The Liberal-Critical Interpretation of the 490 years in Daniel 9

EXCERPT: Daniel was written in the sixth century BC but contains explicit and accurate predictions of later empires. Since liberal scholars do not accept that accurate predictions of the future are possible. They propose that Daniel was written after the events it seems to predict, namely during the reign of Antiochus IV. But then they have to explain the 490 years in terms of the history up to that point in time and their explanation breaks down under investigation.

A summary of this article is available HERE.


WHEN WAS DANIEL WRITTEN?

According to Daniel itself, it was written in the sixth century BC. But it contains accurate predictions of later empires. 

Liberal scholars dominate the academic world. One can see this in the Wikipedia page on Daniel 9. Because it emphasizes the liberal view, I complained as follows to Wikipedia:

I grant you that the current academic consensus is that Daniel was written in the 2nd century BC even though the book itself states that it was written in the 6th century BC.

However, firstly, the average Christian is not even aware of that view. Liberalism is the view that the Bible is purely the product of the evolution of human thought and, therefore, not divinely inspired. As such, liberalism, by definition, is a minority view within Christianity.

The view that Daniel was written in the second century BC is not taught in churches. Those who believe that, avoid the topic. Those who believe that Daniel is true prophecy, written in the 6th century BC, use it as cornerstone for their eschatology and preach their views very strongly.

Secondly, you also know that liberal criticism developed in the 19th/20th century. The reformers, therefore, such as Luther and Calvin, believed that Daniel is true prophecy. Again, by over-emphasizing the current scholarly consensus and by ignoring the orthodox view of Daniel 9, you are doing a disservice to your readers.

Apparently, my comment was sent to various people within Wikipedia and I received many comments back, for example:

The idea that the Book of Daniel has historicity does not fly with mainstream academia. As a historical view, it is not even remotely tenable.

The folks saying that Daniel was written in the sixth century don’t publish in mainstream outlets, generally speaking.

It is clearer than the sun at noonday that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, but by someone who lived long after Moses.

Wikipedia will only listen to mainstream historians and mainstream Bible scholars, as opposed to people preaching what should be the true beliefs of their own congregation.

Wikipedia is a venue for rendering mainstream scholarship, and we despise so-called “scholars” who in fact are preaching to their own choir.

In other words, the views of colleges and magazines that are linked to specific denominations are not accepted by Wikipedia. Only independent academic publications are. The problem is that, in science, something is only true if it can be proven. That removes the supernatural from the realm of the possible. Therefore, when one subjects to Bible to the principles of “science,” it becomes the product of the development of human thought over the centuries.

DANIEL 9

Since liberal scholars do not accept that accurate predictions of the future are possible, they propose that Daniel, including the 490 years-prophecy, was written after the events it so accurately seems to predict. In other words, the accurate predictions in Daniel are actually recorded history written in the form of prophecy.

The Greek king Antiochus IV desecrated the temple and killed many Jews. Since Daniel seems to ‘predict’ this accurately, liberals assume that Daniel was written after Antiochus desecrated the temple in 167 BC.

However, the Jews soon revolted (known as the Maccabean revolt), defeated Antiochus’ army, drove them out of Judah, and rededicate the temple. But the prophecy of Daniel 9 ends with the accumulation of desolations. In Daniel 9, there is no indication of a rededication of the altar. Liberal scholars, therefore, assume that Daniel was written before the success of the revolt and, therefore, before the rededication of the temple in 164 BC. 

For the same reasons, they propose that the crisis in Daniel, even in Daniel 9, is the conflict caused by Antiochus IV.

THE LIBERAL TIMELINE

In the standard liberal timeline:

    1. The seventy weeks (490 years) began with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.
    2. The first 49 years (7 weeks) came to an end with Cyrus’ decree in 538 BC, which liberated the Jews and allowed them to return to Judah and to rebuild the temple.
    3. At the end of the next 434 years (62 weeks), Onias III was murdered in 171/0 BC.
    4. It is Antiochus who will “destroy the city and the sanctuary … make a firm covenant … for one week, but in the middle of the week … put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering” (Dan 9:26-27).
    5. After the successful Maccabean revolt, the temple was rededicated in 164 BC. This was the end of the 490 years.

Below, these assertions are discussed.

DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM

In the liberal schema, the 490 years began with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

NO DECREE

Firstly, the prophecy states that the 490 years will begin with a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Dan 9:25). The destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC was not a decree of any kind. At the time of Jerusalem’s destruction, there was no “decree” that speaks of a rebuilding of Jerusalem.

The decrees that have to do with Jerusalem’s restoration were much later; Cyrus (538 BC), Darius (520), and Artaxerxes (458 and 445). But since liberals regard the prophecies in Daniel as history written in the form of prophecy, they must fit the 490 years of Daniel 9 before the time of Antiochus. For that reason, they have to find something as early as possible. Therefore, they propose the destruction of Jerusalem but, as stated, that was not a decree of any kind.

TOO SHORT

Secondly, the destruction of Jerusalem does not fit the timeline in Daniel 9. From 586 BC to the rededication of the temple in 164 BC was only 422 years; not the 490 years required by the prophecy.

That is with respect to the entire prophecy. If we evaluate the three parts of the prophecy, we note that Cyrus issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple. He issued that decree 48 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, which is only one year short of the required 49 (7 x 7) years of the prophecy.

But the main reason that the liberal timeline is too short is because the 62 weeks extend from Cyrus’ decree (539/8 BC) to Onias (171/0 BC). But this is only 367 years; 67 years short of the predicted 434 years (62 x 7).

If, as critics believe, Daniel 9:24-27 is history written after the events in the form of prophecy, then one could rightly expect that history would fit the timeline in the prophecy perfectly, but scholars accept the differences on the assumption that the chronological knowledge, when Daniel was written, was not very exact.

CONCURRENT

Thirdly, if the timeline starts with the destruction of Jerusalem, then the 70 years of exile run concurrently with the 490 years. But, for the following reasons, this is not logical:

Firstly, at the time that the Daniel 9 prophecy was received, at the end of the 70 years, the 70 years were past history while the 490 years were a promised future.

Secondly, the 70 years of exile were the penalty for past disobedience while the 490 years were a renewal or an extension of God’s covenant with Israel.

Thirdly, as elsewhere discussed, the 70 years of exile were the penalty for 490 past years of disobedience and the new cycle of 490 years was a replacement for the 490 years that Israel wasted through disobedience. Therefore, the 70 years should not be part of either the wasted past 490 years or the promised future 490 years.

ONIAS III

In the liberal schema, at the end of the next 434 years (62 weeks), Onias III was murdered in 171/0 BC.

ONIAS WAS NO MESSIAH.

A first objection is that this identifies Onias II as the Messiah of Daniel 9:26, but Onias was no messiah. The Bible uses the term “messiah” exclusively for people who rescue Israel from danger. Onias did not save Israel from anything. Antiochus IV replaced him as high priest with his more liberal brother Jason. A few years later, in 171/0, he was killed; 4 years before Antiochus IV desecrated the temple.

MESSIAH DISAPPEARS IMMEDIATELY.

Secondly, in the critics’ scheme, the messiah (Onias) disappears (is cut off) immediately at the end of the “seven weeks and sixty-two weeks.” But the text says that the messiah will APPEAR at the end of the 7+62 weeks (Dan 9:25) and be killed some undefined time “AFTER the sixty-two weeks” (Dan 9:26).

ANTIOCHUS IV

In the liberal schema, it is Antiochus who will:

    1. destroy the city and the sanctuary …
    2. make a firm covenant … for one week,
    3. but in the middle of the week … put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering” (Dan 9:26-27).

Antiochus IVAntiochus did indeed stop the Jewish sacrifices. According to the book of 1 Maccabean, the “desolating sacrilege“—a heathen altar—was erected on the great altar of burnt sacrifice on December 4, 167 BC (15 Kislev, 145; 1 Macc 1:54). This was more or less in the middle of the seven years after Onias was murdered. The liberal interpretation assumes that the abomination of desolation, mentioned elsewhere in Daniel, is this heathen altar which Antiochus Epiphanes erected in place of the Lord’s altar for burnt offerings (see I Macc 1:54). However:

DESTROY

Firstly, Antiochus never destroyed the sanctuary. He turned it into a temple of his own god. Neither did Antiochus destroy Jerusalem. He destroyed only part of Jerusalem and massacred many of its inhabitants. A second-century author would have seen with his own eyes that Antiochus did not destroy the temple, but only defiled it (1 Macc 1:30-31, 39).

IN JESUS’ FUTURE

Secondly, while liberals limit the crisis in Daniel to the time of Antiochus, Jesus put the abomination of desolation of Daniel’s prophecies in His future:

Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)” (Matt 24:15)

Daniel’s prophecies, therefore, cannot be limited to the time of Antiochus, approximately 200 years before Jesus spoke. For many people, this is sufficient evidence against the liberal interpretation.  Daniel is the only Bible book that Jesus by name recommended that we understand.

NO COVENANT

Thirdly, Antiochus IV did not conclude or confirm an agreement with anybody for one week. His general support for the Hellenizing Jews cannot be limited to one week. For instance, he replaced Onias with his pro-Seleucid brother a number of years before Onias was killed.

PRINCE OF THE COVENANT

Fourthly, logically, the “prince of the covenant” in Daniel 11:22 must be the same person as the prince who confirms the covenant for one week (Dan 9:27). But, in the liberal interpretation, in Daniel 9, Antiochus is that person but, in Daniel 11, he kills that person.

END OF THE 490 YEARS

In the liberal schema, the 490 years end with the rededication of the temple in 164 BC.

Judas Maccabeus

The altar of sacrifice was rededication by the victorious Judas Maccabeus on December 14, 164 BC (25 Kislev, 148; 1 Macc 4:52), exactly 3 years after the first heathen sacrifice in the temple. The liberal view understands this as the “anointing of a most holy place,” listed as one of the purposes of the seventy weeks (Dan 9:24). However:

TOO LITTLE TIME

Firstly, as already stated, this means that the total period is 422 years from 586 to 164 BC; not the 490 years mentioned by the prophecy.

ENDS IN CHAOS

Secondly, Daniel 9 ends with the multiplication of chaos. There is no evidence in that chapter that the temple will be rededicated and that the sacrifices will be resumed after “he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering” (Dan 9:27).

CONTRADICTION

Thirdly, the liberal view seems to contradict itself. On the one hand, they conclude the last week ends with the rededication. On the other, they say that the writer of Daniel did not expect the success of the Maccabean revolt.

WHY 490 YEARS?

If we assume that the prophecy of Daniel 9 was written during the reign of Antiochus IV, then it is clear from the text of the prophecy that the writer of Daniel did not foresee the success of the Maccabean revolt. Then we can ask, why would he postulate a period of 490 years?  The liberal interpretation fails to explain what end the writer has in mind. And what was envisaged after the end of the 490 years?

In addition, the liberal interpretation does not fit the purpose of the 490 years.

Daniel 9 goalsDaniel 9:24 gives six goals to be achieved during the 490 years, including to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness.

Why would a faithful Jew, compiling the book of Daniel in the second century, during the period of temple desecration under Antiochus IV, give these 6 goals for the 8 events predicted in the prophecy? It would require substantial creativity to find application for goals such as “to make an end of sin” and “to bring in everlasting righteousness” (Dan 9:24) to the time of Antiochus, particularly on the basis of the liberal assumption that Daniel was written prior to the success of the Maccabean revolt.

The conflict in the time of Antiochus IV was more of the nature of a civil war between pro-Hellenistic and anti-Hellenistic Jewish factions than it was a conflict with an external oppressor. “The severest condemnation of the writer of I Maccabees goes, not to the Seleucid politicians, but to the lawless apostates among his own people” (The introduction to I Maccabees in the NAB). This makes it even more difficult to see how a second-century writer could link the goals in Daniel 9:24 to that conflict.

THE ESSENCE

The essence of the prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27 is that, within 500 years from the restoration of Jerusalem, and therefore before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the Messiah would arrive but be killed. In the context of goals such as “to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness” and in the context of the New Testament, this must be a prophecy about Jesus Christ. But Jesus finds no place in the liberal interpretation.

DANIEL IS HISTORICALLY ACCURATE.

Liberals are aware of the concerns raised above but they claim that the second-century writer of Daniel did not know his history too well. However, it should be noted that the book of Daniel contains amazingly accurate historical facts that were poorly known during the later pre-Christian centuries. For example:

NebuchadnezzarThe author of Daniel is correct in his description of Nebuchadnezzar as the builder of Babylon (4:30). RH Pfeiffer was compelled to concede, “We shall presumably never know how our author learned that the new Babylon was the creation of Nebuchadnezzar, as the excavations have proved.”

The author was correct in his knowledge that Belshazzar, mentioned only in Daniel and in cuneiform records, functioned as king when Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC.

On the basis of cunei­form evidence, the vexing chronological problem between Daniel 1:1 and Jeremiah 25:1; 46:2 has been solved without any discrepancy. (For a further discussion, see – Is the Book of Daniel a Fake?)

These exam­ples show that the writer of Daniel knew history quite well, and would not have made such a massive mistake with the dates.

IMPLICATIONS

The liberal interpretation is based on the assumption that Daniel is a fake; that it is history up to the time of Antiochus IV written by an unknown writer in the form of prophecy, with some added uninspired and incorrect speculations of future events. If this was true, we should question the credibility of the entire Bible. In particular, it means that the Book of Revelation, which relies heavily on Daniel, is fiction. The liberal interpretation is an attack on the Christian faith.

THE MESSIAH

Masoretic TextThe Masoretic punctuation—as is, for instance, used in the RSV—has two messiahs in the prophecy; one at the end of 49 years and the other is cut off 62 weeks (434 years) later (Dan 9:26). Liberal scholars use this punctuation and identify the first messiah as Cyrus and the second as the Jewish High Priest Onias III, who was murdered in 171/0 BC. In this view, Daniel 9 does not refer to Jesus at all.

Liberal scholars obtain support for this view from Isaiah 45:1, where Cyrus is called the anointed of the Lord, and from Leviticus 4:3 and following, which refers to priests as “anointed.” (The Hebrews word translated messiah in the NASB is mashiach, and means anointed and is translated as “anointed one” in some translations of Daniel 9:26, for example, the RSV.)

However:

(1) A previous article discussed the punctuation and concluded that there is only one messiah in the prophecy, and he appears after 7 + 62 weeks as, for example, in the NASB.

(2) Two different messiahs in two consecutive verses are unlikely.  Daniel 9:25 and 9:26 most likely refer to one and the same person as “messiah.”

AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW

One proposed alternative liberal view is as follows:

    • The first 7 weeks are from the Captivity in 587 BC until 538 BC: Exactly 49 years.
    • The next 62 weeks (434 years) are from the date Jeremiah prophesied in 605 BC (Jer 25:11-12) to Onias’ death in 171 BC: Exactly 434 years

The advantages of this proposal are that it exactly fits the 49 and 434 years required by the prophecy and it starts the 62 weeks with a “word” (KJV). The disadvantages are:

(1) Jeremiah 25:11-12 does not speak of the rebuilding of Jerusalem at all.
(2) In this proposal, the first two divisions (7 + 62) run parallel to each other rather than one after the other. In total, Israel, therefore, never received its promised 490 years.
(3) The wording of Daniel 9:25 requires “seven and sixty-two weeks” (that is, 69 weeks) and not just 62 weeks from “the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” until Messiah the Prince.

ANCHOR BIBLE

Anchor Bible Commentary
Anchor Bible Commentary

A slight variation from the standard liberal schema is proposed in an article by Hartman and Di Lella in the influential Anchor Bible Commen­tary. They do not start the 490 years with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, but with Jeremiah’s announcement as recorded in 29:10, which they date to 594 BC.  Otherwise, they remain with the standard liberal-critical schema. 

The benefit of this proposal is that the 490 years do not start with the destruction of Jerusalem, but with a “word”, as required by Daniel 9.  However:

(A) Jeremiah 29:10 was also not a “word to rebuild and restore Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:25 KJV). Jeremiah 29:10 only speaks of bringing back exiles to Judah.

(B) From 594 BC to 538 BC is 56 years, not 49 years.  Hartman and Di Lella suggest that 56 years is “sufficiently close to the quasi-artificial figure of ‘seven weeks’ of years. Not everybody would accept the 7 weeks as “quasi-artificial.”

(C) The second section of the 490 years remains too short. Consequently, the full period from 594 BC to 164 BC is only 430 years; 50 years short of the required 490 years.


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