Daniel - Part I

I am interrupting the series on salvation history for a number of posts on the visions within the book of Daniel. I will get back to the salvation series in the not-too-distant future. Over at his blog DustinMartyr, Dustin Smith is tackling the same subject. He posted his second article already, but here is his part one and two.

Traditional use and abuse

I’ll be frank, I am no prophecy savant. Allow me to be even more candid; prophecy interpretation (and the failure thereof to do so correctly) has inadvertently promoted heinous acts and has resulted in duping copious amounts of people throughout the centuries, often times with devastating results. This has left a horrible taste in my mouth and a hesitation to draw dogmatic conclusions when past expositors have been guilty of distorting the text and perpetuating error for personal prosperity. All of those having used prophecy in this way have been one-hundred percent wrong, one-hundred percent of the time.

As with any genre of literature, it is important that proper hermeneutical principles of context, culture and adequate historical analysis guide the reader. As illustrated above, it is patently obvious that the general attitude and application/interpretation of prophetic texts has been a dismal failure. The book of Daniel is no exception.

I concur with Josephus when he said,

“if anyone be so very desirous of knowing truth, as not to wave such points of curiosity, and cannot curb his inclination for understanding the uncertainties of the future, and whether they will happen or not, let him be diligent in reading the Book of Daniel, which he will find among the sacred writings” (Ant. 10:10.4).

Regardless of the date one accepts as genuine for Daniel, the simple fact remains: interpretations tend toward becoming functions of the group reading the specific text.

In scholarship:

There has been a good deal of debate within scholastic circles centering on this book, pertaining to its origin, authorship and authenticity. It has been a challenge to step-back and reevaluate the flood of information available on the matter, and who/what is to be trusted. I have attempted to analyze and examine it from a logical, practical and as unbiased position as possible. Here are some of the conundrums which I have faced and facts which can hardly be ignored:

1. Scholarship is necessary. Without it there is no archaeological evidence wherewith to establish proper cultural context, no lexicography, no critical texts or textual analysis, no commentaries and the last step, no English translation. If you doubt this, most what is said here will be meaningless.

2. Not everything scholars say and think is true. Scholarship is old. Really old. The best of the best have been wrong, just ask John Hagee. Scholars are and can be wrong, but the methodologies, tools and accessibility to copious amounts of ancient texts at the disposal of today’s historian have never been greater.

3. Prophecy is part of faith in the God of Israel. This cannot be overlooked. If we trust in the God of Israel, there is a certain amount of faith (which cannot always be proven by analytics) required. The problem for historians is there is no way to substantiate the claim. Historians cannot authenticate prophecy or prove the veracity of miracles, which is partially why the date is troublesome. For instance, how can Daniel two and seven include information about Rome or Greece if there isn’t even a Pompey yet? This does not in and of itself disprove miracles or prophetic forecasts from having taken place. I am merely relating why it is troublesome for historians in general.

4. The book possesses difficulties. Not only does Daniel present difficulties for scholars within its own content, but contains historical inaccuracies against the vast amount of evidence from the period in which it claims to have been written and the period in which most scholars have concluded it was written. That is to say that the book is actually one piece of literature by one individual from one period of time, which it almost certainly was not. An example is Belshazzar in Daniel being presented as Nebuchadnezzar’s son rather than Nabonidus’s son, not to mention certain acts of Nabonidus attributed to Nebuchadnezzar.

5. General scholarly consensus views Daniel as a prophecy written after the fact (Latin vaticinium ex eventu). Meaning, Daniel was a reverse history, and not necessarily always a very good one.

6. Jesus called Daniel a Prophet. This has been, and continues to be one of my greatest challenges to the way I view Daniel. Jesus appealed to events predicted in Daniel and identified himself as the “son of man,” which is depicted in the seventh chapter. If we are to take Jesus and the Gospels seriously, what are the implications of modern scholarship’s dating, view of origin and composition? Are we to then assume Jesus was claiming to be Gabriel and/or endorsed Canaanite mythology?

These are a few questions that need to be taken into serious consideration. It’s not just a matter of flippantly dismissing any difficulty that either scholarship or traditionalism presents and throwing it under the bus of canonicity for the sake of convenience rather than face a perceived hardship. It also needs to be remembered that no matter the position some may take, it does not make them a heretic or a Jesus denier/hater.

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