Hope for Exiles: Preliminary Thoughts on Daniel

As we near the season in which we anticipate the birth of Christ and celebrate the redemption that he brings to the world, I would like to begin with some preliminary thoughts on the book of Daniel that will be helpful in our first week of meditations.

Daniel is far more than a book with half history and half off-the-wall visions. Though it sometimes brings up the topic of the end times, I don’t believe the primary concern of Daniel is that either, if at all.

The first trick is to consider the dating of Daniel. And while I’m sure he was a popular guy in the Babylonian courts, I’m talking about the time in which his book was written.

Conservative scholars favor a date in the range of 500 BCE. In other words, Daniel was written to chronicle the events of this important figure in the nation of Israel and to give hope in the face of exile.

While this is possible, in whole or in part, there is another option that a few conservatives and the majority of liberal scholars favor. They state that Daniel was written around 200 BCE.

This later date does not mean that Daniel is fictional, only that the oral tradition was transferred to written form at this time. Perhaps the strongest evidence for this is the second half of the book (which may open the door for a theory that Daniel is two separate works joined together) which abandons the historical narrative of the first half and adopts the exact same style as apocalyptic literature. Daniel bears a striking resemblance to this kind of literature that was thriving in 200 BCE and involved visions, angelic beings, and commentaries on world events.

Where does all of this lead us? In order to grasp part of the meaning of Daniel, I think we need a handle on what the author was aiming to do.

The author was first and foremost writing about God’s care for his people in the midst of exile and foreign rule. This is a message that could have been written and applied in 500 BCE. Nevertheless, under the rule of the Greeks, the second half of the book fits into the history all too well. The Hellenization of Israel, the oppression of Judaism, and the temptation for compromise were all historical elements in the 200 BCE time frame that are addressed specifically in Daniel.

It seems to me that the book of Daniel is two parts. One was originally addressed to Israel in exile. The other was addressed to Israel under a foreign rule. Both parts are important and address how followers of the Lord should live in a land that is not their own.

One thought on “Hope for Exiles: Preliminary Thoughts on Daniel

  1. nate

    Good preliminary thoughts, Ed.

    What has always facinated me about Daniel is the evangelical church’s reliance on it as prophecy of end times events when clearly that section of the book mirrors popular apocalyptic literature (Revelation, anyone?). I could never understand why the church classified it as part of the "Prophets" when the Jewish Scriptures classified the book as "Literature" (one would think that actual Jews would be best qualified to determine the classification their own writings). Perhaps this was done because it was assumed that I wasn’t intelligent enough to understand that a later dating (for at least the 2nd half of the book) is probable. Afterall, how can it be considered the "inspired Word of God" if this was written during God’s "400 silent years"?

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