Daniel 9's Seventy Weeks and the Sabbatical Cycle
When Were the Sabbatical Years?
by Bob Pickle
- The Pledge of Nehemiah 10:31
- Alexander's Grant of Tax
- Judah Maccabee's Defeat at
- Simon's Murder
- Herod's Conquest of Jerusalem
- Herod Agrippa's Reading of the
- Note of Indebtedness from
- Destruction of Second Temple
- Land Contracts of Bar Kochba
- Tombstones from Zoar
Conclusion and Application
Every seventh year the Israelites were to let the land keep a
"sabbath of rest" by not sowing their crops (Lev. 25:2-7). This
sabbatical year was called "the year of shemitah" or
"release" (Deut. 15:9; 31:10), since all debts were remitted
that year. Sabbatical years began with the seventh Jewish month in the
fall, commonly called Tishri, corresponding roughly with our month of
October (Lev. 25:9).
Which years were sabbatical years? For periods after the Israelites
returned from Babylon, there are basically two proposals that differ by a
- Around 1856 Benedict Zuckermann published a table of sabbatical
years in ancient times. His table represents what has been considered by
scholars to be the standard position.
- In 1973 Ben Zion Wacholder published a table of sabbatical years,
his sabbatical dates being one year later than Zuckermann's ("The
Calendar of Sabbatical Cycles During the Second Temple and the Early
Rabbinic Period," Hebrew Union College Annual 44 (1973), pp. 153-196). While he was not the first to advocate such dates, his name is
commonly associated with this position.
So which proposal is correct? First of all, why does it matter? It
matters because this question is pertinent to a study of the 70 weeks of
In another paper Wacholder demonstrates how the Hebrew word for
"week" in Daniel 9 is used in Jewish writings to refer to
sabbatical cycles. He also provides references to ancient Jewish
commentators who felt that the 70 weeks of Daniel 9 were 70 sabbatical
cycles ("Chronomessianism, The Timing of Messianic Movements and the
Calendar of Sabbatical Cycles," Hebrew Union College Annual 46
(1975), pp. 202-204).
Since Daniel 9 begins with a reference to the 70 years of Babylonian
captivity, this conclusion seems certain. The reason the Jews were
sentenced to a captivity of 70 years is because they had not kept that
many sabbatical years and had to catch up (Lev. 26:34-35, 43; 2 Chr.
36:21-23). So Daniel 9 begins with a reference to the missed sabbatical
years of 70 sabbatical cycles, and ends with a discussion of another 70
It therefore follows that if a particular interpretation of the 70
weeks coincides with known sabbatical years, then that interpretation has
additional merit. This approach requires the positive identification of at
least one sabbatical year sometime in history.
This paper assumes that Wacholder's ten lines of evidence for his
position are the best possible case against Zuckermann's dates. What
follows is a discussion dealing with each of these lines of evidence as
they appear in his 1973 paper. A careful re-analysis of this data seems to
indicate that Zuckermann's dates are the correct ones after all.
To keep this article briefer, additional
material (89K) is on another page that
can be reached via hyperlinks from this page. A table
(91K) of sabbatical dates, comparing the two positions, can also be reached via
"1. The pledge to keep Shemitah" (pp. 157,
This line of evidence concerns the first post-exilic reference to the
sabbatical years, a pledge made by the Jews on Tishri 24 in Nehemiah 10:31
(cf. 8:2; 9:1). Wacholder feels that this pledge coincided with the
beginning of a sabbatical year. Thus, according to this logic, if we can
determine in what year the pledge was made, we would have evidence of when
the sabbatical years occurred.
Admittedly, this line of evidence is weak, since it depends upon the unproven
assumption that the pledge was made during a sabbatical year.
Nehemiah left Babylon for Jerusalem around Nisan (roughly
our April) in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes I. The pledge was made the
following Tishri 24, which must be in the twenty-first year of the king
since Nehemiah was using a fall-to-fall
calendar (Neh. 1:1; 2:1). (The reason the first month Nisan follows the ninth month
Kislev in the twentieth year of the king is because the seventh month
begins the new year, not the first month, in a fall-to-fall calendar.) So
when would Artaxerxes's twenty-first year be?
Xerxes, Artaxerxes's predecessor, was murdered sometime in 465 BC. A
Jewish Aramaic papyri (AP6) from Elephantine, Egypt, written on
January 2, 464 BC, is dated in Artaxerxes's accession year (Horn and Wood,
Chronology of Ezra 7, pp. 98-115, 172-174).
AP6 answers a couple of crucial questions for us:
- Should we use
accession-year or non-accession-year reckoning for Artaxerxes's reign? In
the former, the portion of the year from the king's enthronement to the
next New Year's is called his accession year, after which his year 1
begins. In contrast, non-accession-year reckoning calls the portion of the year from the king's
enthronement to the next New Year's his year 1, after which his
year 2 begins. Since AP6 is dated in the king's accession year,
this indicates that we should use accession-year reckoning.
- Did Artaxerxes take the throne before or after Tishri 1, 465 BC? Since
in AP6, January 464 BC is still in his accession year, this
indicates that he took the throne after Tishri 1, 465 BC.
Therefore, Artaxerxes's first year began on
Tishri 1, 464 BC. Add twenty years to this date, and we have the Julian
equivalent for Tishri in his twenty-first year, the date the pledge was made.
Jewish Month and Julian Year
Tishri 464 / Elul 463 BC
Tishri 444 / Elul 443 BC
Thus this line of evidence suggests that 444/443 BC was a sabbatical
year. Since Zuckermann identified this year as being a sabbatical, this line of
evidence supports Zuckermann. [table]
"2. Alexander Exempts the Jews from Taxation
During Shemitah" (pp. 158-160)
Josephus records an account of Alexander the Great exempting the Jews
from having to pay taxes during sabbatical years (Antiquities, bk.
11, ch. 8, sect. 4-5). Josephus is quite explicit regarding the date of
this event. It was immediately after Alexander conquered Gaza:
. . . when the seven months of the siege of Tyre were over, and the
two months of the siege of Gaza, Sanballat died. Now Alexander, when he
had taken Gaza, made haste to go up to Jerusalem . . . . (sect. 4)
While Josephus does not specify when the sabbatical year occurred in
relation to Alexander's exempting of the Jews from taxation, Wacholder's
reasoning here is similar to that of the previous section. He feels that
the two events occurred at about the same time.
For Zuckermann, 332/331 BC was a sabbatical year. For Wacholder,
331/330 BC was a sabbatical year. [table]
Since Alexander took Gaza in November 332 BC, connecting Alexander's
grant to a sabbatical year suggests that 332/331 BC was a sabbatical year,
a date that is again in harmony with Zuckermann. [more]
"3. Judah Maccabee's Defeat at Beth-Zur Ascribed
to Shemitah" (pp. 160-163)
1 Maccabees 6:20, 49, records a synchronism between a sabbatical year
and a siege of Beth-Zur by Antiochus Eupator. This siege is dated in the
149th year of the Seleucid Era in 2 Maccabees 13:1, and in the 150th year
in 1 Maccabees 6:20. Different countries and cities used different dating
schemes for the Seleucid Era. We must therefore determine which dating
scheme was used by which book, and then try to use this synchronism to
determine the correct BC date for the siege.
The Seleucid Era commemorates Seleucus's entry into Babylon in August
312 BC. Variations arise because some countries customarily began their
year in the spring while others began theirs in the fall. Also, some
countries might commence the era with the actual year of Seleucus' entry
while others with the year immediately after. These differences in local
customs have resulted in scholars proposing the following four dates for
commencing the first year of the Seleucid Era when dealing with the dates
in the books of Maccabees:
- Fall of 313 BC (fall-to-fall calendar, with the year of Seleucus's
entry into Babylon being year 1)
- Spring of 312 BC (spring-to-spring calendar, with the year of
Seleucus's entry being year 1)
- Fall of 312 BC (fall-to-fall calendar, with the year of Seleucus's
entry being "year 0"; actual system used in Macedonia)
- Spring of 311 BC (spring-to-spring calendar, with the year of
Seleucus's entry being "year 0"; actual system used in
The following table shows the relationship of these four dating schemes
as far as when the first year of the Seleucid Era occurred.
| Yr. 1
| Yr. 2 |
Yr. 3 |
| | Yr. 1
| Yr. 2 | Yr. 3
| | Yr. "0"
| Yr. 1 | Yr. 2 |
| | Yr. "0"
| Yr. 1 | Yr. 2
According to Zuckermann, 164/163 BC was a sabbatical year; according to
Wacholder it was 163/162 BC. [table]
Since the siege occurred in the spring or
summer of a sabbatical year, we are thus trying to determine whether that
siege occurred in 163 or in 162 BC. If in 163, then we have support for
Zuckermann. If in 162, then we have support for Wacholder.
The following table gives Julian dates for the 149th and 150th years of
the Seleucid Era in each of the four schemes listed above. It also shows
what the date of the siege would be as calculated in each scheme. The
possible dates that would harmonize the data are italicized.
SE begins in:
Fall 313 BC
Spring 312 BC
Fall 312 BC
Tishri 164 / Tishri 163
Nisan 163 / Nisan 162
Tishri 163 / Tishri 162
Nisan 162 / Nisan 161
Tishri 165 / Tishri 164
Nisan 164 / Nisan 163
Tishri 164 / Tishri 163
Nisan 163 / Nisan 162
Notice how that, as the above table indicates, only a 163 BC siege can
be simultaneously dated in both the 149th and 150th years. 1 Maccabees's
date of the 150th year therefore must use a Seleucid Era that begins in
either the fall of 313 or the spring of 312, while 2 Maccabees's date of
the 149th year must use a Seleucid Era that begins in either the fall of
312 or the spring of 311.
We must conclude, therefore, that the only way to harmonize the two
accounts as they read is to date the siege in 163 BC, which then supports
Zuckermann's sabbatical dates. [more]
"4. The Murder of Simon the Hasmonean in 177 A.S."
Simon and two of his sons were murdered by his son-in-law Ptolemy in the
eleventh month (Shevat, roughly our February) of the 177th year (1 Mac.
16:14-16). A third son, John Hyrcanus, besieged Ptolemy, but when the
sabbatical year came around that fall, Ptolemy escaped (Antiq., bk. 13,
ch. 8, sect. 1).
The dating of Simon's murder in a pre-sabbatical year is dependent on the
dating we arrived at under the previous section. If we use a Seleucid Era that
commenced in the fall of 313 BC, then the Shevat of the 177th year would
correspond with February of 136 BC.
Jewish Month and Julian Year
Tishri 313 / Elul 312 BC
Tishri 137 / Elul 136 BC
A sabbatical commencing in the following fall would therefore be 136/135
BC, a sabbatical date that agrees with Zuckermann. [table]
If we use a Seleucid Era in 1 Maccabees that commences with the spring or fall
of 312, then we have the murder occurring in February 135, with a sabbatical date
that agrees with Wacholder. Yet two points should be noted:
- Wacholder feels that the murder must have occurred in 134 BC, not 135. A
date of 134 BC for the murder cannot be made to fit with his sabbatical dates
without once again assuming an error in the source material.
- If we arrive at a sabbatical date in agreement with Wacholder here, we are
then in conflict with the data of our previous section.
It therefore seems
best to use a fall 313 commencement of the Seleucid Era for 1
Maccabees instead of a fall 312 commencement, making this line of evidence
support Zuckermann. [more]
"5. Herod's Conquest of Jerusalem" (pp.165-167)
According to Josephus, Herod besieged Jerusalem during the spring and
summer of a sabbatical year (Antiq., bk. 14, ch. 16, sect. 2). As far
as what year this took place in, Josephus has this to say:
This destruction befell the city of Jerusalem when Marcus Agrippa and
Caninius Gallus were consuls of Rome on the hundred eighty and fifth
olympiad, . . . . (Ibid., bk. 14, ch. 16, sect. 4)
The 185th Olympiad began in July 40 BC and ended in June 36 BC. Agrippa and
Gallus were consuls in 37 BC. Thus Jerusalem was besieged by Herod in the
spring and summer of 37 BC. Since 38/37 BC was a sabbatical year according to
Zuckermann, Zuckermann's sabbatical dates must therefore be correct. [table]
"6. King Agrippa I Recites Deut. 7:15 in a
Post-Sabbatical Year" (pp. 167-169)
Mishnah Sotah 7:8 refers to King Agrippa's reading of the law. Such
readings regularly took place during the Feast of Tabernacles in connection
with a sabbatical year. If we can determine when Agrippa read the law, we can
thus determine another sabbatical date.
Wacholder's argument in this section depends upon several debated points:
- Mishnah Sotah 7:8 refers to King Herod Agrippa I, not King Herod Agrippa
- The incident described could only occur while Agrippa was reigning over
Judea (41-44 AD).
- The law was read by the king in a post-sabbatical year rather than in a
sabbatical year, in apparent contradiction of Deuteronomy 31:10.
Thus Wacholder contends that Agrippa I read the law during the Feast of
Tabernacles in Tishri 42 AD.
|If Law Read During
| 40 / 41 AD
||41 / 42 AD
|If Law Read During
|41 / 42 AD
||42 / 43 AD
Caligula appointed Herod Agrippa I as king in 37 AD. He received additional
territory in 39 AD, and became king of Judea in 41 AD.
It is a simple fact that the Herods attended Jewish festivals even when
they did not reign over Judea (Luke 23:7). That being so, Agrippa I could have
read the law in 40 or 41 AD, since he was reigning over Galilee and Peraea by
that time. There is therefore nothing in this section that would rule out
Zuckermann's dates. [table]
"7. Note of Indebtedness on a Papyrus of Wadi
Murabba`at" (pp. 169-171)
This section concerns a note dated in Nero's second year, apparently
identified as a sabbatical year. A key question is the manner in which the author of the note calculated
Nero's regnal years. Did he date them from Tishri or Nisan? Did he use
accession-year or non-accession-year reckoning? The possible combinations
appear below. Dates that fit Zuckermann's sabbatical dates are
in green. [table] Dates that fit Wacholder's are in italics:
|Nero's Second Year
| Tishri to Elul
||Tishri 55/Elul 56
||Tishri 56/Elul 57
| Nisan to Adar
||Nisan 55/Adar 56
||Nisan 56/Adar 57
the author of the note used non-accession-year reckoning and a spring-to-spring
calendar, then the note supports Zuckermann's dates as well as Wacholder's, for
the second year of Nero would overlap half of either sabbatical date. However,
if the author used either accession-year reckoning or a fall-to-fall
calendar, then Zuckermann's dates will not fit.
First of all, would the author of the note have used non-accession-year
reckoning? Baba Bathra 164a-b indicates that he most certainly would
have. In this Talmudic selection, the differences between a plain note and a
folded note are discussed:
Surely the date of the one [deed] is not like that of the other; [for
in the case of] a plain [deed], the first completed year of a king's reign
is counted as his first, [and] the second completed year as his second;
[while in the case of] a folded [one], the first year of a king's reign is
counted as his second, the second as his third . . . .
A footnote for this selection in the Soncino edition states that:
The extra year was probably obtained by reckoning the period elapsing
between the day of the king's accession to the throne and the end of the
civil year as a full year.
Since the note in question is a folded note, it would thus be dated using
Secondly, would the author have used a spring-to-spring calendar? The
Jewish historian Josephus appears to have done so in his reckoning of the
reigns of Nero and perhaps Vespasian (Antiq., bk. 20, ch. 11, sect. 1;
Wars, bk. 2, ch.14, sect. 4; ch.19, sect. 9; bk. 6, ch. 4, sect. 8; ch. 10,
sect. 1). And during both the first revolt and the second revolt of the Jews
against the Romans, the years of the revolts were reckoned by the Jews
according to non-accession-year reckoning and a spring-to-spring calendar
(Wacholder, n. 92, p. 179; B. Kanael, "Notes on the Dates Used During
the Bar Kokhba Revolt," Israel Exploration Journal 21 (1971), n.
11, p. 40).
Therefore, if the note was indeed signed during a sabbatical year, it
still could have been a sabbatical year according to Zuckermann's sabbatical
"8. Was the Second Temple Destroyed During a
Sabbatical or a Post-Sabbatical Year?" (pp. 171-176)
Virtually all who have maintained Zuckermann's sabbatical dates have
utilized a statement by Rabbi Jose found in both the Palestinian and
Babylonian Talmuds. This statement says that:
- Herod's temple was destroyed 490 years after Solomon's temple was
- Both were destroyed in a post-sabbatical year.
- Both were burned on Ab 9.
- Both were burned on a Sunday.
- When both were destroyed, the Levites were chanting the same song. (p.
172; Ta'anith, 29a)
Since the temple was destroyed in the summer of 70 AD, and since 69/70 is a
post-sabbatical year according to Zuckermann, we have here further evidence in
support of Zuckermann's sabbatical dates. [table]
"9. Renting Land from Bar Kosba" (pp.
The evidence of this section concerns rental contracts of land from Bar
Kochba. These were imperial estates he had seized during his revolt, which began
in the spring of 132 AD and lasted three and a half years. A representative
contract, Mur 24 E, in part reads thus:
[On the twentieth of She]vat of the year tw[o] of the Redemption of [I]srael
by Shimeon ben K[os]ba, the prince of [Is]rael. . . . This land I
have rented from you from today until the end of the eve of Shemitah, which
are years full, [fi]scal years, five, of tenancy; [that I wi]ll deliver to
you in [Her]odium: wheat . . . . (p. 177)
We agree with Wacholder that Shevat 20 of year 2 corresponds roughly to
February of 134 AD. The question is regarding the meaning of the five fiscal
years, which he maintains must be at least five full calendar years.
If Zuckermann's sabbatical dates are correct, the term of the rental
contract lasted four years, seven months, and ten days. In contrast, if
Wacholder is right, the rental contract lasted five years, seven months, and
ten days. Is there no way to have the contracts be for five full years and
Consider the fact that the rent is to be paid in wheat. How many payments?
Four, five, or six? The terms of the contract clearly call for five annual
payments, which means there has to be five harvests between the date of the
contract and the next sabbatical year. The first harvest would take place just
a few months after the signing of the contracts, for presumably there was
already wheat growing from a sowing the previous autumn.
If Zuckermann's sabbatical dates are correct, there are but five harvests
between Shevat 134 and Tishri 138. With Wacholder's sabbatical date of
139/140, the rental contract would cover six harvests. Thus this line of
evidence is solidly in support of Zuckermann. [table]
"10. Three Fourth and Fifth Century Tombstone
Inscriptions in Sodom" (pp. 180-182)
Actually, these tombstones are said to have been found at "Zoar,"
a distinct city from the biblical Sodom (Gen. 14:2, 8; 19:1-24).
Wacholder maintains that none of the three tombstones match Zuckermann's
sabbatical dates, while one matches his own. This one tombstone reads thusly:
May the soul rest, of Sha'ul bar[ ]lat who died on the first of the month
of Marheshwan, of the year first of Shemitah; the year of three hundred and
sixty four years after the Hurban of the House of the Temple. Peace! (p.
Regarding the date of this tombstone, Wacholder says:
. . . the Julian year of 434/35 . . . equals 364 of
Hurban. (p. 182)
Wacholder's earlier quotation of Maimonides seems to indicate that the
first year of Hurban, the first year of the Destruction Era, began at Tishri 70, two months after the temple was
destroyed. In a note Wacholder says:
The first year of the Hurban either begins with Nisan 70/Adar 71 or with
Tishri 70/Elul 71. ( n. 108, p. 183)
Please note: If Marheshwan (eighth month) of 70 AD was in year 1, which
Wacholder believes to be the case, then Marheshwan of year 364 is in the
Jewish year 433/434 AD, not 434/435.
Nisan 433 / Adar 434
70 / Elul
Tishri 433 / Elul 434
The tombstone synchronizes 364 DE with a post-sabbatical year. If 433/434 was
therefore a post-sabbatical year, then 432/433 was a sabbatical year,
and this agrees with Zuckermann's sabbatical dates.
Thus the only one of the tombstones that is supposed to support Wacholder
if unemended actually supports Zuckermann. [table]
Conclusion and Application
Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the
commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince
shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks. (Dan. 9:25)
Of the various interpretations of Daniel 9 that have been proposed over the
centuries, there is one that fits precisely Zuckermann's sabbatical dates.
That is the interpretation that commences the 70 weeks with the decree of Ezra
7 in 457 BC and ends it in 34 AD. Christ death, under this scenario,
occurs in the precise middle of the 70th week, in the spring of 31 AD. [table
And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.
This verse treats the decrees of these three monarchs as if they were a
single decree. Cyrus commanded the building of the temple, a command which
Darius confirmed (Ezra 1:1-4; 6:1-12). Finally, Artaxerxes restored the
judiciary (Ezra 7:11-26) in the seventh year of his reign.
That Cyrus would command the building of Jerusalem was foretold in
Isaiah 44:24-28; 45:13. That the judiciary would be restored was foretold in
Isaiah 1:26. Once Jerusalem had both been commanded to be both built
and restored, then the 70 weeks could commence.
Ezra arrived at Jerusalem in the fifth month of Artaxerxes' seventh year
(Ezra 7:8, 9). Artaxerxes's decree went into effect between that time and
the ninth month, for the judicial system was functioning by the twentieth
day of the ninth month (Ezra 10:9). In as much as the sabbatical year ended
and a new week of years began at Tishri 457 BC, it is convenient to commence
the 70 weeks at that time.
69 weeks or 483 years later takes us to the fall of 27 AD, which is when
the Messiah should have appeared. If Luke used a fall-to-fall calendar with
non-accession-year reckoning for Tiberius Caesar, then this would be about
the time of Christ's baptism, for Tiberius's fifteenth year by such a
reckoning would have commenced in the fall of 27 AD (Luke 3:1). Thus His baptism fell at the beginning of the
first year of a new sabbatical cycle.
At Christ's baptism He was anointed with the Holy Spirit descending upon
Him in the form of a dove (Luke 3:22; Acts 10:38). Since the Hebrew word
for "Messiah" and the Greek word for "Christ" both mean
"the anointed one," it is logical to identify the coming of the
Messiah of Daniel 9:25 with Christís anointing at His baptism.
And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the
midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.
Christ dying after a ministry of 3Ĺ years would put His death in the
spring of 31 AD, the precise middle of a sabbatical cycle, the 70th cycle
since 457 BC. At His death, the veil of the temple was torn from top to
bottom (Mat. 27:51). This showed that the sacrifices were to cease, since
the true sacrifice for sin had been offered.
The remaining half a week of the prophecy takes us to the fall of 34 AD.
In Acts 7 we find Stephen being stoned as the first Christian martyr.
Immediately after this the gospel started going to non-Jews: Samaritans, the
Ethiopian eunuch, and the Roman centurion Cornelius, along with his
household (Acts 8:4-39; 10). Gabriel had told Daniel, "Seventy weeks
are determined upon thy people" (Dan. 9:24). It therefore seems
logical to end the 70 weeks with the stoning of Stephen, for at that point
the gospel began to go to the Gentiles, not just Danielís people, the
And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week. (Dan. 9:27)
For one week (7 years) the gospel, the new "covenant," was
"confirmed" with "many," the Jewish nation: 3Ĺ years
during the ministry of Christ, and 3Ĺ years after His resurrection. After
that, it went to the Gentiles.
The precise fit of this interpretation of Daniel 9 with the sabbatical
cycles should not be totally surprising. As Maimonides said,
The Second Temple was then built and stood for 420 years. In the
seventh year after its erection Ezra went up to the Land, and this is
called the second entrance into the Promised Land. From that year the
Israelites began a new count and declared the thirteenth year after the
building of the Second Temple a Sabbatical year. (Sabbatical
and Jubilee Years, ch. 10, par. 3)
Maimonides apparently saw nothing wrong with the faulty Rabbinical
chronology that put the destruction of the first temple around 421 BC, and
the building of the second temple around 351 BC. Yet while his chronology of
that destruction and rebuilding is unreliable, it is interesting to note
that he associated the beginning of a sabbatical cycle with the coming of
Ezra in Artaxerxes's seventh year. As we have discovered, the fall after
Ezra's return did begin a sabbatical cycle. Commencing the 70 weeks at that
point provides a precise fulfillment of the prophecy that also coincides
with seventy actual sabbatical cycles.