The year-day Principle of Daniel 9: A Key Understanding

The year-day principle had been recognized in Daniel 9 at least as early as the 3rd century B.C.E., and in such an authoritative Jewish writing as the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Rabbi Nahawendi in the early ninth century C.E. was the first to recognize the year-day principle as operative in the 1290 and 2300 days.

Working Definition and History of Interpretation

The year-day principle is a feature of historicist prophetic interpretation as contrasted with preterism (past) and futurism (future-yet to come). Historicists hold that in certain time prophecies, a "prophetic day" represents an entire year of "actual calendrical time".

Jewish expositors from Flavius Josephus (d. ca. 100) to Abraham Ibn Ezra (d. 1167) generally adopt a historicist approach to interpreting the book of Daniel. Substituting a year for a day in computations of biblical time- prophecies is a recurrent principle of Jewish tradition. It can be argued that as early as the third century BC, translators of the Septuagint Greek version of OT identify the seventy weeks of Dan 9 as seventy weeks of years.

In Dan 9:25-27, translators of the LXX clarified the substitution by translating the original Hebrew “weeks” to “weeks of years.” The Hebrew word for “weeks” (šäbùîm) is “a specialized term to be applied only to the unit of time consisting of seven days, that is, the ‘week” (See Harris below). This is the first published example of the “year-day principle.” The year for day substitution can also be found in the Book of Jubilees, a Jewish work from the intertestamental period. The Book of Jubilees, dated to the second century B.C., uses the word week to refer to seven years. Noah’s age in Jubilee 10:16 is given in these words:

  • “Nine hundred and fifty years he completed in his life, nineteen Jubilees and two weeks and five years” (italics supplied).

    • 19 jubilees = 19 x 49 years = 931 years
    • 2 weeks = 2 x 7 years = 14 years
    •  5 years = 1 x 5 = ........... 5 years
    • ____________________......950 years

As early as the third century B.C.E., the 70 weeks of Daniel 9 were understood to be 70 "weeks of years," i.e. 70 x 7 = 490 years. The LXX, in translating the Hebrew for "weeks" in Dan 7:25-27, inserted the additional phrase "of years," providing the first published example of what would later be called the "year-day principle".

Biblical Usage of the Year-Day Principle

The earliest biblical text that directly reflects the year-day principle is Lev 25:1-7. Here the command to "keep a Sabbath," previously associated with the seventh day of the literal week, is applied to a seventh year. Verses 3-4 are parallel in structure to the fourth commandment, Ex 20:8-11, except that the word "year(s)" is substituted for the word days(s). The Sabbath here commanded is not the weekly seventh-day Sabbath, but a seventh-year Sabbath.

Exod 20:8-10 ------------ -- /////// ------ ------- ---- ----- Lev 25:2-4

v. 8 "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. -//- v. 2 "the land shall keep a Sabbath [year] to the Lord.
v. 9 "Six days you shall labor and do all your work. // -- v. 3 "Six years you shall sow, . . . prune..., and gather...;
v. 10 "But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it, you shall not do any work." // -- v. 4 "but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land; a Sabbath [year] to the Lord; you shall not sow or prune."

Lev 25:8 further extends the year-day symbolism. "You shall count seven Sabbaths of years, seven years, seven times, and to you, the days of the seven Sabbaths of years shall be forty-nine years." Clearly, the weekly cycle of sevens of days has become a symbol for a cycle of sevens of years. The weekly seventh-day Sabbath is the origin of the term here applied to a seventh-year Sabbath, and the term weeks means not weeks of days, but weeks of years.

In sum a textual background for the prophecy of Dan 9.

  • In Lev 25:8, seven weeks of years, or 7 x 7 years, reaches to one Jubilee.
  • In Dan 9:24, seventy weeks of years, (70 x 7 years, or 10 jubilees) reaches to the Messiah, the personification of the jubilee.
  • Num 14:34 and Ezek 4:6 provide further confirmation that in certain contexts the prophetic message was constructed on the basis of a scale or symbolic correspondence between prophetic days and calendar years.

The year-day principle rests not on two texts only, but on a broad Scriptural foundation. The translators of the LXX applied the year-day principle to the 70 weeks of Daniel 9 at least as early as the third century B.C.E. The year-day principle is used not only in "judgment" passages but in contexts of rest and restoration, such as the Sabbatical and Jubilee years. Even if the year-day principle were restricted only to judgment passages, the immediate context of Dan 8:14 is two parallel chapters (Daniel 7-8) that both concern overt eschatological judgment. Hence there appears to be no valid reason to exclude the year-day principle from Dan 8:14.

With this cursory look, one should avoid concluding the year-day principle in biblical prophecy as implying only to:

  • (1) The year-day principle was unknown until the ninth century C.E.
  • (2) "There are only two Bible texts that clearly use" this principle.
  • (3) The year-day principle applies only in contexts of "sin/sinners/judgment".
  • (4) That Dan 8:14 has nothing to do with judgment.
  • (5) The 2300 days of Dan 8:14 are to be interpreted simply as ordinary days, not as 2300 years.

The year-day principle was also used among the Jews in the early Middle Ages. The 2,300 evenings and mornings (Dan 8:13), the 1,290 days, and the 1,335 days in Dan 12:11-12 are frequently converted by Jewish scholars into periods of years. Jewish expositors usually expected that the arrival of the Messiah would occur after these periods of time (See Scherman).

I hope this gives you a better handle on understanding the 70 weeks of Daniel 9. Keep studying. CM

SOURCES:

-- R. Laird Harris, et al., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1980), 2:899.
-- Nosson Scherman and Meir Zlotowitz, eds., Daniel; A New Translation with a Commentary Anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic and Rabbinic Sources (Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publication, 1980), 103-105, 199-202, 328-329.

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