Thursday, October 26, 2017

Bible in a Year: Daniel and Its Additions

This calendar year (and likely till Ash Wednesday 2018), I’m studying the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

After a few weeks of extra responsibilities, I’m back to this project! In September I studied Ezekiel, and the next book is Daniel.

Daniel is the five of the prophetic books in the Old Testament, and is the second-to-the-last book of the Jewish Bible (if you consider Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles as single books). The different positions reflect different interpretations of the book. The Jewish Study Bible notes that Daniel was an important prophetic book for the Qumran community, and the book influenced Jewish liturgy. But “because prefigurations of Christ and Christian resurrection were seen in Daniel by the early church, the rabbinic tradition hesitated to embrace the visions of Daniel. The Rabbis denied that Daniel was predicting events after the Maccabean revolt, and especially not the end of time, and assigned him a role as seer, not prophet” (p. 1642).

The JSB also indicates that the book is probably the latest composition in the Tanakh, likely written in about 164 BCE, although the stories of Daniel is set during the 6th Century BCE when Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon (pp. 1640-1641). Interestingly, Daniel 1:1-2:4a and 8-12 are in the Hebrew language but 2:4b-7:28 are in Aramaic, although the natural break in the book comes between chapters 6 and 7.

These stories are surely among the first Bible lessons I learned as a kid, pushed by my mom to attend Sunday school. Key personalities of those stories include Daniel, Hananiah, Mishel, and Azariah, renamed Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego---and of course Nebuchadnezzar. The stories do make teachable lessons concerning God’s protection and faithfulness. We’re familiar with how Daniel and his friends kept their integrity first by eating proper foods. Like Joseph of earlier centuries, Daniel has skill in interpreting the dreams of his Gentile ruler, which at first pleased the king. But because the young men would not bow before the king’s golden statue, they sentenced to die in the  fiery furnace. Of course, they survived, joined in the flames by a mysterious fourth person.

Subsequently, we read the famous story of the ghostly fingers that wrote Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin upon the wall of the palace as King Belshazzar and his household partied. Daniel interpreted the words as meaning the end of the king’s reign—-and sure enough, Belshazzar was slain that night and Darius of the Medes soon became king.

But when Daniel petitioned God contrary to a royal order, Darius had him cast into the lions’ den. Of course, God sent an angel to shut the lions’ mouths, and the faithful Daniel was saved again.

Chapter 7 through 12 change from third-person narrative to first-person, apocalyptic visions. This material, too, dates from the Maccabean period and symbolically convey events when the Maccabans revolted against the blasphemous Seleucid king. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible calls Daniel “the only full-blown apocalypse… in the [Old Testament]” (p. 1231); Ezekiel and Zechariah have more limited apocalyptic content. An outline of this material:

The four beasts, and what they mean (7:1-28)
The ram and goat, and what they mean (8:1-27),
Prophecy of the seventy weeks (9:1-27),
The Tigris River and the persecution of Israel (10:1-12:13)

The prophecy of the seventy weeks has captured interest and imagination over the centuries. Good ol’ Wikipedia has a nice account of that chapter’s interpretation: The prophecy of the ten-kingdom confederacy is another such prophecy: here is a link that I'll read later:

Daniel was important in Jesus’ own discussion of the end times: look up Dan 3:6 and Matt.13:42, 50; Dan 7:13 and the parallel passages Matt 24:30, 26:64, Mark 13:26, 14:62, Luke 21:27,22:69; Dan 9:27 and Matt 24:15; Dan 11:31 and Mark 13:14. The image of “the son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14 connects to Rev. 1:7, and the vision of the four beasts connect to Rev. 13:1-7, where beasts emerge from the sea.

I agree with writers who see in these visions the incidents of the Maccabean era, then transformed in the New Testament to the era after Jerusalem’s fall to the Romans. Apocalyptic biblical material always fascinates, though, and there will always be folks who see in those passages reflections of the contemporary time. Before these blog posts end I’d like to delve into this visionary material again.


As I’ve been studying the Bible this year, I’ve also studied material not found in the Protestant Old Testament (nor in the Jewish Tanakh), but are found in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox canons.  
The Septuagint (i.e., Greek) translation of Daniel contains the following additional material.

The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Jews (or the Three Holy Youths) appear after Daniel 3:23 as verses 24-90. This section provides more material on the incident of the fiery furnace.

Susanna is chapter 13 of Daniel: the virtuous Susanna is falsely accused of promiscuity and sentenced to death. But Daniel confronts her accusers, and when their stories do not match up, they are sentenced to death instead.

Bell and the Dragon is chapter 14 of Daniel in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles. First Daniel berates the priests of the idol Bel. Then Daniel kills a dragon (a living dragon!) that the Babylonians revered: Daniel concocts a poisonous recipe that causes the beast to burst open. For that, Daniel was again sentenced to die in the lions’ den, and again he survived through God’s great help.

That is the last of the material in the Protestant Apocrypha. We have twelve books of the Old Testament to go, but in the Jewish Bible they are grouped together as The Twelve. I'll study them that way.

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