Good Question...

...Did the Jews understand the 'weeks' of Daniel to refer to 'years'?

[draft Mar 28/98]

About a year ago (yes, I am THAT far behind!) someone wrote in:

Hiya Glen,

I'm dialoging with an Orthodox Jew friend about Daniel 9, and looking for ANY Talmudic or ancient Jewish references which support the notion that the "sevens" in Dan. refer to years, rather than some alternate interpretation. I have already established that Maimonades and some others prominants knew this passage predicted the coming of Messiah, and that theyknew this time had passed. (I would be interested in any additional references to this also, however.)

Incidentally, your sites on the "Trinitarian Hypothesis" and "Messianic Expectations" were magnificent, and some of my Jewish friends have looked them over and want to dialog further on them...thanks!

There are a number of ways to demonstrate this, and indeed there IS data to support your position.

Specifically, there are:

1. Related background/cases in the Tanakh/OT

2. Specific related instances in the Jewish Intertestamental Literature of the Pseudepigrapha.

3. Specific related instances in the Jewish Intertestamental Literature (Qumran/Dead Sea Scrolls)

4. Indications in the later Rabbinical writings (e.g., Talmud)

So, let's jump in...

Let's get the passage in front of us first (Dan 9.24ff), to see what the issue is:

Seventy weeks (have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place. 25 "So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26 "Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. 27 "And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate." (NASV)

"Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. 25 "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. 26 After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven.' In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him." (NIV)

It should be obvious from the above that there is some dispute as to whether sabu'im should be translated 'weeks' or 'sevens' (i.e., heptads), but this will not affect our results since it is the word itself we will be tracing through the literature. Accordingly, most of the data we examine will apply to EITHER translation.


First, the related background/cases in the Tanakh/OT.

In this category are two types of data: (1) evidence from the context of the passage in Daniel and (2) evidence from other passages in which a day symbolizes a year.

Under (1), we can simply note a representative reference or two:

" Dan 9:24,25,26,27 it denotes a period of seven years in each of its appearances in these four verses. This is proven by the context wherein Daniel recognizes that the seventy-year period of captivity is almost over. The land had been fallow for seventy years and thus repaid the Lord for the seventy sabbatical years owed to him for the prior seventy periods of seven years (Dan 9:2; Jer 25.12; cf. II Chr 36.21!). Just as Daniel is in prayer concerning this matter, the angel Gabriel appears and informs him that Israel's restoration will not be complete until she goes through another seventy periods-of-seven, shabua (Dan 9.24ff)! Note also the apparent reference in Dan 12:12 to half of Daniel's last seventy (9:27); it is 1290 days, approximately three and a half years. Thus here it means years." [TWOT, s.v. "shabua"]

"Note that Daniel elsewhere (10:2) specified when he meant weekdays: sheloshah shabhu`im yamim (selosah sabucim yamim, "three weeks"). No plausible argument has ever been raised against the deduction that the heptads here referred to consist of years rather than days, for 490 days would be meaningless in this context. Almost all the lexicons so define it in connection with this passage (BDB, p. 989; W. Gesenius, Hebraisches and Aramaisches Handworterbuch, 17th ed., ed. F. Buhl [Leipzig, 1921], p. 800; F. Zorell and L. Semkowski, eds., Lexicon Hebraicum et Aramaicum veteris Testamenti [Rome, 1940], p. 815). KB (p. 940) alone adheres to "period of seven days," apparently on the ground that only symbolic value is involved rather than an actual time. But the preceding verses show that the subject under discussion is the seventy-year captivity predicted in Jer 25:11-12; 29:10. Gabriel's response to Daniel's prayer concerning the termination of the Exile must have had the year-unit in view, not the more usual day-unit. As for the purely symbolic use of "seventy `sevens,'" there is not the slightest analogy for such usage in all Scripture. According to 2 Chronicles 36:21, the Jewish nation had been punished by this captivity so that the land might at last enjoy rest from cultivation for a period equivalent to all the seventh-year Sabbath rests that had been prescribed in the Law of Moses but that had been routinely neglected (Exod 23:10-11; Lev 25:15-11; Deut 15:1-11; 31:10-13). In this divine oracle, therefore, the multiplying of seventy by seven was analogous to Jesus' response to Peter about the number of times an offender should be forgiven (Matt 18:22). [EBC, in.loc.]

Under (2) we can note passages in which a single 'day' was either linked to a year (Num 14.33f) or represented a year (Ezek 4.4):

'And your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they shall suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. 34 'According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you shall know My opposition. (Num 14.33ff)

"As for you, lie down on your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel on it; you shall bear their iniquity for the number of days that you lie on it. 5 "For I have assigned you a number of days corresponding to the years of their iniquity, three hundred and ninety days; thus you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. 6 "When you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the iniquity of the house of Judah; I have assigned it to you for forty days, a day for each year. (Ezek 4.4f)

This is only background material, of course, but it does illustrate the usage of periods of time to represent other periods of time.


Second are the specific related instances in the Jewish Intertestamental Literature in the Pseudepigrapha.

This refers to the Jewish literature produced between the Old and New Testaments. As such, it earlier than the Rabbinical literature (e.g., Mishnah and Talmud), and represents pre-Christian usage. It is accordingly very important to understanding the usage of 'weeks' or 'sevens'

There are a number of passages that show either (1) specific usage of the phrase to refer to 'sevens of years' or (2) usage of 'week' to refer to some indeterminate period of time longer than a week.

Let's look at a few passages:

1st Enoch 93:1-10 (The Apocalypse of Weeks).

This passage is dated between 2nd century BC and 1 century AD., and shows that 'week' or 'Sabbath' was used of periods of time (of unknown, and perhaps uneven length) of considerable number of years (fairly obvious from the scope of the events that are said to happen within each week).

Then after that Enoch happened to be recounting from the books. And Enoch said, "Concerning the children of righteousness, concerning the elect ones of the world, and concerning the plant of truth, I will speak these things, my children, verily, Enoch, myself, and let you know (about it) according to that which was revealed to me from the heavenly vision, that which I have learned from the words of the holy angels, and understood from the heavenly tablets." He then began to recount from the books and said, "I was born the seventh during the first week, during which time judgment and righteousness continued to endure. After me there shall arise in the second week great and evil things;' deceit should grow, and therein the first consummation will take place. But therein (also) a (certain) man shall be saved. After it is ended, injustice shall become greater, and he shall make a law for the sinners. "Then after that at the completion of the third week a (certain) man shall be elected as the plant of the righteous judgment, and after him one (other) shall emerge as the eternal plant of righteousness. "After that at the completion of the fourth week visions of the old and righteous ones shall be seen; and a law shall be made with a fence, for all the generations. "After that in the fifth week, at the completion of glory, a house and a kingdom shall be built. "After that in the sixth week those who happen to be in it shall all of them be blindfolded, and the hearts of them all shall forget wisdom. Therein, a (certain) man shall ascend. And, at its completion, the house of the kingdom shall be burnt with fire; and therein the whole clan of the chosen root shall be dispersed. "After that in the seventh week an apostate generation shall arise; its deeds shall be many, and all of them criminal. At its completion, there shall be elected the elect ones of righteousness from the eternal plant of righteousness, to whom shall be given sevenfold instruction concerning all his flock.

The Testament of Levi 17 (in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs).

This document is dated 2nd century BC, and gives additional evidence that 'weeks' were understood (in prophetic passages) as being long periods of time. (The phraseology also might suggest a backward reference to the Danielic passage.)

"Because you have heard about the seventy weeks, listen also concerning the priesthood. In each jubilee there shall be a priesthood: In the first jubilee the first 'person to be anointed to the priesthood will be great, and he shall speak to God as father; and his priesthood shall be fully satisfactory to the Lord, and in the days of his joy, he shall rise up for the salvation of the world. In the second jubilee the Anointed One shall be conceived in sorrow of the beloved one, and his priesthood shall be prized and shall be glorified by all. The third priest shall be overtaken by grief, and the fourth priesthood shall be with sufferings, because injustice shall be imposed upon him in a high degree, and all Israel shall hate each one his neighbor. The fifth shall be overcome by darkness; likewise the sixth and the seventh. In the seventh there shall be pollution such as I am unable to declare in the presence of human beings, because only the ones who do these things understand such matters. Therefore they shall be in captivity and will be preyed upon; both their land and their possessions shall be stolen. And in the fifth week they shall return to the land of their desolation, and shall restore anew the house of the Lord. In the seventh week there will come priests: idolators, adulterers, money lovers, arrogant, lawless, voluptuaries, pederasts, those who practice bestiality.

Notice that each jubilee (49 years, or seven sabbaths of sabbath years) contains a priesthood, and that the last references to 'weeks' within a jubilee must refer to much longer periods of time that 7 days (from the scope of the events ascribed to the week).


Jubilees is dated to the 2nd century BC, and is built around a chronological structure using 'jubilees' (7 periods of 7 years) as the framework. References to 'weeks' within these are typically references to sevens of years.

The book begins with this title:

"This is the account of the division of Days of the Law and the Testimony for Annual Observance according to their Weeks (of years) and their Jubilees throughout all the years of the world..."

The translator of this book in OTP says this in the footnote to the title:

"In order to provide a chronological framework for dealing with events covering a long period of time, the author has used a system based on multiples of seven, the number of days in the week. Seven years are treated as a week of years, and seven weeks of years equal a Jubilee"

One rather striking illustration in the book of how a week MUST be seven years is from 3.15:

"And during the first week of the first jubilee Adam and his wife had been in the garden of Eden for seven years tilling and guarding it"

From the intro to the translation, OTP:2:39:

"Although months and seasons are accounted for in the calendar of Jubilees, it was the recurring cycle of seven-day weeks that was used as the basic model for structure larger periods of time. Each period of seven years is referred to as a 'week of years' or simply as a 'week'. Each period of seven weeks of years, i.e. forty-nine years, is designated a jubilee."

Thus, the 'unofficial' literature of pre-Christian Judaism used 'week' or 'sevens' as a marker for either a period of seven years or a period of indeterminate number of years.


Third, are the specific related instances in the Jewish Intertestamental Literature at Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls)

The Dead Sea Scrolls were written in the centuries immediately preceding Christ. They also manifest both types of usage of 'weeks' to represent larger periods of time. There are a couple of passages in which this occurs.

The Damascus Document and the Melchizedek Scroll.

"Our other witness to the expectation of an end at a specific time, the Damascus Document, also points to a date towards the middle of the first century BCE. In CD 20:14 we are told that "from the day of the gathering in of the unique teacher until the destruction of all the men of war who turned back with the man of lies there shall be about forty years." This calculation is evidently related to the figures found in column 1 of the same document. The time from the Babylonian exile to the emergence of the sect is 390 years. Then the first members wander in blindness for 20 years until the arrival of the Teacher of Righteousness. If we allow the stereotypical figure of 40 years for the Teacher's career, this brings us to 450 years. Forty years after his death would then bring us to 490 years, the time stipulated in the book of Daniel. That this figure was important for the eschatology of the sect is clear from the Melchizedek Scroll: "Now the d[ay of expia]tion i[s the en]d of the tenth [ju]bilee, when expiation (will be made) for all the sons of [light and] for the m[e]n of the lot of Mel[chi]zedek." The end of the tenth jubilee is, of course, the culmination of seventy weeks of years or 490 years." [John Collins, in HI:EMDSS:83]

The Ages of Creation documents (4Q180-181)

Konkel notes [OT:DOTE, s.v. "shabua"]:

"The use of 70 and 490 in structuring history is known elsewhere; from the Flood to the end is seventy generations (1 En. 10:12) or seventy weeks of years (4Q181 2.3; cf. 4Q 180 1.4-9); 11Q Melch envisages a period of ten jubilees or 490 years up the final judgment."

The text literally reads "to Israel in the seventieth week" [DSSTQTE:212].

The Pseudo-Moses Apocalypse (4Q390, 4QpsMoses)

"and there will come the dominion of Belial upon them to deliver them up to the sword for a week of years...During this jubilee they will break all my laws...and they will begin to argue with one another for seventy years..."

Thus, the deeply religious (and 'sectarian') Jewish community at Qumran (which considered itself the righteous remnant foretold in the Tanakh/OT), shows a similar usage of 'weeks'/'sevens'.


Fourth, the writings of the 'Official' Judaism--the Rabbinics.

In this category we have several pieces of evidence: (1) passages which actually use the term in this way; and (2) passages that imply this understanding of Daniel.

In the first category--passages which actually use the term in this way--we can begin with the Jastrow's dictionary entry for shabua in DTX:1510 (Judacia Press):

"1) a period of seven days, week...2) "year week", a period of seven years, septennate (the jubilee being divided into seven septennates); also the seventh year, Sabbatical year"

Jastrow's entry is important in that its definitions are derived SOLELY from Rabbinical sources (i.e., Targunim, the two Talmuds, and the Midrashic lit). That he lists the very meaning we are attempting to show as a meaning of the very term, should answer the question decisively.

But let's note the examples he gives for meaning #2.

(Mishnah) Gittin. 77a: "If a person says, 'give my wife a letter of divorce (or to his wife, 'be thou divorced'), if I do not come back after the septennate', we must wait one year (after the Sabbatical year)"

(Talmud) N'darim 8.1: "if a person, during a Sabbatical year, vows abstinence, using the word 'this shabua', he is bound the entire coming septennial period and the seventh year of the expiring Sabbatical period"

(Talmud) N'darim 8.1b: "but if he says, 'one septennate', he is bound from date to date, i.e. counting seven years from the day of the vow"

(He also points out that the plural is used of 14 years in a couple of places!)

By far and away, the Mishnah and Talmuds are the most official of all Jewish literature, and this data is quite compelling.

The second category of data are passages that seem to imply this understanding of Daniel, either by content or by the understanding that the time of the Messiah had already come.

We can advance a couple of passages from the Talmud here:

B. San 97a: "Our masters taught as follows of the particular seven-year period at whose end [Messiah] son of David will appear" (This seems to refer directly to the Danielic final week!)

B. San 97b: "Rav said: All times set for redemption have passed, and the matter now depends only on repentance and good deeds" (All time calculations had been fulfilled).

B. San 97b: "R. Samuel bar Nahmani said in the name of R. Jonathan: Blaste be the bones of those who presume to calculate the time of redemption. For they are apt to say, 'Since redemption has not come at the time expected, it will never come.' Rather, one must wait for it...what then delays its coming? The measure of justice delays it..."

These passages seem to suggest that the Rabbi's had calculated the timing, based on the book of Daniel, and knew that the time of Messiah's coming had already passed by the time of the writing of the Rabbinics (2nd-4th century AD). [This later category is only indirect, of course, for the Rabbi's calculated the end-times by several different means. But ONE of THOSE seems to have been from the Daniel 'weeks' passages, as evidenced by the reference to the 'one week' above.]

Thus, "official" Judaism used the term 'week' or 'sevens' in this way, in both the Mishnah and Talmud, and seems to have bases some of its 'calculations' on this approach as well.



We have seen that this usage of 'weeks' or 'sevens' as meaning 'weeks of years' or 'sevens of years' is well-attested in the Jewish literature. It is suggested by the Tanakh/OT context, by analogous uses of the symbolic connection, and is witnessed to by usage in 'unofficial' Judaism (the Jewish Pseudepigrapha), 'sectarian' Judaism (Qumran), and 'official' Judaism (the Rabbinics). [Later commentators used this same approach, as the original question noted in reference to Rashi.]

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