Correctly Interpreting Who Must Be Cut Off

Continued from Part 6

The second anointed one

Verse 26. And after the sixty-two weeks an anointed one shall be cut off, and he shall have nothing; the people of a leader who is to come shall destroy the city and the Sanctuary; and its end shall be with a flood; and until the end of war desolations are determined.

Verse 26 is concerned with events that are to take place after “the sixty-two weeks.”  It is only after the sixty-two weeks that an anointed one is cut off and no mention is made of how long after this will occur.  That is all that can be derived from the text.  As previously mentioned, the presence of a definite article before the mention of sixty-two weeks shows that there is a separation between the seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks.  This emphasis necessitates a grammatical division represented by a semi-colon in the rendering of verse 25 to show that there is a division between the seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks.  The resultant span of years makes it impossible for the two mentions of “anointed one” to refer to the same individual.

In this time segment two events are mentioned.  First, after a sixty-two week period (434 years) of “troubled times” in which Jerusalem “shall be built again, with broad place and moat” “an anointed one shall be cut off.”  Obviously, this anointed one is not to be identified with the anointed one of verse 25.  The time differential is just too great.  Second, this verse mentions the fate of “the city and the Sanctuary” (that is, Jerusalem and the Temple), which are to be destroyed by “the people of the leader who is to come” as if by a devastating flood (cf. Nahum 1:8).  Although “desolations are determined” while the war is still in progress it is seen from verse 27 that this verdict was put into full effect at the war’s end.  That is, its fulfillment did not end with the war but continued into the future with further negative decrees and persecutions seeking to destroy the Jewish people.

The first seven weeks of the seventy week period ends in 537 B.C.E. with Cyrus the anointed one who issues the decree allowing the Jews to return from exile.  The second segment of sixty-two weeks in length, covered by verse 26, culminates in 103 B.C.E. (586-49-434=103 B.C.E.).  Verse 26 indicates that “after sixty-two weeks an anointed one shall be cut off.”  This “anointed one” is the High Priest Alexander Yannai (reign:  103-76 B.C.E.) who came to power just at the end of the sixty-two week period in 103 B.C.E.  and was the last of the important Hasmonean leaders.6  There is nothing unusual in referring to a high priest as an anointed one, since he was anointed on assuming that position.  Alexander Yannai also held the position of king, a position formalized by anointing.

The phrase “after sixty-two weeks” indicates the time frame during which the “anointed one shall be cut off,” that is, suffer karet, “excision.”  Alexander Yannai is not “cut off” immediately after sixty-two weeks, but through the actions of his reign he was to have this final judgment following his death.  From this we see a further indication that there are intervals between the specific identifiable time periods.  The penalty accompanying karet is here aptly described as “to have nothing,” or “be no more.”  That is, he will have no reward after death.

This punishment is given to Alexander Yannai infamous for his unjust, tyrannical, and bloody rule.7  He is notorious for his violent animosity directed against the Pharisees and his brazen rejection of the Oral Law.8  For example, Josephus records that Alexander Yannai fought against the Pharisees for six years, “and … slew no fewer than fifty thousand of them.”9  He also “ordered some eight hundred of the Jews to be crucified, and slaughtered their children and wives before the eyes of the still living wretches.10

Verse 26 shows when Alexander Yannai, the “anointed one,” would assume power and what kind of punishment would be meted out to him for his transgressions against God. Alexander Yannai’s sons and grandsons continued his unmitigated lust for power and thereby finalized the demise of the Hasmonean dynasty.  The fate of these three generations may be expressed by the psalmist’s words:  “But transgressors shall be destroyed together; the future of the wicked shall be cut off” (Psalms 37:38).11

6 The Hasmonean dynasty ended in 37 B.C.E. with the execution of the last Hasmonean king, Mattathias Antigonus, by the Romans.  Antigonus’ sister held Hyrcania, a fortress in the Judean desert, for another five or six years (Josephus, Jewish Wars I. 19. 1 [364].)

7 Alexander Yannai came to power after the culmination of the sixty-two weeks and is obviously the second anointed one.   Calculating according to Seder Olam Rabbah an alternate anointed one is suggested.  According to Seder Olam Rabbah, the First Temple was destroyed seventy years before the Second Temple was built, and the Second Temple, which was destroyed in 70 C.E., stood for 420 years.  Accordingly, the First Temple was destroyed in 421 B.C.E. (not 420 — there is no zero year between 1 B.C.E. and 1 C.E.).  This means that the first seven weeks ended in 372 B.C.E. (during the reign of Cyrus).  The second segment of the Seventy Weeks period, sixty-two weeks in length, covered by verse 26, culminates in 62 C.E. (421-49-424=62 C.E.).  The seventieth week would end in 69 C.E., followed by the Temple destruction.  There are a number of questions concerning the accuracy of the Seder Olam Rabbah calculations.

According to this reckoning, the first “anointed one” mentioned is Cyrus.  The second “anointed one” who verse 26 says will be “cut off” “after 62 weeks,” that is, suffer karet, “excision,” is the High Priest Ananias (Chanin).  He was appointed high priest by Herod of Chalcis in 47 C.E., deposed by Agrippa II in 59 C.E., and killed by the Sicarii at the outset of the rebellion against Rome.  He continued to wield considerable power after being replaced as high priest, “using his wealth to attract those who were willing to receive bribes” (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities XX. 9. 4 [213]).  Of the post-62 B.C.E. period Josephus writes:  “Now the high priest Ananias daily advanced greatly in reputation and was splendidly rewarded by the goodwill and esteem of the citizens; for he was able to supply them with money:  at any rate he daily paid court with gifts to Albinus and the high priest.  But Ananias had servants who were utter rascals and who, combining operations with the most reckless of men, would go to the threshing floors and take by force the tithes of the priests; nor did they refrain from beating those who refused to give.  The high priests were guilty of the same practices as his slaves, and no one could stop them.  So it happened at that time that those of the priests who in olden days were maintained by the tithes now starved to death (Jewish Antiquities XX. 9. 2 [205-207]; see also T.B. Pesachim 57a:  “Woe to me because of the house of Boethus … For they are High Priests and their sons are [Temple] treasurers and their sons-in-law are trustees and their servants beat the people with staves.”).  “An anointed one shall be cut off” may in a sense refer to the anointed priesthood officiating in the Temple generally.  In any case, Ananias exemplified those in the priesthood who through injustice grew wealthy in this world, disgraced the Temple and the priestly office, and caused needless hardship and death.  As a result of his actions in this world there was nothing for him in the next world.

According to the calculation based on Seder Olam Rabbah, the second part of verse 26 describes the most crucial event occurring following the sixty-two weeks (that ended in 62 C.E.), the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Second Temple, “and the people [the Romans] of the leader [Pompey] who is to come, shall destroy” that is, the year 63 B.C.E. and subsequently.

8 “To him [the priest] who performed the libation they used to say, ‘Raise your hand! for on one occasion he poured it over his feet and all the people pelted him with their etrogim” (Mishnah Sukkah 4:9).  Josephus (Jewish Antiquities XIII. 13. 5. [372]) identifies the offending priest as Alexander Yannai.

11 The early Hasmoneans called themselves mere custodians of the throne until the coming of the Messiah and the restoration of the Davidic monarchy.  Once power was consolidated in their hands, they ruled without restraint.

© Gerald Sigal