving us with 483 "luni-solar" years. Multiplying by 360 we get 173880 days. We divide by the exact number of days in a year: 365.2422 [How Many Days Are in a Year? - NASA] [tropical and sidereal years do not have any relevance here; they are with respect to the stars for our convenience, not an actual, accurate astronomical measurement, and they are gauged by the Gregorian Calendar actually (for our convenience, as it should be the exact days in a year)]

Many others get 476 years + 25 days because they divide the 173,880 days by the Julian year. Dividing 173880 by 365.2422 we get 476.06766...Which is 476, 24 days, 17 hours. [the remainder 0.06766...multiplied back by 365.2422 is approx. 24.7128. Taking this 0.7128 days and multiplying it by 24 hours gives us a little over 17 hours (even if we multiply by 23 hours and 56 minutes (=23.933...hours) instead of 24)]

Nisan 1 began in the evening of March 3 in 444 BC. Objections to this include the fact that in Persia Nisan 1, 444 BC was April 3, not March 3. [Parker & Dubberstein (2007), Babylonian Chronology: 626 B.C. - A.D. 75, p.32] But from Jerusalem, in accordance with when the new moon was visible, this is March 3 (not March 5 or 8 - Source). Consequently, those who round the 173,880 days to 476 years, ignoring the 24.71 days, do so only because that gives exactly April 3, 33 AD.

IV.B. From Nehemiah to the Resurrection

The feast in Neh. 2:1 probably took place at night, perhaps celebrating the new year of Artaxerxes I (the Persians, like the Jews, Babylonians and Greeks, probably began their days at sunset). The actual decree would've been written the next day during the day, still Nisan 1 for Nehemiah and the Persians, but March 4 for us. Merely the spoken word wouldn't have been enough (compare Dan. 6:7-9). So our 476 years, 24 days, 17 hours begin ~morning of March 4, 444 BC.

Adding 476 years to 444 BC gives us 33 AD. We don't get 32 AD (476-444=32), because there was no year 0: adding 1 year to 1 BC gives 1 AD; adding 2 -> 2 AD, so, if we move forward by 443 years, we reach 1 BC leaving us with 33 years = 33 AD. Adding 24 days to March 4 gives us March 28, 33 AD. Adding another 17 hours gives us the late night of March 28/early morning March 29 (depending on when Artaxerxes would've signed the decree, and judging from the feast, it would've been closer to noon than dawn, meaning the early hours of March 29 are more likely).

The Jews begun their day in evening, as did Daniel (Dan. 8:14 - evenings mentioned before mornings). The Friday Jesus was crucified on, if in the year 33 AD (instead of the only possible alternate, 30 AD), fell on April 3, 33 AD. This makes Resurrection Sunday April 5, 33 AD. If we add 7 days to March 28/29 for the Passion week of the Gospels, equating it with the final week in Daniel's 70 Sevens (Dan. 9:26-27), we get exactly the night of April 4/day April 5 - Resurrection Sunday.

This is amazing as the prophecy, which doesn't have to be this accurate at all, matches to the day!

V. Objections

1. Daniel is a 2nd Century BC book

This goes a little beyond the purpose of this article. Nevertheless, the times and facts don't match with this. Aside from the fact that Antiochus didn't destroy the Temple, which like everything else in an unverifiably subjective theory is ascribed to Daniel being "in error," the Messiah that he speaks of is forcibly picked as Onias III who died in 171/0 BC. This makes the 434 years start from the first Babylonian captivity in 605/4 BC which Daniel and Jeremiah mention. So Daniel was knowledgeable enough (and he's not following Jeremiah who gives the time as the 3rd, not 4th year of Jehoiakim) to know of the Babylonian reckoning that squares this with the Non-Accession Reckoning used by Jeremiah, yet he's dumb enough to get a ton of details, many from his lifetime, wrong.

Moreover, this interpretation renders the initial 7 weeks lost; no one knew of any decree to rebuild Jerusalem prior to 605 or 587 BC, because Jerusalem hadn't been destroyed at all. And so there's no way Daniel would date the 434 years from 605/4 BC.

Finally, just because he mentions a few captives, including himself, during the 605/4 BC Babylonian attack, doesn't mean he starts dating Jeremiah's 70 years from that point. It would have been clear to the author who obviously would've read the prophets (Jeremiah for example), had he lived in the 2nd century BC, that the 70 years were still ongoing at least until the Temple had begun construction in Darius' reign (Zech. 7:3-5 - the fasting had been going on until very recently). Daniel 9:1-2ff does acknowledge the years as still uncompleted, but this is the first year of Cyrus' reign, and 70 years from 605/4 BC would therefore still be incomplete, if whole. Daniel's plea in vv.3ff can be interpreted either as a plea that these years will end soon, yet there's apparently no sign of improvement of the situation (despite the fact that a 2nd century author would know the decree to restore the Temple was given in Cyrus' first year). Or it could be Daniel lamenting that there was still a lot more time (decades) to go. But the fact that he must've known of Zechariah shows that there is no way Daniel 9:24-27 refers to any Onias III as the Messiah-Prince.

There are many more examples of this type of subjective deduction, especially with respect to this book because of the specific (and accurate) prophecies it makes about Palestine and its locale from Xerxes I and on.

2. Why is the Final Week counted as Days?

Daniel's last week has been variously interpreted. Obviously if we took the final week into years, even with the 360-day lunisolar years that we converted to solar we'd get a year way beyond 30 or 33 AD (very early 40 AD to be exact). One view, which is not necessarily contradictory to the other is that this last week is split up between the 3.5 years of Jesus' ministry and the 3.5 years of the Tribulations mentioned in Revelation 11:2-3. Interestingly, the Jewish War in 66-70 AD was also roughly 3.5 years. It resulted in the destruction of the Temple - the "abomination that causes desolation" (Dan. 9:26-27), perhaps as a foreshadowing of the final apocalypse much as Daniel does between the later days of history and the Messiah. The fact that there is an interval of thousands of years between Jesus' ministry and the End Times is not precluded just because Daniel doesn't mention it: this is a prophecy, not a static, legalistic law of some kind, and God changed His mind and shortened the 3-day plague he sent upon the Jews in David's day, because the point was made; so hardly does the prophecy of the last week have to be interpreted as straightforward chronologically, especially by people who criticize such interpretations exactly because they claim one cannot know any details about the prophecy.

This interpretation is probably necessary to some degree from the Christian point of view, because otherwise Daniel's prophecy is actually completely unfulfilled. He lived after the First Temple had been destroyed, so it doesn't fit any other time period, and if anything shows that he believed the Messiah would arrive before the destruction of the Second Temple. A mere defiling of the sacred place, as Antiochus Epiphanes IV and others committed, is not what's meant because Dan. 9:26 is clear that it will be destroyed, and that's kind of the only way the sacrifices will end (v.27b - for which future inevitability the Messiah prepares his people in v.27a), against the suggestion that this is temporary or a metaphor. The fact that no Gentiles are mentioned and can't really be considered (cf. Dan. 10:14 - "your people") goes to show not only how generalized the prophecies were (because by Daniel's day, whether in the 6th or 2nd centuries BC, Isaiah and others had already said or strongly implied the Gentiles would partake in the salvation [e.g. 1 Kings 8:43]), and also explains early Jewish Christian incredulity at this fact; it's after all a Jewish temple destroyed by non-Jews.

I turn to the original question, how, or rather can the last week be (artificially?) turned into days, rather than years. But if Jeremiah's 70 Sabbath years can be collected consecutively, and then mirroring these 70 years (Dan. 9:1-23) the angel can give a parallel prophecy of 70 "weeks" to Daniel, I don't see why the week can't be counted in a dual way, much like how the destruction of the Temple in Daniel (and the Gospels) is connected both with the events happening at the time as well as the End Times, as a sort of symbolic foreshadowing model (much like the whole prophecy as we've pointed out).

3. The Gregorian Calendar

Sometimes it's objected that this doesn't account for the 23 days the Gregorian Calendar adds to correct the Julian. But this is untrue both for our calculation of the 69 Sevens and for our dates in 444 BC and 33 AD. The former we already showed by giving the 3 extra Julian days to the 21 days leftover if we divide 69x7x360 (=173880 days) by 365.25 (the Julian Calendar). The latter is computer generated from astronomy and so the error is impossible with respect to the calendar we use because it's based on the same thing: the amount of time the Earth spins around the Sun once. The only challenge is to correlate this with the appropriate local time periods (e.g. Nisan 1), but this is a completely different issue.

It would be like saying we can't have or know about an April 3, 33 AD, because they didn't use the month April - irrelevant, as this is just a name for a time of the year that corresponded to how the ancients calculated the new month (new moon) and the exact mathematics we use in astronomy. It's like saying we can't use the year 444 BC for Artaxerxes I's 21st year because no one used this type of year count at the time.

4. The Prophecy is Supposed to be a Mystery Sealed till the End Times

This is a very valid point which can easily be missed in many other cases. People, including professional historians, easily misinterpret sources of the straightforward past, let alone a vague, highly interpretive prophecy of the future where there's no hindsight.

But one is always free to speculate, following the Golden Mean of the Probable. And the numbers here are too tantalizing, at least to my mind, not to give at least a passing suggestion of one possibility, which is all this is.

And obviously the vision isn't supposed to be a hidden one that no one could or should try to decipher. Regarding the time of Alexander the Great and on, Daniel 8:26 says much the same thing: to "seal up the vision". Yet the angel is perfectly happy to not only give the prophecy to Daniel (and his readers) in Dan. 8:1-14, but to interpret it in detail that leaves one to guess only when and not what would be happening (8:15-25).

VI. Resources