Friday, October 29, 2010

Numerology and Daniel

Perhaps the passage that causes the most confusion for modern readers is the 70 7s of Daniel 9. We need to understand two things to understand the 70 7s. First we need to understand how the Bible and non-canonical Jewish sources used numbers symbolically in relation to periods of time. Second we need to understand the full Scriptural background behind the 70 7s.

Whenever we come upon a number in the Bible referring to a number of years our tendency is to assume that those numbers are literal. Most of the time this is probably the case. Once in a while, however, that assumption can lead us down the wrong path. One example is 1 Kgs. 6:1. It claims that 480 years after the exodus Solomon started building the temple. This, in all likelihood, is a nice round twelve generations, (perhaps one generation per tribe of Israel?). Otherwise, one would have to hold to an unlikely 15th century BCE date for the exodus. (a 13th century date is more likely) The book of Judges repeatedly uses, so it seems, the number forty in a non-literal way too. In non-canonical Jewish literature from the second temple period we again run into non-literal periods of years. Interestingly for our study, Jubilees breaks down history into 490 year periods (10 jubilees). I mention these examples to suggest that there is no reason why we must understand the 70 7s as a literal period of 490 years. We have to let the text decide how to take the 70 7s, and I believe that when we look at it, we'll see that the periods are symbolic.

There are two Old Testament texts that stand in the background here. The obvious one is Jeremiah 25:1-14. Here Jeremiah prophesies that the exile will end after 70 years, a good round number probably referring to a lifetime. The exiles would go and they wouldn't be coming back, but the exile wouldn't last forever.

Leviticus 25-26 is probably a second text that gets drawn upon here in Daniel 9. Leviticus 25 begins with the laws about the sabbath year and the year of jubilee. It's clear that the Chronicler uses this text to interpret Jeremiah's prophecy in 1 Chronicles 36:15-23. The land had to lie fallow for the missed sabbath years. When you come to Leviticus 26 you have a series of rewards and curses. Interestingly, the claim that God will punish them seven fold for their sin is repeated four times. Thus here in Daniel, the seventy years of Jeremiah is reinterpreted to a seven fold punishment and is 10 jubilee cycles (10 being a number symbolizing completion).

The 7o 7s are broken into three groups the first is the 7 7s. First, notice that that is the length of one jubilee, a time of release of slaves and captives. It stands for the length of time until the Jews were allowed back in the land. However, things didn't really go that well for them while they were still in the land. The exile was still ongoing in a sense. The next period of time is the 62 7s. The big thing to see here is that the period of 62 ends in the 69th week, one less than 70 weeks and 70 is a 'perfect' number. 'The antithesis of perfection is sometimes represented by one less than the perfect number (e.g., 666 as the number of the beast in Rev. 13:18). Therefore it is appropriate that the climax of devastation comes at the end of the 69th week" (Lucas 248). The last week is a suitable period of time for evil to run its course and end. So I think that we can plausibly understand the 70 weeks of years symbolically and a time period in the very general ballpark of 490 years.

We still have to ask when the 490 year period was to reach its end? Following the suggested way of reading the numbers above, I think it's best to point to the Antiochene crisis in the 2nd century. It's the closest major event to 490 years (a period not meant to be taken literally anyways) from the fall of Jerusalem (the event prompting Jeremiah's prophecy) making that the most natural starting point. Also, I believe that the rest of the visions in Daniel also deal with the same crisis, thus making that identification make sense (at least to me).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Earth is the Temple of the Lord

One interesting claim that has been made with increased frequency the past few years in relation to Genesis 1 is that it is a temple text. When God is creating the earth he is creating his temple. His rest at the end of creation is his taking up residence in the temple. We as human beings are his images. Unlike the fake deities of the ancient world, the living God doesn't have dead images of gold and silver and stone, he has living images, human beings. We are God's representatives, or his representation. I believe that this approach to Genesis 1 is very sound (the most thorough defense of this approach is in The Temple and the Church's Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God by Greg Beale).

Last week in our small group we studied Acts 17:16-34. One thing that has always struck me is how different this speech felt from the rest of Paul's speeches in Acts. The difference is that it's not a straightforward exposition of Scripture in the same way Paul's speeches to Jewish audiences were. What I noticed this time around is that Paul is still expositing Scripture. Some commentators have noticed the connections to Genesis in verses 24-26, though none that I looked at dealt with the allusions at any length. Verse 24 makes the temple and creation tie crystal clear. I, though, wouldn't limit the echos of Genesis to verses 24-26. I think that they resume in verse 29. Paul there seems to be connecting creation and temple worship together and seems to understand the imago dei in the same manner as I outlined above. Thus I think that here Paul is affirming that Genesis 1 is about God's creation of his cosmic temple.

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.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Apocalyptic Imagery and Daniel Part 1

One of the trickiest parts of studying apocalyptic literature is interpreting the imagery and symbolism used. This will be the first of three parts dealing with apocalyptic imagery and numerology in which we will make some general observations and also deal with a few specific passages.

I think that one of the most important things to consider when reading texts like Daniel 7-12 is that the meaning of the symbols has two components; sense and referent. Referent is the object that the symbol stands for (e.g., the four hybrid/distorted beasts in Daniel 7 stand for four kingdoms). The sense is the interpretation of the referent that the symbol provides (more on this later). Unfortunately, within the Evangelical church I think that the sense has been a bit ignored. Most lay people (and more than a few pastors) come to a text like Daniel and have lots of questions about the historical referents but not many about the sense. Apocalyptic texts get treated as a code that we need to unravel. That, though, runs into two problems. One is that not every symbol has a clear historical referent. Take the wind in 7:2 as an example. The wind symbolizes God's power, that is the sense of the symbol, but I don't see what clear historical referent it has. The second, and the more obvious problem is that by focusing on just the referent you're missing out on what is in my opinion the more important aspect of meaning, the one from which we can draw out theology, the sense, or God's interpretation of history.

How do we know the sense of the symbols? They're very foreign to us because they come from another culture. Thus to understand them we need to understand the culture and the genre of apocalyptic. Here, nothing but hard work will suffice. The vast majority of Jewish apocalyptic literature did not make it into the canon (in fact Daniel is the only OT text that can formally be called an apocalypse, though portions of Zechariah and Isaiah are precursors to the genre that would later develop). Thus we have to do some reading outside of the Bible to get a better sense of how it was used. Probably the most helpful for comparisons with Daniel is 4 Ezra which is found in 2 Esdras 3-14. Fortunately, since it is part of the Apocrypha, you can find it online for free in the NRSV. If you want to read more Jewish apocalyptic, you should probably purchase a copy of the Pseudepigrapha, now thankfully published in softcover for half of the price of the hardcovers! Reading broadly within the genre will help you get a feel for how symbolic imagery is used. A second step would be to get your hands on a good introduction to apocalyptic literature. I personally found The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature by John Collins to be extremely helpful. This will help you get a general lay of the land when it comes to Jewish apocalyptic and does some of the comparative work for you. It's very helpful for getting a macro level look at what's unique or not unique about each apocalypse. Finally when you study the specifics of any passage you must have at least one of (preferably both) the following commentaries: Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel by John Collins and Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 30, Daniel by John Goldingay. They wade through all of the relevant data and lay out clearly the background and meaning of the symbols. As a general comment, while both Jewish sources and other ANE (in particular Canaanite) sources can be the source of the sense of any given symbol, priority must be given to prior biblical usage (which, as one would expect, often is related to its sense in non-Jewish ANE sources).

Earlier I mentioned that the four beasts stand for four kingdoms. That is their referent. What is their sense? First we must consider that crossbreeding animals was outlawed in the Torah so at minimum we can say that they symbolize something unholy. When you look more deeply into the symbolism, though, it seems that to Jews the fact that these beasts are hybrid would suggest demonic control. Thus from the sea (the place of opposition to God) we have four kingdoms that oppose God's people that are demonic, they embody evil. The fourth kingdom in particular is so grotesque and hence evil that it can't even be described.

In our next post we will look at the sometimes multivalent nature of apocalyptic imagery as well as discuss how the literature speaks to us today.

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.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fantastic Deal on Church Dogmatics

If you aren't aware, CBD is running a special on the entire set of Church Dogmatics by Karl Barth until Nov. 1. You can purchase the whole 14 volume set for only $100.