XFiles Friday: Daniel in the Liar’s DenMay 29, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 13.)
We come now to Prophecy #8 in Geisler and Turek’s short list of “messianic” prophecies that are supposed to astonish us all with their amazing pinpoint accuracy. The prophecies so far have been amazing, all right, though perhaps not for the reasons Geisler and Turek intended. They (and we) however, have saved the best for last.
Let’s start with the passage, from Daniel 9.
“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.
Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”
And now, Geisler and Turek’s “messianic” interpretation:
He will die in AD 33: Messiah will die (be “cut off”) 483 years (69 * 7) after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem (that works out to A. D. 33). The city and the temple will then be destroyed. (This occurred in 70.)
Let’s begin by checking Geisler and Turek’s math. Before we do any date calculations, though, we need to point out the fact that date math is a bit unusual because the people who started the Christian calendar didn’t use zero as the starting point. That is to say, 1BC is followed immediately by 1AD, without any intervening zero. 1BC to 1AD is 1 year, not two.
Counting backwards from 33 AD, then, we find that from 33AD to 1AD is 32 years, and from 1AD to 1BC is one more year. Subtract that from 483, and we have 450 years left to account for. 450 years earlier than 1BC is 451BC, so that’s the year we need to check out in order to locate the “decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.”
Trouble is, the original decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem was issued by Cyrus the Great in 538BC, which is way off. A later king, Artaxerxes, issued a pair of decrees affirming and re-authorizing the original decree of Cyrus, one in 455BC and another in 445BC, which is closer, but still no cigar.
In fact, there are several different decrees that you could pick from in order to find something to land you in the right ballpark: 538BC, 516BC, 455BC and 445BC. Be a little bit generous in what you’re willing to accept as “close enough” and you can have your pick of dates, which is always helpful when you’re trying to prove the “pinpoint accuracy” of OT prophecy.
Dr. Harold Hoehner, cited by Geisler and Turek as the source for their chronology of Daniel 9, actually moves the date of the last decree one year later, to 444BC.
The date of this decree is given in the biblical record. Nehemiah 1:1 states that Nehemiah heard of Jerusalem’s desolate conditions in the month of Chislev (November/ December) in Artaxerxes’ twentieth year. Then later in Artaxerxes’ twentieth year in the month of Nisan (March/April) Nehemiah reports that he was granted permission to restore the city and build its walls (2:1). To have Nisan later than Chislev (in the same year) may seem strange until one realizes that Nehemiah was using a Tishri-to-Tishri (September/October) dating method rather than the Persian Nisan-to-Nisan method. Nehemiah was following what was used by the kings of Judah earlier in their history. This method used by Nehemiah is confirmed by the Jews in Elephantine who also used this method during the same time period as Nehemiah.
Next, one needs to establish the beginning of Artaxerxes’ rule. His father Xerxes died shortly after December 17, 465 b.c. and Artaxerxes immediately succeeded him. Since the accession-year system was used the first year of Artaxerxes’ reign according to the Persian Nisan-to-Nisan reckoning would be Nisan 464 to Nisan 463 and according to the Jewish Tishri-to-Tishri reckoning would be Tishri 464 to Tishri 463. . . .
In conclusion, the report to Nehemiah (1:1) occurred in Chislev (November/December) of 445 B.C. and the decree of Artaxerxes (2:1) occurred in Nisan (March/April of 444 b.c.
From 444BC to 1BC is 443 years, plus 1 year for the 1BC to 1AD transition, subtracted from 483 years, brings us to 39AD, some years after Jesus’ death. How do Christians deal with this discrepancy? I’d better just quote this.
According to the Jewish custom, our Lord went up to Jerusalem on the 8th Nisan, which, as we know, fell that year upon a Friday. And having spent the Sabbath at Bethany, He entered the Holy City the following day, as recorded in the Gospels. The Julian date of that 10th Nisan was Sunday the 6th of April, a.d. 32. What then was the length of the period intervening between the issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and this public advent of “Messiah the Prince”—between the 14th of March, b.c. 445 and the 6th of April a.d. 32 (when He entered into Jerusalem)? THE INTERVAL WAS EXACTLY AND TO THE VERY DAY 173,880 DAYS, OR SEVEN TIMES SIXTY-NINE PROPHETIC YEARS OF 360 DAYS).
From b.c. 445 to a.d. 32 is 476 years = 173,740 days (476 x 365) + 116 days for leap years. And from 14th March to 6th April, reckoned inclusively according to Jewish practice is 24 days. But 173,740 + 116 + 24 = 173,880. And 69 x 7 x 360 = 173,880.
Did you catch that? 173,880 equals 69 “prophetic years” of 360 days each. Isn’t that cool? If the Bible comes up with the wrong number of years, you just redefine what a year is, and multiply it to get a number of days, and use the days (implicitly converted back to real years) to arrive at the date you were shooting for. If the original numbers don’t work, just make up new ones!
But wait, it gets better. The calculation above was by Sir Robert Anderson, and starts from the wrong year, according to Dr. Hoehner. Here’s Dr. Hoehner’s “correction”:
In previous chapters in this book it was concluded that Christ’s crucifixion occurred on Friday, Nisan 14, in a.d. 33. Reckoning His death according to the Julian calendar, Christ died on Friday, April 3, a.d. 33. As discussed above, the terminus a quo occurred in Nisan, 444 b.c. Although Nehemiah 2:1 does not specify which day of Nisan the decree to rebuild Jerusalem occurred, it cannot have occurred before Nisan 1. . . . it could have occurred on some other day in Nisan.
“Using the calculating method Anderson used, Hoehner comes up with the 476 solar years. This is the difference between 444 b.c. and a.d. 33. By multiplying 476 by 365.24219879 days, comes to 173,855 days, and Hoehner states:”
This leaves only 25 days to be accounted for between 444 b.c. and a.d. 33. By adding the 25 days to Nisan 1 or March 5 (of 444 b.c.), one comes to March 30 (of a.d. 33) which was Nisan 10 in a.d. 33. This is the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. . . . The terminus ad quem of the sixty-ninth week was on the day of Christ’s triumphal entry on March 30, a.d. 33.
(I’m quoting from an article that quotes Dr. Hoehner—the first and third paragraphs are Hoehner speaking, and the middle paragraph is by the article’s author, Thomas Ice.)
So we take 483 years, as predicted in Daniel, pick an arbitrarily defined “prophetic year” from a calendar that no one has ever used or defined, and use that to make an equation of 483 x (360 / 365) to get 476.38356164 solar years (according to my calculator), which we round off by just ignoring everything to the right of the decimal point. Then we multiply the rounded-off figure back again by 365.24219879 days to convert the solar years back to 173855.28662404 days (once again ignoring the decimal part) to get a day that’s 25 days less than Anderson’s original 69 x 7. Since “25 days” contains a number, we add 25 in again to get the exact day of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem.Wowzeroonies!
This stunning display of “prophetic math” is even more astonishing when you go back and re-read the original conditions and—yep, Dr. Hoehner admits that we don’t know what day in Nisan the decree was issued. By carefully maintaining strict mathematical accuracy to eight decimal places except when we don’t, we can calculate that March 30 of AD33 is exactly 173,880 days after whatever the unknown day was that the decree was actually issued. Astounding!
Have I pointed out yet that Daniel never says anything about “weeks of years”? He just says “seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks.” Hebrew scholars check me out on this, but I believe the Hebrew words for “week” and “seven” are very similar if not identical, and the Christian prophecy buffs are just borrowing the “weeks/sevens” substitution because it suits their timescales.
It’s entirely possible that Daniel was simply saying what he actually meant: 69 weeks, or a total of 483 days (a year plus a few months) between the issuing of Cyrus’ original decree in 538BC and the arrival of an “anointed” prince who would rebuild the city. Or maybe Darius’ decree, or one of the ones by Artaxerxes.
Remember, Cyrus himself was designated as God’s Anointed One in Isaiah 45:1. Anointing was just the customary way of designating God’s legitimately-appointed ruler, and there were any number of “messiahs” (i.e. anointed ones) in Israel’s history. The concept of THE Messiah, capitalized, was a much later addition to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Certainly, an ordinary mortal seems like a better fit for the prediction that the anointed prince would soon “be cut off, and have nothing.” And the dedication of the rebuilt Holy Place (temple) took place in 515BC, not during Jesus’ lifetime.
Besides, I’ll let you all in on a little secret. The date Daniel was really referring to was the issuing of the Balfour Declaration, in 1917. If you take Daniel’s 69 “sevens”, you get 483, divided by seven days in each week and added to 1917 takes us to 1984 (assuming we take off a couple of years for the leap years), which is exactly the day my wife and I moved to Washington DC, which is the capital of the United States and thus corresponds prophetically to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. So Daniel was really predicting me.
I’ll be posting a mailing address later on where you all can send in your tithes and offerings. Cash only please.