Monday, November 8, 2010

Commentary Review: Daniel

In my opinion, Daniel is not the best covered Old Testament book as far as commentaries go. This isn't an uncommon phenomenon among Old Testament books. Though I've looked at them, I'm not going to review some of the older Evangelical Daniel commentaries (like e.g., Baldwin). They don't provide much that you can't get in either Longman or Lucas. If you're unfamiliar with the series that one or more of these commentaries are in check out my commentary series overview.

It was a very close call but my favorite commentary on Daniel is Goldingay's. While there were a few places where I disagreed with his interpretation, I found the commentary to be exemplary. If you're going to teach Daniel, especially the apocalyptic portions, you need a commentary that provides you with a lot of background material. Goldingay, while not as broad as Collins, certainly provides you with quite a bit. His exploration of the background to the apocalyptic symbolism is very helpful. You gain a good sense of what is being communicated by the symbols, not just to whom they refer. Questions of genre are discussed in detail; helpful parallel texts are dug up (while avoiding parallelomania). The most helpful aspect of the commentary was his detailed literary analysis. It showed how the passage as a whole fit together, especially pointing out chiasms in the text. His explanations should not be ignored either. These are among the best of any in the Word series and clearly are far from the afterthought that they seem to be in some volumes. Overall, I found this commentary to be detailed but you never feel overloaded at the same time.

Daniel is a bit of a battle ground in Evangelical circles over dating. For those of you interested, Goldingay does hold to a second century date and sees many of the prophetic portions as ex eventu prophecy. This raises theological issues for the doctrine of Scripture for Evangelicals (of which Goldingay is one). I give him credit for dealing with them head on. I personally learned a lot from Goldingay, and even if you disagree with this stance on the dating of Daniel, I think you will too. No pastor should attempt to study Daniel without this commentary in his collection. 5 stars out of 5.

If Goldingay's commentary is choice number 1, John Collins' brilliant effort in the Hermeneia series is number 1a. Collins is an expert in apocalyptic literature, so his analysis of the apocalyptic sections along with the introduction is the strength of the commentary' (that does not suggest that the rest of the commentary isn't good). What makes Collins work so helpful is that it's extremely detailed on background issues (more so than Goldingay). The only annoyance for me is that he doesn't always comment on every single verse. As an additional bonus, you get a commentary on the additions to Daniel that are found in the Apocrypha (I think that spending a little time on the additions to Daniel is a helpful exercise when studying Daniel 1-6). As this volume is in the Hermeneia series there isn't nearly as much theological reflection as there is in Goldingay, and that's why I give this commentary 1a status. With that said I understand why a busy pastor wouldn't want to wade through Goldingay and Collins (they're both pretty long), if you have the time it's worthwhile to engage in both. 5 stars out of 5.

After you leave the woods of the academic commentaries on Daniel, there isn't a lot to recommend in my opinion (granted I have not seen Duguid's commentary). However, for a lay audience, Longman's commentary stands out. Obviously you're not going to get anywhere near the detail of Collins or Goldingay in an NIV Application volume, but the 'Original Meaning' section is beefy for a volume in this series. Longman isn't afraid to discuss ANE background, and he appropriately simplifies it for a lay audience. You don't find much original research here. Rather it serves as a handy, accessible guide drawing upon the best of current studies on Daniel. Longman does opt for a sixth century date, but is sympathetic towards late daters like Goldingay. This commentary was conservative without being polemical. The applications were often helpful and I never found them to be cliched. With that said I often found myself wanting to go in slightly different directions in my own teaching. This is my commentary of choice for lay students and also should be consulted for those teaching in a church setting. 4.5 stars out of 5.

Lucas' commentary is a little difficult to rate. In many respects it felt like Goldingay light. There's a lot of repeated material here. I'd also say that he felt like Goldingay made clearer, as Lucas is a very clear writer. Obviously with that said, Lucas didn't just blindly follow Goldingay on everything, and he does have a fair amount of material of his own. There also were spots where I thought that Lucas had better points than Goldingay. One potential advantage, depending on your circles, is that he spends more time than Goldingay or Collins do interacting with conservative Evangelical scholars. He also is a bit less likely than Goldingay or Collins to accept the critical consensus (again not that either of those scholars always accept it - Goldingay in particular diverges at some key interpretive points). At times, though, it was a bit difficult to determine what his view was on some issues. I'm still not sure when he thinks Daniel was written. I think you could read Lucas either way, perhaps he intended it that way. This is definitely the best mid-level commentary on Daniel. It's not a must have if you already have Goldingay, but even if you do, there's enough unique material to make it worth owning. 4 stars out of 5.

Miller's commentary in the NAC series is a mid-level dispensationalist commentary. I wasn't a big fan. I think that it majors on historical matters while ignoring literary ones. This may be because Miller sees the book as completely historical. With that said, the genre of history still may be written in form of a story and thus I find Miller's approach inadequate. History is so important to Miller that it completely dominates the commentary, not only to the neglect of discussing literary style and genre, but also to theology. A glaring example occurs at the close of chapter 5 and the start of chapter 6. He closes his comments on chapter five with a seven sentence discussion of the theological emphases of the chapter. Chapter 6 opens with a seven page discussion of the identity of Darius the Mede. I think that demonstrates misplaced priorities on Miller's part. I wasn't impressed in his handling of the apocalyptic sections either (and not just because I'm not a dispensationalist). The symbols have both a sense and a reference. He focuses too strongly on the latter while missing out on telling the reader why the historical referant is presented in that particular mode. Thus, for someone teaching the text, I don't think that Miller provides a whole lot of help, certainly any of the above commentaries would be far more helpful. 2.5 stars out of 5.

2 comments:

  1. I own Collins, but haven't spent a ton of time with it. To be honest, none of these jump out at me as something I really want to get. I think Daniel is in desperate need of a good commentary from a more conservative (moreso than Goldingay) evangelical slant that gives a fairly detailed interaction (moreso than Longman)- just for a little variety. I was hoping Lucas was that one, but nothing I've read about it makes it stand out.

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  2. Yeah, conservative Evangelicals aren't well served by Daniel commentaries. Lucas's volume is fine and is more conservative than Goldingay but its not a stellar commentary. Certainly part of why I like Goldingay so much is because I tend to agree with him. Perhaps when the NICOT volume comes out, whenever that will be, there will be a top notch conservative commentary.

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