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.


OTHER ARTICLES

With what decree did the 490 years of Daniel 9 begin?

ABSTRACT: The 490 years begin with a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Dan 9:25). To restore a city means to return all rights to the previous owner. To restore a capital city, such as Jerusalem, means to give the nation the right to rule itself from that city. This article evaluates five possible decrees in terms of whether they:

    • Restored the city,
    • Allowed the city to be rebuilt, and whether they
    • Fit the time of Christ.

A summary of this article is available HERE.

PURPOSE

The 70 weeks (490 years) of Daniel 9 begin with a decree:

FROM the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” (Dan 9:25)

Identification of this decree is very important for a correct interpretation of the 490 years. A number of historical decrees with different dates have been suggested by scholars. For example, in Dispensationalism, the “decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” (Dan 9:25) was Artaxerxes’ second decree in 445/4 BC (Neh 1-2). This article evaluates these decrees and identifies the decree that fits the prophecy best.

RESTORE AND REBUILD

The right decree will both “restore” and “rebuild” Jerusalem. “Restore” and “rebuild” are two related but very different actions:

Rebuild means to physically reconstruct.

Restore – The word translated as “restore” (shûb) does not mean the same as “rebuild.” To restore a city means to return ownership to the previous owner, for example:

Ahab, king of IsraelThe Aramean king once said to Ahab, king of Israel: “I will return (shûb, “restore”) the cities my father took from your father“ (I Kings 20:34).  These cities have not been destroyed and were simply returned (given back) to Israel.

Azariah, king of Judah, rebuilt and restored the city Elath to Judah (2 Kings 14:22). This verse contains both verbs in Daniel 9:25; ”rebuild” and “restore.”  The city had been in ruins. After it was rebuilt, it was restored (returned or given back) to Judah to rule as their own (cf. 1 Kings 12:21).

Restoring (shûb) Jerusalem in Daniel 9:25, therefore, does not include rebuilding. It also means more than merely allowing the Jews to live in the city. “Restore” means that Jerusalem would again be owned by the Israelites. And since Jerusalem was the judicial and executive capital of the nation, to restore the city means to return ownership to the Jews to serve as their capital from where they would govern themselves according to their own laws.

JEREMIAH’S PROPHECY

Critical scholars are academics who do not accept the divine inspiration of Daniel. They do not believe that Daniel 9 refers to Jesus, but rather propose that Daniel was written during the persecution of the Jews by the Greek king Antiochus IV (around 165 BC) and that that crisis is also the crisis in Daniel. In other words, they propose that Daniel is history written in the form of a prophecy.

Since such scholars have to fit 490 years between the decree and the time of Antiochus, they select the earliest possible decree. For this reason, they propose that the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem is a ‘decree of God’ via the prophet Jeremiah.

But even if they take the very first mention by Jeremiah of the coming destruction and restoration of Jerusalem, in about 605 BC, they still only have 440 years until the time of Antiochus; not the required 490 (70×7) years. They usually explain the difference as a mistake made by the uninspired writer of the book of Daniel. But people who accept Daniel as supernaturally inspired, and particularly people who accept the messiah in Daniel 9 as referring to Jesus Christ, do not accept the announcements by Jeremiah as the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.

FOUR PERSIAN DECREES

Persian empire
Persian empire

The books by Ezra and Nehemiah mention four different “decrees” that deal with the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple and city. These decrees were issued by three different Persian monarchs over a period of 93 years:

    1. 538/7 BC: Cyrus allowed Jews to return to Judah and to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4; cf. Isa 45:1).
    2. About 520 BC: Darius I reaffirmed and expedited the order of Cyrus (Ezra 6:1-12).
    3. 457 BC: Artaxerxes I granted a decree to Ezra (Ezra 7:12-26) to re-establish the autonomy of Judah.
    4. 445/444 BC: Artaxerxes I gave permission to Nehemiah to repair Jerusalem.

One of these must be the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.

CYRUS – 538/7

Isaiah prophecied CyrusMore than a century before Cyrus was born, God inspired Isaiah to write:

Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid’“ (Isa 44:28).

He (Cyrus) shall build my city and set my exiles free“ (Isa 45:13).

In 538/7 BC, Cyrus decreed as follows:

The Lord, the God of heaven … has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you … let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel” (Ezra 1:2-4).

The decree by Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Judea and to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4; cf. Isa 45:1). It also implies the right to rebuild their cities, including Jerusalem. But that decree did not “restore” Jerusalem as required by Daniel 9:25, for it did not allow the Jews to rule themselves. It did not give Jerusalem back to the nation to serve as their national capital; to make their own laws, to govern themselves. They were still ruled directly by Persian laws.

Isaiah predicted that Cyrus “shall build my city and set my exiles free“ (Isa 45:13), but Cyrus did not set the Israelites free to rule themselves; only to return to Judea. Nevertheless, Cyrus did initiate a process that ultimately led to the decree to restore Jerusalem to the Jews, to serve as their judicial capital.

DARIUS I – 520 BC

King DariusIn response to Cyrus’ edict, the Jews slowly began to return to their homeland (Ezra 3). More than 15 years later Haggai and Zechariah (their ministry began about 520 BC) tell us that instead of making the rebuilding of the temple their priority, the returnees had set about their own business. While the affluent built luxury homes, the majority of the returned exiles lived in and around the ruined city and suffered crop failures and droughts. The temple remained in ruins (Haggai 1:1-11).

Zerubbabel and Joshua, under the influence of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, again started to rebuild the temple seventeen years after the decree of Cyrus, but experienced resistance (Ezra 5). Israel’s old enemies—the Samaritans—complained to the authorities. In response, the local governor inspected the work and wrote a letter to Darius to verify the rights of the Jews. An investigation was made and the decree of Cyrus was found. Darius confirmed the decree of Cyrus by means of an additional edict (ca. 520 BC) (Ezra 6:3-12). The temple was finished and dedicated in March, 515 BC (Ezra 6:13-18).

rebuild the templeThe royal decree of Darius I mentions only the restoration of the temple. It simply confirmed Cyrus’ edict, and therefore also did not restore Jerusalem as legislative and executive capital of the nation in order that the Jews may govern themselves.

[Note that the Samaritans appealed to the Persian authorities, which confirms that Jerusalem has not yet been “restored,” as defined above.]

This leaves us to choose between the two decrees issued by Artaxerxes I in 458/7 (Ezra 7:1-26) and in 445/4 BC (Neh 1-2) respectively:

ARTAXERXES – 458/7 BC

TorahThe decree in 458/7 BC (Ezra 7:12-26), about 60 years after the temple had been completed, granted permission to the exiles to return to Jerusalem, assigned funds for the support of the temple in Jerusalem, and exempted the temple and temple personnel from tax. These are not different from the previous decrees. But what was now added is that the decree established a legal system based on the Torah for all the Jews in Judea. This included appointing magistrates and judges to enforce the law. Judea was to enjoy significant judicial and civil autonomy under the larger overlordship of Persia. Of particular importance is Ezra 7:26:

Ten CommandmentsWhoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.

In this way, the Persian king made the Mosaic law part of his own law and granted authority to the Jews to govern themselves on the basis of the law of God. It provided for a measure of judicial autonomy unknown since the Babylonian desolation of Jerusalem and Judea about 130 years earlier (Ezra 7:25-26).

In response to this decree, Ezra, with a considerable company of people (priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and temple servants), went up from Babylon in Mesopo­tamia to Jerusalem in the seventh year of his reign (Ezra 7:6-7, 11-17). After a journey lasting several months, they arrived at Jerusalem.

ArtaxerxesAll historical sources point unanimously and harmoniously to the fact that the seventh regnal year of Artaxerxes I extended from March/April of 458 BC to March/April of 457 BC. The Jews, however, did not use the Persian-Babylonian March/April calendar. Their calendar began in September/October:

Nehemiah 1:1 and 2:1 provide specific evidence for this. Both verses date events to Artaxerxes’ twentieth year, but to different months. In Neh 1:1, it is the “month Chislev” and in Nehemiah 2:1, it is the “month Nisan.” But in the Persian-Babylonian calendar, Chislev was the ninth month and Nisan was the first. If Nehemiah had used the Persian-Babylonian calendar, then Nehemiah 2:1 should have been dated to Artaxerxes’ twenty-first regnal year. The fact that the regnal year number did not change is evidence that Nehemiah used the Jewish calendar, which used the same names for months but started the year in a different month.

Since Ezra was a contemporary of Nehemiah, we may apply the same Jewish calendar to the dates in Ezra. This would mean that the decree recorded in Ezra 7 was issued sometime in the year that began in September/October of the year 458.

ARTAXERXES – 445/4

Nehemiah, cupbearer to Artaxerxes IIn the king’s twentieth year (Neh 2:1) (445/4 BC) Nehemiah, cupbearer to Artaxerxes I, received a report from a group of Jews who had arrived in the Persian capital from Jerusalem:

The survivors there in the province who escaped exile are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” (Neh 1:3; cf. 2:3).

Nehemiah then requested and obtained permission from Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city (Neh 2:5).

TWO DECREES OF ARTAXERXES

We have to choose between the two decrees of Artaxerxes. For the following reasons, it is proposed that the 458/7-decree is the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem:

(1) It fits the time of Christ and
(2) It “restored” Jerusalem to the Jews.

THE TIME OF CHRIST.

Daniel 9:25 continues:

from the issuing of a decree …
until Messiah the Prince
there will be seven weeks
and sixty-two weeks.

In other words, the Messiah would appear (7+62)x7 = 483 years after the decree.

DISPENSATIONAL VIEW

In Dispensationalism, this Messiah Prince is Jesus Christ and 483 years after the decree brings us to the time of Christ. However, 483 years from 445/4 BC takes us to about AD 39/40; about 7 years AFTER Christ’s death. Dispensationalism, preferring the decree of 445/4 BC, therefore, attempts to solve this by interpreting the 483 years as ‘prophetic years’ consisting of 360 days each. This reduces the 483 years by about 7 years, bringing us to the year in which Jesus was crucified, assuming that He died in AD 33 or AD 32. More specifically, Dispensationalism claims that it brings us to His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a few days before His death.

However, as discussed, the prophecy of “seventy weeks” (Dan 9:24) is based on Israel’s seven-year cycle, where every seventh year is a Sabbath. Therefore, the “seventy weeks” are weeks of literal years; not ‘prophetic years’. Artaxerxes’ second decree of 445/4 BC, therefore, was too late to fit the time of Christ.

TRADITIONAL VIEW

Baptism of Jesus ChristThe traditional view also regards the “Messiah the Prince,” who appears at the end of 483 years, to be Jesus Christ. He ‘appeared’ to Israel when He was anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism:

John the Baptist said, “so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water” (John 1:31).

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38; cf. Mark 1:9-11; Psa 2:6, 7).

This was the beginning of His ministry (Mark 1:11-14; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38).

He was baptized in the fif­teenth year of the Roman emperor Tiberius (Luke 3:1, 5, 21). Different chronologists give different years for His baptism; from 26 AD to 29 AD. A quick Google search came up with the following dates:

(1) During the winter solstice in 26 AD
(2) AD 25-28, with the most likely date being AD 27
(3) January 6, 28
(3) About 28–29 AD
(4) The fall of 29

Artaxerxes’ first decree was in 458/7. If we add 483 years to 458/7 BC, we arrive at AD 26/27. (457 + 27 – 1 = 483; Remember, no year nil. From 1 BC to 1 AD is one year, not two.) Artaxerxes’ first decree, therefore, aligns well with the possible dates of Jesus’ baptism and we can assume 26/27 to be the correct date, as, for instance, in Finegan (Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Princeton, 1964, p265).

490 years

RESTORE JERUSALEM

The decree of 458/7 for the first time “restored” the city to the Jews by allowing the Jews to rule themselves from their capital city.

Artaxerxes’ second decree did not “restore” Jerusalem because Artaxerxes’ first decree (458/7) already “restored” the city to the Israelites. As stated, his first decree made the Mosaic law part of the Persian law and granted judicial autonomy to Judah to govern themselves on the basis of the law of God (Ezra 7:26).

REBUILT JERUSALEM

Rebuild JerusalemOne objection against the decree of Artaxerxes I to Ezra in 457 BC (Ezra 7:1-26) is that it did not specifically authorize the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Dispensationalism claims that Artaxerxes’ second decree was the first to authorize the rebuilding of Jerusalem. But that is not true. The previous decrees by Cyrus (538/7 BC), Darius I (520 BC), and Artaxerxes I (458/7 BC), by allowing the Jews to return to Judah, to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4; cf. Isa 45:1) and to govern themselves, implicitly allowed the Jews to rebuild their cities.

The following also prove that the construction of the walls began before Nehemiah arrived.

(1) When Nehemiah arrived, he inspected the wall (Neh 2:15). The next verse refers to “the priests … who did the work” (Neh 2:16). This must have been work on the wall as the temple was completed 70 years earlier in 515 BC (Ezra 6:13-18).

(2) Nehemiah repaired the walls in only 52 days (Neh 6:15). This implies that work has been done before, for it is unlikely that the damage caused in 586 BC, together with the neglect of the next 150 years, could be reversed in less than two months while battling constantly with opposition.

(3) Some Persian officers complained to Artaxerxes that “the Jews … are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city; they are finishing the walls (Ezra 4:12). The letter requested the king to put a stop to the work, which he did (Ezra 4:23). Since no such interruption is recorded in the book of Nehemiah and because Nehemiah completed the walls of the city within 52 days, this was not an interruption of Nehemiah’s work on the walls. Since Nehemiah finished the walls, this interruption, and therefore this work on the walls, occurred prior to Nehemiah.

The following is further evidence that the previous decrees of Cyrus and Darius already implicitly authorized the Jews to rebuild their cities:

Nehemiah(a) About 13 years after Ezra arrived at Jerusalem—in 445/4 BC—Nehemiah is informed that “the walls of Jerusalem” were broken down and the gates destroyed by fire (Neh 1:3). Nehemiah was deeply troubled by the news—he wept for days (Neh 1:4). The fact that Nehemiah was devastated by the news implies that he expected to hear that the walls and gates have been completed. This means that permission to rebuild the walls and gates was already granted and that Nehemiah knew about people that went to Jerusalem for that purpose.

(b) Nehemiah did not ask for permission to rebuild the city. He only asked for permission to go to Jerusalem (Neh 2:5) and for wood to build the walls (Neh 2:8). These requests imply that permission has already been granted for the reconstruction of the walls.

In summary, Artaxerxes’ first decree fits the description in Daniel 9:25 better than his second because it:

(a) Fits the time of Christ;
(b) “Restored” Jerusalem as judicial capital to the Jews, and:
(c) Implicitly authorized the Jews to “rebuild” the city.

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