Friday, April 04, 2003

Teaching from Primary Sources

I would urge those of you who teach others to rely on primary information sources rather than secondary. I can best illustrate this by an example. I can remember hearing a teaching about how ancient cultures confirmed a covenant between parties. It described how they would cut an animal in two and how the contracting parties would walk between the pieces. Then, what-do-you-know, this is just what the Lord did when he made His covenant with Abram (Genesis 15), only Abram did not have to walk between the pieces. After hearing this, I thought to myself that the connections between ancient practice and the doings of Genesis 15 were just a little too perfectly close. Not that I was accusing the teacher of making it up, because he may have heard it taught by someone else. I have never been able to verify such an ancient covenant binding practice from a primary, or at least independent, source. I am inclined to think the story false, but I do not even have to accuse anyone of wrongdoing to explain its origins:

  1. Someone reads Genesis 15 and conjectures that it might relate to ancient covenant practices. I make conjectures like this all the time and teach them as conjectures.
  2. Someone hearing that teachings walks away with a conviction that this is how covenants were confirmed in Abram's time and teaches it with only a marginal connection with Genesis 15.
  3. Someone hears that teaching and reads Genesis 15 and observes how the Lord follows the practice of ancient covenant binding.
  4. The teaching solidifies in the teaching culture and passes unchallenged for generations.

Something similar happened centuries ago and today a teaching that describes how the Jewish High Priest would have a rope tied around his ankles in case he died still prospers unchallenged even though it actually contradicts scriptural teaching. I wrote on this yesterday.

I am not a perfect practitioner of this, but I purpose to teach nothing beyond the plain text of the Scriptures without reference to either a primary source or multiple independent secondary sources. The more extraordinary the claim from secondary sources, the more important that I have found  primary sources to be. Today, I want to relate a search for a primary source, and its outcome.

Welcome Sir Robert Anderson

In 1895, Sir Robert Anderson published a small book named "The Coming Prince." Although not the main focus of the book, Anderson put forth the claim that the entry Of Jesus the Messiah into Jerusalem was a fulfillment of prophecy from Daniel 9:

“Seventy weeks have been determined concerning your people and your holy city to finish the transgression, to bring sin to completion, to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up the prophetic vision, and to anoint a most holy place. So know and understand: from the going forth of the message to return and build Jerusalem until the anointed one, the prince, there are seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. It will again be built, with plaza and moat, but in distressful times. Now after the sixty-two weeks, the anointed one will be cut off and have nothing. As for the city and the sanctuary, the people of the coming prince will destroy them. But his end will come speedily like a flood, until the end of the war that has been decreed; there will be desolations. He will confirm a covenant with many for one week. But in the middle of that week he will bring sacrifice and offering to a halt on the wing of a desolating abomination, until the decreed end is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” (Daniel 9:24-27, The Net Bible)

Anderson claimed that 69 weeks of prophetic years occupy the time between "the message to return and rebuild Jerusalem" and "the anointed one will be cut off" portions of this prophecy. Here is a brief synopsis of his argument.

  1. The decree to return and rebuild Jerusalem is to ascribed to King Artaxerxes giving Nehemiah permission to return and rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.
  2. Nehemiah tells us that this occurred in the month of Nisan in twentieth year of Artaxerxes. Taking this to be the first day of this month gives us a date of March 14, 445 BC.
  3. Luke gives us a firm date for the start of Jesus' ministry: The fifteenth year of Tiberias Caesar, i.e. 29 AD.
  4. This makes AD 32 the year of the crucifixion.
  5.  A prophetic year consists of 360 days according to the references to "times, time, and half a time" being equal to 42 months being equal to 1260 days. See Daniel and Revelation for these figures.
  6. 69 times 7 times 360 is 173880 days.
  7. There are 173880 days between March 14, 445 BC and April 6, 32 AD and this would be the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem and the events of the crucifixion that would "cut him off."

It is an extraordinary claim and I marveled when I first heard it. Surely this was the key to bringing many people to acknowledge the efficacy of Biblical prophecy. Anderson concludes:

The Julian date of that 10th Nisan was Sunday the 6th April, A.D. 32. What then was the length of the period intervening between the issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the public advent of "Messiah the Prince," – between the 14th March, B.C. 445, and the 6th April, A.D. 32? THE INTERVAL CONTAINED EXACTLY AND TO THE VERY DAY 173, 880 DAYS, OR SEVEN TIMES SIXTY-NINE PROPHETIC YEARS OF 360 DAYS, the first sixty-nine weeks of Gabriel's prophecy. (The Coming Prince)

I wanted to see for myself. In doing so, I learned some interesting and valuable things:

  1. I learned about Julian and Gregorian calendars.
  2. I learned about the Hebrew calendar.
  3. I wrote computer programs to convert among them based on the Julian day number.
  4. I discovered secondary sources that verified my results.
  5. I learned that Sir Robert Anderson was wrong!

For those of you who might like to study this for yourself, I recommend beginning with the book Astronomical Algorithms by Jean Meeus. His second edition even includes a really good algorithm for calculating the date of Passover for any year.

Anderson's First Error: Leap Years

In 1582, Pope Gregory faced up to a problem. Centuries of Julian prescribed leap years had accumulated enough error for the date of Easter to shift substantially. He asked his astronomers to determine why and suggest a solution. The problem came down to this: the Julian practice of a leap year every 4 years contained a slight over-correction for the actual transit time of the earth around the sun. Instead of taking 365.25 days, the orbit of the earth was actually 365.2425 days. Over a 400 year period, the calendar would be about 3 days off.

Pope Gregory made two corrections to the calendar. The first was to make the day after October 4, 1582 be October 15, 1582. This took 10 days out of the calendar. The second correction was to decree that a century year was not to be a leap year unless it was divisible by 400. Thus 1600 was a leap year, but 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not. The year 2000 was a leap year. It must be noted that since Pope Gregory corrected the calendar by removing days, there was no adjusting of past dates.

Sir Robert Anderson applied the Gregorian leap year rules to years that were not under those rules. Thus he treated the years 300 BC, 200 BC, and 100 BC as not having leap years. However, since they were in the Julian period of the calendar, they were leap years. Between his two dates there are 173883 days and not 173880. You can verify this yourself by clicking here and getting the Julian day number for April 6, 32 and March 14, 445 BC and subtracting. Note: when you subtract you will get 173882 but you have to add 1 more day. For example, there are 10 days from the 1st to the 10th of a month, but 10-1 = 9.

Anderson's Second Error: The Phase of the Moon

Our calendar is a solar calendar in that it gives priority to tracking the earth around the sun. The Hebrew calendar is a luni-solar calendar. The lunar side means that a month is strictly governed by the phases of the moon. The solar side of the calendar is the introduction of leap months to keep the calendar linked to the sun over a 19 year period. The system is actually more accurate, even now, than our Gregorian calendar.

The effect of the lunar side of the calendar is that a new moon always marks the first of the month and the full moon always marks the 15 of the month.

What has this to do with Sir Robert Anderson? The year of Jesus death has to have a full moon on either Thursday or Friday, because Passover is on Nisan 15, which will always be a full moon. In the year 32 AD, the full moon fell on April 14, which was a Monday. You can verify this by clicking here and noting the date of the full moon near the equinox for the year 32. By the way the same table lists the years 30, 33, or 36 as possible years for Jesus execution. What is troubling here is that Anderson knew this. To quote from The Coming Prince:

For example, in A.D. 32, the date of the true new moon, by which the Passover was regulated, was the night (10h 57m) of the 29th March. The ostensible date of the 1st Nisan, therefore, according to the phases, was the 31st March. It may have been delayed, however, till the 1st April; and in that case the 15th Nisan should apparently have fallen on Tuesday the 15th April. But the calendar may have been further disturbed by intercalation. According to the scheme of the eight years' cycle, the embolismal month was inserted in the third, sixth, and eighth years, and an examination of the calendars from A.D. 22 to A D. 45 will show that A.D. 32 was the third year of such a cycle. As, therefore, the difference between the solar year and the lunar is 11 days, it would amount in three years to 33 3/4 days, and the intercalation of a thirteenth month (Ve-adar) of thirty days would leave an epact still remaining of 3 3/4 days; and the "ecclesiastical moon" being that much before the real moon, the feast day would have fallen on the Friday (11th April), exactly as the narrative of the Gospels requires.

The intercalation of the Hebrew calendar are always lunar months and there is no such thing as an "ecclesiastical moon." 

A Legend That Will Persist

I am afraid that, like ropes around High Priest's feet and Petition 2493, Sir Robert Anderson has created an enduring legend. It has survived a century already. I imagine that few people even know the origins of this legend or the faulty logic in the original.

Behind such things is that we want to believe them to be true and we let our guard down. But we must not do this. Christianity has never a need to worry about truth, and it has a lot to lose from falsehoods flowing from its adherents.

I have heard Christians laugh at Piltdown man and other hoaxes that have taken in the scientific community. Quite frankly, I would rather that we look to our own house.

Monday: Gleanings from the Book of Hebrews

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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