Prophecy of Seventy Weeks
The Prophecy of Seventy Weeks (chapter 9 of the Book of Daniel) is a prophecy given to Daniel by the angel Gabriel in response to Daniel's prayer for God to act on behalf of his people and city (i.e. Jerusalem): the angel informs him that seventy "weeks" have been decreed for them, and then gives a detailed but cryptic description of those weeks.
The prophecy has proved notoriously difficult for readers, despite it having been the subject of "intense exegetical activity" since the Second Temple period. For this reason scholars continue to follow James Alan Montgomery in referring to the history of this prophecy's interpretation as the "dismal swamp" of critical exegesis.
Daniel reads in the "books" that the desolation of Jerusalem must last for seventy years according to the prophetic words of Jeremiah (verse 2), and prays for God to act on behalf of his people and city (verses 3-19). The angel Gabriel appears and tells Daniel that he has come to give wisdom and understanding, for at the beginning of Daniel's prayer a "word" went out and Gabriel has come to declare this revelation (verses 20-23):
24Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.
25Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time.
26After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.
27He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.
Composition and structure
The consensus among critical scholars is that chapters 1-6 of the Book of Daniel originated as a collection of folktales among the Jewish diaspora in the Persian/Hellenistic periods, to which the visionary chapters 7–12 were added during the persecution of the Jews under Antiochus IV in 167–163 BCE. The authors of the tales apparently took the name Daniel from a legendary hero mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel, and the author of the visions in turn adopted him from the tales.
Old Testament scholar John J. Collins observes that chapter 9 can be distinguished from the second half of the Book of Daniel by the following two facts: (1) the point of departure for the chapter is another biblical text in Jeremiah's seventy years prophecy as opposed to a visionary episode, and (2) more than half the chapter is devoted to a rather lengthy prayer. Accordingly, Collins divides the chapter into an introductory section that mentions Daniel's reading of Jeremiah's prophecy (verses 1-2), the penitential prayer given by Daniel (verses 3-19), and the prophecy given by the angel Gabriel following the aforementioned prayer (verses 20-27)—with a more detailed outline given below:
- Verses 1-2. Introduction, indicating the date and occasion (the reading of Jeremiah's prophecy).
- Verses 3-19. Daniel's prayer:
- An introductory statement in verses 3-4a describes how Daniel set himself to pray.
- The prayer:
- Invocation (verse 4b).
- Confession of sin (verses 5-11a).
- Acknowledgement of divine punishment (verses 11b-14), marked by the passive verb in verse 11b and the switch to God as subject in verse 12.
- Prayer for mercy (verses 15-19).
- Verses 20-27. The revelation:
- An introductory statement (verses 20-21a), giving the circumstances in which the revelation occurred.
- The epiphany of the angel (verse 21b).
- The angelic discourse (verses 22-27), consisting of:
- Prefatory remarks (verses 22-23).
- The prophecy of seventy weeks of years (verses 24-27).
Modern critical scholars have sometimes argued that Daniel's prayer in verses 3-19 is secondary to chapter 9, as it contrasts sharply with the difficult Hebrew that is characteristic of Daniel. Still, it might be that the author(s) of the chapter incorporated (or adapted) a traditional prayer in the course of composition, in which case the prayer would not be a later addition. Proponents of the view that the prayer is secondary argue that (1) the context requires a prayer of illumination and not a communal confession of sin, and (2) the beginning and end of the prayer are marked by duplications in verses 3-4a and verses 20-21a that are most plausibly interpreted as redactional seams. However, these considerations have not proved decisive, and arguments in favor of the prayer's authenticity have also been advanced. In particular, the concluding passage in verses 20-27 contains several allusions to the language in the prayer, suggesting that it was included purposefully by the author(s) of the chapter, even if it was not originally composed by them.
It has also been argued that there is a "pre-Maccabean core" to the prophetic revelation delivered by Gabriel in verses 24-27, and that certain linguistic inconsistencies between the seventy weeks prophecy and other Danielic passages suggest that the second century BCE author(s)/redactor(s) of the Book of Daniel took over and modified a preexisting oracle that was already in circulation at the time of composition. These ideas have been further developed to suggest that the different redactional layers represented in this text reflect different eschatological perspectives, with the earliest one going back to a priest named Daniel who accompanied Ezra from Babylon to Jerusalem in the fifth century BCE and the latest one to an unnamed redactor who edited this prophecy in the second century BCE so that it would function (along with other parts of the Book of Daniel) as part of "a prophetic manifesto for world domination." It is also argued that the prophecy exhibited a high degree of literary structure at an earlier stage of its development in such a way that the six infinitival clauses of verse 24 were chiastically linked to six divisions of verses 25-27 via an elaborate system of word counts, resulting in the following reconstruction of this earlier redactional stratum:
|A To withhold the rebellion.|
|B To seal up sins.|
|C To atone for iniquity.|
|D To bring a righteous one for the ages.|
|E To stop vision and prophecy.|
|F To anoint the Holy One of holy ones.|
|F' You will discern wisdom from the departure of a word to return and rebuild Jerusalem until an anointed one is ruler.|
|E' You will return for seven weeks and sixty-two weeks, and by the distress of the times it will be rebuilt, square and moat.|
|D' After the sixty-two weeks he will cut off an anointed one, and the coming ruler will not have the people.|
|C' He will destroy the holy city and its end will be by a flood, and by the end of the determined warfare there will be desolations.|
|B' He will take away the sacrificial offering in the other week, and confirm a covenant for many in the middle of the week.|
|A' On your base will be eighty abominations, and you will pour out for desolation until a complete destruction is determined.|
Genre and themes
The seventy weeks prophecy is an ex eventu prophecy in periodized form whose Sitz im Leben is the Antiochene crisis in the second century BCE, with content analogous to the Enochic Apocalypse of Weeks as well as the Animal Apocalypse. In this way, the prophecy puts the Antiochene crisis in perspective by locating it within an overview of history; the specificity of the prediction is significant for the psychological effect of the revelation, which has long been recognized as a distinctive characteristic of Daniel's prophecies (cf. Ant. 10.11.7 § 267). The prophecy is also an instance of Jewish apocalyptic literature, as it belongs to the genre of revelatory literature in which a revelation is mediated to a human recipient in Daniel by an otherworldly being in the angel Gabriel that envisages eschatological salvation. Within the macro-genre of Jewish apocalyptic literature, the prophecy further belongs to the subgenre known as the "historical apocalypse," which is characterized by the use of ex eventu prophecy and the presence of an interpreting angel.
The lengthy prayer in verses 3-19 is strongly Deuteronomic in its theology—Daniel's people are punished for their own sin and appeal to God for mercy. However, such theological overtones conflict with other aspects of the Book of Daniel, in which the primary sin is that of a gentile king and the course of history is arranged in advance. Consequently, scholars have variously argued that the angel ignores Daniel's prayer and that the author(s) is making the point that "the calamity is decreed and will end at the appointed time, quite apart from prayers," and/or that the prayer is not intended to influence God but is "an act of piety in itself." As Collins observes, "[t]he deliverance promised by the angel is in no sense a response to Daniel's prayer" since "[t]he word goes forth at the beginning of Daniel's supplication." In any case, the relationship between Daniel's prayer and the context in which it is placed, is a central issue in the contemporary scholarly interpretation of chapter 9.
Nebuchadnezzar II defeated Egypt at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BCE and established Babylon as the dominant regional power, with significant consequences for the southern kingdom of Judah. Following a revolt in 597 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar removed Judah's king, Jehoiachin; and after a second revolt in 586 BCE, he destroyed the city of Jerusalem along with the Temple of Solomon, carrying away much of the population to Babylon. Accordingly, the subsequent period from 586 BCE to 538 BCE is known as the Babylonian exile, which came to an end when Babylon was conquered by the Persian king Cyrus the Great, who allowed the Jewish exiles to return to Judah via his famous edict of restoration. The Persian period, in turn, came to an end in the first half of the fourth century BCE following the arrival of Alexander the Great, whose vast kingdom was divided upon his death among the Diadochi. The series of conflicts that ensued following Alexander's death in the wars that erupted among the Diadochi mark the beginning of the Hellenistic period in 323/2 BCE. Two of the rival kingdoms produced out of this conflict—the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt and the Seleucid dynasty in Syria—fought for control of Palestine during the Hellenistic period.
At the start of the second century BCE, the Seleucids had the upper hand in their struggle with the Ptolemaic kingdom for regional dominance, but the earlier conflicts had left them nearly bankrupt. The Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV attempted to recoup some of his kingdom's fortunes by selling the post of Jewish high priest to the highest bidder, and in 171/0 BCE the existing high priest (i.e. Onias III) was deposed and murdered. Palestine was subsequently divided between those who favored the Hellenistic culture of the Seleucids and those who remained loyal to the older Jewish traditions; however, for reasons that are still not understood, Antiochus IV banned key aspects of traditional Jewish religion in 168/7 BCE—including the twice-daily continual offering (cf. Daniel 8:13; 11:31; 12:11).
Context within chapter 9
The seventy weeks prophecy is internally dated to "the first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus, by birth a Mede" (verse 1), elsewhere referred to within the Book of Daniel as "Darius the Mede" (e.g. Daniel 11:1); however, no such ruler is known to history independently of the Book of Daniel and the widespread consensus among critical scholars is that he is a literary fiction. Nevertheless, within the fictionalized biblical account, the first year of Darius the Mede corresponds to the first year after the Babylonian kingdom is overthrown, i.e., 538 BCE.
Chapter 9 can be distinguished from the other "visionary" chapters of the Book of Daniel by the fact that the point of departure for this chapter is another biblical text in Jeremiah's seventy years prophecy and not a visionary episode. The longstanding consensus among critical scholars has been that verses 24-27 is a paradigmatic example of inner-biblical interpretation, in which the latter text reinterprets Jeremiah's seventy years of exile as seventy weeks of years. On this view, Jeremiah's prophecy that after seventy years God would punish the Babylonian kingdom (cf. Jer 25:12) and once again pay special attention to his people in responding to their prayers and restoring them to the land (cf. Jer 29:10-14) could not have been fulfilled by the disappointment that accompanied the return to the land in the Persian period, hence the necessity to extend the expiration date of the prophecy to the second century BCE. And just as various elements of Daniel's visionary episodes are interpreted for him in chapters 7–8, so also Jeremiah's prophecy is interpreted for him in a manner similar to the pesher exegesis evidenced at Qumran in chapter 9. However, this consensus has recently been challenged on the grounds that Daniel prays to God following the defeat of the Babylonian kingdom precisely because Jeremiah's seventy years of exile have been completed and God promised through the prophet that he would respond to such prayers at this time, in which case the seventy weeks prophecy is not a reinterpretation of Jeremiah's prophecy but a separate prophecy altogether. And these considerations have been further refined along redactional lines to suggest that the latter holds relative to an earlier "pre-canonical" stage in the text, but that the seventy weeks prophecy is, in fact, a reinterpretation of Jeremiah's prophecy relative to the final form of the text.
The seventy weeks prophecy
The seventy "weeks" of years are divided into three periods of time: a seven-week period spanning forty-nine years, a sixty-two-week period spanning 434 years, and a final period of one week spanning seven years. The first period of seven weeks begins with the departure of a "word" to rebuild Jerusalem and ends with the arrival of an "anointed prince" (verse 25a). This "word" to rebuild Jerusalem has generally been taken to refer to Jeremiah's seventy years prophecy and dated to the fourth year of Jehoiakim (or the first year of Nebuchadnezzar) in 605/4 BCE. Collins objects to this identification on the basis that "[t]he word to rebuild Jerusalem could scarcely have gone forth before it was destroyed" and prefers to see this as a reference to the "word" that Gabriel came to give Daniel in verse 23; other possible candidates suggested by critical scholars include the edict of Cyrus in 539/8 BCE, the decree of Artaxerxes I in 458/7 BCE, and the warrant given to Nehemiah in 445/4 BCE. The "prince" in verse 25a may refer to either an actual prince or some other figure of authority and critical scholars have proposed various candidates here as well, including Cyrus (cf. Isaiah 45:1), High Priest Joshua, Zerubbabel, Sheshbazzar, Ezra, Nehemiah, the angelic "prince" Michael (cf. Daniel 10:21b), and even the collective people of God in the Second Temple period.
An "anointed one shall be cut off" (verse 26a) following the subsequent period of sixty-two weeks during which time the city is rebuilt (verse 25b); this "anointed one" is generally considered to refer to the murdered High Priest Onias III, whose death at the hands of Seleucid officials outside Jerusalem in 171/0 BCE is recorded in 2 Maccabees 4:23-28. Most critical scholars see another reference to Onias III's murder in Daniel 11:22, though Ptolemy VI and the infant son of Seleucus IV have also been suggested. On the other hand, the identification of the latter "anointed one" with Onias III raises the question of how 7 + 62 = 69 weeks of years (or 483 years) could have elapsed between the departure of the "word" in verse 25a—which is not earlier than 605/4 BCE—and the murder of Onias III in 171/0 BCE. Hence, some critical scholars follow Montgomery in thinking that there has been "a chronological miscalculation on [the] part of the writer," who is then criticized for making "wrong-headed arithmetical calculations;" while others like Goldingay are not inclined to see this as a "chronological miscalculation" on the basis that the seventy weeks are not an exercise in literal chronology, but the more inexact science of "chronography." Collins opts for something like a middle-ground position in saying that "the figure should be considered a round number rather than a miscalculation." And there are still others who see the calculations as being at least approximately correct so long as the initial seven-week period of forty-nine years can overlap with the sixty-two-week period of 434 years, with the latter period spanning the time between Jeremiah's prophecy in 605/4 BCE and Onias III's murder in 171/0 BCE.
The "prince who is to come" in verse 26b is typically seen by critical scholars as a reference to Antiochus IV, though Jason and Menelaus have also been suggested. Hence, the "troops of the prince" are either thought to be the Seleucid troops that settled in Jerusalem (cf. Dan 11:31; 1 Macc 1:29-40) or the Jewish hellenizers. In any case, the reference to "troops" that will "destroy the city and the sanctuary" in verse 26b is somewhat problematic on this view since neither Jerusalem nor the temple were actually destroyed during the Antiochene crisis, though the city was arguably rendered desolate and the temple defiled (cf. 1 Macc 1:46; 2 Macc 6:2). Accordingly, it has been noted that the language of destruction "seems excessive" in this context.
The "covenant" in verse 27a most likely refers to the "covenant" reported in 1 Maccabees 1:11 between the Jewish hellenizers and Antiochus IV, with the ban on regular worship for a period that lasted approximately three and a half years alluded to in the subsequent clause (cf. Dan 7:25; 8:14; 12:11). In contrast, the reference to an "abomination that desolates" in verse 27b (cf. 1 Macc 1:54) is another point of contention among critical scholars. One of the more popular older views was that this difficult phrase was a contemptuous deformation (or dysphemism) of the Phoenician deity Baal Shamin—the "Lord of Heaven"—whom Philo of Byblos identified with the Greek sky god Zeus. Moreover, the temple in Jerusalem was rededicated in honor of Zeus according to 2 Maccabees 6:2, hence the tendency among older commentators to follow Porphyry in seeing this "abomination" in terms of a statue of Zeus. More recently, it has been suggested that the reference is to certain sacred stones (possibly meteorites) that were affixed to the great altar of sacrifice for the purposes of pagan worship in the temple, since the use of such stones is well-attested in Canaanite and Syrian cults. However, both sorts of proposals have been criticized on the basis that they are either too speculative, dependent on flawed analysis, or not well-suited to the relevant context in the Book of Daniel. Increasingly, critical scholars tend to see the expression as being a reference to either the pagan offerings that were given during the Antiochene crisis instead of the twice-daily continual offering that had been forbidden (cf. Dan 11:31; 12:11; 2 Macc 6:5), or the pagan altar on which such offerings were made.
There is a longstanding tradition within Christianity of reading Daniel 9 as a messianic prophecy foretelling the coming of Jesus Christ. The various christological readings that have been proposed share a number of features in common: Either the "anointed prince" in verse 25a or the "anointed one" in verse 26a (or both) are understood to be references to Christ, who is also sometimes thought to be the "most holy" that is anointed in verse 24 (so the Peshitta and the Vulgate). Some of the early church fathers also saw another reference to Christ in the "prince who is to come" (verse 26b), but this figure is more often identified with either the Antichrist or one of the Roman officials that oversaw the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE (e.g. Titus or Vespasian).
The seven and sixty-two-week "weeks" are most frequently understood for the purpose of Christological interpretation as consecutive, making up a period of 69 weeks (483 years) beginning with the decree given to Ezra by Artaxerxes I in 458/7 BCE (the terminus a quo) and terminating with the baptism of Jesus. The reference to an anointed one being "cut off" in verse 26a is identified with the crucifixion of Jesus and has traditionally been thought to mark the midpoint of the seventieth week, which is also when Jeremiah's new "covenant" is "confirmed" (verse 27a) and atonement for "iniquity" (verse 24) is made. The "abomination that desolates" is typically read in the context of the New Testament references made to this expression in the Olivet Discourse and understood as belonging to a complex eschatological tableaux described therein, which may or may not remain to be fulfilled.
Another influential way of reading the prophecy follows Africanus in identifying the warrant given to Nehemiah in 445/4 BCE as the terminus a quo. 483 years from 445/4 BCE would extend somewhat beyond the lifetime of Christ to 39/40 CE, hence some Christological interpretations reduce the period to 476 years by viewing them as 360-day "prophetic years" (or "Chaldee years" ), so-called on the basis that various biblical passages—such as Revelation 12:6, 14 (cf. Dan 7:25; 12:7)—appear to reckon time in this way in certain prophetic contexts. The sixty-nine weeks of "prophetic" years are then considered to terminate with the death of Christ in 32/3 CE. The seventieth week is then separated from the sixty-ninth week by a long period of time known as the church age; hence, the seventieth week does not begin until the end of the church age, at which point the church will be removed from the earth in an event called the rapture. Finally, the future Antichrist is expected to oppress the Jewish people and bring upon the world a period of tribulation lasting three and a half years, constituting the second half of the delayed seventieth week. These readings were first popularized through the expository notes written by C. I. Scofield in his Scofield Reference Bible and continue to enjoy support.
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- Rodriguez, Angel Manuel (1994). "The 70 Weeks and 457 B.C." Biblical Research Institute.
- Zuiddam, Benno A. (2013). "The Shock Factor of Divine Revelation: A Philological Approach to Daniel 8 and 9". Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament. 27 (2): 247–67. doi:10.1080/09018328.2013.851515.