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Monday, November 27, 2006

Bible Study: Daniel - The Late Daters

There are predictably two main camps when it comes to explaining Daniel. The critical scholars consider it a pious fraud and the conservative scholars consider it authentic prophecy. In this entry I will summarize the late daters (higher criticism) case.

First of all let's re-cap Daniel so we know what we are attempting to explain. In about 600 BC the Jews were conquered by the Babylonians and many of them were taken back to Babylon as captives. The book of Daniel purports to be a memoir of one of these captives who quickly rose to great prominence in the government. Daniel is comprised of two main pieces. The first is largely heroic tales where the Jewish protagonists (Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) stay true to Jewish dietary laws and refuse to bow to false idols and are miraculously saved from harm (e.g the famous lions den of the main protagonist). The latter half of Daniel is comprised of a number of increasingly specific visions about the future. The visions describe the course of history from 600 BC up to the Maccabean revolution and the end of the world (establishment of god's kingdom on earth). Depending on how you read the prophecies the end of the world has already passed (in 2nd century BC) or is yet to come.

The critics claim is that this document is a pious fraud. (My wife thought it was funny that this happens enough that there is actually a term for this, but I digress). According to this theory, it was written midway through the events it claims to be predicting (Maccabean revolt) and was purely a propaganda document. It's aim was to show:

  • Jews who stick to traditional ways will be rewarded and protected
  • This current rebellion was predicted long ago so we know God is in charge and the prophecy says we win

The main reasons that Daniel is rejected as authentic prophecy is that:

  • It gets the "current" events of Daniel's time among the Babylonians wrong
  • It messes up the course of history between 600 BC and the Maccabean revolution
  • It is very accurate about the early details of the Maccabean revolution
  • It messes up how the revolt goes and the date of the end times

It's not too hard to see from the above why critics date Daniel as being written circa the mid-point of the Maccabean revolution.

Now let's look at some specifics of the above 4 points.

  1. Bad history of the Babylonian exile.

    • Wrong capture date and wrong king (contradicts other books of the bible and Babylonian records)
    • Claims that "Darius the Mede" (a character unknown outside the book of Daniel) conquered Babylon (actually was Cyrus a Persian)
    • Claims that Nebuchadnezzar is the father of Belshazzar (not even related)
    • Nebuchadnezzar was portrayed as mad. Babylonians don't record this but may just be a conflating with Nabonidus who was know to suffer mental conditions.
    • Claims that Belshazzar was king when Babylon fell to "Medes" and threw a huge party the night before he died and Babylon was captured. Actually he was never the king and was in jail for 4 months before Babylon was captured.
    • Jeremiah would have been a contemporary of Daniel in Babylon but for some reason Daniel is reading from his book (which appears to magically be part of Jewish canon already) rather than getting first hand account from him.

  2. Bad history from Babylonians to Maccabeans

    • Wrong number of Persian kings listed as ruling (claims 4 - actually there were 9). Coincidentally he names only ones mentioned in other parts of the Bible. So seems clear he was using the Bible to reconstruct the past.
    • Predicts the following order of kingdoms for the region: Babylonian, Media (maybe Lydia), Persia, Greece. After that god's kingdom will be established. Jeremiah had predicted that Babylon would fall to the Medes. But historically Media was subsumed by Persia and it was Persia that conquered Babylon.

  3. Very detailed accuracy about the Maccabean revolt

    • Accurately describes general order of victories and attacks by the "North" Seleucid empire and "South" Ptolemy empire.
    • Provides lots of information about Antiochus IV (the focus of the Maccbean rebellion):

      • forced Hellenization of Jews,
      • defilement of the temple
      • forbidding sacrifices

  4. Bad predictions about outcome of the Maccabean revolt:

    • predicts another attack from Egypt, with Palestine being the location of the last stand
    • predicts Antiochus will be victorious over Egypt and extend his territory in all directions
    • gets place of Antiochus's death wrong (claims near Jerusalem but was actually Persia)
    • predicts the end of the world and establishment of god's kingdom on earth within the next few years. I'm just going to have to put my foot down and say this didn't happen.

So that is a general outline of the late dater's case. If you need more details you can look up Daniel on wikipedia and find ample resources for early dating and late dating.

I will try to provide a rough outline of some of the rebuttals given to the above points (and they have almost all been addressed in one form or another). But I will put my cards on the table at this point. Perhaps I'm incapable of being open minded or maybe I just have a good dose of common sense, but the late dater's case seems very solid. But I am not a bible scholar (yet) nor an expert on the relevant histories and linguistics (yet). So take my opinion for what it is worth.

In the near future I will discuss some of the points made by the early dater's camp and then finally arrive at the reason for this entire journey - the Glen Miller Daniel essay (cue angelic choir).

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Blogger Luke Plant said...

This is an interesting one:

> Very detailed accuracy about the
> Maccabean revolt

In the context of this debate (i.e. is Daniel prophecy or not) this only makes any sense as an argument for a late date if you reject supernaturalism 'a priori'.

Wed Nov 29, 07:22:00 AM  
Blogger Luke Plant said...

Done a quick bit of research, and it seems a lot of these claimed inaccuracies stem from saying that Daniel asserts things it doesn't assert. In some cases they revolve around unnaturally identifying the little horn of ch 7 and the little horn of ch 8, and in other cases they are just interpreting some fairly vague statements in a very specific way, and then saying that this specific interpretation didn't happen so Daniel got it wrong.

In some cases, the arguments even assume the late-daters own conclusions e.g. under #2 above, as I understand it, it is only the late-daters who assign these kingdoms to the kingdoms described in Nebuchadnezzar's visions. Other scholars take them to be Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome, which makes much more sense (since separate empires of Media and Persia never existed). With that context, the arrival of the kingdom of God after the Roman empire *does* make sense.

It should be noted that the descriptions of timings have to be understood according to the genre of the writings (e.g. 'seventy weeks' is probably 'seventy sevens' = 490 years). Note also the 'telescopic' perspective.

I realise that you may not find these 'rationalisations' of the timings to be convincing, but even if you come to the conclusion that these prophecies were wrong, it doesn't help you address the other prophecies, nor can it change the way you would date the entire book -- there seems to be some confusion above between the separate issues of 'when was Daniel written' and 'were all of its prophecies accurate'.

Finally, a number of the points seem to be arguments from silence i.e. other sources don't back the Bible up, even though they don't contradict it. These are exceptionally weak arguments, and stronger arguments than the ones presented above have been *embarrassingly* wrong before (case in point: the historicity of Belshazzar).

Just thought I'd give you some guidance on arguments not to waste your time on :-)

Wed Nov 29, 08:37:00 AM  
Blogger Luke Plant said...

One more!

Here is a brief possible explanation of Darius the Mede:

Can't say I have examined it in depth, but in the past I have found the source to be reasonably sane.

Wed Nov 29, 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger evtujo said...

"this only makes any sense as an argument for a late date if you reject supernaturalism 'a priori'."

Leaving aside the debate of whether the 4 points I outlined for the late daters are true or not, if the only thing that Daniel is accurate about is the first part of the Maccabean revolution, it seems to support the hypothesis that he wasn't a citizen of 600 BC. You'll have to elaborate how this is 'a priori' rejection of supernaturalism. I'd expect 100% accuracy from a supernatually inspried narrative. Maybe that's just me.

Thu Nov 30, 04:09:00 PM  
Blogger evtujo said...

Unnaturally identifying the little horn's to be the same individual? You are going to have to provide some evidence that this is unnatural. Seems like he is pretty consistent that Antiochus is the little horn. Only if you assume that Daniel doesn't make mistakes do they *have* to be different people.

The four kingdoms: I agree, if you assume that Daniel doesn't make mistakes you would presume that Rome is the 4th kingdom. If you assume he was writing of the time of the Maccabean revolution then clearly he's referencing Greece. I've read the arguments both ways and (surprise, surprise) the side that agreed with my biases makes more sense to me.

Obviously the 70 weeks means years. Did I indicate otherwise. Of course that gets you to the middle of the Maccabean revolt. Gosh, that name keeps coming up. :)

I have no problem separating the ideas of authetic prophecy from when the book was dated. Glen Miller makes that point clearly. Of course if Daniel was written ANY other time than when he claims, then he is a least partly a liar.

Argument from silence is not ALWAYS a good arguing technique, but I've noted that whichever side of the debate would benefit from using it will do so and the other side will accuse them of this. I've seen this technique used on both sides of the Daniel discussion. You don't mention any specific argument from silence so I can't really respond to any thing.

But honestly I'm just a guy who read a bunch of things off the internet and found they supported my pre-made conclusions, so clearly I can't be trusted.

Thu Nov 30, 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger evtujo said...

When *you've* read your recommendation about Darius the Mede in depth, please explain how it solves the problem. I've read both sides in various sources and it seems to this amateur that Daniel thought there were only 4 Persian kings and didn't really know *who* conquered Babylon. Possibly he was trying to harmonize between the other Biblical sources and made a best guess (e.g. Jeremiah said a Mede would free them). We'll probably never know for sure. That's what so interesting and frustrating about historical research like this.

Thu Nov 30, 10:44:00 PM  

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