New Page: 355 Prophecies

With this post I am introducing a new page on the site – 355 Prophecies (Fulfilled in Jesus Christ?). This is a project that I started a long time ago and have now decided to make public despite the fact that it is largely incomplete. I’ve come to terms with the fact that it will probably take years to “finish”, so I might as well open it up now to the process of peer review and get started making corrections and improvements.

My intent is to continue to slowly work my way through the list and occasionally publish posts that summarize the updates. As of this writing the list is roughly one third complete, though I fully intend that the entries will be continually revised in response to feedback and/or new discoveries; so it will never really be complete. All critiques and comments are welcome.


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.


There’s something about Daniel

A visitor to Nate’s blog caught my attention a couple months ago when he started defending the ‘traditional’ view of Daniel’s authorship and prophetic legitimacy. I couldn’t resist participating in the discussion, given the time I spent studying Daniel, as documented in my posts on the prophecies of the kingdoms, Daniel’s authorship, and whether Jesus fulfilled the 70 weeks. This is an interesting topic due to the potential it holds as perhaps the best candidate evidence for a divine fingerprint on the text of the Bible.

Before going any further, let me start by saying that this visitor, Tom, has compiled the most thorough and reasonable defense of the traditional view of Daniel that I have ever encountered. I commend him for the time and effort that he put into it, even if I disagree with the conclusion. Regardless, in this post I want to review some of the new data I encountered (or more seriously revisited) during that discussion and offer some insight into why I find these ‘new’ arguments for an early authorship unconvincing.

Ezekiel’s reference to Daniel

It is generally agreed that Ezekiel was initially composed within the period of the Babylonian exile, and more importantly, well before the 165 BCE date attributed to Daniel under the Maccabean thesis. This means that a reference to the person of Daniel in Ezekiel 14 would seem to confirm the existence of the person described by the book of Daniel, which is more consistent with the view that it is an early composition. I didn’t give this a lot of attention in my prior study because it wasn’t obvious, for several reasons, that this was a reference to the Daniel of interest (note that it is spelled slightly differently – דנאל in Ezekiel, versus דניאל in Daniel, with an extra yud – so sometimes people give the Ezekiel name as Dan’el) but it also didn’t seem that this was very important given that I agree with the scholars who see that some of the narratives in Daniel probably have their roots in traditional stories that pre-date the Maccabean composition. Regardless, Tom presented this as a key evidence for the early authorship of Daniel and much discussion ensued.

The main thrust of the argument centered around the coupling of Daniel in Ezekiel 14:12-23 with Noah and Job as an exemplar of righteousness, and as exceedingly wise in Ezekiel 28:3. The primary alternate candidate for Ezekiel’s reference is to a Dan’el character known from Ugaritic sources and Tom argued that he is a poor fit due to his non-Yahwist allegiances. Eventually, Nate pointed out that Ezekiel refers to the “sons and daughters” of Noah, Daniel and Job, which is inconsistent with the life of Daniel from the book of that name. This piqued my interest and so I went back and re-read the passages from Ezekiel, at which point I was struck by a new insight.

Ezekiel 14:12-23 presents itself as a message from Yahweh to Ezekiel, offering insight into the nature of his relationship with Israel in light of the Babylonian conquest and exile. Here’s my summary of the message:

If I [Yahweh] pour out just one type of wrath (famine, animals, sword or plague) on a nation, the righteousness of people like Noah, Daniel and Job will only save themselves and no descendants will be spared. However, if I pour out all four forms of wrath on Jerusalem, you will see a remnant survive and their unrighteousness will show you why I brought punishment.

So it seems like there’s two points being made: (1) the calamity which has befallen Jerusalem was not undeserved, and (2) the Jewish nation is special in that God will show them mercy and not wipe them out entirely. Now, if this is a proper understanding of the passage – and I think it is – then it makes absolutely no sense that Daniel, a member of the Jewish remnant, would be named as a member of the nations that would be devastated by the wrath of Yahweh in contrast to the Jewish nation (though Job and Noah, as pre-Abrahamic characters, do fit). For the first time, it became clear to me that Ezekiel was not referring to a contemporary young Jew named Daniel, regardless of whether he was referring to the Ugaritic Dan’el or not.

The Letter to Aristeas

At one point, Tom suggested that my post on the authorship of Daniel had incorrectly identified the commissioning of the Septuagint in the 3rd century BCE as only including the Torah – he believed that the Letter of Aristeas shows that all the books now included in the Tanakh were part of that effort. If this were true, and Daniel was included in that translation, then this would be a defeater for the Maccabean thesis. So I went back and reviewed the Letter of Aristeas again.

First, a little background. The Letter of Aristeas is generally believed to be a later forgery that draws upon a series of possibly historical events which resulted in the commissioning of the official Greek translation of the Jewish law, known to us as the Septuagint. It claims that this was instigated by a suggestion posed to Demetrius of Phalerum, who was in charge of Ptolemy’s effort to collect “all the books of the world” for the famous Library of Alexandria. The majority of the letter references the “law of the Jews”, but in one spot – a purported memo from Demetrius to Ptolemy – it suggests adding translations of “The books of the law of the Jews (with some few others)”. This is the closest thing we get to a statement that the translation included more than the Torah. However, the purported letter from Ptolemy to the Jewish High Priest Eleazer only requests the law and the subsequent response from Eleazer to Ptolemy says that “I selected six elders from each tribe, good men and true, and I have sent them to you with a copy of our law. At the very best, the initial memo which proposed “some few others” correctly represents the actual effort and those few extra books just weren’t mentioned in the later correspondence. In that case, there may be a slim chance that Daniel would have been included. It seems much more likely, however, that the earliest translation effort only covered the Torah.

References to Daniel in …?

One of the other key arguments raised by Tom was that Daniel had been referenced by several different pre-Maccabean texts. I had not previously encountered this claim for some of the alleged references, so I decided to dig in and take a look. As before, this would be devastating blow to the Maccabean thesis if true.

  1. Tom proposed that “Tobit contains clear verbal allusions to Daniel.” Here he cites a paper by Roger Beckwith that argues for several different links to Daniel from pre-Maccabean sources. In that paper Beckwith states that:

    [Tobit] envisages a second more general return from exile … as the prophets of Israel spoke concerning them, which is to take place at ‘the time when the time of the seasons is fulfilled’. This glorious future rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple is probably seen by the author as foretold by Isaiah and Ezekiel respectively. But who fixed ‘the time when the time of the seasons would be fulfilled’ for this to happen? Could it be anyone but Daniel?

    I was interested to discover that the times and seasons language of Daniel was in fact present in Tobit. However, contra Beckwith, it does not put these words in the mouths of the prophets – rather, this is the language used by Tobit himself in his prophecy. So the direction of borrowing is not established, or even inferred, and it seems equally likely that the author of Daniel picked up this language from Tobit (or from the apocalyptic communities influenced by Tobit).

    It’s also interesting to note that Tobit claims to take place after the Assyrian captivity, which would predate Daniel. This means that if one is to argue for the early authorship of Daniel by suggesting that Tobit borrowed from Daniel, then it logically follows that the arguer accepts that there is precedent for Jews producing pseudoepigraphical works that were written after the fact to appear as if a known event had been prophesied. Sound familiar?

  2. Tom also claimed that “the Hellenistic Jewish historian Demetrius . . . had already . . . drawn up . . . [a] chronology of the seventy-weeks prophecy in Daniel 9 in the late third century B. C.” The footnote pointed us to another publication by Roger Beckwith, but one which is not readily available. Regardless, it didn’t take long to figure out that the original source is Clement’s Stromata Book 1, where it says:

    Demetrius, in his book, On the Kings in Judaea, says that the tribes of Juda, Benjamin, and Levi were not taken captive by Sennacherim; but that there were from this captivity to the last, which Nabuchodonosor made out of Jerusalem, a hundred and twenty-eight years and six months; and from the time that the ten tribes were carried captive from Samaria till Ptolemy the Fourth, were five hundred and seventy-three years, nine months; and from the time that the captivity from Jerusalem took place, three hundred and thirty-eight years and three months.

    I could not extract any allusion to the 70 weeks of Daniel 9 (which proposes 490 years from the Babylonian exile to the final judgment) and Tom never responded with an explanation.

  3. Another claim was that “Ecclesiasticus [Sirach] clearly refers to Daniel and contains a prayer that the prophecies of Daniel would be fulfilled soon“. This points us to Sirach 36:6-7 and 14-15, which says:

    [6] Rouse thy anger and pour out thy wrath; destroy the adversary and wipe out the enemy. [7] Hasten the day, and remember the appointed time, and let people recount thy mighty deeds. … [14] Bear witness to those whom thou didst create in the beginning, and fulfill the prophecies spoken in thy name. [15] Reward those who wait for thee, and let thy prophets be found trustworthy.

    This whole case rests on the prospect that the phrase “the appointed time” is being borrowed from Daniel and that the ‘prophecies’ are referring to Daniel and not any of the other eschatological prophecies in existence at the time. However, there’s no clear reliance on Daniel and the phrasing of an “appointed time” is also present in other eschatological contexts (Psalm 75:2 & 102:13, Habakkuk 2:3).

  4. Lastly, Tom proposed that the visions of Zechariah only makes sense if Daniel was already known. I never really understood this argument and explanations were lacking, but I did discover something new in the process of trying to understand it: many scholars suspect that Zechariah and Haggai were once part of a single text. When taken as a whole, it appears very likely that the prophecies and visions therein point toward an expectation that Yahweh’s eternal kingdom would arise through the reign of Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua (see Haggai 2:6-9 and 21-23, Zechariah 3:8, 4:9 and 6:11-13). This timeline is clearly different than one would expect if Daniel had been in view.

That’s It

There’s a lot more that was covered throughout the discussion and a ton of material in the document Tom put together but at this point I don’t feel the need to systematically dissect every single argument. The time spent researching these additional claims substantiated my suspicions that the ‘clear’, ‘obvious’ and ‘conclusive’ evidence for an early authorship is just as suspect as the data I had already reviewed. In the end, I feel pretty comfortable with the conclusions I’ve reached thus far – namely, that the book of Daniel, as we know it, was largely constructed in the midst of the Maccabean revolt by building upon a pre-Maccabean tradition to introduce prophecies that appear to predict events contemporary with the author. More specifically, my guess is that chapters 3 – 6 form the core of the pre-Maccabean tradition (though probably not as a unified text, and perhaps only as oral traditions). The dream and interpretation in chapter 4 and the hand-writing interpretation of chapter 5 then served as the inspiration for a Maccabean redaction to create the chiastic text of chapters 2 – 7, adding the chapter 2 and 7 prophecies, all in Aramaic. A second contemporary redactor then built upon this to add the introduction in chapter 1 and chapters 8 – 12 in Hebrew. As a young and volatile text, different versions, additions and arrangements of these redactions were available and are reflected in the Greek translations (LXX and Theodotion). This is my best shot at accounting for all the data.

Yeah, I missed April. Hopefully I’ll make it up with an extra post in the near future.


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.


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:


Jesus’ Birth: The infanticide prophecy

This post is part of a larger series on Jesus’ birth. This particular post evaluates the relationship between the birth of Jesus and the prophecy of Herod’s infanticide.

What do we know?Massacre of the innocents

The fulfillment of prophecy is claimed in Matthew 2:16-18

 2:16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he became enraged. He sent men to kill all the children in Bethlehem and throughout the surrounding region from the age of two and under, according to the time he had learned from the wise men. 2:17 Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 2:18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud wailing, Rachel weeping for her children, and she did not want to be comforted, because they were gone.”

The referenced passage is found in Jeremiah 31:15

” 31:10 Hear what the Lord has to say, O nations. Proclaim it in the faraway lands along the sea. Say, “The one who scattered Israel will regather them. He will watch over his people like a shepherd watches over his flock.” …  31:14 I will provide the priests with abundant provisions. My people will be filled to the full with the good things I provide.” 31:15 The Lord says, “A sound is heard in Ramah, a sound of crying in bitter grief. It is the sound of Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are gone.” 31:16 The Lord says to her, “Stop crying! Do not shed any more tears! For your heartfelt repentance will be rewarded. Your children will return from the land of the enemy. I, the Lord, affirm it! 31:17 Indeed, there is hope for your posterity. Your children will return to their own territory. I, the Lord, affirm it!”

The infanticide is not referenced anywhere else in the New Testament and there is no other record of the event. As before, the difficulty here is that the passage in Jeremiah is claimed to be a prophecy of the infanticide when a plain reading of the text sees the pronouncement as an allusion to the Babylonian exile of the Jews.

There is also a bit more information that might help us interpret the prophecy:

  1. Ramah was located about 5 miles north of Jerusalem, near Gibeah. Bethlehem is about 5 miles south of Jerusalem.
  2. Ramah is located in the territory allotted to the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin was the youngest of the 12 tribes of Israel and one of two sons born to Rachel (the other being Joseph).
  3. Rachel was buried somewhere near Bethlehem. (Genesis 35:19)
  4. Ramah was a staging area for the Jews that were being exiled to Babylon after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. (Jeremiah 40:1)
  5. The context of the passage in Jeremiah is a larger prophecy of Israel’s restoration.
  6. A similar event is recorded Exodus 1:15-22, when Pharaoh commands that all newborn boys be killed.

What is the Christian interpretation of the data?

The Christian view here is very similar to the view given for the out of Egypt prophecy, which is to see the passage in Jeremiah as a foreshadowing of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. Support for this view comes from a few possible connections:

  1. In Matthew, Rachel could be seen to be symbolic of the mothers in Bethlehem. Rachel birthed Benjamin at a location near Bethlehem and was then buried there after dying in childbirth, thus establishing a connection with the mothers of Bethlehem.
  2. In Jeremiah, it’s not exceptional that Rachel is identified as the matriarch crying in Ramah since she is the mother of Benjamin and Ramah lies within Benjamin’s territory.
  3. Some commentators have suggested that since Ramah was a staging area before deportation to Babylon, it may have also been the site of mass executions of Jews. This would be a parallel to Herod’s infanticide.
  4. The context of the passage in Jeremiah is a prophecy of a future restoration of Israel and the joy that will be found despite the tragedy over which Rachel was weeping. This again would be a parallel to the salvation brought through Jesus in the period after Herod’s horrible massacre.

I should also point out that a common objection to the claim in Matthew is that there isn’t any historical corroboration of the slaughter of innocents. The Christian apologist’s response is that the population of the area affected by the decree would not have been very large, so the number of infants put to death might actually have been relatively small and, as such, would not rise to the level of meriting mention by the likes of Josephus.

What is the naturalistic interpretation of the data?

A naturalist view asserts that this is just another example of a larger theme in Matthew wherein the author is injecting meaning in order to establish a link between Jesus and the Old Testament. In this case, the most likely candidate is that the author is trying to reinforce Jesus as the messiah in two ways.

First, one must recognize that Moses was regarded as a prototype of the coming messiah. He was the first deliverer, prophet and ruler for the Jews. By reflecting on the events surrounding Moses’ birth it is not difficult to see how the infanticide event may have been introduced in order to present a parallel between Jesus and Moses, wherein both are spared from an infanticide and then grow to become the savior of Israel. The result is to reinforce Jesus as the messiah.

Second, the context of the passage in Jeremiah is clearly prophesying the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian exile. The restoration is intimately connected to prophecies of Israel’s rise to dominance and prophesies of the restoration and the rise of Israel are also often associated with the arrival of the messiah. By suggesting that Jesus’ birth parallels the passage in Jeremiah, the author may be suggesting that the messianic kingdom is imminent and, by association, that Jesus is the messiah. This argument would be directed toward the Jews of the day who did not accept Jesus as the messiah.

Regarding the lack of external corroboration of the slaughter, in this case the naturalist sticks to the idea that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” and so does not affirm that the event never occurred. Even so, the parallel to Moses provides clear motive for fabricating such an event and if the event was so insignificant that it was not well known then it seems an odd choice for divine foreshadowing.

Which interpretation seems more probable?

As with the out of Egypt prophecy, the passage quoted in Matthew is clearly taken out of context in the sense that the text in Jeremiah is mostly plainly read as a reference to the conditions during the Babylonian exile. However, unlike the Egypt prophecy, there are some additional parallels that can be used to argue for a connection between the text and Jesus’ birth. Ultimately, I find the notion of divine foreshadowing to be an unsatisfactory explanation and it is not difficult to see the author’s motivation for introducing the story as a parallel to Moses and then supporting it by claiming it as fulfillment of prophecy. When the text in Jeremiah is viewed on its own, irrespective of the claims in Matthew, it in no way implies the type of fulfillment that is claimed in Matthew. The connection feels forced and to accept it requires one to ignore the obvious discrepancies. In this case, I am assigning the probabilities as follows:


Jesus’ Birth: The out of Egypt prophecy

This post is the third in a series on Jesus’ birth. This particular post evaluates the relationship between the birth of Jesus and the prophecy of the escape to Egypt.

What do we know?Jesus in Egypt

The fulfillment of prophecy is claimed in Matthew 2:15

“2:13 After they had gone [the Magi], an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to kill him.” 2:14 Then he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and went to Egypt. 2:15 He stayed there until Herod died. In this way what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

The referenced passage is found in Hosea 11:1

” 11:1 When Israel was a young man, I loved him like a son, and I summoned my son out of Egypt. 11:2 But the more I summoned them, the farther they departed from me. They sacrificed to the Baal idols and burned incense to images. 11:3 Yet it was I who led Ephraim, I took them by the arm; but they did not acknowledge that I had healed them. 11:4 I led them with leather cords, with leather ropes; I lifted the yoke from their neck, and gently fed them. 11:5 They will return to Egypt! Assyria will rule over them because they refuse to repent!”

The escape to Egypt is not claimed anywhere else in the New Testament, nor is Jesus linked to the passage in Hosea. The obvious difficulty here is that the author of Matthew appears to have taken something completely out of context and linked it to Jesus. The passage in Hosea is most clearly read as a historical reference to the return of the Hebrew nation to the land of Israel after their enslavement in Egypt. The text also appears to have no prophetic content until 11:5, which suggests that Israel will be ruled by Assyria.

What is the Christian interpretation of the data?

The Christian view here is very simple: the passage is Hosea was in fact a foreshadowing of Jesus and this is revealed to us through the gospel of Matthew. This view fits within the larger idea that Jesus’ work on the cross is the culmination of everything we see in the Old Testament and, as such, we should not be surprised to find allusions to Jesus throughout the text. In this case, the allusion is to Jesus as the son of God and when Hosea says that God “summoned my son out of Egypt”, the author of Matthew is showing us that the exodus from Egypt was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ escape to, and return from, Egypt. Or, put another way, the major events in the history of Israel can be viewed as a symbolic parallel that holds a clue to recognizing the messiah.

In anticipation of the assertion that the story was invented to support the prophecy, the Christian points out that the difficulty with fitting this passage as a messianic prophecy makes it an unlikely choice for such behavior. This, in turn, makes it more likely that the story in Matthew is based on real events and that the link to Hosea was inspired by those events.

What is the naturalistic interpretation of the data?

From a naturalist perspective, this issue can be attributed to the personal motives of the author of Matthew and his desire to assert two ideas: that Jesus is the messiah and that Jesus is the son of God, and that these claims are supported by his fulfillment of the passage in Hosea. This is actually similar to the Christian view given above except that the naturalist claim is that the author is injecting fulfillment where there actually is none and that this is only done to support the author’s claims. Given the conflict with the birth account in Luke (see the Bethlehem post), it’s reasonable to believe that the “escape to Egypt” event may have been constructed solely for this purpose (and maybe to also help explain how Jesus ended up in Nazareth).

The historical events referenced by the passage in Hosea are important for understanding the author’s motives for introducing this event into Jesus’ birth story. Moses was considered a prototype of the messiah, an idea allegedly introduced by Moses himself in Deuteronomy 18:15. By placing Jesus in Egypt after escaping an infanticide and then leaving Egypt to come to Israel the author has drawn a parallel between Moses and Jesus, which serves to reinforce the idea that Jesus is the messiah.

Regarding the claim of Jesus as God’s son, it is necessary to consider the fact that the text of Matthew is clearly directed to Jews and that there is good reason to believe that Matthew originated with Jewish Christians that still observed Jewish law (called Nazarenes in Acts and several early church sources). In addition to believing Jesus to be the messiah, the Nazarenes differed from traditional Jewish beliefs in several ways, one of which was a belief that the messiah was divine – the son of God. This is in contrast to another Jewish group which held that Jesus was the messiah but denied several central tenets that were common between Nazarenes and those that would eventually be known as Christians. In particular, the Ebionites generally rejected the divinity of Jesus and viewed the title “son of God” under an adoptionist view, which was to have occurred at Jesus’ baptism. The text in Matthew, however, supports the idea that Jesus was the son of God prior to his baptism.

In light of all of this, if this portion of Matthew has origins in some form of Nazarene tradition then it makes sense that the author would be compelled to find ways to argue for his messiahship and divinity by way of reference to the Tanakh text, upon which the Nazarenes, Ebionites and Jews agree. This is certainly motivation enough to cause one to inject meaning where there is none.

Which interpretation seems more probable?

There’s no denying that the passage in Hosea is speaking of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. It is difficult, however, to further contend that it can also be considered a prophecy of an event in Jesus’ infancy that has no record anywhere else. Even so, I agree with the assertion that this text would have been a poor choice to use as the basis for inventing the trip to Egypt. This makes it unlikely that the Hosea passage is the sole motivation behind the record and requires additional explanation if we are to believe that it was an invention. However, the cultural context of Matthew’s authorship provides a reasonable backdrop for understanding the additional motivations which explain why the story and claim of fulfilled prophecy would have been introduced. Ultimately, when all is considered, I find it difficult to see this as a legitimate prophecy. This leads me to assign the following probabilities:


It’s worth noting that the Christian view has no problem with Matthew being written by a Nazarene source who was strongly arguing for Jesus as the messiah. The Christian simply agrees with the Nazarene interpretation of the Old Testament references in Matthew and doesn’t see this as something that was injected by the author.

Lastly, given that I made several references to Nazarenes and Ebionites and the origins of Matthew in this post, I need to point out that I will be discussing those topics in greater detail at some point in the future. The ideas raised here are based on much more information than was presented. I will try to cross-link and update when that time comes.

Updated Jan 8, 2014: In light of a post by Tim McGrew, I have incorporated the argument that the text in Hosea is a poor choice for the author to have used as the basis for constructing the events in Matthew. I did not adequately incorporate this into my original post. Though it is valid objection, I have offered other motivations and it does nothing to support the claim that the relevant text in Hosea is a prophecy in the first place. Even so, this addition shifted my assigned probabilities from 10 / 90 to 20 / 80.

Jesus’ Birth: The Bethlehem prophecy

This post is the second in a series on Jesus’ birth. This particular post evaluates the relationship between the birth of Jesus and the prophecy of the messiah coming from Bethlehem.

What do we know?Bethlehem

The fulfillment of prophecy is claimed in Matthew 2:5-6

 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem 2:2 saying, “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 2:3 When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him. 2:4 After assembling all the chief priests and experts in the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 2:5 “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they said, “for it is written this way by the prophet: 2:6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are in no way least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

The referenced prophecy is found in Micah 5:2

” 5:1 But now slash yourself, daughter surrounded by soldiers! We are besieged! With a scepter they strike Israel’s ruler on the side of his face. 5:2 As for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, seemingly insignificant among the clans of Judah – from you a king will emerge who will rule over Israel on my behalf, one whose origins are in the distant past. 5:3 So the Lord will hand the people of Israel over to their enemies until the time when the woman in labor gives birth. Then the rest of the king’s countrymen will return to be reunited with the people of Israel. 5:4 He will assume his post and shepherd the people by the Lord’s strength, by the sovereign authority of the Lord his God. They will live securely, for at that time he will be honored even in the distant regions of the earth. 5:5 He will give us peace. Should the Assyrians try to invade our land and attempt to set foot in our fortresses, we will send against them seven shepherd-rulers, make that eight commanders. 5:6 They will rule the land of Assyria with the sword, the land of Nimrod with a drawn sword. Our king will rescue us from the Assyrians should they attempt to invade our land and try to set foot in our territory.”

The birth in Bethlehem is also presented in Luke 2:4-7

“2:1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the empire for taxes. 2:2 This was the first registration, taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 2:3 Everyone went to his own town to be registered. 2:4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David. 2:5 He went to be registered with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him, and who was expecting a child. 2:6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 2:7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

There are two primary difficulties with the fulfillment of this prophecy:

  1. Matthew and Luke seem to imply very different circumstances that place Jesus in Bethlehem. Matthew seems to assume that Mary and Joseph were already living there and remained there until the flight to Egypt, whereas Luke indicates that he was only born there during a brief visit between residing in Nazareth.
  2. The prophecy suggests that the Messiah would have a political and military presence that was never realized by Jesus.

It’s worth noting that John 7:41-43 also points out that the Jews of the day recognized a problem that Jesus was known to be from Nazareth but the prophecy was that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem.
“7:41 Others said, “This is the Christ!” But still others said, “No, for the Christ doesn’t come from Galilee, does he? 7:42 Don’t the scriptures say that the Christ is a descendant of David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” 7:43 So there was a division in the crowd because of Jesus.”

What is the Christian interpretation of the data?

In a Christian worldview the default position for every prophecy is to submit to the authority of scripture and contend that the prophecies are genuinely fulfilled in Jesus’ birth. The remaining discussion is then toward resolving the difficulties outlined above.

Mary and Joseph’s Residence

It’s not too difficult to mix the two accounts from Matthew and Luke to construct a cohesive timeline. It starts with Luke 2:1, where Mary and Joseph travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem in accordance with the census. Shortly after their arrival, Jesus is born in a temporary shelter. They make their stay semi-permanent and stay long enough for the presentation at the Temple in Jerusalem, which is not far from Bethlehem (Luke 2:22-23). The ceremony would have occurred when Jesus was 1 month old (per Numbers 18:15-16). Around that same time, while still in Bethlehem, the Magi arrive and Herod gets wind of the new king (Matthew 2:1-12). This takes the new family down to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-18) and eventually back to Nazareth after Herod’s death (Matthew 2:19-23). It might help to review a “road” map to understand the geographic relationship between Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Nazareth. The journey from Nazareth to the Jerusalem area is about 70 miles.

The attributes of the Messiah

I’ve included the surrounding context of Micah 5:2 so that we can see the entirety of the prophecy. The prophetic elements can be dissected as follows:

  1. He comes from Bethlehem (5:2)
  2. His origins are in the distant past (5:2)
  3. All remaining exiles will return to Israel (5:3)
  4. He will lead the people in peaceful times (5:4-5)
  5. He will protect against the Assyrians (5:5-6)

In applying this to Jesus, the birth stories in Matthew and Luke place him in Bethlehem to fulfill #1. Jesus’ divinity fulfills #2. There’s no way to say that the rest of the Israelites ever returned from Babylon to Israel because so many willfully remained in Babylon after it’s fall, so #3 has no clear fulfillment unless it is viewed as a future event. Elements #4 and #5 are not always attributed to Jesus. There are, however, two primary ways that these verses are applied in some circles. Some see this simply as an allusion to the peaceful leadership of Jesus. Others push the fulfillment to the second coming and associate Assyria with some modern day region or as a non-specific reference to any outside presence that wars against Israel. It appears that the most common interpretation is to split this into two fulfillments, one at Jesus’ birth and the rest at his second coming.

What is the naturalistic interpretation of the data?

From a naturalist perspective, the difficulties outlined above are the natural byproduct of purely human authors recounting events from different sources. The remaining discussion from this perspective, then, is to show that these difficulties are not easily resolved and that this serves to reinforce the premise that the text is not divinely guided.

Mary and Joseph’s Residence

Despite the harmonization given in the Christian interpretation, the naturalist argues that a plain reading of the text gives rise to significant conflicts regarding the family’s time in Bethlehem:

  1. In Matthew, the story does not say where Joseph and Mary are living but states that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Nowhere does it indicate any travel for the birth. The assumption is that they were already there. After escaping to Egypt, they plan to return to the land of Israel but didn’t go into Judea for fear of the ruler (Matthew 2:21-22). This indicates that they were planning to return to their original home in Bethlehem. However, in Luke, Mary and Joseph are explicitly said to be living in Nazareth and only travel to Bethlehem shortly before Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:4).
  2. In Luke, the family is said to return to Nazareth after they had “performed everything according to the law” (Luke 2:39). The redemption of the first born male was to occur at 1 month, so their return would have likely been between 1 to 2 months after Jesus’ birth. In Matthew, the family is in Bethlehem at least until the arrival of the Magi at a house (Matthew 2:9-12). Shortly after this the family flees Bethlehem for Egypt and stay there for some time until Herod’s death (Matthew 2:13-15). At this point, they travel back into Israel but end up in Galilee to avoid Herod’s son (Matthew 2:19-23). Presumably, the presentation at the temple would have also occurred within Matthew’s timeline. The additional collection of events in Matthew (Magi, escape to Egypt, Herod dies, return from Egypt) simply don’t match up with Luke’s account of returning home to Nazareth after performing their ceremonial duties.

The attributes of the Messiah

For this, we will build upon the 5 prophetic elements outlined in the Christian interpretation above.

  1. The ascent from Bethlehem can be applied to Jesus only if the Matthew and Luke accounts are correct, but the previous section shows how those conflict.
  2. The origins in the distant past is the author’s way of saying that this person is the long awaited messiah.
  3. The return to Israel cannot be applied to Jesus because a plain reading of the prophecy places this in concert with the arrival of the messiah, which did not happen. To the naturalist, the argument that this is a still future event is simply a convenient way to avoid the problem.
  4. The prophetic role of a ruler over the people was not fulfilled by Jesus because he never held any political leadership position. Regarding the possibility of future fulfillment, see #3.
  5. The prophetic protection against Assyria builds upon the fact that the Assyrian conquest ushered in the period of Israel’s constant dominion by outside empires that was still ongoing at the time of the writing. Clearly Jesus did not fulfill this role in any sense. Regarding the possibility of future fulfillment, see #3 again.

Ultimately, the entire prophecy disintegrates under the naturalist view because the Bethlehem birth story appears to have been injected into the gospels in order to support the prophecy and because the subsequent elements of the prophecy, which appear to be intended to be concurrent, simply don’t fit with the historical Jesus.

Which interpretation seems more probable?

There’s little contention that Micah 5:2 is anything but a messianic prophecy. This would explain why the authors of Matthew, Luke and John were compelled to address it (whereas only Matthew addresses other less obvious birth prophecies). Under the Christian interpretation, one is forced to provide work-arounds for the apparent conflicts and I find those work-arounds to be quite unsatisfactory. The harmonization of the birth accounts seems forced and there’s no justification for splitting the prophecy into a past and future fulfillment, especially when a plain reading of the text seems to imply that all the elements are concurrent. This leads me to assign the probabilities as follows:


Jesus’ Birth: The virgin birth prophecy

This post is the first in a series evaluating the birth story of Jesus and is specifically focused on the relationship between the birth of Jesus and the prophecy of a virgin birth. For the record, I started this before Christmas but obviously didn’t finish in time.

What do we know?mary_statue

The fulfillment of prophecy is claimed in Matthew 1:22-23 (all quotations use the NET translation)

“1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 1:19 Because Joseph, her husband to be, was a righteous man, and because he did not want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately. 1:20 When he had contemplated this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 1:21 She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 1:22 This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: 1:23 “Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.”

and the prophecy comes from Isaiah 7:14

7:13 So Isaiah replied, “Pay attention, family of David. Do you consider it too insignificant to try the patience of men? Is that why you are also trying the patience of my God? 7:14 For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel. 7:15 He will eat sour milk and honey, which will help him know how to reject evil and choose what is right. 7:16 Here is why this will be so: Before the child knows how to reject evil and choose what is right, the land whose two kings you fear will be desolate. 7:17 The Lord will bring on you, your people, and your father’s family a time unlike any since Ephraim departed from Judah – the king of Assyria!””

Mary’s virginity is also presented in Luke 1:26-35

“1:26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 1:27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, a descendant of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. 1:28 The angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you!” 1:29 But she was greatly troubled by his words and began to wonder about the meaning of this greeting. 1:30 So the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! 1:31 Listen: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 1:32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. 1:33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.” 1:34 Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” 1:35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.”

There are two primary difficulties associated with Jesus’ fulfillment of the virgin birth prophecy:

  1. The Hebrew word in the Isaiah passage in ‘almah’. In some translations, including the NET above, this word is translated to ‘young woman’ instead of virgin on the contention that this the more accurate translation.
  2. The context of the prophecy in Isaiah (as is provided above) seems to imply that the birth of the child is an impending event and that child’s life serves as a reference point for the timing of the predicted desolation of Syria and Israel.

These issues will be the focus of the evaluation from the Christian and naturalist viewpoints.

What is the Christian interpretation?

In a Christian worldview the default position for every prophecy is to submit to the authority of scripture and contend that the prophecies are genuinely fulfilled in Jesus’ birth, as asserted in Matthew. Even so, the difficulties noted above need to be addressed in order to support this view.

Almah translated as virgin

A quick search shows a lot of effort has been put into this word study and I’ve yet to encounter a definitive conclusion. It’s difficult to find an even handed discussion of the topic. Everything I’ve found is arguing to show that the Christian interpretation is either right or wrong. In the end, the strongest argument in favor of the ‘virgin’ translation is the fact that this is the translation in the Septuagint, which is the Old Testament translated to Greek by Jewish scholars before the birth of Jesus. That then is claimed to show that a scholarly, unbiased translation by those most familiar with the text and culture yielded a translation to ‘virgin’.

There is also a theory, which is affirmed by several early church fathers, that the original text of Matthew was in Hebrew and not Greek. In that scenario, the author would have simply used the same word as was used in Isaiah but, from the context, with the clear implication that it meant ‘virgin’. The theory that Matthew was originally in Hebrew is bolstered by the text’s obvious interest in demonstrating Jesus’ link to the Jewish tradition. Ultimately, this means that the author of Matthew understood the original passage to mean ‘virgin’ regardless of the translation.

The prophetical context

The most common explanation for the apparent “taking out of context” invokes a dual fulfillment, which relies on the subsequent chapters in Isaiah to show an intermingling of messianic and present day events. The present day fulfillment was said to be achieved in the birth of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz in Isaiah 8. The messianic fulfillment was achieved in the birth of Jesus. Under this view the claim of fulfillment by Matthew is not in error but rather a revelation of the divine foreshadowing in Isaiah.

What is the naturalistic interpretation?

A naturalist contends that the difficulties arise because the Old Testament authors have no supernatural means to foretell future events and that the prophecy can only be fulfilled by as a matter of coincidence, misinterpretation or deceit.

Almah translated as virgin

The primary argument levied by those who contend that almah is best translated as ‘young woman’ instead of ‘virgin’ stands on the fact that the Hebrew word ‘bethulah’ is the better choice. This is supported by the fact that bethulah is used 50 times in the Old Testament and is usually translated as virgin. Almah is used only seven times and is usually translated as ‘maiden’ or ‘girl’, though the King James often uses ‘virgin’.

Ultimately, the most likely explanation under a naturalist view is that there was in place an oral tradition for Jesus’ virgin birth (perhaps inspired in part by other demi-god legends) and that the author (or more likely, a redactor) of Matthew was familiar with some form of the Septuagint and used that as the basis for establishing the link to the passage in Isaiah. This is bolstered when one considers the cultural aspects surrounding Matthew’s authorship. There is good reason to suspect that some of the text in Matthew originated in Nazarene circles, where the contention of the messiah’s virgin birth would have been important as an argument against the non-virgin interpretation held by Jews and Ebionites. We are told that both the Nazarenes and the Ebionites held an early version of Matthew and that the Ebionite version did not include the nativity. We are also told the Ebionites held to an adoptionist Christology. The virgin birth serves as a critical link in the claim that Jesus’ was divine from the start. When these aspects are considered, the passage in Isaiah which at first appeared to be an unlikely candidate for claiming messianic fulfillment suddenly becomes important in arguing for the author’s (or redactor’s) view.

The prophetical context

Without assuming that Jesus needs to fulfill the role of the child in Isaiah 7:14 the text can be read plainly to imply an impending birth. This also fits with the traditional Jewish interpretation, which does not assign a messianic role to the child. Also, without the assumption of divine inspiration for the text in Matthew, the claim of fulfillment can be seen as a human attempt to fit Jesus into the role of the messiah by hijacking the prophecy as messianic. As noted above, it is likely that some existing oral tradition had claimed that Jesus was born of a virgin and the writer in Matthew was trying to fit that into a prophecy to reinforce Jesus’ position as both the messiah and son of God. Alternatively we might suppose that the oral tradition was initiated in order to fulfill prophecy. This, however, is unlikely because there is no reason to believe that the messiah was ever previously expected to be born of a virgin.

Which interpretation seems more probable?

I don’t think that the controversy around the translation of ‘almah’ is very persuasive one way or the other. Neither translation seems unreasonable and the quotations in Matthew are mixed in their agreement with the Septuagint, so it’s hard to say whether it had any influence. However, the text in Isaiah seems to me to be quite clearly addressing an impending event. The introduction of double fulfillment to apply this to Jesus simply isn’t satisfying. The more rationale explanation is that the author of this particular text in Matthew was trying hard to support his own view by linking Jesus to the messiah and establishing his divinity from birth, and so took the verse out of context to support this. This leads me to assign the probabilities as follows:


Note that the authorship of Matthew will be reviewed in more detail at some point in the future. I think that information can have significant implications in understanding the potential motivations behind the text.