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Dias' Letters, Letter 24

(Continued from vol. vi., page 508.)

Dias’s Letters.
Letter XXIV.

Extraordinary are the pains which have been taken, and the stress laid by Christian commentators on the famous prophecy of Daniel’s seventy weeks, as if Christianity could not subsist without it; or, as if the very being of religion depended on the application of this prophecy to Jesus; whom they make to be the Messiah, or Anointed, there mentioned. It is thus translated in the English Bible:

“At the beginning of the supplications,” (says the angel to Daniel,) “the commandment came forth, and I am come to show thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore, understand the matter, and consider the vision. Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people, and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. 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 threescore and two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week, he shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease, and for the overspreading abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”*

* Daniel ix. 23, to the end.

The computations which are made of these seventy weeks, by the most learned, are so different and contradictory to each other, and the calculations do so vary from one another’s hypothesis, as ought, one would think, to convince them of the impracticableness of making the application of it to Jesus, and consequently, of the impossibilities of making it answer their purpose. Its obscurity is confessed by all, and you’ll hardly find two intelligent persons who agree in their computations; difficulties surrounded them whichever way they take; how to make or <<411>strike out Jesus for the Messiah or Anointed, who was to be cut off, is the thing they aim at; but where to begin the computation of the weeks, how to continue them, and what time to end them,—so that, every period may have a proper epoch, are matters of the greatest difficulties and differences amongst the expositors. To make the prophecy answer the event they would apply it to, they shorten or lengthen the chronology of those times, (which of itself is dark and perplexed,) extending or diminishing the reigns of the Persian monarchs, as may best square with their different hypotheses, which, after all the trouble and pains they take, are liable to most potent objections and insurmountable difficulties. The authors of the Universal History, after mentioning in very contemptuous terms, (as is their custom,) the differences which subsist among the Jewish authors, and asserting their ignorance as chronological calculators, proceed to give us the following account:—

“The  Christians (say they) are not exactly agreed, either in the placing the beginning or end of these weeks, or in the calculations of those lunar or Jewish years; both differences, however, are inconsiderable if duly attended to; the former is entirely owing to our imperfect knowledge of the chronology of those times; had we a sure guide in it, the points would not be long unsettled; but, whilst in this uncertainty, one author will place the beginning at the decree of Cyrus, another at that of Darius, a third at that of Artaxerxes Longimanus, and each of them endeavours to stretch or shorten the chronology of each interval, as best suits with his hypothesis, it is no wonder there is so little agreement among them, and so little certainty to be gathered from the whole dispute.”*

* Univ. Hist. vol. x. p. 446.

If these things are thus, can the Jews be blamed in rejecting their application of this prophecy, computed as is acknowledged “both without any perfect knowledge of the chronology of those times, or any sure guide in it?” Upon what grounds, then, can they pretend either to fix or urge this prophecy? and does it not betray pitiful shifts (or something worse) in thus shortening and stretching each interval as best suits their different views, and is it not using unfair and unwarrantable means? Here let me observe, that what in Jewish authors betrayed their ignorance, and showed their pitiful shifts,† passes unanswered in the others; though one should think that design (for ignorant they must not be supposed) deserved not less rebuke than ignorance.

† Ibid, p. 447.

These authors having made mention of lunar years, by which some reckon in order to bring the time nearer to the event, to <<412>>which they endeavour to make application of this prophecy: it will be sufficient to observe with the judicious Prideaux, “when Daniel had this prophecy revealed unto him, by the angel Gabriel, there was not any form of year purely lunar any where in use; but of the ancients, we find none who followed this form; and who can think, then, that in the collective sum of seventy weeks or four hundred and ninety years of them, the angel should intend a computation, which was then nowhere in practice the whole world over?”* “Waving (what these authors call) some minute differences” they proceed to give us the system most universally received, and they tell us, that, “The difference of time is trifling at most, but nine or ten years between those who make it longest and those who make it shortest;” and who can wonder at it or urge it as an objection against this prophecy, &c?†

* Connect. vol. ii. p. 404-6.  † Uni. Hist. vol. x. p. 448.

Against the prophecy none will; neither will the Jews wonder at the difference, and will give this reason, because the event, to which it is applied, could not be that intended by the angel; for whatever trifling difference they may think of nine or ten years, yet where there is a determined portion of time fixed, the accomplishment must be exact; otherwise, instead of seventy weeks, the angel ought to have said seventy-one weeks and a half; therefore, it is a very material difference; for it makes the time extend farther than the determined bounds set by the angel. Their hypothesis is to begin the seventy weeks from the decree granted to Nehemiah, by Artaxerxes, in the twentieth year of his reign, and end them at the death of Jesus; but to this computation, there are great objections, for it exceeds the four hundred and ninety years by ten years, as their historians acknowledge, or rather thirteen as Dean Prideaux makes it appear.

“And therefore, (says he,) if the four hundred and ninety years of the seventy weeks be computed from thence, they will over-shoot the death of Christ thirteen years, which being the grand event to be brought to pass at the conclusion of these weeks, it is certain they can never there have their beginning from whence they can never be brought to this ending.” ‡

‡ Connect. vol. ii. p. 403.

To remedy this evil, some have invented (though without the least foundation or authority) that Artaxerxes reigned ten years with his father, and so pretended it to be only the tenth of his reigning alone, making up by invention what is wanting in exactness; but there is nothing (says Prideaux) in the history of those times that can give countenance to this conjecture.§ Besides, according to this hypothesis, they make <<413>>one continued series of time without making any epochs to the division as made by the angel, and notwithstanding, the angel declares, the commandment to have gone forth, yet they contradict him and make that commandment to be one that was given near ninety years after.

§ Ibid. vol. x. p. 447.

I suppose, with Prideaux, that the commandment mentioned by the angel to be that of Cyrus, which he very learnedly proves to be the decree literally meant by the angel, declaring that it “can be applicable to no other restoring and rebuilding of Jerusalem, than that which was decreed and commanded by Cyrus, at the return of the captivity;* and therefore, if these words of the prophecy to restore and rebuild Jerusalem are to be understood in a literal sense, they can be understood of no other restoring and building of that city, than that which was accomplished by virtue of that decree; and the computation of the seventy weeks must begin, from the granting and going forth thereof.”† According to which, the literal accomplishment of this prophecy must have its completion from the going forth of that decree; and whoever begins them from any other, cannot pretend to make it a literal prophecy. Other difficulties there are which arise from this hypothesis in common with others, such as the confirmation of the covenant with many for one week, (to which they are entirely silent,) the time of the Messiah’s being cut off, the overspreading of abominations, which shall be taken notice of in my observations on the next hypothesis, that of the learned Prideaux, which these historians recommend.

* Con. vol. ii. p. 382. † Ibid vol. ii. p. 386.

The doctor very judiciously objects to the calculations and hypotheses which terminate in Jesus different from his, showing their absurdity, and the impossibility of terminating them in that event; and therefore begins his own computation of the seventy weeks, from the 7th of Artaxerxes, when Ezra began to execute his commission.‡ For reckoning or calculating the time backward, he finds, from the death of Jesus to the execution of the said commission, just four hundred and ninety years:§ he therefore takes the commandment of the seventy weeks or four hundred and ninety years, not literally, but in a figurative sense,|| and this he does for a very obvious reason; for having proved, as before observed, that the commandment for restoring and building Jerusalem, could be no other but Cyrus’s decree.

‡ Con. vol. ii. p. 377, § Ibid 381. || Ibid 382.

“If (says he) the computation be began so high, the four hundred and ninety years of the said seventy weeks, cannot come low enough to reach any <<414>>of the events predicted by the prophecy, (he means those to which Christians would extend the prophecy); for from the first of Cyrus to the death of Christ, were five hundred and sixty eight years; and, therefore, if the said four hundred and ninety years be computed from thence, they will be expired a great many years either before the cutting off, or the coming of the Messiah.”*

* Con. vol. ii. p. 386.

As he sets out, or begins his computation from a supposed figurative prediction of the angel, so he continues the events in the same sense, making the streets and city to mean figuratively, church and state.† And the Ditch, he makes a figurative expression, for good constitutions and establishment.‡ Indeed, he is not silent (as the authors of the Universal History are), concerning the confirming the covenant with many for one week, he says this “was done by Jesus confirming for one week,” that is, for the space of seven years, the covenant of the gospel with many of the Jews.§

† Ibid. 415. ‡ Ibid. 416. § Ibid. 416.

Now how, or from what authority he does this, when Christians as well as himself, declare and assert that his gospel “was not a temporal law, as was that of Moses; but to last for ever, and to be a guide unto all righteousness as long as the world should last,”|| and yet reduce it to only a seven years covenant, seems very strange and contradictory. They find it not less difficult how to make out the fulfilling of that part of the prophecy, which declares that the sacrifice and oblations should cease in the midst of the last week, which none in fact pretended did literally happen, because they continued for a long time after, even to the destruction of the city.

|| Ibid 380.

This difficulty is got over, not by pretending they actually did cease, for it is acknowledged that they did not so “till the destruction of the temple, about forty years after; but by pretending that they lost their efficacy, and became useless and insignificant, after the grand sacrifice of the saviour of the world;”¶ but for this you must take their word. Most remarkable is the fulfilling this part of the prophecy, as made out by Prideaux; he has not the patience to wait till the death of Jesus, but anticipates by half a week; for he tells us “that he should in the half past week, that is, in the latter half part of it, cause the sacrifice and oblations of the temple to cease, and in the conclusion of the whole, that is, in the precise ending of the said seventy weeks, be cut off and die, and accordingly (this he asserts with great assurance) all this was exactly fulfilled, and was brought to pass;”** so that according to him, they must have lost their efficacy before the death of Jesus; and if this be so, what becomes of all the types of Christ’s sacrifice, which they are <<415>>made to prefigure.

¶ Uni. His. vol. x. p. 449. ** Prid. Con. vol. ii. p. 416.

They pretend, by what rule of language I know not, that the overspreading of abominations, “Sufficiently prefigures the Roman eagles set up in the temple;”* which is false in fact, none being set up there, as the same was in flames before it was taken;† neither did the Romans set up there any idolatry at all. They are all so greatly perplexed how to make out and apply that part of the prophecy which mentions, “the people of the prince that shall come,” some applying the passage to the Romans under Titus, others to Jesus himself. But the first it cannot be, because the whole extent of the prophecy terminates at the death of Jesus, and all the events mentioned, were to happen within that space; consequently, Titus with the Romans, who laid siege to Jerusalem many years after, cannot be the person intended; neither can it be of Jesus who had been cut off long before.

* Uni. His. vol. x. p. 449 † Ibid 663, 664.

The prophecy declared positively, that the Messiah or Anointed was to be cut off after the sixty second week; whereas the authors of the Universal History stretch it to the sixty-ninth week, and Prideaux to the seventieth, which is a contradiction to the prophecy; for if the Messiah was not to be cut off till the sixty-ninth or seventieth week, that period would undoubtedly have been fixed by the angel, and not the sixty-second.

In short, considering their assertions made without the least foundation, and contrary not only to the prophecy, but also to facts, you will have less cause to be surprised at what is generally asserted by them concerning the finishing transgression, making an end of sins, reconciliation for iniquities, and the bringing in everlasting righteousness; on which, and the sealing up the vision and prophecy, and the anointing the Most Holy, they run out and descant most notably; an instance of this you have in Prideaux, all which he makes to be accomplished, “in the great work of our salvation, undertook by Jesus, fully completed by his death, passion, and resurrection. Being born without original sin, and living without actual sin, he was the most holy of all—he was anointed with the Holy Ghost, and with power to be king, priest, and prophet, which offered himself a sacrifice upon the cross, making thereby an end of sin, in so doing he did work reconciliation for us with our God.”

It is pity that the learned author had not proved every one of these particular points; for it is impossible that any one can consider all these events thus put together, and think that they came to pass, or were brought about by Jesus. A transition of our thoughts, and a little reflection on the wickedness of the times in which he lived, the perpetual divisions, and continual crimes or unrighteousness <<416>>of the church from the beginning down to this time, must surely make it not only impossible, but ridiculous to pretend to do it; the contradictions must appear so glaring to any person anywise acquainted with the history of the church, and its proceedings, as must occasion (force) a conclusion entirely opposite; for it must naturally lead him to think, that nothing like that which is pretended ever happened, and that consequently the prophecy could never terminate in Jesus.

I am, &c.

(To be continued.)