Seventy Weeks of Years
SEVENTY WEEKS OF YEARS
A term given to the cryptic passage of Dn 9.24–27 in which such a period represents the length of Judah's afflictions. Jeremiah (25.11; 29.10), in God's name, foretold that, after 70 years (to be taken as a round number) of exile, the people of Judah would be restored to prosperity in Palestine. The prophecy was really fulfilled by their repatriation under Cyrus in 538 b.c. (2 Chr 36.20–22; Ez 1.1–2; see also Is 40.2), yet only in an imperfect manner (Zec 1.12). After the return from Exile came trials and, under Antiochus IV Epiphanes, persecution, so that it was felt that a deeper meaning was implied by the prophecy of Jeremiah. In the apocalyptic passage of Dn 9.24–27, composed c. 164 b.c., the prophecy is reinterpreted midrashically, but in conformity with a fundamental idea of Hebrew religion (cf. Lv 26.18, 24, 27–28) as meaning, not 70 years, but 70 weeks of years, i.e., 490 years. Three theories that have been proposed to explain the final week of Daniel's apocalyptic vision would place it respectively in the Maccabean, the Roman, or the eschatological age.
Maccabean age. Some scholars understand the final week to refer to the period and persecution of the Syrian King antiochus iv Epiphanes (170–164 b.c.). The 70 weeks are divided in Daniel as composed of three distinct periods of 7 + 62 + 1. According to this theory the first period, "the utterance of the word" (v. 25), would begin in 587 b.c. when the prophetic word to Jeremiah began to take effect at the beginning of the exile rather than in 605 (Jer 25.11) or 598 (29.10) when Jeremiah uttered the prophecy. The first period (49 years), i.e., the Exile, ends with "one who is anointed and a leader," who could have been cyrus (cf. Is 45.1), or joshua son of Josedech, or Zerubbabel (Hg 1.1; Zec 3.1), all from c. 538 b.c. The second period of 62 weeks (434 years) runs from c. 538 to "the cutting down of an anointed one" (v. 26), i.e., the treacherous murder of the pious high priest Onias III at Daphne, near Antioch, in 170 b.c. (2 Mc 4.30–38; cf. Dn 11.22). Daniel's 434 years are actually 66 too many. The 62 weeks, like Jeremiah's 70 years, may be a round number, or the author might have been working with some current, though inexact chronology for the Persian period. Even the Jewish historians Demetrius (c. 200 b.c.) and Josephus (Ant. 20.10.2) err respectively by excess of 70 and 60 years. The final week covers the relations of Antiochus with the Jews (170–164 b.c.) in a manner similar to that of Dn 7.7–8, 23–26; 8.8–25; 11.28–39. In the middle of the week, i.e., in 167 b.c., the Temple was desecrated by the "horrible abomination" (Dn 7.25; 11.31).
The Maccabean chronology, then, is that which is indicated by the general context of the book of Daniel and is, in fact, the oldest attested interpretation of his apocalyptic vision, since it is that of 1 Mc 1.54, 59 (c. 100 b.c.), of the Septuagint rendering of Dn 9.24–27 [see Fraidl, 4–27; A. Bludau, Die alex. Uebersetzung des B. Daniel, Biblische Studien 2 (Freiburg 1897) 104–130], and probably of 1 Enoch ch. 85–90, esp. 89.59; 90.14 (see Fraidl, 11–15). It is the view now almost universally defended.
Roman Age. Another view is that Daniel's apocalyptic vision was fulfilled in the events of the beginning of the Christian Era. Jewish exegesis saw the fulfillment in the Jewish wars of a.d. 67–70 (attested already in Josephus; see Fraidl, 18–23, and cf. Mt 24.15; Mk 13.14) and a.d. 132–135. Traditional Christian exegesis, traceable back only to the end of the 2d Christian century, though varying in details, would take Dn 9.24–27 as a prophecy of the advent, ministry, and death of Christ. This Christological exegesis has affected the peshitta and Vulgate renderings of the passage. In general its supporters take 7 + 62 weeks as one period of 483 years, which is made to begin with some Persian decree, e.g., that of Artaxerxes I in 458 b.c. This is exactly 483 years before Christ's ministry, and the prophecy is considered to contain an exact chronology of the life and death of Jesus. The theory, unfortunately, explains Dn 9.24–27 outside the general Maccabean context of the book; it takes 7 + 62 less naturally as one period and views the entire 70 weeks as beginning at a different date from Jeremiah's 70 years. If the vision is an exact prophecy of the date of Christ's ministry, it is surprising that no use was made of it in the NT or in early Christian apologetics. This "traditional" exegesis, challenged from the 16th century onward, is now rarely defended; see, however, G. Closen, Verbum Domini 18 (1938) 47–56, 115–125.
Eschatological Age. Some would see in the vision a prophecy of the end of the world; cf. 2 Thes 2.4. Though the theory was defended by certain Church Fathers (see Bigot, 76–77), it is now universally abandoned. Some of the images of the passage, can, of course, be taken as types of eschatological events.
Bibliography: Commentaries on Dn 9.24–27. j. a. montgomery (International Critical Commentary 22; 1927) 390–401. s. r. driver (Cambridge, England 1901) 143–150. g. rinaldi (4th ed. Milan 1962) 131–135, bibliog. 33–34. f. fraidl, Die Exegese der siebzig Wochen Daniels in der alten und mittleren Zeit (Graz 1883). l. bigot, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 1903–50) 4.1:75–103. m. g. gruenthaner, "The Seventy Weeks," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 1 (Washington 1939) 44–54. j. t. nelis, Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, translated and adapted by l. hartman (New York, 1963) 2569–72.