Friday, February 14, 2020

Daniel 8-9: vision and exegesis

AT READING ACTS, Phil Long continues his blog series on the Book of Daniel:

Daniel 8 –The Ram and the Goat

Daniel 9:20-27 – The Prophecy of the Seventy Sevens
One point of interest which does not receive a lot of attention in the scholarly literature is what Daniel 9 tells us about scriptural exegesis in the Second Temple period. The chapter opens with "Daniel" studying the scriptures and seeing that an oracle in the Book of Jeremiah (25:11, 12; 29:10) said that the end of the "desolation of Jerusalem" would happen after 70 years. The setting of Daniel 7 is the first year of Darius the Mede. There doesn't seem to have been any such person. But by Daniel's chronology that comes to 538 BCE, nearly 70 years after Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem (which also didn't happen) in 606 BCE (Daniel 1:1).

In other words, the time was near. The character "Daniel," naturally wants to know what happens next. But for the writer of the Book of Daniel, there is another problem: Jeremiah's oracle goes far beyond just predicting the return of Judeans to Jerusalem. It also has Babylon and the nations drinking the cup of the wine of the wrath of God and being decisively defeated (25:15-38). That didn't happen.

What does "Daniel" do to solve this exegetical problem? Does he pull out the concordances and commentaries? No. He prays and fasts and confesses his sins and his people's sins (vv. 3-19). And then the angel Gabriel comes and solves the exegetical problem. Gabriel reveals that the seventy years are in secret code: they actually refer to seventy weeks (of years), at the end of which there will be decisive eschatological judgment.

Daniel 9 is a story, so we should be cautious about over-interpreting it or over-generalizing from it. But arguably it tells us that Jewish scriptural exegesis in the Second Temple period could involve more than close reading of a text. The interpreters could use ritual practices to induce visions for themselves. And in those visions, angels could reveal hidden meanings of a text that solved exegetical problems.

For related thought on scriptural exegesis and on the use of ritual practices to induce visions in the Book of Daniel, see here and here.

And for notice of earlier posts in Phil's Daniel series, sometimes with my commentary, see here and links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.