How a simple punctuation mark caused a major problem.
We are currently looking at the following implication from the prophecy in Daniel 9:20-27
“At around 33 AD, the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing.”
It’s all a matter of interpretation, pertinently so for those contentious passages. Like Daniel 9:25, for instance. It is interesting to see that every major Christian Bible translation takes the party line on this passage except one. Here is the accepted translation of this verse from all of the other versions:
"Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree 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.
The Revised Standard Version (RSV) does not translate it this way, but instead agrees with the Jewish interpretation and therefore does not speak of the Anointed one appearing on the scene and dying in 33 AD. But then, this is what a scholar, R. Laird Harris, said about the RSV Bible translation:
“It is a curious study to check the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, a monument of higher critical scholarship, and note how every important Old Testament passage purporting to predict directly the coming of Christ has been altered so as to remove this possibility ... It is almost impossible to escape the conclusion that the admittedly higher critical bias of the translators has operated in all of these places. The translations given are by no means necessary from the Hebrew and in some cases ... are in clear violation of the Hebrew."
So where is all this leading us? We are faced with a verse, Daniel 9:25, that is one of the key verses used by Christians to point to Jesus. Yet Jewish scholars and the compilers of the RSV Bible read the verse in a totally different way. They add a colon half way through the verse and the whole meaning changes. The question we must ask is how did that colon get there in the first place if the original Hebrew text had no punctuation?
The answer is simple. I have already mentioned that the Jews use what is called the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Masoretes were the Jewish scholars in the 9th and 10th century AD who added the vowels and punctuation for the Worldwide Jewish community to use as Holy Scripture. It was they who added the colon, called an ‘atnach, halfway through Daniel 9:25 and, by doing so, sheared away the messianic branch of expectation. With a tiny flourish of the quill they invalidated any claim that Jesus may have had to be the prophesised Messiah of Daniel. And just to make sure, Rashi and his fellow commentators really put the boot in by demoting the Book of Daniel from the prophetic Canon.
We would be full of doubt and despair if it weren’t for the fact that the Masoretes weren’t the only ones to translate the Book of Daniel from the original Hebrew. Around seven centuries earlier Theodotion, a Jewish scholar living in the Greek world, produced his own version and it is his translation, without colon or ‘atnach, that forms the basis for the text that appears in the majority of Christian Bibles today. So the easy thing to say is that Theodotion got it right and the Masoretes got it wrong. Perhaps the Masoretes had an anti-Christian agenda? This is easy to say, but it is very wrong, because who are we to judge? What right do we have to comment on the work of these dedicated Jewish scholars, without whose work the Old Testament as we know it would never have appeared?