Bible Question:

Phlegon reports that the eclipse represents the seventieth week of Daniel’s vision. My understanding has always been that the tribulation was the seventieth week. Is Phlegon incorrect or am I missing something?

Bible Answer:

Phlegon of Tralles, a historian during the second century A.D., reports that an eclipse occurred during the death of Christ on the cross. He states that the eclipse occurred at the end of the 70 weeks of Daniel.  Julius Africanus also performed calculations about the prophecy. As a result, we have several questions. Was Phlegon correct?  Were Julius Africanus’ calculations correct? Did Jesus Christ die at the end of the 70 weeks of Daniel? Phlegon claims the eclipse at Christ’s death was the fulfillment of Daniel’s seventieth week in Daniel 9:24-26. Is that correct?

70 Weeks of Daniel — Julius Africanus

Phlegon’s Statement About Christ’s Death

Phlegon’s statement about the death of Christ at the end of  the 70 weeks of Daniel is found in Julius Africanus’ work called the The Epistle to Aristides. Here is his statement.

“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the Passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Saviour falls on the day before the Passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let that opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth — manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe? Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period. But it was a darkness induced by God, because the Lord happened then to suffer. And calculation makes out that the period of 70 weeks, as noted in Daniel, is completed at this time.”[1]

Julius Africanus’ Calculation of the 70 Weeks of Daniel

Julius Africanus provides a detailed calculation of the 70 weeks of Daniel’s prophecy. He says the beginning date of the prophecy was 445 B.C. and ended in A.D. 30.  Then he makes a major mistake when he concludes that there are 490 Hebrew years between 445 B.C and A.D. 30. This occurs because he did not understand how the Hebrew calendar was calculated or maintained. As a result, he concluded that Christ died at the end of the 70 weeks of Daniel since the 70 weeks equal 490 years.[2] Here is a brief summary of his calculation.

His Start Date — 2oth Year of King Artaxerxes’ Reign

First, Julius Africanus states that the start date of the prophecy is given by the Hebrew named Ezra.[3] He states that the 20th year of King Artaxerxes is the beginning of the prophecy (Nehemiah 2:1), which was 445/444 B.C.[4]  He was correct. He states the decree to rebuild the city of Jerusalem occurred about the fourth year of the 83d Olympiad and the 120th year of the Persian empire. Note that the first Olympiad occurred in the year 776 B.C.

His End Date — 16th Year of Tiberius Caesar’s Reign

Second, Julius Africanus says that the prophecy ended during the sixteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (A.D. 30).[5] That is, he assumed Christ was crucified in the year 30 A.D.

Errors in the Calculation of the 70th Week of Daniel

Then he compared the start to what he believed was the end date of the prophecy. As a result, he concluded the prophecy was fulfilled in a span of 475 years. Then he tried to demonstrate that the 70 weeks of Daniel, which equal 490 years, corresponded to these 475 years. Next, he proceeded to demonstrate that the prophecy would be fulfilled in those 475 years. Since we use the Gregorian calendar, this corresponds to 475 solar years of 365.24219879 days each year. That is, he proceeded to prove the prophecy was fulfilled.

First Error — Unfortunately, Julius Africanus made four major mistakes in his calculations. His first error was that he did not understand how the Hebrew calendar was maintained. He did not know the Hebrew calendar had a 19 year intercalary period; therefore, he used an 8 year cycle. Next, he wanted to learn how many intercalary or Metonic cycles occurred in the 475 year span. Therefore, he divided the 475 years by the 8 year intercalary cycle and obtained 59 cycles (475 divided by 8 = 59.375).

Second Error — His second error was that he assumed the 8 year intercalary cycle was updated using 3 months. That is, three months were added during the eight years to make the Hebrew calendar approximate the solar year more accurately. But he was wrong. The Hebrew calendar uses a 19 year Metonic cycle. It adds 7 months during the 19 year cycle, adding one month on the the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years. This means every 19 years he was adding 0.125 of a month more than he should have (19 cycles/8 cycles x 3 months – 7 months = 0.125 months every 19 years). The impact was small but in error, nevertheless.

Third Error — His third error was that he did not understand the intercalary calculations were used to update the Hebrew calendar so that it kept pace with the solar year of 365.24219879 days. As a result, he assumed the 3 months were additional parts of every 8 year cycle, which needed to be added. Therefore, he made a mistake by adding additional time to the 475 years.

Consequently, he multiplied the 59 cycles by 3 months, which equals 177 months or 14.75 years (59 cycles x 3 months / 12 months = 14.75 years). Since he assumed these 177 intercalary months were additional time, he added them to the 475 years and obtained 490 years (475 years + 14.75 years =  490 years).

But, the additional 14.75 years should not have been added to the 475 years, since the intercalary months are used to keep the Hebrew calendar approximately equal to the solar year. The actual Hebrew calendar adds 7 months during a 19 intercalary or Metonic cycles to minimize the discrepancy between the Hebrew and solar calendars. So, it is not possible for the 475 years to become 490 years.

Fourth Error — His fourth error was that he failed to understand that the prophecy in Daniel 9:24-26 states that after the 69 weeks the Messiah would “be cut off” or die.[5] The 69 weeks equals 476 years (69 weeks x 7 years/week = 483 years) and not 490 years. For a correct calculation of the 70 weeks of Daniel, please visit the Prophecy of Daniel’s 70 Weeks.

Conclusion.

While Julius Africanus made some serious errors in his calculation about the prophecy, he should be praised for understanding that the prophecy was real. His conclusion was correct, even though his calculations were in error. His calculations were made more difficult by attempting to do them in the Hebrew lunar calendar.

A much simpler approach has been taken by most modern authors. Here is a brief summary of the steps currently used to perform the calculations.

Step#1 — The current approach is to select Nisan 1, 444 B.C. as the start date of the prophecy.

Step#2 — Next, since the prophecy states that there are 69 weeks from the start date to the death of the Messiah, multiply the 69 weeks by 7 years per week. We multiple by 7 years per week, since the Hebrew word for week refers to 7 years. The result is 483 years (69 weeks x 7 years/week = 483 years).

Step#3 — Convert the biblical years of 483 into the solar calendar (360 days per biblical year x 483 years). The result is then divided by 365.24219879 days per solar year. The result is 476 years and about 25 days.

Step#4 — Then add 476 years to the date of 444 B.C. The result is A.D. 32.

Step#5 — But we need to add one year because there is only one year between 1 B.C to A.D. 1. The result is A.D. 33.

Step#6 — Then the additional 25 days must be added to Nisan 1 (see Step #1) and convert the result into the Gregorian calendar in the year A.D. 33. The result is that the prophecy of the 70 weeks of Daniel points to March 24, A.D. 33.

Step#7 — We know that Christ died on April 1, A.D. 33 since that is the only date on which Christ could have died on a Friday during Passover between the years of A.D. 30 to A.D. 36.

Step#8 — In summary, the prophecy of the 70 weeks of Daniel was fulfilled by Christ when He was crucified on April 1, A.D. 33, which was Nisan 14.

For more information and details, please visit the Prophecy of Daniel’s 70 Weeks.

 

References:

1. Julius Africanus. The Epistle to Aristides, Chapter 18, Section 1, “On the Circumstances Connected with Our Saviour’s Passion and His Life-Giving.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Hendrckson Publishers. 1995. vol. 6, pp. 136-137.
2. Ibid. Sections 2 and 3. p. 137.
3. Ibid.
4. Note that Africanus states in section 2 that King Artaxerxes twentieth occurred during the same year as the 83rd Olympiad. Since the first Olympiad occurred in 776 B.C., the date of the 83rd Olympiad in our Gregorian calender is 444 B.C.
4. Ibid. Sections 2 and 3. p. 137.
5. Note that Christ was crucified on Nisan 14 in the year A.D. 33. The Hebrew year was 3793.

Suggested Links:

Prophecy of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks – Daniel 9:24-25
Does Daniel 9:25 refer to Cyrus’ decree?
What is the correct calculation of Daniel’s 69 Weeks? — Sir Robert Anderson & Harold Hoehner Errors
Year of Jesus’ Death Was Prophesied