Share

Daniel's 70th Week - Part 3

Which Old Testament verse pointed to Jesus's coming?

Last week we noticed that Daniel 9:25 seemed to point to a Messiah dying in 33AD. What do the rabbis think of this?

They scream "mistranslation!" Their response is a hard one to contest, as the Scriptures are the Hebrew Scriptures, written in their language, Hebrew.

To remind you, here is how we read the verse:

"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."

Here is what the Masoretic Text, the translation used by Jewish readers, reads for that verse:

"Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto an anointed prince, shall be seven weeks: and threescore and two weeks shall the street be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times."

There are two key differences.

Whereas the Christian translation talks of the Anointed One, the Jewish translation speaks of an anointed prince. In short, the Christian interpretation speaks of a single individual, whereas the other one leaves the field open to anyone who is anointed, a list that could include Kings, princes and assorted dignitaries.

Secondly, and significantly, there is a punctuation issue, a matter of a single colon. The Jewish translation splits up the 7 weeks and the 62 weeks, declaring that the anointed prince came after 7 weeks (49 years), identified as King Cyrus of Persia and that the 62 weeks (434 years) is the time until yet another rebuilding of Jerusalem.

This is key and you begin to wonder how a string of Hebrew words in the original manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures can be interpreted in two different ways. Does the Hebrew refer to the Anointed or an anointed? Does it speak of a period of 49 years or 434 years to his appearance? The task is made harder when you realize that these Hebrew Scriptures were written without vowels or punctuation and as divinely authored as these words are, it has always been down to Jewish and Christian scholars to discern their exact meaning. We can be assured that the original Hebrew Scriptures are 100% the Word of God, but we can never have this total assurance with those who tease the meaning of the words into English. Otherwise why are there over twenty major translations of the Bible into English - NIV, KJV, RSV, CEB and others - with more no doubt still on their way?

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. The Revised Standard Version (RSV) 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?

Interesting question ... and we will explore where this is leading, next week.

Steve Maltz
July 2012

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book 'Jesus Man of Many Names')

You may also like...

Are we really poor miserable sinners?  More

How should faith and reason work together?  More

Which festivals actually appear in the Bible?  More

So what, really, is the Bible?  More