Why the Meaning of Daniel’s 70 Sevens (“Weeks”) is Not Self-Evident

Years ago I wrote a series of posts under the title “Why an Obsession with Eschatology is a Waste of Time.” One of the fundamental goals of that series was to debunk the notion, held by countless Christians of all eschatological persuasions, that whatever view they held about end times was not self-evident from the Bible. In other words, no view comes to light just by observing “what the Bible says.” Frankly, what the Bible says about end times is cryptic — deliberately so. The series gave a number of examples where “literalism” is simplistic, as the way the New Testament writers utilize and interpret the Old Testament does not conform to simple 1:1 correspondence literalism. Noting that a “plan, literal” reading of Daniel’s seventy weeks could actually go in more than one direction was a small part of that series.

A recent article in the Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament well illustrates the problem with a “literal” chronological understanding of the seventy weeks:

“The ‘Seventy Sevens’ (Daniel 9:24) in Light of Heptadic Themes in Qumran” by Ron Haydon

The author tries to (hold on to your hat) understand the seventy sevens in light of the context of the ancient Jewish sect from Qumran. Here’s the abstract:

ABSTRACT: Daniel 9:24 is fraught with puzzling language, particularly the meaning of the “seventy sevens.” Rather than add to the relevant commentaries, this paper approaches the phrase in light of the heptadic language we find in select Qumran sources. Jubilees, 1 Enoch, and related scrolls portray these heptadic structures as primarily theological expressions, with chronology either set in the background or absent altogether. I suggest this context casts the seventy sevens in a new light, wherein it serves a mainly theological function instead of a rigid temporal one. Beginning with a brief examination of each major extracanonical source, we will consider two theological implications that come as a result of these texts’ reception of Daniel: first, Daniel’s seventy sevens may need to be considered a theological image; second, the image likely paints a picture of exile and restoration in its fullness, spanning all epochs, not just the Babylonian, Media-Persian, and Seleucid-Hasmonean crises. The conclusion notes how such literary and theological moves may also point to a deliberate shape inherent to Dan 9, one that includes subsequent, interpretive communities, such as Qumran and its sects.

My point in blogging this article is not to endorse its conclusion or any other conclusion. Rather, it is to point out that (a) this is what we should be doing — trying to understand Scripture in ways the original or near-original readers would have parsed things due to their own cognitive framework, and (b) readings other than the simplistic chronological approach are not only possible, but would have been familiar to ancient readers.

In short, eschatology is much more complicated than popular Bible teachers tell you.

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