Establishing the date 457 B.C
Seventh-day Adventists believe that "the commandment to re store and to build Jerusalem" (Dan. 9:25) marks not only the beginning of the 70- weeks prophecy of that passage, but also the beginning of the 2300 days mentioned in Daniel 8:14- We believe that this latter prophecy reaches down to 1844, and thus points us out as the people God raised up on time to proclaim the last message of warning to the world. If we are correct, we ought to be able to justify our claim by producing evidence that will support it.
Three Persian decrees played roles in the restoration of God's people from the captivity the Babylonians had instituted.1 Confirming our interpretation of these important prophecies of Daniel depends on identifying and dating the decree with which God intended the time calculations to begin.
Cyrus issued the first decree in the first year of his Babylonian reign, which was 538/537 B.C. (see Ezra 1:1; 6:1; and 2 Chron. 36:22, 23). The Bible does not indicate when in the first year of his reign this decree was given, so we do not know whether the year involved was 538 or 53 7 B.C. Nor does the Bible tell us when Zerubbabel's party left Babylon and when they arrived in Jerusalem, so we do not know when this decree became effective. The Bible's vagueness about these details argues against this being the all important decree. Furthermore, Cyrus's decree says nothing about the restoration of the city. It speaks only of the rebuilding of the Temple.
Another evidence that this is the wrong decree is that it simply doesn't work with the Daniel 9 prophecy of the time of the arrival of the Messiah, the anointed one. With the date of this decree as a starting point, the 483 years Daniel spoke of do not reach anywhere near Jesus' time, never mind identifying the year of His baptism--His anointing--which took place in A.D. 27.
Scripture gives no date at all for the second decree, that of Darius the Great. All we know is that it was given in the early years of his reign, because, as a result of it, the Temple was completed and dedicated.2 And, like Cyrus's, Darius's decree was concerned with the restoration of the Temple, not of the city. Obviously, for establishing a starting point for the prophecy this decree is not of much use either.
If God intended either of these decrees to mark the beginning of a time prophecy as important as that of the 2300 days, then certainly He would have seen that the details needed were recorded in the Bible.
It is in connection with the third decree--that of the seventh year of Artaxerxes, recorded in Ezra 7:8, 9--that we have the information necessary to locating in time this important prophecy. Regarding this decree we are told that Ezra left Babylon on the first day of month 1 of the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes, and that he and his group arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of month 5 of the same year. For no other decree is such detail given. This itself should alert us. Surely God is saying something to us when His Word is so explicit regarding this decree and so vague regarding the other two.
Furthermore, this decree provided for the restoration of local government on a scale not mentioned in the other decrees (note Ezra 7:21-28). It empowered the judiciary to punish wrongdoers, even granting the authority to impose the death sentence. And as a result of this decree Ezra began to build the city--see the letter to Artaxerxes in Ezra 4.
However, perhaps the strongest argument of all is that when we calculate the Daniel 9 prophecy using the date of this decree, 457 B.C., as marking its beginning, the prophecy reaches exactly to the baptism of Jesus. In fact, Daniel 9:24 suggests that the events that take place within the 70 weeks set God's seal of approval on the whole of the prophecy. They show that the prophecy was divinely given, and thus absolutely dependable. And no other date even begins to satisfy the demands of this prophecy.
Obviously, then, the decree God in tends us to use is that of Ezra 7 the one issued in the seventh year of Artaxerxes. God has given us details about when it was issued and when it went into effect. And the precision with which it relates to Jesus' baptism marks it as authentic. It is just too accurate to be wrong!
Having determined that it is Artaxerxes' decree that marks the beginning of these prophetic periods, we must now establish that the year in which he issued his decree actually was 457 B.C.
Babylonian and Persian dating methods
In the time of the Persians, all events and documents were dated in terms of the day number, month name or number, and year number of the current king's reign. For example, as we have already noted, Ezra says that he left for Jerusalem on the first day of month 1 of Artaxerxes' seventh year, arriving there on the first day of month 5 of the same year.
When a king died and a new one took the throne, the remaining portion of that year was considered the accession year of the new king and was not counted as or called the first year of the new king's reign. Only the first full calendar year of a king's reign was called his first year (see Figure 1). As can readily be seen, the accession year could be long or short, depending on when the new king came to the throne.
To establish the date of an event in terms of our calendar, scholars first had to determine the succession of the kings and the length of their reigns. The lists of kings that ancient writers provided are one source of such information. Another is the method that Richard A. Parker and Waldo H. Dubberstein developed as they gathered the information published in their useful book Babylonian Chronology: 626 B.C.-AD. 75. Parker and Dubberstein's method grew out of the fact that thousands of tablets dated by their authors to the reigns of ancient Near Eastern kings have been found. These two men suggested that by finding the three or four tablets bearing the latest dates from each king's reign and the three or four tablets bearing the earliest dates of each successor's, the transition points between each reign might be pretty well established. Using this method, scholars can calculate the month and sometimes almost the day of the month that a king died and his successor took his place. In this way they have been able to compile a list of the Babylonian and Persian kings together with precise details as to when each came to the throne and how long each ruled.
To assign B.C. dates to the reigns of these kings, scholars had to take one more step; they had to find a way to link the reigns of the kings to our B.C. scale. They established this link by means of the tablets that record and date the eclipses that occurred in the days of those kings. Most of these tablets describe in detail eclipses that had already occurred, but at least one predicts an eclipse at that time yet future; it was to occur in the seventh year of Cambyses. That they were able even to predict eclipses reveals the high standard of astronomical science these ancient people practiced.
As archeologists have found and translated tablets describing eclipses, astronomers have been able to calculate when in terms of our calendar those eclipses took place. Thus guesswork has been eliminated and precise dates given to the reigns of these ancient kings. In terms of chronology, the Babylonian and Persian periods are among the very best documented periods of history. (The table below lists some of the eclipses the tablets describe.)
The date for the seventh year of Artaxerxes
With such a wealth of information regarding the chronology of this period, we can with confidence ascertain the B.C. date of the seventh year of Artaxerxes' reign.
Xerxes, the predecessor of Artaxerxes, was murdered sometime between December 17, 465 B.C., and January 3, 464 B.C. The tablet bearing the latest known date from his reign is dated to month 9 (which corresponds to December) of his twenty-first year of reign. And the Elephantine papyri from Egypt contain the first known date identified with Artaxerxes' reign the equivalent of our January 3, 464 B.C. Since this date comes from records originating in Egypt, most scholars agree that Xerxes died before the end of December, as it is hardly likely that news of his death and Artaxerxes' succession would travel from Persia to Egypt in three days. Thus it appears certain that Xerxes' death must be dated in late December, 465 B.C.
While the Jews followed a spring-to-spring calendar for their religious year, in time they came to use a second calendar as well--much as many nations today have a fiscal year as well as a calendar year. Just as the beginnings and endings of our fiscal years differ by six months from those of our calendar years, the Jewish fall-to-fall calendar differed by six months from the spring-to-spring calendar. And much as the months of our fiscal and calendar years retain the same names, the months of the spring-to-spring and fall-to-fall calendars retained the same numbers. So while the spring-to-spring calendar began with month 1 and ended with month 12, the fall-to-fall calendar began with month 7 and ended with month 6 (see Figure 2).
With this information we can construct a time line for the early years of Artaxerxes and thus arrive at the all-important seventh year of his reign. We calculate that year according to the Jewish fall-to-fall calendar the calendar Ezra was using when he referred to Artaxerxes' decree (see the box on the opposite page).
Figure 3 shows that Artaxerxes' seventh year began in 458 B.C. and ex tended into 457 B.C., and that the dates Scripture records in connection with this decree--those for Ezra's departure for Jerusalem and for his arrival there--fall well within 457 B.C.
It is interesting to note that William Miller and his associates used a different method for calculating which of our years corresponded to Artaxerxes' seventh year. Basing their work on Ptolemy's Canon, they came up with the same date we have arrived at above. This certainly is a gratifying reassurance as to the trust worthiness of our position and should help to fortify our faith in the message we bear to the world. As the apostle Peter declared: "We have not followed cunningly devised fables" (2 Peter 1:16).
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1 A fourth possibility has been suggested: some
consider Artaxerxes' acquiescence to Nehemiah's
request to return to rebuild Jerusalem (444 B.C.,
Neh. 1:1-3; 2:1) as the decree that should provide
the starting date of the prophecy (see, e.g., Robert
Anderson, The Coming Prince [Grand Rapids: KregelPub.,
n.d.]). However, starting from the date of
this incident throws the 70-weeks prophecy way off
the date of Jesus' baptism. And whereas the Bible
carefully quotes each of the three preceding
decrees, in this case it merely says that Artaxerxes
granted permission and sent accompanying let
ters it gives no indication that he issued a decree.
Such offhanded treatment of this "decree" is hardly
what one would expect if the Lord wanted to mark
it as the starting point of Daniel's important
2 The rebuilding of the Temple Cyrus's decree
had initiated had petered put. The Jews began work
on the Temple again and then wrote, asking Darius's
permission. In his second year, Darius replied,
granting that permission. The work continued, and
in his sixth year, the Temple was dedicated (see
Haggai 2:10-18 and Ezra 6:15).
Horn, S. H., and L. H. Wood. The Chronology of
Ezra 7. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald
Pub. Assn., 1953.
Parker, Richard A., arid Waldo H. Dubberstein.
Babylonian Chronology: 626 B.C.-A.D. 75. 3rd
printing. Providence, R.I.: Brown University
The Seventh'day Adventist Bible Commentary.
Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub.
Assn., 1954. Vols. 3, 4.
Thiele, E. R. The Mysterious Numbers of the
Hebrews Kings. Exter, Devon, England: Paternoster
Wiseman, D. J. Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (626-
556 B.C.). London: Trustees of the British
Jewish use of the fall-to-fall year
The calendar by which the Babylonians and Persians reckoned their years was a spring-to-spring calendar. That is, their year began in the spring and ended with the ending of winter. In reckoning their religious year, the Jews also followed a spring-to-spring calendar. But at times they used a fall-to-fall calendar when reckoning the reigns of their own and foreign kings.
Those who ignore or are not aware of this fact may be off by as much as six months in their dating of biblical events, which can throw dates on our B.C./A.D. scale into a completely different year. Reckoning Ezra's "seventh year of Artaxerxes" by the spring-to-spring calendar, for instance, places his dates for the carrying out of Artaxerxes' decree in 458 B.C and the climax of the 2300 day prophecy in A.D. 1843 rather than A.D. 1844.
Four lines of evidence--three biblical and one extrabiblical--show that the Jews did use the fall-to-fall calendar.
1. The building of Solomon's Temple
Scripture tells us that Solomon began to build the Temple in the fourth year of his reign, in the month Zif, the second month of the Jewish year, and that he finished the Temple in the eleventh year of his reign, in the month of Bul, the eighth month of the Jewish year (1 Kings 6:1, 37, 38). On a spring-to-spring calendar, these dates would comprise seven and one half literal years, which the Jews would have counted as eight years with their inclusive reckoning.
But based on a fall-to-fall calendar, the same dates would yield six and one-half years, which, with inclusive reckoning, the Jews would have counted as seven years the time Scripture actually specifies for the building of Solomon's Temple (verse 38).
2. Josiah's reforms
In 2 Kings 22:3-23:23 we read about the reforms that Josiah carried out in Judah, and of the Passover celebration with which he capped those reforms. Josiah sent his men through out his kingdom to call on the people to forsake the worship of idols and to turn to the true God. Places of pagan worship were destroyed, the groves were cut down, and the people were
invited to assemble in Jerusalem for the Passover. It is not hard to see that Josiah's men would need a fair amount of time to accomplish all this. It would also take the people some time to travel to Jerusalem, especially those who lived in the farther reaches of the kingdom. Yet Scripture indicates that the reforms were carried out and the people gathered between the beginning of the eighteenth year of Josiah's reign and the time of the Pass over that took place in that year.
Since the Passover occurred on the fourteenth date of the first month of the year, if these events were reckoned on the basis of the spring-to-spring year, they would all have had to take place within 14 days at the most! However, if we allow that the Jews were using a fall-to-fall year, there would have been up to six and one-half months for these reforms to be carried out before the celebration of the Passover a much more likely schema.
3. Nehemiah before the king
In beginning the account of his work in Jerusalem, Nehemiah says he heard bad news about the condition of that city in the month of Chislev (Neh. 1:1-4), which is the ninth month of the Jewish year. He continues by saying that as a result of this bad news he was sad in the king's presence in the month of Nisan (Neh. 2:1-8), the first month of the Jewish year. More to the point of our concern here, he dates both his hearing of the bad news and the occasion on which Artaxerxes noticed his sadness to that king's twentieth year. If he were following the spring-to-spring calendar, in which the months proceeded in numerical order, his sadness before the king would have preceded his hearing of the news that precipitated that sadness! But in the fall-to-fall
calendar his dating of the events poses no problem, because in that calendar month 9 precedes month 1 (see figure 2).
Two factors make this instance of the use of the fall-to-fall calendar of particular import for the dating of Artaxerxes' decree. First, while the previous two examples involved dates based on the reigns of Hebrew kings, Nehemiah, like Ezra, was basing his dating on the reign of a Persian king.
And second, Nehemiah was Ezra's contemporary in time and circumstances--both were Jews who were raised in Persia and wrote within a few years of each other after their return to Palestine. We would expect two people with the same back ground who were writing at the same time and place to use the same dating technique.
4. The Elephantine papyri
S. H. Horn and L. H. Wood have found extrabiblical evidence for Jewish use of the fall-to-fall calendar during the Persian period. Some of the manuscripts written by Jewish soldiers stationed at the fortress on the Elephantine Islands in the Nile in upper Egypt were dated by two calendars, the Egyptian calendar and the Jewish fall-to-fall calendar. These manuscripts, from around the years 422 B.C. to 419 B.C., offer another evidence of Jewish use of this calendar even when the king upon whose reign the dates were based was a foreigner, in this case the Persian, Darius II. (Kraeling Papyrus No. 6 is of special importance here.) Horn and
Wood have provided the details of this evidence in their book The Chronology of Ezra 7.
So the probability that Ezra used the fall-to-fall calendar can be established from both biblical and extrabiblical sources.