Just over three years after my grandpa George marched through France with the Allies, the United States’ CIA representative to Damascus, Miles Copeland, had a secret rendezvous with an Egyptian man carrying some very important documents. The meeting took place on the rooftop of the American legation building in Egypt, and when the fragile papyrus was produced for examination, an unexpected gale kicked up and stripped large swaths of paper from the scroll, which were never recovered.
The CIA representative took 30 photographs of the manuscript, which did not document its entirety. It was written partly in ancient Hebrew, and partly in Aramaic. Fragments from this same scroll were found at Qumran five years after the incident. The linguistic characteristics of the Hebrew on the scroll have since been dated to earlier than the second century before Christ, and the Aramaic is written in a way that strongly suggests it was originally penned closer to the fifth century before Christ (and in fact the man the document claims to be written by was known to have been exiled to Babylon about 605 BC). Evidence from a very old Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, and from some of the manuscripts found at Qumran, indicate that this writing was definitely in circulation in its full form long before the second century before Christ.
This poses quite the conundrum.
The writing claims that exactly 483 years after someone issued a decree to rebuild Jerusalem, the Jewish messiah (“Christ”, in Greek) foretold by their scriptures would begin his public ministry. But instead of restoring their political kingdom, he would be “cut off” – killed, in fact. This prophecy specified that these events would take place prior to a second destruction of Jerusalem.
The conundrum is this: it is a well documented fact that in the year 458 BC, then-king of Persia, Artaxerxes, curiously issued a decree to a Hebrew priest named Ezra to rebuild Jerusalem. That wouldn’t have been too terribly remarkable except that Jesus was baptized at the age of 30.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “AD 30 is not 483 years after 458 BC.”. And you’re right. But Jesus wasn’t 30 in AD 30.
He was gone.
The Gregorian calendar is off by 4 years; Jesus turned 30 in AD 26. And since there was only one year between 1 BC and 1 AD, Jesus was baptized exactly 483 years after Artaxerxes’ decree. So how did the writer of this ancient document know – and predict down to the very year – that the one who would come to be called “King of the Jews”, and be subsequently worshipped as their promised messiah, would be baptized in AD 26?
And it gets worse.
In AD 75, the Roman emperor Vesasian constructed something he called the “Templum Pacis”, or “Temple of Peace”. It was a distinct construction from the Forum of Augustus, the Forum of Caesar, and the Via dell’Argileto, and had a nice view of the Colosseum. He erected it to celebrate the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus in AD 70, 44 years after the crucifixion of Jesus.
The long-dead prophet Daniel had nailed it again.
Obviously we had copies of Daniel before the Qumran fragments were discovered, and obviously Daniel contains more than just the prophecies about the date of the beginning of the messiah’s public ministry and subsequent fall of Jerusalem. But what you might not know is that Daniel may not have simply predicted the year of the beginning of the messiah’s public ministry, but he may have actually specified it down to the very day. You can read about this and other stories about predictions and dates in the life of the messiah in Harold Hoehner’s “Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ” (Zondervan, 1978).
A modern English translation of Daniel’s writing can be found here.