Overview of Daniel 9
Daniel 9 may be outlined as follows:
- Narrative Introduction: Context of Jeremiah’s prophecy of the seventy years (vv. 1-2)
- Daniel’s Prayer (vv. 3-19)
- The Prophetic Revelation (by Gabriel) to Daniel (vv. 20-27)
The revelation of verses 20-27 is connected with both the setting of Jeremiah’s prophecy and Daniel’s prayer, a fact that is sometimes neglected by commentators. In examining the prayer (vv. 3-19), we find three main divisions or points of emphasis:
- Confession on behalf of the people’s sin, especially in terms of their disobedience to the instruction and righteousness of God (vv. 5-11)
- Acknowledgment of the righteous Judgment of God (vv. 12-14)
- Supplication to God for mercy and redemption, in two aspects:
(a) turning away of God’s wrath (vv. 15-16), and
(b) that God will hear and deliver his people (Israel) and city (Jerusalem) (vv. 17-19)
The setting of the narrative is the (Judean) exile in the early Persian period (v. 1), but the revelation in vv. 20-27, as well as the visions which follow in chapters 10-11, relate to future events (from the standpoint of the narrative). This involves the destiny of God’s people and the city of Jerusalem. The prophecy of Jeremiah mentioned in v. 2, is found in Jer 25:11-12; 29:10—the land will be laid waste for 70 years by Babylon, with the peoples sent into exile, but after these 70 years God promises to visit his people and bring them back to the land (of Judah). In the context of the book of Jeremiah, this can be seen as an accurate prediction, though the “seventy years” almost certainly represents a symbolic, general time frame. However, here in Daniel, the revelation by Gabriel in 9:20-27 has given a new interpretation (or application) to Jeremiah’s prophecy—the 70 years are (re-)intepreted as 490 (70 x 7) years. Again, 490 should be taken here as a symbolic (round) number; the Community of the Dead Sea scrolls seems to have understood it in relation to the Sabbatical year-cycle and the Jubilee year (cf. 11QMelch, etc). This time period is divided as follows (vv. 25-27):
- From the word to restore and build Jerusalem until (there is) an anointed leader—7 weeks (49 years)
- Jerusalem will be built and fortified, but in a time of distress—62 weeks (434 years)
- The anointed one will be “cut off” and a ruler will come to destroy the city and Temple, leading to war and sacrilege, until his destruction—1 week (7 years)
This passage teems with difficulties, and it will not be possible to address them all here. However, I believe a correct interpretation depends on three factors:
- Whether the 70 weeks (490 years) should be taken literally or are symbolic—the latter is certainly to be preferred, removing any need to fit the prophecy into a precise and rigid time-frame.
- To what does the “going forth of the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” refer? Should this be identified with the edict of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-4), of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:12-26), or an earlier date (c. 586) which would allow for ~49 years until the rebuilding of Jerusalem? The context of the passage here rather suggests that it refers to the “going forth” of the word/command of God, coinciding with Daniel’s prayer (v. 23). From the standpoint of the narrative, the 490 years begins with the setting in v. 1 (“the first year of Darius…”).
- The context of the revelation, set in verse 24, must be kept in mind, whereby the 70 weeks have been cut/decreed by God, according to the following purpose for his city and people:
(a) to finish the rebellion, i.e. of the people against God; probably this should be understood as the period of rebellion
(b) to complete the sins, i.e. of the people, to bring them all to completion
(c) to cover/wipe (out) evil/iniquity, using the language of priestly, ritual sacrifice
(d) to bring in (ever)lasting righteousness
(e) to seal (the) vision, i.e. the prophecy by Jeremiah (v. 2), but also presumably also the visions to Daniel, etc. in the book
(f) to anoint (the) holy of holy (place)s, i.e. the Temple and its inner sanctuary
However one chooses to interpret this passage, there can be no doubt that its orientation is eschatological—it assumes that the 70 weeks will bring about the end of the current sinful age, and the beginning of a new everlasting period (or Kingdom) of righteousness.
Interpretation and Identity of the “Anointed” in Dan 9:25-26
There are actually two figures who are called “anointed” (j^yv!m*) in this passage, which strongly indicates that the word here does not refer to a specific future/end-time figure subsequently to be known as “the Anointed (One)” (Messiah). Rather, it would seem to apply more generally to the particular leader—king and/or priest—of the people who return to the land following the exile. On the basis of the known history of the early post-exilic period in the Old Testament, the “anointed” leader who is established after the first seven weeks would likely represent the High Priest Joshua, or the (Davidic) ruler Zerubbabel, or both. For the dual-leadership of these two, cf. Zechariah 3-4; 6:9-15; their anointed status is suggested by the phrase “sons of oil” in Zech 4:14. This figure is specifically called “anointed leader [dyg]n`]”; this term often denotes a (military) commander, but can refer to any prominent person who has an (official) position of leadership “in front of” the people.
The second figure in verse 26 is more problematic; it tersely states that “following the sixty-two weeks, (the) anointed (one) will be cut off [tr@K*y], and there will be nothing/no-one [/ya@] for him”. Modern critical commentators generally consider this a reference to the High Priest Onias III, who was murdered by Menelaus c. 171 B.C. in the reign of Antiochus IV (according to 2 Maccabees 4:23-34). This is based on the view that the final seven years in Dan 9:26-27 refer to reign of Antiochus IV and the rise of the Maccabees (i.e. 171-163 B.C.). The critical view is supported by the earliest surviving interpretation of Dan 9:20-27 (1 Maccabees 1, cf. verse 54). The earliest reference to the “anointed” one (of 9:25) would seem to be in the Qumran text 11QMelch(izedek) [11Q13], where he is identified with the herald “anointed of the spirit” (Isa 61:1, also 52:7) who brings the good news of salvation and deliverance to God’s people (col. ii, lines 18-20ff). As far as I am aware, this is the only quotation or allusion to Dan 9:25-26 in the scrolls, and there do not appear to be any other references in Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. Jerome, in his Commentary on Daniel (the oldest critical treatment of vv. 24-27), gives a confusing summary of what he considers the Jewish view of the passage, but indicates that vv. 26-27 referred to the Roman defeat of the two Jewish revolts (during the reigns of Vespasian and Hadrian). The latter relates to the quasi-Messianic leader Bar-Kokhba (132-135 A.D.).
Christians, of course, came to interpret the “anointed leader” or “anointed (one)” in vv. 25-26 as a prophecy regarding Jesus, especially of his death, when he was “cut off” and “there was none for him”. However, there is really no evidence in the New Testament itself for this association, and vv. 24-27 are not cited apart from Jesus’ mention of the bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/ew$ (with narrator’s comment) in Mark 13:14 par (on this, cf. below). In the Greek version of Theodotion, the seven weeks and sixty-two weeks are combined (i.e. 69 weeks), which allows for the references in vv. 25 and 26 to be understood in terms of a single Anointed figure. Christian commentators followed this way of reading the text, applying it to Jesus. However, the Masoretic Hebrew clearly separates the seven weeks from the sixty-two weeks, and is almost certainly correct, as recognized by most translations and commentaries today, and which I follow in the outline above. For more on the Christian interpretation of the passage, cf. below.
The bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn (Dan 9:27)
In Dan 9:27, we read:
“…for half of the week he will make cease the slaughtering (of animals) and (the) offering, <m@v)m= <yx!WQv! [n~K= lu^w+, until the end/finish (that has been) cut is poured out upon (the one) laying waste”
After the “anointed” one is cut off, a ruler will come with his army to bring war and destruction upon Jerusalem (and the Temple). In v. 27a, it is stated that this conquering ruler will establish a firm agreement with the multitudes (i.e. of Judah/Jerusalem) for one week (7 years). During the first half of the week (~3+ years), he will do two notable things: (1) cause the sacrificial offerings and the Temple cultus to cease operation, and (2) the phrase left untranslated in Hebrew. Difficulties abound regarding this latter phrase; literally, the Masoretic text reads:
“and upon the wing [[nk] of despicable (thing)s he lays waste”
“and upon the wing of despicable (thing)s (the one) laying waste (comes)”
This does not make particularly good sense in the context of the verse, complicated further by the interpretation/translation in the Greek versions:
“and upon the Temple there will be a stinking (thing) of desolations [bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn]”
The Hebrew suggests a person, whereas the Greek, perhaps understanding the “wing” [[nk] to be the side or pinnacle of the Temple (cf. Lk 4:9), seems to indicate something (an idolatrous object?) placed on the Temple structure. The earliest interpretation is found in 1 Maccabees 1:54, following the Greek rendering—the “stinking thing of desolations” [bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn] is identified with a pagan altar that Antiochus IV had set upon the altar in the Temple (v. 59, also 4:43), and upon which, it would seem, unlawful/unclean pagan sacrifices were offered (cf. 2 Macc 6:5). In light of this, some critical commentators have proposed emending the Hebrew [nk (“wing”) to <nk (“their place”), with the expression then being <nk lu (“upon their place”, cf. Dan 11:38), i.e. the pagan altar with its sacrifices in place of the prescribed sacrificial offerings of the Temple (Collins, Daniel, p. 358). This is very reasonable, but it involves the always questionable step of emending the text (with no other external support, unfortunately 9:20-27 is not present in the Daniel scroll fragments from Qumran); it also depends on the particular interpretation of vv. 26-27 as describing the reign of Antiochus IV.
The Greek expression “the stinking (thing) of desolation [sing.]” [bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$] is found in the New Testament, in the so-called Eschatological Discourse of Jesus (Mark 13:14 / Matt 24:15), along with the same narrator’s aside in both passages. According to the standard critical hypothesis, Matthew is reproducing Mark’s text verbatim. As part of his description of the time of intense suffering and distress about to come upon Judea and Jerusalem, the Gospel tradition records this declaration by Jesus:
“But when you see ‘the stinking (thing) of desolation’ having stood where it certainly should not (be)”—the one reading must have (this) in mind—”then the (one)s in Judea must flee into the hills…” (Mk 13:14)
While the expression clearly comes from Dan 9:27, it is by no means certain precisely what Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer[s]) understand this to be. The closest we have to an interpretation is found in Luke’s version, which seems to have transformed the reference (note the portions identical with Mark/Matthew in italics):
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by swaths of soldiers, then know that her desolation has come near” (Lk 21:20)
It now refers simply to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, which was fulfilled in the war of 66-70 A.D. Given the fact that so much of the Eschatological Discourse was more or less accurately fulfilled in the period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Gospel writers (and Jesus himself) may well have had this in mind—(re-)interpreting Dan 9:26-27 into the (current) context of the Roman Empire. Commentators, however, continue to debate whether the bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$ is intended to describe a particular act of desecration by Rome. Among the possibilities are:
- The emperor Gaius’ (Caligula) establishment of the imperial cult, including his statue which was to be placed in the Jerusalem Temple, transforming it into an imperial shrine (c. 40 A.D., Josephus, Antiquities 18.256-307). In his Commentary on Daniel (11:31), Jerome states that Antiochus IV had similarly set up an image of Jupiter (Zeus) Olympius in the Jerusalem Temple.
- The destruction and despoiling of the Temple by Titus in 70 A.D.
- The transformation of Jerusalem into a (pagan) Roman city (Aelia Capitolina) in the reign of Hadrian, following the suppression of the Jewish (Bar-Kochba) revolt in 132-135 A.D.
For those who interpret Dan 9:26-27 from a modern-day futurist standpoint (cf. below), the setting up of the “stinking thing of desolation” in Jerusalem is yet to occur. If Paul has Dan 9:27 in mind in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (vv. 3-4), then he understands it as a person, who will take his place in the Temple, which accords with the wording of the Masoretic Hebrew text (above). Modern futurist interpretation typically identifies this figure with the “Antichrist” (1 Jn 2:18) and the Beast of Rev 13-19.
Christian Interpretation and Eschatology
The earliest surviving interpretation of Jesus as the “Anointed” of Dan 9:25-26 is probably in Clement of Alexandria’s Stromateis (Bk 1, chap. 21, late 2nd century), though it is also implied somewhat earlier in the treatment of verse 27 in the so-called Epistle of Barnabas 16 and Irenaeus’ Against Heresies V.25ff. From the early 3rd century, cf. also Tertullian’s Answer to the Jews §8, 13, and Origen, Against Celsus 6:46. For these Church Fathers, the time of Antichrist (v. 27) was represented by the false teaching and “Gnostic” views of the period, which they so eagerly sought to combat. Unfortunately, the Commentary of Hippolytus on Daniel (early-mid 3rd century) does not survive complete, but in at least one fragment (on the “abomination of desolation” in v. 27, cf. above), he provides a two-fold interpretation: it relates (1) to that set up by Antiochus IV, and (2) to that which will yet take place when Antichrist comes. Many thoughtful readers and commentators today will likely end up adopting a similar view (cf. below). In Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel, in his lengthy (and critical) discussion of vv. 24-27, he quotes from Hippolytus as well as a lengthy extract from Eusebius’ Demonstration of the Gospel (8:2). Another important citation from Hippolytus is found in the much later Commentary of Dionysius bar-Salibi on Revelation (Rev 11:2). For other relevant passages in the writings of the Church Fathers in the 4th and 5th centuries, see e.g., Eusebius’ Church History 1.6.11; 3.5.4; Theophania 4:35-36; Athanasius’ History of the Arians §§76-77; Cyril of Jerusalem, Lecture 12.19; Aphrahat, Demonstration 17.19; 21.
As indicated above, the standard modern critical view holds that Daniel 9:26-27 refers to the period of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), the Seleucid Greco-Syrian king who ruled c. 175-164 B.C. On the whole, this is likely to be correct, given the way that the subsequent visions in chapters 10-11 seem to describe the rise and history of the Greek (Alexandrian/Hellenistic) Empire, which is usually understood as the fourth Kingdom/Beast of the visions in chapters 2 and 7 as well. Fitting the historical events precisely into the prophetic scheme of Dan 9:20-27 is rather more difficult. Identifying the “anointed” one who is “cut off” with the High Priest Onias III is certainly plausible, but far from certain. Also, as discussed above, it is not entirely clear that the actions of the coming ruler of vv. 26-27 truly match those of Antiochus in detail. Far more problematic, however, at least for those who take the inspiration of Scripture seriously, is that the eschatological Age did not come with the death of Antiochus, the re-establishment of Jewish rule under the Maccabees, and the re-dedication/consecration of the Temple. The period of the Maccabees was by no means a time of “everlasting righteousness” (9:24), as the Qumran texts and other Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. make abundantly clear.
It is not surprising, then, that the Qumran Community and the early Christians would interpret and apply the passage according to their own eschatological viewpoint. For the earliest believers in Jesus, the coming of the end-time Judgment (and with it the return of Christ) appeared to be imminent, marked by the “birth pains” described by Jesus in the Eschatological Discourse—Roman imperial control of Judea, threat of rebellion and war, the appearance of Messianic pretenders, the persecution and arrest of believers, etc—which would culminate in the war of 66-70 A.D. with the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (and the Temple). Much, if not most, of what Jesus predicts in Mark 13 par, can be seen as more or less accurately being fulfilled in this period. It is certainly possible to understand the “stinking thing [i.e. abomination] of desolation” in this context as well, as I discuss above. However, there remains the same problem—the end did not come with these events, not after the destruction of the war of 66-70, nor the revolt of 132-5 A.D. Even if Jesus were correctly understood as the “Anointed” one of Dan 9:26, to what extent has a period of “everlasting righteousness” been established on earth?
This, in turn, has led some modern-day commentators to posit a time gap between the first 69 weeks (483 years) and the last week (7 years)—the last week is yet to be fulfilled, and will occur some time (very soon) in the future. While this may seem like a good way to harmonize Scripture and preserve its historical accuracy, unfortunately there is no support for it in the text of Daniel itself. Nothing in Dan 9:20-27 suggests any sort of gap in time (let alone of 2000+ years) before the final week. More feasible, in my view, is the idea that the events of vv. 20-27 are fulfilled at two levels—(1) the historical fulfillment culminating in the period c. 170-163 B.C., and (2) the typological fulfillment in the life and person of Jesus. According to the second (Christological) aspect, the 70 weeks have an even more pronounced symbolic sense—rather than attempting to fit them into a chronological scheme, it is better to view them as representing the fulfillment of God’s determined plan for His people. The period of distress, war, and religious persecution in vv. 26-27 is likewise representative of events which have been played out countless times throughout history, even in the case of the city of Jerusalem itself.
Returning to the original context of Daniel 9:20-27, it may be fair to ask in what sense it is eschatological. As I see it, there are two possibilities:
- The eschatology is real—i.e., verses 26-27 describe events which mark the end-time and the completion of the current Age.
- The situation of Israelite/Jewish history (regardless of how one dates the book) is being described, symbolically, using eschatological language and imagery, to express the hope and belief in God’s deliverance of his people.
The apparent chronological calculations in the passage would suggest that it is meant to show the fulfillment of historical events. According to the mainstream critical view, the book of Daniel (esp. chapters 7-12) dates from a time c. 165 B.C., and that the visions and revelations are, for the most part, ex eventu prophecies—descriptions of events which have already occurred. Traditional-critical commentators, on the other hand, are much more inclined to take the setting of the narrative at face value, holding that Dan 9:20-27 is an authentic revelation from the time of the historical Daniel (early 6th century). Neither approach, however, has been able to explain entirely how the events in vv. 25-27 have been, or will be, fulfilled in history. One should therefore take seriously the symbolic aspect of the passage, especially in its use of the Sabbatical year-cycle to mark its chronology. The year of Jubilee begins in the middle of the seventh Sabbatical year (i.e. the last “week”), on the 10th day of the 7th month, which is the Day of Atonement (cf. Daniel’s prayer and v. 24). Forty-nine (49) years precede the Jubilee, corresponding to the 490 years (49 x 10) in vv. 20-27. All of this symbolism was clearly recognized and expounded in the Qumran text 11QMelch(izedek), which happens to contains the earliest surviving direct allusion to Dan 9:25-26 (cf. above).
The text 11QMelch may also be seen as providing an interesting bit of evidence in support of viewing Jesus as the “anointed” one of Dan 9:25. As noted above, in col. ii lines 18-20, this figure in Daniel is identified with the herald “anointed of the spirit” in Isa 61:1ff—the same Messianic figure with which Jesus identifies himself in Luke 4:18-20; 7:19-23 par. This demonstrates that, by the time of Jesus, there were at least some Jews who interpreted the “anointed” of Dan 9:25 as one who would bring the good news of salvation to God’s people.
References above marked “Collins, Daniel” are to the Commentary on Daniel by John J. Collins in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press: 1993).