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Hanukkah and the Book of Daniel

I wrote about when the book of Daniel was written in an earlier post, so I’ll just summarize it here.

Daniel was written during the earlier stages of the Maccabean revolt of 167 – 164 BCE, but the character(s) were placed in an earlier stage of history to make it seem as though the events of the Maccabean revolt were foretold during the exile. This is a classic literary trope; of commenting about contemporary events via a past scenario. The “abomination causing desolation” is the erection of an idol of Zeus in the temple (Dan 9:27, 11:31) that the Seleucid king Antiochus IV set up in 167 BCE. It should be noted that “abomination” in Hebrew can also mean “idol”.

Daniel’s predictions about how the rebellion would end failed, however. After Alexander the Great conquered a large portion of the “known world”, his empire was split after he died. The southern part of his empire was ruled by his general Ptolemy and his progeny, and the northern (but more accurately “eastern”, but for Daniel it’s north of Judaea) part was ruled by his general Seleucus and his progeny. This is ostensibly described well by Dan in chapter 11. Dan predicts that Antiochus (the “king of the north” i.e. a Seleucid) would be killed by a Ptolemaic king (the “king of the south”). Dan also predicts that after Antiochus sets up the statue of Zeus and stops the sacrificial system (Dan 12:11-12) — which Antiochus did in 167 BCE — that there will be 1,335 days until the world ends, which is approximately three years.

Antiochus actually died from illness, and the revolt lasted until 164 BCE when the Maccabees drove out the Greek forces/idols from Judea (as well as the Hellenized Jews who rejected circumcison) and rededicated (hanukkah in Hebrew) the temple.

54 According to the time, and according to the day wherein the heathens had defiled it, in the same was it dedicated anew with canticles, and harps, and lutes, and cymbals.

55 And all the people fell upon their faces, and adored, and blessed up to heaven, him that had prospered them.

56 And they kept the dedication of the altar eight days, and they offered holocausts with joy, and sacrifices of salvation, and of praise.

57 And they adorned the front of the temple with crowns of gold, and escutcheons, and they renewed the gates, and the chambers, and hanged doors upon them.

58 And there was exceeding great joy among the people, and the reproach of the Gentiles was turned away.

59 And Judas, and his brethren, and all the church of Israel decreed, that the day of the dedication of the altar should be kept in its season from year to year for eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month of Casleu, with joy and gladness.

– 1 Maccabees 4:56–59

A similar event happens in 132 CE. The Roman emperor Hadrian erected a statue of Jupiter on the temple mount which incited the Bar-Kokhba revolt. The results of which eerily match Jesus’ prediction in Mark 13. Another “abomination causing desolation” standing where it doesn’t belong (statue of Jupiter, Mark 13:14), the complete destruction of the temple in 135 CE at the failure of the Bar-Kokhba revolt (Mark 13:1-2), Bar-Kokhba being called the messiah/christ for driving out the Romans but was ultimately a false christ/messiah (Mark 13:5-6), Christians being persecuted because of Bar-Kokhba’s messanic claims (Mark 13:9). And then, after the failure of the revolt, the Jews are evicted from Judaea (Mark 13:14 those who are in Judea flee to the mountains) and the area was renamed to “Palestine” by Hadrian.

Could the gospel narratives also be following the same theme of Daniel? As in, a contemporaneous account retrojected into the past?

Of course, the writer of Mark gives it away by having Jesus break the fourth wall. Why else would he say “let the reader understand” (Mark 13:14)? “Jesus” is not actually talking to Peter, et. al. in this pericope. The writer – talking through Jesus – is talking to the reader of this narrative, describing a situation that’s contemporary to the writer/reader (either 70 CE or 132 CE). “This generation” (Mark 13:30) is not Peter and company, but the reader.

What makes things more suspicious is that there’s no evidence of any Christians knowing any narrative gospels prior to the Bar-Kokhba revolt. Just like there’s no evidence of any Jews knowing of a “great prophet” named Daniel prior to the Maccabean rebellion. Jesus son of Sirach, writing c. 180 BCE lists a bunch of “great men” in his “Wisdom of ben Sirach” (chapters 44-50) but doesn’t include Daniel. 1 Maccabees, writing about 80 years later c. 100 BCE lists many of the same as Jesus b.Sirach, but includes Daniel as well (1 Macc 2:60). Which is why Daniel is ketuvim and not nevi’im.

The Tisha B’Av of Judaism in 135 CE might be the Hanukkah of Christianity, with Mark playing the role of Daniel.

 

Dating the Book of Daniel

A favorite prophet for Christians (mainly because of the apocalyptic “Son of Man” language and the Abomination causing Desolation in chapters 7 and 8 which Jesus invokes, cf. Mark 13:14), Daniel isn’t aprophet in Judaism. Daniel was written during the Maccabean revolt c. 165 BCE, the outcome of which is still celebrated to this day with Hannukah. Daniel attempts to be writing in the 6th century BCE but was really written in the 2nd centry BCE.

Those reasons include the following:

1. Daniel contains a number of historical inaccuracies regarding Baylonian history- the era during which it is alleged by traditionalists to have been written. These include such things as the erroneous belief that Nebuchadnezzar had a son named Belshazzar, that this Belshazzar was the last king of Babylon during the Jewish captivity, that Babylon under Belshazzar fell to Darius and that Darius was a Mede. Every single one of those points is wrong. There were four kings of Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel thinks there was only one, and the one he names never existed. Nebuchadnezzar did not have a son named Belshazzar and no one by that name was ever king of Babylon. The guy who was king when Babylon fell was named Nabonidus and he was not related to Nebuchadnezzar. Interestingly, Naboninus had a son named Belshazzar but that son was never king and he died before his father did.

2. Daniel is also wrong about both the name and nationality of the person who conquered Babylon (and liberated the Jews from captivity….something which a contemporary Jew should not have gotten confused about). Babylon was not conquered by “Darius the Mede” but by Cyrus, who was Persian. There was no such person as Darius the Mede and (contrary to Daniel, who was evidently trying to backfill failed prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah) Babylon was never conquered by the Medes.

Cyrus had a grandson named Darius who eventually became king, but he, like his grandfather, was a Persian, not a Mede. Daniel also says that “Darius the Mede” was the son of Xerxes, but Xerxes was actually the son of Darius, not his father. It is quite implausible that any Jewish person who survived the entire exile would get this many things wrong but would be entirely to be expected by anyone who was writing historical fiction several centuries later.

3. The Book of Daniel contains a number of historical anachronisms which date it well after the Exile and into the Hellenistic period. It uses Greek words and references a Greek musical instrument which didn’t exist until the 2nd century BCE (Dan 3:5 contains “psaltery”, which is Greek). it contains Aramaic dialect which dates well after the exilic period. It contains an anachronistic use of the word “Chaldean” to refer to astrologers. That word was only an ethnic indicator during the era of the exile and only came to be used for astrologers much later. Daniel contains post-exilic eschatological ideas about such things as a resurrection and judgement of the dead. Daniel also references the book of Jeremiah as a “sacred book” (i.e. as scripture) but Jeremiah would have been a contemporary of Daniel and the Book of Jeremiah did not become part of Jewish Canon until c. 200 CE.

4. Daniel is very accurate about the Greek period and makes historically sound “predictions” regarding Alexander’s conquest and subsequent dynasties up to and including the reign of Antiochus, his installation of a statue of Zeus in the Temple (167 BCE – the Abomination causing Desolation) and the Jewish revolt against him. Once Daniel gets past 164 BCE, though, the predictions all fail. Daniel predicted that Antiochus would be killed in Palestine by a Ptolemaic king from the south and then the end of the world would come. Antiochus died not in Palestine, but in Persia, not by a king from the south but by an illness. Obviously, the world never ended either.

This is a clear indication that Daniel was written after the installation of the “abomination” in the Temple (167 BCE) but before the death of Antiochus (164 BCE). Christians have a lot of problems understanding Daniel. They even think the text is a prophetic text, but the Jews place it amongst the other writings (Ketuvim). Christians should give the Hebrew bible back to the Jews and stop making such a mess with it.

If we turn to ch.11 we find a series of conflicts between the kings of the north and the kings of the south immediately after the time of Alexander, the warrior king of 11:3 and the diadochi in 11:4. The king of the north is clearly Seleucid and the king of the south is Ptolemy and chapter 11 describes the Syrian Wars.

The fulcrum is the stopping of temple sacrifices (and the persecution of the Jews from 167 to 164 BCE), 11:31, 9:27 and 8:11 – this last is done by the little horn, who we also see is the culmination of the fourth beast in chapter 7, who attacked the Jews and attempted to change the seasons and the laws.

The four beasts of chapter 7, the lion (Babylon), the bear (Media), the panther (Persians), the unnamed beast – the elephant to us – (Greece), is the same progression in the statue of Dan 2, which has the Greek empire dividing into two legs, the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. The feet made of iron and clay indicate the varying power that the two empires were able to wield.

The usual Christian view is to interperet that the Medes and the Persians were really one empire, despite the fact that the Persians conquered the Medes. The Jews of course saw Media as separate from the Persians, Isaiah 13:17-19 prophecying that the Medes would destroy Babylon.

The Romans are obviously not the legs of the statue in Dan 2. The Seleucid and Ptolemy kingdoms explain the data correctly and the struggle between them, the kings of the north and south, is outlined in Dan 11. Dan 2:43 deals with the marriage of Berenice with Antiochus II, which was an attempt to unite the two kingdoms, an attempt which failed.

(The major primary sources are Polybius’s history and 2 Maccabees. More information about the struggle between the Seleucids and Ptolemies can be found in any history of the Hellenistic period.) In addition, the canon of the Prophets (Nevi’im) was closed by about 200 BC with the composition of Malachi. The apocryphal book of Jesus ben Sirach (who I wrote a bit about here), written about 180 BCE, contains a long section (chapters 44-50) in praise of “famous men” from Jewish history that does not include Daniel. However 1 Maccabees, composed about 100 BCE, repeats much of that list with the addition of Daniel and the three youths in the fiery furnace, leading to the conclusion that these stories were likely added to Hebrew literature sometime after 180 BCE.

However, Daniel could be a “prophecy” of the events of the Maccabean Rebellion… that means it wasn’t a prophecy about Jesus.

This interpretation of Daniel fits Maccabees (specifically 1 Maccabees 1:54) where the desecrating idol of Antiochus is referred to as an “Abomination of Desolation” (see Daniel 9:27). Also, Josephus identified the “little horn” as Antiochus (Antiquities 10:11).

Daniel was intended to be read as a “prophecy” of (or writing about) the Maccabean Rebellion, so it was more than likely written during this time period. Though later Christians have Jesus reinterpreting it to make it a prophecy about Jesus.

Incidently, the events in the Maccabean rebellion and the Bar-Kochba rebellion are similar. Just like Daniel was more than likely written during the Maccabean revolt, the Christian gospels might have been written during the Bar-Kochba rebellion. Both events have a pagan statue being erected on the sacred ground of the temple insigating Jewish rebellion. Though to be fair, Hadrian erected a statue of Jupiter on the grounds of the temple mount in 132 CE (since the temple had been destroyed in 70 CE) and Antiochus erected a statue of Zeus actually inside of the still standing temple in 167 BCE.

 

Was Jesus 33 years old? Or 50?

The thirty Aeons are not typified by the fact that Christ was baptized in His thirtieth year: He did not suffer in the twelfth month after His baptism, but was more than fifty years old when He died.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.22

Irenaeus, the first Christian who names the gospels – the first Christian who says “according to Mark”, “according to John”, etc – says that Jesus was over 50 years old when he was killed.

Some people have a theory that the gospels themselves were written in reaction to the Bar Kochba revolt in 133 CE. Jesus’ “anachronistic” prophecy about the abomination causing desolation standing where it doesn’t belong (the Emperor Hadrian erected a statue of Jupiter on the sacred ground of the demolished 2nd Temple which sparked the Jewish revolt), false Christs (Bar Kochba), the diaspora (people fleeing to the hills)… all of that is due to the author of the gospel(s) writing a contemporaneous reaction to Bar Kochba.

Why would Jesus say “let the reader understand”? (Mark 13:14, Matthew 24:15)

That’s him breaking the fourth wall. Quite possibly, since Jesus only does this in Mark and Matthew but not in Luke or John, that Mark/Matt were written first and Luke and John were written “in reaction” to Mark/Matt. Luke supposedly wrote to explain the delayed parousia, which is why in that gospel Jesus’ interpretation of the “mini apocalypse” is different than Mark.

The first Christian to cite a narrative gospel was Marcion in 140 CE. There doesn’t seem to be any direct evidence of narrative gospels prior to Marcion. Papias cites an unordered sayings written by Mark, a disciple and interpreter of Peter. Ignatius writes a couple of things that seem to be from Matthew, but he never quotes Matthew directly, and they’re not “exactly” how they are in Matthew – meaning that he might just be reciting traditions.

So the gospels being written later than what the vast majority of scholars say they were written (70 CE for Mark, the first gospel written) makes sense of Irenaeus’ assertion of a 50 year old Jesus. Hell, even John could have been written first! But still… this needs to explain the existence of Christianity itself without any sort of narrative gospels for almost 100 years. It might be that Mark, therefore, has Jesus retroactively preaching “a generation” (which is traditionally 40 years) prior to the destruction of the Temple… the 30s CE. Was there a historical Jesus? I don’t know either way. Christianity could be explained by Philo’s and Paul’s teachings, which were also happening in the 30s or 40s CE. Both of which taught a mediating, heavenly “Christ” functioning between humans and YHWH.

Who knows.

Anyway, if current Christianity takes Irenaeus’ authority on the names of the gospels and how many gospels should be in the canon, why don’t they take his authority on how old Jesus was when he was killed? After Marcion, the next two Christians (that I know of) who cite narrative gospels are Justin Martyr and his student Tatian. But they cite unnamed “Memoirs of the Apostles” and “Diatessaron”, respectively… which seem to be harmonizations of our current gospels. Thus they wouldn’t have the contradictory birth narratives of Jesus found in Luke and Matthew. Luke has Jesus being born during Quirinus’ census (6 CE) and Matthew has Jesus being born during the reign of Herod the great (who died in 4 BCE). Both of those dates have Jesus being around 30 during the reign of Tiberius.

There might not have been gospels with our current birth narratives prior to Irenaeus, which is why he has a 50 year old Jesus.

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2009 in abomination causing desolation, bar kochba, irenaeus, paul, philo

 
 
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