Sunday, December 21, 2014

Typography and exegesis

Conservative commentators think there's an implicit break between Dan 11:35-36 whereas liberal commentators think it's continuous. In other words, the question is whether this is referring to the same person throughout (i.e. Antiochus Epiphanes), or whether there's a shift from Antiochus to the Antichrist. 

Liberal commentators think it's special pleading for conservatives to posit a break at that point. By way of response:

i) The charge of special pleading cuts both ways. Liberal commentators (e.g. Collins, Goldingay) admit that vv36ff. are not an accurate record of Antiochus. They themselves have to explain away the historical evidence to rationalize their identification.

ii) Some commentators (Davis, MacRae, Steinmann) have noted striking parallels between 11:21-35 & 11:36-45 (or 11:36-12:3). They contend that if both refer to the same person, the duplication is hard to explain. If, by contrast, that's an a fortiori relation, where Antiochus prefigures a future counterpart, then the parallel is more explicable.

iii) There's an abrupt shift in 11:2-3, from the Persian kings to Alexander. It skips over several later Persian kings. So an unannounced shift between v35 and v36 is not unprecedented.

iv) Finally, I'd like to make a point of my own. To my knowledge, ancient Hebrew MSS didn't have chapter divisions or paragraph divisions. It was a continuous block text. Ancient scribes didn't have our modern formatting conventions. One of the things OT commentators (as well as NT commentators) must do is to decide where one unit ends and another unit begins. Sometimes that's obvious, but sometimes that's subtle or ambiguous. Commentators disagree with each other on when a Bible writer begins a new topic.

Given the absence of modern typographical conventions in ancient Hebrew MSS to demarcate transitions from one unit to another, there's nothing inherently ad hoc about commentators positing a shift from v35 to v36. If the writer intended a transition at that juncture, that's something the reader would have to infer for himself. That's not something the ancient writer could signal by starting a new chapter or paragraph. Even if there's an implicit break, the text itself will be continuous. 

So it's not as if conservative commentators are doing anything unusual in this respect. Every commentator, when exegeting a book of the Bible, must decide where the internal divisions occur. That's part of the interpretive process. 

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