Old Testament Canon and the Book of Daniel

In Church I was taught that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, etc. knew the words they were writing would become Scripture. This belief is only held by fundamentalist Christians, and any study into history reveals the untruth of that statement. Furthermore, I was led to believe that the Old Testament Canon had been fixed prior to Jesus’ day, complete with all 39 books we now call Scripture.

The Jews divide their Scriptures into 3 sections, Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) Prophets (Joshua, Judges, II & II Samuel, I & II Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi), and Writings (II & II Chronicles, Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, and Daniel). To my surprise, the first formal “Old Testament” Canon was the Septuagint (circa 250 BCE), and only contained the Torah. Around 150 BCE the Prophets were added. It was not until the Council of Jamnia in 90 CE that the Writings were considered Scripture.  Up until this point, the inclusion of Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Daniel were still in question.

I was not surprised to learn that the book of Daniel was of the last to be canonized. After all, most biblical scholars date Daniel to sometime during the Second Century BCE. And contrary to Christian and Orthodox Jewish belief, critical scholars do not give Daniel a later date because all of his prophecies came true. The dating comes from a variety of factors and one being that the writer(s) got some prophecies correct, yet got some other facts incorrect. I am not going to go into all of them here as it is something I need to further study. I will say that in my opinion, the prophecies are vague and with a little fudging can point to whatever someone wants. Like with chapter 9, which Christians and Jews have a completely different interpretation of.

Chapter 9 begins with Daniel lamenting over the possibility that the Jews’ exile will last longer, perhaps forever. He prays and is then given a prophecy from the angel Gabriel. Verse 25 will be our main focus here and we need to look at two different translations to understand the two different interpretations.

The original Hebrew and the English Standard Version reads, “Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.”

The New American Standard and King James Versions read, “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and sixty- two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.“

In the Jewish and ESV versions, the Hebrew words for “anointed governor/prince” are translated as “an anointed prince.” In Hebrew, this is a very general term that is not referring to THE MESSIAH. In fact, as I have stated in earlier blogs, there is no reference to “The Messiah” anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures. The KJV and NASB however, took the liberty to add a definite article along with capitalizing “messiah.” In Hebrew, if this were referring to “The Messiah” it would have read, “ha moshiach.” The definite article “ha” is not found in the Hebrew. Furthermore, the word “moshiach” is used in numerous places throughout the Old Testament to refer to someone or something that had been smeared with oil. It is only here where the KJV and NAS chose to add the definite article along with a capital letter.

Also, the Jewish and ESV versions separate “seven weeks” from “sixty-two weeks.” The KJV and NASB merge them together to read, “seven weeks and sixty-two weeks,” which equate to sixty-nine weeks. When this passage is used to point to Jesus, the NAS, KJV, or similar translation must be used. The English Standard version would not work, yet the ESV matches the original Hebrew! It is also worth noting that the original King James Version did not combine the seven and sixty two weeks. The 1611 Version reads just as the ESV does.

When the NAS or KJV is used, it is interpreted that from the time Aterxerxes gave permission for the Jews to repair the walls of Jerusalem to when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey was sixty-nine weeks of years (69 × 7 = 483 years). I found two dates for Aterxerxes decree. One is 457 BCE, the other in 445 BCE 457+33=490 and 445+33=478. Neither of those add up to 483.

Furthermore, was Aterxerxes really the one who fulfilled this prophecy? Maybe, yet there is also a prophecy stating that Cyrus is God’s anointed one who will give permission for Jerusalm and the Temple to be rebuilt. Isaiah 44:28 reads, “It is I [Yahweh] who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfil all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built’, and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’”

That brings us to the Jewish interpretation, which is that “the going forth of the word” is when Jeremiah actually gave his prophecy. Jeremiah 29:10 says, “For so said the LORD, ‘For at the completion of seventy years of Babylon I will remember you, and I will fulfil my good word toward you, to restore you to this place.” The prophecy then states that the Temple will stand for 434 years (62 weeks of years). However, the Temple was complete around the year 349 BCE and destroyed in 70 CE, which only comes out to be 419 years.

The last week, according to Jews is the time between when Rome permitted the Jews to offer sacrifices and when Vespasian destroyed the Temple (3.5 years). Three and a half years later, Herod’s Temple was built. Huh?

Christians place the last seven years at the end of days saying that the Antichrist will set up the abomination of desolation in the Temple and then destroy it. Problem is, Ezekiel states the Temple will last forever, though it appears to me that Ezekiel’s Temple was supposed to be built after the Babylonian Exile, but wasn’t. Hmmm…

Is your head spinning like mine is? What have we learned here? I learned that neither the Jewish nor the Christian interpretation of Daniel 9 works. Each one requires fudging, skirting, and alluding. The Christian version requires changing the Hebrew meaning of moshiach, adding a definite article and combing the two time periods. The Jewish version isn’t much better and also requires some alluding. The critical scholarly interpretation is that it points to the Maccabean time period. At some point in time, I may study and prepare my thoughts on it, but for now, I must get back to life.

In closing I will say that had Daniel 9 pointed to Jesus, would not Matthew have mentioned it in his Gospel? He mentioned the fulfilling of numerous prophecies from the Old Testament that were not prophecies at all, or had already been fulfilled. If this prophecy had not yet been fulfilled, I would expect Matthew to say, “This was to fulfill what God said through the prophet Daniel….” But he didn’t.

*Addition since publication (Sources: Pelikan, Jaroslav Whose Bible is It? and Smith, Charles Merrill How the Bible was Built)

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