Daniel 9:24-27, and the Hardest Passage in Lee Harmon’s Book

In my blog post today on Lee Harmon’s Revelation: The Way It Happened, I’ll be talking about the most difficult passage in Lee’s book.  I’ll use as my starting-point Daniel 9:24-27.  That passage says the following (according to the King James Version):

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.
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.
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.
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.

A significant number of people who interpret this passage believe that a day here actually means a year, and thus the seventy weeks are 490 years.  You start counting at “the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem”.  People have different opinions about what that was, and thus at what year we should start the count.  Was it Ezra’s decree in II Chronicles 36:22-23 and Ezra 1:2-4 that allowed Jews to return to their homeland, making the starting-year 538 B.C.E.?  Was it Artaxerxes’ decree in Ezra 7 permitting Jews to return to their homeland and to beautify the Temple, making the starting-year 458-457 B.C.E.?  Was it Artaxerxes’ permission for Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls (Nehemiah 2:5-8), placing the starting-year at 445-444 B.C.E.?  Or was it Jeremiah’s prophecy that Jerusalem would be rebuilt, putting the starting-year at around 597 B.C.E.?

The 458-457 B.C.E. starting-year works out best for a number of Christians, for the count ends up in the first half of the first century C.E., which was when Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again.  For these Christians, Jesus Christ was the Messiah the prince of Daniel 9:25, and the Messiah who is cut off in Daniel 9:26.  There are Christians who even argue that Jesus was the one of Daniel 9:27 who would cause sacrifices to cease, since Jesus, through his atoning death, nullified the need for animal sacrifices.  A number of Christians regard Daniel 9:24-27 as a prophecy about Jesus Christ—-more, an exact prediction of when Jesus Christ would come and die.

What if you start your count with any of the other starting-years?  Where do you end up?  Well, they take you to dead ends, as Lee Harmon on his blog discusses in this post.  They’re dead-ends in the sense that nothing spectacular happened at those times.  There was no Messianic sort of figure who died in those years.

A number of historical-critics argue that the ending-point for Daniel 9 was intended to be the second century B.C.E., which was when Antiochus IV Epiphanes was desecrating the Temple, prompting the Maccabees to revolt.  The Messiah (or Anointed One) who is cut off in Daniel 9:25 is often interpreted within this scenario as the priest Onias III.  The destruction of the city and the abomination of desolation are interpreted in light of what Antiochus IV did.  This interpretation makes a degree of sense, for Daniel 7-12 does appear to concern the time of Antiochus IV, for a variety of reasons.  The problem is that you don’t end up in the time of Antiochus IV when you count off from any of the proposed starting-years, the years decreeing the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  One attempt to solve this problem is to say that the Jews in this case did not keep good track of time: that they didn’t know exactly how many years there were between the decree and such events as the Messiah being cut off and the abomination of desolation.  Another solution I have heard is that the 490 years are not literal but are formulaic or perhaps symbolic.  Lee in this blog post offers yet another proposal: that some of the years are concurrent (occurring simultaneously) rather than consecutive (occurring one after the other).  According to this view, the forty-nine years (seven weeks) of Daniel 9:25 are between the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. and Cyrus’ decree around 537 B.C.E. that the Jews could return to Jerusalem.  The 62 weeks, or 434 years, of Daniel 9:25 are the time between Jeremiah’s prophecy of Jerusalem’s restoration, which Jeremiah made around the year 597 B.C.E., and 167 B.C.E., which is the time of Antiochus IV.  So the 49 years and the 434 years overlap.  My problem, however, is that I don’t understand why Lee starts the count for the 49 years at 586 B.C.E., the year of Jerusalem’s destruction.  My impression from Daniel 9:25 is that the count for the 49 years starts from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, not the year that Jerusalem was destroyed.

Okay, so the 490 years do not fit the Antiochus IV interpretation all that well.  Many conservative Christians would say that the 490 years fits the Jesus Christ interpretation perfectly!  But there are problems here, which Lee discusses in Revelation: The Way It Happened So you start your count with Artaxerxes’ decree in 458-457 B.C.E.  The Messiah, according to Daniel 9:25, comes 483 years later, which is 25-26 C.E., the time when Jesus was alive on earth.  The thing is, near the end of these 490 years from the decree to rebuild the Temple, something else is supposed to happen: the destruction of the city and the sanctuary.  There are many Christians who apply this to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.—-“Christ fulfilled Daniel 9!”, they proclaim, “since Christ was crucified, and later Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed!”  But there is a serious mathematical problem, here.  Daniel 9:24-27 appears to present the destruction of Jerusalem and the sanctuary as occurring right after the Messiah has been cut off, not over four decades later.  If we interpret the destruction of the city and sanctuary in Daniel 9:26 in reference to the events of 70 C.E., then we have more than 490 years: we have 528 years!  But the text says 490 years is allotted for all these things to take place.

In Lee’s book, a Christian named Samuel and his son Matthew discuss these issues.  Matthew says that he heard from his tutor that Daniel 9:24-27 was about Antiochus IV’s desecration of the Temple, and the Jews’ subsequent purification of it.  In this scenario, the events of Daniel 9:24-27 are in the past, and they took place in close proximity with one another, as the text seems to present.  We then get into some speculation: Perhaps the events of 70 C.E. did take place very soon after the death of Jesus, but it was Jesus son of Ananus, the one in Josephus’ Wars of the Jews 6:300ff (see Chapter 5 here) who predicted the fall of Jerusalem, four years before it happened. 

I don’t think that Jesus son of Ananus would work as the Messiah of Daniel 9, since he doesn’t fit the 490 years.  Again, 70 C.E. (or even a few years earlier than that, which was when Jesus son of Ananus preached) is much too late!  In any case, it’s when Lee talks about Jesus son of Ananus that things start to get confusing.  Lee disagrees with the view that Jesus of Nazareth in Mark’s Gospel was “nothing more than a composite of several wartime historical characters” (page 176), for Paul talks about Jesus decades prior to the Jewish wars; thus, Lee believes that there was a historical Jesus of Nazareth.  But Lee does seem to argue that Mark’s depiction of Jesus of Nazareth was, on some level, based on John of Ananus, and Lee lists similarities between the two: they were believed to be possessed by a demon, they preached at the Temple, they “declared woes upon Jerusalem and the temple”, they were scourged, and they were silent when they were chastened and when they appeared before an official.  Moreover, Lee appears to be suggesting that there are other Jesuses behind the Jesus of New Testament theology: there is the high priest Jesus (or Joshua) in the Book of Zechariah, who was one of the original two witnesses, and there was Jesus son of Gamala, who could have been one of the inspirations for the two witnesses in the Book of Revelation.  Remember that the two witnesses in Revelation 11 are killed, rise again three-and-a-half days later, and go to heaven, and this is followed by an earthquake.  This sort of thing happens to Jesus in some of the Gospels: he dies, rises from the dead three days later, and ascends to heaven, and Matthew’s Gospel mentions some earthquakes going on during these events.  I’m not sure whether Lee’s on to something, or if what we’re seeing are mere coincidences or floating motifs that are being applied to different people.

But let’s get back to Daniel 9!  Samuel in Lee’s book interprets Daniel 9:27 in this manner: we have the final week of the seventy weeks, and this is seven days, or actually seven years.  The first three-and-a-half years are the events of the Jewish war around 70: the abomination of desolation and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  The second three-and-a-half years are when Jesus restores the Temple.  Samuel refers to a saying that appears on the lips of Jesus in John 2:19: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (this saying appears in a slightly different form in Mark’s Gospel, which is earlier; see Mark 14:58; 15:29).  Samuel interprets this to mean that Jesus would rebuild the Temple three years (remember, a day equals a year in Daniel 9) after its destruction, which is similar to how he sees Daniel 9:27. 

There are two questions that one can ask.  First, wasn’t Jesus in John 2:19 referring to his own resurrection on the third day, with the Temple representing his body?  But that was in the Gospel of John, which was later than the Book of Revelation, and was also later than the setting for Samuel and Matthew’s conversations in Lee’s book.  Samuel does not know about this.  According to Lee, Samuel does not even know the stories about Jesus’ bodily resurrection or appearances.  These stories would first appear in the Gospel of Matthew, which has not been written yet.  (The child Matthew has not yet grown up and written it.)  The Gospel of Mark, after all, simply ends with the tomb being empty, and the women not telling anyone because they were afraid.

Second, Matthew in Lee’s book asks: If Jesus were to rebuild the temple three or three-and-a-half years after its destruction, why hasn’t he yet?  The setting for Samuel and Matthew’s conversations is nine years after the destruction of the temple.  Samuel replies that he doesn’t know, but he speculates that the city may have been rebuilt in heaven: it’s already built, but it hasn’t come down to earth yet!

At this time, I’d like to quote the hardest passage in Lee’s book.  It’s on pages 179-180:

“Where did the Gospel of John come up with this idea, this alternative interpretation of rebuilding the Temple?  Well, in a curious way, it parallels Revelation, which hints at an oral tradition, and some of Paul’s writings also compare our bodies to the Temple of God.  Note that Revelation actually specifies precisely three and a half days (years?) before the resurrection of the three priests, which better fits the vision of Daniel, if his ‘rebuilding of the Temple’ depicts the resurrection of the body of Jesus.  Daniel divided his final ‘week’ into two three-and-a-half day/year periods.  Jesus, the peasant prophet, and Jesus, the resurrected priest, come together to tell the story of Jesus of Nazareth, each contributing three and a half years/days to perfectly fulfill the final week of the prophecy of Daniel, and John, Revelation’s author, can safely forget about the restoration of the Temple promised in Daniel and Mark from then on.”

I’ve read this paragraph a number of times, and I still don’t get it!  Lee’s still a talented writer throughout the vast majority of this book, however.  And, even if I don’t understand that one paragraph, I enjoyed reading his discussion on Daniel 9:24-27, and the tangents where that led him.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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1 Response to Daniel 9:24-27, and the Hardest Passage in Lee Harmon’s Book

  1. Lee Harmon says:

    Heh, heh! Yes, Jesus of Ananus–by coincidence or by design–mimics the first three-and-a-half, and Jesus-the-resurrected-priest mimics the second three-and-and-half. End-to-end, the two tell the story of Jesus of Nazareth, and match the prophecy of the final “week” in Daniel. I personally think John’s Gospel’s theology of Jesus as the new, rebuilt Temple, matching Daniel’s prophecy, is pure genius.

    Glad you find the puzzle fascinating; so do I!


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