I’ve been trying to understand if Daniel 9 actually presents a credible prophecy. I’m at least familiar with (though do not completely understand) all the different perspectives. I’m aware that some interpretations involve the beginning of the “decree” [Daniel 9:25] in 444/445 B.C. (Nehemiah 2:1). You begin the period of 490 years from 458 B.C. (Ezra 7:13). I have several questions concerning this.
1.) Is it the case that those who begin from 444/445 B.C. do so in order to accommodate a futurist interpretation of this? I’ve read that this interpretation began in the nineteenth century.
2.) How do you justify the claim that this in Ezra 7:13 was when the decree to rebuild Jersusalem (and specifically its walls) was given? I’ve read the passage, and I didn’t find any reference to this.
3.) Aren’t the years in these 490 years actually years from the Gregorian calendar? How do you know that ancient Israelites used such a calendar? What’s your response to the claim that the lunar calendar was used and that therefore these 490 years must be “prophetic” years of 360 days each?
Let me say first of all, that there is some potential ambiguity about the starting date of the prophecy. When I give public presentations I only mention the one that I believe is more likely the correct one, as in a 40 minute public lecture, there is not time for parsing out all the possibilities. I believe that this is intellectually honest, especially because I go into the details in my book on Daniel, Daniel, Prophet to the Nations (www.ipibooks.com). Not sure if you read my book.
Here is why (or part of the reason why) there is ambiguity. Some calculate using a 360 day lunar “year”. If you start in 444/45 BC and add 490 x 360, by a rather amazing coincidence, you arrive an very nearly the exact same date as you get if you start in 458 and add 490×365.25 days, which is the actual length of a year. Scholars can debate which kind of year that the angel/God was using, but this requires guessing and speculation. I find it very interesting that we arrive at essentially the same date working from either date of a decree by Artaxerxes. Did God work this coincidence into history? This seems like such a bizarre proposal that I hesitate to make it publicly.
You ask if those who use 444/45 do so in order to accommodate a futurist interpretation. I cannot judge the heart and motivation of those I do not know personally (actually, I cannot even do so for those I know!). However, I have noticed the pattern that premillenialists do all (or nearly all?) use the latter date. What is cause and what is effect here, I cannot say. Your premise has evidence to support it.
I acknowledge that your point about Ezra 7:13 is not without merit. OK, let me say it in the positive. It has merit. The decree does not mention specifically the building of a wall. My justification for this inference (which certainly can be criticized) is that this decree ultimately produced the wall, as it was this decree which eventually led the Israelites to use the money so raised to later (admittedly more than ten years later, and thus the reasonable criticism) build the wall.
Why, then, do I not use 444/445 when I give public lectures on Daniel? I do so for a couple of reasons, and some of these include my own biases and inclinations. First of all, it is not out of the question that I do the opposite of what the premillenialists do just because I find their theories so wrong! I sure hope that is not the reason. I do not believe that this is the principle motivation. I am a scientist, and there may be bias coming from this position. I know how long a year is, and I assume that God, the giver of the prophecy also knows what a year is. I also am convinced that the Jews were sufficiently sophisticated to know what the length of an actual year was, and that they could put in the intercalated months (those needed to keep the lunar year in step with the solar year) for themselves. Their neighbors and contemporaries, the Greeks certainly knew this. There are other reasons as well that I prefer the 458 date. One of them, to be fully honest to you, is that it is much easier to explain to a relatively unsophisticated audience (which is most of the audiences that I teach and preach to). Explaining the difference between a lunar and a solar year in the middle of a sermon is not something I want to do.
BTW, whether we use the Gregorian or the Julian calendar is not a significant factor here, because the difference between these is only a few days, and the prophecy is not sufficiently specific or precise to predict down to the actual day, as it predicts that the Messiah will come to Jerusalem during the last “seven,” which is, in principle, a span of seven years. So, whether you arrive at some time in AD 33 using either start date, the Messiah comes to Jerusalem between 26 and 33 AD. Add to that the fact that God knows full well that it is not only ancient Jews who will be reading this prophecy, which makes the use of an actual year more likely (in which case Gregorian, Julian or any other calendar for that matter really does not matter). The natural interpretation of a year is a year, in my opinion and a year, by definition, is the time it takes the earth to make one transit around the sun (or for the sun to return to the same place in the sky if you are an ancient person).
Another factor in my calculation is this: All of the other amazingly specific prophecies in Daniel are fulfilled in incredibly exact ways. Therefore by my personal reasoning (that the book is clearly inspired) the fact that it is debatable whether the start date is 458 or 444/45 does not change the conclusion. Despite the potential ambiguity about the date of the decree, what is not ambiguous to me is that this is an amazing prophecy which was in fact fulfilled by the ministry and death of Jesus of Nazareth. This is part of the reason I feel no ethical quandary to publicly present only one of the potential start dates in my public lectures on Daniel.
There are other reasons in the details that I have not gotten into here–more reasons to prefer 458, but I will not go into all of them here.
Is this response to your question sufficient?