Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
The Book of Daniel is perhaps best known for the
tales of chapters 16. These stories introduce Daniel, a
Jewish youth deported to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar "in the
third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah" (1:1). He
and his three friends were trained to serve at the royal court.
Daniel won a reputation as an interpreter of dreams
(chapters 2, 4 and 5) and he emerged unscathed from the lions'
den (chapter 6). In the tales Daniel and his companions triumph
in the midst of trials in which their lives, or at least their
reputations, are at risk, and the pagans glorify God.
The book itself, however, is a product of the Maccabean
age. These earlier stories are taken over by the author Daniel.
The kings of these talesNebuchadnezzar, his "son" Belshazzar
and the latter's successor, Darius the Medeare too amiably
religious to be types of Antiochus IV, the "villain" of Daniel.
Rather it is the unwavering fidelity of Daniel and his companions
to God and the Law, and God's vindication of them, that serve
the author's purpose.
In this issue of Scripture From Scratch,
we will concentrate on the strictly apocalyptic section of the
book, chapters 712. While Daniel 712 is unquestionably
the only full-blown apocalypse in the Hebrew Bible, it is, most
likely, not the earliest Jewish apocalypse. It would have been
predated by some of the apocryphal Enoch material (I Enoch).
Daniel 712 deserves to stand as the masterpiece
of Jewish apocalyptic literature. It can even be dated with near
precision, to 165 B.C.shortly before the death of Antiochus
IV Epiphanes. Daniel 712 consists of three visions (chapters
7, 8, 1012) and an interpretation of a biblical prophecy
(chapter 9). Along the way, revelation is mediated by an angel.
In each unit there is a historical pattern, an eschatological
crisis and the prospect of judgment and ultimate salvation.
In a series of visions, Daniel 712 traces
the course of history, with stress on the ultimate, inevitable
victory of the people of God. Four successive empires are portrayed:
the Babylonian, Median, Persian and Greek (a stereotyped list)each
surpassing its predecessor in evil.
In this manner the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes
(the Seleucid monarch who had launched an assault on the Jewish
religion) is presented as a flood of evil. The time was at hand
when God would show his power.
Daniel maintains that history is totally under divine
control. That is just the point. He tells the story of the past
in such a way that the persecuted Jews may understand that their
sufferings have a place in God's purpose.
The book looks always to the final victory, to the
endtime, to the coming of the kingdom. It sees the messianic age
about to dawn, beyond the time of tribulation. God's victory over
the forces of evil is assured, and those who serve him faithfully
will have a glorious part in his triumph.
Daniel, like apocalypse in general, presupposes
the existence of a supernatural world above the visible one. The
apocalyptic seer has an inside look at this heavenly reality.
In the first vision (chapter 7) Daniel saw four
beasts rising from the sea. An angel explained to him that these
represented four empires: Babylonian, Median, Persian and Greek
(Seleucid); the "little horn" (a deliberately contemptuous phrase)
coming from the last of them was Antiochus IV. The Ancient of
Days (God), in a heavenly judgment scene, condemned the four empires.
Then there appeared, on the clouds of heaven, one "like a son
of man," that is, a human figure (in contrast to the beasts).
The angel explained that this heavenly figure, presented here
as an individual, symbolized the earthly people of God, the "saints
of the Most High." They will receive an everlasting kingdom which
would be inaugurated after "a time, two times and half a time"
(i.e., three and a half years)a reference to the approximate
duration of the persecution of Antiochus (167-164 B.C.).
The second vision (chapter 8), explained by Gabriel,
is closely related to the previous one. A two-horned ram (the
conventional Medo-Persian empire) was opposed and destroyed by
a he-goat (the Greek empire) with a conspicuous horn (Alexander
the Great). While the he-goat was at the height of its power,
the great horn was broken (premature death of Alexander) and four
horns grew in its place (the fourfold division of Alexander's
empire). Out of one of these horns sprouted "a little horn" (Antiochus
IV). In his pride this horn exalted himself. In the first place
this was by his assumed title: Antiochus Theos Epiphanesthat
is, Antiochus, manifestly God. He also challenged the prince of
the heavenly host (God) through defilement of his temple and prohibition
of sacrifice. The tyrant would be broken "by no human hand." The
daily sacrifices would be offered again after 2,300 evenings and
morningsthat is, after the three and one-half years of the
In the third vision (chapter 9) Daniel puzzled over
Jeremiah's prophecy that 70 years must pass before the desolation
of Jerusalem would be ended (Jer 25:11; 29:10) and he prayed to
God for light on this mystery. While Daniel prayed, confessing
his sin and the sin of his people Israel, the angel Gabriel came
to interpret the 70 years: Jeremiah had spoken of the captivity
and the return from exile, but the full restoration, the advent
of Messianic times, would occur after "70 weeks of years."
It is a fine example of apocalyptic ingenuity in
interpreting earlier texts. The immense difference between this
and the later abuse of such texts is that Daniel's interpretation
is in line with the vision of the earlier prophet.
The fourth vision (chapters 1012) is a revelation
of the final period preceding the messianic age. Although it is
dated to the third year of Cyrus, the Persian period is sketched
in a single verse (11:2). Chapter 11 deals with the successors
of Alexander the Great and gives a detailed account of the relations
between Seleucids and Ptolemies down to Antiochus IV. Though this
historical summary is cast in the form of a vision of events to
come, little of it is prediction in the proper sense.
Daniel's last vision (chapter 12) finally leaves
the field of politics and moves to a higher plane. The goal of
history is God's kingdom, which will come solely by God's own
power and in his good time. In verses 2-3, we find the doctrines
of the resurrection of the body and of retribution after death
explicitly stated for the first time.
Finally, Daniel is ordered to "seal the book": its
message is for the endtime. Once again we are told that the persecution
will last "a time, two times, and half a time."
A common feature of apocalyptic also found in Daniel
is determinism: there are two camps, the righteous and the wicked.
And it is presupposed that there is little or no chance that the
wicked will change allegiance. One must always keep in mind the
cultural setting of apocalypticism. There is the powerless minority,
effectively disenfranchised by the dominant group, who are not
going to relinquish their power base. What can the oppressed do?
The solution to look to a "soft" solution beyond
death is rightly questioned in our day. The Book of Daniel, however,
looks only to a divine intervention. And it follows the road of
determinism: "Go your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain
secret and sealed until the time of the end. Many shall be purified,
cleansed and refined, but the wicked shall continue to act wickedly.
None of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall
One must note that the apocalyptic view of history
is deterministic as far as the direction of history is concerned.
The destiny of humankind inevitably moves toward a final realization
of the kingdom of God. It is this conviction that dominates the
historical perspective of the apocalypses, not the fate of the
individual, which is left unspecified within the movement toward
the new age.
Theology of History
The author of Daniel tells the story of the past
in such a way that the persecuted Jews may understand that their
suffering had a place in God's purpose and may see that the tyranny
of Antiochus fell within God's plan. The situation had not developed
by chance or in defiance of the divine decree.
Though the king may seem to succeed in his proud
revolt against the Prince of princes, and may with impunity trample
over the people of the Prince, his triumph is illusory: "he shall
prosper until the period of wrath is completed, for what is determined
shall be done" (11:36). And though it might seem that such emphasis
on God's absolute control of human affairs must encourage a laissez-faire
attitude, a directly opposite effect was intended and achieved.
This confident assurance that history, divinely
guided, moved toward a goal fixed by God fired the tiny band of
faithful Jews with indomitable hope when any hope seemed vain,
and urged them to supreme effort where resistance seemed doomed
to failure. Indeed, their plain duty was put before them in explicit
terms: "The people who are loyal to their God shall stand firm
and take action" (11:32). The book always looks to the final victory,
to the time of the end, to the coming of the kingdom. The author
sees the messianic age about to dawn, just beyond the "time, two
times, and half a time" of the persecution.
Apocalypticism is a child of prophecy and here the
link with the prophetical writings is clear. The prophets before
and during the exile believed that deliverance from Babylonian
bondage would herald the last age. The author of this book expected
the great change to come with the death of Antiochus. In both
cases we have the characteristic foreshortening of prophecy. The
prophets had seen a vision and were overwhelmed by the majesty
of it. If the kingdom will not come as speedily as they had imagined,
they are certain that it will come. God's victory is assured,
and those who serve him faithfully will have a glorious part in
Next: The Communion of Saints (by Elizabeth McNamer)