Daniel’s 70 Weeks & Christ Chronology

By David Pyles

“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. 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. 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. 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.”
 – Daniel 9:24-27

A plausible explanation of the prophecy is as follows:

1) It is agreed by nearly all Bible scholars that the term “weeks”
here refers to years, with each week being a set of seven years;
hence, the period contemplated by the prophecy is 490 years (i.e. 7 times 70).
2) The starting point of the prophecy was the decree of Artexerxes I
recorded in Ezra 7. This decree was in 458 BC, presumably in the
fall, though Ezra claims to have actually departed for Jerusalem in
response to the decree on Nisan 1, which would be in the spring (i.e.
3) The 69th week of the prophecy was completed with the baptism of
Jesus Christ, which is thought to have occurred in the fall of AD 26.
4) Jesus Christ was crucified 3.5 years later, in the midst of the
70th week, at which point He caused “the sacrifice and oblation to
cease” in the sense that He rendered these things obsolete and invalid.
5) The “people of the prince that shall come” to destroy the city and
sanctuary are the soldiers of the Roman general Titus, who destroyed
the city and temple in AD 70.

For those who are interested in details, I provide the following
notes with explanations and qualifications:

1) In computing spans of time overlapping the BC/AD boundary, one
must bear in mind that there is no such thing as a BC 0 or an AD 0.
Rather, one goes directly from BC 1 to AD 1. Hence, a person born in
BC 1 would be one year old on their birthday in AD 1. Therefore, to
compute the span between two such dates, one must add the dates and
then subtract 1. The span of time from 458 BC to 26 AD is 458 + 26 –
1 = 483 years, which is also equal to 69 times 7.

2) Artexerxes came to power after his father was assassinated at the
very end of 465 BC. Under ancient reckoning, if a king were to die in
the midst of a year and be replaced with a second king, then the year
of death is credited to the reign of the deceased king, whereas it is
considered the “ascension” year of his successor, and the first
regnal year of his successor is considered to commence on the first
day of the following year. For example, in terms of our present
calendar, if a king were to commence on the first day of 2000, and
die in the midst of 2005, then 2005 would be considered as the sixth
year of his reign, and would be considered the ascension year of his
successor, whose first regnal year would commence on Jan 1, 2006.

Under the ancient Jewish civil calendar, which was likely the one
used by Ezra, the year commenced in the fall (September/October).
Artexerxes’ father died after the commencement of the Jewish year;
hence, the first regnal year of Artexerxes began in the fall of the
next year, which would be the fall of 464 BC on our calendar. Ezra
claims to have departed Jerusalem in fulfillment of the decree in the
spring of the king’s seventh year, which would have began in the fall
of 458 BC. Hence, Ezra departed in what would be spring 457 BC on our
calendar, and allowing a six-month preparation for the journey, this
would place the decree itself in the fall of 458 BC.

Ancient people did not necessarily synchronize their month sequences
(which were determined by the moon) with their year sequences. When
Ezra claims to have left on the first day of the first month (Nisan),
this does not mean he left on the first day of the year. The year did
in fact commence with the prior seventh month (Tishri), assuming he
was in fact following the Jewish civil calendar.

3) The most definitive date given in the New Testament was the date
at which the ministry of John the Baptist began, which was shortly
followed by the baptism of Jesus Christ. I do not recall the New
Testament really providing any other date besides this. I believe the
Holy Spirit inspired the recording of this date because it is
significant to prophecy, and is in fact a benchmark date to Daniel’s
very important prophecy. Luke claimed John’s ministry began in the
15th year of Tiberius Caesar.

4) Some scholars commence the reign of Tiberius from 14 AD when
Augustus died in the month of August (it is likely no coincidence
that he died in the very month that was named to commemorate his
deity!). However, Tiberius was actually made co-regent with Augustus
in AD 12, and most Bible scholars think Luke measured from this
earlier date. This starting date would have his 15th year beginning
in January AD 26 (the Roman year began in January).

5) The most popular interpretation of Daniel’s prophecy would dissent
from what I have here, claiming the relevant decree was the one
recorded in the second chapter of Nehemiah and issued by Artexerxes
in his 20th year, or 445 BC. While premillennialists are very fond of
this view, it has numerous problems, including:

a) Using it as a starting point, Daniel’s prophecy overshoots the
time of Christ. Proponents of the theory seek to correct this by
redefining a year to mean only 360 days. I consider this possible but doubtful.
b) It has the 69th week terminating with the crucifixion (whereas I
have the crucifixion occurring in the midst of the 70th week), thus
leaving the 70th week with no particular purpose. To correct this
problem, the theory typically contends that the 70th week is
noncontiguous with the other weeks. Indeed, it places a 2000-year gap
between the 69th and 70th weeks, claiming that the 70th week will
happen in the great tribulation of the future. The claim that the
weeks are noncontiguous is dubious on the very face of it.
c) Revelation does not define a seven-year tribulation period, nor
does it expressly define any seven-year period. Rather, it repeatedly
speaks of a 3.5-year period. It is not unreasonable to assume there
are in fact two of these 3.5 year periods that are back-to-back;
however, this is an assumption and not an established fact. The whole
theory dating the 70 weeks from 445 BC critically depends upon this
unproven assumption.
d) The theory typically has the year of the crucifixion being 32 AD –
a year that does not have the days of the crucifixion week aligning
with any plausible theory of the weekday on which the crucifixion
occurred (i.e. Wednesday or Friday).
e) Proponents of the theory are much encouraged by Sir Robert
Anderson’s analysis wherein he purportedly made the theory work out
to the very day; however, Anderson’s conclusions were based on a
subtle but definite mathematical error.

(With regard to (e), Anderson initially computed his date span using
Julian dates, but then adjusted the span to reflect Gregorian dates.
On the Julian calendar, a leap year occurs every fourth year. On the
modern Gregorian calendar this is not true, though few people are
aware of this. The rule for this calendar is that every year
divisible by four is a leap year unless it introduces a new century
(i.e. is divisible by 100), in which event it is not a leap year
unless divisible by 400. Hence, 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap
years, even though divisible by 4, but 2000 was a leap year because
it is divisible by 400. When Anderson computed his date span using
Julian dates, he overshot the target, but then made his computations
work out by subtracting off the extraneous leap years in the Julian
calendar. The problem here is that the Julian Calendar does not err
in respect to spans between dates; rather, it only errs in that it is
not synchronized with the Sun. Indeed, almost any ancient calendar is
sufficient for measuring intervals between points in time, even if
those calendars assumed an improper length of the true year. Anderson
should have never made the adjustment, though his mistake proved very
fortuitous to anyone wanting to believe his theory.)

6) The significance of the decree of Ezra chapter seven is that it
reinstated the Law of God as the law of the land of Israel. No decree
to rebuild the city or temple would be meaningful without this,
because in absence of obedience to the Law of God, the city or temple
would be destroyed again in only a matter of short time.

7) If we take it as given that the crucifixion occurred in AD 30,
then the issue of whether it occurred on Wednesday or Friday revolves
mostly about the question of how the Jews determined the new moon and
therefore the beginning of their month. If they calculated it
mathematically (as we do), then Wednesday becomes the likely
candidate for Nisan 14 of 30 AD (the date of the Passover and
crucifixion). If they based it upon observation, then Friday is the
more likely candidate for that date.

8) The length of Christ’s ministry is primarily inferred from the
book of John, which seems to be chronologically arranged, and is
thought to document four Passovers during Christ’s ministry. Three of
these are above question, but one is inferred from the word “feast”
in John 5:1. It is thought this feast was a Passover, even though
this is not explicitly stated. While the inference is likely sound,
it is nonetheless a consequential assumption to the analysis. A
ministry of 3-4 years in duration is also corroborated by the parable
in Lk 13:6-9, and to some extent by the significance attached to an
interval of 3.5 years in Revelation.

9) The premillennial theory mentioned in (5) contends that the prince
that shall come and destroy the city is the anti-christ, which they
say he will do in the great tribulation or presumed 70th week. I
favor the idea this prince was simply Titus, and the details of the
prophecy would corroborate this, because according to Josephus, Titus
never actually ordered the destruction of the temple; rather, his
angry soldiers did it in their rage; hence, it was not technically
the “prince” that destroyed the sanctuary, but the “people of the
prince,” exactly as the prophecy said.

10) There is yet another theory about the 70 weeks that is a minority
view but cannot be easily dismissed. This theory says the starting
point of the prophecy was the decree of Cyrus recorded in the first
chapter of Ezra. This was the first of the various decrees by Persian
kings commanding the reconstruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
Being the first, it would seem a likely candidate for Daniel’s
prophecy. Further, the prophecy of Isaiah concerning Cyrus (Isa 45)
gives formidable indication that his decree was the one intended by
the Holy Spirit as being pivotal.

The problem is that secular historians date this decree at 536 BC,
making it far too early to satisfy the terms of Daniel’s prophecy.
Advocates of the theory reply to this by saying that secular
historians are simply wrong in their chronology. They assert that
historians have gotten this chronology almost entirely from a single
source, namely the ancient astronomer Claudius Ptolemy. It is true
that historians almost unanimously accept Ptolemy’s dates even when
they are contradicted by other historical sources. The reason for
their confidence in Ptolemy is that much of what he did was dated by
means of eclipses, and these eclipses can now be verified by modern methods.

However, Ptolemy not only used eclipses, but also other less-reliable
criteria, especially when dating events in the Persian era, with the
effect being that his dates contain a hole of uncertainty in that era
that is commonly estimated to be around 200 years wide. Some
advocates of the Cyrus theory assert that Ptolemy’s calculations err
by 79 years with respect to the early Persian era, and that Cyrus did
in fact make his decree in 458 BC, not 536 BC as implied by Ptolemy.
Their reasoning and computations are oftentimes similar to mine
except that they have a different Persian king and different decree
being situated at my starting point.

They have respectable evidence to substantiate their accusation of
error in Ptolemy’s work, but the data seem insufficient to exactly
measure the true extent of the error. Nonetheless, they claim we
should conform our chronology to the Bible and not conform our Bible
to chronology. I have no argument with this, and would readily accept
their view were there no feasible alternative to it. As it is, I
think we have a feasible alternative, and I therefore prefer it,
though I definitely reserve the right to change my mind. I am not
passionate in my preference between these two views, but definitely
think the Nehemiah theory is deficient.

The accuracy of Ptolemy’s dates is a huge issue, and deserves more
research than I have time to give. The ablest analyst of this problem
was the late Martin Anstey, who reconstructed much of the old
chronology, and who himself believed that Cyrus was the proper king
for Daniel’s decree.

It is likely no coincidence that Daniel’s prophecy can be worked out
under more than one set of assumptions. Whether we use the dates of
Ptolemy or the dates of Anstey, the conclusion is the same. It would
appear that the hand of God has so arranged that the prophecy of
Daniel leaves the skeptic with no excuse.

May God bless, David Pyles

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