Sunday, May 19, 2019

Expository gaps

I'd like to revisit an issue I often discuss, with some additional considerations:

1. The secular interpretation of Dan 11 is that most of Dan 11 is "prophecy" after the fact, but then the author goes out on a limb and makes an actual prediction about the fate of Antiochus, only he gets it wrong. By contrast, conservatives postulate a chronological gap. They say it's not about Antiochus but the future Antichrist. That can look suspiciously like special pleading. An ad hoc, face-saving postulate to salvage the prophecy.

2. And, of course, there are false prophets and "psychics" who make failed predictions. So that's a legitimate issue.

If we have extrabiblical evidence that some people have genuine premonitions, then that establishes the principle. So we approach the text of Daniel knowing that's both possible and sometimes actual. And it only takes a few verified examples to establish that a phenomenon is real. The prophecies of John Knox might be a good candidate. Likewise, Craig Keener includes some uncannily accurate predictions in his book on miracles. There are other examples. 

3. If the author of Daniel got it wrong, why didn't he just edit the prediction to make it retrospectively correct? Did he die before the demise of Antiochus? Or if it circulated before the demise of Antiochus, why was it even preserved by posterity when Jews on the scene, who'd be in the best position to know, could tell that the prediction was a bust? 

4. In Scripture, the default mode of prophetic inspiration is visionary revelation. And the book of Daniel is no exception. It contains revelatory deems and visions. However, it also contains futuristic exposition. Take the angel who tells Daniel what will happen. One question this raises is whether Daniel's experience alternates between visions in which he foresees the future and auditions in which an angel tells him what will happen. In principle, he could see what the angel is describing. In a sense, the angelic exposition is for the benefit of the reader rather than Daniel.

I don't think it's coincidental that the shorter material takes the form of visual descriptions while the longer material takes the form of verbal exposition. When there's too much ground to cover, the reader is given a verbal summary rather than a vision description. But this doesn't imply that Daniel had a different experience. Rather, it seems more likely that he consistently has visions, but some of the visions are distilled into verbal summaries to save space.  

5. Let's take a comparison: movies consist of consecutive scenes. In terms of the plot, there are chronological gaps between the scenes. The interval between one scene and another may be a matter of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years. 

The movie viewer isn't shown the gaps. He watches a seamless series of scenes. It's not like there's a scene, then it goes black or blank, then there's another scene. 

But the viewer is expected to understand that while, in terms of the viewing process, there's no time lapse from one scene to the next, changing scenes usually implies a time lapse, in terms of the plot–even though the viewer isn't shown the passage of time in-between scenes. 

And that's not just a fictional convention. The same convention exists for documentaries and biopics. Chronological gaps in historical narration are routine and necessary. 

6. That's overlooked in Dan 11. Even before we get to the question of Dan 11:36-45, or 11:40-45, the series of events leading up to that oracle contains many unspecified chronological gaps. It sketches the rise and fall of empires and the succession of kings: Neo-Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Ptolemies, Seleucids, and Rome. But it doesn't provide a minute-by-minute, day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-monthly, or even year-by-year account. It skips over many intervening stretches of time, choosing to focus on key figures and events. 

7. This may also have a bearing on oracles that say a future event is "soon", "near", "at hand". In a vision, the seer views each event following right on the heels of the prior event. Within the continuity of the vision, a particular scene may be sooner or later in relation to the series of images. Just like, in a movie, one scene may be close to another scene, in the sense that there are no chronological gaps in the flow of the imagery. The scenes were shot at different times, sometimes out of order, but edited into a continuous succession of scenes. 

Yet in terms of how the scenes track the plot, there is a lapse of time between one scene and another, even though that's not shown. By the same token, the way visionary revelation corresponds to reality needs to make allowance for the difference between the flow of images in the vision and how that lines up with the future.  

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