Thursday, May 22, 2014

Blomberg on Daniel

I'm going to comment on Craig Blomberg's new book Can We Still Believe the Bible? It's a useful book, but hit and miss. Some of his positions in chap. 5 are disappointing. For instance:

Understandably, the critical consensus has concluded that Daniel 11:2-35 contains prophecy ex eventu–after the events. The author has written up his account of his people's history in the guise of prophecy sometime in the mid-second century. Other Jewish apocalyptic writing, most notably the "animal apocalypse" of 1 Enoch 85-90, also probably written in the second century BC, does exactly the same thing. Once  again, the question is one of understanding the function of the literary genre or form at hand. No ancient reader was fooled or deceived by this convention. It was understood as a way of affirming God's sovereign hand of guidance throughout the whole process, his ongoing purposes for his people even in difficult times, and his coming vindication of his elect and his plans for them (163-164).

i) Blomberg's assertion notwithstanding, it isn't clear to me that no ancient reader was fooled or deceived by this convention. To begin with, I think that depends, in part, on the provenance of 1 Enoch. If this is sectarian literature which originated in a small, close-knit religious community, then I can well imagine devotees treating this as genuine revelation. Consider cults in which members abide implicit faith in the prophetic foresight of the cult leader. Even if his claims are implausible or absurd to outsiders, that doesn't mean insiders view his claims the same way.

As a leading commentator notes:

Different from 1 Enoch, the Book of Daniel gives no indication that it was written for a narrow exclusive community of the chosen. G. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1, 68. 

After 1 Enoch passed into the public domain, readers may not have been taken in. But that reflects a different audience with a different viewpoint. Moreover, it isn't clear why 1 Enoch was so popular in some Jewish circles unless they took it seriously.

ii) But assuming for the sake of argument that Blomberg is correct, this generates a dilemma. If ancient readers understood this was a prophecy ex eventu, how would that affirm God's providence? A genuine prediction would evidence God's providence: God knows the future because he controls the future. But how does a retrodiction evidence God's providence? It's like the "absolute monarch" in The Little Prince who demonstrates his sovereignty by commanding the sun to go down at sunset and rise at sunup. 

[Quoting Ernest Lucas] Faced with the fact that all Daniel's visions focus on the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, Collins (1993: 26) gives expression to the theological issue: "There is no apparent reason…why a prophet of the sixth century [BC] should focus minute attention on the events of the second century [BC]. (164-65)."

i) That begs the question. Historically, Christians don't think Daniel's prophecies are confined to 2C BC events. In fact, as Collins goes on to admit in a footnote:

This problem is more acute in light of the modern view that the book refers to no historical events later than that time, Traditionally, however, Daniel's prophecies were thought to extend at least to the Roman era, because Rome was the fourth kingdom (26n260).

ii) In addition, even if Dan 11 is inspired by Antiochus Epiphanes, he can function as a type of Antichrist. The adversary in Dan 11 is a larger-than-life figure, over and above the historical Antiochus. 

[Quoting Lucas] One response to this is to argue that the reason is that, by giving a prediction so far ahead of time, God assures the people of the second century that he is indeed in control of history, including the situation in which they find themselves (165). 

It's worth expanding on this explanation. The survival of the Jewish people has always been precarious. In OT times, Jews had living prophets (e.g. Elijah, Elisha, Ezekiel) to anchor them and usher them through an existential crisis. But by definition, Jews had no living prophets during the Intertestamental Period to play that role. Once again, they were facing martyrdom unless they renounced their faith. 

But even though Jews during the Antiochean crisis had no spoken word of prophecy to steel their resolve, they had the written word of prophecy. Some of Daniel's oracles, from centuries before, were coming true in their own time. That would encourage them to remain steadfast in the face of dire persecution, for God was in control. Their enemies would be defeated. 

Compare it to the situation of Frenchmen and Englishmen during WWII. We have the benefit of hindsight. Looking back on WWII, we know who won. But during the war, it wasn't clear which side was going to win. And that would affect your decisions. Is resistance futile? Do you surrender? Do you collaborate? 

[Quoting Lucas] However, an evangelical scholar, Goldingay (1977: 45), can argue that this is not consistent with the picture of God revealed elsewhere in Scripture. As he puts it,"He does not give signs and reveal dates. His statements about the future are calls to decision now; he is not the God of prognosticators. He calls his people to naked faith and hope in him in the present and does not generally bolster their faith with the kind of revelations that we are think of here" (165).

That's an odd statement. Pentateuchal history (e.g. the Exodus and wilderness wandering) is full of signs and wonders. Likewise, Isa 40-48 makes predictive prophecy a sign of the true God's existence and sovereignty. 

[Quoting Lucas] Both Collins and Goldingay appeal to what they see to be the balance of (theological) probability. Those who conclude otherwise should at least acknowledge that there is theological integrity on both sides of the argument (165). 

Goldingay espouses open theism while Collins espouses methodological naturalism (a la Troeltsch). So much for "theological integrity."

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