Monday, October 25, 2010

Apocalyptic Imagery and Daniel Part 2

In the last post we spent some time looking at the importance of understanding both aspects of the meaning (sense and referent) of symbolism in apocalyptic literature. In this post we will start by looking at who the holy ones of Daniel 7:18, 21, 22, 25, 27 are.

The identity of the holy ones has been one of the big scholarly battlegrounds in Daniel 7, though we have come to have more consensus in recent years than in the past. There are two main views. Either the holy ones are angels or they are faithful Jews. Lucas (191, 192) lays out the argument clearly for us. The view that they're heavenly beings is the newer view but it has numerous strengths, especially that this particular phrase 'holy ones' usually does not refer to human beings. Only once in the OT does it clearly refer to people (Ps. 34:9). Typically in the literature from Qumran 'holy ones' refers to angels. On the other hand, there are good arguments for seeing the 'holy ones' as being faithful Jews - especially since the little horn (Antiochus Epiphanes) wages war against them. Additionally, how would this chapter provide hope for Jews living in the second century if they're not the holy ones?

Some of the more recent commentaries (e.g., Goldingay and Lucas) both lean towards the angelic viewpoint but don't think that it eliminates an identification with faithful Jews. Apocalyptic symbolism can be multivalent. Part of the point of apocalyptic literature is to show that what is happening on earth is a picture of what is happening in heaven and many of the symbols have both earthly and heavenly counterparts (remember the four beasts - earthly kingdoms under demonic influence). We need not pick.

So now we want to move to the question of theology. What are some guidelines in appropriating apocalyptic for today? Should we even do so? I think that we can and should since Daniel is Scripture. To distance ourselves from it would be to deny its status as holy Scripture. Additionally, we see examples like Revelation and 4 Ezra, reusing and reinterpreting Daniel 7. They both apply (4 Ezra explicitly says that it is reinterpreting the fourth beast - see 2 Esdras 12:11-12) the beast imagery to the Roman empire. I think that this is legitimate and represents the other side of the multivalence of the imagery. It's free to be reapplied in new contexts. At the same time I would want to exercise the utmost caution in appropriation. Perhaps Christians in North Korea or in parts of the Middle East can best lay claim to seeing themselves literally in situations analogous to the Jews of the second century. However, I still think that in a limited sense we can apply passages like this whenever we fight evil social structures that bring oppression. Our God is a big God and he is the judge who not only judges individuals, but also judges the structures of society.

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