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Christ or antichrist: The mysterious gap in Daniel 9

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Christ or antichrist: The mysterious gap in Daniel 9

Hans K. LaRondelle
Hans K. LaRondelle, Th.D., is professor of theology, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

 

Despite major differences in interpretation, both dispensationalists and non dispensationalists agree on one point regarding the seventy-weeks prophecy of Daniel 9—its importance. Says dispensationalist Alva J. McClain, "Probably no single prophetic utterance is more crucial in the fields of Biblical interpretation, Apologetics, and Eschatology."1 One of the most telling Messianic prophecies in the whole Bible, Daniel 9:24-27, is also considered by some to be "one of the most difficult in all the Old Testament." 2 This may be one reason for the divergence of interpretation regarding it.

The book of Daniel testifies to the divine inspiration of the Hebrew Bible and of predictive prophecy in particular. A reckoning of the seventy weeks of Daniel 9 as 490 years leads irrevocably to the conclusion that the promised Messiah of Israel had already appeared before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It is understandable that the Talmud places a curse on those who attempt to compute the seventy weeks of Daniel. 3

Christ's specific admonition to His apostles to understand " 'the prophet Daniel' " when they would see the predicted "' 'abomination that causes desolation' standing in the holy place" (Matt. 24:15)* is also of prime importance to the idea of the divine inspiration of predictive prophecy in Scripture. There can be no doubt that Christ applied the desolating abomination of Daniel 9:27 not to the past outrages of Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 B.C. (as 1 Mace. 1:54 ff. does) but to His own immediate future when the Roman army would destroy Jerusalem and the Temple in His own generation (see Luke 21:20-24). Jesus' contemporary application of Daniel 9:26, 27 was confirmed in A.D. 70 when the Roman armies under General Titus placed their idolatrous ensigns as an "abomination" in Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. 4 The position of Lewis F. Hartman that "the quasi-prophecy of Daniel 9:26" refers exclusively "to the climax of Epiphanes1 persecution of the Jews, when he abolished the legitimate sacrifices of Yahweh in the Temple of Jerusalem and set up on its altar the statue of Zeus Olympics," 5 is answered by Joyce G. Baldwin: "Commentators who argue that Antiochus Epiphanes fulfilled this prophecy are at a loss to account for the fact that he destroyed neither the Temple nor the city of Jerusalem [as required by Daniel 9:26]." 6 Thus Christ applied the seventy-weeks prophecy of the coming Messiah and the subsequent devastations of Messiah's enemy to His own time and neither to the past nor to the indefinite future. Christ related the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 to Israel's final refusal to accept Him as her King and Saviour (see Matt. 21:33-43; 23:37, 38; Luke 19:41-44). This relation ship between the coming of the Messiah and the destruction of both city and sanctuary is the crucial message of Daniel 9:26, 27. The seventy-weeks prophecy is basically a Messianic prophecy announcing the consequences of Jerusalem's rejection of her Messiah.

An unbreakable unity

"'Seventy "sevens"'" were decreed, or determined, by God as a renewed probationary period for Jerusalem and the Jewish people after the seventy years of the Babylonian exile had terminated (see Dan. 9:24). There can be no doubt about the duration of this period: seventy times seven "years," or 490 years (see R.S.V.). No day-for-a-year symbolism needs to be supposed here because Gabriel uses no symbols in his detailed chronological explanation. G.F. Hasel observes, "There is virtually unanimous agreement among interpreters of all schools of thought that the phrase 'seventy weeks' or literally 'sevens seventy' . . . means 490 years."'

Gabriel explained to Daniel that the history of Israel within this 490-year span would develop in three distinct phases— one of seven weeks, a second of sixty-two weeks, and a third of one week (see verses 25 and 27). However, nowhere does the angel imply a gap between any of these three phases. To suggest an indeterminate time interval between the seven and sixty-two weeks, or between the sixty-two and the one last week is an unnatural assumption that militates against the expressed unit and goal of the seventy weeks (see verse 24).

The normal, natural exegetical assumption is that the seventy consecutive weeks are an unbreakable unity. They are presented as a unit, just as are the seventy years of Babylonian exile in Daniel 9:2. Edward J. Young concludes, "If there is no warrant for inserting a gap in Jeremiah's prophecy, what warrant is there for doing so in the prophecy of the seventy sevens? Had there been a gap in Jeremiah's prophecy (Jer. 25:10) Daniel could never have understood the years of the captivity." 8 "Never," concludes Philip Mauro, "has a specific number of time units, making up a described stretch of time, been taken to mean anything but continuous or consecutive time-units." 9 Because the other predicted time periods are consecutive, the natural expectation can only be thai: the seventy weeks of Daniel are also consecutive.

J. F. Walvoord, however, draws a parallel between the Old Testament Messianic prophecies and the time prophecies in Daniel in order to support the idea of a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week of Daniel 9. But the fact that the Old Testament prophets customarily fuse together the first and second advents of Christ in their Messianic prophecies with out considering the interval between the two (Isa. 9:6; 61:1, 2; Zech. 9:9, 10) gives us no right to create a gap between the specific time periods in Daniel 9. The chronological unit of the seventy weeks is not "parallel" to the nonchronological Messianic promises, in spite of Walvoord's assertion. 10 The regular Messianic promises do not always intend to present the proper historical order of the two advents of Christ and even sometimes reverse the order (see Gen. 3:i5; Zech. 9:9). Such examples can never serve as an argument to create a gap between Daniel's sixty-ninth and seventieth prophetic week. E. Hengstenberg represents the classical church interpretation: "The period of 70 hebdomads, or 490 years, is here predicted as one that will continue uninterruptedly from its commencement to its close. . . . What can be more evident than this? Exactly 70 weeks in all are to elapse; and how can anyone imagine that there is an interval between the 69 and the 1 week, when these together make up the 70?" 11 The dispensationalist break in the unit of the seventy weeks destroys the very point in specifying seventy consecutive weeks.

Reasons for dissecting

It is "of major importance" to dispensationalism, according to Walvoord, 12 to separate the last week from the total unit of seventy weeks and project it into the indefinite future. Acknowledging that this "startling" dissection needs some good reason, McClain asks, "How can such a method be justified?" 13 He offers briefly five reasons.

First, Daniel's expression " 'After the sixty-two "sevens," the Anointed One will be cut off'" (chap. 9:26) indicates that the death of the Messiah must take place before the seventieth week. It also occurs after the sixty-two weeks; consequently it must fall between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week! Only after the death of Christ and after the (next mentioned) destruction of Jerusalem (verse 26) do we come to the final one week in verse 27.

This literalistic reading of verses 26 and 27 is determined by the idea that Daniel necessarily presents a strictly chronological sequence in these two passages. This assumption is accepted as a self-evident axiom. J. F. Walvoord states: "The anointed one, or the Messiah, is cut off after the sixty-ninth week, but not in the seventieth." 14 However, this last phrase, "but not in the seventieth," appears nowhere in Daniel 9:26, 27; it is Walvoord's unwarranted assumption.

This presupposition has been severely criticized both from the standpoint of literary analysis and of theological exegesis. 15 When it announced that seventy weeks are determined for national Israel and that the Messiah will be "cut off' after the first sixty-nine weeks, the natural presumption can only be that the death of the Messiah will take place some time during the last week. J. Barton Payne concludes, "What could be more naturally assumed than that it [the cutting off of the Messiah] concerns the 70th week?" 16

McClain's second argument is, "In the record of the prophecy, the destruction of the city [verse 26] is placed before the last week [verse 27]." 17 Therefore, the events of the seventieth week cannot occur prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. For this reason dispensationalism sees verse 27 as a prediction about another enemy of God, the end-time antichrist, who would suddenly rise more than nineteen centuries after the death of Christ and after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D 70.

This argument is valid only on the assumption that verses 26 and 27 are phrased in a modern style of prose that describes events in strictly chronological order. But recent studies (see note 15) have made it clear that dispensationalism's literalistic reading fails to recognize the Hebrew poetic style of "repetition with elaboration" in Daniel 9:24-27, which J.B. Payne calls a "revelatiorial pattern." I8 This stylistic pattern appears also in verses 24 and 25. Payne argues that "Daniel 9:25, 26 cannot be taken as subsequent to 9:24; instead verses 25, 26 pick up [repeat and elaborate] the summary of the entire seventy weeks given in verse 24." This seems quite obvious, but no more so than the relation of verse 27 to verse 26. Payne remarks: "That verse 27 thus repeats verse 26 is recognized by interpreters of every stamp and is confirmed by the verbal correspondences that appear, particularly in the last parts of the respective verses." 19

With this recognition, we see the atoning death of Christ Jesus again mentioned in verse 27 and now more precisely located "'in the middle'" of the last prophetic week, not in an unmentioned gap. Verses 26 and 27 relate to each other according to the structure: Messiah-Roman Destroyer (verse 26), Messiah- Roman Desolator (verse 27). In short: A/B (verse 26); A/B (verse 27).

This simple poetic style of Hebrew parallelism in verses 26 and 27 (which is also the poetic arrangement in verse 25)2D is the most thorough reply of grammatical exegesis to literalism's interpretation of a dissecting gap.

The question remains, But did not the destruction of Jerusalem and the sanctuary (verse 26) occur in A.D 70, almost forty years after the death of Christ and thus outside the seventy weeks of years? This objection would be valid if the destruction of Jerusalem and the sanctuary was mentioned in verse 24 as one of the six predicted goals of the seventy-weeks prophecy. This is not so. The time of the Messiah's anointing and of His atoning death are precisely predicted to occur within the 490 years, but not the time of Jerusalem's destruction. This divine judgment was therefore open to forty years of delay after the cross of Christ, so that many thousands of Jews could hear the meaning of the cross of Christ and through faith and repentance be saved.

McClain's third reason is, "The fulfillment of the tremendous events in verse 24 cannot be found anywhere in known history". 21 He means: In the Jewish people no end of sinning and no beginning of everlasting righteousness can be noticed; no atonement for wickedness, no sealing up of vision and prophecy, no anointing of a most holy thing. But such an observation is rejected by most conservative Bible interpreters as missing the mark. Verse 24 must be understood as being accomplished by the Anointed One Himself on behalf of Israel (verses 25-27). Christ's death and resurrection to a new priesthood accomplished a perfect atonement for Israel's sin and provided an everlasting righteousness for Israel. The true Israel did enter into the benefits of His sacrificial death and are therefore clothed with the white garments of His righteousness. Christ's baptism (His anointing by the Spirit) and death authenticated Daniel's prophetic vision; His ascension to heaven meant the consecration of a new high-priesthood22 in the sanctuary of heaven that was manifested on earth in the outpouring of the anointing Spirit of God on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:33; Heb. 7:12, 22; 8:1, 2; 9:23, 24). Thus E. J. Young declares of Daniel 9:24:27, "The passage is Messianic through and through." 23 And Joyce G. Baldwin concludes her exegesis in these words: "The first coming of Christ is the focal point of the forward look, though the second coming in judgment is also envisaged." 24 This view does justice to both aspects of the Messianic prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27—the central focus on the Messiah's coming to fulfill the sixfold goal of verse 24, and the final judgment of God poured out on the desolator at "the end" (verse 27). Dispensationalism categorically denies that Christ's first advent (His baptism, His death, and resurrection) fulfilled any or all of the six goals of this magnificent Messianic prophecy.

McClain's fourth reason for a gap interpretation is the argument from analogy with the nonchronological Messianic prophecies that has been discussed above.

His fifth argument: "The testimony of our Lord Himself shows that the Seventieth Week is still future." 25 McClain bases this statement on the assumption that the future desolator spoken of in the second part of verse 27 is the same power referred to earlier in the verse as putting an end to sacrifice and offering " 'in the middle,'" of the seventieth week. Thus he argues that while Daniel placed the "abomination of desolation" (K.J.V.) exactly in the middle of the last week, in Matthew 24:15, 21, 29, 30 "our Lord placed it at 'the end,' just before His second coming in glory." He concludes: "Therefore, the Seventieth Week must also come at the end of the present age just prior to Christ's coming in glory. This is the interpretation of Christ Himself, and it should settle the matter." 26

McClain reaches this conclusion on the basis of several unwarranted presuppositions. The first error is the failure to recognize the style of Hebrew parallelism in verses 26 and 27, whereby it becomes clear that verse 27 speaks more elaborately about the same two powers—the Messiah and His opponent—as does verse 26. Not the antichrist but the Messiah Himself is predicted to end the sacrificial system in the middle of the seventieth week, exactly three and one-half years after His baptism as the Anointed One. The Gospel of John verifies the precise historical fulfillment of this prophecy in Christ's life; the time between His baptism and cross was exactly three and one-half years. 27

Did Christ end sacrifice?

McClain insists that "the death of Christ did not cause the Jewish sacrifices to cease. They continued, in fact, until the destruction of Jerusalem nearly forty years later.. . . The sacrifices should have ceased immediately. But they did not." 28

This reasoning reckons only with a human point of view. From God's point of view, as recorded in the New Testament, Daniel's description discloses one of the most profound and decisive revelations of the Messiah's mission, the very goal of the seventy-weeks prophecy, God's method of fulfilling the sixfold goal of Daniel 9:24. The abolishing of the whole Levitical priesthood and sacrificial shadow service was already announced in Psalm 110:1, 4, an earlier Messianic prophecy. Here David had declared that the future Messianic Ruler would also be " 'a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'"

The New Testament presses this challenging question: "If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priest hood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law" (Heb. 7:11, 12).

Only the Messiah Himself could legitimately abolish once and forever the system of symbols that pointed forward to the atoning self-sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God. "He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself (verse 27). "But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. . . . Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people" (chap. 9:26-28). "He sets aside the first [sacrifices and offerings] to establish the second [the will of God]" (chap. 10:9).

There can never be a valid return to the old covenant and its earthly temple worship, after Christ, the Antitype, has terminated once for all the "shadow" and inaugurated a "better covenant" that offers His righteousness as the everlasting righteousness (see Heb. 7:22; cf. chap. 10:12; Rom. 3:22, 25). "By calling this covenant [with its heavenly sanctuary and heavenly High Priest] 'new,' he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear" (Heb. 8:13). Christ confirmed God's covenant with Israel when He instituted the Lord's Supper the night before His death. Taking the cup, He declared, " 'This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'" (Matt. 26:28). Thus Christ confirmed God's covenant with many in Israel for one week (seven years): three and one-half years before His death by His own ministry and three and one-half years by that of His apostles in Jerusalem. 29

The fulfillment of Daniel's prediction that" 'in the middle of that "seven" he [the Anointed One of chap. 9:25, 26] will put an end to sacrifice and offering'" (chap. 9:27), was strikingly confirmed by an act of God Himself. When Jesus died, "at that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom" (Matt. 27:51; cf. Mark 15:38). The death of Christ signified the end of Israel's sacrificial temple ritual by an unmistakable act from heaven. The legitimacy of the temple sacrifices had come to their end before God. The Jews as a whole did not accept this divine decision and immediately reinstituted their bloody sacrifices. But the Shekinah glory had now departed from their temple, and it was therefore no longer the temple of God, and Jerusalem was no longer the holy city. Instead of God's blessing, now His curse rested on their house ("'your house,'" Matt. 23:38; cf. 1 Thess. 2:16). Total destruction by the Roman armies would soon follow. " They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you'" (Luke 19:44; cf. chap. 21:20-24). This fatal consequence of Israel's avowed rejection of the real mission of the Messiah—the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70—was also part and parcel of Daniel's prophecy. Christ explained: " 'For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written'" (chap. 21:22).

We agree therefore with the view of G. F. Hasel: "Although with the death of Jesus Christ the Jewish sacrifices did not cease, the sacrifices offered after His death could no longer he regarded as legitimate and valid in God's sight (Heb. 7:11; 8:13; 9:25, 26; 10:8, 9)." 30

Christ the Anointed One

McClain further challenges the Messianic interpretation of Daniel 9:26 by stating, "They cannot point to the place in history where it [the Messiah's covenant with Israel] began nor where it ended." 31 This leads us to consider the significance of Daniel's repeated title of "'Anointed One'" for Israel's Redeemer.

The first sixty-nine weeks of years were to reach "'until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes'" (chap. 9:25). This is one of the most explicit Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Bible. The Messiah is designated by the double characteristic of Anointed One and Ruler, identifying Him as the royal Messiah or Priest-King (cf. Isa, 61:1-3; Zech. 6:13; Ps. 110:4). Dispensationalists regularly neglect Daniel's emphasis on the coming Prince as the Anointed One (chap. 9:25, 26) and select the term "'ruler'" (verse 25) as the exclusive focus of this time prophecy. McClain pinpoints April 6, A.D. 32, as the time when Jesus "offered Himself as the Prince and King of Israel" at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, just a few days before His crucifixion. 32 The fact is, however, that Jesus was not "anointed" at that time!

The real question is, When did Jesus offer Himself as the Anointed One? The New Testament replies with unmistakable clarity that " 'God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power'" (Acts 10:38) and proclaimed this Anointed One to be His Son or King (see Mark 1:9-11; cf. Ps. 2:6, 7) on the day of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist. Luke, the historian, dates Christ's baptism "in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar" (chap. 3:1; see verses 2, 3, 21), apparently the only event in Christ's life that is historically dated in the New Testament. Jesus' own testimony in the synagogue at Nazareth, shortly after His baptism, confirms this conclusion. He read the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me,'" and then commented, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing'" (Luke 4:16, '21). Thus Christ offered Himself to Israel as the " 'Anointed One,'" the Messiah, immediately after His baptism three and one-half years before His crucifixion. In contrast, Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem was clearly intended to draw the attention of Israel and the world to the redemptive significance of His impending crucifixion on behalf of all men.

Right after His baptism, however, Christ announced to Israel, "The time is fulfilled" (Mark 1:15, K.J.V.). We agree, therefore, with J. Barton Payne's conclusion: "Here [at Christ's baptism] arises a Messianic consummation that did find fulfillment in history and that does fit the chronology [of Dan. 9:25]." 33 It needs to be stressed, however, that Jesus became the predicted Messiah at His baptism only in order to fulfill the sixfold divine mission described in Daniel 9:24, a goal that was accomplished basically in His atoning death on the cross exactly three and one-half years later. This was, of course, "the middle" of the seventieth week of Daniel 9:27. On the cross, just before He died, Christ exclaimed in triumph to the Father, " 'It is finished'" (John 19:30). His mission, as described in Daniel 9:24, was completed.

Since the goal of the seventy-weeks prophecy is so intensely Messianic, "the principal emphasis is not upon the beginning and ending of this remarkable period but upon the mighty events which were to transpire therein, events which have wrought our peace with God." 34

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Notes:

1 A. J. McClain, Daniel's Prophecy of the 70 Weeks (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1940), p. 9.

2 E. J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), p. 191.

3 Sanhedrin 97b (Soncino ed.), p. 659.

4 See G. R. Beasley-Murray, in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, C. Brown, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), vol. 1, pp. 74, 75. F. F. Bruce, Israel and the Nations (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1973), p. 224, refers to the "Roman custom of offering sacrifice to their standards."

5 The Book of Daniel, The Anchor Bible, vol. 23 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1978), p. 252.

6 Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, 111.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1978), p. 171; see also p. 174. Cf. G. McCready Price, The Greatest of the Prophets (Mountain View: Pacific Press, 1955), p. 244, who points further to Matthew 22:7.

7 "The Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9:24-27" (Insert D, Ministry, May, 1976), p. 5. Two contextual observations corroborate this conclusion: (1) Daniel was thinking about time in terms of years only (chap. 9:2); (2) In chapter 10:2, Daniel adds to this expression "three weeks" the words "of days" (in Hebrew) to distinguish these three weeks as ordinary weeks, in apparent contrast with the year-weeks of chapter 9.

8 Young, op. cit. p. 216.

9 Philip Mauro, The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation (Boston: Hamilton Bros., 1923), p. 95. He refers to the predicted 430 years for Israel in Genesis 13 and Galatians 3:17; the 7 years of plenty and the 7 years of famine for Egypt in Genesis 45:6; the 40 years for Israel in Numbers 14:34; and Jesus' resurrection within three days.

10 J. F. Walvoord, The Return of the Lord (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), p. 77.

11 E. W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1956), Vol. Ill, p. 143.

12 J. F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957), p. 24.

13 McClain, op. cit, p. 33.

14 Walvoord, The Rapture Question, p. 25.

15 The hermeneutical importance of the literary structure, with its poetic forms of parallelism and chiasm in Daniel 9:24-27, is brought to light in three valuable studies: J. Doukhan, "The Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9; An Exegetical Study," AUSS 17 (Spring, 1979), pp. 1-22; B. H. Shea, "Poetic Relations of Time Periods in Daniel 9:25," AUSS 18/1 (1980), pp. 59-63; J. B. Payne, "The Goal of Daniel's Seventy Weeks," Journal of the Evangelical Theol. Soc. (JETS) 21/2 (June, 1978), pp. 97-115.

16 JETS 21/2 (June, 1978), p. 109.

17 McClain, op. cit., p. 35.

18 JETS 21/2 (June, 1978), p. 109.

19 Ibid.; see especially Doukhan, op. cit., pp. 12-14.

20 See B. H. Shea, loc. cit.

21 McClain, loc. cit.

22 See Doukhan, loc. cit., AUSS.

23 Young, op.cit., p. 221.

24 Ibid., p. 177.

25 McClain, op. cit., p. 39.

26 Ibid., p. 40.

27 See The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, "Chronology of the Gospel of John,"pp. 192, 193, 229-231; J. B. Payne, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), p. 387.

28 McClain, op. cit., p. 52.

29 See J. B. Payne, JETS 21/2 (June, 1978), p. 109; also his Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy, p. 388.

30 Ministry, Insert D, May, 1976, p. 17.

31 McClain, loc. cit.

32 McClain, op. cit., p. 26. This date is arrived at by a complicated transformation of lunar years into solar years, which is rejected as incorrect in details by other dispensatjonal writers. See G. F. Hasel (note 2).

33 "The Goal of Daniel's Seventy Weeks," JETS 21/2 (June, 1978), p. 101. Payne reckons the 69 weeks or 483 years from Artaxerxes' decree to Ezra in 458 B.C. till Christ's baptism in the fall of A.D. 26 Seventh-day Adventists prefer the dates 457 B.C. till A.D. 27 as more accurate; see G. F. Hasel (note 2).

34 Young, op.cit., p. 221.

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