DID DANIEL’S 70-WEEK PROPHECY START WITH ARTAXERXES’ 20TH-YEAR DECREE IN 455 OR 445 B.C.?
Daniel 9’s 70-week prophecy is significant because it not only proclaims when Jesus, the Messiah, would come to earth “to make an end of sin… to bring in everlasting righteousness… to anoint the most holy place” but it also proclaims how long God would continue to work strictly with the literal nation of Israel when it proclaims that “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city” providing us a framework of when God would open up the Gospel to the Gentiles (non-Jews) in offering salvation to anyone who would believe. Daniel 9:24-27 states:
“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” 1.
Throughout the years, Biblical scholars have speculated about which Medo-Persian decree best marks the beginning of Daniel 9’s 70-weeks-of-years prophecy. Ezra and Nehemiah record four different decrees:
- The first one was given by Cyrus in Ezra 1:1-11 (538/537 B.C.).
- The second was Darius’ decree in his 4th year of reign in Ezra 4:24; 6:1:1-15; 7:1-5 (518/517 B.C.).
- The third was Artaxerxes’ decree to rebuild temple sacrifices given in his 7th year of reign in Ezra 7:7-26 (458/457 B.C.).
- Lastly, Artaxerxes’ 20th-year decree in Nehemiah 2:1-8 (445/444 B.C.).
Given that the decrees of both Cyrus and Darius fall way too early to fit the 490 years of Daniel 9’s 70 weeks of years with the life of Jesus, the Messiah, the only decrees that can possibly fit with Jesus’ lifetime are the two decrees given in the reign of Artaxerxes.
The Watchtower Society tries to support its claims about Daniel’s 70-week prophecy by changing the dates for the reigns of both Xerxes and Artaxerxes. Since the Watchtower Society prefers to tie Daniel 9’s prophecy to decree of Artaxerxes in his 20th year of reign, they change the dates of his 20th year to 455 B.C., even though it conflicts with the 445 B.C. date favored by the majority of historians. The Society’s date is also in conflict with Ptolemy’s Cannon, the main dating system used by historians that has the most archaeological and astronomical support. As this system is a first-century document that provides a list of kings reigns dating from about 747 B.C. until 160 A.D., Ptolemy’s Cannon dates the ascension year of Artaxerxes’ reign to 465/464 B.C.
There is only one other dating system that supports the Watchtower’s 455 B.C. date for the 20th year of Artaxerxes and it is one that is given by James Ussher, who was the Archbishop of the Church of Ireland in the 17th century and who dated Artaxerxes’ ascension year to 475/474 B.C. 2.
Ussher stated that he favored the 475/474 B.C. date for the ascension of Artaxerxes due to statements in the writings of Thucydides, an Athenian historian who lived between 460 and 400 B.C. He claimed that Themistocles sought the protection of “Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes, who had recently come to the throne” when he was in the process of fleeing Greece to Asia Minor in 472/471 B.C.
However, these records are questionable as writings from other ancient historians disagree with the statements made by Thucydides. Yet, the Watchtower Society further attempts to support their dates by shortening the date of Artaxerxes’ father Xerxes 21-year reign (484-465 B.C.) to 11 years (484-475 B.C.), claiming that Xerxes co-reigned with his father Darius for the first ten years of his reign and extending the length of Artaxerxes’ reign from 41 to 51 years. Again, these claims have no basis in reality as Carl Olof Jonsson, a Swedish historian noted in his article entitled, “The 20th Year of Artaxerxes and the ‘Seventy Weeks’ of Daniel”:
There is not the slightest evidence in support of such a coregency. The Watch Tower Society’s discussion on pages 614-616 of its Bible dictionary Insight on the Scriptures, volume 2 (1988), is a miserable distortion of the historical evidence. Thus, on page 615 they claim:
There is solid evidence for a coregency of Xerxes with his father Darius. The Greek historian Herodotus (VII, 3) says: “Darius judged his [Xerxes’] plea [for kingship] to be just and declared him king. But to my thinking Xerxes would have been made king even without this advice.” This indicates that Xerxes was made king during the reign of his father Darius.
If we look up Herodotus’ statement, however, we will discover that he, in the very next few sentences, directly contradicts the Watch Tower Society’s claim that there was a ten year long coregency of Xerxes with Darius by stating that Darius died one year after this appointment of Xerxes as his successor. Herodotus says:
Xerxes, then, was publicly proclaimed as next in succession to the crown, and Darius was free to turn his attention to the war. Death, however, cut him off before his preparations were complete; he died in the year following this incident and the Egyptian rebellion, after a reign of thirtysix years, and so was robbed of his chance to punish either Egypt or the Athenians. After his death the crown passed to his son Xerxes.
What we find, then, is that Darius appointed Xerxes his successor one year (not ten!) before his own death. Further, Herodotus does not say that Darius appointed Xerxes his coregent, but his successor. (Carl Olof Jonsson, Göteborg, Sweden, The 20th Year Of Artaxerxes And The “Seventy Weeks” Of Daniel, 1989. Revised 1999, 2003, http://kristenfrihet.se/english/artaxerxes.htm)
Regarding the multiple astronomical records that validate the dates for Artaxerxes’ reign given in Ptolemy’s Cannon, Carl Olof Jonsson notes:
The decisive evidence for the length of Artaxerxes’ rule is the astronomical information found on a number of tablets dated to his reign. One such text is the astronomical “diary” “VAT 5047”, clearly dated to the 11th year of Artaxerxes. Although the text is damaged, it preserves information about two lunar positions relative to planets and the positions of Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. This information suffices to identify the date of the text as 454 BC. As this was the 11th year of Artaxerxes, the preceding year, 455 BC, cannot have been his 20th year as the Watch Tower Society claims, but his 10th year. His 20th year, then, must have been 445/44 BC. (See Sachs/Hunger, Astronomical Diaries and Related Texts from Babylonia, Vol. 1, Wien 1988, pp. 56-59.) (italics – Witnesses for Jesus)
There are also some tablets dated to the 21st and last year of Xerxes. One of them, BM 32234, which is dated to day 14 or 18 of the 5th month of Xerxes’ 21st year, belongs to the group of astronomical texts called “18-year texts” or “Saros texts”. The astronomical information preserved on this tablet fixes it to the year 465 BC. The text includes the following interesting information: “Month V 14 (+x) Xerxes was murdered by his son.” This text alone not only shows that Xerxes ruled for 21 year, but also that his last year was 465 BC, not 475 as the Society holds! (Carl Olof Jonsson, Göteborg, Sweden, “The 20th Year of Artaxerxes and the “Seventy Weeks” of Daniel,” 1989. revised 1999, 2003, http://kristenfrihet.se/english/artaxerxes.htm)
In this article, Carl Olof Jonsson also examines other records validating the 445/444 date for the 20th year of Artaxerxes and demonstrates why the documents that the Watchtower Society presents in support of their 455/454 date are incorrect. Thus, Ptolemy’s 465/464 date for Artaxerxes’ ascension has been well established by the archaeological community and is therefore most favored by historians.
DOES ARTAXERXES 20TH-YEAR DECREE TO REBUILD THE WALL OF JERUSALEM MARK THE BEGINNING OF DANIEL’S 70 WEEKS?
Now that we have verified that the 465/464 B.C. date marks the beginning of Artaxerxes’ reign, we must reconcile the decrees he made with the historical records concerning the life of Christ to determine whether the 20th or the 7th-year decree best marks the beginning of the 70-weeks of years prophecy of Daniel 9. Those who favor Artaxerxes’ 20th-year decree to begin the time frame for the 70 weeks in Daniel 9 do so because it specifically speaks of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem which is mentioned in the text of this prophecy:
“Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, … Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times.” (Dan.9:24-25, KJV)
However, it is impossible to get the start date of 445/444 for this decree in the 20th year of Artaxerxes to fit the entire 490 years as a simple calculation for these years would cause the 70 weeks to extend past the life of Christ by at least 13 years and would place the 69th week “until Messiah the Prince” at 38 A.D., well past the death of Jesus Christ in either 30 or 33 A.D. So, to try to compensate for the mathematical problems this start date causes, those who go with the 445/444 start date are forced to convert the 69 weeks of years (483 years) “until Messiah the Prince” from Jewish lunar years of 360 days into solar years of 365 days and then re-calculate the years to come up with 476 years for the 69 weeks instead of 483 years given in the prophecy, in order to run from 445 B.C. to 33 A.D. as the mathematical formulas demonstrate below:
- 69 weeks of years (69 x 7 = 483 years)
- 483 prophetic/lunar years of 360 days = 476 solar years of 365 days (483 x 360 = 173,880 days / 365 = 476 solar years).
- 445/444 B.C.-476 years (+1 year for 0 B.C.) = 32/33 A.D., the time when many believe Jesus was crucified.
While this hypothesis for reconciling Daniel’s 69 weeks with Artaxerxes’ 20th year decree in 445/444 B.C. was first popularized by Sir Robert Anderson in his book, The Coming Prince, published in 1894 by Hodder & Stoughton, London, there seems to be some real problems with it.
First of all, it is a very complicated way of calculating the 69 weeks of Daniel’s prophecy that is highly unlikely, since the Jews always adjusted their lunar calendar system with solar phenomenon which would have reconciled the years given in the prophecy with actual solar years anyway.
Furthermore, this calculation doesn’t completely fit the 70-week prophetic time frame of Daniel because it doesn’t account for the remaining week of seven years. Thus, those who follow this equation claim that the last week of Daniel’s 70-year prophecy is somehow futuristic and yet to be fulfilled, even though 2000 years have transpired since the original time frame for this prophecy!
Claiming that this 7-year period is also prophesied in the book of Revelation, these teachers disregard the fact that most of the prophecies in the book of Revelation were given to first-century churches, dealing specifically with the fall of the Jerusalem temple as stated in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 and with the explicit statement that the events recorded in this “Revelation of Jesus Christ” were given “to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1). And just in case we miss the point that most of the prophecies of Revelation were to be fulfilled within the time frame of the first century destruction of the Jerusalem temple, the book of Revelation ends with this same explicit statement saying:
“And he said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true’; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place.” (Rev. 22:6)
So, given the fact that most of the prophecies in Revelation were to be fulfilled within the first century and the fact that starting Daniel’s 70 weeks of years prophecy upon the 20th year of the reign of Artaxerxes leaves at least a week of years unaccounted for, especially if we choose not to recalculate the years by lunar/solar years, we would do well to consider a different time frame for Daniel’s 70-weeks-of-years prophecy.
DOES ARTAXERXES’ SEVENTH-YEAR DECREE TO REINSTATE TEMPLE SACRIFICES MARK THE BEGINNING OF DANIEL’S 70 WEEKS?
The only other decree to consider is Artaxerxes’ edict in his seventh year of reign, which provided the utensils needed for the Jewish sacrifices to operate in their temple in Jerusalem which Darius had already authorized to rebuild. First of all, this decree is significant because it is the only decree out of the four Medo-Persian decrees mentioned in the Bible that actually provides the entire text of the decree, which makes this decree stand out from the rest in the emphasis and the importance that the Biblical writer placed upon it. Secondly, Artaxerxes’ seventh-year decree specifically referred to the Jewish sacrificial system which fits the context of Daniel 9’s prophecy amazingly well because it states:
“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks.” (Daniel 9:24-25)
While the rebuilding of the wall is mentioned later on in this prophecy, we must not miss the point that this prophecy never says that the rebuilding of the wall was to mark the beginning of the time frame, but rather that the “decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince” was to mark the beginning. The emphasis is upon the sacrifices which were to be restored until the Messiah was to “make an end of sin” in order “to bring in everlasting righteousness … and anoint the most holy place.” Therefore, the seventh-year edict of Artaxerxes to restart the Jewish temple worship and sacrificial system fits the context of Daniel 9 beautifully!
Now, from Artaxerxes’ seventh year of reign, we can easily calculate the fulfillment of the 70 weeks of Daniel from the start date of 458 B.C. to its end in 33 A.D. (458 B.C. – 490 years = 32 + 1 year for 0 A.D.), a possible date for when Jesus was crucified and the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom, thus fulfilling Daniel’s prophecy to “bring in everlasting righteousness!” Not only was this part of the prophecy completed when Jesus died, but He anointed the most Holy Place in Heaven for us to worship as verified by the writer of Hebrews:
“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22)
Not only does the 458 B.C. date allow for the fulfillment of the complete 70-weeks-of-years period during the life and death of Jesus and the anointing of God’s Spiritual Temple in Heaven (Revelation 11:19), it also allows for the “Messiah the Prince” of Daniel 9 to begin his ministry at “about 30 years of age” (Luke 3:23) at the 69th week mark in accordance with Daniel’s prophecy. How so? Let me explain.
According to historical records, there are only two possible dates that we can go on for the death of Jesus if we accept a Friday crucifixion date. These are the years 30 A.D. or 33 A.D. While the traditional consensus is that Jesus was 33 years old when he died around 30 or 33 A.D., historical records actually indicate that Jesus was older, more like 35 or 38 years of age because Herod died around 4 B.C. Since he was the one who issued the decree to kill all male children two years and under when Jesus was born, the date of the birth of Jesus was most likely around the year 6 or 5 B.C.
So, if Jesus was born around 5 B.C., His 30th year of life would have been around 26 A.D., which agrees with Daniel’s prophecy that 69 weeks of years would transpire “until Messiah the Prince.” Calculating 458 B.C. – 483 years (69 weeks) puts us right at 26 A.D., when Jesus would have been “about 30 years of age,” and it coincides with the time when John the Baptist would have started his ministry to prepare the way for the Lord (Malachi 3:1) in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1-2).
Now, there is some debate as to when the Bible reckons the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. While historians agree that he reigned from 14 A.D. to 37 A.D., this would put his 15th year around 29 A.D., too far past Jesus’ 30th birthday to mark the start of His and John the Baptist’s ministry and too late to fit with a 69th week start date for Jesus’ ministry. However, ancient historical records indicate that he co-reigned with his predecessor Augustus Caesar as early as 11 or 12 A.D., which could adjust Tiberius’s 15th year of reign back to the year 26 or 27 A.D.2. Furthermore, the Jews responded to Jesus’ prophetic claims about his death and resurrection with this statement in John 2:20:
“The Jews then said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’”
So, if Herod’s temple that began construction in 20 B.C. was 46 years old when Jesus prophesied of its destruction, we know that Jesus made this statement around 26 or 27 A.D. This, along with Luke’s statement that Jesus was about 30 years of age when He began his ministry, provides another line of evidence to indicate that 26 A.D. does indeed mark the 69th week “until Messiah the Prince” began His ministry.
Now if we add the remaining week of 7 years to 26 A.D., we have Jesus being “cut-off” and bringing in “everlasting righteousness” either in the middle of the last week in 30 A.D. or at the end of it in 33 A.D.!
Clearly when we calculate Daniel’s 70-weeks prophecy from the decree of Artaxerxes in his seventh year of reign in 458 B.C., not only does this fit the astronomically confirmed dates that historians favor, but it fits the chronology of Jesus’ life and ministry as given in the New Testament. Thus, we can be confident that the 70 weeks of Daniel 9 have been fulfilled with precise accuracy!
A ONE-WEEK COVENANT?
As we have already seen, if we go with the seventh-year decree of Artaxerxes, the full 70 weeks of Daniel 9 were due to be completed by the year 33 A.D. With these two possible dates for the death of Jesus, we can place His death either at the end in 33 A.D. or in the middle of the last week in 30 A.D. If we place Jesus’ death in 33 A.D. at the very end of the 70 weeks of years, we have a problem because Daniel 9:25-27 specifically states that the “Messiah the Prince,” would “in the middle of the week … put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering.”
If Jesus began to establish His “firm covenant with the many” (that is, the New Covenant with His followers) at the beginning of the last week of Daniel 9 (the 69th week) in 26 A.D., then it is likely that the statement that in the “middle of the week” in which He “put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering” is a reference to His death in 30 A.D. in which the veil of the temple was torn and all sacrifices thereafter were seen as “abominations” to be destroyed completely when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D.
Yet, some scholars disagree, particularly those who hold to a futuristic view based upon their solar/lunar calculations on the 20-year reign of Artaxerxes and who claim that the last week of Daniel 9 is yet to be fulfilled in the future. These scholars believe that Daniel 9:27’s mention of a “prince who is to come” in Daniel 9:26 refers to some type of a future Anti-Christ, rather than to the “Messiah the Prince” mentioned in verse 25. So, which interpretation best fits the context of Daniel 9:25-27?
To comprehend the full meaning of this passage, let’s read from Young’s Literal Translation as it provides a more accurate view of the connection between the Messiah in verse 25 and the Prince or Leader mentioned in verses 26 and 27:
“And thou dost know, and dost consider wisely, from the going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem till Messiah the Leader is seven weeks, and sixty and two weeks: the broad place hath been built again, and the rampart, even in the distress of the times. And after the sixty and two weeks, cut off is Messiah, and the city and the holy place are not his, the Leader who hath come doth destroy the people; and its end is with a flood, and till the end is war, determined are desolations. And he hath strengthened a covenant with many — one week, and in the midst of the week he causeth sacrifice and present to cease, and by the wing of abominations he is making desolate, even till the consummation, and that which is determined is poured on the desolate one.”
If you look carefully at this translation, you will see that it differs from nearly all other English translations in that it accurately shows that the word “for” in the phrase “for one week” is missing. That is because the word “for” is not in the Hebrew text. This is significant because it shows that the reference to covenant strengthened in one week merely states when the New Covenant was “strengthened … with many,” not that this covenant was to only last “for” one week. Furthermore, this translation shows the connection on how when Jesus died, “the city and the holy place are not his” because Jesus (the Leader) was inaugurating a “new and living way” to “enter the holy place” through the veil of His flesh according to Hebrews 10:19-20, therefore bringing about the complete fulfillment of Daniel 9:24, “to anoint the holy of holies.”
Finally, although Jesus is called “Messiah the Prince” or “Messiah the Leader” depending upon what translation one reads, nowhere in the context does it specifically say that there are two separate leaders being spoken of (that is, one for Jesus and one for a so-called Anti-Christ). Rather, the natural flow of the text appears to be an unbroken chain expounding upon what one Prince or Leader, that is Jesus Christ the Messiah, would do when He came.
Thus, it makes sense that this last week of Daniel 9 speaks of the New Covenant that Jesus consummated with his death in the middle of the week that brought sacrifices to end. Then, with His call of the Apostle Paul to the Gentiles around the year 33 A.D. (Galatians 2:7-9), we can see how this could have marked the fulfillment of God’s timetable for the literal Jewish nation in accordance with Daniel 9:24-27 as it opened up the Gospel to the Gentiles making the two people of God (Jews and Gentiles) into one nation as confirmed by Paul’s statements in Ephesians 2:12-20. Therefore the following chart for the chronology of Daniel’s 70 weeks seems to best fits the historical record and the text of Scripture:
1. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.
2. Concerning the fluctuation of one year for historical dates given for the reign of ancient kings, the discrepancy is based upon whether one is counting ascension regnal years or non-ascension regnal years. Since the first year of one king would often fall upon the same calendar year as the last year of reign for the previous king, to avoid duplicating years between the last year of reign for the previous king and the ascension year of the new king, many historical records counted years by not counting the ” ascension year” (or first year) of the subsequent king. Yet, other ancient records, especially those in the Jewish system, did count the ascension year. Thus, to accommodate both the ascension and non-ascension forms of counting regnal years, dates are often given with the variation of one year, e.g., 475/474 B.C. or 465/464 B.C., respectively.
3. See Sections XX and XXI of Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum, 2 Vols., trans. J. C. Rolfe (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1920), pages 291-401 at http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/suet-tiberius-rolfe.asp or an updated English translation in The Twelve Caesars: Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, trans. Robert Graves, rev Michael Grant, London, England (Penguin Group, 1979), page 120, where ancient historian Suetonius notes that two years after the military campaigns of Tiberius in Germany and Illyricum which ended in 9 A.D., he was given joint control of the provinces with Augustus (around 11 or 12 A.D). Bible Scholar John McArthur also agrees with the 11 A.D. date for the beginning of Tiberius’ reign noting Tiberius’ co-regency in his footnote on page 67 of One Perfect Life (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2012).