Entropy, causation and prophetic typology

For some time I have been slowly working through a gargantuan post that aims to review and comment on each and every one of the 355 Prophecies Fulfilled by Jesus (and there’s still a long way to go). In the course of that process I’ve had to put some thought into the concept of typology, which claims that some earlier entity or event (E0) is a type, or prefigure, of a later entity or event (E0+t). With regard to prophecy, the idea is that E0 is directed toward E0+t in a teleological sense – that is, E0 existed for the purpose of serving as a pointer to E0+t. As I see it, this is a type of retrocausality, in that we could say that we have E0 because of E0+t. My understanding is that this was commonly accepted as a valid perspective in the ancient world, which stands in contrast to a more modern, “scientific” conception of causality that operates only according to the arrow of time.

S = k log WHowever, I have also been reading Sean Carroll’s ‘From Eternity to Here’ which, if I’m understanding correctly, suggests that the temporal causality we see (that earlier events ’cause’ later events) is merely a macroscopic artifact of the universe having started in a low entropy condition. At root, all physical laws are reversible, such that there isn’t really a direction of cause and effect – there’s just a universal trend from lower to higher entropy because high entropy states are simply more probable than low entropy states.

So now I find myself intuitively balking at the nonsense of the retrocausality suggested by typological claims while simultaneously pondering this entropic perspective on time and the reversibility of physical laws, and subsequently wondering whether E0+t really can be a valid part of the explanation for E0. I’m not sure I’ve really wrapped my head around this, so I’m hoping for some additional insight from any readers who feel like they might have something to offer. In short, does a properly scientific perspective on time and causality lend credence to notions of retrocausality, such as we find in claims of prophetic typology?

Note that I am not suggesting that prophetic typology claims would thus become the best explanation for an identified relationship between E0 and E0+t as a result of this perspective. We can still identify the best (i.e., more probable) explanations according to the probabilistic description of entropy, which we perceive as a causal direction from past to future in accordance with physical laws. The question is only whether those prophetic claims are more compatible with a proper scientific perspective on causality versus the classical view of an inviolable temporal order from cause to effect.


From eschatological demarcation to doxastic soteriology

Sorry about all the $2 words in the title. Even if that didn’t make sense, I hope the rest of the post still does.

The End Is NearA couple years ago I wrote a post titled “Reconciling the Crucified Messiah“, where I summarized a naturalist perspective on the origin and ascent of a religious sect that was centered around a crucified leader; which is admittedly a bizarre turn of events. That post briefly discussed the development of Christian atonement theology as a consequence of the crucifixion and how that reconciliation was critical to transforming a seemingly insurmountable setback into a hallmark of the faith. But this new atonement theology did not entail that the salvation afforded by the atonement is only available to those who believe, and so here I would like to consider another curious yet synergistic development of the Christian movement: the introduction of doxastic soteriology (doxastic = “related to belief” and soteriology = “doctrine of salvation”, so a doxastic soteriology is a doctrine in which salvation is in some sense dependent on belief). I propose that this was largely driven by eschatological concerns (i.e., related to the end of the world \ final judgment).

Despite my Christian bubble having been popped almost four years ago, it only recently occurred to me that belief in Jesus (as messiah, lord, savior, etc…) might not have been viewed as a requirement for salvation in the earliest days of the movement. A doxastic soteriology certainly doesn’t appear to have been part of the mainstream Judaism to which Christianity owes its roots and, from a naturalistic perspective, it seems highly unlikely that Jesus himself taught that people had to believe in him to be saved, despite what the Gospel of John portrays.

So what happened?

There are several points of contact which show that the Nazarenes (early Christians) shared some influences with the Qumran community (whether directly or indirectly). Among these is an eschatological perspective in which the demarcation between the elect and the damned fell not along ethnic boundaries, as was implied by traditional Judaic eschatology, but rather around ideological boundaries. To the Qumran community, the elect were those who aligned themselves with the community lifestyle and ideology. It appears that this perspective was in part driven by a perception of religio-political corruption (e.g., the “wicked priest”) and the wish to exclude undesirable religious figures from Yahweh’s kingdom – a theme that is mirrored by the gospel narratives and was quite possibly an element of Jesus’ teaching. A similar shift was also occurring throughout greater Judaism in the second temple period. Ever since the Babylonian exile, the Jews had been trying to figure out how to deal with the diaspora and cultural intermingling. The rise of decentralized worship in synagogues and the need to accommodate cross-cultural relationships spurred a decline in the traditional ethnocentric eschatology that the earlier prophets sought as they lamented the conquests of Israel. As a whole, the Judaic quest for future justice was gradually transitioning from an ethnic foundation toward ideological foundations.

Combining this with the widely accepted understanding of Jesus as an eschatological prophet, we can imagine that Jesus and his followers considered themselves to be bearers of the gospel, where the good news was not that Jesus was going to die for your sins, but rather that the end of days was imminent – perhaps even facilitated by Jesus’ prophetic ministry – and that you too could be part of the eternal kingdom if you repent and adopt the lifestyle and ideology of their sect. This message may have even neglected ethnic boundaries. From this we can see that the seeds of a doxastic soteriology were present in Jesus’ message, but were only germinating. After the crucifixion, more changes came into play.

crackFirst, we have the Nazarenes continuing to proclaim their eschatological message despite their messiah having been killed and, furthermore, cursed by Yahweh as a consequence of having been hung and left exposed on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Though the Nazarenes appear to have wanted to remain Torah observant, their message became increasingly disagreeable and divisive as they continued to exercise midrashic liberty in defense of Jesus as messiah. As a result, the gulf between their sect and mainstream Judaism grew and they were, as a whole, steadily pushed and pulled away from participation in Jewish communities.

Then, as we consider the growing chasm between the Nazarene sect and mainstream Judaism we can turn back to the Qumran example to see what happens – namely, an eschatological evolution in which the opposing party is excluded from salvation (that is, participation in the eternal kingdom). As a close relative of Judaism, the early Christians had very few distinctions that could be used to draw that eschatological line in the sand. However, above all else, there was one thing that separated them from mainstream Judaism: belief that Jesus was the messiah. And so Christianity’s doxastic soteriology was born. As that chasm continued to grow so also did the prominence of belief as a central dogma of the Christian soteriology, reinforced by the synergistic coupling of a new atonement theology that was dependent on the object of that belief and independent of the temple sacrifices. Going one step further, the adoption of this eschatologically motivated doxastic soteriology also served to emphasize the significance of Jesus and so was perhaps instrumental in his eventual elevation as coequal with God.


Reconciling the crucified messiah (and a new way to read the Bible)

I’ve done a lot of introspection this Easter season on what Christianity is, if not truth. It doesn’t seem rational to abandon a widely held worldview without at least trying to explain why it has been accepted in the first place. So how would a naturalist explain the origin and adoption of a worldview which centers around a crucified leader, and does that explanation make sense?

The birth of Christianity in 200 words or less

CrossesA charismatic sectarian from Galilee speaks out against the religious establishment and preaches repentance in preparation for the end of days – an end which infers Israel’s divinely mandated world domination. His followers eagerly anticipated this grand reversal of fortune but then he was killed because his message and growing profile was seen as a threat to the Roman state. Something happened that led to a belief that he may have been resurrected and this coupled into a hope that maybe his mission wasn’t done. The resurrection hypothesis and the apocalypse hypothesis fed off of each other, along with a few select passages in Psalms and Isaiah, to reinforce the story. Paul comes along and is inspired by the story but is compelled to more fully explain why the messiah was killed. He develops an extensive reformulation of the Judaic sacrificial system into a robust atonement theology which grows to become the foundation of Christendom. Collectively we are left with an intriguing story of sacrificial love, redemption, acceptance and hope that offers a remedy for our desire to belong and a salve for our deepest fears.

The birth of a new perspective

The kind of explanation given above may not be new to those who have already examined these things from a critical perspective, but it is to me. You see, when all your information has come from inside the Christian bubble the logic flows in reverse. You start with the assumption that Jesus came to offer salvation and so had to die – not that he died and so that needed to be explained. This is a complete reversal to the order of operations that I’ve known my whole life and if I’m honest I have to admit that it makes a lot of sense.

The psychology we encounter from this new perspective goes well beyond the New Testament. The Old Testament as a whole is dripping with angst. Israel is sick of being a doormat. They sit at the junction between Egypt and all other world powers and are constantly caught in the crossfire. Some have suggested that the bulk of the Tanakh is effectively the rallying cry of a trampled people, saying “we have conquered once, we will conquer again”. That may be a bit of a short sell but the overall theme seems correct.

The birth of a new revelation

Valentin de Boulogne: Saint Paul Writing His EpistlesThere have been many revelations for me on this journey. It is amazing how many of the mysteries of the Bible begin to unravel once you allow yourself to see it as a human creation. The dynamic between history and theology becomes one of cause and effect. Theology is no longer a message handed down on high from God but rather a very real psychological and emotional response to the events of our world. Ironically, this has given me a profound respect for the beauty of the humanity that can be found in the Bible; more so than ever before.

On this journey I have finally allowed myself to ask “Why did the author write this?”, instead of “What is God saying to me?”. As a Christian, I treated the Bible like something of a textbook; an instruction manual to be studied. I wanted to understand what God was saying. I was oblivious to the experiences, desires and perspectives that its authors brought to the text. In retrospect it’s a bit embarrassing to admit how blatantly I ignored this, though I still find myself befuddled when trying to parse a Christian explanation of how the Bible is the product of both God and man. I guess it’s easier to just act like it came straight from God and gloss over the human role.

Where I once sought divine guidance, I now see an epic anthology that chronicles a psychological struggle to cope with the chaos of a world outside of our control and the tensions that strain our will. It’s not hard to see how this has spoken to us throughout the centuries. We all fight to see our way through the obstacles that life hurls our way and to resolve the conflicts that torment our soul (metaphorically speaking, of course). How comforting a prospect it is to suggest that this isn’t just chaos; that behind it all there is a magnificent plan that ends with a glorious victory! The full embrace of the Christian message can give us peace and rest. Who doesn’t want that? I for one wish it to be true, but that is a verdict which seems more distant with each step that I take. My rest will not be found where I am engaged in an unending struggle for truth.


The underdog archetype and the criterion of embarrassment

The Babylonian ExileAt a recent church service the speaker gave a message that used Joseph’s story (of technicolor coat fame) as an illustration of how we need to trust God’s timing. As I contemplated the story, I was reminded just how much the theme of overcoming adversity permeates the stories of the Old Testament. Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah when it seemed impossible (and after they tried to do it their own way), Jacob was the scrawny second-born but received the blessing and becomes Israel’s namesake, young Joseph was discarded by his brothers and then ends up saving them, Moses is a coward but then leads the exodus and David was the diminutive afterthought who slayed the giant, supplanted the tall, handsome king (Saul) and led Israel to prominence in spite of his transgressions. Then there’s the oft repeated prophetic theme of the nation of Israel breaking free from the dominion of the various regional powers – Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and, in the case of Daniel, the Seleucid Empire. Israel was a nation beaten down only to stand tall in the end.

A few centuries later, we are introduced to Jesus. Illegitimately born (in a feed trough, no less) to a couple of unknowns in a little out of the way town up north. Rejected by his own people, misunderstood, denied and betrayed by his disciples, and then crucified like a common criminal. But that is not the whole story and, just as it was in the Old Testament, victory belongs to the underdog.

The criterion of embarrassment

Many apologists have latched onto the unflattering elements of biblical texts as evidence for their veracity. Certainly nobody would fabricate, or even embellish, such claims? This form of argumentation, known as the criterion of embarrassment, carries an intuitive appeal. Though few would suggest that it serves as conclusive evidence, it is commonly offered as a stone that tilts the scales toward upholding the truth of biblical claims. A prime example of the modern use of the criterion of embarrassment comes to us in David Instone-Brewer’s recent book “The Jesus Scandals”, for which he offers the following summary:

“If tabloid newspapers had existed during the first century, Jesus would have featured constantly in the headlines, linked with scandals of all kinds. Details of these were recorded in historical documents by both his friends and his enemies. They provide insights into Jesus’ life and teaching that have been obscured by the centuries. They tell us what his contemporaries really thought. These scandals include:  

  • his parentage and accusations of alcohol abuse and fraudulent miracles
  • the dubious status of his followers – poorly educated, ex-prostitutes and the certifiably mad
  • his anti-religious teaching on temple practices, eternal torment, easy divorces and judgement in this life
  • his thoughts of suicide, shameful execution and impossible resurrection

Faithful to the biblical text, this carefully researched book can be read as a whole or as stand-alone chapters.”

We cannot have it both ways

It is clear that ancient Jewish authors did not always shy away from including less than favorable bits in their hero stories. The criterion of embarrassment would argue that this is an indication that they are true but we often find ourselves drawn to the underdog story. In this regard, the Jews were no different – perhaps most clearly because they were the underdog. In fact, this would appear to be something of a cultural theme that had become entrenched in their identity. As a nation, they constantly found themselves under the thumb of more powerful nations and this engendered a hope which fueled the apocalyptic visions of Israel rising above the ashes. The underdog archetype was alive and well in Jesus’ time and the subjugation to Rome only reinforced it.

So something doesn’t fit. How can we argue that the embarrassing elements of the Jesus’ story only makes sense if they are true while at the same time embracing the corresponding typologies of the Old Testament? We cannot have it both ways.

Though I have never found the criterion of embarrassment especially persuasive, I have also never agreed with those who discount it altogether. While this is still true, my reflection on the presence of the underdog archetype in Jewish tradition has further diminished its power. This is not to suggest that the unsavory details of Jesus life are necessarily fabrications. Rather, my primary concern here is to point out that when the New Testament was authored there was a precedent in place. The story of the victorious underdog was the hope of Israel. We should not think it so odd that the hero of a fledgling Jewish sect would find himself in this role as well.


Pick your poison: Either God is imperfect or “true morality” is uncomfortably immoral

Michelangelo, The Fall and Expulsion from Garden of EdenThis post was birthed out of an exchange with Prayson Daniel at his blog, With All I Am. I would like to thank him for posing the question in a way which caused me to think through the various ramifications of a free will theodicy.

The setup is simply this: there appears to be a logical contradiction between the concept of a wholly perfect God and the introduction of pain and suffering as the result of free will. The options which are available to dispose of the contradiction all lead to either accepting that God is in some sense imperfect, or to accepting that “true morality” is defined by a formulation of God’s nature which does not comfortably align with our sense of morality.

The Argument


  1. Holiness: The collective qualities which define God’s nature. To say that God is perfectly holy is to say that he is perfectly moral, perfectly loving, perfectly righteous, perfectly just, perfectly merciful and perfectly praise-worthy.
  2. Omnipotent: Having complete or unlimited power.
  3. Omniscient: Having infinite awareness, understanding, and insight.


  1. A perfectly holy God wills the world to be that which is most compatible with his holiness. Alternatively it can be said that when given the ability to actualize one world from a finite set of possible worlds, a perfectly holy God will actualize the world which accords with his holiness better than the others.
  2. An omnipotent God can achieve any world which is logically coherent (e.g., God cannot make a square circle).
  3. An omniscient God knows everything about the world; past, present and future.
  4. A perfectly holy and omnipotent God will not violate the freedom of his created free agents (because it is a moral imperative and because freedom of will is necessary for genuine love).
  5. A perfectly holy God cannot intentionally introduce evil, pain and suffering into a world where it did not previously exist (because that would be contrary to his nature).
  6. An omnipotent God can end evil, pain and suffering at any time.

A definition of the free will theodicy

  1. God is perfectly holy (#1) and omnipotent (#2), and thus #4 applies.
  2. God has created free agents with the ability to sin or not sin at any time. This is typically explained as being necessary because the resulting world is more compatible with God’s holiness than the world without free agents.
  3. Pain and suffering was introduced by the created free agents as a natural consequence of their sinful act and God knew this would happen (#3). The consequences may also include a fallen creation which produces “natural evils”.
  4. God can end evil, pain and suffering (#6) but has not yet done so because he knows that the current state is for the best (#3) and so has sufficient reasons for allowing it to persist (as required by #1).

Putting it together

God has allowed evil, pain and suffering for some time (#9). Therefore, the world in which evil, pain and suffering endures must be more compatible with God’s holiness (by #1 and #2) than the world in which evil, pain and suffering do not endure. God cannot introduce evil, pain and suffering (#5) and cannot influence the created free agents to do so (#4). Therefore, God is completely incapable of using his own volition to attain the world which is most compatible with his holiness. This contradicts God’s omnipotence.

Possible Objections

Objection #1: God is not omnipotent
OK, you’re more than welcome to accept that. Just make sure you incorporate it into your entire theological framework and understand all the consequences. Review objection #3 to see how this is sometimes employed.

Objection #2: God is not perfectly holy
Ditto above.

Objection #3: God is not omniscient
Ditto above, and…

To be clear, this objection hinges on the presumption that omniscience includes foreknowledge and some would deny the possibility of foreknowledge. This view belongs to a growing trend called open theism, most notably led by Greg Boyd. It would seem that this view exists almost exclusively to solve this problem, though it also helps make sense of some passages in the Bible where God seems to change his mind. However, this doesn’t solve the problem on its own – review the argument to see why. Accepting this would still seem to require accepting at least one of the other objections, namely objection #1 or objection #6. If this is combined with objection #1 (God is not omnipotent), then it could be that it wasn’t just that God didn’t see this coming, but he also couldn’t stop it. That does, however, also make it difficult to accept premise #5 (future perfection). As to how this could be combined with objection #6, review the discussion there.

Objection #4: Man does not have free will, or God sometimes does violate man’s free will
Fair enough. Now lets apply this to the circumstances at hand and understand the implications. The problem we’re trying to resolve is how evil, pain and suffering were introduced. This solution only resolves that problem if we also agree that it was God who directed agents to sin and thus introduce evil, pain and suffering. To be blunt, under this objection God is the author of sin and its consequences. If God is the author of sin, then either God is not morally perfect, or “true morality” as defined by God’s character, does not preclude the willful introduction of sin and its consequences (which may or may not include eternal damnation for most). Either God wanted this world despite the fact that it was contrary to his will, or he wanted the world because it is compatible with his nature. The latter option takes us to the next objection.

Objection #5: God can introduce evil, pain and suffering because it is not in conflict with his holiness
Let’s unpack this a bit. The inference behind this objection is that if God’s nature leads to the introduction of evil, pain and suffering then that world must be the best world. When all is reduced, every act of evil, every instance of pain and every period of suffering that has ever scarred the history of mankind occurred because it was consistent with God’s nature. The fallen world is exactly what God wanted.

Yet, if God can end pain and suffering at any time (premise #5) then he could have conceivably done this at the instant it first appeared, or he could have prevented pain and suffering from being the consequence of sin in the first place. He didn’t, but, according to the doctrine of a future perfection, he will. Why will he do this in the future? Presumably because that brings about a better world. So this objection seems hold a logical contradiction: the world without evil, pain and suffering is not better than the fallen world, yet God will bring about the world without evil, pain and suffering in the future because it is better.

That said, I see how one could argue that the period of pain and suffering is a prerequisite for the future without pain and suffering (i.e., an Irenaean theodicy, or “soul building”). In that case, the better world is the one in which there is a duration of pain and suffering that is followed by the elimination of pain and suffering. This doesn’t explain, however, why sanctification is necessary in the first place. If the agents were perfect before their fall and God authored their fall as part of his sovereign plan for sanctification, then that would imply that the agents weren’t really perfect to start with even though that is the ultimate goal. So either he cannot create agents with a perfected disposition from the start (meaning he is not omnipotent) or he prefers that the perfected disposition be acquired through pain and suffering (which is uncomfortably immoral).

Objection #6: Omnipotence does not include the ability to introduce evil, pain and suffering
More explicitly, this objection asserts that God’s nature makes it logically incoherent for God to have attained the world that is most compatible with his nature. In other words, perfect holiness includes the mandate “thou shall not violate a free agent’s will”. As a result, God’s omnipotence is NOT defeated because the act which would have resulted in the best world is logically incoherent and thus not a member of the set of capabilities which define omnipotence. The world with free agents and the potential of evil, pain and suffering is the best God could do within the constraints of logic. Problem solved.

Not so fast. If God’s omnipotence does not include a capability that is required in order to attain the better world, can we still say that he is both omnipotent and perfectly holy? If the combination of God’s nature and a separate agent’s free choice could have resulted in the better world, then it would seem that this combined agency is more capable (or more holy) than God, which entails that God is either not omnipotent or is not a perfectly holy being. If you question whether that assertion is true, then it’s time to move on to objection #10.

This objection can also be combined with objection #3 (God is not omniscient) to sustain God’s moral perfection. This combination suggests that it is not only logically incoherent for God to have introduced evil, pain and suffering, but it is also the case that God did not know that the free agents would sin and bring that world about. However, if that is the case then it does seem quite odd that he’s let it persist for so long (rather than stopping it immediately), especially if you also want to accept premise #5 (future perfection). It almost seems as if you have to toss in objection #1 as well (God is not omnipotent).

Objection #7: God’s omnipotence is realized through his creation of free agents
The goal of this objection is to show that God’s omnipotence is not defeated because he actually is able to bring about the best world by relying on his omniscience regarding the behavior of the created agents. Since he knew what the agents would do, he was able to attain the best world as a result of his creative action. All this really means, though, is that God is indirectly responsible for the introduction of evil, pain and suffering. He is the CEO and the responsibility eventually falls back in his lap, which puts us back at either objection #4 or objection #5.

Or maybe not. Could it be that God is not ultimately responsible under this scenario? To examine this we need to take a closer look at point #8 in the free will theodicy. That point claims that the created agents have the ability to sin or not sin at any time. This means that, conceivably, they could have never sinned.

If we accept the possibility that the agents could have never sinned then it is possible that the fall never occurs, in which case the best world (the fallen world) is not realized. This brings us back to the very last claim of the argument, that “God is completely incapable of using his own volition to attain the world which is most compatible with his holiness. This contradicts God’s omnipotence”. To consider whether that claim holds up, please see objection #10.

Conversely, if we accept the possibility that the agents would necessarily sin at some point, then it would seem that they do not actually have free will on this particular matter. In that case, who is responsible? It would be the one who’s will was directing the agent’s will. Presumably that agent is God himself, which again puts us back at either objection #4 or objection #5.

Objection #8: Molinism to the rescue
Ah yes, Molinism. The view popularized by William Lane Craig as the answer to reconcile free will with God’s perfection and sovereignty. But does it also answer the problem of evil? Let’s examine its application to our situation here.

In Molinism, the created agents have complete free will while giving God the power to know all possible choices that the agents will make, such that God can then direct the world in such a way that those agents will make the choice which aligns with God’s will. Neither free will nor God’s sovereignty are sacrificed. If I review the argument above, however, it appears to be just as applicable to Molinism as to any other free will theodicy. God is still perfect and agents are still free. Molinism offers no help to resolve the problem of evil and must still confront the argument by appealing to one of the other objections. In fact, Molinism looks to be a complicated variation of objection #7.

Objection #9: It’s a mystery, or God is not bound by logic
This is perhaps the most popular answer to the problem. Logic be damned, God is both perfect in all regards and is not responsible for the introduction of evil, pain and suffering. We can have our cake and eat it too by invoking “mystery”. Obviously this gets you out of the dichotomy I proposed up front but in its place you’re left feeling unsettled, like you’ve just cheated and you know the victory is a fraud. Surreptitiously, cognitive dissonance begins its ascent.

I also contend that the statement “God is not bound by logic” typically implies a misunderstanding of logic. This infers that logic is a set of arbitrary rules which we happen to follow, like gravity or inertia. This is misguided. Logic is the description of relationships between symbols, which are the constituents of thought itself. If logic is discarded then comprehension itself is also discarded, which makes the statement meaningless. This kind of response is what eventually leads to negative theology, in which case you’re essentially admitting that you don’t really know anything about God.

Objection #10: God’s perfection is not defeated if he wills something other than the best world
Here we are rejecting the very first premise in the argument – that a perfectly holy God wills the world to be that which is most compatible with his holiness. To evaluate whether this is the case, consider the following: If God does not will the world which is most compatible with his holiness then we can conceive of a being who is identical except that this being wills the better world. The new being would be more holy than God, thus God is not perfectly holy. In short, perfection wills perfection and a being which wills anything less is not perfect.

One way to attempt to resolve this is to assert that it is logically incoherent for a perfectly holy God to will the introduction of evil, pain and suffering (see objection #6) and that, as a result, the hypothetical “better God” given above is not logically possible. This maneuver, however, has now moved the definition of the “best world” away from God. We are now saying that the best world is defined by something other than that which God wills. God’s nature no longer defines what is “best”. That is no small concession and implies that God is subject to some external ideal – that God is not the ultimate authority. It makes little sense to take this step when the whole reason for considering the possibility in the first place was to sustain the concept of God’s perfection.

What now?

It appears to me that the solution which is most capable of holding up under logical scrutiny and salvaging the orthodox definition of God is a combination of objection #4 and objection #5, where God is ultimately responsible for evil, pain, suffering, et al, as the natural product of his nature. This is exactly what Calvinism offers. God’s power and sovereignty win out. Despite the seemingly violent opposition to the moral law which is “written on the hearts of men” (Romans 2:15), a significant number of us are simply “objects of wrath prepared for destruction” (Romans 9:22). To mitigate this, many Calvinists (including Calvin himself) will tack on objection #9.

This isn’t new. The debate has raged for centuries and, as of late, Calvinism has experienced a resurgence. I counted myself as a Calvinist for a period of time, though not because of this argument – just because it seemed most biblical. As I contemplated the implications of Calvinism, however, I eventually found that I couldn’t sustain it. It seemed so contrary to the goodness of God, a goodness which pervaded my theology and tugged at my heart. The implications of Calvinism truly did act like a poison which ate away at my conscience. So I came to decide that I simply didn’t know whether I was an Arminian or a Calvinist and that it didn’t matter. The conflict seemed interminable because both sides had scripture to back them up. I chose to resolve the problem by continuing in ignorance on the matter.

I started this post by offering a dichotomy: either accept that God is not perfect, or that the morality he defines feels strangely immoral. This is, of course, a false dichotomy. There is another option available to those who are willing to wade into the waters of blasphemy. What if these ideas aren’t from God? Maybe the foundational concepts that we are wrestling with are man-made. Maybe those who introduced them hadn’t coordinated and analyzed the consequences of their ideas as deeply as the rest of us have throughout the centuries. Maybe these issues are so difficult to resolve because there isn’t a grand conductor orchestrating a coherent backstory that brings it all together. Maybe we’re trying to mash together a bunch of random musings that were never meant to fit. Doesn’t this all make a lot more sense if the truth is that we’ve just created an artificial problem to which there isn’t actually a solution?

How will you answer that question? For me, from my current perspective, the answer is a bittersweet “yes”. Bitter because it pushes away the God that I thought I knew, but sweet because it feels like truth.


A few comments on Plantinga’s “Where the Conflict Really Lies”

I don’t plan on commenting on every book I read but I was compelled to address what appeared to me to be some glaring omissions and one audacious claim in the argumentation found in Alvin Plantinga’s “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, & Naturalism”. There were three particular assertions that caught my attention: (1) that evolutionary theory says nothing about whether it is unguided, (2) a logical proof that determinism is false, and (3) that unguided evolution cannot yield reliable beliefs (aka “the evolutionary argument against naturalism”, or EAAN).

There is no reason to believe that evolution is unguided?


Ignoring the theological implications and biblical creation accounts, Plantinga says that “The scientific theory of evolution as such is not incompatible with Christian belief; what is incompatible with it is the idea that evolution, natural selection, is unguided.” I agree that it is not necessary to assert that evolution is unguided. There is no way that we can show that some supernatural agent is not overseeing the genetic changes which drive evolution. Fair enough. However, Plantinga goes on to say that “But that [the idea that evolution is unguided] isn’t part of evolutionary theory as such; it’s instead a metaphysical or theological addition.” What struck me is that Plantinga seemingly makes this claim without engaging with the foundational reasons why evolution is generally defined to be unguided. Instead, he chooses to review the arguments which show how complexity could arise by an unguided process. Yes, those arguments don’t prove that the process is unguided but that is beside the point. The task at hand is to find the best explanation for our observations. Is the best explanation that evolution is guided, or is the best explanation that evolution is unguided? When I survey the data, I see compelling reasons for inferring an unguided process. For example:

  1. The vast majority of species that have ever existed are now extinct. Natural selection occurs by killing off creatures with the less favorable property. Competition and death are fundamental components of the evolutionary process.
  2. It is far more likely that a mutation is neutral or deleterious than beneficial.
  3. What were once beneficial adaptations can become deleterious in the face of a changing environment.
  4. Artificial selection (for example, in dogs) has produced in hundreds of generations a degree of variation that is only comparatively realized in nature over thousands of generations.

Among others, these are all characteristics of evolution which, to me, infer an unguided process. The first observation demonstrates how wasteful, vicious and “immoral” the process is. If you want to argue that we have no reason to believe that God wouldn’t create through such mechanisms then that’s fine, but at least admit that it is not how we expect an all-loving, all-powerful, super-intelligent being to act and is among the least attractive of the possible methods (e.g., special creation). The second observation highlights how the process seems to be driven by a small fraction of changes in a probabilistic paradigm, which is almost by definition the opposite of a guided process. The third observation demonstrates that the result of selection does not always lead to a long-term benefit. Again, this seems to contradict an intelligence behind the outcomes. Lastly, the final observation reveals how inefficiently slow the changes are accumulated in nature, whereas a known intelligent agent (humans) has succeeded in utilizing the exact same underlying mechanisms to realize dramatic changes in a short period of time.

On the flip side, one could argue that the amazing outcomes of evolution – the eye, flight, the brain – are all pointers toward a guiding intelligence. I understand this view; it is truly amazing what has been wrought. I feel the draw of the design explanation when I consider the remarkable intricacies of life, but I also recognize that this pull arises because the design hypothesis is easier to relate to our experience (i.e., our intuitions are biased toward that model). This is not the place to rely on intuitions, however, so we must turn to the evidence. In a twist of irony, Plantinga has already included arguments which explain how these wonders may result from an unguided process. So the counter to the argument for guided evolution has been presented and acknowledged. As I see it, this means that the reasons for thinking that evolution is unguided weren’t addressed at all and the reasons for thinking that evolution is guided were found to also fit the unguided paradigm. I cannot agree that this conflict is merely superficial.

Determinism is logically impossible?

Though it is a minor side-note in the book, it immediately caught my attention. What an audacious claim – a logical proof that determinism is false! This warranted a closer look. The argument is as follows:

  1. A natural law is of the form “If the universe (U) is causally closed, then P.”
  2. Also take the conjunction of all natural laws to be “If U is causally closed, then P.”
  3. If determinism is true then the conjunction of all natural laws (If U is causally closed, then P) and a specific past state of the universe (PAST) necessarily entails the future (F).
  4. Using N to mean Necessarily, the above statement is equivalent to: N [if (if U is causally closed then P) and PAST, then F].
  5. Becomes:  N [if (either U is not causally closed or P) and PAST, then F]
  6. Becomes:  N [if [(PAST and P) or (PAST and U is not causally closed)], then F].
  7. This takes the form N if (p or q) then r, which means that both p and q entail r, hence
  8. N [if (Past and P) then F] and N [if (PAST and U is not causally closed) then F].
  9. The right hand side of #8 is obviously false because there is clearly a possible world that (i) shares its past with the actual world, (ii) is not causally closed (because perhaps God acted) and (iii) does not share its future with the actual world. Therefore, determinism is false.

I will admit that it took me several reads to follow this argument. In the end, however, I think I see the slight of hand (whether or not this was intentional, I do not know). It was my attempt to translate this into software code that clearly revealed the problem for me. Here’s the code:

function CreateFuture(Universe, Past) {
  if(Universe.CausallyClosed) {
    P = Universe.NaturalLaws;
  return DoPhysics(P, Past);

My fellow software engineers will immediately recognize the bug in this function: if the universe is not causally closed then P is undefined and an attempt to use it to generate the future yields unpredictable results. This is the key to the problem with the proof. In step 5, Plantinga expands the proof to cover both branches of the conditional and infers that both branches are still bound within the definition of determinism. This then, of course, leads to the obvious result where the future created with defined natural laws may be different than the future created with undefined natural laws. Plantinga groups these outcomes together under the definition of determinism and declares that the internal inconsistency shows that determinism is false. This is completely invalid, however, because determinism is only defined to be the branch where the universe is causally closed. All other branches (or possible worlds) are something other than determinism. I am honestly a bit baffled that Plantinga chose to include this in the book.

Despite my rejection of this proof, I should note that I am not a strict determinist. I would consider myself something of a quasi-determinist. Quantum indeterminacy has shown us that we can’t (yet) predict all possible states, but the quantum effects adhere to a predictable distribution such that the macro-world, and even the molecular world, behaves according to the physical laws to the extent that we have accurately described them. In the absence of supernatural intervention the natural world is, for all practical purposes, deterministic.

Naturalism cannot yield reliable beliefs?

The central thesis of the evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN) is that, without a guiding force, there is no reason to believe that the evolutionary process would result in a belief forming system that yields true beliefs. As I read through the EAAN, I was eagerly anticipating Plantinga’s response to the following objection: evolutionary theory claims that well before any creature was conscious there were sensory systems that triggered responses which selected the population. Selection is dependent on beneficial interactions with the external world. If those interactions do not consistently and properly map to the outside world then they are less likely to be beneficial. Consciousness and belief formation are extensions of this rudimentary system. As such, the evolutionary processes which led to sensory response systems, and therefore also to consciousness and belief formation, are likely to produce reliable reflections of the outside world.

Finally, in chapter 10, part 5, section C he gets there. He introduces the objection with “Isn’t it just obvious that true beliefs will facilitate adaptive action?” and eventually follows-up with “Yes, certainly. This is indeed true. But it is also irrelevant.” Then comes the explanation: “We ordinarily think true belief leads to successful action because we also think that the beliefs cause actions, and do so by virtue of their content… But now suppose materialism were true: then, as we’ve seen, my belief will be a neural structure that has both NP [neuro-physiological] properties and also a propositional content. It is by virtue of the NP properties, however, not the content, that the belief causes what it does cause.” After providing several examples of how the content of beliefs result in action, he finishes with “Going back to materialism…If the belief had had the same NP properties but different content, it would have had the same effect on behavior.”

Plantinga immediately recognizes that materialism would deny that it is possible for two beliefs to have the same NP properties but different content. Then things get messy. He digresses into a brief discussion of how this isn’t the place to address how counterfactuals and counterpossibles should be used in argumentation. Then he closes the response with “..it doesn’t matter to the adaptiveness of the behavior (or of the neurology that causes that behavior) whether the content determined by that neurology is true.” Wait a second – isn’t that where we were before this whole objection was raised?

Is it just me, or did he completely misrepresent the naturalistic ontology of belief and then dismiss the objection to that misrepresentation without offering an explanation? It seems as if he has superimposed dualism onto naturalism and then argued against this bastard child. What really confuses me is that in the pages leading up to this he clearly defined the materialistic view as one in which belief content can be reduced to NP properties. Somehow, when it came time to address the big objection, this reduction no longer applied and content was now something completely separate from the physical. How did this happen? I re-read those pages several times and I just don’t get it. Am I in over my head? Did I miss something? I can’t help but feel like I did; but, then again, I’m far from being the only one who has seen problems with this argument. This turn of events left me bewildered and I can’t give any regard to the EAAN until this is resolved.

Closing Thoughts

This was my first encounter with any of Plantinga’s books, though I was familiar with his work and was well aware of his reputation as one of Christianity’s greatest thinkers. The writing generally lived up to the standard; the text was lucid and, in most cases, the arguments were easy to follow. It was a worthwhile read. In the end, however, I was severely disappointed that his key claims – the “apparent conflict” between theism and evolution and the “deep conflict” between naturalism and science – ultimately omit or dismiss the most relevant objections to those claims. Perhaps even more alarming was that he chose to publish a clearly flawed proof that determinism is false. Collectively these observations have done nothing but tarnish his reputation in my eyes. I had hoped for something more.


Did Jesus fulfill Daniel’s 70 weeks?

The primary goal of this post is to evaluate the claim that the timing of Jesus’ arrival fulfills the prophecy in Daniel 9. About four months ago I started writing this as part of a series on prophecies of Jesus’ birth. As I started researching, however, I discovered the controversies surrounding the authorship of Daniel and the prophecies of kingdoms and realized that I needed to address those issues before I could discuss the 70 weeks (I suggest reading those posts first before continuing on here – this post will make a lot more sense with that background). Now, after slogging through those topics and then taking some time to step away, I’m finally ready to finish this off.

What do we know?Willem_Drost_The_Vision_of_Daniel_1650

The last four verses of Daniel 9 are commonly interpreted to show that Jesus’ life corresponds with the timing predicted for the arrival of the messiah. The passage is as follows:

” 9:24 “Seventy weeks have been determined concerning your people and your holy city to put an end to rebellion, to bring sin to completion, to atone for iniquity, to bring in perpetual righteousness, to seal up the prophetic vision, and to anoint a most holy place. 9:25 So know and understand: From the issuing of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until an anointed one, a prince arrives, there will be a period of seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. It will again be built, with plaza and moat, but in distressful times. 9:26 Now after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one will be cut off and have nothing. As for the city and the sanctuary, the people of the coming prince will destroy them. But his end will come speedily like a flood. Until the end of the war that has been decreed there will be destruction. 9:27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one week. But in the middle of that week he will bring sacrifices and offerings to a halt. On the wing of abominations will come one who destroys, until the decreed end is poured out on the one who destroys.””

There are several additional pieces of information that are valuable input into determining whether this prophecy might have been fulfilled in Jesus.

First, we need to establish the meaning of “weeks”. The hebrew word used here is “shabuwa” (Strong’s 7620), which is elsewhere used and translated as weeks in the familiar sense, that being seven 24 hour days. Despite this, there is nearly unanimous consensus that the proper translation in this case is to view the week as a period of seven years. I agree with this assertion and there’s a good explanation of the reasoning for this at the Christian thinktank. I’m not going to give this any further discussion.

Second, this passage in Daniel, particularly the last two verses, appears to have ties to the other prophecies in Daniel. The other prophecies speak of a coming ruler who destroys, stops sacrifices after 3.5 years, brings abomination and then is defeated after another 3.5 years. See the discussion of the kingdom prophecies for details.

Third, there are multiple ways in which the the translation of the text needs to be considered:

  1. The phrasing that divides the 69 weeks into two periods of 7 weeks and 62 weeks has two divergent translations. The translation given above (from the NET) is closely aligned with the most prominent translation, as found in the KJV, NIV and NASB. In this translation, the 7 weeks and the 62 weeks are coupled together and collectively treated as the forerunners to the arrival of the anointed one. Another translation, as found in the ESV, RSV and JPS, separates the arrival of an anointed one as occurring after the 7 weeks, which is then followed by the 62 weeks of rebuilding. For example, the ESV reads: “Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time.” This translation is based in part on the presence of an atnah in the Masoretic version of the text, which is roughly equivalent to a semi-colon. Under this translation it is clear that an anointed one arrives after 7 weeks and a second anointed one is cut-off in the next verse after the 62 weeks. This structure would not have been evident in the original text since ancient Hebrew did not include any punctuation. The punctuation added by the Masoretes is to some extent based on Rabbinical tradition handed down through the generations.
  2. Another distinctive difference in this alternative translation is the choice of the translation for the hebrew “dabar” (Strong’s 1697). Most Christian translations render this as “decree” or “command”, whereas this alternative translation uses the more generic “word”. This generic translation is in fact the far more common translation of “dabar”, which is used extensively throughout the Old Testament in various forms. It is also used in the surrounding context in Daniel to identify the word given by the Lord to Jeremiah regarding the 70 years of exile and to identify the message given to Daniel by Gabriel.

Finally, the timeline can only be interpreted once a reference point has been established. In this case, the “issuing of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” is the reference. The historical context for the person of Daniel makes it clear that the restoration of Jerusalem is subsequent to the Babylonian conquest and exile, which started in 597 BCE and, after years of political struggle, eventually left the city in ruins in 587 BCE. The best options for the “command” to restore Jerusalem are as follows:

  1. The earliest date comes from the possibility that the “word” to restore Jerusalem is equivalent to the prophecy in Jeremiah 30:18 and/or 31:38, where God promises that Jerusalem will be restored and rebuilt. An exact date is not available for the text in Jeremiah, but from the context (see 28:1 and 32:1) it can be most likely placed between 593 and 587 BCE.
  2. In 2 Chronicles 36 and Ezra 1 we are told that Cyrus, in his first year (539 BCE), issues a decree to build the temple in Jerusalem.
  3. According to Ezra 7, in 460 or 459 BCE Artaxerxes I allowed any Israelite to return to Israel with Ezra and to procure resources for use in the temple. Artaxerxes I came to power in August 465 BCE. The text states that Ezra left on the 1st day of the 1st month of the king’s 7th year. The first year could have been as short as the last 40 days of the Hebrew calendar in 465 BCE, or it could have considered to be the first full year. In the first case, the second year would have started in September 465 BCE, putting the start of the 7th year in September 460 BCE. In the latter case, everything is pushed back a year, such that the 7th year starts in September 459 BCE.
  4. According to Nehemiah 2, in 445 or 444 BCE Artaxerxes I granted Nehemiah’s request to return and rebuild the city, which included letters authorizing the travel and collection of resources. Nehemiah places this in the month of Nisan in the 20th year of king Artaxerxes. As above, the first year of the king has two possibilities, such that the start of the 20th year could be either September 446 BCE or September 445 BCE. The month of Nisan pushes this to March 445 or 444 BCE.

With respect to these last two options, I should note that there is some contention and confusion regarding the historical identity of the Persian kings named throughout the biblical text (see onetwo, three). I do not plan to engage in a deeper investigation of those issues at this time but I will note that the problem is legitimate because of the chronological discrepancies that arise from a plain reading of the text. The relevant point is that we are not guaranteed that the identification of Artaxerxes I serves as a solid foundation for the assignment of dates to the events recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah.

What is the Christian interpretation of the data?

As with the discussion of the kingdom prophecies, there are several Christian interpretations for this passage. Two of these claim that the prophecy is, at least in part, fulfilled by Jesus. These views, which we will call the historicist view and the futurist view, are often put forth as some of the strongest evidence for the divine inspiration of the bible. The common element to both of these is that they agree with the translation which does not bring in an anointed one after the first 7 weeks. In both cases, the mashiach does not come on the scene until the 7 + 62 weeks are complete.

The Historicist View

Under the historicist view, the prophecy is entirely fulfilled (included the 70th week) by the life and death of Jesus. A brief summary of this interpretation is given below and the detailed explanation can be found here.

  1. The 70 weeks starts in 460 or 459 BCE with the decree by Artaxerxes I, as found in Ezra 7. Many versions of this interpretation count from the second full year and then identify the arrival in Jerusalem as occurring in the second half of the year, making it 457 BCE.
  2. The 69th week comes to completion in 483 years (69 x 7), putting the start of the 70th week in September of 24 CE, or sometime in the first half of 26 CE if the later date of 457 BCE is used.
  3. The 70th week heralds the arrival of Jesus, but in the middle of the week he is cut off (28 – 30 CE), bringing sacrifices and offerings to a halt (since the atonement eliminates the need for sacrifice).
  4. The destruction of the temple in 70 CE is seen as fulfillment of verse 26, the destruction of the city and the sanctuary. Though this verse precedes the text regarding the 70th week, it is seen as a reference to those events which will occur after the 70th week.

The Futurist View

With the futurist (or dispensationalist) view, the prophecy is fulfilled only through the 69th week. The most famous explanation was put forth by Sir Robert Anderson in 1894, and was later updated by Harold Hoehner. This specific view claims to demonstrate fulfillment by Jesus to the exact day and is cited in several apologetic resources, such as Josh McDowell’s New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. A summary of the explanation is given below and the detailed explanation can be found here.

  1. The 70 weeks starts sometime in Nisan of 444 BCE with the decree by Artaxerxes I, as found in Nehemiah 2. This decree is chosen as the starting point because it is the one that explicitly refers to the rebuilding of the city, not just the temple.
  2. The duration of the 69 weeks is based on the Jewish calendar, which has 12 lunar months totaling 360 days. This is sometimes referred to as a “prophetic year” and does not account for the leap year corrections. This duration is 69 x 7 x 360 = 173880 days. Hoehner showed that if this is properly divided into solar years, you arrive at a duration of 476 years and 25 days in the Gregorian calendar. By adding this to Nisan 1 (or March 5) in 444 BCE, you arrive at March 30, 33 CE. This was determined by Hoehner to be the date of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
  3. In some versions of this view the first 7 weeks (ending around 396 BCE) is identified as the period where “the sealing up of the prophetic vision” is accomplished. The claim is that this is about the time that Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, was written. There’s little to no support for that claim, however, so this is often excluded from the discussion.
  4. In this view, a gap of indeterminate length is inferred between the 69th and 70th week. This view agrees with the historicist view in that the destruction of the temple in 70 CE is seen as fulfillment of verse 26.
  5. The 70th week is deemed to be a still future time period and related to the events in the book of Revelation.

What is the naturalistic interpretation of the data?

This interpretation builds upon the foundation presented in the naturalist views regarding the authorship of Daniel and the kingdom prophecies. In that context, the author of the 70 weeks prophecy was writing around 165 BCE and was constructing a prophecy which culminated in the contemporary actions of Antiochus Epiphanes.

The first component of this perspective notes that the start of chapter 9 recounts Daniel’s response to his reading of Jeremiah and the realization that the desolation of Jerusalem was to last 70 years. Daniel then petitions God for mercy until he is interrupted with the message of the prophecy. It is this context which leads one to consider Jeremiah’s prophecy of Jerusalem’s restoration as a likely candidate for the “word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem”. In this case, the message from Gabriel was building upon the very scriptures that Daniel had been contemplating. Under this view, the start of the 70 weeks would then be around 593 to 587 BCE.

The relationship to Jeremiah’s prophecy is also important for understanding the choice of a 70 week duration. Within the naturalist explanation, this is an artifact of the author’s attempt to parallel Jeremiah’s prophecy rather than an exact definition of the time span. This is discussed in more detail later.

With respect to the two competing translations (the third data point in “What do we know?”), the naturalist agrees with the translation that yields two anointed ones. The preference for this translation is based on the view that it yields a better harmonization with the historical data and with the language and the surrounding text. This is supported by the following:

  1. This translation offers the best explanation for the fact that the text divides the first 69 weeks into two parts of 7 weeks and 62 weeks. Why would the 69 weeks have been split unless it was intended to demarcate two events?
  2. The division rendered by the Masoretic punctuation is the best option we have for estimating the original sentence structure since this reflects the Rabbinical tradition.
  3. If the first 7 weeks (49 years) starts from Jeremiah’s prophecy and if we take this to be around 593 to 587 BCE then that puts us somewhere around 540 BCE. Along with this, note that the first mashiach which arrives at the end of this period is qualified in the prophecy as being a prince (nagiyd, Strong’s 5057), which is used consistently in reference to a political ruler. In 539 BCE the Persians conquered Babylon and took over the kingdom. The Persian king, Cyrus, allowed the exiles to return to their homeland and, as a result, he is called God’s anointed – mashiach – in Isaiah 45. This fits well with the anointed one that comes after the first 7 weeks. In fact, it seems possible that this is inferring that God’s answer to Daniel’s petition was to reduce the 70 years to 49 years and that this was accomplished when Cyrus showed up. Under the Maccabean Thesis, the author of Daniel would have been familiar with the Isaiah text and the reference to Cyrus as mashiach.
  4. The next 62 weeks starts the period of rebuilding the temple and city after Cyrus gives the Jews freedom to return to Jerusalem. At the end of the 62 weeks the prophecy indicates that an anointed one (but not identified as a prince) is cut off. In the discussion of the prophecies of kingdoms, the naturalist view associated this person with Onias, who was murdered in the years leading into the actions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This would have occurred around 170 BCE, which is about 369 years after the alleged start of the 62 weeks (434 years). That date is about 65 years too soon.
  5. The prophecy states that after the 62 weeks “the people of the coming prince” (again, prince = nagiyd) will destroy the city and sanctuary. This is the start of the final week and the portion of the prophecy that is attributed to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid ruler. The portion of the prophecy spanning the last week carries many parallels to other prophecies in Daniel. Refer to the discussion of the prophecies of kingdoms for details.

The most obvious and significant problem with this view is that the second period is 65 years too short. The naturalist argues that it is not without warrant to suggest that the author did not properly reconcile the duration of this second period. In fact, it appears likely that the author could not have accurately reconstructed the duration and may not have been very concerned with the accuracy anyway. This argument is based primarily on the following:

  1. It appears that the first standardized Jewish system for identifying the year (minyan shtarot) was not introduced until about 312 BCE. Prior to this, years were only identified relative a king’s reign. It is not clear how an author writing in 165 BCE would have obtained an accurate determination of the number of years that had passed since a known historical event 400 years earlier. As evidence of this difficulty, note that the development of the Jewish calendar appears to have introduced multiple issues which bring it in conflict with other dating systems.
  2. It is reasonable to suspect that the author was more concerned with numerology than accuracy. Note that the first period is 7 sevens (the pervasive number of perfection) and the total period is 70 sevens (matching the 70 from Jeremiah’s prophecy). The 62 week duration of the second period may have been little more than a byproduct of the author’s realization that the historical periods seemed to fit with the desired numerology.

Lastly, the natural explanation concludes with a discussion of the use of the hebrew “mashiach” (Strong’s 4899) in the prophecy. The NET translates mashiach as “anointed one” and several other translations use the transliteration into “messiah”. It turns out that the word mashiach is never actually used anywhere in the Old Testament to refer to the eschatological figure that came to be known as the messiah. The application of the word mashiach as a reference to the eschatological figure who rises to power at the end of days only began to arise in the late second century BC. If this usage in Daniel is in fact a reference to the figure implied by other prophetic texts then this is the first and only reference which applies the “messiah” terminology, even if the later date for Daniel’s authorship is accepted. Furthermore, the prophecy of the 70 weeks does not appear to be placing the focus of the prophecy on the mashiach. The end of the prophecy, with it’s eschatological implications, does nothing to incorporate the prior references to a mashiach – in fact, it leaves the mashiach as having been cut off. If this prophecy was really about the arrival of the mashiach then why isn’t he a central figure in bringing an end to the one who destroys?

Which interpretation seems more probable?

I will often develop preliminary probabilities as I research and fill in the details of a post. In this case, my preliminary estimates had favored the Christian view. After further research, the data eventually led me to split the probabilities 50/50. It seemed to me that the Christian interpretation did the better job of fitting the timing while the naturalist interpretation did the better job of fitting the language and context. However, as I continued to dig further it became apparent that I had been working under the false assumption that the author of the text had at his disposal a relatively accurate accounting of the historical record and would have used this. This assumption was gradually defeated as I began to uncover the multitude of chronological problems. In light of those issues, it would seem that it would actually be presumptuous to think that a Jewish author writing around 165 BCE could accurately recount the number of years that had passed since events some 400 years earlier. As such, there is nothing to discredit the notion that Daniel’s 70 sevens was largely devised to mimic Jeremiah’s 70 years and was not intended to reflect an accurate passage of time. This may in fact be the most proper view of the 70 sevens.

Even so, the Christian interpretations presented above do not rely on an accurate biblical chronology – they only rely on the proper identification of the person of Artaxerxes I. If that assignment holds up, then the Christian view still does a better job of fitting the timing. There are some oddities, however, such as the starting from the second year of the king’s reign in the historicist view, or using the lunar year in the futurist view (additionally, I think that the start date might be wrong). Regardless, these views would still come out to within 5 to 10 years of Jesus’ ministry, which is pretty good considering that we’re talking about a nearly 500 year span in total. Aside from the timing, however, the Christian interpretation of the passage is difficult. The relative dismissal of the split after the first 7 weeks seems unfounded. The insistence on the translation of “dabar” as “decree” is odd, particularly when more fitting options could have been used, such as “choq” (Strong’s 2706), “tsavah” (Strong’s 6680) or “dath” (Strong’s 1881), which has an Aramaic derivative that is used in Daniel to describe royal decrees. The fact that, under the Christian view, this would be the first and only use of mashiach in reference to the eschatological figure was a surprising result. And, in the case of the futurist view, there’s no clear basis for the gap leading up to the 70th week.

When I consider everything, I feel that the naturalist interpretation does the better job of fitting the context and explaining the language. When that assessment is coupled with the fact that the author probably could not have accurately counted the years leading up to the events of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and that the timing was most likely secondary to the author’s numerological goals, I am led to believe that the naturalistic interpretation does a better job of explaining the data.


This conclusion is not without significance. The accuracy of this prophecy has long been held up as one of the most powerful evidences for the divine inspiration of the bible. If a comprehensive evaluation yields results wherein the prophetic interpretation can be considered to be less compelling than a natural explanation, that is a noteworthy outcome.


The authorship of Daniel

In this post I will evaluate the question of who wrote the book of Daniel and when did they write it. This consideration is directly tied to the evaluation of the kingdom prophecies in Daniel. In a companion post I have discussed the fulfillment of the prophecies of kingdoms and I suggest that you read that post first before consuming this post.

What do we know?Hand writing on the wall

I’ve identified the following as the key pieces of information for my evaluation of Daniel’s authorship:

  1. The first half of Daniel presents the lives of Daniel and his compatriots in the third person. There is no indication that any of the parties involved in the story itself are the authors. The first six chapters proceed to cover about 60 years in this fashion, by way of several discrete stories. The identification of kings and events tells us these stories span from 597 BC (the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon) to about 539 BC when Cyrus the Great overtook Babylon for Persia. About half of these stories serve to demonstrate Daniel’s role as an interpreter of dreams and visions.
  2. The second half of Daniel, chapters 7-12, jumps into a substantially different message. Chapter 7 introduces Daniel in the third person but then proceeds to quote Daniel’s report of his prophetic vision and the angelic interpretation entirely in the first person. The subsequent chapters, 8-12, are written almost exclusively in the first person (all expect the one verse introduction in chapter 10) and continue with the theme of prophetic vision and angelic revelation. These prophecies are largely concerning the events which are to occur after the Jewish return from exile and the rise of Yahweh’s eternal kingdom.
  3. The Masoretic text of Daniel has been preserved in two different languages. Chapters 1 – 2:4a and all of chapters 8 – 12 are written in Hebrew, whereas the remainder (chapters 2:4b – 7) are written in Aramaic. Of all the Masoretic texts in the Tanakh, only Ezra also contains Aramaic texts, but these portions are almost exclusively those which quote documents of external origin. Aramaic did not begin to see widespread use when authoring Jewish writings until about 300 BC.
  4. The Septuagint version of Daniel is substantially different than the Masoretic text. There is also a third major version of Daniel, the Theodotion text, which somehow become the primary Greek version of the book and found its way into the bulk of transmissions of the Greek texts. The Theodotion version is closer to the Masoretic text but still contains many of the variations in the Septuagint. The most striking difference between the Greek and Masoretic texts is the addition in the Greek of the apocryphal texts of the Prayer of Azariah, Bel and the Dragon and The Story of Susana. There are also numerous additions and subtractions scattered throughout the texts, particularly in the Aramaic portion (chapters 2-7). Refer to Meadowcroft’s “Aramaic Daniel and Greek Daniel: A Literary Comparison” for a comprehensive analysis of the differences. The Greek version of Daniel is estimated to have been translated no later than 63 BC (Knibb, 433).
    1. Note that the inclusion of Daniel is the Septuagint is often claimed as conclusive evidence that it was written before 250 BC. However, that date refers to the commissioning of the Greek translation of the Torah in the third century BC, as attested by the Letter of Aristeas. The remaining books were translated over the next couple centuries and it is unclear when exactly each was translated.
  5. The copies of Daniel discovered at Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) are substantially in agreement with the Masoretic text. The Daniel texts at Qumran are roughly dated to between 125 – 25 BC.
  6. 1 Maccabees 2:59-60 refers to the fiery furnace and lion’s den, which are also recorded in Daniel. 1 Maccabees 1:54 identifies the “abomination of desolation”, which uses the same phrasing as in Daniel. The Books of the Maccabees record historical events from 175 to 134 BC and so were written during and\or after those events.
  7. There is significant debate about the evidence for the dating of Daniel’s authorship from linguistic analysis. Contentions abound regarding Greek and Persian loan words, the style of Aramaic and Hebrew, etc… The best place to find a summary of the issues is in the substantial number of apologetic works which cover these in detail (see one, two, three). An example of an issue in this domain is that Daniel 4 identifies angels as “watchers” (Aramaic iyr), which is also present in the Book of Enoch and Jubilees but not in any earlier works. Daniel is also the first and only identification of the angel Gabriel in the Old Testament, though he is featured prominently in the apocryphal works and the Christian tradition.
  8. Daniel’s identification of 6th century rulers does not match other historical sources. Daniel identifies the sequence of rulers as follows:
    • Nebuchadnezzar
    • Belshazzar (son of Nebuchadnezzar)
    • Darius the Mede (son of Xerxes), who setup 120 Satraps
    • Cyrus the Persian

    Continuity between these rulers is not always directly stated but is generally inferred.
    Multiple other historical sources identify the sequence of rulers as follows:

    • Nebuchadnezzar, ruled 605-562
    • Amel-Marduk (son of Nebuchadnezzar), ruled 562-560
    • Neriglissar (Amel-Marduk’s brother in law), ruled 559-556
    • Labaši-Marduk (Neriglissar’s son), briefly ruled in 556
    • Nabonidus ruled 556-539 (father of Belshazzar, who was 2nd in command and was most likely the primary ruler in Babylon from about 551-541 while Nabonidus was in Tayma)
    • Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon and ruled from 539-530
    • Cambyses (son of Cyrus), ruled 530-522
    • Smerdis \ Gaumâta, ruled for a few months in 522
    • Darius overthrew Smerdis \ Gaumâta and from ruled 522-486. He is credited with establishing 23 Satraps for the kingdom.
    • Xerxes (son of Darius) ruled 486-465
  9. There are no external references to the prophet Daniel, or his writings, in Jewish literature until 1 Maccabees, with the possible exception that Ezekiel made reference to Daniel in Ezekiel 14:12-23 and 28:3. The claim that Ezekiel is referring to the Daniel of interest here, however, is widely disputed (see one, two, three). Even so, it should be noted that there is little opportunity for such external references to Daniel due to the scant number of texts that we have identified to have been authored between 500 and 120 BC. The primary concern on this matter is Daniel’s absence from Jesus Ben Sirach’s extensive listing of famous historical figures (Sir. 44 – 54), composed in the early 2nd century.
  10. There appears to be a strong correlation between the text of Daniel 9:7-14 and Baruch 1:15-2:12. The nature of the correlation is unknown, though the majority view is that Baruch borrowed from Daniel. There are no extent versions of Baruch in Hebrew, though it is suspected that at least Baruch 1:1-3:8 was translated from Hebrew. The exact date and authorship of Baruch is unclear and it is generally believed that our current version combines material from multiple authors and time periods, with the primary period of authorship being the Maccabean era.
  11. In Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, Chapter 8, Josephus reports that the priests showed the book of Daniel to Alexander the Great upon his arrival in Jerusalem and pointed out the prophecy that a Greek would destroy the Persian empire. This presentation to Alexander would have taken place around 330 BC. The Antiquities of the Jews was composed by Josephus around 94 AD.
  12. In the Jewish collection of the Tanakh, Daniel was included as one of the “Writings” (Ketuvim) instead of the “Prophets” (Neviim). This assignment stands in contrast to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and all the minor prophets.
  13. The Talmud (Baba Bathra 15a, written between 200 – 600 AD) records that the book of Daniel was “written” by The Great Assembly along with Ezekiel, the Twelve minor prophets and Esther. The word “written” is generally considered to be more accurately viewed as a synonym for “adopted”. This adoption would have occurred some time shortly after the return from the Babylonian exile (c. 500 BC).
  14. Jesus refers to the person of Daniel (Matthew 24:15) and quotes from Daniel (“son of man”, “abomination of desolation”) on several occasions in the New Testament. In doing so, Jesus affirms Daniel to have been a prophet.
  15. Lastly, and most significantly, the prophecies in Daniel show remarkable agreement with the known historical events up until Antiochus IV Epiphanes through 167 BC but falter in predicting the subsequent events. This is covered in detail in the companion post which evaluates the predictions themselves.

Collectively, this data has led most scholars (Collins, p88) to assign the authorship of Daniel to about 165 or 164 BC, the point in time at which the prophecies would transition from being fulfilled to not being fulfilled. It goes without saying that this would imply that Daniel is not the author.

What is the Christian interpretation?

The Christian view on the authorship of Daniel is founded on the assumption of the text’s authenticity. By this, I mean that this view trusts in the accuracy and truthfulness of the accounts given in Daniel. Under this premise, the content favors two possible authors: a first-hand witness to the events or a divine revelation to a third party after the fact. Given the first-person style that names Daniel in the last five chapters and the intimate details of the events described in the first six chapters, the most logical conclusion is that Daniel himself wrote the book. With this conclusion in place, the book’s authorship is considered to be either a gradual accumulation of material throughout the period identified in the text (597 – 539 BC) or a single composition which was produced near the end of Daniel’s life.

Working on the assumption that Daniel is the author, the Christian must then account for the data points above which conflict with this view. I will try to summarize the Christian apologists view on these issues in the following paragraphs. Refer to the apologist links given in #7 above for further details.

The Use of Multiple Languages and Perspectives

The explanation for the multiple languages and points of view which are present in Daniel is often addressed in the form of an argument for the unity of Daniel, wherein the alternate presentations serve a literary function. The most prominent of these sees the different languages as addressing two different audiences: Aramaic for the Babylonians and Hebrew for the Jews. The difference in point of view is seen as an additional side effect of this literary form. Other arguments employ similar reasoning, such as outlining a symmetry in the literary structure, suggesting a sort of poetic and symbolic meaning to the structure.

Divergent Translations

As far as I can tell there is little explanation given from a Christian perspective for the widely divergent translations. These are generally taken to be nothing more than the result of corruption by an imaginative redactor, either prior to or after the original translation for the Septuagint.

2nd Century Texts

The presence of Daniel manuscripts at Qumran and the reference to Daniel in 1 Maccabees is cited as evidence of the early composition date for Daniel. The thrust of this claim is the assumption that a text could not see such widespread familiarity and adoption in the short a period of time (about 40 years) required for the critical date.

Linguistic Analysis

The apologetic coverage of this aspect is substantial but boils down to showing that the loan words and styles were not necessarily unavailable in the 6th century. In so far as the similarities with later apocryphal works, the claim is that Daniel is the original from which others drew inspiration. Refer to the apologetic links for details.

Mismatched Rulers

The historical Darius arrives far too late to have been aligned with the Darius in Daniel, so the predominant theory is that Darius the Mede is either some as of yet unknown ruler or an alias for a known ruler (perhaps a governor named Gubaru or for Cyrus himself). Under this theory, Daniel ends up much closer to the historical record once a couple more concessions are made: First, Belshazzar needs to be seen as “effectively king” with a primary leadership role during Nabonidus’ reign. Second, Nebuchadnezzar’s actual son isn’t listed, as well as other rulers prior to Belshazzar, because they didn’t align with any of the events in the story. Daniel’s claim that Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar’s son is also, in this case, taken in a political sense rather than a biological sense.

No External References Prior to 2nd Century

First, most apologists will assert that the Daniel in Ezekiel is the Daniel of interest here. Second, they will point out the fact that there are not many texts to examine from the 5th through 3rd centuries. Lastly, Daniel’s absence from Jesus Ben Sirach’s text is dismissed on the grounds that several other prominent figures are excluded, such as Job and Ezra.

Commonality with Baruch

Like Daniel, the perspective put forth by the author(s) of Baruch suggests that it was written during the Babylonian captivity. If this is taken at face value, then Baruch’s borrowing from Daniel would support an early date for Daniel’s authorship.

Daniel as a Writing instead of Prophet

The primary argument regarding this data point as evidence of a later authorship involves demonstrating that Daniel was considered a prophet early on (using the grouping of the Septuagint) and that it was not until much later that the book was considered to be part of the Writings. This categorization is often theorized to be an attempt to hide the relevance of Daniel’s prophecies to the person of Jesus.

Jesus’ Use of Daniel

These occurrences are used to show that Jesus considered Daniel to be an authentic and true prophet. On the assumption of Jesus’ authority and infallibility this then serves an undeniable evidence for Daniel’s authenticity – meaning that it was written by Daniel in the 6th century BC.

The Fulfillment of Prophecies

This aspect is covered in detail by the companion post. In short, it is only the preterist view which sees the events in Daniel as having been fulfilled by the historical events over the next six centuries. That view then sees Jesus, the new covenant and the church as fulfilling the portions of the prophecies which foretell the rise of the eternal kingdom. All other views (e.g., dispensationalism) see many of the prophecies of Daniel as separate from those early events.

What is the naturalistic interpretation?

The naturalistic view does not start with an assumption of Daniel’s authenticity. From this perspective, one does not immediately accept that the author is Daniel, though this is certainly the appropriate default stance based on the claims of the text. As previously noted, however, further consideration has caused many scholars to suggest that Daniel, or at least the prophetic portions of it, were written about 165 BC. This is often labeled the Maccabean Thesis and I will adopt a form of this as the naturalist position on this topic.

This view starts by allowing the possibility that Daniel is in some sense a historic person. The naturalist has no reason to deny the existence of a person named Daniel who rose to some level of prominence during the Babylonian exile. Potentially this is the Daniel referenced by Ezekiel, though he seems an odd fit for the context of those verses. Despite this allowance, the naturalist position also allows the possibility that Daniel is entirely legendary, which is supported by pointing out the similarities between Daniel and Joseph (Genesis 41). Both stories describe a captive in a foreign land who rises to a powerful position by interpreting the dreams of the country’s rulers. This is particularly relevant when paired with the observation that Jesus Ben Sirach, in the listing from which Daniel is excluded, says of Joseph that “no man like Joseph has been born”. Whether real or legendary, the naturalist also allows that the figure of Daniel may very well have been known in some respect prior to the composition of the current text. Oral tradition, and perhaps even written tradition, is a good candidate as the source of the narrative portions of Daniel (chapters 1-6). These portions of the text fit much better with the expectations of an inherited tradition than of a sudden work of fiction. The pre-existence of some form of a Daniel tradition is bolstered by the Qumran text “The Prayer of Nabonidus“, which appears to be an alternate version of the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness in Daniel 4.

The naturalist position with respect to the prophecies in Daniel is covered in detail by the companion post. In short, this view sees a breaking point between fulfilled prophecy and unfulfilled prophecy at about 165 BC. If one considers that the composition at this time is building upon existing narratives about the person of Daniel, as captured in chapters 1 – 6, then it becomes apparent how this effort might produce a text containing multiple languages (Hebrew and Aramaic) and different points of view (third person and first person).

The naturalist recognizes the limited time-frame between 165 BC and the translation of the Septuagint and the transmission of Daniel at Qumran but does not see this as persuasive evidence to the contrary. There are several reasons for this:

  1. If the person of Daniel is allowed to have been known in some capacity prior to the inception of the text then that would aid in the rapid adoption of the text as authentic.
  2. There is little reason to assert that 40 years (conservatively) is too little time for the transmission and adoption of the text. One only needs to reflect on the adoption and transmission of texts in early Christianity, or upon the events that have transpired in one’s own lifetime, to gain an appreciation of just how much can happen in 40 years.
  3. Given the historical context, any text which foretells of the destruction of Antiochus IV and the subsequent rise of the Jewish kingdom would have been likely to see immediate acceptance and distribution by those familiar with his role in Jerusalem. The text’s acceptance may have then been further advanced by the death of Antiochus having occurred near the 3 1/2 years foretold in Daniel. Thereafter, the introduction of the Hasmonean dynasty and the largely independent Israeli state would have further legitimized Daniel’s prediction of the rise of the Jewish kingdom. Throughout this period, the state of affairs could have easily been seen as validation of the prophecies in Daniel. When this is combined with Daniel’s implications regarding the end of days, one could imagine how this would have reinforced and perhaps even helped instigate the apocalyptic culture that seemed to grow during this time. Many critical scholars would argue that Jesus was part of that culture.
  4. The extreme variations in the Septuagint, Theodotion and Masoretic versions of Daniel can actually be seen as an argument for the critical date. The infancy of ancient texts was quite dynamic as oral traditions, philosophies, pre-existent texts and multiple perspectives were woven into the new text. It is not until that new text became adopted by the culture that the text became more static. Only once a community had come to agree on the value of a text did the text become resistant to change. At this later stage alterations would be readily detected (due to familiarity) and would cause dissension in the community. Minor changes which arose during transmission were tolerated because they were often overlooked and did little to alter the shared value of the text, but major reorganizations, additions and deletions would be disruptive. In light of this, the widely divergent translations of Daniel would point toward the more recent authorship and against the notion of a text that had been accepted in the community and transmitted faithfully for 400 years prior to the translations.

In the closing verses of Daniel the naturalist also sees the author attempting to hide the fact that the text was written around the critical date. Verse 12:4 reads “But you, Daniel, close up these words and seal the book until the time of the end.” Then in verse 12:9 “He said, “Go, Daniel. For these matters are closed and sealed until the time of the end.” The most likely explanation for these verses is that they are an attempt by the author to explain why the text was not known until now – that is, at the time of his writing, a time that the author perceived to be very close to the end of days. This is in stark contrast to Revelation 22:10, “Then he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy contained in this book, because the time is near.” If these verses in Daniel are viewed from a Christian perspective then the only possible explanation is that the divine commandment to seal the words until the time of the end was violated some time before the late 2nd century BC, even though that obviously wasn’t actually the time of the end.

The naturalist view also points out that the books of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees provide detailed accounts of the events surrounding the reign of Antiochus IV, and are the earliest external references to the person of Daniel, yet fail to recognize the fulfillment of the prophecies of Daniel. The only references are in 1 Macc. 2:59-60, which refers to the fiery furnace and the lion’s den, and in 1 Macc. 1:54, which identifies the abomination of desolation but does not refer specifically to Daniel. To the naturalist, this indicates that the authors of the Maccabees were probably unfamiliar with the text as we know it. The premise here is that it is unexpected that the Maccabees authors would borrow from the book of Daniel yet ignore the fulfillment of prophecy. The more rationale explanation is that the authors were familiar with a common set of traditions and phrasing that were incorporated into both Daniel and the Maccabees without directly borrowing from each other.

Regarding the similarity between Daniel and Baruch, there is reason to see this as supportive of the later date for authorship. For one, there is no external evidence that Baruch was written in the time period suggested by the author and there are many reasons to suspect that it was composed, or at least completed, much later. In short, the similarities between Daniel and Baruch seem to be rooted in their sharing of a common culture, a culture which fits best with the apocalyptic milieu of the Maccabean era.

Lastly, the naturalist must address the data points which directly contradict this view. Regarding the account written by Josephus, which places the book of Daniel in existence at the time of Alexander the Great around 330 BC, the naturalist argument is to reiterate that Josephus was writing in the late first century AD, 400 years after the proposed event. It is known from many sources (including Jesus) that by this time Daniel was well established and believed to be a prophet. As such, it would not be surprising if Josephus was simply propagating an established legend. Regarding the adoption of Daniel by the Great Assembly shortly after the return from exile, this again is a very late source (200 – 600 AD) that is most likely propagating tradition about the authors of the Tanakh. The same passage attributes the entirety of the Torah authorship to Moses, a claim which modern scholarship has found difficult to support.

Which interpretation seems more probable?

When one allows for the possibility of predictive prophecy, there is nothing in the data which precludes the possibility of authorship at any time between the 6th century BC and the critical date around 165 BC. However, as observed in the post on the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecies, a view which allows for predictive prophecy and also accepts Daniel’s prophecies as having been fulfilled encounters substantial difficulty in accounting for the final events in the prophecies and in reconciling these with Jesus’ view of the prophecies. This injection of future fulfillment is a major strike against the notion that these are genuine predictive prophecies. When that consideration is brought into view and coupled with the other data points, I find that the critical dating of the text presents a more rationale understanding of the situation and that viewing Daniel as a late composition provides a more cohesive explanation of the peculiarities of the text. The evidence is, in my opinion, sufficient to overcome the default position claimed by the text itself.

In light of all these considerations I have chosen to assign the probabilities for the correct interpretation as follows:


Daniel’s prophecies of kingdoms

Daniel and NebuchadnezzarBack in February I began to explore whether Jesus’ birth had been prophesied by Daniel’s 70 weeks. I knew I was opening a can of worms but I was mistaken as to what exactly was in that can. I have always understood the controversies surrounding Daniel to be largely eschatological but I’ve now come to discover that the entire book is fraught with controversy at a much higher level. This new information needs to be part of the discussion and is essential to laying the groundwork for a proper evaluation of the relationship between Jesus’ birth and the 70 weeks.

The controversies surrounding Daniel can be examined in two ways: one assessing the authorship of Daniel and one evaluating the fulfillment of prophecy. These two domains are deeply entangled, but as a whole they are too substantial to cover in a single post. The focus of this post is to evaluate the relationship between Daniel’s prophecies of kingdoms and known historical events. Due to the intimate relationship between the nature of the prophecies and the authorship of Daniel, this post should be read and considered as a companion to the post evaluating Daniel’s authorship. I think it will make most sense to read this post first and then the post on authorship second.

What do we know?

Normally my goal with the “what do we know” section is to present the undisputed data – the facts that are acknowledged by all views. From there, I then try to explain the interpretation of the data from both the Christian and naturalist views. In this case, however, I am straying a bit from that recipe. The most clear way I can think to present the data is to combine all of the prophecies into one cohesive list of prophetic elements that covers the full timeline and then juxtapose these against the historical events that best match the prophecy. The problem is that there are numerous different ways these prophecies have been interpreted and my assignments to historical events will not agree with some interpretations. In fact, the assignments I have made here are best aligned with a naturalistic interpretation. The reason I have elected to take this tactic is because a) there are multiple Christian views of Daniel and they don’t consistently assign historical events to the prophecies and b) I think it would be too confusing to try and cover all the possible assignments. I hope that it will become clear that the relationships I have chosen to assign are a good fit and a fair presentation of the most probable historical analog.

Regarding the decision to present all of the prophecies together as one, I have done this because I find it hard to deny the overlap and relationships between the prophecies. When one tries to harmonize the prophecies relative to each other without consideration for the historical analogs (that is, by looking only at the text itself) then the parallels are obvious. It seems reasonable to me that this should be the vantage point that is first established before attempting to assign historical events to the prophecies.

Lastly, before getting to the prophecies it is necessary to present one additional critical data point. In Matthew 24:15-16 Jesus says “So when you see the abomination of desolation – spoken about by Daniel the prophet – standing in the holy place then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.” This is also given in Mark 13:14 as “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be, then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.” This statement would have been uttered sometime around 30 AD and clearly implies a future event. We will see later, in the discussion of interpretations, why this data point is so critical.

So, without further ado, here is a paraphrase of the entire set of kingdom prophecies in Daniel along side my determination of the most probable historical analog.

Prophecy (Paraphrased) Most Probable Historical Analog
  • [7:4] The first beast is a lion with eagles wings
The Babylonian empire (reigned over Israel from 597 – 539 BC). The national symbol was a lion and they built many statues of winged creatures (Lamassu). Many Jews were exiled to Babylon in 587 BC, which defines the historical context for the person of Daniel.
  • [2:39] The silver kingdom is inferior and follows after Babylon.
  • [7:5] The second beast is a bear with three ribs in its mouth.
  • [8:3] A ram with two horns, the shorter horn is first.
  • [8:20] The ram with two horns are Media and Persia.
Daniel consistently distinguishes between the Medes and the Persians, as seen in 8:20 (left) and 5:28 (the handwriting on the wall is interpreted as the kingdom being divided and given to the Medes and Persians). It’s likely that the silver kingdom and the second beast are the Median Empire, which is then clearly identified as the shorter horn in chapter 8. Media may have been viewed as a separate kingdom, even though it never reigned over Israel, because it was distinct and dominant over Persia until about 550 BC. The Medes also worked along side Babylon to battle Assyria (e.g., at Nineveh). As such, the distinct Median kingdom that existed prior to the unified Medo-Persian Empire would have almost certainly been well known to the Jews.
  • [2:39] The bronze kingdom rules all the earth.
  • [7:6] The third beast is a leopard with four wings and four heads.
  • [8:3] A ram with two horns, the longer horn is second.
  • [8:20] The ram with two horns are Media and Persia.
  • [11:1] Three more kings for Persia, the fourth king will rise up against Greece.
The Persian Empire (reigned over Israel from 539 – 332 BC). The four wings and heads are most likely an allusion to the four kings identified in 11:1. There were actually 14 kings but it’s likely that the last 150 years of the empire are being ignored. The fourth king of the Persian empire was Darius the Great, who “rose up against Greece” in the Greco-Persian wars.
  • [9:25] The issuing of the command to restore Jerusalem.
There is much dispute about the event which corresponds to this. This will be covered in detail by the post which discusses the 70 weeks.
  • [2:40] The iron kingdom rises up.
  • [7:7] The fourth beast is dreadful and strong with iron teeth and tramples everything.
  • [7:23] The fourth kingdom is different from the others and devours all the earth and tramples everything.
  • [8:5] A goat comes from the west with one prominent horn.
  • [8:6-7] The goat defeats the ram and tramples everything.
  • [8:21] The goat is Greece and the prominent horn is the first king.
  • [11:3] A powerful king will arise, doing as he pleases.
Alexander the Great (reigned over the Israel from 332 – 323 BC). The kingdom is different because a) it is more powerful and expansive and b) it brought a strong Hellenistic influence, whereas the previous kingdoms shared a relatively similar ancient near-east culture. Alexander’s conquest originated out of Macedonia (the west) and was swift and expansive (tramples everything). The prominent horn is clearly Alexander himself.
  • [2:40-43] The iron kingdom breaks apart but continues to rule, some parts weak (clay), some parts strong (iron).
  • [7:7] The fourth beast has 10 horns.
  • [7:24] The 10 horns are 10 kings.
  • [8:8] The goat’s prominent horn is broken and four horns rise in its place.
  • [8:22] The four horns are the kingdoms that arise after the first king is broken.
  • [11:4] The kingdom is broken up and distributed to the four winds.
Alexander’s sudden death in 323 BC left his kingdom without a leader but his generals (Diadochi) carried on and divided the kingdom amongst themselves.
At first it may seem that the 10 kings of chapter 7 do not align with the four kingdoms of chapters 8 and 11. On closer inspection, however, we see that these are two different descriptions of the fallout after Alexander’s death.
The 10 kings are most likely referencing the Seleucid lineage that starts with Alexander and culminates in the emergence of Antiochus IV Ephiphanes as the 11th horn that displaces 3 others, where the three displaced horns are Seleucus IV and his sons (see below). Conversely, the four kingdoms are probably the four dynasties in the western part of the Alexandrian empire, namely the Seleucid, Ptolemaic, Antigonid and Attalid dynasties. So whereas chapter 7 is alluding to the legacy within the Seleucid empire, chapters 2, 8 and 11 are alluding to the division of Alexander’s kingdom into separate empires.
  • [11:5] The king of the south and one of his princes will grow strong.
The king of the south is Ptolemy I Soter and his prince is Seleucus I Nicator, who was the original satrap of Babylon. In 316 BC he fled to Egypt to escape Antigonus Monophthalmus and served under Ptolemy for several years. In 312 they defeat Antigonus’ son Demetrius Poliorcetes and regain control of Babylon.
  • [11:5] The prince will resist and rule a greater kingdom.
Between 311 and 309 BC Seleucus wins several wars to initiate the Seleucid Empire. In 301 he gains control of Syria. In 281 he defeats Lysimachus to gain control of Macedonia. The Seleucid Empire became the dominant empire in the west. In 281 Seleucus’ son, Antiochus I Soter assumes control and in 261 Antiochus II Theos succeeds to rule the empire.
  • [11:6] The king and the prince will form an alliance. The daughter of the king of the south will come to the king of the north to make an agreement.
In 252 Antiochus II Theos and Ptolemy II Philadelphus make a treaty. To seal the treaty, Antiochus marries Ptolemy’s daughter, Berenice Phernephorus.
  • [11:6] She will not retain her power and will be delivered over.
In January 246 Antiochus leaves Berenice and returns to his first wife, Laodice. In July, Antiochus dies and Berenice tries to assume power with her son. The supporters of Laodice end up killing her son and eventually Berenice herself.
  • [11:7-8] One from her family will become ruler of the southern kingdom and successfully advance on the king of the north, but then withdraw.
Berenice’s brother, Ptolemy III Euergetes, assumes the throne for the Ptolemaic Empire in January 246. To avenge the death of his sister and nephew he attacks the Seleucids (the Third Syrian War).  He advances to Babylon by December 246 but in the summer of 245 he withdraws to defend his Aegean possessions against Antigonus II Gonatas.
  • [11:9] The king of the north will advance on the southern kingdom, but then withdraw to his own land.
The new king of the Seleucid Empire, Seleucus II Callinicus, takes advantage of the withdrawal and pushes back to regain Babylon. By 242 he advances toward Egypt but is defeated and withdraws.
  • [11:10] Successors of the northern kingdom will continue to advance upon the southern kingdom.
The first son of Seleucus II, Seleucus III Keraunos, only rules three years. Then his brother, Antiochus III the Great, takes power. In 219 he initiates the Fourth Syrian War against Ptolemy IV Philopator. He is successful in reclaiming the northern ports of Seleucia and Tyre.
  • [11:11-12] The king of the south will defeat the northern kingdom, become arrogant and will cause the death of thousands and thousands.
Ptolemy IV Philopator stops the Seleucid advance with a defeat at Raphia. The book of 3 Maccabees describes Ptolemy as having visited Jerusalem after the battle at Raphia but was supernaturally paralyzed when he tried to enter the holy of holies. This enrages him and he orders the death of many Jews. These events in 3 Maccabees have no external historical corroboration and most scholars take it to be legendary.
  • [11:13] The king of the north will build a stronger army.
After his defeat at Raphia, Antiochus III the Great is successful in several campaigns in the north and east from 216-205 BC.
  • [11:14] Many will oppose the king of the south, including the Jews.
Ptolemy IV Philopator dies in 204 and is succeeded by Ptolemy V Epiphanes, who is only five at the time. Philip V of Macedonia and Antiochus III form an alliance to initiate the Fifth Syrian War in 202.
  • [11:15-16] The king of the north will advance on the king of the south and take over a well-fortified city and the land of Israel.
In 200 BC, a victory in the Battle of Paneion gives Antiochus III control over Judea.
  • [11:17] The king of the north will give his daughter in marriage to the king of the south.
To seal the peace at the end of the Fifth Syrian War in 195 BC, Antiochus III gave his daughter, Cleopatra Syra, to be married to Ptolemy V at the age of ten.
  • [11:18-19] The king of the north will capture many coastal regions but will be stopped by a commander. He will turn his attention to his own fortresses but will fall.
The Romans told Antiochus III to not advance against Egypt and so he turned his attention to a northwest expansion. He captures Cilicia, Lycia and Thrace before running into Rome, initiating the Roman-Syrian War. The Romans win out under the command of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus and Antiochus III gives up the land north of the Taurus mountains. In ending the war (The Treaty of Apamea) one of his sons, Mithradates, is held ransom by the Romans.
  • [11:20] His successor will send out an exactor of tribute and then will fall.
In 187 Antiochus III dies and is succeeded by his son, Seleucus IV Philopator. When Seleucus IV assumes the throne Mithradates is replaced by Seleucus’ son, Demetrius, in Roman custody. To pay money due to the Romans (tribute), Seleucus IV sends Heliodorus to seize money from the Jewish temple but when Heliodorus returns in 175 BC he kills Seleucus IV and tries to take the throne for himself.

  • [7:8] A small horn grows where three horns were uprooted and speaks arrogantly.
  • [7:24] A king will arise after the 10 kings and subdue three of them.
  • [8:9] A small horn grows from one of the four horns and grows toward the south, east and the beautiful land (Israel).
  • [8:23] Toward the end of the rule of the four kingdoms a deceitful king arises.
  • [11:21] A despicable person, who was not the rightful owner of the throne, comes to power through deceit.
When Seleucus IV was killed the rightful heir to the throne was his son, Demetrius, but he was being held by the Romans. The next son, Antiochus, was too young to rule so Seleucus’ brother, Mithradates, did away with Heliodorus and took power. He then took the name Antiochus IV Epiphanes and established himself as ruler that same year (175). Five years later he would have Seleucus’ son, Antiochus, killed to maintain ownership of the throne. Collectively, these are the acts of subduing three kings in chapter 7.
  • [11:22-24] He will sweep away armies, the armies and a covenant leader will be destroyed, he will break an alliance and ascend to power with a small force, he will accomplish what his fathers could not, he will distribute loot to his followers and make plans against cities.
These verses are part of the introduction to Antiochus IV Epiphanes and provide a generalization of his reign. The goal here seems to be to demonstrate his power and treachery. To “accomplish what his fathers could not” was to gain entrance into Egypt, something no other Seleucid king had attained. Verse 25 then commences with the description of specific events.
  • [9:26] After the 62 weeks an anointed one will be cut off.
  • [11:22] A prince of the covenant will be destroyed.
In 2 Macc. 4:32-34 we are given an account of the murder of Onias, a well respected High Priest who opposed the Greek influences infiltrating the Jewish culture and religious traditions. There are no landmarks to pinpoint the date for this event but by looking at its place in the sequence of events in 2 Maccabees it seems likely to have occurred in 171 or 170 BC.
  • [9:27] He will confirm a covenant for one week (7 years)
There is no obvious historical analog here. If we work back 3 1/2 years from the halting of sacrifices, this would have been about June of 170 BC. The covenant may be related to Antiochus IV respecting the populace and avenging the death of Onias by having his murderer humiliated and killed (2 Macc. 4:37-38). It could also be referring to the vague covenant described in 1 Macc. 1:11-15, where some Jews established a covenant with the king to institute Greek customs.
  • [11:25] He will be victorious in battle against the king of the south.
The Sixth Syrian war starts in 170 BC. In 169 Antiochus IV advances into Egypt and defeats Ptolemy VI Philometor.
  • [11:26] The king of the south will be betrayed by others in his court.
On the recommendation of his advisor, Ptolemy VI tried to escape but was caught and taken by Antiochus IV to Memphis. The people of Egypt reject his authority raise up Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra II as new rulers in Alexandria.
  • [11:27-28] The kings of the north and south will meet and then the king of the north will return to his own land.
Antiochus IV, working with Greek ambassadors, recognizes Ptolemy VI as king of Egypt and returns home toward the end of 169, leaving Egypt in a state of division. Eventually the brothers reconcile and present a unified leadership for Egypt.
  • [11:28] He will take action against the holy covenant after his victory and before returning home.
1 Macc. 1:20-24 recounts how Antiochus IV, on his return from the first trip to Egypt, stopped by Jerusalem and looted the temple.
  • [11:29-30] Later, the king of the north advances again on the south but the ships of Kittim will stop him.
In 168 BC Antiochus IV invades Egypt again but this time Rome intervenes and Gaius Popilius Laenas orders Antiochus to return home.
  • [7:21] The small horn wages war against the holy ones and was defeating them.
  • [7:25] The small horn harasses God’s people.
  • [8:10] The small horn battles and defeats some of heaven’s army.
  • [8:12] The small horn is victorious in defeating heaven’s army.
  • [8:24] The small horn causes terrible destruction and defeats powerful people and the people of the holy one.
  • [9:26] The people of the coming prince will destroy the city and the sanctuary.
This part of the history can be read in 1 Maccabees chapter 1 and in 2 Maccabees chapter 4 and chapter 5. First, a little background that I haven’t addressed yet. Early in the reign of Antiochus IV a man named Jason bought himself the appointment as the high priest. Several years later Jason sent Menelaus to pay a tribute and but Menelaus ended up buying the high priesthood for himself. Both of these men were friendly to the king and welcomed Greek influence and customs. Their lack of loyalty to the Jews and willingness to adopt foreign customs began to stir up some of the Jews, giving rise to minor disturbances. This sets the stage for understanding this portion of the prophecy. In 167, while Antiochus IV was in Egypt, Jason gets wind of a rumor that he had been killed and decides to use the opportunity to attack Jerusalem and usurp Menelaus. After Antiochus IV is turned away by Rome in Egypt (see above), he hears of the fighting in Jerusalem and sends Apollonius to put down the revolt. Apollonius feigns peace upon reaching Jerusalem but, once inside, starts to purge the city for the purpose of converting it into a military fortress. This involves the killing of many Jews, selling many into slavery and the sacrilegious use of the temple.
  • [7:8] The small horn speaks arrogant things
  • [7:25] He speaks words against God.
  • [8:11] The small horn acts arrogantly against the prince of heaven’s army.
  • [8:25] The small horn uses deceit and trickery and holds an arrogant attitude.
  • [11:36-39] He exalts himself above all gods and blasphemes Yahweh, he will rule until the wrath is complete, he will not honor the gods of his fathers (even the god loved by women) but rather give treasures to a foreign deity (the god of fortresses), he will favor those who honor him and hand over land for money.
These verses aren’t necessarily describing historical events but I’ve included them as a group to show how the prophecies use similar language to describe the arrogance of Antiochus IV. The title he took for himself, Epiphanes, literally means “God Manifest”. The verses are given at this point in the prophecies to emphasize the lack of respect that Antiochus IV held for the god of the Jews. This lack of respect is evident in the events surrounding this character description. The “respecting foreign gods” in chapter 11 is most likely a reference to the mixing of Greek and Roman gods that was occurring during this time.
  • [7:25] The small horn changes “times and law” (Jewish customs) for “time, times and a half” (3 1/2 years).
  • [8:11] The small horn removes daily sacrifice and throws down the temple.
  • [9:27] In the middle of the week (3 1/2 years) after confirming the covenant he will bring sacrifice and offering to a halt.
  • [11:31] He stops the daily sacrifice.
  • [12:7] The events are for a “time, times and a half” (3 1/2 years).
Once the fortification of Jerusalem was complete, Antiochus IV began a transformation of the city to eliminate the Jewish religion and institute his own pagan beliefs. He issued an edict that forbade the practice of Jewish rituals (e.g., daily sacrifice, circumcision, keeping the sabbath, etc..) and began to use the temple for pagan rituals. With Menelaus as his guide, he again plundered the temple treasures. Daniel 7, 9 and 12 all identify the duration of this state of affairs to be 3 1/2 years.
  • [8:13] The small horn performs a destructive act of rebellion.
  • [9:27] The one who destroys comes with abominations.
  • [11:31] He sets up the abomination that causes desolation.
The infamous abomination of desolation. We are given an exact date for this event in 1 Macc. 1:54 – December 3, 167 BC. It’s not definitively stated exactly what the abomination is but from the sources it seems that this was the construction of a pagan alter on top of the existing alter. They then commenced the sacrifice of pigs and other unclean things on the alter, accompanied by the installation of idols to make the temple into the temple of Jupiter / Zeus.
  • [11:32] He will corrupt those who reject the covenant.
From all accounts there were many Jews who did not oppose the changes and adopted the new way of life.
  • [11:32-35] Those who know God will act valiantly against the king but will fall. Some of the wise will stumble, preparing them for the time of the end.
The drastic changes instituted by Antiochus IV only fueled the already growing resistance. 2 Maccabees chapter 6 and chapter 7 tell the stories of some insurgents who faced death. The first leader of a unified resistance is Mattathias, who would die in 166 BC and leave the leadership to his son Judas Maccabeus.
  • [11:40-45] The king of the south will attack again but the king of the north will defeat him and will extend his power to many lands, including Egypt and parts of Africa, until he sets up camp in Israel.
There are no known historical events which agree with this. After the events in Jerusalem, Antiochus IV went east to defend his eastern borders against the Parthians. He left Lysias in control in the west. There were no further wars between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic Empires and both slowly deteriorated until the Romans assumed control of the Mediterranean territories.
  • [8:14] The temple and sacrifice is restored after 2300 mornings and evenings.
Chapter 8 doesn’t explicitly identify when the 2300 mornings and evenings start but the implication is that it starts when the sacrifice is halted. Assuming the morning and evenings refer to the two sacrifices (Exodus 29:39, 2 Chronicles 13:11) and thus occur twice per day, this would occur 1150 days after the sacrifice is halted. Counting forward from the date for the abomination of desolation, Dec 3 167, this event would have occurred about Jan 27 of 163. 1 Maccabees gives a date for the restoration of the temple on Dec 10 164. This is about 48 days early but may be within the margin of error for the assigned dates.
  • [12:1] Michael arises and Israel enters a time of distress.
  • [12:11] The end is 1290 days after the sacrifice is stopped and the abomination that causes desolation.
It seems that the 1290 days is the point at which God begins to intervene and the angels directly enter into the war against Antiochus IV. Counting forward from Dec 3 167, this would have occurred about June 16 of 163. There are no known historical analogs to which this can be reasonably aligned.
  • [7:9-10] God sets up his judgement throne with a river of fire proceeding forth.
  • [7:22] God renders judgement on the small horn.
  • [7:26] The small horn receives judgement.
  • [12:2-3] The dead are resurrected and judged.
The sequences in the prophecies indicate that there is a transition point from the war to the levying of judgement. The judgement is universal, involving the resurrection of the dead and, in chapter 7, the judgement is particularly waged against the small horn. There are no known historical analogs to which this can be reasonably aligned, except perhaps the death of Antiochus IV (see next).
  • [2:34, 45] The stone which destroys all the kingdoms was not cut by human hands.
  • [7:11] The fourth beast is killed and thrown into the fire that flowed from God.
  • [7:26] The small horn is destroyed and abolished forever.
  • [8:25] The small horn is defeated not by human hands.
  • [9:27] The end is poured out on the one who destroys.
  • [12:7] The one who shatters the holy people comes to an end (after the 3 1/2 years).
This is the only event that is found in all five of the kingdom prophecies. In short, a supernatural power brings an end to the human kingdoms to which the Jews have been subject for hundreds of years. In chapters 7, 8, 9 and 12 the destruction is specifically applied to the figure presented in the previous verses (fourth beast, small horn, one who destroys, the one who shatters). Historical records indicate that Antiochus IV died in Tabae, Persia in 164 or 163 (using 1 Macc. 6:16 I calculate this to have occurred in 163 but many other sources indicate 164 and I am not sure where that date comes from). In that respect, the timing of his death actually corresponds fairly well with the timing of the prophecies, though the supernatural context and location of his death do not fit.
  • [2:44-45] God raises up an eternal kingdom that rules over all the earth.
  • [7:13-14] One like the son of man comes on the clouds and God gives him ruling authority over the eternal kingdom and over all nations.
  • [7:18] The holy ones posses the eternal kingdom.
  • [7:22] God’s judgement on the small horn ushers in the eternal kingdom.
  • [7:27] God establishes for his people an eternal kingdom that rules over all other kingdoms.
  • [12:12] Blessed is the one who waits and attains to the 1335 days (after the halting of sacrifices and the abomination that causes desolation).
Once the wicked kingdom has been done away with, God establishes an eternal kingdom for his people, the Jews. The 1335 days in 12:12 are most likely referring to the commencement of that kingdom. Counting forward from Dec 3, 167 the 1335 days would place this around Sept 30, 163. The closest analog to this comes in acknowledging that Israel was more or less an independent state for about 100 years, until Rome asserted its power around 63 BC. It goes without saying that 100 years is not the same as eternal.

What is the Christian interpretation?

The Christian view assumes that the prophecies were composed during the Babylonian exile and that the correspondence with historical events (specifically chapter 11) is evidence of the divine nature of the prophecies. With respect to the eternal kingdom arising at the end of the prophecies, this is generally explained in one of two ways:

  1. The preterist view states that the eternal kingdom prophesied in Daniel was in fact realized through Jesus and the establishment of the church.
  2. All other views state that the eternal kingdom prophesied in Daniel is a still future event and the events leading up to it may or may not correspond to events that have already happened.

The preterist view most closely aligns with the presentation given above. This view agrees with many of the assignments I have given except that it combines Media and Persia in chapters 2 and 7 so that Greece slides up in the sequence and Rome moves into the spot of the fourth kingdom. In chapter 11 this view interprets a transition from Greece to Rome in verse 36. With these shifts in place, the events that immediately precede the eternal kingdom (such as the stopping of sacrifices and the abomination of desolation) are pushed out to the first century AD and are fulfilled by Jesus and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

From what I can tell, the preterist view is not a mainstream view in Christianity. The “partial preterist” view, which places the eternal kingdom as a future event while maintaining the historicity of the prior events, seems to be more common but this is still not as widely held as the futurist (dispensationalist) and historicist views. I won’t go into much detail explaining all these different views. You can visit the links for a decent summary. What it comes down to is that all these views have at least two elements in common which makes them distinct from the view presented above:

  1. The kingdom prophecies in Daniel are prophetic and were written to describe events that had not yet occurred.
  2. The abomination of desolation and establishment of the eternal kingdom was to occur after Jesus’ time.

These two tenets are grounded in that one critical data point that I introduced in the beginning – the fact that Jesus is said to have viewed Daniel as a prophet and that he considered the abomination of desolation to be a future event.

What is the naturalistic interpretation?

As stated at the beginning, the data I presented in the table above is representative of the naturalist view. The table shows that the prophecies present the course of events leading up to and including the actions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes with remarkable accuracy. However, the prediction of the fall of Antiochus IV and the subsequent rise of God’s kingdom did not play out as described and this then becomes the primary reason for the assignment of the critical date of authorship around 165 to 164 BC (though the companion post provides additional reasons for the later date). antiochus-epiphanes_desecration_of_templeIf Daniel was written after Antiochus’ “abomination of desolation” then one can clearly see how the prophecies might simply be a recounting of the events which led to the current state of affairs coupled to a hopeful declaration of how the situation will be made right. With this understanding the prophecies are only accurate because they’re retrospective. A date later than 164 BC is generally not given because no historical analog is found for the description of Antiochus’ conquest in 11:40-45 and the lack of the eternal kingdom that concludes all the prophecies about 3 1/2 years after the halting of sacrifices. That said, it would not be entirely unreasonable to assign a slightly later date based on the relative accuracy of the dates for the restoration of the temple and the death of Antiochus IV. In that case, a date somewhere in 163 might reflect the hope seen in the rise of Judas Maccabeus toward liberating the Jews, such that the author perhaps saw this as the start of the eternal kingdom.

The naturalist view, aside from being able to show clear historical associations, is also supported by several parallelisms in the prophecies, which serve to demonstrate the validity of a single congruent timeline for all the prophecies:

  1. The kingdom that breaks apart: This is present in chapters 2, 7, 8 and 11. In chapter 8 the kingdom is explicitly identified to be Greece.
  2. The small horn, a king who is deceitful and arrogant: This figure is singled out in chapters 7, 8 and 11. The sequence of events leading up to this person in chapter 11 make it clear that this is Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This assignment is further supported by the subsequent actions attributed to this figure.
  3. The war with the holy ones: The deceitful king \ small horn is said to wage war against the Jews (people of the holy ones, heaven’s army) in chapters 7, 8, 9 and 11.
  4. The stopping of sacrifices: The deceitful king \ small horn is the one who stops sacrifices in chapters 7, 8, 9 and 11.
  5. The eternal kingdom: Chapters 2, 7 and 11 identify the rise of God’s eternal kingdom. What is most significant to the naturalist view, however, is that these all specify that the eternal kingdom arises in the aftermath of the supernatural defeat of the deceitful king \ small horn. The eternal kingdom is clearly an immediate outcome from that event. Chapter 8 also states that the small horn is defeated not by human hands.

Lastly, the implied continuity in the prophecies is well regarded under the naturalist view. For example, from chapter 8 we see that Greece defeats the Persians and then we see that Greece breaks into four pieces and the small horn arises from this, such that the small horn has a Greek heritage. The small horn is then responsible for the stopping of sacrifices(7:25, 8:11, 11:31). The figure responsible for stopping the sacrifices is then identified as the one who is defeated by God to usher in the eternal kingdom (7:22, 12:1).

Which interpretation seems more probable?

There was a point during my research for this post at which I developed an antagonistic attitude toward the Christian scholarship on Daniel. I felt like I could see that Christian scholars were blatantly propagated views that disregarded the most lucid explanation for a text. While I still believe that this is in some sense true, I am now not antagonistic toward those who have done the propagating. When I took the time to consider how such a view relates to Jesus it became apparent why the traditional Christian interpretations of Daniel were necessary. Any view which asserts that Daniel’s prophecies do not project to events after the time of Jesus is essentially saying that Jesus was wrong when he spoke of Daniel and the forthcoming abomination of desolation. To the Christian, there is little, perhaps nothing, that can be more authoritative than the words of Jesus. From that perspective, the view presented by the Christian scholar is not disingenuous but rather an honest attempt to incorporate what is to them the greatest source of truth. For them, Jesus’ words rings so true that there is no option but to try and understand Daniel in light of Jesus’ understanding that the final events had not yet occurred.

That said, it is still clear to me that the naturalistic view of Daniel’s prophecies provides the best explanation of the text. The alternative views proposed by Christian scholars unnecessarily disrupt the alignment between prophecies and introduce yet unfulfilled futurist expectations. These views struggle against the implicit parallelism, continuity and immediacy of the prophecies in Daniel. The contortions required to affirm Jesus’ view of Daniel are not insignificant. It’s no wonder that these texts have given birth to so much controversy and conjecture over the years.

In the end, an honest assessment of truth must be willing to put aside personal convictions and follow the evidence where it leads. When I do my best to follow the evidence regarding the prophecies of Daniel, I come to see that the naturalistic view offers the most coherent explanation. This leads me to assign the probabilities as follows:


Jesus’ Birth: The Nazarene prophecy

This post is part of a larger series on Jesus’ birth. This particular post evaluates the relationship between the birth story of Jesus and the prophecy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.

What do we know?nativity

The prophecy fulfillment is claimed in Matthew 2:23

2:19 After Herod had died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 2:20 saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 2:21 So he got up and took the child and his mother and returned to the land of Israel. 2:22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. After being warned in a dream, he went to the regions of Galilee. 2:23 He came to a town called Nazareth (Ναζαρέτ) and lived there. Then what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene (Ναζωραῖος).

First, note that the NET’s use of “Jesus” instead of “He” at the end of verse 23 is the result of the translator’s decision to clarify the subject – the original text does not imply that Jesus was named in the prophecies.

The source of this prophecy is unknown. There are no linguistic parallels in the Old Testament. The primary candidate is Isaiah 11:1, where the Hebrew word “netser” is used for “bud” or “branch” in claiming that the Messiah will come from the line of David:

” 11:1 A shoot will grow out of Jesse’s root stock, a bud will sprout from his roots. 11:2 The Lord’s spirit will rest on him – a spirit that gives extraordinary wisdom, a spirit that provides the ability to execute plans, a spirit that produces absolute loyalty to the Lord. 11:3 He will take delight in obeying the Lord. He will not judge by mere appearances, or make decisions on the basis of hearsay. 11:4 He will treat the poor fairly, and make right decisions for the downtrodden of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and order the wicked to be executed. 11:5 Justice will be like a belt around his waist, integrity will be like a belt around his hips.”

Note that the Septuagint translated the Hebrew netser into the Greek rhabdos, so this only works if the author is referring to the Hebrew text. The word used in Matthew is Nazoraios (Strong’s 3480).

Another candidate is Judges 13:5, where Samson is identified as being set apart (Hebrew word nazir, often translated as “Nazirite”):

” 13:2 There was a man named Manoah from Zorah, from the Danite tribe. His wife was infertile and childless. 13:3 The Lord’s angelic messenger appeared to the woman and said to her, “You are infertile and childless, but you will conceive and have a son. 13:4 Now be careful! Do not drink wine or beer, and do not eat any food that will make you ritually unclean. 13:5 Look, you will conceive and have a son. You must never cut his hair, for the child will be dedicated [nazir] to God from birth. He will begin to deliver Israel from the power of the Philistines.””

Another key point is to note that the passage refers to “prophets” (plural), potentially indicating that this is a reference to either multiple prophecies, or more likely to a prophetic theme or idea. Lastly, note that this claim to fulfillment comes at the end of a series of claimed fulfillments in the first two chapters wherein all of the other claims refer to specific known passages in the Tanakh. The distinction again, however, is that those prior claims all refer to a single prophet rather than multiple prophets.

There are two primary difficulties with the passage in Matthew:

  1. The most obvious issue is that there aren’t any clear prophecies in the Old Testament to which the statement in Matthew can be tied.
  2. The accounts in Matthew and Luke that place Jesus in Nazareth are very different – the former placing him there only the result of an evasive maneuver, the latter placing his parents there prior to his birth and then returning thereafter. This was largely already addressed in the Bethlehem post, so I won’t rehash that here.

What is the Christian interpretation of the data?

From what I can tell there is little consensus as to how Christians feel that this should be interpreted. Most accounts suggest that the Judges passage is the least likely and the passage in Isaiah is often given as the most likely. A variation on the theory that this is derived from the Judges passage simply recalls the root word nazir () and the concept of being set apart. This then draws upon messianic prophecies which identify the messiah as a uniquely holy, or set apart, figure.

There is also another option that I have encountered which I personally think is the most viable of the Christian views. This essentially works from the idea that “Nazarene” is known to be derogatory term at the time of the writing and then keys on the plural use of “prophets” to recall multiple passages in the Old Testament which identify the messiah as rejected and despised. You can read the full explanation here.

What is the naturalistic interpretation of the data?

For the naturalist view I would like to build upon the commentary in the out of Egypt post. In that post, I suggested that a naturalist might view the fulfillment claim as being due to Nazarene authorship (or more likely, redaction), where the author is arguing for his view over the view of traditional Jews and other Jewish-Christian sects (e.g., the Ebionites). In the case of the Nazarene prophecy, one can’t help but suspect the same thing. One possibility here is that the author, considering himself to be a member of the Nazarene sect, is simply boldly proclaiming that Jesus was also a member of his group and that this was somehow backed by prophecy. It seems possible, if not likely, that some precursor of the Nazarene sect was present before Jesus’ ministry (perhaps including a group Jews who established Nazareth in pursuit of purity). If that were true then the naturalist would hold that the best explanation for this text is that the author is referring to prophets or traditions from within the sect which claim that the messiah would hail from their sect. Another option is that the author wanted so badly to associate Jesus with the Nazarenes, instead of other early Christian sects, that he decided to make the claim of prophetic fulfillment despite having no clear scriptural references to use. Under a naturalist view, such human behavior is not at all unexpected.

Which interpretation seems more probable?

To be perfectly honest, none of the explanations are very compelling. One of the interesting aspects of this passage in Matthew is the fact that the fulfillment of the alleged prophecies is accomplished simply by acquiring a title from having grown up in Nazareth. There’s no implied symbolism – it seems to suggest that Nazarene simply means “one from Nazareth”. We also have no other biblical references to any form of prophecy regarding Nazareth. One might suppose that the author assumed his readers would be familiar with the prophecies he referenced but, if there were well known prophecies linking the messiah to Nazareth, and everybody knew that Jesus was from Nazareth, why didn’t anybody else mention this? The proposals from the Christian perspective seem to rely on obscure inferences and the naturalist view is sensible, though still speculative. As such, I am assigning the probabilities as follows:


If you want to pursue this further then I recommend the following resources, which present good data without making any clear conclusions: