Monday, October 18, 2010

The Unity of Daniel

Sorry I've been mostly absent from this blog for a little over month now. You can look forward to regular posting from me at least through early January (hopefully even longer) from now on. Over at Boston Bible Geeks, danny mentioned that Daniel was one of the books that was most confusing to him. It was for me too until I studied it. Now that my study and class on Daniel are complete I thought that I could do a short series dealing with a few random aspects of Daniel. Most of the posts will deal with the apocalyptic section as those are the most confusing chapters. The last post in the series will be a wrap up on commentaries (I'll review five of them).

In today's post I'd like to make a couple of comments about how the book as a whole works. First, I think it's important to stress up front that these comments are on the book in its final form. I think that the stories probably circulated orally and possibly somewhat independently of one another for some time (perhaps centuries - yes I am inclined towards a 2nd century date) before being written down, but the stories as they existed independently aren't Scripture. They are Scripture as bound with the apocalyptic visions and thus our understanding of the intent of the stories must include the fact that they are thus bound.

One interesting and very useful fact about the book of Daniel is that 1:1-2:4a and chapters 8-12 are in Hebrew, and 2:4b-7:28 are in Aramaic. If you were to break the book down by genre, 1-6 would be narrative and 7-12 would be apocalyptic. The fact that we have portions of each half in each language tells us that the author of Daniel wanted us to see the book as a unity. The stories aren't separable from the visions. This view is strengthened by the fact that the Aramaic portion is arranged chiastically, with chapters 2 and 7 being A and A' by virtue of both being centrally focused on a symbolic revelation about God's judgment of (the same) four kingdoms.

Additionally, it is clear that both the narrative and apocalyptic section both have the same themes worked out in different ways. Those are: God is the sovereign king and is active in history; related to that, God rules over foreign overlords; and God will vindicate his faithful ones. The main difference between the two sections is how and for what purposes they develop each of those themes. Like much Hebrew narrative and also like Jesus' parables, the stories are stories with intent. The goal is drive the readers to live faithfully under foreign rule and the encroachment of oppressive foreign culture, holding up Daniel and his three friends as exemplary and showing how God consistently vindicated them when they were faithful.

For those living under the rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, one could still dismiss these stories because the faithful were dying. It didn't seem like God was still active in the way he was in the stories about Daniel and his friends. Was God still faithful towards Israel? Even though they were in the land, oppression was probably worse than it was under the Babylonians or the Persians. The apocalyptic sections come in to reaffirm the message of the narratives and give a big shot of hope that God would soon act to vindicate his people.

Additionally, we must also notice that the stories serve to set up the apocalyptic sections. Daniel is the recipient of divine revelation; mantic wisdom and is also a man of great piety. He has the right credentials to be the one to whom God gives further divine revelation. In this case, not even he can understand it and hence needs an interpreter. So as we've seen the relation between the narratives and the apocalyptic portions are somewhat complex and they are definitely interrelated. Praise God that in his wisdom he chose to give us both together.


  1. I'm looking forward to your thoughts in the future. But the main reason I'm commenting is because I think you'll like the chance at a free book: