Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What about Daniel?

I have argued that the fulfillment of Biblical prophecies depend to a large extent on the continuation of current conditions at the time of the prophetic announcements. If reality changes at some point between the giving of the prophecy and the point of expected fulfillment, then the fulfillment of the prophecy may not happen as predicted. When prophecies predict human behaviors, the precision is less dependable because people often respond to events in surprising and unexpected ways.

When the above position is taken, a frequent retort is, "What about Daniel?"

The claims I have defended are most vulnerable when they are held up against the book of Daniel. If God accurately foresaw detailed events hundreds of years before they happened—including human actions of near spontaneity—how can the future properly be understood as "open?" Many of the prophecies in Daniel are given with such precision that a reader is apt to conclude that the future is totally closed, not partially closed.

So what about Daniel? Daniel's prophecies in chapter 11 speak about the rise of Greece. The prophecies mention several very specific actions of the Greek kings from Alexander down to Antiochus IV Epiphanies. People's actions are precicely predicted. While it is true that some Biblical prophecies about people's actions did not go as predicted, in Daniel, prophecies about human actions―people that did not yet exist, no less―are very precise. Prophecy seems to work two different ways. Do the two ways share common ground? How we approach this question is informed by the different kinds of literature we find in the Bible.

The Bible contains different types of literature. The way we understand and apply what we read ought to be informed by the kind of literature we are reading. The Bible contains, for example, history literature, poetry literature, wisdom literature, prophecy literature, gospels and epistles. In the arena of World Literature, the examples we see in the Bible are not the only examples ever written. All of the writings in the Bible, however, are theologically consistent. They are writings that stood such a test of time that they came to be recognized as having theological authority. Long story short: The Bible came together with all those Scriptures included and a lot of typically similar writings excluded.

We do not read the Psalms the same way as we read the Chronicles (or, we should not read them the same way).

A proper approach to the book of Daniel begins with a realization that it is mostly an apocalypse. The Bible contains two formal apocalypses: Daniel 7-12 and Revelation. To properly read Daniel and Revelation we should have some familiarity with the meaning of apocalypse literature. If we read Daniel the same way we read, say, Amos, we will draw improper theological conclusions sharply opposing theology found in other parts of the Bible. Frederick J. Murphy says in his introduction to Apocalyptic literature, "A solid understanding of the genre, the worldview, and the original historical circumstances of apocalypses can enable today's believers to benefit from their spiritual insights and strange beauty without being misled by simplistic and sometimes dangerous interpretations" (8). He defines "apocalypse" as follows.
All apocalypses are narratives, stories describing the disclosure of otherwise inaccessible secrets to a human seer by a heavenly being. The disclosures are usually through visions. (The term seer literally means "see-er," one who sees visions.) Often the visions themselves are enigmatic and must be interpreted by a heavenly being, usually an angel. There are two main kinds of apocalyptic narratives. In the first, the seer travels to the heavenly realm or to parts of the cosmos usually inaccessible to human beings. The second type contains no otherworldly journey. This type often incorporates a review of history, culminating in an eschatological crisis and resolution, such as a conflict between the forces of good and evil, resulting in evil's defeat. ... The element common to all apocalypses is postmortem rewards and punishments, an idea that enters Judaism through the medium of apocalypticism, since it does not occur elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. (Murphy 2)
Sidnie White Crawford offers a similar definition:
Apocalypses are characterized by the presence of vision, symbolism, a human seer and otherworldly mediator, an otherworldly journey, an emphasis on events on the cosmic rather than human realm, an increased interest in angels and demons, the notion of the transcendence of God, and pseudonymity.
The above definitions are true for nearly all apocalypses. There are probably some exceptions. The most notable exceptions occur in literature containing apocalyptic features without being proper apocalypses (Isaiah 56-66; Ezekiel, Zechariah; Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21, although the apocalyptic sections in Matthew, Mark and Luke may qualify as proper apocalypses). There are several apocalypse features I want to highlight for this study. Apocalypses
  1. present a review of history and includes a prophetic prediction of something that must shortly take place, or the prophet/seer witnesses something otherworldly;
  2. are pseudonymous—that is, the author is writing under a pseudonym;
  3. feature an expectation of life-after-death.
Murphy adds:
They [apocalypses] allow their readers to see their own situations from the perspectives of the supernatural world and from the vantage point of life after death. This change of perspective allows a different consciousness to emerge, thereby changing experience itself. Human experience is found to be connected to larger, even cosmic realities. One's own historical period or personal life is viewed within a broad vista and can thereby be ordered correctly. This does not just make experience more tolerable; it actually changes experience, since experience is inseparable from perception. To change perception is to change the world. (Murphy 7)
Apocalypses emerge in times of crisis. They give readers hope and meaning in situations where life is otherwise hopeless and meaningless. In that respect, an apocalypse is crisis literature. For that reason many scholars describe apocalyptic language as "language of oppression." Therefore, apocalypses
  1. emerge in times of crisis in order to provide hope and meaning to readers whose lives feel otherwise hopeless and meaningless.
The book of Revelation is a good place to start. We analyze it as an apocalypse. Revelation is noteworthy for not being pseudepigraphic (pseudonymous). The book of Revelation was written by a man named John. Otherwise, it fulfills all the appropriate definitions of an apocalypse. It features a conversation with otherworldly persons (Jesus and angels). It features a brief history of the rise of the Roman empire (or the rise of an oppressive Roman administration) and it predicts the fall of Rome (or the oppressive administration) by divine action. Afterwards, there is a kind of eschatological expectation, the meaning of which is beyond the scope of this article. The crisis situation is pretty clear. People are being martyred for their faith. When people are imprisoned and martyred for trying to do the right thing, life feels pretty meaningless. The book of Revelation aims to provide meaning for those saints.

In Daniel 11, almost all interpreters see the rise and fall of the Greek empire. That meaning in Daniel is almost unmistakable. The particular crisis situation addressed in Daniel 11 is associated with persecution under the Greek governor Antiochus IV Epiphanies.

A quick look at the book of I Enoch is informative here. First Enoch is an apocryphal collection of apocalypses from the pseudonymous pen of Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam (Jude 1:14, citing 1 Enoch 1:9). First Enoch 83-90 is an apocalypse that addresses the same historical crisis as that of Daniel 11. The whole vision describes the history of the world from the Adam and Eve to the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus Epiphanies's Jerusalem occupation 165-161 B.C. In the apocalypse of 1 Enoch 83-90, various people and peoples are described as animals, especially from chapters 85-90, often identified as The Animal Apocalypse.

At the end, the crisis under Antiochus IV reaches a climax and God steps in to help the Jews in their resistance. They suddenly triumph.
Then I kept seeing till one great horn sprouted on one of the sheep [one of the Maccabean leaders], and he opened their eyes; and they had vision in them and their eyes were opened. He cried aloud to the sheep, and all the rams saw him and ran unto him. In spite of this, all those eagles, vultures, ravens, and kites until now continue to rip the sheep, swooping down upon them and eating them. As for the sheep, they remain silent; but the rams are lamenting and crying aloud. Those ravens gather and battle with him (the horned ram) and seek to remove his horn, but without any success.

I saw thereafter the shepherds coming; and those vultures and kites cried aloud to the ravens so that they should smash the horn of that ram. But he battled with them, and they fought each other; and he cried aloud, while battling with them, so that (God's) help should come. I kept seeing till that man, who writes down the names of the shepherds and elevates them before the Lord of the sheep, came; it is he who helped him and revealed (to him) everything; thus help came down for that ram. And I kept seeing till the Lord of the sheep came upon them in wrath, and all who saw him fled and fell into darkness, from before his face. All the eagles vultures, ravens, and kites gathered, with all the sheep of the field lining up with them; and having thus come together in unity, all of them cooperated in order to smash the horn of the ram. I saw that man who was writing a book by command of the Lord, for he opened that book (of) the destruction which those twelve last shepherds caused; and he revealed before the Lord of the sheep that they had much greater destruction than their predecessors. I kept seeing till the Lord of the sheep came unto them and took in his hand the rod of his wrath and smote the earth; and all the beasts and all the birds of the heaven fell down from the midst of those sheep and were swallowed up in the earth, and it was covered upon them. Then I saw that a great sword was given to the sheep; and the sheep proceeded against all the beasts of the field in order to kill them; and all the beasts and birds of heaven fled from before their face. (Isaac, 1 Enoch 90:9-19)
There quickly follows a kind of judgment against fallen angels and of those who oppressed the Jews. Note the eschatological hellish punishment they receive.
Then the Lord called those people, the seven first snow-white ones, and ordered them to bring before him (some) from among the first star(s) that arose, and from among those stars whose sexual organs were like those of the horses, as well as (that) first star which had fallen down earlier. And they brought all before him. He spoke to the man who was writing in his presence―that (man) being one of those seven snow-white ones―saying, "Take those seven shepherds to whom I had handed over the sheep, but who decided to kill many more than they were ordered." Behold, I saw all of them bound; and they all stood before him. Then his judgment took place. First among the stars, they received their judgment and were found guilty, and they went to the place of condemnation; and they were thrown into an abyss, full of fire and flame and full of the pillar of fire. Then those seventy shepherds were judged and found guilty; and they were cast into that fiery abyss. (1 Enoch 90:21-25)
The Jews who were complicit with the Greek oppression―those who gave lip-service to the resistance but never gave real support―receive a similar punishment.
In the meantime I saw how another abyss like it, full of fire, was opened wide in the middle of the ground; and they brought those blinded sheep, all of which were judged, found guilty, and cast into this fiery abyss, and they were burned―the abyss is to the right of that house; thus I saw those sheep while they were burning―their bones were also burning. (1 Enoch 90:26-27)
There follows a national restoration and a reward for the righteous, both living and dead. The restored nation is ruled by a strong messianic figure. The description of the national restoration in 1 Enoch 90:28-38 sounds a lot like what the disciples had in their minds when they asked Jesus, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6).

A couple observations: The whole Animal Apocalypse prophecy is aimed at the people suffering at the end of the detailed history. The predictions do not pertain to the people who lived at any other time in the Animal Apocalypse chronicle in 1 Enoch 85-90. The prophecy pertains to those living during the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. The seer describes a future that punishes those who practice evil and rewards those who practice righteousness, both living and dead. The described future is very near to the people living in those times. The prophecy did not play out as described but notice what the prophecy did for those living in that horrible time. The prophecy gave meaning to the injustices those righteous Jews were suffering. Once they were able to see reality as something more than life in the world―that there is more to life than living―then death is not a point of defeat. It is a moment of victory. That perspective changes the meaningless into the meaningful.

As for the author, Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam, he is certainly not the actual author; but he is tagged as the author pseudepigraphically. Why? It may be because Enoch was an ancient hero who legendarily predicted the Great Flood. He went to be with God without having to first experience death. Why the real author wrote about his visions under a pen name of an ancient hero is a point of speculation. I think he wanted to keep his identity secret for reasons of personal security. The more common explanation is that by writing under the name of an ancient hero, it gives an appearance that the much more ancient writer was able to accurately predict all the events that led up to the current date; so the events that are still yet future must be dependable prophecies too. That may be the case; but that motive comes off in my mind as deliberate deception. The contemporary readers knew that the documentation of the visions were pseudepigraphic. I think the writer detailed all that history to show that his predictions logically follow from history and Scripture.

Up to this point I have been working toward comparing the Daniel 7-12 with other apocalypses. I selected the Animal Apocalypse in 1 Enoch because it and and Daniel both apply to the same historical crisis.

In Daniel 10:20-21 an otherworldly being presents a book that contains the history of the world from King Darius of Persia to Antiochus IV Epiphanies. The history details particularly the divided Greek empire and highlights the northern (to Israel) branch spanning Syria all the way to Persia and the southern (to Israel) branch that covers the historical region of Egypt. The rulers of those two branches of Greek empire constantly bickered over who controls Israel. Eventually, the northern branch gained control of Israel under the leadership of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. In the prophecy, Antiochus IV is the most interesting actor (Daniel 11:20-39). The writer describes the friction that ensues between Antiochus IV and Ptolemy VI Philometor of Egypt (Daniel 11:25-28).

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.

Why did the seer write under the pseudonym Daniel? Possibly, he wanted to disguise his true identity. He selected Daniel possibly because he is a great example of one who remained faithful against threats of death. Daniel thus served as an example for people in the time of Antiochus IV. Their lives were likewise threatened by their righteousness.

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.

Crawford, Sidnie White. "Apocalyptic." Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible. Ed. David Noel Freedman. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000. Electronic.

Goldingay, John. Daniel. WBC 30. Dallas: Word, 1989. Print.

Isaac, E. "Translation and Introduction of 1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) Enoch." The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments. Ed. James Charlesworth. Doubleday, 1983. Print.

Murphy, Frederick J. "Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature." The New Interpreter's Bible 7. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996. Print.

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