Shaily Patel: Postcolonial Criticism

Shaily Patel, “Excursus: Methods of Ideological Criticism,” in Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 192.

Postcolonial criticism emphasizes the influence that empires and imperial policies, both ancient and modern, have on the texts, history, and scholarship of the New Testament. Postcolonial interpreters analyze how historical empires are depicted in biblical texts and how these texts both reflected and shaped the attitudes and concerns of the subjects of these empires. They read the New Testament by viewing the first Christians as subjects of the Roman Empire. A postcolonial critic might ask how being ruled by Rome configured the way the followers of Jesus understood themselves and their place in the world.

Evangelical Eisegesis: A Dalliance with Daniel, part 2

In this series we are exploring the claim made by pop-apologist SJ Thomason in her post “Did Daniel the Prophet Accurately Predict the Timing of Jesus’ Death?”1 that the prophetic utterance of Daniel 9:24-27 predicted Jesus’ death in 33 CE. There has been one previous post in this series:

This post will focus on the text of Daniel 9:24-27, attempting to understand it in its context.

DANIEL 9:24-27: AN OVERVIEW

It has been said that a text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext.2 Context includes not only the immediate literary context but also the historical circumstances in which a text was composed. Therefore, when analyzing biblical texts we must consider not only what it says and how it says it but also when and even why the texts were written.

As I discussed in the first post of this series, the book of Daniel can be divided into a cycle of stories (chapters 1-6) and a cycle of visions (chapters 7-12). The former contains legendary material that was likely composed long after the period it describes; the latter contains material that was likely composed in the second century BCE. Daniel 9 is firmly situated in the cycle of visions and therefore any exegesis of the text must take this into account. Consequently, we can be skeptical of any exegesis which doesn’t.

Daniel 9 and Its Context

The first vision in the cycle of visions begins with the words, “In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon” (7:1). Similarly, the vision of chapter eight begins with the words, “In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar” (8:1). Similarly, 9:1 begins with the words, “In the first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus” (9:1). Why does the Danielic author preface these visions in this way? The answer is quite simple: to suggest that these visions are prophetic in nature. The irony of it is that the historical errors betray the notion that these are pure prophecies written in an age long before the events they describe. As we’ve already discussed, Babylon had no king named Belshazzar. Rather, Belshazzar was the name of the last Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidus. The likely explanation for this error is that the author was writing long enough after the time period they describe to get so many of the pertinent details wrong.

The same can be said of what we find in 9:1 where we read of “Darius son of Ahasuerus, by birth a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans.” Recall that in 5:30 we are told that once Belshazzar “the Chaldean king” is killed, it is “Darius the Mede” who takes over. But there never was a “Darius the Mede” and when Babylon was conquered by the Persians it was Nabonidus on the throne and Cyrus the Great who came and removed him. Here in 9:1 we read of Darius again who, in addition to being “born a Mede” was also “son of Ahasuerus.”  Of whom is the author speaking?

The Identity of Ahasuerus 

Let’s begin with the name “Ahasuerus.” The name Ahasuerus is one that features predominately in the story we find in the book of Esther. There it is likely a reference to Xerxes I who reigned over the Persian Empire from 486 to 465 BCE. Xerxes was the product of the union between Darius I and Atossa, the granddaughter of Cyrus the Great. To Xerxes was born four sons by his wife Amestris: Darius, Hystaspes, Artaxerxes I, and Achaemenes. Xerxes and his son Darius fell victim to a conspiracy hatched by Artabanus, an official who had served in Xerxes’ administration. Both Xerxes and Darius were murdered in 465 BCE. Artaxerxes I would then assume the throne.3

Assuming that the Ahasuerus of Esther is a reference to Xerxes I, how then does he relate to the Ahasuerus of Daniel 9:1? Is that Ahasuerus actually Xerxes I? If it is, then the author of Daniel has gotten Persian history completely wrong. Xerxes was never the father of a king named Darius. If anything, the Danielic author has the historical order reversed: Xerxes, the biblical Ahasuerus, was the son of Darius.

Darius the Mede

So the Danielic author has gotten the lineage of Persian kings wrong. So what do we make of Darius which 9:1 asserts was “by birth a Mede” and “who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans”? To whom is this referring?

It seems clear that the author intends for us to link the Darius of 9:1 with the Darius of 5:30. But as we already noted, the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire was caused by Cyrus the Great, a Persian, and not anyone named Darius and certainly not a Darius “the Mede.” There were three men named Darius who ruled over the Persian Empire: Darius I (522-486 BCE), Darius II (423-404 BCE) and Darius III (336-330 BCE) but they all appear after the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire and are unrelated to the cause of that epic event. Furthermore, they are all Persians and not Medes. So what is going on?

One possibility is that Darius is intended to be a composite character.4 In an oracle against Babylon we find in the book of Isaiah the prophet we read that Yahweh was “stirring up the Medes against”  Babylon (Isaiah 13:17; cf. 21:2) causing its downfall. Similarly, in the book of Jeremiah we are told Yahweh “has stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes” (Jeremiah 51:11; cf. 51:28) to destroy the city of Babylon. It seems that one of the expectations of the prophets was that Babylon’s demise would be caused by the Medes. Perhaps the Danielic author has combined the name of one of Persia’s most famous rulers, Darius, with the prophetic expectation of Isaiah and Jeremiah to create “Darius the Mede.” If this is the case, this is a literary creation that is disconnected from history.

Another possibility is simply that the Danielic author was just plain wrong and this, to me, seems the most likely explanation for what is going on. The author is writing long enough after the events about which he is writing that he simply gets some of the details completely wrong.

The Narrative Context

While the historical details surrounding 9:1 are quite problematic, this need not hinder our investigation into the narrative context of 9:24-27. As far as the narrative is concerned, the discussion of the seventy weeks takes place in the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede over Babylon. Let’s briefly consider the lead up to 9:24-27 that is found in 9:2-23.

9:2 

Daniel, the main character in the story, tells the reader that he “perceived in the book the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to the prophet Jeremiah, must be fulfilled for the devastation of Jerusalem, namely seventy years.” The reference here to Jeremiah reflects the prophet’s words in Jeremiah 25:8-14 and 29:10-14. In the former we are told that the punishment on Judah would be destruction of the region and exile of its inhabitants at the hands of Nebuchadrezzar and the armies of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (25:8-9). This punishment would last seventy years and then Yahweh would punish the king of Babylon and end the Neo-Babylonian Empire (25:10-14). In the latter, Yahweh declares that at the end of the seventy year exile the deity would make good on his promise to his people that he would restore them to the land (29:10, 14).

Daniel believes he understands what the “seventy years” in Jeremiah actually means based upon the explanation given to him by Gabriel in 9:20-27.

9:3-14

Daniel begins to pray to the “great and awesome God” that he serves (9:4). He admits that the people have sinned (9:5), failing to heed the warnings of God’s prophets (9:6). The consequence of this failing – “the treachery that they have committed against” God – was that the deity drove them away into other lands, a reference to the period of the Exile (9:7).  Daniel emphasizes that this should not have been a surprise to the generation that experienced the fall of Judah for the consequence of failing to obey God was already “written in the law of Moses” (9:13). Thus, Yahweh was right to do as he did with his people (9:14).

9:15-19

Having spent a great deal of time admitting the guilt of God’s people, Daniel implores God to turn his anger and wrath from Jerusalem (9:16) and to cause his “face to shine upon [his] desolated sanctuary (i.e. the temple; 9:17). Daniel appeals not to the people’s righteousness since they have none but upon God’s “great mercies” (9:18). He also begs God to act for the sake of his name which Jerusalem and Israel both bear (9:19).

9:20-23

As Daniel is praying, Gabriel, the one who interprets Daniel’s vision of the ram and the goat (8:1-27), comes to give him “wisdom and understanding” (9:22). It is he who explains to what Jeremiah’s “seventy years” refers (9:23).

An Exegesis of 9:24-27

In 9:24-27 we read the words of Gabriel to Daniel interpreting Jeremiah’s “seventy years.” As we will see, this section does refer to a very specific period of time but it is not what SJ Thomason in her post thinks that it is.

9:24

  • “Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city….”

Jeremiah’s seventy years (9:2) are interpreted as seventy weeks. But it cannot be literal weeks since seventy weeks is less than a year and a half. Rather, the Hebrew word for “weeks” is “sevens” (šābuʿîm), making the interpretation of Jeremiah’s seventy years into seventy sevens of years, or four-hundred and ninety years.

  • “…to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.”

The purpose of the seventy weeks is laid out for Daniel. In essence, the vision is eschatological: when the seventy weeks are completed, a “most holy place” will be anointed wherein atonement for sin can be made that will end the people’s exile and restore the holy city of Jerusalem to its former glory. No longer would foreign powers rule over God’s people.

9:25 

  • “Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks….”

Gabriel begins to offer historical specifics to root the first seven weeks into history. The period begins at “the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” The “word” is a decree and decrees are typically issued by sovereigns. So to which sovereign is the Danielic author through the mouth of Gabriel referring?

Since we already know that Gabriel is offering a novel interpretation of Jeremiah’s words, it makes sense to look for a candidate during a period after the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire since the cause of the end of the exile is rooted in the fall of Babylon (see Jeremiah 25:12-14). So which sovereign, after the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, sent out a decree concerning Jerusalem? Well, the primary candidate is that of Cyrus the Great who declares in 539 BCE that Yahweh has ordered him to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2-4). And interestingly enough, the Chronicler asserts that the time from fall of Jerusalem and the beginning of the exile to the decree of Cyrus is the seventy year period about which Jeremiah wrote (2 Chronicles 36:20-21).

So the seven weeks of 9:25 begins with the decree of Cyrus and ends with “the time of an anointed prince.” To whom is this referring? Before we try to answer that question there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

First, the Hebrew word translated as “prince” in the NRSV need not refer to a “prince” in the sense to which we are most accustomed, i.e. the son of a king. Rather, the word nāgîd can refer to a leader or ruler generally.  Second, whereas translations like the KJV and NASB render māšîaḥ nāgîd as “the Messiah the Prince” or “Messiah the Prince,” neither māšîaḥ (“anointed”) nor nāgîd have the Hebrew definite article attached. Therefore rendering them indefinitely as the NRSV has is the best way of handling them.

There are a couple of candidates that immediately come to mind in the period following Cyrus’ decree: Joshua (or Jeshua) the high priest and Zerubbabel the governor of Judah. Both men were part of the first group of exiles to return to Jerusalem when Cyrus made his decree (Ezra 2:1-2). They were also led the effort to rebuild the temple (Ezra 5:2) and are featured in the prophetic literature of Haggai and Zechariah (see Haggai 1:12-14, 2:2-4, 2:20-23, Zechariah 4:6-9). As high priest, Joshua would have had to been anointed and thus fulfills the notion of “an anointed leader.” Zerubbabel would also as he was apparently chosen by Cyrus to serve as governor of Judah (Haggai 1:1).

But now we run into a potential problem. The text says that the time from the decree to rebuild the city to the time of an anointed leader is “one week” or forty-nine years. If we begin with 539 with the decree from Cyrus and end with either Joshua or Zerubbabel, we have only a period of about twenty years at most. What do we make of this?

There are two possibilities. The simplest is to acknowledge that the Danielic author has already gotten his history wrong and this incongruity is no exception. Furthermore, we’ve already seen that the Chronicler believed that the roughly fifty year period between the exile to Babylon in 586 and the decree from Cyrus is 539 was seventy years. Given that authors writing long after the period about which they are writing will sometimes get details completely wrong, this may be what is going on here.

Another possibility is one proposed by George Athas who arranges Daniel 9:25 into three parts:

  • 9:25a – “Know and understand from the issuing of the word to return and rebuild Jerusalem:”
  • 9:25b – “Until an anointed leader there will be seven ‘weeks’.”
  • 9:25c – “In sixty-two ‘weeks’ you will have returned with street and conduit rebuilt, but with the anguish of the times.”

In essence, the seven weeks of 9:25b becomes included in the sixty-two weeks of 9:25c. The result is that there are still seventy weeks but some (i.e. the seven weeks of 9:25b) are subsumed by the sixty-two of 9:25c.5

  • “…and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time.”

The devastation wrought by Babylon in 586 BCE cannot be underestimated. The city’s walls were broken down, its temple to Yahweh decimated, and its population nearly wiped out by battle and exile. In the period between 593 and 450 BCE it has been estimated that the population of Jerusalem was no greater than five hundred people, only growing closer to two-thousand by 332.6 It took time for the city to return to its former glory. And all around Judea the world was changing. The Persian Empire gave way to Alexander the Great’s. Alexander’s empire ended upon his death and was divided into four with Jerusalem falling under the authority of Ptolemy I. But even that wasn’t to last as Antiochus III won Jerusalem after doing battle with Ptolemy V in 198 BCE.

These “sixty-two weeks” were indeed a trouble time in which Jerusalem was being restored. But the worst was yet to come.

9:26

  • “After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and have nothing….” 

Like we saw in 9:25 with the reference to “an anointed prince” (māšîaḥ nāgîd), here we read of “an anointed one” (māšîaḥ). Again, because māšîaḥ lacks the Hebrew definite article it makes sense to translate it indefinitely.

Who is this “anointed one” that is “cut off” and is left with “nothing”? The previous reference to one who was anointed in 9:25 was to either Joshua the high priest or Zerubbabel the governor of Judah. So it makes sense that this anointed one may be a religious authority. And since the phrase “cut off” probably refers to his death, we should probably look for a religious authority who met his demise. One candidate in particular stands out: Onias III.

Keep in mind that the vision of cycles can be dated to the second century CE and Onias’ death has already been alluded to in the vision of Daniel 11:22 where he is referred to as “the prince of the covenant.” Onias was murdered in 171 BCE by Andronicus, an official in the administration of Antiochus IV. The author of 2 Maccabees relates that following Onias’ death there was significant backlash such that Antiochus had Andronicus executed because of “the unreasonable murder of Onias” (2 Maccabees 4:35-38).

  • “…and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.

This portion of 9:26 belongs with what follows in 9:27.

9:27

  • “He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week…”

In 1 Maccabees we read of “certain renegades” among the Jews who were sympathetic to the Greeks. They told the people, “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us” (1 Maccabees 1:11). So around 170 BCE, an agreement was reached between those Jews and Antiochus that resulted in a gymnasium being built in Jerusalem where Greek ideologies were discussed, much to the chagrin of more traditional Jews.

  • …”and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease…” 

In 167 BCE, about three and a half years after the death of Onias and the “covenant” between Hellenized Jews and Antiochus, the king sends his military to Jerusalem and ends sacrifices in the temple. But why?

First, in 169 Antiochus arrived in Jerusalem following his campaign in the Ptolemaic regions. He proceeded to take treasure from the temple treasury in the city which raised the ire of the faithful. When in 168 he was again in Egypt, a rumor spread that he had been killed. Jewish leaders in Jerusalem saw this as an opportunity to rid the city of their enemies, both Greek and Jewish, and to reassert control of the city. However, Antiochus was alive and well and in 167 sent his military to Jerusalem to put an end to the rebellion. They destroyed the defensive walls of the city and they also forbade the observance of Jewish customs.7

All Torah scrolls were to be seized and burned. All sacrifices and offerings to God at the Jerusalem Temple were abolished. Anyone who persisted in carrying out these or other Jewish rites was subject to the death penalty.8

And then they did the unspeakable.

  • “…and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.”

In the temple of Yahweh in the city of Jerusalem Antiochus’ forces erected an altar to Zeus, a Greek deity and upon it they sacrificed a pig. The author of 1 Maccabees wrote that

the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals, to defile the sanctuary and the priests, to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances (1 Maccabees 1:44-49).

This altar to Zeus was called “a desolating sacrilege” (1 Maccabees 1:54). This event is mentioned by the Danielic author in Daniel 11:31 and it is reiterated here.

Gabriel’s explanation of the seventy weeks to Daniel ends with the demise of “the desolator.” In Daniel 11, that demise was to come between the Mediterranean Sea and Zion (11:45) but that did not happen. 9:27 is less specific in how it predicted Antiochus’ end but it is no doubt meant to be read in tandem with 11:45. In any event, this ambiguity as well as the erroneous prediction of 11:45 tells us that cycle of visions was written in 167 after the invasion of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Maccabean revolt but before the death of Antiochus IV.

Summary

This very brief and very poor look at Daniel 9:24-27 points to a “fulfillment” in a period long before Jesus’ day and the details found within fit specific historical markers in the period following the decree of Cyrus down to the events of 167 BCE. This is an example of vaticinium ex eventua frequent tool of the Danielic author. This demonstrates that the author was very interested in these specific events and how they fit into the grander scheme of God’s promise to restore Israel to her rightful place as Yahweh’s people. The traumatic events of Antiochus’ oppression of the Jews played an important part.

NOTES

1 SJ Thomason, “Did Daniel the Prophet Accurately Predict the Timing of Jesus’ Death?” (11.18.18), christian-apologist.com. Accessed 27 November 2018.

2 DA Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, second edition (Baker Academic, 1996), 115.

3 Joshua J. Mark, “Xerxes I” (3.14.18), ancienteu.com. Accessed 5 December 2018.

4 J.M. Cook, “Darius,” in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, editors, The Oxford Companion to the Bible (OUP, 1993), 153.

5 George Athas, “In Search of the Seventy ‘Weeks’ of Daniel 9,” The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (9.2), 14-15. Accessed 6 December 2018.

6 Mary Joan Winn Leith, “Israel Among the Nations: The Persian Period,” in Michael D. Coogan, editor, The Oxford History of the Biblical World (OUP, 1998), 289.

Leonard J. Greenspoon, “Between Alexandria and Antioch: Jews and Judaism in the Hellenistic Period,” in Coogan, 329.

8 Ibid.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Evangelical Eisegesis: A Dalliance with Daniel, part 1

“Fulfilled prophecies are what distinguish the Bible from other holy texts and are evidence of direct revelations by God.” – SJ Thomason.1


In a bid to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity and the significance of Jesus of Nazareth, pop-apologists often appeal to so-called prophecies found in the Hebrew scriptures that are “fulfilled” in the events described in the New Testament. Theirs is a hermeneutic born of the New Testament authors themselves as those first and second century writers frequently appealed to passages in the Tanakh as proof of Jesus’ divine authority.2 More often than not those appeals are eisegetical; they read into the text what they want to get out of it. This tendency has plagued Christianity for the entirety of its history as it sought to place itself into the Jewish stream in which the historical Jesus and his teachings first arose.

Not that long ago pop-apologist SJ Thomason wrote a piece wherein she claimed that the Triune God of Christian orthodoxy could be found in the items located in the Jewish tabernacle.I wrote a response demonstrating that Thomason’s claims were unfounded for a variety of reasons4 as did DM Spence, a blogger and YouTuber who is currently writing a book responding to Christian claims concerning Jesus’ resurrection and whether the Nazarene fits the description of a messiah.5 Thomason’s woefully inadequate exegetical skills were on full display in her piece and she has not (to my knowledge) responded to either Spence or to me.6 Consequently, she continues unabashed in her ignorance of the biblical texts and writes blog posts to that end. Recently she produced another example of evangelical eisegesis in a post entitled “Did Daniel the Prophet Accurately Predict the Timing of Jesus’ Death?” In it Thomason claims that the text of Daniel 9:24-27 predicted that the death of the messiah would occur in 33 CE.

This response to Thomason will be broken down into two posts: a general introduction to the book of Daniel and a brief examination of Daniel 9:24-27. I would ask readers to please excuse the length of these posts as I tend to be verbose in the interest of explaining things some of my readers may know little about and to make sure I am thorough in my response to Thomason.

DANIEL IN CONTEXT

The book of Daniel can be divided into two main sections: a cycle of stories (chapters 1-6) and a cycle of visions (chapters 7-12). The first cycle opens with the historical events of the fall of Jerusalem (1:1-2), though the Danielic version differs in some ways with the Deuteronomic version as well as that of the Chronicler. Regardless, the author wants us to envision the events of the first cycle as taking place during the Babylonian exile, mostly during the reign of Nebuchadrezzar.7 Daniel and a few others – children of nobility – were taken from their homes and sent to live in Babylon where they were to be “taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (1:4) and would be placed in prominent positions in the court of the king (1:5-6). It is clear from the get-go that Daniel is a legendary figure, the quintessential Jew living under the domination of pagans. He is described as one who is exceptional in every way: appearance, wisdom, knowledge, and insight (1:4, 1:20). Because of his exceptional abilities, Daniel serves from the time of Nebuchadrezzar all the way to Cyrus the Great (1:21).

Historical Errors

But within the cycle of stories we see a number of historical errors such that it has led many scholars to believe that the book of Daniel was not composed during the time period it describes. Let’s enumerate a few.

Jehoiakim and the Siege of Jerusalem

The Danielic story opens in the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign on the throne of Jerusalem around 606 BCE at which time Nebuchadrezzar brings the Babylonian army to the city and lays siege to it (1:1). Consequently, “[t]he Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into [Nebuchadrezzar’s] power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God” which he took back to Babylon (1:2). But there are a few problems with this sequence of events.

For starters, there was no siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar during Jehoiakim’s reign, let alone the third year of it. According to the Deuteronomistic Historian, it was during the reign of Jehoiakim’s son Jehoiachin that Nebuchadrezzar came and besieged the city (2 Kings 24:10-11). Jehoiachin, his family, and many others in Jerusalem were hauled off to Babylon as were both temple and palace treasures (24:13-16). Nebuchadrezzar places Jehoiachin’s uncle, Mattaniah, on the throne in Jerusalem and renames him “Zedekiah” (24:17). This all took place in the spring of 597 BCE.

In general terms, the report of the Deuteronomistic Historian is corroborated by Babylonian sources.

Year 7. The month Kislev. The king of Akkad [i.e. Nebuchadrezzar] mobilized his troops and marched to Hatti. He encamped against the city of Judah and in the month Adar, day 2, he captured the city; he seized the king. He appointed a king of his choice; he took its rich spoil and brought it into Babylon.8

Other Babylonian sources confirm that Jehoiachin and his children were provided for in their captivity.9

With regards to the first siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar, the author of Daniel is spectacularly wrong.

Belshazzar and Nebudchadrezzar

In Daniel 5:1 we read of another Neo-Babylonian king named Belshazzar who is described as the son of Nebuchadrezzar (cf. 5:11, 5:18, 5:22). Daniel suggests that because of his own pride, Nebuchadrezzar was “deposed from his kingly throne” and went insane (5:20-21), leaving Belshazzar to rule in his place. But this is problematic for a couple of reasons.

For starters, the Uruk King List makes it clear that Nebuchadrezzar’s successor was not Belshazzar but Amel-marduk, his son.10 And according to that list, there never was any king named Belshazzar. Nor was Belshazzar Nebuchadrezzar’s son; he wasn’t even related to him! Rather, Belshazzar appears to have been the son of Nabonidus, the final king of the Neo-Babylonian empire. While Nabonidus was away in the Arabian city of Tema, Belshazzar took control in his stead.11 But Belshazzar was not referred to as a “king” but as “the crown prince.”12 When Persian forces began to encroach upon Babylonian territory, Nabonidus returned to Babylon and relieved Belshazzar of his duties.

Darius the Mede

Also in Daniel 5 we read where at a feast Daniel tells Belshazzar that the kingdom would be taken from him and given to “the Medes and Persians” (5:28). That night Belshazzar is killed (5:30) and we are told that Darius the Mede takes over at the age of sixty-two (5:31). However, this simply doesn’t fall in line with the historical record.

The Chronicler notes that what Jeremiah had prophesied concerning the Babylonian exile (see Jeremiah 25:11-2; 29:10) was fulfilled in that the exile lasted for seventy years (2 Chronicles 36:20-21). That exile ended when the Persian empire took control of Babylon and its territories such that in the first year of Cyrus the people were authorized to return to Judah (36:22-23; cf. Ezra 1:1-4). So the portrait painted by the Chronicler and others is that Babylon fell to Cyrus the Great. This is in line with Babylonian sources which state that in the seventeenth year of Nabonidus’ reign over Babylon Cyrus attacked Babylonian forces at Opis, forcing them to retreat to the city of Babylon itself. Shortly thereafter, Cyrus enters Babylon, arrests Nabonidus, and appoints Gubaru as governor of the city.13 There is no mention of a “Darius the Mede” anywhere nor is there any indication that Cyrus was known as “Darius.” What is more is that we do know about Persian kings named Darius: Darius I also known as Darius the Great (522-486 BCE) and Darius II (423-404 BCE). And while Daniel 6:28 implies that Cyrus came after Darius’ reign, other biblical texts are aware of the correct chronological order of Persian kings (i.e. Ezra 4:5).

Dating Daniel 

Despite the attempts by various inerrantists to remedy these problem texts,14 these errors reveal that the cycle of stories probably does not date to the time of Daniel but is instead the product of a later era.15 But the cycle of stories is not the only thing to be found in the book of Daniel. As mentioned before, there is also a cycle of visions that makes up chapters seven through twelve. Can we date those?

In fact, we can. The eleventh chapter of Daniel contains a series of “prophecies” that make it very apparent that it was written during the second century BCE. They are an example of vaticinium ex eventu, a phenomenon whereby an author, writing after specific events, recounts them as if they are yet to happen.16 Daniel 11 is a textbook example of it.17

  • 11:2-4 describe the end of the Persian empire,18 the rise of Alexander the Great, and the aftermath of Alexander’s death (323 BCE) which caused his vast empire to become divided into four regions.
  • 11:5-6 describe the rise of Ptolemy I, “the king of the south,” as well as that of Seleucus I who rules in Syria. The “daughter of the king of the south” is Berenice whose father was Ptolemy II. She marries Antiochus II, the Seleucid king, in 252 BCE. However, she and the “offspring” she produces with Antiochus are killed in 246 BCE.
  • 11:7-9 describe how Ptolemy III, the brother of Berenice and the “branch from her roots” attacks the Seleucid kingdom (“the fortress of the king of the north”) and wins in 241 BCE. It also describes how Seleucus II (“the king of the north”) attempts to invade the Ptolemaic kingdom with mixed results.
  • 11:10-13 describe how Seleucus’ sons, Seleucus III and Antiochus III, continue to wage war which causes Ptolemy IV (“king of the south”) to respond in force. Ptolemy defeats Antiochus in 217 BCE but due to his pride his son, Ptolemy V, would face ultimate defeat at the hands of Antiochus in 198 BCE.
  • 11:14-19 describe how Jewish supporters (“[t]he lawless among your own people”) join forces with Antiochus to defeat the Ptolemaic forces. At the city of Paneas in 200 BCE Antiochus defeats Ptolemaic forces causing some of Ptolemy’s forces to flee to nearby cities, including Sidon, Jerusalem, and others. Antiochus then turns his attention on to other regions to conquer but is effectively cut down by Lucius Cornelius Scipio, a Roman general (“a commander”) in 187 BCE.
  • 11:20-28 describe how after the short-lived reign of Seleucus IV (“within a few days he shall be broken”) Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) takes the throne of the Seleucid kingdom by usurption (“obtain the kingdom through intrigue”). He kills the high priest Onias III (“prince of the covenant”) in 171 BCE. In 170 he invades Egypt successfully and on his way back to Syria he attacks Jerusalem (“his heart shall be set against the holy covenant”).
  • 11:29-35 describe how Antiochus attempts to invade the Seleucid kingdom again but is prevented by Roman emissaries (“ships of Kittim”). Following this Antiochus attacks Jerusalem in 168 BCE and his forces enter the temple, prohibit sacrifices to Yahweh, and “set up the abomination that makes desolate,” a reference to a foreign altar to a false deity (cf. 1 Maccabees 1:54). This results in the Maccabean revolt (“the people who are loyal to their God shall stand firm and take action”).
  • 11:36-39 describe Antiochus’ terrible personality, in that he shows no respect for the true God or even his own ancestral gods.

In 11:40-12:13 we read material that is strictly prophetic in nature. That is to say, what follows is not something experienced by the author or in historical memory. This means that the writing of this and other visions in the cycle can be dated to around 168 BCE after Antiochus IV attacks Jerusalem in that year. This also means that the legendary material of the cycle of stories was probably combined with the cycle of visions sometime after 168.

Summary

Many of the so-called prophetic utterances in the book of Daniel are rooted in the historical circumstances around which the work was written and compiled. Various historical errors reveal that the cycle of stories was not written in the time period about which they describe and the very specific details of the vision of Daniel 11 gives us reason to believe that these texts originated in the second century BCE. This is important because it means that the prophecy of 9:24-27 is rooted in a specific historical circumstance and its interpretation depends on it. As we will see next time, 9:25-27 is another example of an ex eventu text.

NOTES

1 SJ Thomason, “Did Daniel the Prophet Accurately Predict the Timing of Jesus’ Death?” (11.18.18), christian-apologist.com. Accessed 21 November 2018.

2 For example, the author of Matthew’s Gospel explicitly quotes from the Hebrew Bible fourteen times (i.e. 1:22-23, 2:5-6, etc.) and makes numerous allusions to it.

3 SJ Thomason, “Is the Holy Trinity Found in the Old Testament?” (9.26.18), christian-apologist.com. Accessed 21 November 2018.

4 Amateur Exegete, “Evangelical Eisegesis: SJ Thomason, the Tabernacle, and the Trinity in the Old Testament” (9.30.18), amateurexegete.com. Accessed 21 November 2018.

5 DM Spence, “The Trinity IS NOT Found in the Old Testament” (10.8.18), dmspence.com. Accessed 21 November 2018.

6 She has, however, referred to me as a “drain on humanity.”

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7 The common spelling for the king of the Neo-Babylonian empire in the Hebrew scriptures is “Nebuchadnezzar.” However, unless quoting from the biblical texts themselves, I will use the more accurate rendering of Nebuchadrezzar.

8 “Chronicle of Nebuchadrezzar II, King of Babylon,” in Michael D. Coogan, A Reader of Ancient Near Eastern Texts (OUP, 2013), 83.

9 “Administrative Text of Nebuchadrezzar II,” in Coogan (2013), 83.

10 Uruk King List,” livius.org. Accessed 26 November 2018.

11 Amanda H. Poday, The Ancient Near East: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2014), 121.

12 See “Chronicles of Nabonidus, King of Babylon,” in Coogan (2013), 83. See also Donald J. Wiseman, “Belshazzar,” in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, The Oxford Companion to the Bible (OUP, 1993), 77-78.

13 “Chronicles of Nabonidus, King of Babylon,” in Coogan (2013), 83-84.

14 For example, pop-apologists Josh and Sean McDowell devote an entire chapter in their recent edition of Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Thomas Nelson, 2017) dealing with some of the historical issues within the book of Daniel. Yet even they cannot escape the fact that their solutions are speculative:

Our survey of the critical claims about the historicity of the book of Daniel offers a brief series of possible solutions to the major objections made by critical scholars. In some cases, the best possible solutions are not concrete proofs that guarantee the validity of conservative, evangelical thought. (585)

15 Douglas A. Knight and Amy Jill-Levine note that the cycle of stories dates either to the Persian era (539-331 BCE) or the Hellenistic era (331-168 BCE). They write,

Chapters 2:4b-7:28 are written in Aramaic, the common language of Southwestern Asia from the Babylonian exile until the incursion of Hellenism; chapters 1, 8-12 are in Hebrew, which was experiencing a renaissance in the late second century. (Knight and Jill-Levine, The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us [HarperOne, 2011], 384.)

16 This phenomenon is found in various places throughout the Old and New Testaments. For example, in the Gospel of Luke we read of a siege against Jerusalem that results in the destruction of the city (Luke 19:43-44). This passage and others make sense if they were written after the events of 70 CE when Luke is writing to his community.

17 See Lawrence M. Wills, “The Lead Up to Chanukah in the Book of Daniel” (12.6.15), thetorah.com. Accessed 27 November 2018. See also Leonard J. Greenspoon, “Between Alexandria and Antioch: Jews and Judaism in the Hellenistic Period,” in Michael D. Coogan, editor, The Oxford History of the Biblical World (OUP, 1998), 317-351.

18 Though the claim that “three more kings shall arise in Persia” and a fourth would stir up trouble with Greece is problematic. Considering Daniel purportedly served under Cyrus (Daniel 6:29), there were far more than four kings who reigned over the Persian empire after him. It is possible that the author was not up to speed on his Persian history.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Bart D. Ehrman: Defining “Greco-Roman Biography”

Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 99-100.

If I were to attempt a definition of the Greco-Roman biography, then, it might be something like this: ancient biography was a prose narrative recounting an individual’s life, often with a chronological framework, employing numerous subgenres (such as sayings, speeches, anecdotes, and conflict stories) so as to reflect important aspects of his or her character, principally for purposes of instruction (to inform about what kind of person he or she was), exhortation (to urge others to act similarly) or propaganda (to show his or her superiority to rivals).

Bart D. Ehrman: What Are the Gospels?

Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 97.

What kind of literature is a Gospel? Or, to put it somewhat differently, when ancient persons read or heard one of these books, what kinds of expectations did they have? Until recently, modern scholars generally agreed that the New Testament Gospels were unlike anything else in all of literature, that they were an entirely new genre invented by the Christians and represented by only four surviving works. The Gospels were obviously about the man Jesus and thus were somewhat like biographies, but compared to modern biographies they appeared altogether anomalous.

In one respect, this older view seems reasonable; as we will see in some detail momentarily, the Gospels do indeed differ from modern biographies. Scholars have nonetheless come to reject the idea that they are totally unlike anything else. There is probably no such thing as a kind of literature that is absolutely unique; if there were, no one would have any idea how to read it or know what to make of it. If people in antiquity could read the Gospels and make sense of them, then we have to assume that these books were not in fact completely foreign to them.

The question of how people in antiquity would understand a book should itself give us pause. While it may be true that the Gospels differ from modern genres like biography, they may not have differed from ancient genres. In fact, scholars of ancient literature have found significant parallels between the Gospels and several ancient genres. Some of these investigations have plausibly suggested that the Gospels are best seen as a kind of Greco-Roman (as opposed to modern) biography.

Bart Ehrman: Religion in the Ancient World

Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 49-50.

For most ancient persons, religion was not the way to guarantee an afterlife; it was a way to secure life in the here and now. For the majority of people in the ancient world, life was constantly lived on the edge. There was nothing like modern medication to prevent and cure disease; a tooth abscess would frequently prove fatal. There were no modern surgical methods and only primitive forms of anesthesia; women often died in childbirth, and simple operations could be hellish nightmares. There were no modern methods of agriculture and limited possibilities for irrigation; a minor drought one year could lead to a poor village’s starvation the next. There were no modern modes of transportation in rural areas, food distribution was limited at best. War, famine, disease, poverty – the eternal blights of the human race – were constant and perennial concerns of ancient persons. And, of course, all the anxieties of personal relations were very much alive as well; ancient people too knew the tragic loss of a child or friend, fear for personal safety, unrequited love.

In a world that is helpless against the elements, the gods play a major role. They supply rain for the crops, fertility for the animals, children for the family. They bring victory in war and prosperity in peace. They heal the sick and comfort the downtrodden. They provide security and hope and love. These are things beyond the control of mere mortals; they can come only from the gods.