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Dias’ Letters, Letter 25

(Continued from vol. vii., p. 416.)

Dias’ Letters.
Letter XXV. The 70 Weeks of Daniel

We are told by Father Calmet that there are many different hypotheses concerning Daniel’s seventy weeks, even among Christian writers—some begin them from the first year of Darius, the Mede, which is the epoch of Daniel’s prophecy, and make them determine at the profanation of the temple, which happened under the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes. Others begin them from the first year of Cyrus at Babylon, and place the end of them at the destruction of the Temple by the Romans. Others fix the beginning at the first year of Darius the Mede, in which the revelation was made to Daniel, and put the end at the birth of Jesus Christ; Julius Africanus begins the seventy weeks at the second year of Artaxerxes, and makes them terminate at the death of the Messiah.*

* Vide the article “Weeks.”

Thus Julius Africanus flourished in the third century, and, if I mistake not, was the first that calculated the seventy weeks to apply them to Jesus, which none of the New Testament writers, or any other had yet done, or found out any such meaning, though they lived long enough, every one having written after their pretended accomplishment at Jesus’ death. Thus you see nothing is left unattempted to make out the accomplishment of this prophecy. But “let them understand by week, weeks of years (though there be no foundation in the Old Testament for the use of the word), or what other portion of time they think fit; let them understand by a year the Jewish or Chaldean, a lunar or a solar year; let them begin the weeks in the year of Cyrus, or Darius, or Xerxes, or in the seventh or twentieth of Artaxerxes Longimanus, or when Daniel had his vision; let them fix the time of Jesus’ birth, or beginning to preach, or death, when they please; and let them assign the time of the expiration of the seventy weeks, which is variously fixed, when they please: yet cannot this prophecy be made to square to the event they would refer it, and will after all be subject to great difficulties.”†

† Grounds and Reasons, p. 250.

Many other writers (says Mr. Woolston) besides the Bishop of Litchfield, such as Dr. Clarke, <<38>>Dr. Marshall, Mr. Whiston, and Mr. Sykes, have to their power urged this prophecy against the author of the Grounds; and indeed it was unavoidable, and not to be passed over in silence by them, since that author, by his insinuations, had objected to the obscurity of this prophecy, the difficulty of its application, and the difference amongst expositors in the computation of the time mentioned in it; and therefore the said writers against the Grounds were in the right it, on almost every one to contend for the truth of this prophecy, and to illustrate it, and if they had all jumped in their numerical and chronological notions with the least show of exactness, they had done somewhat to the purpose. But alas! they are as unhappily divided amongst themselves as any before them in their way of arithmetic and chronology: and good Mr. Whiston is so offended with the Bishop of Litchfield and Dr. Clarke for their computation of Daniel’s weeks, that he could not forbear writing against them.”*

* Dissert. On Daniel’s Weeks, p. 4.

These differences are enough to make us say, that where there is so little agreement, little certainty can be expected;† and you will less wonder at finding some of the most eminent Christian chronologers and expounders give up the application of this prophecy, and its accomplishment in Jesus, and endeavour at a different computation and application, ending the seventy weeks, and the events therein mentioned in the times of Antiochus Epiphanes, this being the epoch assigned the prophecy, also by some of the best Jewish authors, the other event being neither satisfactory nor literally fulfilled. For the truth of this we may appeal to almost every Christian commentator. I shall instance in this the judicious Prideaux, who, after the great trouble and pains he had been at to fix his own, and overthrow all other hypotheses, concludes by declaring, “that there are many difficulties in it, must be acknowledged; the perplexities which many learned men have been led to, in their explications of it, do sufficiently prove it; and the understanding in a literal sense, what is there meant in a figurative, hath not been the least cause thereof.”‡ Let them give up all pretensions, and not lay any stress or urge it against the Jews, unless they are able to clear it of the many difficulties with which it is clogged, and experience ought to convince them of the impracticability of doing it. I shall now give you that explanation and application of this prophecy which to me appears the best.

† Un. His., vol. x. p. 448. ‡ Connect. ii. 441.

I was once of opinion that no person could ever be able to know or <<39>>ascertain the true meaning and import of this prophecy; it always appeared to me to be a particular revelation made to Daniel, who was favoured with the foreknowledge of many future events, particularly with some remarkable transactions which should within a limited space of time befall his people; and as it was not necessary that any other person should have, or attain to, the like knowledge, it was for that reason revealed in such terms as should evade the conjectures of all inquirers.

The divisions amongst expositors who hardly agree in any one circumstance, helped to confirm me in this opinion, and their endeavouring to apply and extend the prophecy to a favourite event, or a particular hypothesis, rather than sincerely endeavour to find out its true meaning, greatly increases the difficulties. I have already shown the impossibility of extending it to one event to which it has, with great pain and labour, been endeavoured to make answer. It now remains that I make it square with a very different event, to which I think it better corresponds. Probability is in my opinion the highest degree we can arrive at.

It was the angel indeed who made Daniel to know and understand (with a fixed certainty no doubt) its import, meaning, and application; but as no other person was ever favoured with the like privilege, it would appear presumptuous to attempt it. As this prophecy is largely and fully handled by many express expositors, both Jews and Christians, who apply it to the same event, with little variation, in their hypothesis, I shall refer you to them, and therefore shall be very short.

It appears, from Daniel’s prayer, and also from the angel’s revelation and answer, that he prayed, not only for the return of his people, but likewise for the complete restoration and righteous times* described by Jeremiah and the other prophets, of which he, from their wickedness, judged there was but little prospect† at that time. These were his supplications. To this prayer the angel answers that seventy weeks were shortened, reduced, or abbreviated (for so nechtach signifies), that his people might finish their transgressions, make an end of sins, and reconciliation for iniquities, that so they might return to God, and bring in everlasting righteousness, for which he prayed, and seal or fulfil the prophecy, which foretold this event, and annoint the (Kodesh Hakkodashim) sanctum sanctorum.

* Dan. ix. 13 † Ibid. ix. 5, 11.

The angel then describes, or makes Daniel to know and understand some extraordinary events that should happen to or befall his people during that space of time. But it does not follow that, because there was seventy weeks decreed or abbreviated before his nation should be restored, <<40>>the same should take effect at that period, because this, according to all the prophecies, is made to depend on their turning to God and making themselves worthy of it. All, therefore, which the angel intimates, is that the time given being accomplished, they were entitled to it, should they be deserving of it.

There is a very great difference concerning the promises relating of the duration of the Egyptian bondage and Babylonish captivity, to that restoration prayed for by Daniel; the first two were absolute and unconditional, but that which was to be the fulfilling of the prophecies, the restoration which Daniel prayed for, had no time fixed; therefore, what the angel reveals is, that after such a time it depended on his people’s rendering themselves deserving by their reformation, which was only to be obtained by the finishing of transgression, making an end of sin, and reconciliation of iniquity, which would bring in everlasting righteousness, the completion of prophecies, and restoration of divine service, or anointing the kodesh hakkodashim, that is, the restoration of the Jews, an event expected both by Jews and Christians.

I shall now proceed to mark out the events which the angel declares to Daniel should happen during the limited time and divisions. The first division is that, “from the going forth of the word or prophecy (for so dabar signifies) to restore and build Jerusalem, unto Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks.” Here then we have a beginning and ending of this epoch, which is, that from the word or promise made to Jeremiah of a return from captivity, in the fourth of Johiakim,* where the weeks begin, unto Cyrus, called by Isaiah the Lord’s anointed, Messiah, or Christ,† where they end, are seven weeks, or forty-nine years. Then beginning from the same time, the sixty-two weeks (for they are abbreviated), that is four hundred and thirty-two years, they end or terminate in Judas Maccabeus, during which space, “the streets and walls were to be built even in troublous times;” and that it did so happen, is evident from history, the people and city undergoing sundry revolutions and changes. After this epoch, that is, after the sixty-two weeks, shall Messiah (Christ or Anointed) be cut off, that is, Onias, who was the legal anointed high priest, an upright person, and of great holiness, was cruelly put to death, just after the sixty-second week.‡

* Jer. xxv. 1, 12. † Isa. xliv. 1. ‡ acc. iv.

Here, then, we find the two Christs or Messiahs; the first is Cyrus, the Prince Messiah, to whom, from the going forth of the prophecy, revealed to Jeremiah, was to be seven weeks, he having the honour of that denomination from God himself; the second Messiah is Onias, the legal high priest, and in fact anointed, <<41>>to Messiah, a person of great sanctity,* and of whom it is said, that there are few persons to whom the Scriptures give greater praises,† who was to be killed after the sixty-two weeks, or four hundred and thirty-four years, “without help.” The words ve-en lo can never be made to mean, not for himself, it is much more proper, as they are in the margin of the English Bible “and shall have nothing;” they are very exactly rendered in the Spanish Ynoael. To make ve-en lo significative, something ought to be added, and nothing so proper, as I have rendered them, or unto him no help, or he had none to help him; so that in these two Messiahs, we have a most literal accomplishment of the prophecy. They were to be different, since to the first was to be seven weeks, or forty-nine years, and the other was to be put to death, or cut off, after sixty-two weeks, or four hundred and thirty-four years.

* 2 Macc. iii. 33. † Dict. on the article Onias.

Nothing can be more contradictory to the text, than to make the angel say (as those do who would extend the prophecy to Jesus), that there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks unto the Messiah Prince; for if the angel meant sixty-nine weeks, it must have been absurd thus to divide the time and make two reckonings, where he meant but one, contrary to all the rules of language and modes of speech. My meaning, therefore, is not only most agreeable to the text, but also conformable to chronology; besides which, Cyrus and Onias have both an inherent right of being termed or called Messiahs. But Jesus’s right to that title is not so evident; for it will not be admitted as an adequate proof, what they assert, “That he was anointed with the Holy Ghost,” which is a phrase, when it comes rightly to be considered, will amount to an empty sound, without any meaning at all.

But to proceed. The next part of the prophecy is, “And the people of the Prince that shall come, shall destroy the Holy City, and the sanctuary, and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined,” which is a description of the persecution and transactions of Antiochus Epiphanes and his army, who laid the city and temple waste, and like a flood, overpoured everything, causing great desolation during the war.‡ “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.” This is the covenant made with many who left the law, to follow the ordinances of the heathen.§ “And in the midst of the week, he shall cause the sacrifices and oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations, he shall make it
<<42>>desolate, even until the consummation,” which, happened accordingly; for he forbid in the middle of the week, “burnt-offerings, and sacrifices, and drink-offerings, in the temple; and that they should profane the Sabbath and festival days.”* “Now in the fifteenth day of the month Kislev, in the one hundred and forty-fifth year, they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar, and builded idol altars throughout the cities of Judah on every side,”† so that this part of the prophecy received the literal accomplishment; and the author plainly alludes to this circumstance in his description, and that “determined shall be poured out upon the desolate.”

‡ 1 Macc. i. 20-24 ; 30-39 ; 2 Macc. v. 11-16 ; 24-26.
§ l Macc. i:11-15.
* 1 Macc. i. 45 † Ibid. 54.

This last part seems to want some word to make up the sentence, and may with propriety be thus made up: “And in the end desolator shall have vengeance poured on him,” that is, in the end the Jews shall take vengeance on their enemies; which did so happen, under the conduct of the valiant Judas Maccabeus, who overthrew their forces, and recovered the city and temple, and restored the temple service, in commemoration of which deliverance, a feast was ordained, which has ever since been religiously kept.‡

‡ The annual festival of Dedication [Hanukkah].

Thus, sir, have I expounded and explained this famous prophecy, which ends with the war and persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes. The whole prophecy seems throughout a representation of the events which happened during that space, as the events themselves are a literal fulfilling of it, and in every respect agree with the history of those times. But whatever your opinion may be of this performance, one thing I may venture to assert, and that is, that it can be no prophecy of Jesus; for to him it cannot be applied without doing the utmost violence to the prophecy, and departing from its plain meaning; and if a figurative explanation and application be admitted, I doubt not such a one may be made out as will be much disliked by Christians; and why it should not be admitted, or be on the same footing, as those which they invent, will be hard for them to show a sufficient cause.

I am, &c.