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The Dating of the Book of Daniel Part 2

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Archives / 1973 / August



The Dating of the Book of Daniel Part 2



2. Our second criticism is that the time periods just do not fit the events suggested by the proponents of the Maccabean dating. We do not need to argue this point at length for all interpreters admit the fact. If the seventy weeks of years commence in 605 B.C. or alternatively in 538 B.C. neither the terminus of the 69 weeks or of the 70 coincides with the time of Antiochus. The gap does not consist of a few years only but on any calculation involves at least the greater part of a century. For example, we read from one typical expositor: "The 62 weeks of years, or 434 years, . . . are too many by far; from 538 to 171 (the next date) is only 367 years."

It hardly seems enough to say, as is usually suggested, that knowledge of chronology in the Maccabean era was exceedingly fragmentary. The same interpreters urge that the intimate knowledge of events displayed by the eleventh chapter indicates that the record was written after those events. If then the writer had such intimate knowledge of what had happened in the centuries prior to Antiochus, was it only in the area of chronology that his knowledge failed him? This is a possible situation indeed, but hardly a likely one.

Destruction Forecast, Then Restoration

3. The twenty-sixth verse of chapter 9 forecasts (or apparently so) the destruction of the city and the sanctuary as by an overwhelming flood. Even if the latter figure is applied to the fate of the invader there can be no dodging the ensuing words that "unto the end of the war desolations are determined." In other words the city is to lie in ruins, and the sanctuary likewise. This did not transpire in the days of Antiochus.

In response to this criticism it is usually urged that the Hebrew word Shachath here translated "destroy" can also mean "corrupt." The observation is legitimate, but its application in this place is not, because of the ensuing reference to "desolations," i.e., ruins. Furthermore, parallel passages in chapters 8 and 11 use terms descriptive of physical violence. 1

The context of this passage, Daniel's prayer, revolves around the theme of the ruined city, and the hope of the pious for its restoration. A close study of verses 24-27 shows that many of the key terms found therein are duplicated in the prayer of the prophet which precedes (e.g., desolations, city, Jerusalem, transgression, sins, iniquity, covenant, righteousness, sanctuary). This gives weight to the presumption that the word translated "destroy" means precisely that, for the words of Gabriel concern the content of Daniel's previous entreaty.

Christ, Not Onias III

4. The great theme of the pas sage is Christ and His kingdom, not antichrist in the form of Antiochus or anyone else. While verse 25 literally speaks of "an anointed one, a prince," its con text shows that One who is to be both an anointed priest and king is the one who implements the grand promises of the immediately preceding lines, and does so by being "cut off." This same Messiah the Prince "confirm[s] the covenant with many for one week." The term "covenant" in Daniel always applies to a divine arrangement, never a human agreement, unless this is the exception. Furthermore the Hebrew does not use the usual expression "cut a covenant" but rather employs a term meaning "to con firm." Thus the covenant is one already in existence. The expression "many" is possibly an allusion to the "many" spoken of in Isaiah 53, who are to be made righteous by the Servant of Yahweh. Scholars recognize that Daniel often quotes from the gospel prophet and this is probably one such instance. 2

Rejection of the passage as applying to Christ demands an alter native position of merit. What is offered? The usual interpretation is that Onias III is here spoken of. However, at the time of his death Onias III was not a high priest. Thus he could not be spoken of as "the anointed one" unless by retrospect. His priest hood had ceased years earlier. Similarly, he could hardly be viewed as a prince or king of his people at the time of his assassination. In addition it should be noted that the Maccabean record of the death of Onias shows Antiochus in an unusually favorable light. He is represented as being upset by the crime, rather than glorying in it. 3

5. Many have recognized that the narrative sections of Daniel cast light on the meaning of the visions.4 In this instance the accompanying narrative presents a righteous prophet who loves his sinful people, interceding for them and imputing their sins to himself. He pleads for forgiveness and restoration, the fulfillment of the covenant promises. It is readily seen how this con text suits a messianic interpretation of the prophetic passage which succeeds the prayer. But it nowise fits an interpretation that views Antiochus Epiphanes as the central figure of fulfillment.

Christ's Interpretation

6. Christ Himself interpreted this passage in the only lengthy discourse on prophetic matters found in the Gospels. A multitude of commentators have recognized that Christ's Olivet sermon is based upon Daniel 9:24-27. This is the only place in Daniel where the reference to the abomination of desolation is clearly linked with the destruction of the Holy City. Note the following words from Christ:

"Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." "When ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth under stand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains. . . . For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the be ginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be" (Mark 13:2, 14-19).

Christ did not say that the events of which He spoke would be an extra later fulfillment of Daniel's words. But that spoken of by Daniel the prophet is here intended— the very event so foretold. Christ even uses one of the key words of Daniel, "understand" (found over a score of times in the Old Testament book)—which in its Hebrew equivalent is present in the prophecy of Daniel 9 (see verse 23). (To say, as many do, that "let him . . . understand" belongs to a parenthesis inserted by Mark, is to suggest that this instance is unique in the Gospel record. Nowhere else in the Synoptic tradition do we find Christ's word's thus interrupted by commentary.)

There can be no denying that Christ Himself had meditated on the very passage that now concerns us and He did not associate it with the times of Antiochus but rather projected it to the future. Karl Heim's words regarding the use of Daniel made by Christ are particularly pertinent to our study of chapter 9:24-27.

The reply that Jesus gave the High Priest at this moment pregnant of destiny contained in concise form a view into the future which is of the greatest import. For hereby Jesus clearly confessed himself to be the "son of man" prophesied in the book of Daniel, that is to say, the Man in whom after the end of the four Empires (which all have an animal character) true humanity will fulfill itself and the kingdom will be established. . . . The most important point about this is that at least in its main features Jesus accepts the vision of the future of the world given by Daniel. For He solemnly adopts the principal part in the final act of the cosmic drama seen in the book of Daniel. . . . For the import of this solemn declaration by Jesus it is immaterial whether the author of Daniel lived about 600 B.C. under Jehoiakim in the Babylonian exile, as he says himself, or whether the book was written in the first half of the second century B.C. in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes. The truth of the prophecy does not depend on when it was first announced. 5

We may not agree with Heim's second to last sentence, but we would not quarrel with the rest.

So much for the Maccabean interpretation of Daniel 9 and the alternative Messianic under standing. It is acknowledged that we have not taken the space in this brief refutation to argue every point that can emerge in a discussion in this area, but we have endeavored to indicate where the weight of evidence lies. The interpretation criticized is admittedly, to quote a Maccabean proponent, "a dismal swamp." The alternative is a paradisiac bed of lilies.

The Four Kingdoms

Let us now attend to the exegesis which views the four kingdoms of Daniel as Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece. The following points summarize our case.

1. The second century dating of the book postulates successive Median and Persian empires, in the thinking of the author of Daniel, but the book itself reveals no such belief. Indeed, it shows the opposite.

In both the historical and prophetic sections of the book Medo-Persia is shown as a dual empire. In the word play of chapter 5:28 the significant word is peres, indicating that Babylon was to be succeeded by a power predominantly Persian, not Median. And in the next chapter we find Darius the Mede bound by the law of the Medes and Persians (see chap. 6:8, 12, 15). For the same view point in the prophetic section we have chapter 8:20—one animal with two horns.

Because after Cyrus the rulers of the Medo-Persian realm were Persians it is naturally spoken of subsequently as the Persian kingdom but the writer never speaks of a separate Median empire.

2. The symbolism itself strongly supports the traditional interpretation. The ram in its clumsy firmness has an affinity with the bear, just as the he-goat which touched not the ground is reminiscent of the same agility in the fleet leopard with four wings spoken of in the preceding chapter. And if the he-goat and the leopard represent the identical power of Greece, the whole Maccabean view disintegrates.

Similarly, the same concept is conveyed by the bear that raised itself in order to show two sides, and the ram likewise with its two horns indicated the same truth. Even a child can readily recognize the parallelism of the symbolism. In each portrayal the symbol for the power succeeding Babylon is a single entity but possessing a manifest dualism. And if the bear and the ram each represent Medo-Persia then the leopard, and not the nondescript beast of ten horns, must point to Greece, and the most dreadful characterization of all in the fourth beast must indicate the Roman Empire. This succession alone is consistent with the undesirable fact that the fourth kingdom is represented as incomparably more powerful than its predecessors.

The Leopard and the He-Goat

3. Again, the number four linked with the leopard (four wings and four heads) is also linked with the he-goat which is actually named as Greece. It is not found in the description of the last of the beasts in Daniel 7. Once more the equivalence of the leopard and the he-goat is indicated and grave doubt cast on the Maccabean scheme of empires. It is correct to speak of the Greek world being divided into four for a period, but it is not correct to speak of the Persian realm in that manner, yet according to the Maccabean theory the leopard with its four heads represents Persia rather than Greece. According to this position the writer of the visions has spoken of the fourfold division in chapter eight but in chapter seven he has substituted a tenfold division. The fourth kingdom can hardly be divided into both ten and four major sections.

4. As we consider the fourth empire we find its distinctive feature in the ten horns, from among which another little horn emerges, plucking up three of the ten. How does the Maccabean theory of authorship explain this? It is con tended that the Syrian kings are represented by the horns and various enumerations are offered in support. We would not quarrel with the contrasting lists, for the traditional interpretation has these also. The significant point is that none of the lists actually present us with ten kings but usu ally offer us aspirants to the throne to make up the number. Ptolemy IV and Demetrius Soter are in this category. The three plucked up are usually submitted as being Heliodorus, Demetrius, and Seleucus Philopator. However, Antiochus certainly did not uproot the first of these.

Contemporaneous, Not Successive

5. Next it should be noted that the passage in Daniel 7 implies that the ten horns represent ten contemporaneous kingdoms. Wherever a successive power is intended the symbolism makes that fact plain (see chap. 7:8; 8:3, 8). But the Maccabean theory calls for successive kings as fulfilling the symbolism of the ten horns of the fourth beast. Let it also be added that if the three plucked up by the eleventh horn are necessarily his contemporaries it follows that the seven also must be, for together they constitute the ten of the textual picture. However, the position we are contesting calls for seven successive kings, and then three contemporaneous ones. One cannot but feel that here is a case of "Heads I win, and tails you lose," a very learned strategem for having one's cake yet eating it too.

6. It should also be considered that horns in Daniel represent kingdoms primarily rather than kings. The latter are only mentioned as representative of the former, but a single horn points to a particular kingdom much more than to a particular king. Thus, Daniel 8:5, 8 represents the kingdom of Alexander in contrast to the four kingdoms that succeeded it. Thus, it is incongruous indeed to affirm that the four horns of the eighth chapter signify the kingdoms that were contemporaneous after Alexander's reign and yet also hold that the ten horns of the fourth beast in the preceding chapter represent ten successive kings of a single kingdom.

7. In addition, the drastic restriction of the meaning of the horns of the fourth beast of Daniel 7 to the territory of Syria alone, after granting the universal nature of the dominion of the beast possessing the horns, is a strange exegesis. We would expect rather that the ten horns pointed to ten divisions of the universal kingdom rather than to a succession of rulers in one minor section only of the great empire. There are some even of the Maccabean school of interpreters who rank Alexander as the first of the ten horns thus making him the peer of his succeeding nonentities although in chapter eight his kingdom is distinctly characterized as superior to the divisions that followed. 6

The writer cheerfully confesses that despite his reading of much of the literature on this subject produced in the past fifty years there are yet many areas where he seeks further information. But to wait for assurance of a particular truth till every objection has been exhausted and every possible support mustered is an impractical venture. Let us here, as in other matters, take our stand on the weight of evidence. And as we do so, instead of mentally or publicly castigating those who differ, let us seek to win them by that "beauty of holiness" which should ever accompany all those who love Him who is the truth.

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1. See James Alan Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Daniel, p. 383; J. Lambrecht, Die Redaktion Der Markus-Apokalypse, p. 150.

2. See F. F. Bruce, Biblical Exegesis in the Qumran Scrolls; David Syme Russell, The Method and Message of Apocalyptic.

3. 2 Macc. 4:33-38.

4. See Patrick Fairbairn, The Interpretation of Prophecy; Carl August Auberlen, Daniel and the Revelation.

5. Karl Heim, Jesus, the World's Perfection, p. 142.

6. For critiques of the critical positions on the four kingdoms, see such commentators as Hengstenberg, Pusey, Auberlen, Wright, Bishop Newton, Barnes, Young, Price, and The SDA Bible Commentary.

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