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Rabbi Harav Yaakov Medan (etzion.org.il/en/chapter-12b-daniels-prayer-continued) states: 'According to historical scholarship, the second year of the Persian Darius, when the rebuilding of the Second Temple commenced, was the year 521 B.C.E., and the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. Thus, according to this system, the Temple stood for 591 years. However, according to a beraita in Seder Olam [which places Creation at 3760 BCE] and the gemara in Bava Batra 4a, the Second Temple stood for only 420 years. Its construction began in the year 3408 and it was destroyed in 3828.' How is this year discrepancy to be explained--an important question for the elucidation of the seventy weeks prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27?*

*'The accepted interpretation in the Talmud (Nazir 32b) and all the commentators is that the "seventy weeks" allude to the 490 years between the destruction of the First Temple and the destruction of the Second Temple. This period includes within it the seventy years of desolation from the destruction of the First Temple until the second year of the reign of Darius (the Persian), when the building of the Second Temple commenced, and the 420 years that the Second Temple stood.' (Medan) In a footnote to this, he says, 'The discrepancy between these two calculations [that of historical scholarship and Seder Olam] is discussed at length in our article and that of C. Chefetz in Megadim 14 on the period of the kings of Persia and Media.' This journal is not accessible to me.

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This excellent source sheet produced by R. Anthony Manning, lists a number of different approaches to resolving the discrepancy:

1. Seder Olam is correct and the conventional chronology is incorrect.

Conventional chronology is incorrect due to Christian manipulation (R. Sa'adia Gaon) or Greek manipulation (R. Alexander Hool).

2. Conventional chronology is correct and Seder Olam is incorrect.

To quote directly from footnote 1 in R. Manning's source sheet:

Mitchel First’s book gives a comprehensive account of over 100 different Jewish responses on this issue! He lists a number of respected orthodox thinkers who take different positions. These include: (i) some who follow the C.C. [conventional chronology] without even mentioning S.O. [Seder Olam], such as R. Hertz in his Chumash, R. Shlomo Riskin, and R. Emmanuel Rackman; (ii) some who quote both systems, without deciding in either direction, such as R. Aryeh Kaplan and R. Ya’akov Meidan; (iii) some who consider that S.O. is not to be taken literally, such as R. Mordechai Breuer ... It is interesting to note that the Da’at Mikrah Tanach published by Mossad HaRav adopts C.C.

Mitchell First's book mentioned above is the one listed here on amazon.com.

3. Conventional chronology is correct and Seder Olam was intentionally adjusted.

Seder Olam was adjusted in order to obscure the date of the Messiah's arrival (R. Shimon Schwab), to line up the '2000 years of Torah' with the production of the Mishnah (Epstein / Dickman / Wilamowsky), to connect the Jewish year count with the 'minyan shtarot' system (R. Menachem Leibtag), or to hide the failures of the Jews to return to Zion at the start of the Second Temple period (R. Menachem Leibtag).

  • 1
    Rabbi Manning is awesome. I was zocheh to hear shiur from him for over a year, even though he usually only teaches in women's seminaries. Here's a link to an audio shiur he gave on this topic (based on the above source sheet). – robev May 31 '18 at 13:56
  • Doesn’t Seder Olam say Xerxes and Artaxerxes are the same person? Doesn’t really make sense – KapinKrunch Aug 21 at 1:59
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Let us start by outlining three simple, basic observations:

  • Secular historians place the first year of Darius in 423 BCE.
  • Traditional Jewish reckoning places the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple in 68 CE, which does indeed differ mildly from the scholarly accepted date of 70 CE.
  • From 423 BCE until 68 CE there are precisely 490 years (because there is no Year Zero).

Of course, one could object that, in theory, the 490 years are to be counted not from the first year of Darius (when Daniel's prophetic vision takes place, 9:1-2), but rather from the first year of Cyrus (9:24-27, compared to the last two verses from the Second Book of Chronicles, as well as the first, fourth, fifth, and sixth chapter of Ezra).

  • However, it is well-known that Daniel conflates the two Babylonian kings, as is evident from the verses at the end of its fifth chapter, and the beginning of its sixth, wherein Darius is named, but Cyrus' deeds are described; specifically, his exact age at the conquest of Babylon from Belshazzar, and his administrative division of the Persian Empire into a certain number of satrapies. It is precisely this conflation between the two historical characters that allows us to transform the first year of one (539 BCE) into the first year of the other (423 BCE), which, in its turn, yields the aforementioned well-known date, marking the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple.

This is by no means the only such conflation:

  • Indeed, even from its first two verses (1:1-2), the book conflates the last two kings of Jerusalem, a father and a son, with (almost) identical names; the former reigned for eleven years (2 Kings 23:36), the latter for only three months (2 Kings 24:8), and it was at the end of these three months that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, invaded the land of Judah, taking him, along with many of his subjects, into Captivity (2 Kings 25); but Daniel reads three years, an obvious mixture of the lengths of their respective reigns.

  • Later on, in its fourth chapter, it appears to conflate the aforementioned Nebuchadnezzar with Nabonidus.

  • Its various conflations seem to stem from or be related to the historical coincidence of the Second Jerusalem Temple having been defiled twice, by two pagan emperors (Antiochus Epiphanes and Vespasian), both of which were reckoned as ninth, both groups of nine emperors being immediately preceded by a man far greater than any of them, but not counted among them (Alexander of Macedon, in the case of the Seleucid Empire, and Gaius Julius Caesar, in the case of the Roman Empire); the tenth horn defeats other three, in what would henceforth be called the year of the four emperors, as detailed in its seventh chapter; Antiochus also appears to have been fourth in line to the throne.

  • The very last verse of its aforementioned ninth chapter seems to simultaneously point to both the three years of desolation mentioned in the First Book of the Maccabees, as well as the 70 CE fall of the Second Jerusalem Temple in the middle of the First Jewish-Roman War, raging from 66 to 73 CE.

Its eleventh chapter, in particular, is replete with conflations of both persons and events, specifically stemming from both Rome and Antioch lying north of Egypt:

  • Thus, the sixth verse seems to conflate two queens of the same name, namely Cleopatra Syra and Cleopatra Philopator. (Its thirtieth verse seems to strengthen this connection, by apparently alluding to the decisive naval battle marking the end of Egyptian self-rule).

  • The fortieth verse has also long puzzled scholars and sages alike, due to its being apparently out of place, since, on a surface level, many of the preceding verses read like a straightforward description of Antiochus' military campaign, culminating in the defilement of the Maccabean Temple; but then, all of a sudden, the similarities end abruptly, and a seemingly non-existent battle against Egypt is described; this, however, is perfectly understandable, considering that, even though the famous African empire did not fall prey to Antiochus, it did, nevertheless, fall eventually, and, when that happened, its conqueror was none other than precisely that only other superpower, except for the one governed by the aforementioned Epiphanes, to have ever defiled the Second Jerusalem Temple.

  • @LucianWonderful answer. I appreciate your hard work on this old question of mine on a difficult problem. – Clifford Durousseau Aug 21 at 7:20
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A full discussion of this complex historical problem is found in the article 'Missing Years' in Religion-wiki: religion.wikia.com/wiki/Missing_years. It mentions that the following sources have been taken into consideration to support the traditional dating of Seder Olam:

The internal chronology of the Hebrew Bible.

Transmitted tradition regarding the dates of annually commemorated events.

The Tannaitic chronicle Seder Olam Rabba and later chronicles such as the Seder Olam Zuta, Seder_Ha-Dorot and Toldot Am Olam.

Comments on historical events in other Jewish writings such as the Talmud and the commentaries of Rashi.

The secular Greek writings of the Jewish historian Josephus and the national traditions preserved by the Persian historian Firdausi.

The Greek, Babylonian and Persian sources cited by those supporting the secular dating, but interpreted in a manner consistent with the traditional dating.

And it concludes by saying: 'This approach to the discrepancy is the most problematic. The reinterpretation of the Greek, Babylonian and Persian sources that is required to support the traditional dating has been achieved only in parts and has not yet been achieved in its entirety.'

Jewish Encyclopedia in the article 'Seder Olam' has a brief discussion, asserting that Seder Olam's handling of the Persian period is 'contrary to historical facts':

The 420 years of the Second Temple are divided into the following periods: the domination of the Persians, 34 years; of the Greeks, 180 years; of the Maccabees, 103 years; of the Herods, 103 years. It will be seen that the allowance, contrary to historical facts, of only thirty-four years for the Persian domination is necessary if agreement with the Biblical text is to be insisted upon; for it is stated (Dan. ix. 24) that the second exile was to take place after seventy Sabbaths of years (= 490 years). If from this number the seventy years of the first Captivity be deducted, and the beginning of Alexander's domination over Palestine be placed, in accordance with Talmudical evidence, at 386 years before the destruction of the Second Temple, there remain only thirty-four for the Persian rule.

Suggested Further Reading: Seder Olam: The Rabbinic View of Biblical Chronology, Heinrich Guggenheimer, editor. (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005).

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