An old Greek Admiral meets a young Persian King
And why is this important?
This, along with another piece of historical evidence (more on that below), helps us to fix the real date of the beginning of the famous Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9. And knowing this beginning leads us precisely to the end of those Seventy Weeks. So, hang on, we will start with uninspired (but carefully researched) history, and we will end up at the culmination of those powerful spiritual blessings promised by Gabriel to the greatly beloved Daniel.
Themistocles Seeks Protection from Artaxerxes.
This famous Greek grand-admiral, war hero of the Battle of Salamis, suffered a radical change of fortune. At the time of the betrayal of the Spartan hero, Pausanias, Themistocles, rightly or wrongly, was also implicated of treason toward the very nation-state that he protected. And, having learned of the death penalty meted out to Pausanius – he was actually walled in in the very temple where he sought refuge! – Themistocles decided to not wait for a similar fate. He journeyed to Persia for refuge. Having fought valiantly against the father, Xerxes, he sought protection of the son, Artaxerxes.
Themistocles Meets Artaxerxes, not Xerxes.
First, the passage from Thucydides. Themistocles escaped across the Aegean to Ephesus. The history continues…
“He then travelled inland with one of the Persians living on the coast and sent a letter Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes, who had recently come to the throne.”
The fugitive Greek hero, Thucydides goes on, proclaims to Artaxerxes that, although he fought against his father when he invaded Greece, yet since that time he has done much good, thus deserving the protection from the new Persian monarch. The candidness of this letter, and the evident character of the writer, makes a favourable impression on Artaxerxes. He not only protects him from his prosecuting fellow Greeks; he rewards him greatly, making him a “person of importance”.
Side Note: The fact that it was Artaxerxes – and not Xerxes – that Themistocles meets becomes buried by the next generation of historians. But that topic is for a later article. But, very quickly, one reason for the mistake among the less-careful writers is simply confusing two similar names. In the same way today, I have had students who confuse Martin Luther with Martin Luther King! With apologies to Mark Twain: The difference between the right name and almost the right name is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
Back to our main topic:
An Eclipse helps to fix the date.
Although this relatively late period of Greek history (in which we have Themistocles’s flight) is fairly accurately settled in history (that is, there is no serious controversy as to the dates), one more event transpires that is absolutely ironclad: a near-total eclipse of the sun on August 3rd, 431 BC, at the very beginning of the Peloponnesian War.
Why is this ironclad? There is no slop factor involved. Eclipses can be both predicted as future certainties and corroborated as historical events. Such is the case with the eclipse of 431 BC that Thucydides describes. The NASA website describes this account of Thucydides as the “[o]ldest European record of a verifiable solar eclipse (annular)”
How does this relate to the first event, the flight of Themistocles? They are both reported in the famous History of the Peloponnesian War of Thucydides, a carefully calibrated account that relates all events described (except the very early history of the first chapters) according to a unified chronological frame of reference.
To know the date of the solar eclipse, 431 BC (modernly verified by NASA, for those who require such proof) is to know, by reading the History, the date of the flight of Themistocles, 473 BC. To know that date is to know also the beginning of the reign of Artaxerxes, which happened just a short while before this, 474 or 473 BC.
The Biblical Proof, the Centerpiece
And, once we know the beginning date, we only need to add twenty years to bring us to 454 BC and Nehemiah 2:1:
“Now it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes … ”
The passage continues to describe Nehemiah’s petition to the king, and his permission, to rebuild “the city of [his] fathers’ tombs.” Neh. 2:1- 8
This is where the Seventy Weeks begins. They end at AD 37, with the Gospel going to the Gentiles (Peter’s vision, the Conversion of Cornelius the Centurion).
The Times of Messiah: The Final Week
That (AD 37) is where the seventy weeks ends, the Gospel going out to the Gentiles. However, if we go back three and a half years in time we come right to Calvary, where our Messiah was offered up for our sins, where He was…
“…cut off, but not for Himself.”, Dan. 9:26
This last seven-year period- the last week of Daniel’s Seventy – is the same one foretold by Gabriel in Daniel 9:27.
“And He [Christ, not Antichrist!] shall confirm a covenant with many for one week [30 – 37 AD];
But in the middle of the week [at the Cross] He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering.”
This has nothing to do with Antichrist.
It has everything to do with our Messiah.
His sacrifice will put an end to all other other sacrifices.
His cry, “It is finished!” will announce that truth.
The ripping apart – from God’s end – of the Temple veil proclaims the closing of the old, and the opening of a new, access to God.
Why, then, has this beginning date 454 BC been so often contested?
I still need to cover why, if this date is so easy to discern as I seem to insist, why is it so controversial and contested now in our times? It seems the reason is the authorities who wrote a century or so after Thucydides. They were already confusing Xerxes with Artaxerxes, and were asserting, thus, that it was Xerxes whom Themistocles met, not his son Artaxerxes. Here is where the hitch came in. And this is why that authoritative-seeming date is found in many of our Study Bibles.