What to do with the Book of Daniel?

And in hopes of not beating this topic too much, let me give one specific illustration of my difficulty that may illustrate better why, specifically, I remain so skeptical of the whole overall critical methodology, especially as relates to Daniel:

I think if you were to ask any genuinely objective party to read through the book of Daniel, and then asked them, “Does the author of the book conceive of the Medes and Persians as two separate entities, two separate kingdoms, or does he consider the Medo-Persian empire as one entity?” I cannot help but think that most if not all objective readers would certainly recognize that the “Medo Persian” empire is consistently presented as one, united entity throughout the book. Belshazzar’s Babylonian kingdom is going to be given directly to “The Medes and Persians.” Even Darius “the Mede” was subject to the laws of “The Medes and Persians.”

But then, in what seems to me a completely arbitrary move, critical scholarship demands that in one particular place in the book, the author must have jettisoned his otherwise consistent perspective, and conceptually separated the Medes and Persians into separate, distinct kingdoms… that being the statue, of course. The Silver chest is understood as the Medes, the Bronze torso as the Persian, completely contrary it seems to the pattern and mindset throughout the rest of the book.

Why? Simply and solely, as far as I can tell, to prevent us from believing that Daniel was prophesying about the Roman empire before its time. This seems to me to be “moving the goalposts” in the extreme, arbitrarily selecting an interpretation solely to ensure we arrive at a predetermined nonsupernatural conclusion.

Now, it isn’t simply that alone. It would be one thing if critical scholars laid out the options and argued for one over the other. If they said, “given his usage throughout the book, it is conceivable that Daniel may mean by the silver chest the combined Medo-Persian empire. However, he may have had reason to separate them in this one case. We elect the second interpretation because…”

But this isn’t what I find in critical scholarship. it isn’t that this conclusion is reasoned to by considering and weighing the various options… rather, the option that the Silver chest represents the combined Medo-Persian empire is not even considered. Every critical commentary I’ve read on the subject simply glosses over this and states matter-of-factly that the silver chest represents the Medes, the Bronze the Persians.

To my reading, the only conceivable reason why they would not even entertain the idea that Silver represents Medo-Persia is that they have ruled out, a priori the possibility that Daniel could have been predicting the future, and a Medo-Persian chest would require Roman legs.

Even evangelical scholarship typically outlines and acknowledges both options, and then argues for one over the other. Critical scholarship doesn’t even acknowledge there is anything to discuss.

So sure, the “fact” that Daniel’s prophecy regarding the statue in Ch 2 ends with the Greek/Ptolemaic empire would be one of those proverbial pearls on the string, which is wonderfully consistent with all the other arguments for the critical position. Until I actually look at that particular pearl in detail, and realize that the validity of this particular detail depends largely on an antisupernatural presumption that begs the question in order to rule out even the consideration of alternatives.

This is the most glaring example to me. But then I find similar problems every time I examine many of the other “pearls” of this proverbial necklace that seem to fit together so well. Again, this is essentially the same experience I’ve had when the arguments against the pastoral epistles have been made to me, as well as other similar critical biblical arguments that fit together so well so as to make the case obvious.

So, not trying to argue to you or persuade you, but hopefully this at least communicates to you the source of my deep skepticism. It isn’t simply that the critical scholars arrive at different conclusions, it is that they arrive at their conclusion by begging the question, and ruling out certain conclusions from consideration - namely, those that would conflict with their antisupernatual positions. Due to the methodology, I simply cannot garner confidence in the method or conclusions they offer with such confidence.

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I read — at one point in time – a lot of arguments regarding the date of composition of Daniel. The argument for composition around the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (sp?) --and/or of the Maccabbees – made sense only until I had read other arguments. It is a really interesting book and —while possibly “strange” — it has links to Neo-Babylonian history as well as to eschatological matters (see the Book of Revelation) and a wide range of things. Very interesting book indeed… As for the Book of Enoch — I am not sure about the time of writing. But yes, both books have a concept of the resurrection of the dead — as elsewhere in the biblical text (Hebrew Bible section)…and both brought a concept of a “binary” (not yet trinitarian) aspect of God’s personality that was part of the thinking of the centuries BC/AD around the time of Christ…

The case against an early date for the book of Daniel is not based on philosophical presuppositions. That seems to be a favorite but over-played talking-point of conservative evangelicals: that everything comes down to presuppositions, and ours are better than theirs. But that just isn’t the case, not here with Daniel at least. Rather the case is based on an overall convergence of evidence as I already described: anachronisms and incongruencies, the “retrodictive curve”, and other evidence I hadn’t mentioned yet.

Let’s illustrate this, especially that last bit about other evidence, by looking at Daniel 2. The kingdoms represented by the statue in Daniel 2, as understood by critical scholarship, may be (call this “A”): Babylonian / Median / Persian / Greek (including the Seleucids and Ptolemies), as you are aware. But that is not the only critical interpretation, as you may not be aware. The kingdoms may instead be (call this “B”): Babylonian / Medo-Persian / Greek (Alexandrian) / Greek (Seleucid and Ptolemaic).

  • Over against interpretation “A”, interpretation “B” preserves, in the second kingdom, the consistent unity of Media and Persia seen elsewhere in the book (a reasonable objection to “A” which you made), and further explains why that kingdom is presented as a parallel union of different parts (arms and chest). It also explains why the third kingdom is said to begin as a unity (abdomen), but end divided (thighs).

  • Of course, the traditional conservative Christian interpretation (call this “C”: Bablyonian / Medo-Persian / Greek / Roman) also has those points in its favor. But “B” also explains why the fourth kingdom is presented as divided in two throughout its existence (parallel but separate pairs of legs and feet). (Yes, Alexander’s empire divided into more than two, but the Seleucids and Ptolemies were the only relevant ones for Judea, where Daniel was produced and read by the Jewish audience for which it was intended.) In contrast, “C” has no explanation for this.

  • Also as opposed to “C”, “B” explains why the fourth kingdom is said to be partly strong and partly brittle (ie powerful, but weakened by their divisions, compared to the previous kingdoms); mixed in marriage (NRSV - probably referring to intermarriages between the dynasties) and yet still politically divided. And both “A” and “B” explain why the focus and attention in Daniel 2 is much more on the fourth kingdom than any of the others - because that is the kingdom of greatest interest to the readership at the time the Daniel scroll came out (2nd century BCE), since the Jews were living and suffering under that kingdom at the time. In contrast, “C” explains none of this about the fourth kingdom, either.

  • On the other hand, a weakness of “B” (and a further weakness of “C”) is that they identify the second kingdom with Medo-Persia, yet that kingdom is said to be inferior to Babylon. Media was inferior in power and duration to Babylon, but the combined Medo-Persian Empire certainly was not. So critical interpretation “A” has that in its favor.

  • About the only thing “C” has in its favor (other than that it satisfies Christian theological expectations about the world-historical centrality of Jesus - which is a doctrinal argument only, so really has no place here in this assessment) is that “C” fits the fourth kingdom (Rome) being described as the strongest of them all. But for that matter, “A” in which the fourth kingom is Greece (including unified, world-spanning Alexandrian Greece) also satisfies that. And anyway, when seen through the lenses of a Maccabean audience, the Seleucids were, in a sense, the ‘strongest’ of them all, because they were the ones that posed the immediate threat to Jewish religious existence, due to the persecutions of Antiochus IV. None of the previous kingdoms had gone so far (outlawing Jewish religion, with severe penalties). So “B” can be seen to comport with this as well.

Anyway, I am not really trying to come to a definition conclusion here on Daniel 2 (though I favor “B”). Rather, all of this is just to show you how the critical case is not based on presuppositional bias against predictive prophecy, but rather is a cumulative case taking into account the whole of the evidence, without once referring to whether predictive prophecy is possible or not.

I’ll leave it there for now, but there is more that could be said. Good commentaries I’d recommend on Daniel are John J. Collins (Hermeneia) for a critical-historical view, and John Goldingay (Word) for an evangelical view (which nonetheless accepts the critical scholarly consensus on Daniel’s composition and date).

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I sincerely appreciate the thoughts. I’m curious, though… could you point me to a critical commentary or scholar that takes option “C” and examines it as a serious option?

I don’t have it in front of me right now, but I believe Goldingay’s commentary in the Word series does.

Appreciated, but I’ve never considered the word commentary series to reflect what we would generally call a particularly “critical” perspective?

Goldingay is an evangelical who accepts the critical consensus, and Collins is a respectful, non-evangelical, critical scholar, but as I recall neither of them specifically engage with the conservative Christian perspective “C” at great length in their commentaries. I think that’s mostly because these are commentaries, not polemics. They spend much more time speaking positively about what they think Daniel is, than polemically about what they think it is not.

Craig Hill is a moderate scholar who accepts the critical consensus and does engage with conservative views throughout his popular (in the sense of being non-academic, not in the sense of being a best-seller) book, In God’s Time, which includes a chapter on Daniel. Compared to a commentary, it’s short on detail, but you might want to take a look at that.

All the best to you.

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