Preliminary Overview of Bart Ehrman’s ‘Did Jesus Exist?’

I will write up a full review in due course (when I can muster the patience and the time necessary to sit down and write it). I had very high hopes for this book; it was the book for which I had been waiting.  So now that I have finished the book, what do I think?

To put it bluntly: I found it disappointing.

In fact I’m greatly surprised by the amount of positive reviews of the book by fellow bibliobloggers and I wonder if (a) they really read it all and (b) if they are really familiar with the various mythicist arguments (and keep in mind, I am not a mythicist).  Errors and contradictions and fallacious logic abound and my book is marked up in red ink throughout!

For example (h/t to Carrier for putting me on the look out for this), on pages 51-52, in his discussion of Pliny’s letter to Trajan on the Christians, Ehrman confuses Book 10 (in which all of Pliny’s correspondence with Trajan can be found) with Letter 10.  I had at first assumed it was an editorial mistake or a typo but when I saw it was repeated twice, I am starting to wonder if Ehrman even read the letter in question or if he is simply discussing it via a secondary source (who must have had the source quoted wrong).  The letter number is actually 96 (so: Epistulae 10.96) and Ehrman never once cites it accurately which is either extremely sloppy or he just doesn’t know what is the proper citation.     And on the same section he seems to believe that the same letter discussing Christians contains mention of the fire in Nicomedia (which is entirely another letter, in fact 10.33-34) and there is quite a large amount of unrelated discussion between those letters concerning the fire and the letter containing mention of the Christians (most of it having to do with this or that building project or this and that business matter).  But Ehrman doesn’t seem to know this or even hint that these are two separate letters at all, which again raises the issue as to whether he actually read the letter in question. And there are multiple instances of this sort of mistake.

On top of that he often contradicts his own arguments.  On page 56, Ehrman writes:

“It should be clear in any event that Tacitus is basing his comments on hearsay rather than, say, detailed historical research.”

But on page 97, he contradicts himself:

“Tacitus almost certainly had information at his disposal about Jesus, for example, that he was crucified in Judea during the governorship of Pontius Pilate. …. Indirectly, then, Tacitus…provide[s] independent attestation to Jesus’s existence from outside the Gospels…”

Anyone with a grasp of logic can tell that not only is he contradicting himself (if it is hearsay, it cannot be considered historical ‘independent attestation’ to anything) but making wildly unsound arguments.  Simply repeating something from someone else, even if that person had better information, does not necessarily mean that what was repeated was historically true.  Tacitus goes on and on in his Histories about the Jewish exodus from Egypt which, as many scholars now agree, never happened historicallyAnd we actually know which sources he was using and what his sources were probably using as their sources–this is actually Tacitus using source material (rather than hearsay from a Christian or someone who knew of Christian tradition)–and yet his repeated testimony is completely historically inaccurate.  So repetition of tradition actually proves nothing.  So why does he think this is even worth mentioning?

He also ignores, or refuses to engage with, rather recent scholarship on subjects which are integral to his case, or rather are integral because if they prove fruitful could damage his arguments.  For example, he only mentions Mark Goodacre in a footnote and claims that his work on Q has failed to convince most of scholarship.  But this is silly; Mark’s arguments stand on their own weight.  Simply because a large chunk of historical Jesus scholarship refuses to engage his arguments (probably more out of self preservation than anything else–after all, no Q = one less hypothetical source for Jesus) in no way suggests that they are unconvincing.  As it goes, I am unconvinced that Ehrman has spoken to enough scholars on the subject to make such a bold claim.

And then there is that whole Acts thing (pages 106-113).  That Ehrman considers Acts to be an “independent witness” (p. 107) bespeaks of the sorts of brazen claims that plague his book.   This may be one of the more conservative claims Ehrman makes, but there is no engagement of the recent scholarship on Acts at all–either in the structure of Acts which shows quite decidedly that Acts engages with Josephus (even though Ehrman cites Mason’s work on Josephus and the New Testament a few chapters earlier on a completely irrelevant point; he would have been better off citing a Loeb text or something more primary in its place), he never discusses, even in passing, the relationship between the two which makes one question whether he is aware of it.  Nor is there any discussion of the dating of Acts which has come under fire in recent years.  This is crucial since if it can be shown (and I believe it can) that Luke-Acts are second century compositions, it would decimate the argument that these are early Christian testimony and independent of tradition.  One would expect a cursory review of this work, or even a footnote containing bibliographical information with references to rebuttals for the reader to review.   Alas, the reader finds none of this.  None of the recent collections of essays to come out of Westar Institutes’ Acts Seminar chaired by Joe Tyson, nothing from SBL’s recent collection of essays on Luke-Acts, nothing from Richard Pervo or Todd C. Penner or Caroline Vander Stichele or Dennis MacDonald.  It is really unnerving how he spends so much time on explaining the legitimacy of Acts without once dealing with the elephant in the room: the legitimacy of Acts!

He writes on Acts (page 107):

“For the writer of Acts, Jesus was very much a man who really lived and died in Judea, as can be seen in the accounts of Jesus’s resurrection in Chapter 1 and in the speeches that occur abundantly throughout the narrative.”

On what does he base this claim?  The author of Acts accepted the historicity of Jesus as much as the author of Judith accepted the historicity of Holofernes, or Tobit’s author accepted the historicity of Raphael or Sarah.  Just because a character in a narrative is portrayed as historical does not mean the character is historical.  If that were so we would have to accept the historicity of every character in every piece of literature ever written.

Ehrman may feel as though the Acts of the Apostles warrants a special consideration, but he hasn’t made the case.  He just presumes that the author believed that Jesus lived and died–maybe s/he did, but his conclusion does not follow from his argument.  And it certainly doesn’t follow that, assuming the author of Acts believed Jesus lived and died in Palestine, due to the mention of Jesus in Acts this counts as an “independent witness!”  By this logic, we must accept the testimony of Livy on Romulus’ death and resurrection and subsequent post-resurrection meeting with Julius Proculus on the road to Rome on the Appian Way!  It is an unconscionably unsound argument to make and, considering his vitriolic article on the Huffington Post site, it is rather embarrassing.

Finally, for this roundup of preliminary comments on the book, I am dismayed by Ehrman’s discussion of the messiah concept in Jewish tradition in the second temple period.  He actually wrote (seriously, he wrote this):

“But weren’t there any Jews who expected the messiah to suffer and die? The short answer is that so far as we can tell, there were not.”

This statement flies in the face of all second temple period scholarship, particularly that scholarship which focuses on the concept of ‘messiah’ which, above all else, proves that the concept was so varied and inconsistent–due largely to the varied levels of syncretism of the period, different levels of assimilation, and so forth–that to claim ‘no Jews expected a messiah to suffer and die’ is simply wishful thinking and nothing more.  The absurdity of this claim is only matched by the hubris of the dismissal of Daniel 9:26, where Ehrman completely ignores the reference in the Dead Sea Scrolls to this very verse whereby the author of the commentary on the scroll interprets the passage in the exact way Ehrman suggests doesn’t occur anywhere from the time!  And he does this all while completely misrepresenting Carrier’s whole point (showing once more that he doesn’t have a clear grasp of the arguments by those he is criticizing).

This is only a fragment of the errors and fallacies in this book.  It is shocking because I was expecting much better–especially after reading his book Forged!  I can’t believe I’m reading the same scholar.

19 Responses

  1. I have been a big fan of Ehrman ever since I read Misquoting Jesus and I have always felt after reading one of his books that I was well equipped to discuss the issues it raised. I have relied on Ehrman’s work in many discussions with internet apologists and I don’t think that I have ever been caught short by arguments or evidence that I couldn’t have reasonably anticipated from reading Ehrman. I think this is because he is meticulous and fair in laying out the evidence upon which he bases his conclusions.

    At least I always found him so before Did Jesus Exist? where he writes things like Paul knew Jesus’ brother, James, and he knew his closest disciple, Peter, and he tells us that he did.” After reading that, I don’t think I would ever guess that Paul never says that Peter was Jesus’ closest disciple or that Peter was a disciple at all or that Jesus even had disciples. I wouldn’t guess that the only encounter Paul describes Peter having with Jesus is the same one that Paul had, i.e., witnessing an appearance of the risen Christ. I think that if I tried to engage a non-crackpot mythicist based on Did Jesus Exist? I would be in for many surprises.

    As a former fundamentalist, Ehrman knows exactly how conservative Christians will try to pick apart his arguments and he is careful to deny them the opportunity. I frequently see some apologist claiming that Ehrman has omitted something or misstated something, but whenever I check it for myself, I find that the alleged misstatement or omission is a product of the apologist’s imagination. Unfortunately, I think he has done a very poor job of anticipating counter arguments in his latest book.

  2. Regarding the idea that there were various messianic concepts floating around Second Temple Judaism requires no more research than reading the New Testament. However, to use this variation as a basis for suggesting that it included an expectation for a crucified messiah is to make an enormous leap of faith (and the mythicist position is matter of faith for sure).

    Carrier nitpicks because his goal is not to establish knowledge but to introduce doubt. He is straining out gnats and swallowing camels.

    That a convicted and crucified criminal was the Messiah was the most outlandish thing a Second Temple Jew could have ever said. Only because it was true did the movement ever get off the ground.

  3. This is sad, indeed. Erhman is in a position of great responsibility as a respected scholar. If it is true that he has simply ignored current scholarship, then his book should be back-dated to 2000, or 1990. Why write a current book without addressing current scholarship? It’s absurd.

    You make a strong point that consensus is relatively meaningless when it does not at least make a cursory effort to disprove opposing arguments. It’s not so different from all the Christian politicians’ consensus that evolution is “just a theory” and “part of a controversy.” So what? A consensus based only on agreement is of no worth. Consensus must be based on the clear strength of one argument over another, with a demonstration that the opposing arguments are understood AT LEAST as well as the consensus.

  4. I’m sorry we disagree on everything, Mike.

  5. It won’t always be that way, Tom.

    In the meantime, thanks for putting yourself out there.

  6. That additional books of the Bible were written on Golden Plates and buried in the hills of western New York State was a pretty outlandish thing for a 19th Century American Protestant to say, but the fact that there are 14,000,000 Mormons in the world today doesn’t do anything to convince me that it was true.

  7. […] Verenna reviews Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? Share this:TwitterFacebookStumbleUponDiggRedditEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  8. On 16 April Bible Geek podcast, Price claims at about the 29 minute mark that Ehrman has responded that it is common procedure to get graduate students to read the books,and not read them himself.


    Did Ehrman really admit that he did not read the books himself?

    Price calls not reading the books ‘disgraceful’ and ‘disgusting’.

    I just cannot believe Ehrman said he did not read the books himself. That strains credulity.

  9. […] Preliminary Overview of Bart Ehrman’s ‘Did Jesus Exist?’ […]

  10. I stumbled on your blog while searching under Bart Ehrman Daniel’s prophecy, and Daniel 9: Last year, I did some research on Daniel’s prophecy to see if it really did pinpoint the time of the Messiah’s death. I feel that the historical evidence shows beyond reasonable doubt that it does. It seems from your blog that you are probably very familiar with such claims, yet presumably have rejected the idea that an Anointed Prince would come after 69 weeks from the time the word went forth to restore Jerusalem. Was curious for what reasons you (presumably) reject the prophecy. Also, if it’s not too personal to ask, I’m curious if you were ever a Christian, like Bart Ehrman once was.

  11. Oh well….that saves me wasting 30 or so dollars I guess.

  12. I do recommend picking up a digital copy; it is worth having as it is the only book of its kind.

  13. Daniel,

    I believe that Daniel was interpreted as prophecy in one way before the first century BCE, another during the Roman period, and another after the fall of the temple. And it was interpreted by a wide range of Jewish audiences (essentially, what we call ‘Judaisms’ [plural] which existed in diverse cultural settings which were heavily influenced by (and influencing) other cultures through syncretism.

    Yes, I was once a Christian. I was brought up in both Greek and Roman Catholic rites and when I was younger I wanted to become a priest. In a way, I–like Ehrman–left faith behind when I started researching these subjects for myself.

  14. Hi Thomas….I may get hold of a copy second-hand somewhere down the track. Have you read George Well’s ‘Did Jesus Exist?’ (1975) or James Dunn’s ‘The Evidence for Jesus.’ If so, could you please share your opinion of them as scholarly works? I have not read them, but you seem to have some good insights into this area of academia. Thank you.

  15. I would avoid anything written on the subject that is over two decades old as a starting point. A lot of fresh scholarship, even in the past ten years, has produced some groundbreaking conclusions that older work just can’t take into account. That isn’t to say its useless; just start with more recent studies before moving onto the older ones so you can see what might be missing and allow you to engage it critically.

    I have read Wells’s work and I like it, but some of it isn’t all that convincing. And from what I recall he has changed his stance on historicity within the last few years. His ‘Cutting Jesus Down to Size’ is probably his most recent book on the subject and I recommend it.

    As for Dunn, I know him to be an exceptional scholar, but I have not read his work. Until I get around to it, I’m afraid I can’t comment on its value.

  16. Were you expecting scholarship from Bart?

    Carrier seems to expect Did Jesus Exist to be a work of scholarship written for scholars in the academy and with extensive engagement with scholarship, rather than what it is, a popular book written for a broad audience.

  17. Thank you Thomas, for your advice. Best.

  18. By citing the existence of a marginal note next to Daniel 9:26 in one of the Dead Sea scrolls, Tom has corrected Bart Ehrman’s claim that there was no Messianic expectation prior to the Second Temple’s destruction. I agree with Tom, but despite Messianic expectation, it appears to me the Jews generally missed their Messiah. They did so, I believe, because of failing to note an implication in Daniel’s prophecy that could have directed them to countdown the days to their Messiah’s coming. I only saw this about a year ago. In short, I think the historical record shows that the 70-year Exile of the Jews was no longer than about 69 years and 16 days, and that arguably this fact should have been of the greatest importance to the Jews. But this will take a bit to unpack.

    I began my study by checking out a Dispensationalist claim about Christ’s so-called Day of Triumphal Entry. Christian Dispensationalists, for those who don’t know, believe that 69 “weeks” of a 70 “weeks” prophecy by Daniel has already transpired, but that the 70th “week” is described in Revelation and still lies in the future. Christian preterists, on the other hand, believe all 70 “weeks” have already passed, and believe that the destruction of the Second Temple fulfilled the list of six things mentioned in Daniel 9:24. Non-Christian scholars have a variety of opinions, including that Daniel was a 2nd century pseudo-graphical writer, describing events already past.

    Now, in brief, the claim by Dispensationalists is that the Day of Triumphal Entry landed on the exact day marking the end of Daniel’s 69 weeks, mentioned in Daniel 9:25-26a, after which Messiah (lit. an Anointed Prince) would be cut off (or as an online Heb. Interlinear puts it: “there is no to him”). Also, part of the Dispensational claim is that the years of Daniel’s prophecy were of 360, not 365.2422+, days each. This idea of a 360-day year is rejected by preterists and non-Christian scholars, who in the former case argue for generic fulfillments of prophecy, and claim poetic exaggeration attends other statements allegedly unfulfilled. Preterists further argue that the Dispensationalist positing of a 360-day “prophetic year” is an artificial invention, used to fudge the numbers to fit a Dispensationalist framework, a charge sympathetic to non-Christian critics.

    The question, then, is whether the biblical and extra-biblical historical records most directly relevant to these questions shed any light on this matter.

    Because this issue will involve a discussion of the “contradiction” between II Kings 24 and the Babylonian record of Nebuchadnezzar’s early years, as well as moon phases, different systems of reckoning the anniversary of kings’ reigns, calendar records of the Jewish colony at Elephantine, etc., it should help if I begin by explaining the Sabbath context of Gabriel’s prophecy to Daniel.

    In Daniel 9, the prophet is searching among the scrolls to determine the number of years in the Exile, mentioned by Jeremiah. This itself seems strange, since if Daniel were truly a learned man in the Babylonian and Jewish cultures, it would seem that Jeremiah’s statement would have been well known by all Jews—i.e., that the Exile would last 70 years. I will come back to this point a bit later.

    Now, the Bible states that the Jews had gone into Exile so that the land which had not rested 70 years, would rest. Note that since the land was suppose to rest the last year in every period of 7 years, that the failure to rest the land for 70 ‘Sabbath’ years implied 490 years of disobedience. Thus when Gabriel tells Daniel that “70 weeks are determined upon thy people,” it seems implied Gabriel is stating that there will yet be 70 more weeks, in which God’s relationship with the Jews is His especial focus.

    Moving on, I wondered why both Christian and non-Christian critics seemed to have failed to ask why, if Christ said on the Day of Triumphal Entry that the Jews should have known “at least in this thy day” the things pertaining to their peace, he would imply that the Jews should have been counting down 483 years (69 “weeks”, or 69 x 7 years) in 360-day increments. For why ever would the Jews have thought to do so? For certainly nothing in the prophets had instructed them to this end.

    I could have stopped at this point and justifiably (it seems) thrown out the prophecy altogether, or else embraced the preterist position of a 457 BC to 30 AD “69 weeks”, in which the 483 years are counted in the normal way. The first option did not appeal to me, and 457 BC view of preterists, as I came to learn, was very problematic. First, the decree in 457 BC by Artaxerxes in his 7th year seems understood by all apologists as a reiteration of a decree, which in turn is a reiteration of a decree originally given by Cyrus, some 90 years before. That much, at least, is agreed upon. But, then, the natural question arises why anyone should think this could fulfill the statement in Daniel 9:25-26a, about when the beginning ‘bookend’ date of Daniel’s prophecy was to begin. For the prophecy ‘clock’ would allegedly start when “the word goes forth to restore and to build Jerusalem.” Now there are numerous arguments preterists present to defend the 457 BC date. But the question is whether they could believe their own argument if the shoe were on the other foot. And so I asked them:

    “Imagine if some Islamic fellow told us Christians that a prophecy in the Koran about Muhammad were true, that it was based on a date beginning with the going forth of a command to commence the rebuilding of an Islamic city near Mecca, that this command was given and later re-ratified two times over a 90 year period, and that the fulfillment required not the original command (which would obviously seem the most natural interpretation for proving the prophecy) but the re-ratification of the re-ratification. Would you believe him? Would you say, “Yes, how remarkably true”?

    And thus preterists open themselves to the charge of numerology. For to suppose that the decree in Artaxerxes’ 7th year was a ‘historical fulfillment’ is hardly an appeal to history at all. Yet not only do preterists suppose their interpretation should win over non-preterists, but they believe such may serve to evangelize the non-Christian!

    In exploring what are the bookend dates for a particular prophecy, it seems best to find the most established bookend, and work either forward or backward from there. In Daniel 9:25-26a, it easier of the two points appears to be the beginning date, which refers to the word that goes forth to restore and to build Jerusalem. A textual key here is to mark the difference between a “decree” and a “word”. The Hebrew (and Aramaic, where present) seem to agree that these are not the same words, though, of course, they are not entirely dissimilar. According to Ezra and Nehemiah, there were three decrees. One was in Cyrus’ first year, another in Darius’ 2nd year, which upheld Cyrus’ decree, and a third in Artaxerxes 7th year. From statements given, it can be seen that all three decrees pertained to the rebuilding of the Temple, not the City. Josephus differs, claiming Cyrus ordered lumber for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. But here Josephus appears suspect, for Ezra shows that Darius’ decree appealed not to any permission from Cyrus that authorized the rebuilding of the City, but only of the Temple. In fact, had Cyrus originally decreed the rebuilding of the City, Darius could have simply cited this fact with the enemies of the Jews who believed the Jews were building a city. Instead, Darius cites Cyrus’ description about the height and breadth of the Temple walls. And here, at least, Josephus helps to explain why. He states that the Jews naturally made no such fine distinction between the great height of the walls of the Temple (up to 60 cubits) and the building of a citadel. In other words, the enemies of the Jews had believed the Jews were taking advantage of Cyrus’ permission to build a Temple, to instead build a citadel. Thus their charge in Ezra 4 had been that the Jews were building a city.

    A more natural date, then, for the beginning ‘bookend’ date of Daniel’s prophecy, is not from any of the decrees, but rather from “word” which was given by Artaxerxes in the [Jewish] month Nisan in his 20th year, in response to Nehemiah’s request that he [Nehemiah] return to Jerusalem to repair the city. Specifically, it involved letters to governors beyond the River, and also a letter to the king’s forester instructing him to provide wood for the beams of the gates for the fortress which is beside the Temple, for the wall of the city, and for the house where Nehemiah would stay. Consequently, we have in Nehemiah 3 some 30 verses that describe the rebuilding of the wall of the city.

    So the question arises, when exactly was Nisan in Artaxerxes’ 20th year? Remarkably enough, the assassination of his father, Xerxes, which led up to Artaxerxes’ reign, is one of the handful of dates in ancient history positively identified by astronomical records. Indeed, the following statement from shows why historians have settled on the year 465 BC for the death of Xerxes. Besdies this, an Egyptian papyrus dated Jan. 2, 464 BC, double-dated to Xerxes 21st year and Artaxerxes ascension year, shows that Artaxerxes ascended after Tishri, 465 BC, meaning the 1st year of his reign would have been reckoned by the 5th-century Jews as beginning upon Tishri, 464 BC. This makes the Nisan in Artaxerxes’ 20th year (and thus the command pertaining to Nehemiah) fall in spring, 444 BC. [For by then the Jews reckoned a king’s years from Tishri (the 7th month), not from Nisan (the 1st month); argument following.] Here, then, is the quote from (emphasis mine):

    The late Babylonian astronomical texts occasionally mention major historical events, as, for example, the dates when Xerxes and Alexander the Great died. To illustrate the potential of this material for chronological purposes, the date of the death of Xerxes may be accurately fixed by reference to eclipses. On a tablet that lists lunar eclipses at 18-year intervals occurs the following brief announcement between two eclipse records: “Month V, day 14 [?], Xerxes was murdered by his son.” Unfortunately, the cuneiform sign for the day of the month is damaged, and a viable reading could be anything from 14 to 18. The year is missing, but it can be deduced from the 18-year sequence as 465 bce. This identification is confirmed by calculating the dates of the two eclipses stated to have occurred in the same year that Xerxes died. The first of these happened when the Moon was in the constellation of Sagittarius, while the second took place on the 14th day of the eighth lunar month. For many years both before and after 465 bce, no such combination of eclipses can be found; it occurs only in 465 bce itself. The dates deduced for the two eclipses are June 5 and November 30 of that year. Mention of an intercalary sixth month on the same tablet enables the date of the death of Xerxes to be fixed as some time between August 4 and 8 in 465 bce.

    Now if the beginning ‘bookend’ date of Daniel’s 69 weeks is in Nisan, 444 BC, then we must add 483 years to find the ending ‘bookend’ date of the prophecy. If these were normal (tropical solar) years, then 40 AD would be the time of Christ’s crucifixion. But, of course, this does not tally with statements in the gospels that place the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius, or that Jesus (5-6 months younger than John) was then about 30 at this time, etc. Realizing this problem, Sir Robert Anderson, a 19th century author, noticed that Revelation spoke of a “week” which consisted of two 42-month periods (at least one of which is also said to be 1260 days), the last of which descriptively matched in horror the Great Tribulation spoken of by Christ in the gospels. For our purposes here, the point is that Anderson thought that all 70 weeks of Daniel were meant to be understood as “weeks” of 7-year periods, in which each year was 360 days. But Anderson was apparently unaware of Artaxerxes’ delay in ascension, and so assumed the prophecy began in 445 BC, shortly after Xerxes’ death (and thus ending in a 32 AD crucifixion).

    But, unfortunately, Anderson, too, never asked the implication arising from his Dispensationalist framework, namely, Why should the Jews have ever thought to count down 483 ‘years’ of 360 days each, and why did Christ implicitly blame them for not doing so?

    As I pondered this matter it occurred to me that perhaps the Exile was only 70 years of 360 days each. IF this were the case, it may have somehow alerted the Jews to be on the lookout for their Messiah. Of course, such a countdown of (173,880) days would only pertain to Messiah’s coming, since the Jews would otherwise continue to observe their lunar-solar year in the usual way, so that their festivals would be observed in their proper seasons. Out of curiosity I used a calculator to figure out how many ‘normal’ solar years equaled 70 ‘years’ of 360 days. To my surprise I found that it was almost exactly one year shy of 70—in fact, 69 years and 2 days. And so, I further hypothesized that IF the Exile were of that length, then the Jews could have asked themselves why their Exile had been a year short of what they had expected. (Note that this would explain why Daniel was searching the scrolls, since Cyrus’ command would have been given some months before the beginning of the 69th year, say, at the 68.5 year mark. Thus Daniel would have wondered why it was coming earlier than he and all the Jews had expected.) But since the Jews knew 70 years had been prophesied, they could have taken the amount of days in their Exile and divided it by 70, and thus learned that the years had been of 360 days each. From there they could have realized that this coincided with the length of a year in Noah’s time, based on statements in Genesis chapters 7—8, in which from the 17th day of the 2nd month to the 17th day of the 7th month of the same year was said to be 150 days. From there the Jews could have further presumed that the length of a year during the Flood was the same as at the beginning of Creation.

    Putting all this together, the Jews could have reasonably concluded that the Messiah, upon His coming, was intent on a wide agenda of restoration—not just of hearts back to Him—but also of the earth and moon to where they had once been (but perhaps disturbed during the Flood), a time when they had more simply “told the seasons.” Indeed, a complete restoration of the earth would restore earth’s conditions to where a man of a hundred-years old might be referred to as a “child,” as Isaiah states. The obvious parallel between Messiah’s future kingdom in which the ages of men would again mirror the aged patriarchs of Genesis, should have been too hard to miss.

    Well, the idea of a 70-year Exile of 360-day years was an interesting hypothesis, but where was the proof?

    And so I proceeded to try to establish the exact timeline of the Exile. To do this I had to determine when exactly was the 3rd year of Jehoiakim’s reign, when Daniel et al went into captivity. Nailing down this point proved difficult, since there was a seeming discrepancy involving Jeremiah 52 (and the Babylonian record which agreed with it) and II Kings 24. For Jeremiah states that Jehoiachin’s deportation came in Nebuchadnezzar’s 7th year; but II Kings states that Jehoiachin surrendered with his mother and the royal servants in Nebuchadnezzar’s 8th year. This problem first came to my attention in a comment on a website devoted to the translation of early Babylonian and Persian records, in which the site claimed the “contradiction” between the Babylonian record and II Kings 24 had never been solved. Now, note that, had Jeremiah recorded the surrender in the 7th, and II Kings recorded the deportation in the 8th, one could have simply assumed that the new year had clicked over to Nebuchadnezzar’s 8th year after that king’s capture of Jerusalem, on March 16, 598 BC (see Wikipedia). According to the Babylonian record (a.k.a. The Jerusalem Chronicle) the capture of Jerusalem occurred on the 2nd day of Addaru (essentially equivalent to the Jews’ 12th month, Adar).

    The solution, as it turned out, fell out along the same lines as what the late Prof. Howard Hoehner (of Dallas T.S.) had discovered, about how Nehemiah (and presumably Ezra) and the 5th-century BC Jews at Elephantine had changed to a Tishri to Tishri perspective, regarding the anniversary of a king’s reigning year. For Hoehner shows that Nehemiah speaks of an event in Chislev (the 10th month) in Artaxerxes’ 20th year, but then speaks of a later event in the first month also in Artaxerxes’ 20th year. But then how could a later event in the first month be in the same year? Hoehner explains that the Jews had by the 5th-century BC reckoned a king’s years from Tishri to Tishri (the 7th month), not Nisan to Nisan (the 1st month). And so, at length I found that the ‘”contradiction” could be resolved if one assumed the books of Kings and Chronicles were written during or after the Exile, and therefore recorded events from a Tishri to Tishri perspective. And, in fact, they certainly appeared Exilic, since Chronicles ends with a discussion of Cyrus’ 1st year, and since Kings and Chronicles both reference each other many times. Long story short, this approach worked, and resolved not only Jeremiah with II Kings in this matter, but also the Bible with the early Babylonian record. For example, since we know Jehoiachin’s reign was only 3 months and 10 days, and that he surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar on March 16, 598 BC, this puts the beginning of his reign in early December, 597 BC. Thus from the Tishri to Tishri perspective of Kings and Chronicles, Nebuchadnezzar, who had ascended in early September, 605 BC and thus before Tishri of that year, would have been (from December, 597 through March, 598) reckoned in his 8th year by the writer(s) of Kings and Chronicles, whereas Jeremiah and the Babylonians would have reckoned Nebuchadnezzar to have still been in his 7th year.

    At this point I was near to identifying a specific year for the time Daniel went into captivity. First, I recalled that it came in Jehoiakim’s 3rd year. Second, I came to calculate the length of the Exile by comparing a variety of biblical and extra-biblical historical statements. Yet for a while I floundered, because I was not careful in remembering which books represented which statements. For example, I knew the Bible said that Jehoiakim reigned 11 years, and elsewhere that the deportation of his son, Jehoiachin, happened in Nebuchadnezzar’s 7th year. And so, if I were not careful, I would conclude that there was a 4, not 3, year difference between the two kings’ reigns. Doubtless this explains why Josephus puts the difference between Jehoiakim’s and Nebuchadnezzar’s reigns at 4 years, even thought Jeremiah 25:1 plainly states that Jehoiakim was in his 4th year when Nebuchadnezzar was in his 1st. (This also explains why the Exilic writings, not Jeremiah, states that Jehoiakim reigned 11 years. For had Jeremiah bothered to have told us the length of Jehoiakim’s reign, he would have put it at 10.)

    Also, by comparing numerous statements it can be deduced that Jehoiakim ascended between Nisan to Tishri, not Tishri to Nisan. (I’ll spare readers the details here, though I’ve written them up in a book which I hope to put online as a free read). In the end, I found that the longest the Exile could have run was from Tishri, 606 BC to Tishri, 537 BC. Given considerations of when the 1st of Nisan could have fallen in the years 606 and 537 (thus placing when each Tishri in those years began), meant that the length of the Exile could have been up to 69 years and about 16 days. (Incidentally, if one takes the end of the Exile to be the 1st day of Cyrus’ 2nd year (Ezra 3:6), when the newly returned Jews first offered a sacrifice to God, the Exile dates can be exactly specified.) Of course, a 69 year and 16 day window of time allows for an Exile of 69 years and 2 days, i.e., an Exile of 70 years of 360 days each. In fact, no other amount of days in a calendar year, such as 359 or 361 or, of course, the standard 365.2422+ solar year, or the 354 of the lunar year, fits the data. IMO the 69 year Exile is all but a smoking gun for Dispensationalists. For any Dispensationalist holding to a beginning ‘bookend’ date of 444 BC is obligated to explain why Christ would have expected the Jews to count off years in 360-day increments, while every Christian eschatologist NOT holding to the 444 BC date needs to explain why the Exile was only 69 years long, and do so while harmonizing the ‘discrepancy’ between Jeremiah 52 and II Kings 24. Similarly, non-Christian apologists, such as Chris Sandoval in his book, The Failures of Daniel’s Prophecies, need to reexamine his claim that the Exile could only have lasted either 67 or 72 years, and explain further why he fails to mention either the significance of the supposed “contradiction” between the early Babylonian record and II Kings 24, the proper use of the ascension year reckoning, etc.

    Incidentally, an appeal to Pharaoh’s capture and removal to Egypt of Jehoahaz, the oldest son of Josiah, and brother to Jehoiakim (whose original name was Eliakim), does not calculate to a ‘normal’ 70-year Exile. Nor, as the New American Standard Version shows, does the term “exile” apply to anyone prior to Daniel and the nobles who were deported. Also incidentally, should someone argue that a part of a year was reckoned by the Jews as a full year, even as a partial day was sometimes counted as a full day by the Jews, I find nothing in Scripture to support this claim about years. And if someone further objects by appealing to phrases like “Jehoiakim reigned 11 years…” while noting he obviously didn’t reign exactly or fully 11 years, it should be pointed out that in Hebrew the proper rendering is “Jehoiakim IS REIGNING eleven years…”, which is hardly the same thing.

    Taking all this data into consideration, I believe the Messianic interpretation of Daniel 9:24ff is not merely possible, but plausible. It is one in which the 69 weeks would be shown to run from (Julian) April 6, 444 BC to April 27, 33 AD. Harold Hoehner nearly got there, but was IMO a month off. For he advocates an early April, 33 AD crucifixion, and therefore is forced to put the beginning date of Daniel’s prophecy in very early March, 444 BC. The problem, here, is that in 14 instances records at Elephantine show that the Jews reckoned the 1st of Nisan considerably later than early March. To within a day, the 1st of Nisans at Elephantine occurred from March 26 to April 24. Therefore a (Julian) May 1, 33 AD crucifixion would place both bookend dates within an acceptable range, based on the Elephantine archaeological record.

    Now as lengthy as this comment has been, I realize it has but scratched the surface in some regards. I have not addressed, for example, the difference in Old Testament translations, in which some follow the punctuation of the Masoretic text, which, coming hundreds of years after the death of Christ, and hundreds more after Daniel, is hardly friendly to the Messianic prophecy as Christians interpret it. No surprise there.

    And so, it still amazes me when I think of how the Day of Triumphal Entry fell on the 10th of Nisan. For this is the day Jews in the O.T. set apart the lamb from the rest of the flock, before it was slain four days later, at Passover. And thus is revealed the reason Daniel’s prophecy began with the rebuilding of Jerusalem. For it was there to which the Anointed Prince would ride—on a lowly donkey instead of on a horse—to accomplish the Father’s plan through his death, and then to reign on earth from this very City.

    Now a word about the weaknesses I would grant against my theory. First, it demands that Daniel reckoned from Tishri to Tishri, as did Nehemiah and Ezra and the 5th century BC Jews of Elephantine. The problem here is that because the latest date mentioned in Daniel is the 3rd year of Cyrus (536/535 BC), we don’t know for sure which system Daniel used. That is, it remains an open question in terms of the archaeological record. For while the 3rd year of Cyrus lay 46 years beyond the latest event dated in Jeremiah, Daniel nevertheless straddles the time between when archaeology and the biblical record show that the Jews went from reckoning from Nisan to Nisan, to from Tishri to Tishri. Unless one grants that Daniel reckoned from Tishri to Tishri, then the Exile falls short of even 69 years.

    IMO it is impossible at this point for an apologist’s predisposition not to manifest itself here—whether he is Christian or non-Christian. If one is a believer, he finds himself compelled by numerous other evidences, and so accepts this ambiguity about which system Daniel used. If he is a skeptic, he will be inclined toward accepting other theories advocating Daniel’s pseudo-graphical status and late date of origin.

    A second weakness in my theory is that the new moon in April, 33 AD suggests a Saturday 14th of Nisan, (crucifixion,) based on the likelihood of when the new crescent was observed. The problem here is that the 14th of Nisan is when the Jews sacrificed the Passover lamb; and so if Christ was meant to fulfill O.T. symbolism, he would have needed to have died on Friday, the 14th of Nisan. But a Friday crucifixion seems possible. For in the best article I could find about Jewish observation of the new moon and the declaration of months, including Jewish practice in the 1st century, it stated that by the first century the observation was more of a perfunctory confirmation than any tour de force principle of establishment. IMO the Jews in 33 AD declared the 14th of Nisan on the day they knew it theoretically occurred, which was very early in their day (about 7 PM), so that the slaying of the lambs would not take place on the Sabbath. This also would allow them to have a ‘high Sabbath’ that particular year, because the 15th of Nisan, i.e., the 1st day of Unleavened Bread—considered a Sabbath by the Jews regardless of what day of the week it fell on—happened to fall on the regular Sabbath day. John in his gospel refers to this high Sabbath.

    Now time fails to detail many things, including W.E. Filmer’s 1966 article in Oxford’s Theological Journal, re: the historical evidence for the date of Herod’s death, and what it means for establishing a proper biblical timeline.

    But what does all the rest of it add up to? At the least I think it means that if supernatural prophecy is possible, so, too, is possible a historical Christ.

    And to this conclusion remains one last note about the Bible’s peculiar approach to history. For as I get older I realize the Bible is incredibly oblique, and often far more complex than generally imagined. For sure, it does not go about establishing its authority the way we expect. Somewhere Tom has stated how a particular ancient author lists the various sources he uses in his history and why he selected them, and what and why he omitted other histories, etc., being very careful in his list. Tom explains how these are all the things we must expect from any competent historian, and, moreover, that the writers of the gospels fail completely on this very point of methodical approach. Frankly, I’m inclined to agree with Tom. The citation of sources and the running down of records is exactly what all of us expect competent historians should do.

    But then I think about the story of Job, portions of which I have read many times, and I ask myself whether I really ought to expect all histories to follow such expectations. For at the beginning of Job, he is sacrificing offerings for fear that God may get angry with his sons, but then the Devil comes, and what is the first thing he takes away by “fire from heaven”? It is the sheep. It means that Job has nothing more he can sacrifice. Worse, Job believes God has created this very condition so that he cannot sacrifice. You see, that is the Devil’s goal—hopelessness. That, friends, is oblique writing. For I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that portion of Job and heard it preached on, and never had that little detail—perhaps not so little, really—brought to my attention. And I think this detail in Job is an example why C.S. Lewis said that

    Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed, If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.”

    In other words, the Messianic interpretation of Daniel 9 has just that queer thing about it that real things have.

  19. Danielgracely:
    For the sake of argument, if we grant the mythicist position (that there was no historical Jesus), then its entirely possible that early Christians had figured out the 360 day year Daniel is using and thus deduced from scriptures when Christ was to be crucified.

    On the one hand, they may have held (sensu Doherty) that their heavenly Christ was crucified in the realm of flesh on that day. (However, Paul seems totally unaware of a passover crucifixion, and at least one non-pauline epistle seems to place the crucifixion during a different Jewish observance).

    On the other hand, later Christians who had come to believe in an historical founder may have used Daniel to determine when it happened (since they already held Christ to be the fulfillment of other scriptures, something already argued as early as Paul’s letters, even if Paul didn’t reach this specific conclusion based on Daniel). The whole concept of a passover crucifixion may even originate with such an interpretation of Daniel. (Indeed, i’ve been led to believe a crucifixion during a holy week would have been incredibly unusual for the Romans, though I can’t remember the source offhand).

    Since natural explanations are to be preferred to supernatural explanations, that the date of the alleged crucifixion matches that of prophecy is strong evidence that said date was constructed out of prophecy. (Such a conclusion further argues that if they needed to use scripture to put a date on it, they had no historical crucifixion to refer to from which they could pull a date).

    Obviously if we had independent attestation of the date from contemporary sources of the event, we could rule these conclusions out. But we don’t. And reasons to believe that the passion narrative has been extensively fabricated, if not totally so, like Paul’s total silence about when such an event is supposed to have occurred.

    Indeed, since afaik the gospel writers are *unspecific* about the exact year, they didn’t even need to figure out the exact day, they just had to get in the right ballpark of Daniel’s prediction. Then no matter how you count from Daniel you’ll find yourself in the right window, and could conclude with the gospel writers that it was indeed in fulfillment of prophecy.

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