Monday, August 27, 2012

The relevance of Daniel

Conservatives have often argued that the critical position rests on a dogmatic, rationalistic denial of the possibility of predictive prophecy. For the critical scholar, however the issue is one or probability. That Daniel’s predictions have particular relevance to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes is not in dispute…There is no apparent reason, however, why a prophet of the sixth century should focus minute attention on the events in the second century. J. Collins, Daniel (Fortress Press 1993), 26.

There are some basic problems with the way Collins has framed the issue:

i) Prophecy is designed to benefit posterity–as well as the prophet’s contemporaries. It prepares the faithful for adversities to come. Shows them what lies on the other side of their adversities. Gives them hope. In the midst of suffering, one is tempted to despair. It’s hard to see beyond the present persecution.

ii) Daniel’s perspective is by no means confined to the 2C BC. On a traditional interpretation, the four kingdoms span the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, Alexander and his successors (Ptolemies & Seleucids), leading up to Rome (and beyond). Collins may deny that interpretation, but he’s begging the question.

iii) If Antiochus Epiphanes is a type of the Antichrist, then there’s good reason for Daniel to develop that motif. Of course, liberals might chalk that up to conservative special pleading–an effort to save appearances. However, Collins himself admits that Antiochus becomes a larger-than-life figure in Dan 11:

The passage (11:40ff.) does however, recall other eschatological oracles that speak of a final invasion of Israel, where the aggressor is indefinite (Psalm 2) or is a mythic figure (God in Ezekiel 38-39). In short, Antiochus is assimilated to a mythic pattern that underlies later Christian traditions about the Antichrist. Ibid. 389.

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