I spent much of last week at a theism/intelligent design website debating (and defending) the rational merits of atheism. It was both fun and head-scratching, mainly because anti-atheists refuse to grant that atheism is at all rational. To many, atheism is and must be 100 percent unsound.
One person challenged me to explain Daniel 9:25, saying that no one had ever done so to his satisfaction. I presume he meant that this section of Daniel makes a specific messianic prediction which Jesus fulfilled. Therefore, theism and Christianity have something strong in their favor against atheism and skepticism.
Now, the subject of Daniel was not part of the larger debate on atheism, but the challenger was probably responding to my comment about being unimpressed at the notion that Jesus fulfilled 300 Old Testament prophecies. However, the 300 prophecies thing is a prime example of why the Christian Old Testament is a different text than the Hebrew Scriptures of Judaism. I’m not even talking about differences in number of books and their order: I mean that the approaches of Christianity and Judaism lead to fundamentally irreconcilable positions.
Christian approaches, of course, read the Old Testament as specifically prefiguring Jesus: indeed, that’s what the Old Testament essentially is. The Hebrew Scriptures are nothing like this. If anything, they wind up promising the collective redemption of Israel as a first among all nations. Christianity made God incarnate in man; Judaism had God actually residing at the Temple in Jerusalem. For Jews, there was no need for God incarnate because God was there already. The need was for a military messiah to cleanse the nation of its defilers.
Since the theism/intelligent design website explicitly discourages biblical exegesis–or so I was told–I thought it would be worthwhile to consider Daniel here. Unfortunately, as a text, Daniel is ponderous and occasionally cryptic.
Let’s look at some translations in the area that interested my challenger. First up is a Jewish translation of Daniel 9:20-27:
20. Now I was still speaking and praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and casting my supplication before the Lord my God about the mount of the Sanctuary of my God.
21. While I was still speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I saw in the vision at first, approached me in swift flight about the time of the evening offering.
22. And he enabled me to understand, and he spoke with me, and he said, “Daniel, now I have come forth to make you skillful in understanding.
23. In the beginning of your supplications, a word came forth, and I have come to tell it, for you have desirable qualities; now contemplate the word and understand the vision.
24. Seventy weeks [of years] have been decreed upon your people and upon the city of your Sanctuary to terminate the transgression and to end sin, and to expiate iniquity, and to bring eternal righteousness, and to seal up vision and prophet, and to anoint the Holy of Holies.
25. And you shall know and understand that from the emergence of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem until the anointed king [shall be] seven weeks, and [in] sixty-two weeks it will return and be built street and moat, but in troubled times.
26. And after the sixty-two weeks, the anointed one will be cut off, and he will be no more, and the people of the coming monarch will destroy the city and the Sanctuary, and his end will come about by inundation, and until the end of the war, it will be cut off into desolation.
27. And he will strengthen a covenant for the princes for one week, and half the week he will abolish sacrifice and meal- offering, and on high, among abominations, will be the dumb one, and until destruction and extermination befall the dumb one.
Verses 24-26 appear to articulate a time of purging in Jerusalem, after which an “anointed king” will emerge to “restore and rebuild” the city, before this figure is “cut off.” There’s more to discuss in terms of context and language–and I’ll only do a little of that here in this post–but first I want to compare the text above with that of the King James Version:
20. And whiles I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God;
21. Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation.
22. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding.
23. At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision.
24. Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and 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.
25. 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.
26. 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.
27. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
One more translation will suffice. Here is the NIV:
20. While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill—
21. while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice.
22. He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding.
23. As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision:
24. “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.
25. “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.
26. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.
27. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”
As a reminder: the first is a Jewish translation, and the latter two are Christian. Without my commenting too heavily on them, there are some apparent and significant differences between what the three texts say:
- 20 — The Christian translations push away emphasis on the “Sanctuary,” capitalized in the Jewish versions. One very important item to know is that the Sanctuary is where God actually lives. It’s not merely a place of worship and sacrifice to Jews in this era. It’s God’s actual home.
- 24 — The whole weeks/years interpretation is embroiled in the prophecy that Daniel is supposed to have communicated. Notice here too the focus on the Sanctuary and the Holy of Holies in the Jewish translation, and its de-emphasis in the Christian versions.
- 25 — The Christian translations capitalize “Messiah,” “Prince,” and “Anointed One” to establish the putative connection with Jesus.
- 26 — The KJV has the messiah cut off, “but not for himself,” which hints that his sacrifice was for some other reason: and we all know the Christian determination of that reason. The NIV renders “cut off” as “put to death,” which is possible but not necessarily what the Hebrew phrasing means.
- 27 — The Christian versions have the anointed one “confirming” a covenant. The Jewish version translates as strengthening–quite a different dynamic. The Jewish version also seems to specify another person, a “dumb one.” The Christian versions themselves differ on what’s happening here.
I’ll have more to say about Daniel and how it is interpreted in a later post. For now, I want to invite my questioner over here to let him know that I’ll be looking at some of Daniel. I’d like him to articulate some of his key assertions about Daniel, what it means, and why.
Your feedback, too, is most welcome.