Wednesday, January 25, 2012
The Book Of Daniel: Yes, I'm Still Plugging Along
That having been said, I finished up the book of Daniel this morning. It is not hard to note the similarities in imagery and language between the books of Daniel and Revelation. That shouldn't surprise readers considering that both Daniel and Revelation are apocalyptic literature. That makes understanding Daniel and its place in the Old Testament Canon a bit tricky, however. Daniel is included in the prophetic books of the OT, but Daniel and Isaiah read very, very differently. They are two different genres, so applying the rules one would use to read Isaiah to Daniel can get a person in trouble.
Most scholars date the writing of the book of Daniel during the mid to late 160s BC. That places it squarely during the time of Antiochus Ephiphanes and the Maccabean Revolt. At first glance, it might not be easy to see why this is of any importance at all other than providing a historical setting, but in fact it is a huge source of contention between conservative and progressive Christians.
Conservative theologians tend to downplay the place of apocalyptic literature in Daniel and lift up the book's authority as prophetic literature. What I mean by that is they apply different rules to interpreting the book. Conservative theologians uphold Daniel as the author, which means the book must be written during the Babylonian Exile, and all the images and prophecies foretell things to come. However, progressive theologians would apply the generally true pseudo-authorship rule of apocalyptic literature and say that although the book is attributed to Daniel, Daniel does not have to be the author, and is in fact, not. The book of Daniel is therefore not so much a prophetic book of things to come, but an apocalyptic book set in the 160s mostly providing a lens to understand what is going on in the present (the audience of the time's present, not ours). A conservative theologian might then come back and say the progressive theologian doesn't believe the Bible means what it says, while the progressive theologian would say the conservative theologian doesn't respect the historical context of the Biblical literature itself. If this seems like a purely academic argument, walk into a Church of Christ or Southern Baptist congregation this Sunday morning and say that Daniel didn't write the book of Daniel. Tell me how that goes.
Here's the thing, though. Both conservative and progressive theologians are trying to be faithful to the canon of Scripture. Both of them take scriptural interpretation very seriously. Both of them feel that scripture is inspired and both feel that they will have to answer to God for the way they've handled his written word. The book of Daniel, or interpreting the book of Daniel, provides a great example of how people who follow God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength can wrestle with the same texts but end up with very different conclusions. In the end, I think we all might need to relax a bit and realize that our relationship with God is not dependent on our interpretation of books like Daniel.
There's my meandering post for this week!
Stopping point: Daniel 12