Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (15): The Uniqueness of Biblical Apocalyptic

As noted above, critical scholars approach the books of Daniel and Revelation with the assumption that they are similar in character to the non-biblical apocalypses. According to John J. Collins, for example, the burden of proof must fall on those who wish to argue that Daniel is different in character from other examples of the genre. While many critical scholars today argue that Revelation (unlike Daniel in their opinion) is a genuine prophecy, they do not see in Revelation a window into the mind of a God who knows the end from the beginning.

Adventists are in serious disagreement with both a rejection of the special character of biblical apocalyptic and of the predictive nature of some of the utterances found in it. SDAs believe that God “knows the end from the beginning” and is well able to announce ahead of time “what is yet to come” through the Holy Spirit (Isa 46:10; John 16:13). While acknowledging the existence of pseudo-authorship and ex eventu prophecy in non-biblical apocalyptic, Adventists believe that the inspired apocalyptic of the Bible is substantively different.

The narrative setting of the book of Daniel is clearly in the courts of Babylon and Persia in the 6th Century BC. That was a time in history when the gift of prophecy was also exhibited in the work of Jeremiah and Ezekiel among others. Arguments for a sixth-century date of Daniel include: 1) The way Daniel handles months and years almost unknown in the writings of the second century BC, but quite common in the sixth. 2) The Aramaic of Daniel is much more like the Aramaic of the Persian period (Daniel’s time) than that of the Qumran scrolls (shortly after the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, the context of a second century date). 3) A case can be made that some of the Daniel manuscripts at Qumran are older than the time of Antiochus. 4) Daniel’s awareness of Belshazzar’s existence and position, something unknown in the second century. 5) Evidence from the field of archaeology is much more supportive of a sixth-century date than a second-century one (for more on this see the work of Gerhard Hasel in volume 2 of the DARCOM series, pages 38-44 and 98-100). The date when the book was written is, however, the crucial issue regarding the two Adventist assumptions, as few critical scholars question that Dan 11 includes a remarkably accurate portrayal of certain events in the fourth, third and second centuries before Christ.

A side note on the date of Daniel. According to John J. Collins (Daniel with an Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, 34), any discussion of apocalyptic must distinguish between the ostensible setting which is given in the text and the actual settings in which it was composed and used. The ostensible setting of Daniel is clearly the courts of Babylon and Persia in the sixth century BC. Critical scholars point out that in ancient times already, Porphyry pointed out that the predictions in Daniel 11 are correct down to (but not including) the death of Antiochus Epiphanes (mid-second-century BC), but are thereafter incorrect or unfulfilled (ibid., 36). This phenomenon of partial accuracy is common to all non-biblical apocalyptic. So critical scholars like Collins suggest that the burden of proof must fall on whose who wish to argue that Daniel is different from other examples of the genre (ibid., 34). Collins, for one, is open to the possibility that the court narratives of Dan 1-6 are earlier than the second-century, the crucial issue for him and us, obviously, is the authenticity of the predictions in Dan 7-12.

What critical scholars are not so quick to point out is that Porphyry was a pagan opponent of Christianity who was seeking to demonstrate its inauthenticity. Since predictive prophecy is a powerful evidence for the validity of the Bible, Christianity’s sacred text, Porphyry interpreted Daniel as a hostile witness, seeking to demonstrate that the crucial historical sequences of Daniel were all written after the fact. Christian readers of Daniel in Porphyry’s time and before (Irenaeus, Hippolytus and possibly Barnabas– see Froom, vol. 1, 210, 244-246, 272-273) actually had no difficulty seeing the prophecies of Daniel being accurately fulfilled in Rome, two centuries after the time when Porphyry (and the critical scholars with him) claimed that the book of Daniel was written. Collins’ burden of proof claim has some validity and can be answered (cf. Hasel in previous footnote), but the primary reality driving the late date position for Daniel is disbelief in predictive prophecy. If one doesn’t believe that divine revelations could result in genuine and accurate predictions, one must find some other explanation for the stunning accuracy of the predictions in Dan 11.

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