” Those Jews who took Herod for the Messiah, and were thence called Herodians, seem to have grounded their opinion upon the seventy weeks of years, which they found between the Reign of Cyrus and that of Herod: but afterwards, in applying the Prophesy to Theudas, and Judas of Galilee, and at length to Barchochab, they seem to have shortened the Reign of the Kingdom of Persia.”
Anyone care to guess who made the quote above? Would you believe that one of the most famous scientists of all time penned this in the early 1700’s? It may come as a surprise to some that Sir Isaac Newton had a great interest in the Bible and Biblical prophecy. It was in his Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, as quoted above, where he noticed the Jewish chronology was missing a couple of centuries. What’s fascinating is he traced the root of that missing chronology to an assumption made by early Jewish messianic expectants concerning the most important prophecy in the Bible.
It is worth considering the importance of that for a moment. Over two thousand years ago Jewish messianic believers made an assumption about the prophecy of 70 Weeks (found in the book of Daniel chapter 9) which led them to erase over two hundred years of history. Ironically, Christian scholars today have made a similar mistake only instead of erasing two hundred years of chronology they have added seventy years. What is most amazing about these chronological errors is that they are both based in what could be called an “Artaxerxes Assumption.”
For over two millennia, the holy grail of messianic prophecies has been the prophecy of “70 Weeks” found in chapter 9 of the book of Daniel. This is the only prophecy in the entire Biblical record which gives a specific datable event as a marker for the future appearance of the Messiah. As quoted above, Isaac Newton believed the prophecy was in part responsible for over two hundred years of missing Persian chronology. Though he was correct in tracing the missing chronology to an erroneous assumption concerning the prophecy of 70 weeks, Newton was incorrect in attributing that error to a starting point in the reign of Cyrus.
To get to the real root of the problem it is imperative to understand the prophecy within the context of the 2nd temple era of Jewish history. The starting point for the prophecy of Daniel 9 (which was the basis for each of the failed messianic claims noted by Newton) began with a “commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem”.
Daniel 9:25 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,
As explained in my article The Fifth Command there was only one “commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem” the Jewish people would have recognized. That command was the Divine command given by YHWH, proclaimed by Haggai and Zechariah and witnessed by Ezra 6:14 (see my article The Fifth Command for further explanation).
Here is how the “Artaxerxes Assumption” enters the picture. The Divine command “to restore and to build Jerusalem” was given in the 2nd year of Darius who was also known historically as “Artaxerxes”. When the Asmonaeans calculated the 70 weeks of Daniel from the 2nd year of Darius it allowed them to claim that Judas Maccabaeus was the promised messiah. When he failed to usher in the Messianic kingdom, the prophecy was recycled for the next Jewish messianic figure. Since the Divine command was given in the 2nd year of Darius “Artaxerxes” the next generation of Jewish messianic expectants just shifted the prophecy to the 2nd year of another Persian Artaxerxes. With the end of the Bar Cochab rebellion in the first part of the 2nd century the use of Daniel 9 to claim the start of the Messianic kingdom had run its course. The Rabbinic Biblical calendar was reset and 241 years of Persian history were lost.
To this day the Rabbinic Biblical calendar still reflects this mistake. Unfortunately, the “Artaxerxes Assumption” of the 1st centuries set in motion the chronological confusion which is still alive today. As a result of these errors, the only legitimate and contextually accurate fulfillment of the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks was obscured and eventually all but forgotten.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, a Scotland Yard investigator named Sir Robert Anderson (of Jack the Ripper fame) wrote a book on the prophecy of Daniel 9 called The Coming Prince. In his work on this great prophecy, Anderson made his own “Artaxerxes Assumption.” This time instead of erasing the Persian chronology, Anderson stretched the Biblical chronology of Ezra and Nehemiah by 58 years in order to fulfill his interpretation of the prophecy of 70 weeks. Today, Anderson’s interpretation is the basis for most scholars’ writings on the subject of Daniel 9. Regrettably, his good intentions were a little short on reasonable chronological evidence from the Bible.
First, Anderson ignored the contextual relevance of YHWH’s command “to restore and to build Jerusalem.” Unlike his 1st century messianic predecessors, Anderson saw no reason to begin the prophecy with the words of YHWH. Next, Anderson assumed the “Artaxerxes” of Nehemiah and Ezra was Artaxerxes Longimanus. Unfortunately, he did not base this assumption upon any Biblical evidence but instead upon a single unsubstantiated opinion of the Christian historian, Rawlinson, in his translation of Herodotus, vol. 4, p.217 . That quote as taken from Anderson’s The Coming Prince is as follows:
Artaxerxes I. reigned forty years, from 465 to 425. He is mentioned by Herodotus once (6. 98), by Thucydides frequently. Both writers were his contemporaries. There is every reason to believe that he was the king who sent Ezra and Nehemiah to Jerusalem, and sanctioned the restoration of the fortifications.” – RAWLINSON, Herodotus, vol. 4., p. 217.
Anderson, by all accounts, was an exceptional Biblical scholar. To be fair to Anderson, his assumption was understandable considering Ussher, Newton, Rawlinson, and Josephus were of the same general opinion concerning “Artaxerxes.” I mean, what kind of person argues with the opinion of some of the greatest Biblical chronologists of all time? Okay, I must admit I am raising my hand timidly from the back of the room. But with all due respect to these great men, it seemed to have been a case of each thinking the other had done his homework. In this case, their messianic zeal caused them to make an assumption which is unsupported by Biblical chronology. I appreciate the fact that they believed Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries of Artaxerxes Longimanus, but is that sufficient proof upon which to establish the most important prophecy in the Scripture? Kind of hard to believe, isn’t it? I encourage you to check it out for yourself. The Coming Prince can be read at Rapture Ready, one of the most respected Bible prophecy web sites on the internet. Here is what they say about Sir Robert Anderson and The Coming Prince:
“He helped establish the fact that 69 of Daniel’s 70 weeks have now transpired, and that the tribulation will be the 70th week. Sir Robert Anderson’s book, The Coming Prince, has become a foundational resource for all dispensationalists.”
With all due respect to the good folks over at Rapture Ready how can a belief about Daniel’s 70 weeks be an established “fact” when the “foundational resource” is based upon an assumption with no reasonable basis in Biblical chronology?
In closing, I would like to encourage those of you interested in Bible prophecy to check out the Biblical chronological evidence, before you make your own unfounded “Artaxerxes Assumption.”
Subscribe to my blog and you’ll receive a complimentary copy of the first book in my new series on the Messianic symbolism of the Bible:
The 13th Enumeration: Key to the Bibles Messianic Symbolism
Editing for this article was provided by Bradley Rohr at:
More Articles related to the prophecy of 70 Weeks and 2nd temple era chronology:
The “Artaxerxes” Assumption – The best kept secret of Old Testament chronology.
The Fifth Command – Why do prophecy teachers ignore it?
Ezra: Priest & Scribe – Part I – Defining “Artaxerxes” in the context of Ezra.
Ezra: Priest & Scribe – Part II – Ezra, Darius even “Artaxerxes”.
Nehemiah: The Governor– Nehemiah’s place in the 2nd temple chronology
Queen of Persia – Part I – Defining Esther is the context of the 2nd Temple era.
Queen of Persia – Part II – Defining Esther is the context of the 2nd Temple era.
A New Testament Cipher – The key to unlocking the prophecy of Daniel’s 70 Weeks.
Ezekiel’s 13th Month– Key to understanding Biblical “time” in the 2nd Temple era
6 milestones – Seventy Weeks – Defining the purpose of the Messiah within Daniel’s 70 “weeks”.
The Messiah Factors (Part I): Decoding 13 & 14 – Symbolism of the Messiah
The Messiah Factors (Part II): The Countdown – Proving Yeshua/Jesus is the Messiah promised in Daniel 9.