You are hereGetting Daniel Past the Second Century BC: Introduction
Getting Daniel Past the Second Century BC: Introduction
by John Evans
In the fifteen or so years during which I have been devoting a great deal of attention to the Book of Daniel, I have sought to make the case for believing that there really was a Daniel the prophet who lived in Babylon during the sixth century BC and prophesied about the Coming of the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ. In doing so, I have argued that the sequence of four earthly kingdoms presented in Daniel 2 and 7 should be understood to be Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, and I have suggested that the great statue of Daniel 2 serves as a timeline whose five different sections correspond remarkably well with the recorded history of Judea and the adjacent lands during the period running from 605 BC, when the Kingdom of Judah was incorporated into the Babylonian Empire, to about AD 30, which is often given as the probable year for the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. In the fifteen or so years during which I have been devoting a great deal of attention to the Book of Daniel, I have sought to make the case for believing that there really was a Daniel the prophet who lived in Babylon during the sixth century BC and prophesied about the Coming of the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ. In doing so, I have argued that the sequence of four earthly kingdoms presented in Daniel 2 and 7 should be understood to be Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, and I have suggested that the great statue of Daniel 2 serves as a timeline whose five different sections correspond remarkably well with the recorded history of Judea and the adjacent lands during the period running from 605 BC, when the Kingdom of Judah was incorporated into the Babylonian Empire, to about AD 30, which is often given as the probable year for the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. In the fifteen or so years during which I have been devoting a great deal of attention to the Book of Daniel, I have sought to make the case for believing that there really was a Daniel the prophet who lived in Babylon during the sixth century BC and prophesied about the Coming of the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ. In doing so, I have argued that the sequence of four earthly kingdoms presented in Daniel 2 and 7 should be understood to be Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, and I have suggested that the great statue of Daniel 2 serves as a timeline whose five different sections correspond remarkably well with the recorded history of Judea and the adjacent lands during the period running from 605 BC, when the Kingdom of Judah was incorporated into the Babylonian Empire, to about AD 30, which is often given as the probable year for the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ.
The position that I have staked out stands in sharp contrast to the prevailing views of “mainstream” biblical scholars, who overwhelmingly reject Rome as the fourth kingdom and insist that Daniel’s end-time prophecies were designed so as to call for fulfillment in the second century BC; i.e. during and immediately after the reign of the Seleucid Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who died either in 164 BC or early the next year. My position also puts me at odds with those biblical conservatives who believe that while the fourth kingdom is indeed Rome, that great kingdom of antiquity somehow reemerges in the modern world and is to play major role in a future Apocalypse.
In arguing for the validity of the sequence of four kingdoms that I advocate, I have maintained that the five distinct sections of the statue of Daniel 2 correspond to the historical record as follows. The head of gold symbolizes the Babylonian Empire during the period from 605 BC, when Daniel was taken to Babylon, to the fall of that great city to the army of Cyrus the Great in 539. The chest and arms of silver correspond to the period 539 to 332, the latter year being when Alexander the Great wrested control of the Holy Land from the Persians. The belly and thighs of bronze correspond to the period running from 332 to a somewhat uncertain point in the second century BC. That point could be early as 164, the year when the Maccabees succeeded in driving the forces of Antiochus IV out of Jerusalem, or it could be somewhat later in the century, for example, the year 146, when Rome annexed the Greek heartland. The solid iron of the legs matches the period running from the displacement of Greece by Rome as the dominant power in the lands adjacent to Judea to a time in the first century BC that corresponds to the increase of Jewish influence in the Roman Empire which followed the incorporation of Judea into the empire by Pompey in 63 BC and the installation of Herod the Great as King of the Jews in 37 BC. This presupposes that the clay that shows up in the feet symbolizes the Jewish nation. The feet and toes of mixed iron and clay correspond to a period running from around the middle of the first century BC until around AD 30.
While the correspondence suggested here between the five historical periods and the imagery of the statue is somewhat rough rather than mathematically precise, no alternative can be offered that holds a candle to it in terms of historical correlation. The best that can be done by those who identify the fourth kingdom as Rome but want to extend its life into the future is to invent a gap somewhere in the feet of the statue that allows at least the toes to leapfrog history. Nothing in the imagery of the statue suggests such a gap, however; but since the history of conservative exegesis of Daniel 2 is littered with failed attempts to claim that the Roman Empire never really fell, it is only by holding onto this implausible notion of a gap that futurists can apply the historical association test to their exegesis of Daniel 2. Otherwise, they must abandon this test, but to do that would run counter to the conservative impulse to validate prophecy in history.
For those who insist on second-century BC fulfillment for all of the end-time prophecies of Daniel, it is inappropriate to subject those prophecies to the historical association test. Most mainstream scholars believe that the Book of Daniel was actually written and compiled (at least in its final form) in the latter part of the reign of Antiochus IV during the Maccabean Revolt that began in 166 BC and succeeded in taking Jerusalem and reconsecrating the Temple in December 164. In their view, the end-time events described in Daniel 2, 7, 8, 9, and 11-12 were all supposed to occur during and immediately after the reign of Antiochus IV. From this perspective, it follows that much of what Daniel presents as “prophecy” is actually recorded history drawn from the long period running from the fall of Babylon in the sixth century until as late as 164. While some mainstream scholars are loathe to employ the term “false prophecy” in their analysis of Daniel—perhaps because they want to avoid offending the sensibilities of some readers—this term accurately describes the prevailing mainstream view of most of its end-time “prophecies.” And if this view of the “prophecies” is correct, the historical association test for prophecy does not apply.
Although mainstream scholars frequently sniff condescendingly about the unwarranted historicism they have observed in conservative interpretations of Daniel, they do not hesitate to link recorded history to passages in Daniel when doing so fits their analytical framework. When they do this, however, they are not seeking to prove that Daniel is genuinely prophetic, but to demonstrate that the author/authors of Daniel was/were presenting events that had already occurred in the guise of prophecy. By denigrating conservatives’ attempts to apply the historical association test, they have, no doubt, discouraged some students of the Bible from considering the possibility that the reigning paradigm about Daniel in biblical academia is grossly inaccurate.
Muddying the Danielic waters considerably is the fact that some mainstream biblical scholars who are inclined toward Christian belief have sought to find a kind of halfway position between that of the critics who regard the Book of Daniel as a pseudepigraphal work of false prophecy which Christians have mistakenly taken to be divinely inspired and that of those Christian conservatives who regard Daniel of Babylon as an actual person whose prophecies are both authentic and genuinely Christian in their primary application. This group of scholars favors an Antiochene date for the writing of Daniel, at least in its final form, and they generally look to the second century BC for the primary fulfillment of its prophecies. They also believe, however, that Jesus and His followers appropriately adapted these prophecies so as to make them messanicly Christian as well. By adhering to this “middle of the road” position, you can simultaneously claim to be both a believing Christian and a skeptic about what the Book of Daniel claims for itself.
Half a loaf is better than none, I have been told, but I also recall that the middle of the road is where the yellow is, yellow being the color that symbolizes pusillanimity. And while compromise may be in order when you lack an overwhelming case for a position that you prefer or when you see no chance for getting doubters to embrace your position, it is my belief that the case in favor of the version of the “Roman sequence” of Danielic kingdoms that I endorse is strong enough to merit my vigorous support. Accordingly, I shall be posting at this site a series of articles, of which this is the first, in which I subject the middle of the road position on Daniel to critical analysis.
In referring to what I have termed the middle of the road position on Daniel, I particularly have in mind the works of four British scholars and the New American Bible (NAB), which is the official Bible for Roman Catholic services in the United States. Two of the four scholars, namely John Goldingay and Ernest Lucas, have written full commentaries on Daniel. The other two, N. T. Wright and Andrew Perriman, are distinguished biblical authorities whose writings contain numerous references to Daniel. My familiarity with the work of Wright, who is the Anglican Bishop of Durham, is confined primarily to his tome on resurrection. As for Perriman, who is prominent in the Emergent movement, my familiarity with his work comes from reading his impressive short book The Coming of the Son of Man.
The essence of the middle of the road position on Daniel is succinctly presented by the NAB in its introduction to Daniel, and I shall rely upon this introduction to summarize what I regard as the most essential features of this position. The four authors to whom I referred in the last paragraph differ from the NAB in some details, but I think that the summary that I offer here is consistent with their overall view. According to the NAB, “This Book takes its name, not from the author, who is actually unknown, but from its hero, a young Jew taken early to Babylon, where he lived at least until 538 BC.” Note that the NAB does not deny the possibility that a Jew named Daniel was actually taken to Babylon. Furthermore, it suggests that the characters in the book “are not purely legendary.” At the same time, however, it states that Daniel could not have been the author of the work credited to him and that “This work was composed during the bitter persecution carried on by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (167-164) and was written to strengthen and comfort the Jewish people in their ordeal.”
Although the NAB indicates in both its introduction and its notes to individual chapters that Daniel’s visions are to be understood as containing end-time prophecies whose primary fulfillments were supposed to occur in the second century BC, it also indicates that the apocalyptic imagery of the visions can readily be applied to other times than the era of Antiochus IV. Thus, even though the NAB regards the “Son of Man” of 7:13 as a “mysterious figure” who plays a role in the Antiochene crisis of the second century BC, it holds that Jesus appropriately applied this designation to Himself as the one who was to fulfill this figure’s destiny. Relying upon such reasoning, the NAB generously employs the tool of multiple fulfillment to reconcile its insistence on the second-century BC focus of the Danielic visions with Christian theology. A similar analytical framework is employed by each of the four scholars whom I have identified.
For conservative Christians, the dilemma posed by this middle of the road approach to Daniel is well highlighted by Ryan Jones in an Internet piece entitled (with tongue in cheek) “How N. T. Wright Wrecked My Life.” In Jones’s view, Daniel “is the linchpin which holds together the New Testament,” and “if Daniel falls, so does the New Testament.” But if it was written “just to encourage the faithful that were being martyred by the Hellenistic king Antiochus Epiphanes, then what reason do we have to believe it?” Of particular concern to Jones is that fact that Wright links the promise of resurrection in Daniel 12:2 to the oppression of the Jews by Antiochus. “Am I to believe in the resurrection of the dead,” he asks, “because there was a pogrom against the Jews over two millennia ago? Please forgive me if this is a bit of a stumbling block in my faith.”
In one way or another, those who hold the middle of the road position on Daniel do not maintain that Daniel was written solely to encourage the faithful to resist Antiochus. From their perspective, although the primary fulfillments of its end-time prophecies are to be found in the time of Antiochus, this does not rule out the possibility that the second-century author/authors of Daniel was/were divinely inspired to present prophetic material in ways that could be adapted to later circumstances. Thus, in writing about Daniel 12:2-3, Wright states that although “The immediate context of this passage is martyrdom, the martyrdom which occurred during the crisis of the 160s,” the resurrection that it depicts “is not a state upon which the righteous enter immediately upon death, but is a further event, following an intermediate period.” In other words, while the hope of resurrection was placed before those Jews who resisted Antiochus in order to encourage their resistance, the little detail that it would not be immediately forthcoming was omitted.
While I am confident that the Christian faith of Ryan Jones remains strong despite the work of N. T. Wright, I wholeheartedly agree that Wright’s position on Daniel tends to undermine the Christian faith to the degree that it dissuades people from believing in a genuine prophet Daniel who received prophecies in the sixth century BC that look beyond the Antiochene crisis for fulfillment and are messianicly Christian. I submit that if you believe that the one like a son of man of Daniel 7:13 is Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ, your Christian faith is likely to be more strongly held than if you believe that this figure symbolizes, in the words of the NAB, “the glorified people of God that will form his kingdom on earth . . . represented in human form” who were to be released from tyranny in the second century BC. In similar fashion, if you are certain that the fourth kingdom of Daniel 2 and 7 is Rome, then, ceteris paribus, your Christian faith is likely to be held more with more conviction than if you believe that this kingdom is the Greece of Antiochus IV and that the end time of all of Daniel’s prophecies is to be found in that era.
In the forthcoming articles, I intend to focus on the weaknesses of the middle of the road position on Daniel with respect to the visions of chapters 2, 7, 9, and 11-12. I concede that the middle of the roaders are correct in placing the end time of chapter 8 in the era of Antiochus IV. It is my contention that in each of the four visions listed above, the middle of the road position is seriously in error in its dating of the end-time events described and that a first-century end time conforms more closely to the text.
In preparing to close this article I shall offer a mild apology to Andrew Perriman, who objected, with some justification, to a comment that I posted at this site on July 31 of this year. In that comment, I stated that Perriman “boldly asserts the belief that the Book of Daniel is a product of the second century BC without exhibiting the slightest awareness of the weaknesses in this position.” Perriman responded to this assertion of mine some days later by demanding to know just where he makes such a statement. In truth, he does not do so. I assumed that because he assigns end-time fulfillments for Daniel’s visions to the time of Antiochus IV, he also assumes the Book of Daniel to be a product of the second century BC. From his comment I conclude that he is leaving open the possibility that there was a real Daniel who lived in Babylon and that the prophecies attributed to him may have originated before Antiochus came on the scene.
In a later response to me, Perriman made the following statement:
“it is immaterial to our understanding of how Jesus and Paul used Daniel whether the prophecies of chapters 7-12 come from the 6th or the 2nd century. Given the extensive narrative correlation with the events surrounding Antiochus Epiphanes’ attempts to hellenize the Jews, I am quite sure that this is the primary frame of prophetic reference and the symbolic details such as the 490 years and subsequent applications of the narrative should be investigated on that premise.”
While one can claim that “it is immaterial to our understanding of how Jesus and Paul used Daniel” if Daniel’s prophecies came from the second rather than the sixth century, it is not immaterial to the Christian faith as a whole whether the prophecies of Daniel are genuine. And with regard to determining their genuineness, it makes a great deal of difference whether or not the correlation of the events they describe with the time of Antiochus Epiphanes is what those who prefer the middle of the exegetical road claim to be the case. In forthcoming articles I shall demonstrate in detail why I believe that this correlation is quite weak. In doing so, I shall, among other things, explain why I am quite sure that the 490 years of Daniel 9:24-27 do not correlate with the time of Antiochus Epiphanes.
John E. Goldingay, Daniel, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 30 (Dallas: Word Books, 1989); Ernest C. Lucas, Daniel, Apollos Old Testament Commentary, vol. 20 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002).
N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).
Andrew Perriman, The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church (Milton Keynes, England: Paternoster Press, 2005).
Wright, Resurrection, 113.