Critical Introduction to 1 John

I do not know about you, but when I used to read 1 John as a teenager I felt that there was a disconnect between the author and myself. It was as if I did not quite fit into his social world, as if I were missing a large piece of the puzzle. Thankfully I now have the benefit of modern scholarship on the Johannine literature so as to fill in that large puzzle piece, thus making it possible to responsibly reconstruct the social setting of 1 John and thereby read the document with greater understanding.

In these three videos I outline the social situation which precipitated the writing of 1 John. I also wrestle with critical issues, particularly regarding what sort of document 1 John is and who wrote it. I also attempt to tackle the interesting issue regarding 1 John’s relationship with 2 John, 3 John, and the Gospel of John (which I regard as having experienced a final form of revising at the hand of the author of 1 John).

Let me know in the comments below what you make of the critical issues surrounding 1 John.

Enjoy!

 

Introduction to 1 John – part 1

 

Introduction to 1 John – part 2

 

Introduction to 1 John – part 3

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Ephesians – Introduction, Content, and Theology

Here are some short lectures on the epistle to the Ephesians. I take time to wrestle with the fact that Ephesians was not likely not originally penned to the city of Ephesus in addition to using the epistle to the Colossians as a literary source. This latter point, of course, directly influences the issue of Pauline authorship (which I also explore). Furthermore, Ephesians is the only epistle in the New Testament where there is no crisis being solved by the author!

Let me know in the comments below how you personally wrestle with these difficult and critical issues.

Enjoy!

 

Introduction to Ephesians

 

Ephesians chapters one through three

 

Ephesians chapters four through six

Colossians – Introduction, Content, and Theology

Here are my short lectures discussing Paul’s epistle to the Colossians. I take some time to address the issue of authorship, the likely Jewish identity of the opponents, and I even deal with the christological hymn in chapter one. I am convinced that Paul regards Jesus as the embodiment of God’s personified wisdom, being God’s wise ordering and interaction with his creation. Let me know in the comments what you think about Jesus being the embodiment of God’s wisdom.

Enjoy!

 

Introduction to Colossians

 

Colossians chapters one and two

 

The christological hymn in Col 1:15-19

 

Colossians chapters three and four

Philemon – Introduction, Content, and Theology

In today’s lecture we will be looking at the short (but very important) epistle to Philemon. I encourage you to look more closely and more critically at this oft-neglected letter. Perhaps you might find a message bigger than the letter’s size might initially suggest.

In my exegesis I challenge the popular reconstruction which states that Onesimus was a fugitive who stole from Philemon. Let me know if my reconstruction is persuasive.

Enjoy!

 

Introduction to Philemon

 

Philemon chapter one

Philippians – Introduction, Content, and Theology

Today’s lectures are on the epistle to the Philippians. Special attention is given to the christological hymn in 2:6-11, particularly in how it fits into Paul’s overall ethical argument exhibited throughout the letter.

Enjoy!

 

Introduction to Philippians

 

Philippians chapters 1-2

 

Philippians 2:5-11 

 

Philippians chapters 3-4

Galatians – Introduction, Content, and Theology

Here are my short lectures on the Epistle to the Galatians. I discuss issues involving the New Perspective on Paul, the famous 4QMMT document, the important phrase “works of the law,” the relationship between the imperial cult and the church in Galatia, and what Paul likely meant by his “faith of Jesus” phrase in Gal 2:16.

Enjoy!

 

Introduction to Galatians

 

Galatians chapters 1-2

 

Galatians chapter 3

 

Galatians chapters 4-6

2 Thessalonians – Introduction, Content, and Theology

Today’s short videos are on 2 Thessalonians. These build on top of the videos regarding 1 Thessalonians which I posted yesterday. I give some meaningful attention to the issue of contested authorship as well as what I think 2 Thes 2:1-12 is all about. Feel free to share them with others if you think they might find them useful.

Enjoy!

 

Introduction to 2 Thessalonians

 

2 Thessalonians chs 1-3

Free 25 Hour Course on the Synoptic Gospels

synopticg.JPG

Here is the link to an older class (Fall of 2014) I taught on the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I introduce to the students the Synoptic Problem and the Q document on the first day and use the Two-Source Hypothesis as the basis of my examination of these three New Testament documents. Furthermore, I am influenced by the scholarship of James Dunn in regard to the oral Jesus traditions and how they took their form and shape within a predominantly oral culture.

I hope you enjoy these lectures!

 

PS: the final lecture was lost in production, so I apologize in advance for that.

 

Six Hours of Lectures on the Book of Hebrews

I want to keep sharing my lectures for the public. I recently gave four weeks worth of lectures on the Book of Hebrews in a junior level undergraduate Bible course, totaling something like six hours of material.

We begin by examining introductory critical issues and then move into the exegesis of the document. Critical attention is given to christological issues involving Hebrews, passages which have troubled Christians for a long time. The course also gave attention to modern theological reflection and practical applications.

The link below will take you to a YouTube playlist possessing all of the video lectures.

Enjoy!

My Lectures on the Epistle of James

Last semester I taught an undergraduate course on Non-Pauline Epistles were my class examined critical issues involving these oft-neglected New Testament documents. Here is the four hour playlist of the lectures dealing specifically with the Epistle of James.

Note that the first video also has the introduction to the course (so you might want to fast forward past that part to get to the discussion of James).

Enjoy!

My Free Course on the Book of Acts (25 hours)

Last year I got to work through the text of the Book of Acts with a bunch of bright undergratuate theology students. I recorded the lectures and decided to open them to the public. The course covered a typical fifteen week semester, making the videos span for around twenty-five hours of material.

I apologize in advance for the sound, as the AC sometimes is loud in the background.

Enjoy!

How Jesus Understood Daniel’s ‘Abomination of Desolation’

jesusolivetdisc.JPGI have been misunderstood in light of my recent posts about responsibly interpreting the Book of Daniel, with some of my critics suggesting that I have ignored what Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse regarding the abomination of desolation. I would like to take this opportunity to respond to my critics in a manner which allows for a responsible, historically-critical interpretation of both the Book of Daniel in its original context while also taking seriously the words and teachings of Jesus. There is no use taking Jesus seriously and ignoring Daniel (and vice versa).

I will make my argument in successive numerical points.

Point 1The abomination of desolation in the Book of Daniel is an object, namely, a pagan altar, and not a person. This is confirmed by the earliest interpretation of this phrase in 1 Maccabees (“they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar” – 1 Macc 1:54). This point is observed by the consensus of modern commentators on Daniel, Bible dictionary articles on the phrase “abomination of desolation,” and lexicons attempting to offer definitions without bias. In Daniel, the little horn is distinguished from the abomination of desolation. Particularly in Daniel chapter eleven the final king of the north is likewise distinguished from the abomination of desolation. We need to define our terms carefully.

 

Point 2The historical Jesus almost certainly was aware of the events surrounding the Maccabean Revolt, especially Antiochus Epiphanes and his abominable altar which was cleansed in December of 164 BCE. The Gospels portray Jesus as a faithful Jew, indicating that he likely kept the Jewish festivals, including the Festival of Lights (known today as Hanukkah). “Hanukkah” is the Hebrew word for “dedication,” and Jesus went up to Jerusalem for this particular festival according to the Gospel of John:

At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. (John 10:22-23)

During this festival the events of the Maccabean Revolt would have been retold along with the tale of how the zealous Maccabean family led the Jews in revolt, purging Jerusalem of pagan forces and subsequently cleansing the temple. In sum, Jesus would have been well aware of what the abomination of desolation meant back in the history of his Jewish heritage.

 

Point 3Jesus, around the year 30 CE, spoke about a future event in which the abomination of desolation will be standing in the holy place. Both Mark 13:14 and Matt 24:15 tell how Jesus spoke in the Olivet Discourse of the “abomination of desolation.” It is precisely how Jesus understood and reinterpreted this phrase which is the focus of this point. The Greek translated “abomination of desolation” (τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως) is a neuter noun, but Mark modifies it with the masculine participle “standing” in a way which indicates a personal figure. Stated differently, Mark’s Jesus has taken an image from the 160s BCE and reused it in a different way to refer to an abominable personal figure in the future. Note how these commentators likewise understand what Jesus is doing with this phrase:

Daniel is clearly oriented to the great crisis brought on by Antiochus IV. Jesus’ appeal to Daniel’s “abomination of desolation” should be understood in a typological sense. That is, the crisis of long ago, which threatened to bring Judaism and Israel’s national life to an end, will once again threaten Israel and Jesus’ followers. (Craig Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20, Word Biblical Commentary 34b, 319)

 

Since the specific events of the Maccabean period were now far in the past, its use in the first century could be understood only of an event or horror which in some recognizable way corresponded to what Antiochus had done. (R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, 520)

 

A climactic event in the period of the final tribulation is the appearance of the “desolating sacrilege” in the holy place. This phrase originally referred to a desecration of the Temple in 167 BCE by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, which became an apocalyptic image reinterpreted many times (see Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; Mark 13:14). (M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew,” in the New Interpreters Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, vol. VIII, 442)

 

‘The abomination of desolation’ is, as Matthew makes explicit, from the prophet Daniel, where it refers to the pagan altar and/or image of Olympian Zeus set up in the Jerusalem temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 BC (9:27; 11:31; 12:11)…But it is no less likely that our evangelist has in mind some future, eschatological defilement and destruction, and perhaps even activities of an anti-Christ” (W.D. Davies and Dale. C. Allison, Matthew 19-28, International Critical Commentary, 345-6)

As we can observe, many modern experts note that the abomination of desolation had an explicit meaning back in Daniel (referring to the pagan altar) and that this image was reinterpreted by Jesus to refer to someone/something new in the future. I regard Paul’s discussion of a future “man of lawlessness” in the temple claiming to be divine along the same lines of thought (2 Thes. 2:3-4).

 

Point 4Both Mark and Matthew insert their voice in Jesus’ teaching about this abomination of desolation as “let the reader understand,” thus signaling that the reader is to carefully note that Jesus is in fact reinterpreting Daniel typologically. Mark in particular uses these editorial remarks often to direct the reader to understand the teachings of Jesus as Mark himself regards them (cf. Mark 3:17; 5:41; 7:19; etc.). The command for the reader to understand what Jesus is saying calls for a discerning attitude, rather than a naive approach.

 

Point 5Jesus did not teach that there will be a ‘three and a half year’ period of tribulation once the abomination of desolation is set up, but instead clearly stated that he does not know the day or hour of his second coming (Matt 24:36; Mark 13:32). If this point can be taken seriously, a lot of end-times reconstructions would simply disappear. In other words, Jesus did not use any numbers of periods of time in Matthew 24 or Mark 13 (or Luke 21 for that matter) in which one might use to mark their calendars. He did, however, say that he was completely unaware of the day and hour of the second coming. We would be wise to not presume ourselves as more insightful than Jesus himself.

 

In sum, Jesus Christ taught that there would be a future, personal abomination of desolation in the Jerusalem temple. In doing so, he reinterpreted the image from Daniel from a pagan altar under Antiochus IV to a future abominable person.

 

Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 12 (with application)

In this final post on responsibly interpreting the visions of Daniel, I will offer up my thoughts on chapter twelve. Furthermore, I have included at the end of each section the practical applications (in italics) which seek to demonstrate how this book would have been used to direct and comfort the original readers.

 

Daniel 12:1-3

This chapter begins with a temporal phrase “at that time” which connects it with the previous verse, Dan 11:45. The death and demise of Antiochus is predicted by the author of Daniel, and the beginning of chapter twelve attempts to understand this event in light of what is taking place within the heavenly realm. Michael the prince, the angel who is guards the Jewish people (in contrast to the angels representing other nations in 10:13, 20), will arise to action. What particular action Michael takes at this point is not answered by the narrator. The next thing mentioned is a time of distress/trouble unlike anything which had taken place up to that time. Sadly, we wish that the author would offer up some specifics regarding this time of distress. The only clue we receive is the comment regarding how those written in the book (literally: scroll) will be rescued. But what kind of rescue? Deliverance from battle? Or could the promised deliverance be in reference to the resurrection mentioned in the next verse (12:2)? If so, Dan 12:1 serves to encourage that those recorded in God’s book/scroll to rest assured that they will indeed be vindicated from their distress. The verse then has more of an encouraging ethical slant to it than being a specific account of verifiable events in history.

graves.JPGDaniel 12:2 gives readers arguably the first clear reference to bodily resurrection in the Bible. If this verse was intended to expand upon the nature of the deliverance mentioned previously, then the particular details offered are likely the intended emphasis stressed by the author. Many persons are described as “sleeping,” a metaphor for unconscious death in the grave used in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Where are they sleeping? In the dust of the ground (not in heaven). What will happen to those sleeping? They will awake (i.e., be raised from the grave). Then those raised are described as belonging in one of two groups. Either they are resurrected to everlasting life or they are raised to shame and everlasting abhorrence. The promise that the faithful will be raised from the dead to unending life would again encourage the readers to remain loyal and true, even if faced with martyrdom.

The maskilim appear again in Dan 12:3, this time indicating that their resurrection state will be glorious and bright like the firmament of heaven. The passage then notes how these will lead many toward faithful covenant behavior (“righteousness”). The reference to stars might indicate that they will share in the state of the host of heaven (cf. Dan 8:10; Luke 10:18; 20:36). If the maskilim will be thus rewarded then this passage would encourage the readers to either adopt the maskilim ideology and response to persecution or to dedicate themselves to following their leading.

 

Daniel 12:4

At this point, the mediating angel turns to Daniel and commands him to seal up these words. This implies that he has been writing down these visions all along, although the text only now mentions this point. These words are to be sealed up until “a time of an end” (no definite articles). Some translations wrongly translate this Hebrew phrase as “the end of time,” which is both unfair as a translation and utterly nonsensical (will time cease to be?). One needs to conclude as to which “end” the angel is referring. Since the crisis of Daniel 11 (not to mention chs. 2, 7, 8, and 9) has always ended with struggled involving the Greek kingdom, often explicitly in conjunction with the little horn setting up the abomination of desolation, the “end” naturally refers to his demise and the subsequent relief of the faithful people of God. The act of “sealing” involved a signet ring with both authenticated the document and protected it from tampering. Those living in the midst of the persecution under Antiochus IV would feel extremely privileged to be reading these insights, thus encouraging them to make the appropriate social and ethical responses to the ensuing Syrian persecution.

The mention at the conclusion of 12:4 regarding many who will “go back and forth” draws upon Amos 8:12 which states that,

People will stagger from sea to sea

And from the north even to the east;

They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD,

But they will not find it.

The sense in Amos is that people will actively seek God’s word and direction, but will come up short. Daniel, in contrast, declares that “knowledge will increase.” The unsealing of these words will provide the appropriate response for the people of God in the midst of persecution in addition to providing them with the hope that if they suffer as martyrs then they will indeed rise from the grave on the last day.

 

Daniel 12:5

At this point the narrator becomes Daniel, who hasn’t spoken since chapter ten. He observes two other angels standing on opposite sides of the Tigris River (cf. 10:4). This recalls the dialogue back and forth with two angels in 8:13-14. It is no surprise that both in 8:14 and in 12:6 the very same question is asked (“How long…”). If this phrase keeps showing up, as it commonly appears in other prophetic works seeking to comfort those in the midst of pagan persecution (cf. Rev 6:10; Hab 1:2), then it would here serve to offer authoritative guidance from heaven as to when God’s intervention will soon take place in order to deliver the afflicted from the situation’s plight, thus encouraging the faithful to loyally stick it out just a little bit longer.

 

Daniel 12:6-7

One of the angels asks the other the important question. Daniel again is situated as the listener of this important dialogue between heavenly messengers, just as the reader gets to share in the same receptive experience. The specific questions deals with how long it will be until the end of wonders. The Hebrew translated “wonders” (hapilaot) appears in two other places in Daniel, so it would be prudent for interpreters to see to which “wonders” are being alluded here. The phrase shows up in 8:24 and 11:36:

His power will be mighty, but not by his own power, and he will destroy to an extraordinary degree (literally: “wonderful things”) and prosper and perform his will; He will destroy mighty men and the holy people. (Dan 8:24 NASB)

Then the king will do as he pleases, and he will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will speak monstrous things (literally: “wonderful things”) against the God of gods; and he will prosper until the indignation is finished, for that which is decreed will be done. (Dan 11:36 NASB)

Both in Dan 8:24 and in 11:36 the subject clearly is Antiochus Epiphanes. Therefore, the question asked by the angel in Dan 12:6 seeks to know “how much longer will the wonderful acts of Antiochus continue?”

“When will they end?”

“How much longer do we have to suffer?”

This question, worded differently, was also raised by the two angels back in 8:13, “How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?” Put differently, Dan 12:6 asks how much longer until the end of the wonders of Antiochus and Dan 8:13 asks how long will the horrifying transgression interrupt the sacrifices leading to the persecution of the Jerusalem temple and the host. Both questions cover the very same events. This is also argued by John Collins in his Hermeneia commentary on Daniel:

The question, “How long?” is the one raised in 8:13. The root פֶּ֫לֶא, “wonder,” is used in a different form for the deeds of Antiochus Epiphanies in 8:24 and 11:36. If the reference is the same here, the angel is asking not about the end of the resurrection and judgment but about the end of the events descried down to the end of chapter 11. (p. 399)

In other words, the question of the angel deals with the end of the extraordinary/wondrous atrocities committed by Antiochus and not about the number of days between the wonders and the resurrection spoken of in 12:2. The second angel responds in 12:7 by giving a cryptic phrase “time, times, and half a time” (referring to three and a half years). After this designated period of time, “all these will be completed.” The Hebrew construction here indicates that “all these” are feminine plural, matching the plural feminine word hapilaot specifically asked about in the question of 12:6. In sum, the heavenly messengers give encouraging news that Antiochus will only perform his wondrous acts of evil for a short period of three and a half years before God intervenes.

 

Daniel 12:8-10

The protagonist does not seem to understand this cryptic response, so he asks for clarification. The angel responds by telling him to go on his way, as these oracles are sealed up for “a time of an end” (again, no definite articles in this Hebrew phrase). The angel continues by noting how those with insight (the maskilim) will purge, purify, and refine. The wicked, however, not understand. This emphasis on the three verbal actions of the maskilim has already appeared in their description back in 11:35. Daniel’s readers are again encouraged to follow the lead of the maskilim, namely, their nonviolent and faithful ideology.

 

Daniel 12:11-12

In this verse (12:11) the angel gives a numerical answer which is clearer than the previous cryptic phrase of “time, times, and a half a time.” From the moment when the regular temple sacrifice is interrupted and the abomination of desolation is set up in place of that altar there will be 1,290 days. This number equates out to three and a half years, and it is not a coincidence that the pagan altar (abomination of desolation) remained from its erection in the summer of 167 until its removal in December of 164.

Then Dan 12:12 offers a revised number, offering a blessing upon those who wait for an extra forty-five days, totally in 1,335 total. As I noted in my previous post, there are three increasing numerical answers to the same “How long?” question asked. Daniel 8:14 answers it in what was likely the first prediction: 1,150 days. Daniel 12:11 answers it with a revised number: 1,290 days. Then the very next verse (12:12) revises the prediction yet again to 1,335 days. In the end, the final verse (12:13) gives a specific answer to Daniel which serves to definitively conclude the dialogue and the book itself. Needless to say, readers of Daniel in the midst of the persecution begun by Antiochus and his Syrian forces can rest assured that God will intervene and defeat the evil king in roughly three and a half years from the setting up of the abomination of desolation on top of the sacrificial altar.

 

Daniel 12:13

The angel turns to Daniel and speaks about his fate. Daniel will indeed die (“rest”) and rise up in resurrection. He will come to his allotted portion of inheritance upon arising resssfrom his grave. All of this will take place at the “end of days.” What is interesting for critical readers is that the Hebrew words used here for “rest” and “rise” both differ from the synonymous words used in 12:2 (“sleep” and “awake”), strengthening the case that the final verses of Daniel chapter twelve were added by the final redactor in order to revise the predicted 1,150 and 1,290 day periods. Regardless of how the predictions turned out, the final word in Daniel is that he, the prototypical maskil who refused pagan accommodation and idol-worship, would be rewarded with a resurrection unto his allotted inheritance. This would serve to again encourage the reader to follow in the footsteps of Daniel in hopes of attaining the same resurrection hope and reward.  

Responsibly Interpreting the Visions of Daniel 11 (part 4)

Daniel In this final post on the history described in Daniel 11 we will cover verses 29-45. My aecoinattempts all along have been to responsibly read the text of Daniel firmly rooted in its historical context so as to best make sense of its message. Although there still seem to be readers who wish to dismiss these historical readings outright in favor of theological positions which place all of these events in the unknown future, I nevertheless insist that these texts must be taken seriously in all of their details, both geographically and politically. As Ben Witherington III used to regularly say in class, “a text without a context is just a pretext for whatever you want it to mean.”

 

Daniel 11:29-30a

The temporal phrase “at the appointed time” serves to highlight the events which are to follow as climactic. In the year 168 BCE Antiochus IV again invaded Egypt, attempting to cripple the military forces of Ptolemy VI and his siblings. In particular, he moved against the grand city of Alexandria. This act of aggression, as the text indicates, would not turn out as it did previously for Antiochus. The Roman army, which was strong enough to “play referee” in the Mediterranean, moved to intervene against Antiochus IV. The reference to the “ships of Kittim” indicate Italian/Roman forces according to other contemporary usages (cf. 1QpHab 2.12, 14; 3.4, 9; 4.5, 10; 4Q161 frgs. 8-10 3.5-8; 4Q169 1.3).

Neither Rome nor Syria desired to go to war with one another, and Rome certainly feared how the balance of power would significantly shift if Syria controlled Egypt. The historian Polybius recounts how the Roman ambassador Gaius Popillius Laenas personally met Antiochus at Alexandria and submitted unto him Rome’s terms on what historians call the “Day of Eleusis”:

But when [Antiochus], after reading [the terms], said he would like communicate with his friends about this intelligence, Popilius acted in a manner which was thought to be offensive and exceeding arrogant. He was carrying a stick cut from a vine, and with this he drew a circle around Antiochus and told him he must remain inside this circle until he gave his decision about the contents of the letter. [Antiochus] was astonished at this authoritative proceeding, but, after a few moments’ hesitation, he said that he would do all that the Romans demanded. (History 29.27.4-7)

Inevitably, Antiochus retreated back toward the north. During his time in Egypt, rumors of his death had spread to Jerusalem. This provoked Jason, the formerly-ousted high priest, to violently engage the current high priest Menelaus. Jason was eventually defeated and forced to retreat, leaving Menelaus still in charge of Jerusalem.

 

Daniel 11:30b-31

In light of the skirmish between Jason and Menelaus (which Antiochus understandably assumed to be a revolt) Antiochus send his agent Apollonius the Mysarch to Jerusalem with a contingency of Syrian troops. This occurred in the summer of 167 BCE. The author of 1 Maccabees refers to Apollonius as a “chief collector of tribute” who came with a “large force” (1 Macc 1:29; cf. 2 Macc 5:24). The situation appeared peaceful at first, but soon turned deadly;

Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel (1 Macc 1:30).

Menelaus the high priest was a strong proponent of Hellenizing Judea, even going so far, according to 2 Macc 13:3, as personally partnering up with Antiochus in hopes of being established in his office as high priest.

In 167 the Syrian forces desecrated the Jerusalem temple and halted the sacrificial system from continuing to function. A pagan altar was placed on top of the altar used for burnt sacrifices. This pagan altar is the object described by Dan 11:31 as “the abomination of desolation.” Note carefully that the A of D in 11:31 is a thing (not a person). This is confirmed by the contemporary writer of 1 Maccabees who states that “they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar” (1 Macc 1:54). When the Maccabean forces succeeded at driving out the Syrians in 164 BCE, the removal of this abomination is likewise spoken of as an object rather than a person;

they had pulled down the abomination, which he had set up upon the altar in Jerusalem (1 Macc 6:7).

From the perspective of pious Jews in Jerusalem, the pagan influences were coming from both Antiochus and from the reigning high priest. This was nothing short of a national disaster. The struggle was real.

 

Daniel 11:32

With smooth words Antiochus will turn those acting wickedly toward godlessness. mattatiasHistorically, Antiochus’ officials attempted to persuade the Jews to offer sacrifices upon this pagan altar (1 Macc 2:14). Mattathias, the father of the Maccabean family, was told that “you and your sons will be numbered among the friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts” (1 Macc 2:18). Mattathias slew the commander in righteous zeal, ushering the beginning of the Maccabean Revolt. Daniel 11:32 frames the nature of those who resisted Hellenization as “those who know their God,” thus highlighting their fidelity to the God of Israel.

 

Daniel 11:33-35

These next verses will highlight the varied reactions to the abomination of desolation which Antiochus’ forces erected. “Those who have insight” refer to a select group known as the maskilim whose ideal characteristics are highlighted throughout the Book of Daniel. The four Hebrew youths exiled to Babylon are described with the same Hebrew verb (Dan 1:4), particularly in regard to their refusal to compromise strict Jewish kosher (1:8) in addition to their rejection of pagan idols (3:18; 6:10). In Daniel chapter twelve the maskilim are further identified as leading many in faithful covenant observance (i.e., “righteousness” – 12:3) and those possessing discernment/understanding (12:10). What is interesting from a social standpoint is that the maskilim, in each of these references (including 11:33), are never described as actively contributing to the violent uprising or armed rebellion against the agents of Hellenism. It would appear that since the initial four Hebrews and the further references to the maskilim in Daniel 11 and 12 are highly considered that the authors of the Book of Daniel shared this wise and nonviolent ideology and wanted to persuade the readers to adopt it as well. For the maskilim, the appropriate response to pagan oppression is nonviolent resistance, refusal to compromise faithful Jewish practices, and a willingness to be martyred for their covenant commitment to Yahweh.

Many of the maskilim will unfortunately fall by sword, fire, captivity, and by plunder. These unfortunate consequences have already been observed in the lives of Daniel and his three friends. The martyred mothers and brothers refusing to compromise with Hellenism are beautifully depicted in 2 Macc 6-7. The apocalyptic nature of Daniel’s oracles here clearly reflects the understanding that the righteous will indeed suffer at the hands of the wicked in this age as they wait expectedly for God’s intervention in history.

The maskilim will receive a little help, but the results will yield little fruit because those helping only in hypocritical words. The insincerity of their initial followers will not help their cause (in contrast from the more dominant form of resistance in the violent revolt of the Maccabean militia). In the meantime, some of the maskilim will “refine, purge, and make pure.” These same three verbs reappear in Dan 12:3 to contrast the maskilim with the wicked, further encouraging Daniel’s readers to adopt their worldviews in the midst of pagan persecution. Their actions, according to Dan 11:35b, will continue until a time of the end, and “the end” in sight for Daniel’s readers will be the intervention of God to remove the Greek oppressor Antiochus Epiphanies, thus liberating Jerusalem from pagan oppression.

 

Daniel 11:36-39

These verses break up the historical narrative by offering focus on the character of aecoin2.JPGAntiochus IV. Throughout the history detailed in Daniel 11 there were many kings fighting against each other. Antiochus Epiphanies goes a step further and magnifies himself against the God of gods, Israel’s God. Antiochus IV was the first king in history to promote himself on coins as “god” and “god manifest” (note the coin on the left with the Greek BASILEOS ANTIOCHOU THEOU EPIPHANOUS NIKYFOROY – “Antiochus, God made manifest, bearer of victory”). Of course, the author of Daniel would have considered these titles blasphemous. Antiochus’ history of plundering other temples of the gods only further proves his arrogant attitude and disdain for other deities. However, 11:36 assures the readers that God’s decree against Antiochus will indeed be accomplished, thus offering comfort to those living during this oppressive period.

It is further noted that Antiochus will not regard the god of his father, specifically Apollo, the sacred ancestral god of the Seleucid dynasty. In actuality, Antiochus revered Zeus Olympias instead of Apollos on coins dating as early as 173/172 BCE. The placement of an altar to Zeus upon Jerusalem’s sacrificial alter in 167 BCE further demonstrates this point. The author of 2 Maccabees recounts how Antiochus sent one of his agents to Hellenize the Jerusalem temple and “to call it the temple of Olympian Zeus” (2 Macc 6:2). The “desire/beloved of women” is usually regarded as the deity Tammuz from Ezek 8:14, although admittedly historians possess very little data on this god.

Daniel continues to frame the actions of Antiochus with religious terms in 11:39. Antiochus will move against the Jerusalem fortress with “help” from his pagan deity. Many followed Antiochus in this regard, including some compromising Jews, as noted by a variety of indications from 1 Maccabees:

All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the Sabbath. (1 Macc 1:43)

Then the king’s officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: “You are a leader, honored and great in this town, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the people of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the Friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.” (1 Macc 2:17-18)

a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein, according to the king’s command. (1 Macc 2:23)

This passage again highlights both the political and religious plight facing conservative Jews who refused to accommodate Hellenism during the reign of Antiochus.

 

Daniel 11:40-45

While Dan 11:27 notes that the skirmishes between the king of the north and the king of the south were not yet the appointed “time of the end,” Dan 11:40 indicates that this definitive time has finally arrived. However, it is at this point in the narrative, after thirty-nine verses of accurate historical “predictions,” that the account departs from what actually took place in history. This point has been the primary grounds upon which critical attempts at dating the Book of Daniel, in its final form, have produced the date of 164 BCE. Stated differently, the events from 11:1-39 are remarkably accurate while the events in the final six verses do not match up well with history. How is one to responsibly account for this interpretive dilemma? The best explanation, according to the vast majority of modern commentators on Daniel (Collins, Goldingay, Newsom, Pace, Seow, Smith-Christopher, Towner), is that the author was living in the midst of the Maccabean Revolt and could therefore look back on the historical events of Dan 11:1-39 as “predictive” history while acknowledging that 11:40-45 are actual predictions. Interestingly enough, Antiochus did in fact die and the abomination of desolation was removed in the year 164, much to the relief of the conservative Jews in Jerusalem.

The fact that the author of Daniel is forced to predict the final results of the life of Antiochus and the Maccabean Revolt can be confirmed when we examine the different (and increasing) answers to the typical apocalyptic question; “’How long, O Lord,’ will you allow this act of godless pagan oppression upon your chosen people to remain?” Daniel 8:13-14 asks and answers the question with the answer 2,300 evenings and mornings (1,150 days). As this prediction began to look questionable, it was revised in 12:6 (“How long until the end of wonders?”) and answered in 12:11 with 1,290 days. Then, the answer is again further revised in Dan 12:12 with 1,335 days.

Ultimately, the final redactor notes the comforting reality that the protagonist Daniel will die and rise up in resurrection at the end of days (Dan 12:13).

Those who would read Daniel 11 during the midst of Antiochus’ persecutions would be offered with three different religious responses to these horrifying events:

Option one – They could join with the Hellenizers (Antiochus, the Syrians, and Menelaus the high priest). This would be the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” option.

Option two – They could join the Maccabees in armed revolt against the pagan forces. Those who took this option could draw upon biblical examples such as Phinehas and Elijah for inspiration.

Option three – They could join the maskilim and nonviolently resist Hellenistic accommodation and await Israel’s God to vindicate this situation. This would have been the option chosen by Jesus Christ if his teachings were any indication.

 

The author of Daniel hopes that his readers take option three.

Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 11 (part 3)

ae4coinThis is part 3 of our historical journey through the prophecy in Daniel 11. To get caught up to speed, be sure to check out the previous posts on Dan 11:1-9 and 11:10-19. This post will over the events over the next nine verses with greater detail than I have been writing before. This added emphasis is due primarily because some of my critics seem to be unconvinced by my attempts to take the historical context of this passage responsibly, both as an interpreter and as a historian.

 

Daniel 11:20-28

After the death of Antiochus III (Dan 11:19), his son Seleucus IV began to rule in his place. During his reign, he was alerted to the fact that the Jerusalem temple was filled with treasure. In what was likely an attempt to fund his military campaigns (which were suffering due to his father’s defeat at the hand of the Romans) Seleucus sent his chief minister Heliodorus to Jerusalem in order to pillage the Jewish treasury. Daniel 11:20 references this account with the phrase “one will arise who will send an oppressor through the Jewel of the kingdom.” However, Heliodorus was thwarted by angelic guards who beat him nearly to death, thus protecting the Jerusalem temple from being robbed. The account is narrated in 2 Maccabees chapter three (with some legendary details likely added):

But when he arrived at the treasury with his bodyguard, then and there the Sovereign of spirits and of all authority caused so great a manifestation that all who had been so bold as to accompany him were astounded by the power of God, and became faint with terror. For there appeared to them a magnificently caparisoned horse, with a rider of frightening mien; it rushed furiously at Heliodorus and struck at him with its front hoofs. Its rider was seen to have armor and weapons of gold. Two young men also appeared to him, remarkably strong, gloriously beautiful and splendidly dressed, who stood on either side of him and flogged him continuously, inflicting many blows on him. When he suddenly fell to the ground and deep darkness came over him, his men took him up, put him on a stretcher, and carried him away (2 Macc 3:24-28)

Heliodorus survived this encounter and eventually assassinated Seleucus IV in the year 175. This is what Dan 11:20 means when it says that “he will be shattered, though not in
house of seleucus.JPGanger or in battle.” At this point, the crown should have passed onto the eldest son, Demetrius. However, he was a hostage in Rome at the time, and thereby unaware that his father had perished. His younger brother, an infant named Antiochus, was crowned king by his mother, Laodice, who herself was made regent. At this time, another Antiochus, known to us as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, secured an army from the king of Pergamum. Antiochus IV had Heliodorus removed and eventually slew the infant Antiochus. Prior to murdering the young Antiochus, Antiochus IV strategically married Laodice, thereby making him coregent with his new stepson. Five years later, the young Antiochus was murdered, thus leaving Antiochus IV the only king, despite the fact that “the honor of kingship had not been conferred upon him” (11:21).

The remaining twenty-four verses of Daniel 11 deal with Antiochus IV, thus giving him over half of the chapter’s complete attention. Daniel 11:22 seems to be a general characterization of Antiochus’ career as a whole. The initial descriptions of flooded and shattered forces are broad but the mention of the prince of the covenant also being shattered is clear. It was already noted back in Dan 9:26 that an anointed figure, the high priest Onias III, was cut off, and it seems that he is also spoken of here. During this period, the only person who could be spoken of as the “prince of the covenant” would be the Jewish high priest (note that the high priest Joshua was also called a “prince” in Dan 9:25). The alliance made so as to “gain power with a small force of people” was already mentioned with the pact with the king of Pergamum, King Eumenes II (11:23). One of the feats which Antiochus IV accomplished which was never attempted by his predecessors was the lavish spending and gift giving he appropriated unto his troops, at times even paying his army a year’s salary in advance (11:24). This, of course, led to some financial problems, observed by the author of 1 Maccabees:

He feared that he might not have such funds as he had before for his expenses and for the gifts that he used to give more lavishly than preceding kings. He was greatly perplexed in mind; then he determined to go to Persia and collect the revenues from those regions and raise a large fund. (1 Macc 3:30-31)

The Ptolemaic forces down in Egypt, which haven’t been mentioned lately in the prophecy, show up again in 11:25. The Sixth Syrian War was fought between Antiochus and Egypt, lasting from 170-168 BCE. Daniel 11:25 indicates that Egypt, led by Ptolemy VI, was able to amass a much larger army than ptolemy6Antiochus. However, the king of the south did not stand for long as he was ousted by two Alexandrian aristocrats in his court, Comanos and Cineas. This is what 11:26 refers to by “those who eat his choice food will destroy him.” Although the war ended in 168 BCE, Daniel continues to narrate the details of the life of Ptolemy VI. While in Egypt, Antiochus successfully besieged Alexandria, but was unable to take the city completely. Both Ptolemy VI and Antiochus IV eventually met in Memphis in 169 BCE with evil attempts at working out a “peaceful” agreement (11:27). The narrator of Daniel lets the reader know that the end of Antiochus IV is still to come “at the appointed time,” indicating that although his actions appear out of control, the God of Israel is still sovereign over the situation.  The next verse notes how Antiochus IV returned to his land (from Memphis, Egypt) in the autumn of 169 BCE. On his way north, he stopped by the Jerusalem temple and took much of the gold and silver from its treasury (11:28). These events are recorded in 1 Maccabees chapter one:

After subduing Egypt, Antiochus returned in the one hundred forty-third year. He went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force. He arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils. He took also the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple; he stripped it all off. He took the silver and the gold, and the costly vessels; he took also the hidden treasures that he found. Taking them all, he went into his own land. He shed much blood, and spoke with great arrogance (1 Macc 1:20-24)

 

Do the historical details make sense or should we rather place Daniel 11 into the future, prior to the end of the age? Leave a note in the comments section and please look forward to further updates on the historical prophecy recorded in Daniel 11.

Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 11 (part 2)

In the previous post we began trekking through the climactic prophecy of the Book of a449df20b21ffdb618c9eeb223e46ecaDaniel – chapter eleven. We observed how the chapter begins with a brief prediction of the Persian Empire which was eventually overtaken by the Greek armies led by the young Alexander the Great. After Alexander died his dominion was ultimately passed onto his four generals due to his lack of offspring. Although these four generals took to the four points of the compass, only two of them are in focus for this particular prophecy. The general which ended up taking control of Syria (and the Middle East) was Seleucus I. Ptolemy I, on the other hand, took Egypt as his territory. Both of these generals eventually established lengthy dynasties. From the perspective of Jews living in Judea, these kings in the north and in the south were the major ‘power players’ for the next few hundred years and the nation of Israel was unfortunately caught in the midst of their crossfire. This post will cover the life and military campaign of the Greek ruler Antiochus III (Dan 11:10-19), a king given substantial treatment in this prophecy.

 

Daniel 11:10-19

The sons of Seleucus II, being Seleucus III and Antiochus III, begin to amass their armies for Syria (11:10). Seleucus III reigned only three years, from 226-223. His brother, antiochus 3rdAntiochus III, ruled for much longer (223-187). His military success was much more evident than his brother’s. The imagery of “coming and overflow and pass through” (NASB) suggests an epic quality to Antiochus’ campaigns, as he secured northern Palestine both east and west of the Jordan, including Samaria and Galilee. He made his way down to Egypt, culminating in the Battle of Raphia on June 22, 217 BCE. The KS at that time was Ptolemy IV, who ruled from 221-204. Ptolemy’s forces succeeded in the Battle of Raphia after raising a sizable force (11:11) which crushed much of the Syrian army, but not quite a crippling defeat so as to completely wipe out Antiochus III (11:12). This battle is described further (with some legendary details) in 3 Macc chapter one.

Daniel 11:13 notes how Antiochus III will continue with his military activities, focusing on Syria and Palestine in particular. The former Battle at Raphia ended with a peace treaty between the two kings, lasting as long as the kings lived. However, with Ptolemy IV’s death in 204 BCE Antiochus no longer felt that the treaty was in effect. This is what Dan 11:13 means with the phrase “after an interval of some years.” Meanwhile, Egypt suffered from a local native uprising/rebellion. The angel tells Daniel that “the violent ones among your people (i.e., the Jews) will also lift themselves up…but they will fall down,” indicating that some Jews had switched sides and freely supported Antiochus’ cause. In the year 200 BCE, Antiochus finally attacked Egypt, defeating the ruler (Scopas) at the Battle of Panion. Many Jews supported Antiochus III with provisions and helped remove the Ptolemaic garrison which was located in Jerusalem. The details of the outcome of this engagement are recorded by Josephus (Ant. 12.138-46). It is likely that these Jews had hoped that by removing Ptolemaic forces from Jerusalem that the holy land would be cleansed from pagan overlords, but their ambitions did not come to fruition (11:14 – “they will fall down”).

After Scopas, the reigning KS, was defeated at the Battle of Panion he retreated to Sidon with his hired Aetolian mercenaries. Antiochus III eventually took the city in the year 199 BCE after Scopas surrendered (11:15-16). This victory effectively took Palestine away from dleo1Ptolemaic rule. In the year 197 Antiochus began negotiating another peace treaty with Ptolemy V, although it required Ptolemy to openly recognize Antiochus’ territorial claims. Cleopatra I, the daughter of Antiochus III, was betrothed to Ptolemy as a part of the treaty (11:17). This marriage occurred sometime between 194-193 BCE. Antiochus has secretly wanted Cleopatra to undermine the Ptolemaic kingdom from the inside, but she ended up embracing her new husband’s ambitions instead. This is what the angel meant with the phrase “she will not take a stand for him or be on his side.” With the death of Ptolemy V in 180 BCE, his widow Cleopatra I continued to remain powerfully influential for some time, likely in part to her son being too young to rule.

Antiochus, seemingly bent on reclaiming the lands once possessed by his forefather Seleucus I, marched his armies towards Thrace and the Greek territories along the coastlands (11:18). However, Rome at this time was powerful enough to withstand Antiochus’ forces, stopping him in central Greece in the year 191. Two years later (189 BCE), Rome dealt Antiochus a decisive defeat in Asia Minor (11:18). The commanding officer mentioned in this verse was P. Cornelius Scipio, who personally presented Antiochus III conditions of peace in 188, costing him 15,000 talents, elephant elephantbattleand naval troops, and the release of Roman hostages. This so-called ‘agreement’ was an obvious attempt by the Romans to cripple the Greek armies belonging to Antiochus. This defeat in turn provoked a few rebellions in the eastern parts of the Greek kingdom, resulting in Antiochus’ death in the year 187 BCE. This occurred when Antiochus attempted to sack the temple (“fortress” – 11:19) of Bel in the city of Elemais, likely seeking the funds depleted from his ‘agreement’ with the Romans.

 

In the next post we will continue trekking through the history in Daniel 11. Be sure to subscribe for further updates!

Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 11 (part 1)

Alas, we are on the homestretch of these visions in Daniel. The eleventh chapter encompasses the largest and longest of the visions within the book. Lucky for us, the majority of the details find universal agreement among scholars, both conservative and critical. This is due in part to the fact that the events of Daniel 11 fit the known descriptions of the stretch of history seleucus1.JPGbeginning in the Persian period and lasting well into the Hellenistic period. I should warn readers that this post will contain a lot of names, dates, and historical events (so those of you who struggled in history class might find this rather boring). I will do my best to keep the dates clear and the names sorted out, noting that the pronouns used in the Hebrew text often are not very clear. So here goes nothing…

 

Daniel 11:1-4

The passage begins with an unnamed apocalyptic revealer speaking with Daniel after a twenty-one day fast (10:2-3). The angel unveils to the story’s protagonist key historical alexgreat.JPGevents which are to take place soon after. Daniel 11:2 notes how three more kings will arise out of Persia while a fourth will arouse his kingdom against Greece. These four Persian rulers are not identified, but we do know that the leopard in Dan 7:6 possessed four heads. Furthermore, Ezra 4:5-7 mentions four Persian rulers by name (Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes). What matters for the author of Daniel is that he only gives one verse to describe the tenure of the Persian Empire (11:2), choosing to move rather quickly to the kingdom of Greece. Within the Greek kingdom a mighty king (Alexander the Great) is said to arise for awhile (11:3), but his kingdom will be broken up towards the four points of a compass (cf. Dan 8:8) and given over to rulers who are not his offspring. Alexander possessed no children, so his kingdom was passed onto his four generals (11:4). It is important to note that this divided kingdom is still the Greek kingdom, since all four of the generals were Greeks and the text does not introduce a new realm/nationality. I should point out here that the remainder of Daniel 11 deals with this same empire: the Greek kingdom. It is safe to say that although the reader is carried from Daniel’s time through the Persian period, which lasted over two hundred years, the author wants to emphasize the events of the Greek kingdom from Dan 11:3-45. I have noted in Daniel 2, 7, 8, and 9 that the final kingdom always is stressed with more words and emphasis that any of the previous kingdoms, and Daniel 11 is no different. Readers need to seriously consider why Daniel stresses the Greek kingdom as much as he does.

 

Daniel 11:5-9

The eleventh chapter will continue to alternate between two primary actors; described respectively as the “King of the North” and the “King of the South” (whom I will abbreviate as ‘KN’ and ‘KS’ henceforth). From the perspective of the nation of Israel, the KN would represent the ruler in Syria. daniel-11-mapSeleucus I, one of the famous generals taking over part of Alexander’s realm, reigned from this particular territory. Also, the KS, from Israel’s perspective, easily would be represented by Egypt. Another famous general of Alexander’s, Ptolemy I, ruled from Egypt. Both Seleucus I and Ptolemy I established massive dynasties which ruled from these two geographical territories. Poor Israel was caught in the crossfire of Syria and Egypt (see map), which was nothing new for them as this dilemma was a longstanding struggle dating back to the minostry of the eighth century BCE prophet Isaiah. Of course, the particular individuals functioning in the roles of the KN and the KS changed over time, just as ancient Persia had a variety of successive rulers and modern America functions with a variety of successive presidents.

With that introduction we can move onto the exegesis. Daniel 11:5 describes how the KS (Ptolemy I) will grow strong, reigning from 323-285 BCE (thirty-eight years). The verse also notes how one of Ptolemy’s princes will eventually possess extensive dominion (Seleucus I as a satrap). The next verse (11:6) describes an alliance made between the KS and the KN. Historically this was fulfilled around 250 BCE with Antiochus II, the grandson of Seleucus I, marrying Berenice, the daughter of Ptolemy II. This intermingling in marriage had peaceful intentions, but it did not last long, as Antiochus II was allegedly poisoned by his ex wife Laodice. Berenice and her newborn child were likewise murdered in due course. This alliance was hinted at back in Dan 2:43, a section describing the fourth kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, thereby confirming that the fourth kingdom in Daniel is Greece. Daniel 11:7 notes how one of the descendants in Berenice’s line, her brother Ptolemy III, will arise to take her place. He ruled from 246-221 BCE. He brought his armies against the KN, who at that time was seleuc2a.gifSeleucus II. This military campaign was rather successful, as the gods of Syria were plundered from the Syrian fortress and taken back to Egypt by Ptolemy III, who held off further attacks on the KN for some time (11:8).  However, Seleucus II attempted a counter-invasion of Egypt, but was unsuccessful with his attack (11:9) in comparison to the victory achieved earlier by Ptolemy III. Seleucus II, the KN, was forced to return home.

 

Stay tuned for the next installment of Daniel 11’s exegesis.

Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 9 (part 3)

maccabeanbwThis will be the final post on the Seventy Weeks prophecy in Daniel 9. For a recap of my thoughts on the passage’s introduction and verse 9:24, click here. Yesterday’s post regarded the exegesis of Dan 9:25 (here). Today’s post will deal with the final two verses (9:26-27) and some concluding matters of interpretation.

9:26  “And after the sixty-two weeks an anointed one will be cut off and no one will come to his aid. Then the people of the coming prince will spoil the city and the sanctuary. But his end will come with a flood unto an end; a war is being decided; desolating things.”

9:27  “He will confirm a covenant with the great ones for one week. But in the middle of the week he will remove the sacrifice and the grain offering; and upon a wing of abominations he will be desolating, up to the point of a complete destruction being decided which will be poured out upon the one desolating.” 

Quite a few remarks need to be stated in regard to this passage. I will number them for the sake of making organized conversation points:

  1. As I noted in the previous post, these two verses focus entirely upon the events after the initial two periods of history (‘seven’ weeks and ‘sixty-two’ weeks). In other words, the final week of the Seventy Weeks prophecy gets the most attention, making its events the crux of the passage’s emphasis.
  2. The beginning of this passage moves the listener over a long period of time up to this decisive moment where an anointed figure will be killed. Since there is a massive sixty-two week period separating these events from those described in 9:25, it seems obvious that the anointed figure in 9:26 is not the same individual as the one back in 9:25. It has been common ground for Christians to regard this anointed figure again as the Anointed One (i.e., Jesus Christ). Again, this argument fails to hold up to scholarly scrutiny. For one, we again have the Hebrew noun mashiach without the definite article, requiring the translation “an anointed one” rather than “the anointed one.” Sadly, many modern English translations have not been entirely honest on this point. Secondly, if this were a predictive prophecy about the death of Jesus Christ, why does the passage qualify this death with “no one will come to his aid”? Shouldn’t the passage (if it were referring to the death of Jesus) say that he will be supernaturally vindicated in glorious resurrection by God the Father? Why then does the passage actually say that no one will come to his aid? This is hardly a reference to Jesus. Furthermore, the New Testament Christians (who searched the Hebrew Bible diligently for any hint of messianic predictions) never once quote Daniel 9:26 to refer to Jesus’ death. Instead, they focus primarily upon Isaiah 53 and other verses, but never once is Dan 9:26 quoted in the New Testament to refer to Jesus. This suggests that its interpretation had an accepted reading which excluded Jesus from being its object of focus.
  3. In fact, we possess a perfect candidate for this anointed figure onias 3mentioned in 9:26. In the year 171 BCE a high priest named Onias III was in fact murdered. Unfortunately for him, none of the Jews came to help him or avenge his death. Instead his brother, the Hellenistic sympathizer Jason, took control of the temple. The actions of Jason were instrumental in the events leading up to the Maccabean Revolt.
  4. Around this time, the Seleucid Empire ruled by Antiochus IV made an agreement with some of the leading officials in Jerusalem in order to hellenize the city and its people. This agreement is the “covenant” mentioned in Dan 9:27. This is recorded in detail in 1 Maccabees:

    In those days certain renegades came out from Israel and misled many, saying, “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us.” This proposal pleased them, and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and they removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil. (1 Macc 1:11-15)

  5. After the murder of the anointed high priest Onias III the Seleucid armies, commanded by Antiochus Epiphanes, came into Jerusalem. The act of circumcision was restricted and the Sabbath was profaned. But the most detestable act was the macc placement of a statue of Zeus upon the temple’s sacrificial altar. Jews were forced to offer sacrifices to this image.These offensive acts are what Dan 9:26 refers to as the “spoiling of the city and the sanctuary” and what 9:27 describes as the plural “abominations.” These events were too much for the conservative Jews who were resistant to Hellenization (thus provoking the Maccabean Revolt).
  6. As I just noted in #5, the Syrian forces led by Antiochus brought about desolating abominations upon Jerusalem and its people. Note carefully that these abominations of desolation are plural, not singular. Furthermore, they are plural objects, not persons. This is something different from what Jesus stated in Mark 13:14 (i.e., a single, personal abomination of desolation). This point should not be taken lightly; Daniel 9:24-27 refers to plural abominations as things/objects and Mark 13:14 refers to a single person who is an abomination of desolation. We should let Daniel 9 say what it wants to say and let Mark say something else (without harmonizing the two accounts). Jesus is likely reusing the terrible events of the past as a rubric to convey the future abomination of desolation.
  7. Daniel 9:26 promises that there will indeed be divine retribution upon the coming prince Antiochus. His end will come with a “flood” – a common prophetic anti4hyperbole for a swift death (cf. Isa 8:8; 10:22; 30:28; Ezek 13:13; Nah 1:8). Furthermore, 9:27 says that a destruction has been decreed by God (divine passive). This reassures the original readers that this national catastrophe will not go unpunished by Israel’s God, encouraging them to resist the hellenizing influences in covenantal faithfulness. Antiochus IV did indeed die in the year 164 BCE.
  8. To connect some loose ends, it is important to remember that some of the significant dates need to be kept in the forefront of these discussions:
    • Onias III, the Jewish high priest, was murdered in 171 BCE. This began the agreement/covenant (1 Macc 1:11-15) between the Seleucids and the leading Jews to hellenize Jerusalem and its people,
    • The Syrian forces led by Antiochus halted sacrifices and offerings by placing an idol of Zeus upon the altar. This occurred in 167 BCE,
    • The Maccabean Revolt ended in 164 with the cleansing of the holy temple, thus removing all of the abominations from it,
    • 171 minus 164 equals 7. How many years are in a single week? Seven. When did the sacrifice and offerings cease? In the middle of this period (167 BCE).
  9. If the seventieth week deals with the events from 171-164 BCE, then prophetic schemes expecting a future seven year tribulation prior to the end of the age have absolutely no biblical basis for their theology.

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Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 9 (part 2)

gab2This is a continuation of my previous post where I began examining the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24-27. We left off at the end of 9:24 where the apocalyptic revealer Gabriel was unpacking the historical reality of what the seventy weeks were to accomplish. He expressed these purposes with six infinitives, many of which clearly find their fulfillment in the climax of the Maccabean Revolt in 164 BCE. The following verse (9:25) will move the listener through history to a particular period of emphasis stressed by the author.

9:25 “And you will know and discern that from the going forth of the word to bring back and build Jerusalem up to an anointed ruler [there will be] seven weeks then sixty-two weeks. It will return and be built up, both plaza and moat, in times of distress.”

This passage is in dire need of commentary, so I will begin with a few observations:

  1. The passage breaks down the seventy weeks into three explicit groups. The first group involves seven weeks (a jubilee?) in which there will be a decree to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it. This group seems to end with some unnamed anointed ruler (more on him later). The second group is a massive sixty-two weeks, about which nothing clear is said. This leaves only a single week – the seventieth week (to be discussed more fully in 9:26-27).
  2. It has become common for interpreters interested in predictive prophecy to reckon the ‘seven weeks’ and ‘sixty-two weeks’ as a group of periods needing to be combined, assuming along the way that Gabriel intended for an entire sixty-nine week period to be understood here (rather than two distinct periods). This kind of reading is open to scrutiny for a variety of reasons. First, weeks.JPGthe verse explicitly says “seven weeks and/then sixty-two weeks,” using the noun “weeks” twice in qualification of the two given numbers. If Gabriel all along had meant sixty-nine weeks, why does he fail to say so? Secondly, critical editions of the Hebrew text place a symbol called an atnah (atnah.JPG), delineating a pause or a break, upon the first occurrence of “weeks.” This effectively separates the seven weeks from the sixty-two weeks. The Masoretes placed this mark here to avoid the potential confusion. For these reasons I have translated the phrase in question, “[there will be] seven weeks, then sixty-two weeks.
  3. Now, many English translations interpret the Hebrew mashiach here as if it were the Anointed One, i.e., the Messiah. Unfortunately, the Hebrew does not have the definite article here, so an explicit christological reference is very unlikely. The noun mashiach  is initially used in the Hebrew Bible when referencing other anointed individuals such as priests (cf. Lev 4:3, 5, 16; 6:15). Since the first group (seven weeks) involves the rebuilding of Jerusalem and a ruling anointed figure, the most likely candidate for an “anointed ruler” is Joshua the high priest, a critical figure in Jewish history frequently mentioned during this period (Hag 1:1, 12, 14; 2:2, 4; Zech 3:1, 3, 6, 8-9, 11). Of course, the Jews did not possess a kingly anointed figure for 500 years after the Babylonian exile, but the Persians tolerated a high priest to function as a ruler.
  4. The verse stresses that Jerusalem will indeed be rebuilt and that there will be a physical returning from Babylonia. This, of course, was one of the main emphases in Daniel’s prayer (Dan 9:16, 19). There will even be a town plaza and moat in Jerusalem, as even these minor details are given to assure Daniel that the physical exile will come to an end. There is a minor caveat that there will be times of distress, but these are not qualified any further so as to gain any certain perspectives. They may very well be references to the troubles of rebuilding the temple, the marriage issues with Ezra, the subjugation by Alexander, or even the conflicts between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. As we can see, there are plenty of options for unnamed times of distress.
  5. I again must stress that the periods of weeks were not intended to literally be multiplied out in order to ascertain the specific day, month, and year of these events. There have gab been many interpreters over the past 2,000+ years who have tried this, and none of their timelines have ever worked to a consensus of scholarly  satisfaction. I noted in my previous post that there are multiple instances in apocalyptic works where various periods of “weeks” are used to divide and move through history, similar to different eras or blocks of time. If there is anything we can take away from ‘seven weeks’ and ‘sixty-two weeks’ it would be that there is a descent sized period with possible jubilee overtones (forgiveness from punishments of exile?) followed by a much more sizable period unqualified by specific events.
  6. I also need to point out that Gabriel’s explanation (9:24-27) covers four verses in a manner similar to what we have seen in every one of the dreams/visions in Daniel chs. 2, 7, and 8 wherein the narrator moves quickly over the initial portions of history only to focus more specifically upon the final kingdom and its “little horn” Antiochus IV. Note how much emphasis in the four verses is given to each subject:
    • 9:24 is the summary of the entire schema,
    • 9:25 deals with the first sixty-nine weeks
    • 9:26-27 focuses entirely on the final week.

This indicates that the primary purpose of the Gabriel’s explanation in 9:24-27 is to bring the reader through history only to focus primarily upon the events of the final week. Therefore it will be that week which will occupy my next post.

For those interested in further reading on Daniel 2 and its four kingdoms, see the recent post over at the “Its in the Text” blog.