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Sunday, November 28, 2010

What About Daniel?

It's common among a multitude of theological circles to view the book of Daniel as a prophetic book that should be read along with the book of Revelation as an outline for the future. However, I can't help but think that such a perspective is mistaken at the core by viewing the book of Daniel as book of prophecy when it's more a book of history about the Jews and their persecution. The book opens with the tale of Daniel and his noble friends (Daniel and his friends were something of royalty) who are carried off into Babylonian captivity. What follows are the tales of Daniel and his friends. Later in the book, is what's more important for eschatology (dealing with end times) purposes, though. Daniel has strange visions concerning all sorts of one strange thing after another. What do all these strange things mean? Are they really a prophecy about the future?

Though the answer to this is certainly a bit subjective, I think it's best to view these strange images as history or as a political critique. What this is presented as is a prophecy from the sixth century (the date the book is traditionally considered to have been written around)? However, more modern scholarship has put its date of authorship sometime in the mid-second century. Wouldn't that make this book a little bit of a "cheater" or a "liar" for making "prophecies" about things that have already happened (making a "prophecy" of events from the perspective of the 600s when you're writing from the 200s)? To understand what I mean, we'll look at a fictional scenario. Suppose I'm confronted with a scenario in which there is a briefcase in front of me with a number in it, and I can earn a million dollars by guessing the number that's inside of this briefcase. If I randomly guessed and got the number, I would deserve the money reward.

If I peeked (as displayed by my elegant paint drawing), then guessed the number, that would be cheating and I shouldn't get anything (except punishment, maybe). So why are things different with the book of Daniel? As the link below describes in slightly better detail, this sort of quasi-prophetic writing wasn't foreign to the people of that time period. In fact, it would have been familiar to the people of that time to present a history or past story as a future prophecy. The coded symbolism (strange beasts, horns, statues, and other interesting things) is subject to interpretation, of course. This is from the link below:

"The summaries we have given above indicate the striking double focus of the Book of Daniel.  The stories center on Jews who lived in the sixth century and on issues that were important for people in the dispersion.  The revelations, however, wherever we can be sure of the situation to which they relate, speak to the predicament of Jews who lived in Jerusalem in the second century in the religious crisis brought about in Judea by the political policies of Antiochus IV.
So was the book written in the sixth century or in the second (or some time in between)?  Was it that God led sixth-century believers to put into writing stories that directly spoke to issues that concerned their situation in exile, and also gave them previews of events to unfes no necessary difference to one’s understanding of the contents of the book, so that readers who takeold over the next four centuries which would be primarily relevant to Jerusalem in the second century?  Or was it that God led second-century believers to collect earlier stories of the faithfulness which Jews experienced from God and showed to God, and gave them further revelations regarding their destiny now, which built on that earlier material and which they could add to it?
In discussing this question scholars have taken into account a number of factors such as the nature of the languages in which Daniel is written (a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic with a number of words imported from Persian, Greek, and other languages).  But the most significant determinant of their attitudes has been their attitude to that fundamental question of what God seems more likely to have done.
In my opinion the second view is much the more likely; see further the discussion of the visions in the book at the end of chapter 4 below.  But one’s attitude to this question mak the traditional view that the book was written in the sixth century will not necessarily thereby find that they disagree about the book’s themes - though in practice people who believe that the visions came from the sixth century tend also to assume that they refer directly to events such as the millennium."

I most certainly don't expect everyone to read the entire following document (I didn't), but I skimmed through it, and found some of its material to be helpful. I think the above quote is very important to remember before you start pulling the book of Daniel into your views about the future of the world. How one views these things is undoubtedly up for debate, but everyone should at least be willing to look at other views and to see what they have to offer. Perhaps Daniel is actually written as a book of prophecy yet to unfold, or, as mentioned here, perhaps it's more an inspiring tale of Jewish struggles with a critique of the Roman Empire thrown in.

It should be noted that I don't own the right to the .rtf document I linked here. The rights to that belong solely to its owner and creator, of which I am neither. My use of it was for private purposes.

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