February 9, 2009

Occam's 69 Weeks

Of course they're actually "Daniel's 69 Weeks" but I'm also referring to "Occam's Razor" which says the simplest *possible* explanation is to be preferred. Since I just read an extremely complicated (not to mention anti-faith) attempt to explain Daniel, I realized I hadn't blogged my own very simple suggestion yet. No time like the present.

Point 1 - Let Daniel 9:25 refer to the complete rebuilding of all Jerusalem, not just the Temple. This places the "decree" in 445/4 BC, not 539/8 BC, on which, see point 2. (Also see notes below. Liberals may attack this point first but I claim it as my premise and simply ask - if we accept this as given, what proceeds logically from here?)

Point 2 - Instead of doing arcane mathematical gymnastics, as some have done, count inclusively. The first "week" does not begin on the moment the decree was given. The first week is already on the calendar! It's the week during which Artaxerxes (in 445/4) gave Nehemiah permission to rebuild the wall. Those seven years ran from Autumn 450 to Autumn 443 (by Zuckerman's reckoning).

Point 3 - Proceed directly and sequentially from this first "week" to the 69th. That seven year period begins in Autumn 27 AD and runs until Autumn 34 AD. (Note the Math: 450 + 34 = 484 yrs = (69 * 7) +1, where the plus one disapears when restricting the count from Autumn to Autumn, giving the accurate total of 483.) Significantly, this week encapsulates the entire ministries of both John the Baptist and Jesus.

Point 4 - Just as the decree of Artaxerxes did not begin a strict countdown of 483 chronological years, the crucifixion of Jesus (April, 33 AD) does not have to come at the 69th week's precise end (which, in any year, would be in Autumn, not Spring).

Point 5 - Anyone taking Wacholder's years (as opposed to Zuckerman's) should not find any trouble in working with the above points, but - while I'm on the subject - let me say I personally find it much more significant, theologically, that Christ laid up his propitiation for all time in the Year of Preparation, before the Year of Rest (and likely the Jubilee, too.)

Notes: I'm not an O.T. or ANE guy, and I'm doing this strictly for the NT application - so much of my Persian history research (and all of 'my' Hebrew interpretation of Daniel 9:25) is borrowed from Harold Hoehner's generally excellent and thoroughly researched Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Chapter 6). However, one of the few criticisms I hold of this fine, classically trained scholar is that he calculated the numbers according to "prophetic months". Therefore Point 2, above, is my own added twist. Mathematics, like historical theories, is best when done simply.

Incidentally, I did actually tuck all this into a summary piece I did in 2006, which I'll now excerpt here. Pay attention, old friends - Jesus shows up at the end! :)
In 539 BC, the year that Daniel met Gabriel, the Kingdom of Persia conquered Babylon. It was also the year Daniel saw a vision of the rebuilding and the future re-destruction of Jerusalem.

In 538 BC - the following year, Cyrus, King of Persia, let many Jews go back to Jerusalem. Cyrus let Zerubbabel and the Jews rebuilt their temple, but not the walls.

In 480 BC - Xerxes, King of Persia, killed 300 lots of Spartans at Thermopylae, but lost the war against Greece. Back home in Persia, three years later, he married a Jewish wife, named Esther. She comforted him, after his loss.

In 458 BC - Artaxerxes, King of Persia, let a Jewish man named Ezra lead a new group of exiles back to Jerusalem. Ezra read the law, and the people decided to follow it. That autumn, they dedicated the next twelve months (and every 7th year after) as a Resting-Year to the Lord.(It just so happens that, about this time, a Greek named Pericles was leading Athens into their famous "Golden Age".)

In 445 BC - Artaxerxes decided to let Ezra and Nehemiah rebuild their whole city, and even the walls of Jerusalem. He gave this decree mid-way through one of Israel's 7-year cycles.(That cycle - when the walls were rebuilt - was the first cycle out of 69 cycles that Gabriel told Daniel about. The 64th cycle is when Jesus gets born. The 69th cycle is when Jesus does his work.)


Peter Kirk said...

Interesting analysis. The weeks being sabbatical cycles makes much more sense than counting in "prophetic months".

If 458 BC was the start of a year of jubilee proclaimed by Ezra, then 33 AD, 490 years later, also was. So it started in the autumn after Jesus' ascension, completing the fit of the main Jewish festivals into the events of his life.

This all depends on the sabbatical cycle being restarted after the exile by Ezra, which apparently the Talmud teaches (b. ‘Arak. 32b, also Seder ‘Olam Ch. 30, according to one private source I have). On the pre-exilic cycle a sabbatical year started in 574 BC, which would not fit these calculations.

Bill said...

Thanks for that, Peter. Let's hope some christian OT scholars are out there who'll share your reaction.

Regarding Ezra, it seems 458/7 was indeed a retroactive sabbatical year, and even if we call it a "jubilee", it was a very unique one. Thus, it did not take the place of "year one" in the next [first] cycle, as normal Jubilee years always did.

According to Finegan, Zuckerman puts a sabbath year in 33/34 and Wacholder puts it in 34/35, but I believe your suggestion is 32/33, which would be unique. Finegan sided with Zuckerman, and so do I. ;)

As I said in my post, the years being off by one wouldn't affect my basic point about counting the weeks from Artaxerxes to the Cross, inclusively.

Bill said...

Correction: credit where credit is due. Maybe. ;) I remembered tonight that I actually seedpicked the idea of counting inclusively from Bob Pickle, when I read his website in 1996. Bob said, "Christ dying after a ministry of 3½ years would put His death in the spring of 31 AD, the precise middle of a sabbatical cycle..."

I'm guessing we can blame more prophetic logic for Bob's bad chronology on the cross, but as I recall it was the words "middle of a sabbatical cycle" which stuck sideways in my brain and led to the mix of ideas proposed in this post. It pays to read everybody!

Anyway, maybe I don't have an original contribution, here, but maybe it's an original 'twist'. ;)

By the way, Bob's overall effort to defend Zuckerman is very impressive, although I'm not an expert on the issues involved there. And also, I'm not into prophecy...

Bill said...

2006. Not 1996.

Peter Kirk said...

Bill, I meant 33/34 as a sabbatical year, so agreeing with Zuckerman and you. Probably where I differ is in seeing the jubilee year as the same year as the sabbatical (one year in every 49) and not the following year. I know there is controversy about this one but it seems to me, from what I have read, that my position fits the biblical data and Jewish practice better than yours.

I suppose that Bob Pickle is taking Jesus' announcement in Luke 4:19 as the literal proclamation of a jubilee year. I would take it more symbolically.

Bill said...

Ah, I see. Thanks for the clarification, Peter. That works fine either way, I think.

If Lk.4:19 is [even partly] about the literal Jubilee, it could still have been a few years away at the time of Jesus' speaking.

BBrotbeck said...

Just browsing by and I wanted to set the record straight on Ockham's Razor. Ockham's razor is not "the simplest explanation is the best. It is more precisely "Do not multiply causes unnecessarily." Sometimes a more complicated explanation is necessary sometimes it isn't. But don't add a cause if one already fully explains the situation. Enjoyable blog so far :)

Bill said...

I didn't quote O, BB. But thanks very much for the more precise rendering. I think you're correct.

Please keep the comments coming, and feel free to introduce yourself, as your blog handle seems pretty anonymous. But either way, thanks for stopping by and leaving feedback. :)

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