Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, a baptist church in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership.
The Prophet Daniel
In my previous article on Daniel’s prophecy about the seventy weeks, I explained the two prevalent Christian interpretations of the prophecy. However, I concluded the article by saying that I am not fully persuaded by either of the two interpretations.
I have several questions about the prophecy, and the first one I want to share with the reader is the question about dates. Both Christian views assume that “the word to restore and build Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:25, ESV) of which Gabriel spoke was the “decree” that Artarxerxes made in 444 BC when he gave Nehemiah permission to rebuild the city (Nehemiah 2:1-8).
However, if you were reading the Bible without regard to dates, chances are you would not associate “the word” of which Gabriel spoke with Atarxerxes’ decree (Nehemiah 2:1-8), but with the decree made by Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-4)
The reason you would associate the word with Cyrus’s decree isn’t only that it appears in Ezra 1:1-4, but also because Isaiah had associated Cyrus with the rebuilding of the city (Isaiah 44:28, 45:13), and 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 also declares that God fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy through Cyrus (Jeremiah’s prophecy is found in Jeremiah 25:11-12 and 29:10).
Therefore, even though Ezra 6:14 makes mention of the decree of Artarxerxes together with the decrees of Cyrus and Darius, it is very tempting to say that the word of which Gabriel spoke was the decree of Cyrus, not the decree of Artarxerxes (and I understand there are some who say just that).
From Ezra’s point of view, God worked through the decrees of Cyrus, Darius, and Artarxerxes. However, the word to rebuild Jerusalem really seems to have “gone forth” through Cyrus, since he was the first to make a decree for the Jews to return to Israel.
Now, historians place Cyrus’s decree sometime between 538 BC and 536 BC. This very early date is problematic because we won’t get to the times of Jesus Christ if we add the 490 years of the prophecy to these dates.
538 BC + 490 = 48 BC
537 BC + 490 = 47 BC
536 BC + 490 = 46 BC
Also, according to several scholars, biblical years are also shorter, lasting only 360 days. If we only subtract 490 biblical years from 538 BC, the results are even more problematic.
538 BC + 490x360/365.25 = 55 BC
537 BC + 490x360/365.25 = 54 BC
536 BC + 490x360/365.25 = 53 BC
So then, the only way we can arrive to the times of Jesus Christ is by starting the count of 490 biblical years from 444 BC, but that just seems too convenient, unless we can find a good reason to start counting then.
To address this matter, defenders of the 444 BC date have proposed that Cyrus’s decree has to do with the rebuilding of the temple rather than with the rebuilding of Jerusalem itself (Ezra 1:1-4), and that Artarxerxes’ decree has to do with the rebuilding of Jerusalem itself, not the temple. This is important because, according to Daniel 9:25, the word of which Gabriel spoke was to rebuild the city, not the temple.
When you read Nehemiah 2:1-8, you realize that Nehemiah is truly concerned about rebuilding the city of Jerusalem. This makes sense since the Jews had finished building the temple in 516 BC.
So then, it would seem that we have a good reason to begin the count of the 490 years on 444 BC since that decree was specifically concerned with the rebuilding of the city. Right?
Maybe. In reality though, Isaiah’s prophecies associate the rebuilding of both the temple and Jerusalem with Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28, 45:13). Moreover, the emphasis the Tanach (the Old Testament) places on Cyrus’s role does make us wonder whether we should begin counting on 538-536 BC instead of 444 BC.
For many, counting the 490 years from 444 BC is good enough since that takes us to the times of Jesus Christ—but what if the prophecy is not about the Messiah?
Rabbi Tovia Singer does not believe Jesus is the Messiah, and he does not believe the prophecy is about the Messiah. For this reason, he does not believe we should count 490 years from 444 BC. Instead, Rabbi Singer believes we should count from 586 BC, the time when the first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians (you can find Rabbi Singer's article here).
The reason why Rabbi Tovia Singer would believe that the counting should begin since the destruction of the first temple is that, according to the Jewish calendar, some 490 years elapsed between the destruction of the first temple and the destruction of the second temple. Indeed, according to the Jewish calendar, the first temple was not destroyed in 586 BC, but in 423 BC; and, the second temple was not destroyed in 70 AD, but in 69 AD. So, if we add 490 years to the year 423 BC, we arrive to the year 67 BC, which is very close to 69 AD.
The problem with Rabbi Singer’s proposition is actually simple. Rabbi Singer is disregarding that the prophecy Gabriel gave Daniel is, from Daniel’s perspective, all about the future.
When Gabriel says, “from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be even weeks and sixty-two weeks,” (Daniel 9:25, NKJV) Gabriel is talking specifically about future events. Gabriel did not say, “from the time the command went forth” but he did say, “from the going forth of the command.”
This makes sense. Daniel was praying for God to restore Jerusalem and the temple, something that had not yet happened, something that could only happen in the future.
So then, the counting of the 490 years cannot begin a the time of the destruction of the first temple because that was in Daniel’s past, and the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem would go out in Daniel’s future (either by Cyrus or Artarxerxes).
“Know therefore and understand,
That from the going forth of the command
To restore and build Jerusalem
Until Messiah the Prince,
There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks;
The street shall be built again, and the wall,
Even in troublesome times."
— Daniel 9:25, NKJV
In conclusion, although starting to count 490 years from Artarxerxes’ decree in 444 BC works for Christians because such count does end in the times of Jesus Christ (the Messiah), it is questionable whether Artarxerxes’ decree in 444 BC is the word foretold by Gabriel to restore and rebuild Jerusalem since it was Cyrus’s decree in 538 - 536 BC that triggered the reconstruction of the temple and Jerusalem (although, it did take several years for everything to be accomplished).
Moreover, since orthodox Jews appear to date the destruction of the first temple at a much later time than secular historians do (423 BC), maybe it is necessary to take a second look at the dates we have: 586 BC, 538-536 BC, 444 BC. How sure are we about these dates? I cannot answer that question at this time, but a historian may be able to address it.
Nevertheless, I do think Rabbi Tovia Singer raises an important question: is the prophecy really talking about the Messiah? In my next article on Daniel’s 70 weeks, I will be exploring whether this prophecy is really about the Messiah.
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© 2022 Marcelo Carcach