Short on Daniel

From What about Daniel?

The whole vision that is detailed in the chapter is extraordinarily accurate historically… right up to Daniel 11:39. Then the seer predicts “The time of the end” which happens when Ptolemy VI attacks Antiochus IV. They will war against each other and Antiochus IV will die alone. The beginning of the end in Daniel 11:40-45 has no historical parallel. The accuracy of the events in Daniel 11 suddenly falls apart beginning with verse 40. Was the seer just wrong? No. What he is doing now (and for the first time in chapter 11) is prophesying. John Goldingay notes in his commentary on Daniel, “It is not the nature of biblical prophecy to give a literal account of events before they take place” (305).

The eschatological events described in Daniel 12 include eternal reward for the righteous, both living and dead, and eternal punishment for those who practiced wickedness. Those who are punished may include Jews who insincerely cheered on the ones who resisted the occupation (Daniel 11:34).

Note that this prophecy has nothing to say to people in Daniel’s time; nor does it have anything useful to say to anybody else living in the period between Daniel and Antiochus IV! But for the people living just before the “time of the end,” the prophecy has an important message. The message is to remain faithful. Antiochus may kill you but he cannot take away your eternal reward. Martyrdom is not meaningless. Your righteousness and patience means something.

Following the standard rubric of an apocalypse, the writer wrote under a pseudonym. He wrote for people living in a time of moral crisis. He wrote their history as if he were Daniel himself; so the history comes across as quasi-prophecies. The readers recognized their time in the quasi-prophecies and they knew that the writer had written under the pseudonym of Daniel. They read the prophecies of Daniel 11:40ff as a logical “what’s next” of history up to the point before the expected fulfillment. The seer himself consulted the Bible to try to understand the nature of his times (Daniel 9:2).

Finally, the apocalypse ends with an eschatological expectation that features eternal reward and punishment for those both living and dead.

The original readers of the book of Daniel did not believe the author was being dishonest. The readers were quite familiar with the genre and they knew they were reading pseudonymous literature. The seer was writing in the style of a kind of writing that was well represented in those days. That kind of Scripture is called an apocalypse.

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