Date of Artaxerxes Decrees


"Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks."   (Daniel 9:25)

This prediction is arguably the most important Messianic prophecy written in the Bible. It says that Messiah would be revealed at the end of the 69th week. (of years)

Our problem is that three or four decrees were issued. It would make life simpler if there was only one, because all we would need to do is count forward 483 years, (69 x 7) and the answer would be there. Either Messiah came or he did not. But decrees were made by three Persian Emperors following Daniel’s forecast, and we have to choose which one marks the commencement date from which to count.

In God's Eyes it was One Decree

Actually, Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes were all correct as stated clearly in Ezra 6:14.

"And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia."

What this verse is saying is that it was really a single decree, and the source of the decree was God himself! He inspired Cyrus to declare restoration for Jerusalem in 538 BC but his order was delayed. If we add 483 years to 538 BC, we arrive at a year of no particular significance. Did an anointed prince appear in 55 BC? No, nothing of interest happened at all. However, Darius and Artaxerxes picked up the mantle of Cyrus and re-decreed it. Unusual as it may seem, the law of the Medes and Persians were permanent and could not be revoked, so it was normal for emperors to re-decree what had been decreed before.

Therefore, the count of 'sevens' should be started in the reign of Artaxerxes. When we count forward 483 years from 1 Nisan 457 BC, it comes out at 1 Nisan AD 27 - the time Jesus began his public ministry. When one considers how Daniel first predicts the decree nearly a century before it happened, then proceeds to telescope another 69 weeks further, we find a supernatural fulfilment of the 'times' in Jesus of Nazareth which cannot be brushed aside as a coincidence. It provides powerful testimony to the identity of the Christ.

However, no sooner than we solve the "whose decree" issue, a cluster of date questions arise to muddy the waters. Did it happen in his seventh year or in his twentieth? Commentators quote 458 BC and others 445 BC as the years in question, but nearly as many sources say 457 BC and 444 BC. Why the difference?

The goal of my paper here is to identify the date once and for all, because as stated, it provides the key to the Bible's most important Messianic prophecy.

Was Artaxerxes 7th year 458 BC?

Xerxes was assassinated by his high official, Artabanus, who then became regent of Persia for a few months before being executed. In the last half of 465 BC, Xerxes' son, Artaxerxes, became king. His 'accession year' would have lasted until 29th Adar(March) 464 BC when the Persian calendar year ended, then his first full year would have been, by Persian reckoning, 1st Nisan 464 to 29th Adar 463.

Hence, his years:

1st year Nisan 464 to Adar 463
2nd year Nisan 463 to Adar 462
3rd year Nisan 462 to Adar 461
4th year Nisan 461 to Adar 460
5th year Nisan 460 to Adar 459
6th year Nisan 459 to Adar 458
7th year Nisan 458 to Adar 457

Now, the Bible references a decree in Artaxerxes 7th year and dates it as follows:

"And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia." (Ezra 7:8)

So, comparing this verse with the above chart of years certainly explains why so many scholars choose the 458 BC date. The decree was made on the very first day of the year! It seems to be an open and shut case!

Why do many say his 7th year was 457 BC?

Hebrew Calendar

It is because the first set of commentators are counting from a Nisan New Year, and the second group are counting using a Tishri to Tishri system. When Artaxerxes accession year stretches to Tishri, his 1st full year comes six months later, making the date mentioned refer to the following Nisan instead.

Yes, the Hebrew New Year began in Nisan (Abib) like the Persian one did. No, the original Hebrew calendar did not have a 'Rosh Hashanah' New Year as our modern Jewish one does; nor was there a distinction between 'civil' and 'ecclesiastical' calendars as so often claimed when discussing this subject.

However, when it came to a king’s reign, the kingdom of Judah used to offset its regnal years to Tishri in a manner similar to how we designate a 'fiscal year.' Advocates for the 457 BC date apply this method to Artaxerxes, reckoning his accession from when his father died until the end of Elul, 464 BC. His first full year would have been deemed by Jewish writers to have started then, through to Elul 463 BC. (The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, were not written by Persian historians.) By saying Artaxerxes' 7th year, they would have meant it to be Tishri 458 to Elul 457 BC.

Here is an explanatory table:

Calendar diagram

Does Scripture support the 457 BC date?

The argument becomes stronger with more evidence from Nehemiah’s account of Artaxerxes’ 20th year. He says, “In the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year," then he proceeds to mention the same 'twentieth' in the following Nisan. If the Persian calendar was being quoted, it would have switched to the 21st year but it didn't. So, Artaxerxes' reign was indeed being measured from Tishri to Tishri, the 'Nisan' mentioned in this case referring to 444 BC. Put another way, Persian records of the same event, if it was of any interest to them, would have read, ‘twenty-first’ year.

Scholars from very different theological persuasions have noticed this calendar ‘anomaly.’ For example, Andrews University has been at the forefront of research done on double-dated Jewish papyri found on Elephantine Island that pointed to the same conclusion – Jewish dating in the middle Persian period was being measured from Tishri to Tishri.

Andrews University had a ‘historicist’ approach to interpreting scripture and Dallas Theological Seminary was ‘futurist.’ However, Harold Hoehner of D.T.S. produced the same results in his book, ‘Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ’. One group preferred the 457 BC date to start counting Daniel 70 weeks, and the other preferred the 444 BC date, but in both cases their logic is built on the information provided by Nehemiah, as well as archaeological research.

Is there Another Explanation for the Tishri Count?

Applying Judah’s regnal system is reasonable, but there has been an unnoticed matter that may provide an even better explanation. According to the continuous count of 'sevens' enumerated in this book, Artaxerxes accession coincided with a Jubilee year! Once every 49 years the Hebrews inserted a 50 th year and these rare Jubilees were another exception to the usual Nisan calendar. It started in Tishri and was announced on the Day of Atonement. Therefore, the Bible seems to have measured Artaxerxes reign from Tishri to Tishri in keeping with the rare New Year in force when he took office.

To be continued

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The Atonement Clock

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