Daniel's Prophecy Foretells Date of Crucifixion

by John P. Pratt

Reprinted from Meridian Magazine (15 Sep 2004)
©2004 by John P. Pratt. All rights Reserved.

Index, Home

Contents
1. Daniel's Prophecy
1.1 Traditional Interpretations
1.2 Newton's Interpretation
2. Prophecy Fulfilled
2.1 Ezra's Commission
2.2 Crucifixion Date
2.3 Accurate to the Day
2.4 AD 33 Crucifixion
2.5 Daniel Vindicated
3. Conclusion
Notes
Sir Isaac Newton provided a key to understanding how Daniel prophesied the date of the Crucifixion to the very day.

Are there any prophecies in the Old Testament of when the Messiah would be born? There are several prophecies about Jesus Christ in Isaiah and Psalms, which describe many of the things that the Messiah would do when he would come to earth. But was any hint provided of exactly when the mission of Jesus Christ's first coming would be fulfilled?

Yes, there is one very precise prophecy found in the book of Daniel. It has been understood for centuries to have been accurate to within a few years, or even to the very year, but there has been no general agreement on how the details were fulfilled.

The purpose of this article is to show for the first time that Daniel's prophecy is accurate to the very day on the Enoch calendar. Thus, the prophecy stands as a witness of both the foreknowledge of God and also of the precise timing of events of the Savior's life, planned from the foundation of the world. It also is a testimony of the authenticity of the Book of Daniel.

King Darius

1. Daniel's Prophecy

First, let us review the prophecy itself. In the first year of Darius the Mede, Daniel understood the prophecy of the Lord to Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11-12) that the captivity of Judah would last seventy years (Dan. 9:1-2). Perhaps realizing that the seventy years began when he himself was taken captive,[1] he prayed diligently to the Lord for forgiveness for the many sins of his people, asking the Lord to turn away his fierce anger (Dan. 9:3-19). In response, the Lord sent the angel Gabriel to him even as he prayed, who revealed to him that for the atonement for the sins of Judah to be completed, it would not take a mere seventy years, but seven times seventy years (Dan. 9:20-27, compare Mat. 18:22). That must have raised more questions in Daniel's mind than it answered, and it certainly has raised many questions in the entire Judeo-Christian world.

Because this prophecy is the centerpiece of this article, let us consider it in detail:

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.
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 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. (Daniel 9:24-27)

1.1 Traditional Interpretations

Most Bible commentators agree that the "most Holy" and "Messiah" in this prophecy refer to Jesus Christ, and that "cut off" refers to his death at the Crucifixion. They also agree that "weeks" refers to weeks of years, such as the Lord commanded Israel to reckon (Lev. 25). But that is about the end of the agreement. If the reader does an internet search for "seventy weeks prophecy" the result is at least fifty articles, with almost as many interpretations. Most of them have seemed contrived to me, trying to force the numbers to come out right, like Cinderella's step-sisters trying to cram their foot into her glass slipper. The traditional interpretations appear to be a mass of confusion, allowing one to start from any of several starting points, count either 69, 69.5 or 70 weeks of years of various lengths, to end on any of several dates, including proposed dates for the Savior's baptism and triumphal entry. With one notable exception,[2] most interpretations claim that the prophecy is accurate to the year, but they all have to change one or both of the end years to make it work.

Because of my work in biblical chronology, it has been necessary for me also to attempt to understand this marvelous prophecy. After reading many of the proposed interpretations decades ago, I ended up convinced that all of those interpretations were wrong, but unable to offer anything better. Hence, there has been no mention of Daniel's prophecy anywhere in my work until now. Then, as last month's article about Sir Isaac Newton was being written,[3] it became clear that he had provided the key to finally understand at least part of Daniel's prophecy.

Sir Isaac Newton.

1.2 Newton's Interpretation

Sir Isaac Newton provided a very simple interpretation to only a part of the prophecy. He did not claim to understand all of it, and he felt that part of it referred to the Second Coming of Christ. As stated in last month's article, Newton did not believe that it was the duty of commentators to interpret the meaning of future prophecies, as that is the job of prophets. But he did feel that anyone could point out the fulfillment of prophecies in the past as a witness of God's foreknowledge.

Thus, Newton focused only on the two end points of the seventy weeks. To him it was clear that the prophecy meant that it would be seventy weeks of years from the beginning of the rebuilding of Jerusalem until the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The book of Ezra gives the year of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem as being the seventh year of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:7). While that might not mean much to the average modern reader, Newton's extensive knowledge of ancient history allowed him to identify that Persian king as Artaxerxes I (Artaxerxes Longimanus), and to place the decree in the year 458 BC.

Newton then calculated the Crucifixion date as being either in AD 33 or 34. The way he did it was remarkable. He used his own new theory of gravity to calculate the position of the moon in antiquity to reconstruct the Judean calendar to find a year in which the day of the preparation for Passover fell on a Friday. He was so far ahead of his time that his work was almost entirely overlooked, and that same method was "rediscovered" two centuries later, with essentially the same results.[4]

Newton then pointed out that Daniel's prophecy of seventy weeks, or 490 years, would fit perfectly either between the year of Ezra's commission in 458 BC and AD 33, which he acknowledged as the commonly accepted year for the Crucifixion, or it could also fit between the years 457 BC when Ezra actually got started working and AD 34.[5]

Newton favored the latter choice for two reasons. First it makes Daniel's prophecy come out even not only in weeks of years, but both ends would also fall in the sacred seventh sabbatical year of the cycle. That is, both the years 457 BC and AD 34 were Jewish sabbatical years, which seemed like a very tidy fit to Newton because the entire prophecy was about weeks of years. Secondly, Newton favored AD 34 because he thought he found evidence for the Savior's ministry having been 4.5 years, rather than the traditional 3.5 years. This evidence has not been accepted by modern scholars, who do not consider AD 34 as a plausible year for the Crucifixion.

2. Prophecy Fulfilled

Newton provided the key to understanding the prophecy when he explicitly stated that for those who prefer AD 33 as the year of the Crucifixion, they could count exactly seventy weeks from the year that Ezra began his journey. Because of new facts found since the time of Newton, to me the evidence is overwhelming that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ occurred on Fri, 1 Apr AD 33 on our Gregorian calendar, as published nearly two decades ago.[6] Last month, while writing the article reviewing Newton's interpretation of Daniel's prophecies, it occurred to me to follow up on Newton's suggestion, which he had left as an "exercise for the student," to see just how accurate Daniel's prophecy might really have been, based on the AD 33 crucifixion date.

Let us now determine the exact beginning point of the prophecy.

Ezra, the Scribe

2.1 Ezra's Commission: Sat 3 Apr 458 BC

Ezra provides us with the exact date of when he left to begin to restore Jerusalem. He states that it was on the first day of the first month of the seventh year of Artaxerxes that he left Babylon to restore Jerusalem (Ezra 7:7-9). Sir Isaac Newton placed that event in the year 458 BC, but saw no need to refine that estimate further. What does modern scholarship say about that date?

The standard reference for dates of that period on the Babylonian calendar is a set of tables produced by Parker and Dubberstein, which give the exact day for the first day of every month. The day listed in their tables, which is guaranteed not to have been influenced by any desire to force the prophecy to come out neatly, is Sat 3 Apr 458 BC.[7] Thus, modern scholarship agrees perfectly with Newton on the year. Even though common interpretations of the prophecy also begin from Ezra's commission to rebuild Jerusalem, the date usually listed is 456 or 457 BC. There is rarely a reference justifying those years. They appear to have been chosen simply to accommodate one particular interpretation of the seventy weeks prophecy. Any departure from the Parker and Dubberstein value should require some sort of explanation.

2.2 Crucifixion Date: Fri 1 Apr AD 33

There are only two viable dates accepted by scholars for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The more popular is Fri 5 Apr AD 30 (on our modern Gregorian calendar), but several scholars prefer the other choice of Fri 1 Apr AD 33.[8] The best summary of modern scholarship is Jack Finegan's Handbook of Biblical Chronology, and these are the two dates which he lists as possible. Recent evidence has now persuaded him to favor the AD 33 date.[9]

Briefly, the AD 30 date best fits all of the evidence concerning both the birth and death of Christ, including secular sources, whereas the AD 33 date is the one that best fits the New Testament account of the Crucifixion. For nearly two decades my work has emphasized that it is the AD 33 date which must be correct, and that the secular source of Josephus is wrong about the date of Herod's death. The only reason to prefer the AD 30 date is to accommodate the death of Herod having been in 4 or 3 BC as Josephus states (and hence Christ's birth about 6-5 BC). Now evidence indicates that Herod died about February of AD 1.[10]. Thus, there is no longer a compelling reason to abandon the biblical Crucifixion date of Fri 1 Apr AD 33.

The Crucifixion: Fri 1 Apr AD 33

2.3 Accurate to the Day in Enoch Years

We have determined what are apparently the two dates of the beginning and endpoints of Daniel's seventy weeks prophecy. What is the interval between those two dates? As Sir Isaac Newton pointed out, the interval is 490 years, being seventy weeks of years, the very number indicated in the prophecy. That interval was derived free from any prejudice about trying to force some special interpretation on the scripture. Indeed, Newton's own prejudice for having the prophecy begin and end in a Jewish sabbatical year seems to have influenced him to change both dates to be one year later, as he himself implies.

Those familiar with my work will know that in virtually every case, the Lord's prophecies are fulfilled not only to the year, but to the very day. Can that be the case with the seventy weeks prophecy?

On our modern Gregorian calendar, the two dates are very close to exactly 490 years apart. After all, the interval begins on April 3 and ends on April 1. But we have no reason to suspect that the Lord has ever employed our Roman calendar, which is a corrected form of that proposed by Julius Caesar. What is the interval on calendars which the Lord has authorized, such as the Hebrew Calendar and the Enoch Calendar?

On the Hebrew Calendar, the day of Ezra's departure was the first day of the first month (1 Nisan),[11] and the crucifixion of Christ was on the day on which the Passover lamb was sacrificed (14 Nisan). So the interval is nearly two weeks more than 490 years on the Hebrew calendar.

What about the Enoch Calendar? The solar calendar of Enoch is much more like our Gregorian calendar, except that it is based on weeks so that it begins every year on a Sunday, and adds an entire week of days when needed to keep the first day of the year near the spring equinox (21 Mar). Because this calendar is based on weeks (of days), it seems especially appropriate for consideration as a candidate to have been used in a prophecy concerning weeks (of years). As has been explained in previous articles, the first day of the Enoch year tends to be the Sunday on or after the spring equinox.[12] In the year 458 BC the first day of the first month of the Enoch year fell on Sun 21 Mar, on the very day of the spring equinox. That means that the day of Ezra's departure, Sat 3 Apr 458 BC, was the 14th day of the first month (14 Spring), which is Passover on that calendar.

As has been published previously, the day of the Crucifixion, Fri 1 Apr AD 33, was the day preceding Passover on the Enoch calendar.[13] Passover always falls on a Saturday on the Enoch calendar. The Friday Crucifixion completed exactly 490 years to the very day on the Enoch calendar, because the 491st year would have begun on Passover, 2 Apr AD 33.[14]

Thus, the interval from Ezra's departure to rebuild Jerusalem to the date on which the Savior was cut off from life was exactly seventy weeks of years to the very day on the Enoch calendar.

2.4 AD 33 Crucifixion

The seventy weeks prophecy also becomes a strong witness of the date of the Crucifixion. There has been a controversy for years over whether the Savior died in AD 30 or AD 33, but there is no real controversy over when the seventh year of Artaxerxes occurred. The best modern dates for Artaxerxes match Newton's to the very year. The fact that the very day listed in the standard tables for the date of Ezra's departure exactly fits with the very day in AD 33, is compelling evidence that the AD 33 Crucifixion date is correct. Thus, Daniel's prophecy not only witnesses of the foreknowledge of God, it also helps resolve a long controversy about the exact date of the Crucifixion.

Daniel prevails over his adversaries.

2.5 Daniel Vindicated

The Book of Daniel has been under attack for centuries as not being authentic. The fact that this prophecy of seventy weeks was fulfilled to the very day on the Enoch calendar, which has only been understood recently, is a convincing vindication of the book's validity. The Savior quoted prophecies from the book (Mat. 24:15), which is also a very powerful endorsement. Even as Daniel was not hurt in the lions' den, he also emerges unscathed from attacks by critics.

3. Conclusion

Sir Isaac Newton provided the key to understanding the seventy weeks prophecy of Daniel. When one reckons from the day that Ezra left to rebuild Jerusalem (Sat 3 Apr 458 BC), to one of the two possible dates for the Crucifixion (Fri 1 Apr AD 33), the interval is almost exactly seventy weeks of years (490 years) on our calendar. When the Enoch calendar is used, then the separation of the two dates completes exactly seventy weeks of Enoch years, to the very day. This precise timing provides a strong witness 1) of God's foreknowledge of both dates, 2) of the authenticity of the Book of Daniel, and 3) of Fri 1 Apr AD 33 as the date of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Truly the Lord has provided several witnesses of the key dates in the Savior's life.

Notes

  1. That prophecy is not trivial to understand because at first it might appear that the captivity only lasted about 60 years, from 597 BC to 537 BC. But the official date for the beginning of the captivity was most likely the day on which Daniel himself was taken captive in the summer of 605 BC. See Pratt, John P., "When Was Judah's 70-Year Babylonian Captivity?" The Ensign 28, No. 10 (October, 1998), pp. 64-65.
  2. The only claim of which I'm aware that the prophecy is accurate to the very day is that of Sir Robert Anderson, in his work The Coming Prince. Although a valiant effort, to me it appears that he used the wrong beginning point (Nehemiah's Commission, 445 BC, Neh. 2:1,5), wrong year length (360 days), wrong number of weeks of years (69), the wrong final event (Triumphal Entry), which he placed in the wrong year (AD 32). But at least he expected the Lord's word to be accurate to the very day, an attitude which I share, and he consulted with experts to get the astronomy right. I note all of these variables not to criticize his work, but to emphasize the flexibility that has been available for proposed interpretations. Anderson was definitely justified in considering the 360-day year, especially because 70 years of 360 days nearly equals 69 years of 365.25 days, and the numbers 69 and 70 are prominent in the revelation. Some variation of his suggestion may yet prove correct. Often the Lord's revelations have multiple meanings.
  3. Pratt, John P., "Sir Isaac Newton Interprets Daniel's Prophecies" Meridian Magazine (11 Aug 2004).
  4. See Pratt, John P., "Newton's Date for the Crucifixion," Quar. Journ. of R.A.S. 32, (Sept. 1991), 301-304. That paper quoted the work of Isaac Newton, Observations on the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse (London: Darby & Browne, 1733), which has subsequently been reprinted as The Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse (Hyderabad, India: Printland Publishers, 1998).
  5. Newton, Prophecies, p. 132. Remember, there was no year 0 BC; the year AD 1 followed 1 BC. Adding 458 to 33 yields 491, but that is one more than the number of intervening years.
  6. Pratt, John P., "The Restoration of Priesthood Keys on Easter 1836, Part 1: Dating the First Easter," Ensign 15, No. 6 (June, 1985), pp. 59-68.
  7. Parker, Richard A. & Dubberstein, Waldo H., Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C. - A.D. 45 (Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1942), p. 30. They list the date of Sat 8 Apr on the Julian calendar, used by historians, which I converted to our modern Gregorian calendar.
  8. These dates are usually given as their Julian calendar equivalents: Fri 7 Apr AD 30 and Fri 3 Apr AD 33.
  9. Finegan, Jack, Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Revised Edition; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1998). He devotes pp 353-369 to the Crucifixion date. After reviewing the requirement of a Friday 14 Nisan, he states, "Astronomically calculated, therefore, the likely dates for the crucifixion of Jesus appear to be either Friday, Apr 7, A.D. 30, or Friday, Apr 3, A.D. 33", p 362. After reviewing several more pages of the work of top scholars, he finally concludes, "According to the foregoing analysis the crucifixion of Jesus was most probably on Friday, Apr 3, A.D. 33," p. 368. This represents a change toward favoring the AD 33 date. In the first edition of his book (Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 1964), he concluded, "the two dates which are possible, astronomically and calendrically, for the crucifixion are: Friday Apr 7, A.D. 30 and Friday Apr 3, A.D. 33", p. 300. Finegan also agrees with Parker and Dubberstein that the date of Ezra's departure was Sat 8 Apr 458 BC (Julian), Revised Edition, p. 268.
  10. Pratt, John P., "Yet Another Eclipse for Herod," The Planetarian, vol. 19, no. 4, Dec. 1990, pp. 8-14.
  11. Technically, the Hebrew calendar is not identical to the Babylonian, but in any case the day on which Ezra left would have been near a new moon, meaning near the first day of a Hebrew month.
  12. Pratt, John P., "Enoch Calendar Testifies of Christ," Meridian Magazine (11 Sep 2001).
  13. Pratt, John P., "Enoch Calendar," section 4.
  14. We might count from the 14th of the first month to the 14th of that month in a later year as an exact number of years, but as has been shown in my work previously, the Lord usually reckons that as one day too many. He tends to count inclusively, from the first day of the first year to the last day of the last year, and to count any part of a day as an entire day.