Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 9 (part 2)

gab2This is a continuation of my previous post where I began examining the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24-27. We left off at the end of 9:24 where the apocalyptic revealer Gabriel was unpacking the historical reality of what the seventy weeks were to accomplish. He expressed these purposes with six infinitives, many of which clearly find their fulfillment in the climax of the Maccabean Revolt in 164 BCE. The following verse (9:25) will move the listener through history to a particular period of emphasis stressed by the author.

9:25 “And you will know and discern that from the going forth of the word to bring back and build Jerusalem up to an anointed ruler [there will be] seven weeks then sixty-two weeks. It will return and be built up, both plaza and moat, in times of distress.”

This passage is in dire need of commentary, so I will begin with a few observations:

  1. The passage breaks down the seventy weeks into three explicit groups. The first group involves seven weeks (a jubilee?) in which there will be a decree to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it. This group seems to end with some unnamed anointed ruler (more on him later). The second group is a massive sixty-two weeks, about which nothing clear is said. This leaves only a single week – the seventieth week (to be discussed more fully in 9:26-27).
  2. It has become common for interpreters interested in predictive prophecy to reckon the ‘seven weeks’ and ‘sixty-two weeks’ as a group of periods needing to be combined, assuming along the way that Gabriel intended for an entire sixty-nine week period to be understood here (rather than two distinct periods). This kind of reading is open to scrutiny for a variety of reasons. First, weeks.JPGthe verse explicitly says “seven weeks and/then sixty-two weeks,” using the noun “weeks” twice in qualification of the two given numbers. If Gabriel all along had meant sixty-nine weeks, why does he fail to say so? Secondly, critical editions of the Hebrew text place a symbol called an atnah (atnah.JPG), delineating a pause or a break, upon the first occurrence of “weeks.” This effectively separates the seven weeks from the sixty-two weeks. The Masoretes placed this mark here to avoid the potential confusion. For these reasons I have translated the phrase in question, “[there will be] seven weeks, then sixty-two weeks.
  3. Now, many English translations interpret the Hebrew mashiach here as if it were the Anointed One, i.e., the Messiah. Unfortunately, the Hebrew does not have the definite article here, so an explicit christological reference is very unlikely. The noun mashiach  is initially used in the Hebrew Bible when referencing other anointed individuals such as priests (cf. Lev 4:3, 5, 16; 6:15). Since the first group (seven weeks) involves the rebuilding of Jerusalem and a ruling anointed figure, the most likely candidate for an “anointed ruler” is Joshua the high priest, a critical figure in Jewish history frequently mentioned during this period (Hag 1:1, 12, 14; 2:2, 4; Zech 3:1, 3, 6, 8-9, 11). Of course, the Jews did not possess a kingly anointed figure for 500 years after the Babylonian exile, but the Persians tolerated a high priest to function as a ruler.
  4. The verse stresses that Jerusalem will indeed be rebuilt and that there will be a physical returning from Babylonia. This, of course, was one of the main emphases in Daniel’s prayer (Dan 9:16, 19). There will even be a town plaza and moat in Jerusalem, as even these minor details are given to assure Daniel that the physical exile will come to an end. There is a minor caveat that there will be times of distress, but these are not qualified any further so as to gain any certain perspectives. They may very well be references to the troubles of rebuilding the temple, the marriage issues with Ezra, the subjugation by Alexander, or even the conflicts between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. As we can see, there are plenty of options for unnamed times of distress.
  5. I again must stress that the periods of weeks were not intended to literally be multiplied out in order to ascertain the specific day, month, and year of these events. There have gab been many interpreters over the past 2,000+ years who have tried this, and none of their timelines have ever worked to a consensus of scholarly  satisfaction. I noted in my previous post that there are multiple instances in apocalyptic works where various periods of “weeks” are used to divide and move through history, similar to different eras or blocks of time. If there is anything we can take away from ‘seven weeks’ and ‘sixty-two weeks’ it would be that there is a descent sized period with possible jubilee overtones (forgiveness from punishments of exile?) followed by a much more sizable period unqualified by specific events.
  6. I also need to point out that Gabriel’s explanation (9:24-27) covers four verses in a manner similar to what we have seen in every one of the dreams/visions in Daniel chs. 2, 7, and 8 wherein the narrator moves quickly over the initial portions of history only to focus more specifically upon the final kingdom and its “little horn” Antiochus IV. Note how much emphasis in the four verses is given to each subject:
    • 9:24 is the summary of the entire schema,
    • 9:25 deals with the first sixty-nine weeks
    • 9:26-27 focuses entirely on the final week.

This indicates that the primary purpose of the Gabriel’s explanation in 9:24-27 is to bring the reader through history only to focus primarily upon the events of the final week. Therefore it will be that week which will occupy my next post.

For those interested in further reading on Daniel 2 and its four kingdoms, see the recent post over at the “Its in the Text” blog.

 

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2 thoughts on “Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 9 (part 2)

  1. Reminds me of when someone first explained the 70 weeks to me. I think they had to explain it about 5 times for me to get it. Probably will this time.
    😦

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