Daniel 9: Translations differ with respect to whether the messiah appear at the beginning or end of the 490 years.

Daniel the prophetsDaniel 9 prophecies a period of 490 years.  It also predicts a messiah appears.  In some Bible translations the messiah appears at the end of the first 49 years.  Other translations the messiah appears close to the end of the 490 years.  This difference in the translations is due to assumptions with respect to punctuation, for there was no punctuation in the originally text of Daniel 9.  This article shows that the messiah appears close to the end of the 490 years.

The Two Translations

In the RSV and some other translation of Daniel 9:25 the messiah appears after 49 years:

Daniel 9 Seven weeks… from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks.  Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again …

The AB, ERV and the NEB follow a similar translation.  Given this translation the messiah cannot be Jesus Christ because the decree to restore Jerusalem was issued more than 400 years before Christ, as will be discussed below.

But in the NASB, KJV, NIV, ASV, ERV [margin], MLB and the JB and some other translations the messiah appears after 7 + 62 weeks (483 years), and therefore can be Jesus Christ:

… 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 …

The reason for the difference in the translations is punctuation (commas, full stops, etc.).  In the original Hebrew there was no punctuation.  The original Hebrew did not even have spaces between words.  When it comes to the Old Testament, all punctuation is interpretation.  The context must determine the punctuation.

So which translation is correct?

Septuagint(A) When the Hebrew was first translated into Greek, about 2000 years ago, punctuation was added.  The punctuation of all the ancient Greek translations, namely the Septuagint (LXX) and those of Theodotion, Symmachus, and Aquila and the Peshitta, treat the 7 and 62 weeks of Daniel 9:25 as a single period at the end of which the Messiah appears.  The Vulgate and Syriac, and in modern times also the NASB, adopted this punctuation.

Masoretic Text(B) The Jews first added punctuation to the Hebrew about 500 years after Christ; in the Masoretic period.  The Masoretic version of Daniel 9 adds an athnach (a principal disjunctive divider within a verse) after the words “seven weeks.”   This athnach resulted in the RSV transla­tion, in which the messiah appears at the end of the 7 first weeks.  The RSV follows the punctuation added by the Jews about 500 years after Christ.  There seems to be no reason to follow the Jewish translation.  They had a motive to remove Jesus from the prophecy.

(C) The addition of an athnach seems to indicate an anti-Christian bias.  Pusey, p. 190, n. 1, quotes Rashi to the effect “that on account of ‘heretics,’ i.e. Christians,” the clause was divided by an athnach.

Two different messiahs(D) Fair treatment of the text requires that the Messiah in 9:26 be the same as the Messiah in 9:25. Two different messiahs in two consecutive verses are unlikely.  If only one messiah appears in this prophecy, and if he appears at the end of the first seven weeks (49 years), and if he is killed after the end of the 69th weeks, then he is at least 434 years old when he is killed, which is not possible.  He must therefore appear at the end of the 62 weeks, as in the NASB, NIV, KJV, Young’s Literal and many other translations.

(E) The problem can be solved by noting that this passage is poetry and then by analyzing the structure of the poem.  This shows that the text swings back and forth between the City and the Messiah.  The table shows how the prophecy alternates between the two foci:

(A) City                                                                           (B) Messiah
from … decree to restore … Jerusalem         until Messiah the Prince
seven weeks                                                                and sixty-two weeks
will be built again                                                      cut off after 62 two weeks

This analysis shows that the seven weeks apply to the rebuilding of the city, while that the end of the sixty-two weeks relates to the Messiah.  (source William Shea)  This poetic analysis rules out the Masoretic punctuation and confirms that the Messiah appears at the end of the 62 weeks.

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