The Dead Sea Scrolls explain the 70 Weeks Prophecy in many unexpected ways. In this article we’ll go over them.
This is the third in a series of articles based on aspects of my new book, 70 Times 7, about Daniel’s 70 Weeks Prophecy. The previous two articles can be accessed below:
This article focuses on the Dead Sea Scrolls which were written in the two centuries before the coming of Jesus. They give us a fist hand view of how Jews of the biblical era interpreted Daniel’s 70 Weeks Prophecy.
Hopefully, this article wets your appetite for the type of in-depth biblical and historical analysis you’ll get reading 70 Times 7 and why I am so excited to share it with you. And this is just a small sampling of the analysis of the scrolls and the other topics covered in the book.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are probably the most significant archaeological discovery of all time. In the late 1940’s, a wayward sheep climbed into a rock cave in the cliffs that flank the Dead Sea. The sheep’s Bedouin shepherd threw a rock into the cave to chase the sheep down so he didn’t have to climb the cliff. “Clink.” The rock hit something man-made. Another rock and another “clink.” The shepherd had to see what was making this sound. He found a number of clay jars (that is what had made the “clink” sound.) Inside of these jars were fairly well preserved scrolls.
The Bedouin sold the first 7 scrolls found to a part-time antiquities dealer. The dealer then sold them to historians in Jerusalem and the rest is history. The historians realized these were authentic scrolls from the last century before Jesus. Further excavations revealed more caves with scrolls. In total fragments from nearly 1000 scrolls have been discovered.
These scrolls are believed to comprise the “library” of the Jewish community that lived on the banks of the Dead Sea at Qumran. Most historians believe these Jews were of the Essene sect, who had separated themselves from the Jerusalem community and lived a somewhat “monastic” lifestyle, farming and studying the scriptures.
Approximately a quarter of the scrolls were Scripture, representing every book of the Old Testament except Esther. The rest of the scrolls are primarily of a religious nature. Many are “pesher” texts that interpret books of the Bible or biblical themes. Others are apocryphal books like Enoch and Jubilees, while still others are community-based laws and procedures.
Carbon dating of the scrolls place most of them in the period 160 BC to 100 BC, although some are slightly more recent than that (the community disbanded during the Roman war in AD 70). Some scrolls were found in very good condition, but many, if not the majority, are in fragmentary form.
Value of the Dead Sea Scrolls
The biblical scrolls have value by allowing us to compare our current translations and manuscripts to what existed prior to Jesus’s birth. For the most part, we have learned that our current translations which are based on manuscripts that are only 1000 years old compare very nicely with the 2000 year old manuscripts found at Qumran. There are exceptions, however. A few years ago, I wrote THIS ARTICLE (CLICK HERE) showing how it appears that Isa. 53 was possibly altered to point away from Jesus by deleting a few words. The Dead Sea Scrolls version of Isaiah predates any possible changes to discredit Jesus.
From a historical perspective, the commentary scrolls hold enormous value showing how the Jews of that era (or at least the Essenes) interpreted the Bible.
When it comes to the 70 Weeks Prophecy and the Book of Daniel, this carries a lot of weight. A major purpose of the first 69 “weeks” of the prophecy was to point to the first coming of Jesus. A lot of theories have been developed about what this prophecy means, but wouldn’t it be nice to know what the users of that prophecy (ancient Jews) thought about it?
Dead Sea Scrolls and Daniel
Eight copies of Daniel were found. Among the prophets, it ranked second only to Isaiah in the number of copies found. This showed that the Qumran community valued Daniel a great deal.
The age of the oldest copy of Daniel found there is also significant. It was written in the text of the early second century BC (200-150 BC). This is explosive. The secular community supports a theory that Daniel was a forgery written after the Maccabean revolt of 165 BC. They believe this because the Book of Daniel contains numerous very specific prophecies about that time. Secularists don’t believe that prophecy can really be fulfilled. To them, if a prophecy was written and came true, it must have been written after the fact. If a copy of Daniel was found older than their estimates, the secularist’s theory is shot.
[Of course, Josephus records that the High Priest showed Alexander the Great a copy of Daniel 8 around 330 BC, but Josephus is only considered accurate when he supports a secular theory, not when he opposes it.]
My personal interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls’ copies of Daniel centered on Dan. 9 and the 70 Weeks Prophecy. There are some significant differences between the Septuagint and Hebrew versions of Dan. 9:26-27, and I wanted to see which version the Dead Sea Scrolls preferred. Unfortunately although the early portions of Dan. 9 were preserved, none of the copies contain the section of the 70 Weeks Prophecy.
What are the “Weeks?”
However, the Dead Sea Scrolls are of incredible value in discovering what the 70 Weeks Prophecy is about, even without that section of Dan. 9.
One of the major controversies is about what constitutes a “week” in the 70 Weeks Prophecy.
Seventy weeks (Heb. shabuim) have been decreed for your people and your holy city. (Dan. 9:24)
The Hebrew word translated “weeks” here is shabuim or literally “sevens.” The angel Gabriel told Daniel seventy “sevens” were decreed for his people and Jerusalem; but a “seven” of what? Just this morning on the radio, I heard a radio pastor say just that. “We aren’t told what kind of ‘seven’ it was to be,” he said.
Thinking that shabuim is not a specific term creates all kinds of interpretative problems. If it is not a specific term, teachers can make it mean anything they want it to mean; and they have. Some very learned and well meaning teachers have called it a 360-day “prophetic year.” Some have called it a period based on factors of 13 or 14, and some have called it a week of seven days. This has led to all the wild interpretations of the 70 Weeks Prophecy that you see on the internet or hear on the radio (like this morning).
If the purpose of the 70 Weeks Prophecy was to determine the future of the Jews and Jerusalem, and especially to pinpoint the coming of Messiah the Prince, it can’t be some make-it-mean-anything- you-want term. The term shabuim must mean what Daniel would have thought it meant. It has to be a Hebraic term – one specific to that time and place.
Part of the problem is that this term is not well defined in the Hebrew Old Testament. It is in the Greek Septuagint where the equivalent term “periods of seven” or hebdomades is used in both Dan. 9:24 and Lev. 25: 1-4. There it refers to the specific period of seven years that God set aside for Israel. Every six years, the Jews would toil and till their crops, but in the seventh sabbatical or Shmitah year, the land would rest.
In fact, the seventy years of exile of the Jews were prescribed by God for the very reason that the Jews had failed to honor seventy of these sabbatical years. The seventy years of neglected sabbaticals (70 times 7 years) resulted in 70 years of exile and then God provided 70 more sabbatical years (70 times 7 years) to bring sin itself to an end. The symmetry is perfect. So it’s very obvious that this is what is meant by shabuim, however, it would be nice to find that Hebrew word exhibiting that exact meaning.
Enter the Dead Sea Scrolls. The non-canonical Book of Jubilees discusses Weeks of years and Jubilee years, however, up until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the only versions were in Greek and Ethiopic. However, 15 Hebrew copies were found at Qumran. And when these were located, sure enough, the word Shabuim means exactly what we thought it would – it means the very specific Hebraic seven year sabbatical cycle.
The Community Rule document from the Dead Sea Scrolls directly references the Shabuim of the Book of Jubilees and confirms this word meant a sabbatical cycle of seven years.
“And the exact statement of the epochs of Israel’s blindness to all these, behold it can be learnt in the Book of the Divisions of Times (Book of Jubilees) into their Jubilees and Weeks (Shabuim)” (ליובליהם העתים מחלקות ספר ובשבועותיהם.)” CD 16:3-4
The Dead Sea Scrolls and Jubilees
Notice the use of the term Jubilee in the quote above. And Hebraic sabbatical cycles are directly related to the Jubilee. After seven sabbatical cycles (49 years), the fiftieth year was to be a Jubilee. In the book 70 Times 7, we examine the cycles and Jubilees in great depth and how they are integral to the 70 Weeks prophecy (and the return of Jesus).
Each 49 year cycle is called a Jubilee cycle. And the 490 years of the 70 Weeks Prophecy are nothing if not 10 Jubilee cycles (49×10). To re-enforce this, the angel Gabriel in describing the prophecy specifically sets aside the first 49 years (7 “weeks”) or one Jubilee cycle.
From the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks [one Jubilee cycle] and sixty-two weeks . (Dan. 9:25 NASB, clarification and emphasis mine)
From this we learn many things. First it tells us that the first year of the 70 Weeks countdown would be a specific type of year, a Jubilee year. It also tells us that the final year in the countdown to Messiah the Prince will be a specific type of year, a Sabbatical year. In the book, we explain this in depth with charts and graphs and biblical references.
In our last article, we indicated that the Jews of the first century were using the 70 Weeks prophecy to countdown to the Messiah. How did they know when to start the countdown and when to look for the Messiah? In part because the start was a Jubilee year and the finish point was a sabbatical year. They were observing these type of years and knew when to start and finish.
Not only does this help explain the what Jews were looking for in the first century, it tells us about the what the 70th Week of Daniel will be like. The final year of the 70th Week will be a sabbatical year and Jesus will return on a Jubilee year. In my books Revelation Deciphered and Rapture: Case Closed? we suggested this idea. You may think this is a new idea, it isn’t. 2000 years ago, the Essenes in Qumran thought the same thing!
“For He will restore them and proclaim freedom to them and make them abandon all of their sins. This shall take place during the sabbatical cycle (shabua) of the first jubilee following the nine jubilees, and on the Day of Atonement f[alling] at the end of the jubilee, the tenth.” llQMelch 3 Π, 4-8.
This quote is from a pesher or commentary document. In it, the writer is describing Daniel’s 70 Weeks Prophecy. Notice he says that it is 10 Jubilees long (just as we are saying). Also notice he says the Messiah will return at the end of the 10th Jubilee (end of the 70th Week of Daniel) to proclaim freedom to the Jews and take away their sins! Not only that, notice it says the Messiah will return on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).
Joseph Lenard and Don Zoller wrote their landmark book “The Last Shofar!” less than ten years ago in which they theorized Jesus will return at the physical second coming on Yom Kippur. I have supported that concept in all of my books. Looks like we were a little late coming to that conclusion. The author of the Melchizedek Pesher beat us by about 2000 years! However, he didn’t have the New Testament to rely on. All he had was the Book of Daniel and the 70 Weeks Prophecy.
Dead Sea Scrolls Explain Daniel’s 70 Weeks