Friday, January 08, 2010

Luke 1-2: 490 Days and Daniel 9

René Laurentin, in his insightful book, The Truth of Christmas: Beyond the Myths (Petersham, Mass.: St. Bede’s Publications, 1986) [translated from Les Evangiles de L’Enfance du Christ Vérité de Noël au-delà des mythes (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1982)] makes some interesting observations about the timetable in Luke 1-2. The book is often overlooked so I thought I'd do a post on some of his interesting analysis.

Daniel 9 and the 490 Days

One of the most fascinating Old Testament prophecies is found in Daniel 9:
Dan 9:24: Seventy weeks are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint [“anointed”= Heb: mashiyach=“Messiah”; Grk: christos= “Christ”] a most holy.
The prophecy is famously ambiguous. It should be noted that some English translations have Daniel speaking of seventy weeks of years--though the Hebrew does not require that. Either way, what is clear is that the prophecy envisions a period of seventy weeks--which is precisely 490 days--until the vision and prophet are sealed and a most holy--either a person, i.e., the messiah, or, less likely, a place, i.e., the temple, are "anointed".

Laurentin believes this prophecy is in the backdrop of Luke 1-2.

In the Sixth Month

Laurentin points out that Luke seems to set up a timetable of 490 days--seventy weeks--in Luke 1-2.

Follow closely. First, Gabriel comes to Mary sixth months after having announced the birth of John the Baptist to Elizabeth. The timing is mentioned not once but twice.
Luke 1:26-27: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin. . .
Luke 1:36: And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.
What is the significance of this? According to Luke we have the following:
1. Gabriel announces John’s Birth to Zechariah
2. 6 months later Gabriel comes to Mary (Luke 1:26)

Six months from the annunciation to Zechariah would bring us to roughly 180 days (6 x 30 = 180).

Now consider that Mary is pregnant for nine months, another 270 days (9 x 30 = 270). So now in Luke's narrative chronology we have 180 + 270 days, which brings us to 450 days.

The 490 Days of Luke 1-2

Finally, note that Luke makes a big deal of pointing out that after Jesus' birth Mary went up to the temple to complete the rites of purification.
Luke 2:22-24: And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
Why do they offer a sacrifice? Because it was mandated by the Torah. According to Leviticus, a woman is unclean for 7 days after giving birth to a male child (cf. Lev. 12:2), who must be circumcised on the 8th day, and for another 33 days the woman must continue purification (cf. Lev 12:4). At the end of this period the woman is to offer a sacrifice. This is obviously what is envisioned in Luke 2.

So let's total up the numbers here:
1. Gabriel announces John’s Birth to Zechariah
2. 6 months later Gabriel comes to Mary (Luke 1:26) (6 x 30 = 180)
3. Annunciation to Mary until Jesus' birth = 270 days (9 x 30); 180 + 270 = 450 days
4. Mary is unclean for 7 days (cf. Lev 12:2)―457 day
5. Mary must purify herself for another 33 days (cf. Lev 12:3)

If Mary goes to the temple on the 33rd day we have something quite interesting: 33 + 457 = 490 days. This corresponds beautifully with Daniel 9. In fact, that Daniel 9's timetable is in view is especially reinforced by what immediately happens after the Holy Family comes to offer the sacrifice for purification.
Luke 2:25-32: 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29 “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; 30 for mine eyes have seen thy salvation 31 which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”
That the narrative climaxes with the prophet Simeon's words that God's word to him has finally been fulfilled fits perfectly well with Daniel 9, where the culmination of seventy weeks (490 days) is linked with the promise to "seal both vision and prophet" (Dan 9:24). Of course, the prophecy in Daniel 9 could also be read as describing the anointing of a messianic figure, which could be linked with the arrival of the Christ. It is also linked with atonement from sin and everlasting righteousness. Both of these things could easily be linked with Simeon's words.

Finally, one more thing. Scholars generally note that the timetable in Daniel 9 is related to Jubilee traditions. Notably, Jubilee traditions figure prominently in Luke's Gospel--Jesus begins his ministry by announcing that Isaiah's eschatological Jubilee has arrived (cf. Luke 4). It seems likely then that such Jubilee traditions would also be found elsewhere.

All of these connections could be dismissed as coincidental--but that view I think would be special pleading. It seems to me that Laurentin is correct--Daniel 9 stands in the backdrop of Luke 1-2.

UPDATE: In the comment box (for the post below--oops!) Fr. Pablo Gadenz points out one important thing I forgot to include--Gabriel is the one who announces the seventy weeks in Daniel 9--the same angel who makes appearances to Zechariah and Mary! (How did I forget to include that?!)


Dim Bulb said...

Fr. Laurentin may not have been the first to advance this. Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueler mentioned it in his little commentary on Luke which was part of the famous NEW TESTAMENT READING GUIDE put out by The Liturgical Press (St John's Abbey) in the early 1960's.

By the way, those little books sold for 30 cents when first published. The most recent incarnation of the series-THE NEW COLLEGEVILLE BIBLE COMMENTARY-costs $6.95. GRRRRR.

Lee Gilbert said...

"and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law"

Till now I have always thought that this referred to Jesus' circumcision, but that cannot be the case,since he would have been circumcised after 8 days, but here they are appearing in the temple 40days after his birth

Evidently their appearance has to do primarily with Mary's Purification, and for this the two turtledoves were required.

But what exactly are they doing for Jesus here "according to the custom of the law"? Are they redeeming their first born son by paying the customary five sheckels to the priest?( Lev 18:15-16). Aside from the encounter with Simeon and Anna, what would have been the ceremonial involved?

Galactic Catholic said...

Very cool.

Anonymous said...

Lee Gilbert raises a good point. There are those who emphasize the *lack* of a redemption sacrifice for Jesus, thus implying that he is not redeemed from priestly service (as the non-Levitical tribes were) and thus remains a priest forever. It's an intriguing line of thought.

Paul-Joseph said...

Very nice...except how do you render v25 about the going forth of a decree to rebuild Jerusalem? That is supposed to start the 49 week period.

Unknown said...

Michael, Brant, and Dr. Bergsma,
Did you guys see this yet? I thought you might be interested. It's Fr. Swetnam's commentary on Hebrews online for free!

Nick said...

The Seventy Weeks could well be about both the years until the Messiah comes and the time from Jesus' Conception to Birth.

Also, note on René Laurentin's credibility: he's infamous for duplicity, especially hiding information on Medjugorje.