Sunday, September 22, 2013

Daniel the seer

i) Critics regard the Book of Daniel as a mid-2C BC composition, ostensibly set in the 6C BC. They take that position in part because of alleged historical inaccuracies. For a useful rejoinder, cf. A. Millard, "Daniel in Babylon: An Accurate Record?" J. Hoffmeier & D. Magary, eds. Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith (Crossway 2012), 263-280.

However, their primary evidence for dating the book is chap. 11. They regard most of Dan 11:21-39 as a retrodiction concerning Antiochus Epiphanes, whereas they regard vv40-45 as a failed prediction concerning the demise of Antiochus Epiphanes. 

When you think about it, it's striking that their major piece of evidence comes down to just 5 verses.

ii) Some critics defend vaticina ex eventu as an accepted literary convention. I've discussed the Antiochean interpretation before, in Appendix I of this review:

Now I'd like to make a few additional observations:

iii) The same critics who regard Dan 11 as retroactive regard the references to Cyrus in Isa 44:28 and 45:1 as retrodictive. Just as they use the assumed allusion to Antiochus in Dan 11:40-45 to help date the book, they use the references to Cyrus in " Second Isaiah" to help date the book. That establishes a terminus ad quem for the book. It ("Second Isaiah") can't be written any earlier than the postexilic era. 

Of course, Christians regard both Isaiah and Daniel as authentic, accurate predictions. They regard Dan 11:40-45 as an allusion to the future Antichrist rather than Antiochus, who is a type of the Antichrist. Critics reject the Antichrist interpretation, in part because there's no literary break between 11:39 and 11:40ff. 

iv) One problem with the critical position is how their evidence for dating Daniel is in tension with their evidence for dating "Second Isaiah." Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Isa 44:28 and 45:1 are retrodictive, notice that the author didn't merely allude to Cyrus. He names Cyrus. The danger with alluding to someone is that your reader may miss the allusion. So "Second Isaiah" leaves nothing to chance. He spells out the identity of the culprit.

By parity of argument, if Dan 11:40-45 is retrodictive, why does the author content himself with merely alluding to Antiochus, when–given the "Second Isaian" precedent–he could be more explicit? That would guard against a misidentification on the part of his readers. If Dan 11:21-45 refers to Antiochus, why not come out and say so? Why leave it to the imagination of the reader to draw the right inference? "Second Isaiah" wasn't so trusting. 

v) The Book of Daniel presents the person of Daniel as a seer. Even if the critics regard that as a fictitious facade for the narrator, why assume the visions in Daniel are a literary artifice? After all, critics think real people can have visions. Visions can be self-induced. Consider the "vision quest" of American Indians, or Vedic sages doping up on mushrooms. Likewise, critics routinely dismiss the postmortem appearances of Jesus as visions. Even a hallucinatory vision is still a genuine vision. It may be inverdical, but it is a bona fide vision. 

vi) But if the prophetic visions in Daniel are real visions rather than a literary convention–and even on critical assumptions, there's no reason to deny that–then why assume the seer knew what he was seeing? 

If (ex hypothesi), the visions in Dan 11 are vaticina ex eventu, then the narrator is consciously writing with a particular referent in mind. He's writing history under the guise of prophecy. If, however, he's recording his visions, then he doesn't necessarily know what they refer to. He's the passive recipient of these images. 

I'd add that the same holds true if the visions are inspired, veridical previous of the future. Unlike a retrodiction, where the faux prophet knows, with the benefit of hindsight, exactly what he's writing about, a seer isn't in control of the process. He lacks a retrospective or prospective viewpoint. He simply writes down what he saw in the vision. 

vii) That also involves translating information from one medium to another. Translating visual information into propositional information. Turning pictures into words. Drawing word-pictures. 

But if, in Dan 11:40-45, the seer is describing a vision, then that's more ambiguous than someone who's writing about the future from scratch. For that's literally a depiction of the future. Picturing the future. In his vision he sees a landscape. He sees ships and charioteers. He sees a mountain and an ocean. He puts that into words. 

In his vision, is this generic geography, or specific geography? Does he see what the "King of the North" actually looks like? Or does he see a generic figure in period costume? 

Even if the imagery refers to the distant future, the imagery itself will be anachronistic. It will depict ancient technology, ancient geography, and ancient attire. Ancient cities. Ancient battlefields. It's a placeholder for a future scene, but cast in terms familiar to the original audience. 

viii) By the same token, if there was a break between 11:39 and 11:40ff., why would we expect a literary marker to that effect? Visionary scenes can change on a dime.  

The expectation of a smooth transition from one scene to the next assumes the text is essentially literary. But if the text is recording a visionary experience, then abrupt scene changes are to be expected. 

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