From eschatological demarcation to doxastic soteriology

Sorry about all the $2 words in the title. Even if that didn’t make sense, I hope the rest of the post still does.

The End Is NearA couple years ago I wrote a post titled “Reconciling the Crucified Messiah“, where I summarized a naturalist perspective on the origin and ascent of a religious sect that was centered around a crucified leader; which is admittedly a bizarre turn of events. That post briefly discussed the development of Christian atonement theology as a consequence of the crucifixion and how that reconciliation was critical to transforming a seemingly insurmountable setback into a hallmark of the faith. But this new atonement theology did not entail that the salvation afforded by the atonement is only available to those who believe, and so here I would like to consider another curious yet synergistic development of the Christian movement: the introduction of doxastic soteriology (doxastic = “related to belief” and soteriology = “doctrine of salvation”, so a doxastic soteriology is a doctrine in which salvation is in some sense dependent on belief). I propose that this was largely driven by eschatological concerns (i.e., related to the end of the world \ final judgment).

Despite my Christian bubble having been popped almost four years ago, it only recently occurred to me that belief in Jesus (as messiah, lord, savior, etc…) might not have been viewed as a requirement for salvation in the earliest days of the movement. A doxastic soteriology certainly doesn’t appear to have been part of the mainstream Judaism to which Christianity owes its roots and, from a naturalistic perspective, it seems highly unlikely that Jesus himself taught that people had to believe in him to be saved, despite what the Gospel of John portrays.

So what happened?

There are several points of contact which show that the Nazarenes (early Christians) shared some influences with the Qumran community (whether directly or indirectly). Among these is an eschatological perspective in which the demarcation between the elect and the damned fell not along ethnic boundaries, as was implied by traditional Judaic eschatology, but rather around ideological boundaries. To the Qumran community, the elect were those who aligned themselves with the community lifestyle and ideology. It appears that this perspective was in part driven by a perception of religio-political corruption (e.g., the “wicked priest”) and the wish to exclude undesirable religious figures from Yahweh’s kingdom – a theme that is mirrored by the gospel narratives and was quite possibly an element of Jesus’ teaching. A similar shift was also occurring throughout greater Judaism in the second temple period. Ever since the Babylonian exile, the Jews had been trying to figure out how to deal with the diaspora and cultural intermingling. The rise of decentralized worship in synagogues and the need to accommodate cross-cultural relationships spurred a decline in the traditional ethnocentric eschatology that the earlier prophets sought as they lamented the conquests of Israel. As a whole, the Judaic quest for future justice was gradually transitioning from an ethnic foundation toward ideological foundations.

Combining this with the widely accepted understanding of Jesus as an eschatological prophet, we can imagine that Jesus and his followers considered themselves to be bearers of the gospel, where the good news was not that Jesus was going to die for your sins, but rather that the end of days was imminent – perhaps even facilitated by Jesus’ prophetic ministry – and that you too could be part of the eternal kingdom if you repent and adopt the lifestyle and ideology of their sect. This message may have even neglected ethnic boundaries. From this we can see that the seeds of a doxastic soteriology were present in Jesus’ message, but were only germinating. After the crucifixion, more changes came into play.

crackFirst, we have the Nazarenes continuing to proclaim their eschatological message despite their messiah having been killed and, furthermore, cursed by Yahweh as a consequence of having been hung and left exposed on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Though the Nazarenes appear to have wanted to remain Torah observant, their message became increasingly disagreeable and divisive as they continued to exercise midrashic liberty in defense of Jesus as messiah. As a result, the gulf between their sect and mainstream Judaism grew and they were, as a whole, steadily pushed and pulled away from participation in Jewish communities.

Then, as we consider the growing chasm between the Nazarene sect and mainstream Judaism we can turn back to the Qumran example to see what happens – namely, an eschatological evolution in which the opposing party is excluded from salvation (that is, participation in the eternal kingdom). As a close relative of Judaism, the early Christians had very few distinctions that could be used to draw that eschatological line in the sand. However, above all else, there was one thing that separated them from mainstream Judaism: belief that Jesus was the messiah. And so Christianity’s doxastic soteriology was born. As that chasm continued to grow so also did the prominence of belief as a central dogma of the Christian soteriology, reinforced by the synergistic coupling of a new atonement theology that was dependent on the object of that belief and independent of the temple sacrifices. Going one step further, the adoption of this eschatologically motivated doxastic soteriology also served to emphasize the significance of Jesus and so was perhaps instrumental in his eventual elevation as coequal with God.

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There’s something about Daniel

A visitor to Nate’s blog caught my attention a couple months ago when he started defending the ‘traditional’ view of Daniel’s authorship and prophetic legitimacy. I couldn’t resist participating in the discussion, given the time I spent studying Daniel, as documented in my posts on the prophecies of the kingdoms, Daniel’s authorship, and whether Jesus fulfilled the 70 weeks. This is an interesting topic due to the potential it holds as perhaps the best candidate evidence for a divine fingerprint on the text of the Bible.

Before going any further, let me start by saying that this visitor, Tom, has compiled the most thorough and reasonable defense of the traditional view of Daniel that I have ever encountered. I commend him for the time and effort that he put into it, even if I disagree with the conclusion. Regardless, in this post I want to review some of the new data I encountered (or more seriously revisited) during that discussion and offer some insight into why I find these ‘new’ arguments for an early authorship unconvincing.

Ezekiel’s reference to Daniel

It is generally agreed that Ezekiel was initially composed within the period of the Babylonian exile, and more importantly, well before the 165 BCE date attributed to Daniel under the Maccabean thesis. This means that a reference to the person of Daniel in Ezekiel 14 would seem to confirm the existence of the person described by the book of Daniel, which is more consistent with the view that it is an early composition. I didn’t give this a lot of attention in my prior study because it wasn’t obvious, for several reasons, that this was a reference to the Daniel of interest (note that it is spelled slightly differently – דנאל in Ezekiel, versus דניאל in Daniel, with an extra yud – so sometimes people give the Ezekiel name as Dan’el) but it also didn’t seem that this was very important given that I agree with the scholars who see that some of the narratives in Daniel probably have their roots in traditional stories that pre-date the Maccabean composition. Regardless, Tom presented this as a key evidence for the early authorship of Daniel and much discussion ensued.

The main thrust of the argument centered around the coupling of Daniel in Ezekiel 14:12-23 with Noah and Job as an exemplar of righteousness, and as exceedingly wise in Ezekiel 28:3. The primary alternate candidate for Ezekiel’s reference is to a Dan’el character known from Ugaritic sources and Tom argued that he is a poor fit due to his non-Yahwist allegiances. Eventually, Nate pointed out that Ezekiel refers to the “sons and daughters” of Noah, Daniel and Job, which is inconsistent with the life of Daniel from the book of that name. This piqued my interest and so I went back and re-read the passages from Ezekiel, at which point I was struck by a new insight.

Ezekiel 14:12-23 presents itself as a message from Yahweh to Ezekiel, offering insight into the nature of his relationship with Israel in light of the Babylonian conquest and exile. Here’s my summary of the message:

If I [Yahweh] pour out just one type of wrath (famine, animals, sword or plague) on a nation, the righteousness of people like Noah, Daniel and Job will only save themselves and no descendants will be spared. However, if I pour out all four forms of wrath on Jerusalem, you will see a remnant survive and their unrighteousness will show you why I brought punishment.

So it seems like there’s two points being made: (1) the calamity which has befallen Jerusalem was not undeserved, and (2) the Jewish nation is special in that God will show them mercy and not wipe them out entirely. Now, if this is a proper understanding of the passage – and I think it is – then it makes absolutely no sense that Daniel, a member of the Jewish remnant, would be named as a member of the nations that would be devastated by the wrath of Yahweh in contrast to the Jewish nation (though Job and Noah, as pre-Abrahamic characters, do fit). For the first time, it became clear to me that Ezekiel was not referring to a contemporary young Jew named Daniel, regardless of whether he was referring to the Ugaritic Dan’el or not.

The Letter to Aristeas

At one point, Tom suggested that my post on the authorship of Daniel had incorrectly identified the commissioning of the Septuagint in the 3rd century BCE as only including the Torah – he believed that the Letter of Aristeas shows that all the books now included in the Tanakh were part of that effort. If this were true, and Daniel was included in that translation, then this would be a defeater for the Maccabean thesis. So I went back and reviewed the Letter of Aristeas again.

First, a little background. The Letter of Aristeas is generally believed to be a later forgery that draws upon a series of possibly historical events which resulted in the commissioning of the official Greek translation of the Jewish law, known to us as the Septuagint. It claims that this was instigated by a suggestion posed to Demetrius of Phalerum, who was in charge of Ptolemy’s effort to collect “all the books of the world” for the famous Library of Alexandria. The majority of the letter references the “law of the Jews”, but in one spot – a purported memo from Demetrius to Ptolemy – it suggests adding translations of “The books of the law of the Jews (with some few others)”. This is the closest thing we get to a statement that the translation included more than the Torah. However, the purported letter from Ptolemy to the Jewish High Priest Eleazer only requests the law and the subsequent response from Eleazer to Ptolemy says that “I selected six elders from each tribe, good men and true, and I have sent them to you with a copy of our law. At the very best, the initial memo which proposed “some few others” correctly represents the actual effort and those few extra books just weren’t mentioned in the later correspondence. In that case, there may be a slim chance that Daniel would have been included. It seems much more likely, however, that the earliest translation effort only covered the Torah.

References to Daniel in …?

One of the other key arguments raised by Tom was that Daniel had been referenced by several different pre-Maccabean texts. I had not previously encountered this claim for some of the alleged references, so I decided to dig in and take a look. As before, this would be devastating blow to the Maccabean thesis if true.

  1. Tom proposed that “Tobit contains clear verbal allusions to Daniel.” Here he cites a paper by Roger Beckwith that argues for several different links to Daniel from pre-Maccabean sources. In that paper Beckwith states that:

    [Tobit] envisages a second more general return from exile … as the prophets of Israel spoke concerning them, which is to take place at ‘the time when the time of the seasons is fulfilled’. This glorious future rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple is probably seen by the author as foretold by Isaiah and Ezekiel respectively. But who fixed ‘the time when the time of the seasons would be fulfilled’ for this to happen? Could it be anyone but Daniel?

    I was interested to discover that the times and seasons language of Daniel was in fact present in Tobit. However, contra Beckwith, it does not put these words in the mouths of the prophets – rather, this is the language used by Tobit himself in his prophecy. So the direction of borrowing is not established, or even inferred, and it seems equally likely that the author of Daniel picked up this language from Tobit (or from the apocalyptic communities influenced by Tobit).

    It’s also interesting to note that Tobit claims to take place after the Assyrian captivity, which would predate Daniel. This means that if one is to argue for the early authorship of Daniel by suggesting that Tobit borrowed from Daniel, then it logically follows that the arguer accepts that there is precedent for Jews producing pseudoepigraphical works that were written after the fact to appear as if a known event had been prophesied. Sound familiar?

  2. Tom also claimed that “the Hellenistic Jewish historian Demetrius . . . had already . . . drawn up . . . [a] chronology of the seventy-weeks prophecy in Daniel 9 in the late third century B. C.” The footnote pointed us to another publication by Roger Beckwith, but one which is not readily available. Regardless, it didn’t take long to figure out that the original source is Clement’s Stromata Book 1, where it says:

    Demetrius, in his book, On the Kings in Judaea, says that the tribes of Juda, Benjamin, and Levi were not taken captive by Sennacherim; but that there were from this captivity to the last, which Nabuchodonosor made out of Jerusalem, a hundred and twenty-eight years and six months; and from the time that the ten tribes were carried captive from Samaria till Ptolemy the Fourth, were five hundred and seventy-three years, nine months; and from the time that the captivity from Jerusalem took place, three hundred and thirty-eight years and three months.

    I could not extract any allusion to the 70 weeks of Daniel 9 (which proposes 490 years from the Babylonian exile to the final judgment) and Tom never responded with an explanation.

  3. Another claim was that “Ecclesiasticus [Sirach] clearly refers to Daniel and contains a prayer that the prophecies of Daniel would be fulfilled soon“. This points us to Sirach 36:6-7 and 14-15, which says:

    [6] Rouse thy anger and pour out thy wrath; destroy the adversary and wipe out the enemy. [7] Hasten the day, and remember the appointed time, and let people recount thy mighty deeds. … [14] Bear witness to those whom thou didst create in the beginning, and fulfill the prophecies spoken in thy name. [15] Reward those who wait for thee, and let thy prophets be found trustworthy.

    This whole case rests on the prospect that the phrase “the appointed time” is being borrowed from Daniel and that the ‘prophecies’ are referring to Daniel and not any of the other eschatological prophecies in existence at the time. However, there’s no clear reliance on Daniel and the phrasing of an “appointed time” is also present in other eschatological contexts (Psalm 75:2 & 102:13, Habakkuk 2:3).

  4. Lastly, Tom proposed that the visions of Zechariah only makes sense if Daniel was already known. I never really understood this argument and explanations were lacking, but I did discover something new in the process of trying to understand it: many scholars suspect that Zechariah and Haggai were once part of a single text. When taken as a whole, it appears very likely that the prophecies and visions therein point toward an expectation that Yahweh’s eternal kingdom would arise through the reign of Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua (see Haggai 2:6-9 and 21-23, Zechariah 3:8, 4:9 and 6:11-13). This timeline is clearly different than one would expect if Daniel had been in view.

That’s It

There’s a lot more that was covered throughout the discussion and a ton of material in the document Tom put together but at this point I don’t feel the need to systematically dissect every single argument. The time spent researching these additional claims substantiated my suspicions that the ‘clear’, ‘obvious’ and ‘conclusive’ evidence for an early authorship is just as suspect as the data I had already reviewed. In the end, I feel pretty comfortable with the conclusions I’ve reached thus far – namely, that the book of Daniel, as we know it, was largely constructed in the midst of the Maccabean revolt by building upon a pre-Maccabean tradition to introduce prophecies that appear to predict events contemporary with the author. More specifically, my guess is that chapters 3 – 6 form the core of the pre-Maccabean tradition (though probably not as a unified text, and perhaps only as oral traditions). The dream and interpretation in chapter 4 and the hand-writing interpretation of chapter 5 then served as the inspiration for a Maccabean redaction to create the chiastic text of chapters 2 – 7, adding the chapter 2 and 7 prophecies, all in Aramaic. A second contemporary redactor then built upon this to add the introduction in chapter 1 and chapters 8 – 12 in Hebrew. As a young and volatile text, different versions, additions and arrangements of these redactions were available and are reflected in the Greek translations (LXX and Theodotion). This is my best shot at accounting for all the data.

Yeah, I missed April. Hopefully I’ll make it up with an extra post in the near future.

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My thoughts on The Case for Christ (Part 1, Section 3)

The Case For ChristThis post is the third in a series on Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ. In this post I offer my thoughts on the content of the book’s third section, The Documentary Evidence. In this section Strobel evaluates the preservation of the gospels through the multitudes of copies produced over time. To do this he interviews the renowned textual scholar, Dr. Bruce Metzger. The investigation keys in on:

  1. The number of manuscripts
  2. The dating of the manuscripts
  3. Variants between manuscripts
  4. The formation of the canon
  5. The Gospel of Thomas and other extra-canonical writings

Part 1: Examining the Record

Section 3: The Documentary Evidence

Argument #1: The immense volume of copies of the gospels that we have available allows us to reconstruct with fairly high fidelity the original texts.

My Response: I agree that today we most likely have critically filtered through the variations to compile something that is a reasonable approximation of early versions of the gospels (except where the translators have failed to incorporate those findings). However, I think the term “original” is used too loosely in this discussion. A text is most susceptible to variation in its infancy and there’s good reason to believe that at least both John and Matthew were cultivated within a smaller community before seeing wider distribution and familiarity. The mountains of copies that we have are predominantly much later (by a very large margin) and the earliest manuscripts are all in very small fragments. The thousands of copies that date past the fourth and fifth century do little to help us reconstruct the earliest texts.

Argument #2: The number of copies and the temporal proximity of the copies to the events they describe far exceeds what we have for any other ancient texts.

My Response: Agreed. Relatively speaking, the bible has a strong foundation of manuscript evidence. However, the numbers bantered about in this section are geared toward leaving you with a false impression of the scope of the earliest evidence. No attempt is made to distinguish between the earliest manuscripts and the more abundant manuscripts that come several hundred years after the events. Nowhere do we read that there are only three fragments of the gospels which are likely to predate the third century and that these contain a sum total of 12 verses. See http://www.usefulcharts.com/religion/oldest-bible-manuscripts.html for a clearer perspective of the earliest manuscript evidence.

Argument #3: The variations in the manuscripts don’t jeopardize any theological doctrines. Most variations have to do with word order, spelling and minor changes that don’t impact the message of the text.

My Response: As a percentage, this is true. This is an area where I think that Ehrman has a tendency to overstate the significance of the number of variants. However, the discussion here is not balanced and fails to delve into the implications of the more substantial variants, like the longer ending of Mark or the story of the adulteress in John. These demonstrate that even 200 years after the earliest versions of the gospels were produced some copyists were willing to intentionally introduce noteworthy modifications. Not only that, but those modifications propagated downstream without scrutiny. This is an acknowledged fact that is worth further discussion.

Building on the acknowledgment of these larger variants, I want to take a moment to contemplate how this might have applied to the earliest texts. If our only evidence of the content of the writings that were produced in the first 150 or so years is a few tiny fragments, and if we see that there are some major variations in the subsequent texts, why shouldn’t we expect that some of the earliest copies also had major variations? Is it not more likely that these types of changes would have gone unchecked before the texts were more widely distributed and had gained familiarity? Does it not make sense that the earliest copies, produced by a minority culture without an established orthodoxy and many divergent groups, were handled by relative amateurs who were insiders of those groups and thus more likely to inject corruption? Do we really have good reason to believe that the first couple hundred years of the text’s transmission did not carry with it the introduction of new material that we now consider “original”, despite the fact that this was known to occur in later texts? I think not. Certainly we can’t hypothesize the extent of such redaction, but it is clearly reasonable to suspect that it probably happened.

Argument #4: The books included in the New Testament canon are the writings which meet all of the criteria of apostolic authority, consistency with tradition and acceptance by the church at large. The majority of the canon was unanimously accepted by the end of the second century. The gospels, in particular, bare the marks of authenticity which are not present in other accounts of Jesus’ life.

My Response: When it comes to the gospels, it is fair to recognize the supremacy of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John over the other known gospels. These four gospels are attested by Irenaeus around 180 AD and the early church fathers don’t really lend support to any of the extra-canonical gospels. That said, there is some evidence for additional early descriptions of Jesus which are relatively congruent with the gospels but didn’t make the cut for reasons which are unknown (for example, the Egerton Gospel and the Gospel of Thomas, which is discussed later). Furthermore, the implication in this discussion is that the criteria also hold for the rest of the New Testament, but that’s difficult to support given the likelihood that at least a handful of the epistles are pseudepigraphs, which would supposedly be a problem for identification as the inspired word of God. This topic is never broached.

Argument #5: The gospel of Thomas was properly excluded from the canon because, though it agrees with the gospel accounts more often than not, it is likely a later text and contains pantheistic and misogynist remarks which are in opposition to the picture we see in the gospels.

My Response: I don’t really have an opinion on this. I see merit to the argument that the Gospel of Thomas should be considered to be as authentic as any other gospel. I’m not sure, however, that this is enough to argue for inclusion in the canon. For one, it does not appear to have nearly the widespread recognition and tradition that the other gospels had. This would, at best, make it the least authoritative of the gospels. Regardless, it should not be readily dismissed in the same way that the much later and more clearly fantastical works are.

Closing Thoughts

There’s not all that much in this section that is controversial, but it’s also clear that we are not presented with a truly skeptical investigation. The discussion of the transmission of the gospels employs sweeping generalizations to hide the issues that are present. The presentation of the formation of the canon was about as bare bones as it could possibly be and every controversy related to the canon, except for the Gospel of Thomas, was ignored. However, my biggest objection to the picture painted in this section is the implication of what the “originals” are. It seems that the intent is to make it appear as if the text we have today is much the same as what could have been found shortly after Matthew, Mark, Luke or John had risen from the table where he had just finished composing the gospel. There simply is no good basis for such an inference and plenty of reason to doubt it.

In the next post I’ll look at Part 1, Section 4: The Corroborating Evidence, though I may have to start combining sections and skimming past some of the less significant arguments. It’s taking a lot longer to review and parse out the arguments than I thought it would.

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My thoughts on The Case for Christ (Part 1, Section 2)

The Case For Christ
This post is the second in a series on Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ. In this post I offer my thoughts on the content of the book’s second section, Testing the Eyewitness Evidence. In the second section Strobel evaluates the gospels according to eight tests that are intended to check the integrity of the accounts. These tests are:

  1. The Intention Test (did the authors want to be accurate)
  2. The Ability Test (did the authors have the ability to report the truth)
  3. The Character Test (did the authors have a history of truthfullness)
  4. The Consistency Test (are the authors consistent in their claims)
  5. The Bias Test (is there reason to believe that the claims are biased toward a certain view)
  6. The Cover Up Test (does it appear that the authors withheld relevant information)
  7. The Corroboration Test (do the claims agree with external information)
  8. The Adverse Witness Test (do we have other claims which are contrary to the author’s claims).

Within each of these tests there are sometimes multiple arguments, so I have arranged my discussion to address each argument rather than just each test.

Part 1: Examining the Record

Section 2: Testing The Eyewitness Evidence

Argument #1: We can trust that Luke intended to write an accurate history because he tells us in the opening sentence that he had carefully examined the events. Matthew and Mark can be considered to be equally reliable due to the similar nature of their texts. Despite the admission in John that the text was intended to evangelize (20:31), this book can still be considered truthful because it is necessary to provide an accurate history if the author hopes to find acceptance for his message.

My Response: I’m inclined to believe Luke when he says that he researched the events, but that doesn’t mean he obtained accurate information or intended to uncover the truth at all costs. It seems most likely that his was an exercise of drawing from source texts and documenting oral traditions. It’s clear that Luke was an insider, not some objective investigator that was critically examining the information to arrive at the truth. His goal was to compile the stories circulating about Jesus and present them for a gentile audience. Apologists like to present Luke as if he was a modern day detective or some hyper-critical historian who’s primary concern was the integrity of his work, but there’s little reason to think this is the case and many reasons for questioning such a view.

Given that the synoptics used common source material, it should be obvious that they would then be similar. It doesn’t entail that they were intended to be wholly accurate histories. One of the more apparent counter-examples is the way that Matthew repeatedly takes Old Testament verses way out of context to map them to Jesus. One can’t help but feel that this is in some sense dishonest.

With respect to the Gospel of John, Blomberg again argues that an evangelistic purpose requires dutifully accurate reporting. Again, this is absurd. We don’t say that “history is written by the victors” to imply that the account is thus trustworthy. The implication is just the opposite, that we should wary of bias in the records produced by those in support of a cause or an allegiance.

Argument #2: The gospels were not composed as a response to the fact that Jesus had failed to return in the first few decades after his ascension. We know this because Jesus’ teaching actually suggest a long time span before his return and because his followers were accustomed to the long delayed fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.

My Response: I had never before considered that Jesus’ failure to return in short order had actually been a catalyst for the authoring of the gospels. The long delayed rise of God’s eternal kingdom through the nation of Israel certainly does give the Jews a track record of faithfully waiting for prophecies to be fulfilled. However, I must disagree with the assertion that Jesus’ teachings actually infer a long period time before his return. There are clear indications that the events are to occur in the near future and Blomberg offers nothing to support his claim that this is not the case. Furthermore, it seems that the Jews had began to grow impatient and this was in part responsible for the apocalyptic culture of the day. Nowhere in those Old Testament prophecies do we see an indication of two comings separated by a long period of time. Therefore, the earliest followers who believed Jesus to be the messiah almost certainly expected the complete fulfillment of all the prophecies as an immediate consequence of his arrival; and this is exactly what we see in their writings. As to whether Jesus’ lingering absence was an impetus for the introduction of the gospel accounts, I do not see this to be an outlandish claim but I also see no reason to hold that it is true.

Argument #3: We know that the earliest church did not put words into Jesus’ mouth because of the care taken in the epistles to avoid and condemn false teachings and because of the abundant controversies in the early church that could have just as easily been resolved by back-editing the solution into the gospels.

My Response: When it comes to religious doctrine and unverifiable claims, how do we define false teaching? Without a presupposition that certain people have been accurately bestowed with a divine revelation, the identification of false teaching is entirely subjective. As such, an author may be genuinely opposed to false teachings yet actively propagating ideas which do not reflect the truth. The propagation of falsehood does not require blatant deceit, it requires only an ignorance of the truth and it will be spurred on even more by the boldness of one who believes that they have the truth. If proclamations against false teaching are considered an earmark of a trustworthy author then the same standard must also be applied to the Qur’an and other religious texts.

The presence of controversy in the early church in no way precludes the injection of ideology into the gospels. Conversely, it appears likely that this in fact did occur. For example, Mark gives us little indication of Jesus’ divinity and so we see that this is incrementally expanded in the later gospels. To say that controversies still existed even after the gospels had reached general acceptance is only to say that attempts to clarify and defend a particular view were not comprehensively and cohesively implemented across all of the gospels. It is ludicrous to suggest that the injection of ideology would have resulted in a perfect harmonization of the texts. This argument only serves to distract from the theologically driven redaction that did occur.

Argument #4: The reproduction of sayings and events by the eye-witnesses is credible because they were sourced by a culture that stressed the preservation of oral tradition through memorization. The variation in the synoptics is comparable to what we would expect from a group that memorized the key points. This culture of memorizing oral traditions is self-correcting because the collective memory of the community would override the faulty recollections of any one person.

My Response: There’s a lot I could say on this topic but I’d like to focus on one thing in particular. A key implication of this section is that the similarities in the synoptics are not due to plagiarism but rather due to memorization of a common source. Among other issues, there is one gigantic problem with this. Jesus and his followers almost certainly spoke Aramaic. The synoptics are in Greek. In order for the textual similarities to have arisen only due to a common oral tradition, we also have to assert that the translation of those traditions into Greek often produced the same words, sometimes verbatim, but more commonly with a few additions, subtractions or replacements. This claim also requires that events (not just sayings) were recounted with a common phrasing. If this seems a bit far fetched then you can appreciate why nearly all scholars agree that the best explanation for the commonalities in the synoptic gospels is that they were composed by authors who had common source texts on hand.

It’s difficult to describe the nature of the textual similarities that we find in the synoptics. The best way to understand this is by reviewing the side-by-side comparisons, so I encourage you to review the comparisons available at http://www.textexcavation.com/synopticlistedinventory.html. The color highlighting does a great job of demonstrating how words and phrases were added, removed or changed within the scope of a larger common text.

Argument #5: It is unlikely that the gospel sources would put forth dishonest claims because they were devoted to a life of integrity, as taught by their leader, Jesus, and evidenced by their willingness to die for their beliefs.

My Response: First, there is little evidence that the authors of the gospels died for their beliefs. At best, Mark may have been martyred but the others more likely died of old age. Second, I agree that the authors believed the majority of their text to be truthful. As humans engrossed in a religiously charged atmosphere there were almost certainly instances of embellishment, unchecked bias and unquestioning repetition of memes but, as a whole, I see no reason to think that the writers were being deliberately deceitful.

Argument #6: The variations and apparent contradictions in the gospels are actually a testament to their veracity because they demonstrate that the texts were not the result of collusion.

My Response: …except when it’s clear that the text was borrowed (see argument #4). That said, John does appear to be largely independent of the synoptics and this is good evidence of at least two separate but similar traditions. However, this claim completely dismisses the possibility that the apparent contradictions and differences between the texts could be due to:

  1. Actual differences in the veracity of the claims, and
  2. The introduction or revision of claims toward an ideological end.

I agree that the gospels are not a perfectly harmonious testimony that reeks of collusion, but it doesn’t follow that the differences are then thoroughly virtuous and can be dismissed. When we encounter incongruous statements, is not the best explanation that at least one of the delegates is wrong? Or that the parties are partially mistaken and the truth is a selective composite?

Argument #7: Discrepancies between the gospels can be typically explained under careful examination. Strobel raises several examples for which Blomberg then provides an explanation.

My Response: I’ve opted not to look at each of the contradictions individually because, as Strobel indicates in the book, you could go on forever reviewing the possible discrepancies and proposed solutions. Here’s my problem: when you put aside the presumption that the text is inerrant, it is nearly always the case that the proposed solution seems less likely than simply admitting that the author was wrong. We have thousands of years and a wealth of personal experience that confirms the fallibility of humans. These inconsistencies are just what we should expect if the bible was written by humans without some divine guidance that ensured its veracity. The cognitive dissonance created by the mountain of peculiar explanations that are necessary to prop up the doctrine of inerrancy is easily relieved by one simple explanation: sometimes the authors were wrong, just like every other author that has ever existed.

Argument #8: The gospel writers did not present a biased account because they honored and respect Jesus so much that they were prompted to record his life with integrity. The social pressures would have, if anything, influenced them toward downplaying Jesus.

My Response: To be fair, Blomberg only asserts that “I think that’s what happened here”. This is more or less just repeating his opinion than providing an argument. In addition to understating the possibility that the gospel authors intentionally embellished or injected bias, this claim also ignores the unintentional bias that colors everybody’s writing. This subconscious bias is very likely to produce inaccuracies and should not be overlooked.

Argument #9: The hard sayings and embarrassing details that are retained in the gospels are evidence that the authors were not hiding or changing anything because otherwise they would have left those out.

My Response: This is a close cousin to argument #3 and so my response is similar: on what basis should we assume that the inclusion of some unsightly details then necessarily infers that all troublesome passages were not refined or excluded? We cannot claim that this kind of “cover up”, as Strobel calls it, didn’t happen at all just because there are some instances where it would have made sense from our perspective to have glossed over the truth.

It may seem speculative to suggest that maybe there were liberties taken for which we are not aware, but this possibility is not without merit. The gospels reveal several instances where it appears that the later authors (Matthew and Luke) modified the content borrowed from an earlier source (Mark) to make the end result less difficult. For example, Blomberg mentions Mark 6:5 as an example of one of these embarrassing passages but fails to mention how it appears that there actually was an attempt to correct it. Mark says that Jesus could not do miracles in Nazareth and was amazed at their unbelief, whereas Matthews says that he did not do miracles there because of their unbelief. Luke goes a step further and leaves it out altogether.

Argument #10: The archeological corroboration of people and places in the gospels attests to their authenticity and veracity.

My Response: It is to be fully expected that the gospels would reference actual people and places if Jesus is a historical figure. This argument seems to be primarily targeting a mythicist view of Jesus. Regardless, the claims of corroboration exclude any discussion of historical discrepancies, such as the inconsistency between Matthew’s dating of Jesus’ birth in the reign of Herod (before 4 BC) and Luke’s placement of Jesus’ birth during the census of Quirinius* (6 AD). The most lucid explanation is that one or both were mistaken. Instead of facing these, Blomberg suggests that we should consider situations like this to be insignificant because they are overwhelmed by the number of times where the gospel account corresponds with the historical record. This, however, is simply a tactic to divert attention away from the fact that the gospels look just like other texts from the period – texts which are written by humans and contain normal human mistakes.

* Strobel does deal with the census later, in Chapter 5.

Argument #11: The lack of antagonistic efforts to expose the falsehoods in the teachings of the early church serve as evidence that the claims of the early church were authentic. The Jewish recognition of Jesus as a sorcerer is evidence that he did in fact work miracles.

My Response: My initial reaction is that it’s not clear why we should think that the early Christian movement rose to the level which would warrant public opposition (preserved for us) by those who were able to dispute its claims. The only account we have of the local church is in Acts, which very likely inflates the numbers. The most successful evangelist by far, Paul, focused his efforts outside of Israel. So, from the Jewish perspective, the threat had been squelched with the death of Jesus and nothing more was necessary. One could even turn this argument on its head and contend that the lack of opposition is the result of Jews knowing that they didn’t need to do anything because Jesus was dead. I do not wish to defend such a view, due to it’s highly speculative nature, but it doesn’t appear to be much weaker than the apologist’s claim that the opposition was silent because they knew that the Christians’ claims were true.

It is also quite a stretch to assert that the Jewish description of Jesus as a sorcerer somehow authenticates his miracles. First, the remarks in the Talmud come hundreds of years after Jesus, so they are not based on first hand knowledge but are rather a response to the Christianity known in that day. Second, the culture readily accepted the authenticity of sorcery and this was a perfectly acceptable, if not preferred, explanation for the claims that somebody performed miracles.

Closing Thoughts

For the most part, this section is arguing against a very particular brand of skepticism which asserts that the gospels are predominantly fairy tales and were intentionally constructed as such. The arguments presented may serve to combat such a view, but they do nothing to diminish a more moderate view in which the gospels are largely based on actual events that were cumulatively filtered over the years through the lens of a believing community with a predisposition for accepting both the theological and supernatural claims of others.

On the whole we are presented with a false dichotomy. The general inference of this section is that there are two options: either the gospels are reliable or they are a complete fabrication. By presenting a case that they are not a complete fabrication, the apologist claims victory and accepts that the gospels are wholly reliable. There is a blatant disregard for the myriad of possible views in the middle, views which I suspect offer the most probable reconciliation of the data.

In the next post I’ll look at Part 1, Section 3: The Documentary Evidence.

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My thoughts on The Case for Christ (Part 1, Section 1)

The Case For ChristSeveral months ago I read Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ for the first time. I went into the book expecting to see a lot of familiar content and for the most part that was true. There were a few things I hadn’t heard before but overall it served primarily as a refresher. In that sense, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I came away from the book little more inclined toward the Christian view.

As a whole, this book has been hailed among evangelicals as one of the more accessible and forceful arguments for the divinity of Jesus. Given the popularity of the book, and the breadth of the evidence purported by it, I felt like it would be worthwhile to walk back through the claims of the book and see if I can explain why it did little to alter my current view. That’s what this series of posts is intended to be, something like a log of my initial reaction to the claims. These aren’t detailed, scholarly investigations. They’re short, simple responses based on the information I’ve encountered over time.

The book is split into three main parts and within each of these are sub-sections to support the broader claim. I started by thinking I could write one post for each of the larger sections but it didn’t take long to realize that I needed to break it up into smaller chunks. So, I’ve decided that I will write one post for each sub-section. This is the first in the series.

Part 1: Examining the Record

Section 1: The Eyewitness Evidence

Argument #1: There is no good reason to discount the traditional assignment of the gospel authors (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). These assignments are uniformly asserted in early sources. If we accept these assignments, then the text can be traced to first or second-hand eyewitness accounts.

My Response: The discussion does nothing to consider the timeline and interdependency of the sources which assign authorship and makes it sound like there are multiple independent confirmations of authorship. The agreement can be more reasonably viewed as the result of later writers repeating (and often adding to) the claims of earlier sources. So the question, then, is whether the earliest claims of authorship should be considered to be accurate. There are several reasons why those claims are questionable:

  1. The earliest source we know of is Papias, who probably wrote his claim regarding Mark and Matthew at least 40 years after the first writings appeared. It seems likely that all other claims of authorship are in some form building upon the tradition that Papias’ documents, and adding Luke and John. So, at best, we have one source whose claims regarding two of the books come from at least 40 years of oral tradition.
  2. The patristic sources infer a single, unadulterated authorship in describing the origin of the gospels. This assumption faces numerous challenges in light of the textual criticism that has been applied to those texts.
  3. Widespread redaction is readily acknowledged in the early writings. For example, the church fathers attest to numerous variations of Matthew. Why should we believe that we currently have the right one?
  4. These writings are coming from a culture with a long standing tradition of producing texts that are assigned to somebody other than the actual author. This is evident in both pre-Christian Jewish texts and early Christian texts.

Despite these qualifications, I would not be surprised if there were some truth in the traditional assignment of authorship. The named parties may very well have been in some way connected to some of the source content. I would not be at all surprised if the book of Luke, as we have it, was largely composed by Luke and, on his own admission, drawn from multiple prior sources. Matthew might have provided some of Jesus’ sayings somewhere along the line and these were then merged with other sources to produce his book (note that Papias referred to Matthew’s writing as “the oracles”, written in Hebrew). The gospel of Mark may very well have originated with something that was produced by John Mark and may have been rooted in accounts given by Peter. However, it is a very big jump to go from accepting that these parties may have in some way been involved in the original source material to saying that they faithfully wrote everything according to reliable eye witness accounts and that we now have at least a good approximation of their original text. If you want to dig further into the earliest authorship claims, there is a great collection of these at http://www.textexcavation.com/gospelorigins.html.

Lastly, I’ll just note that any view which finds it probable that Jesus was a historical figure (as I do) then implicitly agrees that the gospels have their origin in eye-witness accounts in some sense. The real question is whether the accounts we have are a fully accurate representation of the truth.

Argument #2: The gospels do not deal with anything except a very small portion of Jesus’ life because that is the portion which is most relevant. Ancient authors were not interested in producing full biographies but instead wanted to present key ideas and the most important aspect of Jesus’ life – the death and resurrection.

My Response: I don’t think it’s odd that the gospels exclude Jesus’ early life since his time as a public figure was clearly limited to this short period before his crucifixion. Of course, one can’t help but wonder how the creator of the universe slips under the radar for 30 years. Regardless, it does feel like Strobel is picking and choosing when he completely fails to discuss the accounts we do have. The virgin birth and other aspects of the nativity are never discussed despite the fact that these accounts in Matthew and Luke, among all the gospel material, bear the greatest resemblance to myth and legend and contain multiple apparent contradictions. If Strobel was really trying to play the role of the skeptic then he missed a gold mine here.

Argument #3: Markan priority is not a problem. Matthew only borrowed from Mark to help fill in the details from the perspective of Jesus’ inner circle, on the assumption that Mark is based on information from Peter.

My Response: Though not irrational, this explanation for the borrowing is complete speculation. I’m planning a separate post regarding the implications of borrowing in the synoptic gospels, so I’ll address this in more detail later. Here again, it seems like Strobel backs off from digging into a controversial area. How does the doctrine of inspiration fit into this borrowing? Was it inspiration when passages were copied verbatim? Doesn’t the accepted order here (Mark then Matthew) contradict the patristic claims of authorship (Matthew then Mark) that were considered to be reliable earlier in the discussion?

Argument #4: John does not reflect an evolution of the divinity of Jesus. The synoptics present ample evidence of Jesus’ divinity. Jesus’ use of “son of man” in the synoptics does not infer that he was a mere mortal.

My Response: Let me start by addressing the “son of man” topic, which is treated for a couple pages. I agree with the dismissal of Armstrong’s interpretation from A History of God that this infers human weakness. I agree with the assertion that this is an allusion to Daniel 7 – but it is also more than that. It is also found in other apocalyptic second temple writings (e.g., Enoch, 4 Ezra) which appear to be influential in the communities which bear the closest resemblance to early Christianity. The term reflects a brand of Judaism that emphasized the imminent realization of the prophecies of Israel’s restoration at the end of the age. Furthermore, Jesus’ use of the term in direct reference to Daniel implies a future event that contradicts the most likely explanation for the prophecy.

With respect to the lack of theological development in the gospels, I cannot agree. It is clear the Mark offers the lowest Christology, followed by Matthew and Luke, followed by John with the highest Christology. That this sequence coincides with the most likely chronology for the origin of the texts implies an evolution in the view of Jesus.

Argument #5: The distinct theological agendas of the gospels do not detract from their reliability but rather bolster their historicity because they require careful reporting to ensure acceptance of their claims.

My Response: While I appreciate the acknowledgement of the different ideologies in the gospels, I find it preposterous to suggest that “the very ideology that Christians were trying to promote required as careful historical work as possible”. This is so contrary to everyday experience and a wealth of psychological research that I’m not sure I need to say anything else. It is also interesting that Blomberg compared the extraction of truth from the gospels with the extraction of truth from other ideological texts. Does this mean that we should treat the gospels as we do those other texts; that we should not accept them at face value and instead sort through the propaganda to uncover the truth? I’m sure he would not agree.

Argument #6: The amount of time that passed between the events recorded by the gospels and the actual composition is insignificant compared to most other historical documents, which are generally accepted to be trustworthy (e.g., biographies of Alexander the Great from more than 400 years after his death).

My Response: I haven’t investigated this much but I get the impression that the comparison in the time differences is relatively accurate. It doesn’t follow, however, that the gospels are thus reliable. For one, there is a big difference between writings which claim to describe normal, human events which are generally supported by archeology and the records of outsiders, versus writings which claim to describe supernatural, religiously charged events with no hope of verification and come entirely from insiders. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed if the account is distorted in the first place. Furthermore, I find no reason to accept the claim that hundreds of years are required for unexceptional events to be contorted into exceptional stories, particularly when these stories have been nurtured by groups which are devoted to an apocalyptic and supernatural frame of reference. Lastly, this argument raises the same question as before: by comparing the reliability of the gospels with other historical works, are we then allowed to subject the gospels to the same scrutiny and to repudiate the questionable elements? This argument carries no weight unless we are also willing to adopt the same level of acceptance. While Blomberg infers that historians view other texts as generally reliable, I’m sure he knows full well that they are also littered with details that are not accepted as true.

Argument #7: By dating Acts to about the time of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, we can infer that the synoptics were more likely written in the 40-60’s range rather than the 60-80’s range. Also, by reviewing the claims in Paul’s letters we can trace the original claims of the death, resurrection and appearances to as little as two years after the events themselves.

My Response: I’ll admit that I don’t fully appreciate all the methods used to estimate the dates of the gospels, so I will for now defer to the consensus. It does seem a bit shaky to pin the earlier dates on the fact that Acts ends while Paul is in Rome. I also have no problem with the idea that Jesus’ death and resurrection was accepted very early. I’m inclined to believe that some of the apostles genuinely believed in the resurrection in short order, but that’s a topic for another day. In short, I don’t see why long periods of legendary development are required before we should begin to suspect that the stories of the resurrection of God incarnate may not be true.

Closing Thoughts

The portrait that Strobel paints in this first section is that in the four gospels we have a record that was originally produced with the utmost integrity for the expressed purpose of presenting an accurate historical account of Jesus. I fail to see how this high-level view has been adequately supported. The link to eye-witnesses is tenuous, the problems in the nativities are avoided, synoptic borrowing is accepted without consideration for its implications on the doctrine of inspiration, the issues of theological evolution and bias are unfairly dismissed and the claims are deemed truthful on the premise that very long periods of time are required for false or legendary material to develop.

Many, if not most, will accept the general outline of the gospels; that there was a man Jesus who developed a following, who purportedly performed miracles, who encouraged a life of humility and poverty, who proclaimed the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God, who was killed for disrupting the status quo and who was believed to have been resurrected. This extraction of the general story from the details of the specifics given by the gospels is the type of history that we similarly extract from other historical texts. To assert that the gospels should be treated with no less skepticism than is given to other ancient texts implies that, at the least, we must be willing to concede the improbable in the same way. Despite the implication that this level of scrutiny would be acceptable, I very much doubt that Christian orthodoxy is willing to take that step.

In the next post I’ll look at Part 1, Section 2: Testing the Eyewitness Evidence.

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Did Jesus fulfill Daniel’s 70 weeks?

The primary goal of this post is to evaluate the claim that the timing of Jesus’ arrival fulfills the prophecy in Daniel 9. About four months ago I started writing this as part of a series on prophecies of Jesus’ birth. As I started researching, however, I discovered the controversies surrounding the authorship of Daniel and the prophecies of kingdoms and realized that I needed to address those issues before I could discuss the 70 weeks (I suggest reading those posts first before continuing on here – this post will make a lot more sense with that background). Now, after slogging through those topics and then taking some time to step away, I’m finally ready to finish this off.

What do we know?Willem_Drost_The_Vision_of_Daniel_1650

The last four verses of Daniel 9 are commonly interpreted to show that Jesus’ life corresponds with the timing predicted for the arrival of the messiah. The passage is as follows:

” 9:24 “Seventy weeks have been determined concerning your people and your holy city to put an end to rebellion, to bring sin to completion, to atone for iniquity, to bring in perpetual righteousness, to seal up the prophetic vision, and to anoint a most holy place. 9:25 So know and understand: From the issuing of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until an anointed one, a prince arrives, there will be a period of seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. It will again be built, with plaza and moat, but in distressful times. 9:26 Now after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one will be cut off and have nothing. As for the city and the sanctuary, the people of the coming prince will destroy them. But his end will come speedily like a flood. Until the end of the war that has been decreed there will be destruction. 9:27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one week. But in the middle of that week he will bring sacrifices and offerings to a halt. On the wing of abominations will come one who destroys, until the decreed end is poured out on the one who destroys.””

There are several additional pieces of information that are valuable input into determining whether this prophecy might have been fulfilled in Jesus.

First, we need to establish the meaning of “weeks”. The hebrew word used here is “shabuwa” (Strong’s 7620), which is elsewhere used and translated as weeks in the familiar sense, that being seven 24 hour days. Despite this, there is nearly unanimous consensus that the proper translation in this case is to view the week as a period of seven years. I agree with this assertion and there’s a good explanation of the reasoning for this at the Christian thinktank. I’m not going to give this any further discussion.

Second, this passage in Daniel, particularly the last two verses, appears to have ties to the other prophecies in Daniel. The other prophecies speak of a coming ruler who destroys, stops sacrifices after 3.5 years, brings abomination and then is defeated after another 3.5 years. See the discussion of the kingdom prophecies for details.

Third, there are multiple ways in which the the translation of the text needs to be considered:

  1. The phrasing that divides the 69 weeks into two periods of 7 weeks and 62 weeks has two divergent translations. The translation given above (from the NET) is closely aligned with the most prominent translation, as found in the KJV, NIV and NASB. In this translation, the 7 weeks and the 62 weeks are coupled together and collectively treated as the forerunners to the arrival of the anointed one. Another translation, as found in the ESV, RSV and JPS, separates the arrival of an anointed one as occurring after the 7 weeks, which is then followed by the 62 weeks of rebuilding. For example, the ESV reads: “Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time.” This translation is based in part on the presence of an atnah in the Masoretic version of the text, which is roughly equivalent to a semi-colon. Under this translation it is clear that an anointed one arrives after 7 weeks and a second anointed one is cut-off in the next verse after the 62 weeks. This structure would not have been evident in the original text since ancient Hebrew did not include any punctuation. The punctuation added by the Masoretes is to some extent based on Rabbinical tradition handed down through the generations.
  2. Another distinctive difference in this alternative translation is the choice of the translation for the hebrew “dabar” (Strong’s 1697). Most Christian translations render this as “decree” or “command”, whereas this alternative translation uses the more generic “word”. This generic translation is in fact the far more common translation of “dabar”, which is used extensively throughout the Old Testament in various forms. It is also used in the surrounding context in Daniel to identify the word given by the Lord to Jeremiah regarding the 70 years of exile and to identify the message given to Daniel by Gabriel.

Finally, the timeline can only be interpreted once a reference point has been established. In this case, the “issuing of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” is the reference. The historical context for the person of Daniel makes it clear that the restoration of Jerusalem is subsequent to the Babylonian conquest and exile, which started in 597 BCE and, after years of political struggle, eventually left the city in ruins in 587 BCE. The best options for the “command” to restore Jerusalem are as follows:

  1. The earliest date comes from the possibility that the “word” to restore Jerusalem is equivalent to the prophecy in Jeremiah 30:18 and/or 31:38, where God promises that Jerusalem will be restored and rebuilt. An exact date is not available for the text in Jeremiah, but from the context (see 28:1 and 32:1) it can be most likely placed between 593 and 587 BCE.
  2. In 2 Chronicles 36 and Ezra 1 we are told that Cyrus, in his first year (539 BCE), issues a decree to build the temple in Jerusalem.
  3. According to Ezra 7, in 460 or 459 BCE Artaxerxes I allowed any Israelite to return to Israel with Ezra and to procure resources for use in the temple. Artaxerxes I came to power in August 465 BCE. The text states that Ezra left on the 1st day of the 1st month of the king’s 7th year. The first year could have been as short as the last 40 days of the Hebrew calendar in 465 BCE, or it could have considered to be the first full year. In the first case, the second year would have started in September 465 BCE, putting the start of the 7th year in September 460 BCE. In the latter case, everything is pushed back a year, such that the 7th year starts in September 459 BCE.
  4. According to Nehemiah 2, in 445 or 444 BCE Artaxerxes I granted Nehemiah’s request to return and rebuild the city, which included letters authorizing the travel and collection of resources. Nehemiah places this in the month of Nisan in the 20th year of king Artaxerxes. As above, the first year of the king has two possibilities, such that the start of the 20th year could be either September 446 BCE or September 445 BCE. The month of Nisan pushes this to March 445 or 444 BCE.

With respect to these last two options, I should note that there is some contention and confusion regarding the historical identity of the Persian kings named throughout the biblical text (see onetwo, three). I do not plan to engage in a deeper investigation of those issues at this time but I will note that the problem is legitimate because of the chronological discrepancies that arise from a plain reading of the text. The relevant point is that we are not guaranteed that the identification of Artaxerxes I serves as a solid foundation for the assignment of dates to the events recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah.

What is the Christian interpretation of the data?

As with the discussion of the kingdom prophecies, there are several Christian interpretations for this passage. Two of these claim that the prophecy is, at least in part, fulfilled by Jesus. These views, which we will call the historicist view and the futurist view, are often put forth as some of the strongest evidence for the divine inspiration of the bible. The common element to both of these is that they agree with the translation which does not bring in an anointed one after the first 7 weeks. In both cases, the mashiach does not come on the scene until the 7 + 62 weeks are complete.

The Historicist View

Under the historicist view, the prophecy is entirely fulfilled (included the 70th week) by the life and death of Jesus. A brief summary of this interpretation is given below and the detailed explanation can be found here.

  1. The 70 weeks starts in 460 or 459 BCE with the decree by Artaxerxes I, as found in Ezra 7. Many versions of this interpretation count from the second full year and then identify the arrival in Jerusalem as occurring in the second half of the year, making it 457 BCE.
  2. The 69th week comes to completion in 483 years (69 x 7), putting the start of the 70th week in September of 24 CE, or sometime in the first half of 26 CE if the later date of 457 BCE is used.
  3. The 70th week heralds the arrival of Jesus, but in the middle of the week he is cut off (28 – 30 CE), bringing sacrifices and offerings to a halt (since the atonement eliminates the need for sacrifice).
  4. The destruction of the temple in 70 CE is seen as fulfillment of verse 26, the destruction of the city and the sanctuary. Though this verse precedes the text regarding the 70th week, it is seen as a reference to those events which will occur after the 70th week.

The Futurist View

With the futurist (or dispensationalist) view, the prophecy is fulfilled only through the 69th week. The most famous explanation was put forth by Sir Robert Anderson in 1894, and was later updated by Harold Hoehner. This specific view claims to demonstrate fulfillment by Jesus to the exact day and is cited in several apologetic resources, such as Josh McDowell’s New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. A summary of the explanation is given below and the detailed explanation can be found here.

  1. The 70 weeks starts sometime in Nisan of 444 BCE with the decree by Artaxerxes I, as found in Nehemiah 2. This decree is chosen as the starting point because it is the one that explicitly refers to the rebuilding of the city, not just the temple.
  2. The duration of the 69 weeks is based on the Jewish calendar, which has 12 lunar months totaling 360 days. This is sometimes referred to as a “prophetic year” and does not account for the leap year corrections. This duration is 69 x 7 x 360 = 173880 days. Hoehner showed that if this is properly divided into solar years, you arrive at a duration of 476 years and 25 days in the Gregorian calendar. By adding this to Nisan 1 (or March 5) in 444 BCE, you arrive at March 30, 33 CE. This was determined by Hoehner to be the date of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
  3. In some versions of this view the first 7 weeks (ending around 396 BCE) is identified as the period where “the sealing up of the prophetic vision” is accomplished. The claim is that this is about the time that Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, was written. There’s little to no support for that claim, however, so this is often excluded from the discussion.
  4. In this view, a gap of indeterminate length is inferred between the 69th and 70th week. This view agrees with the historicist view in that the destruction of the temple in 70 CE is seen as fulfillment of verse 26.
  5. The 70th week is deemed to be a still future time period and related to the events in the book of Revelation.

What is the naturalistic interpretation of the data?

This interpretation builds upon the foundation presented in the naturalist views regarding the authorship of Daniel and the kingdom prophecies. In that context, the author of the 70 weeks prophecy was writing around 165 BCE and was constructing a prophecy which culminated in the contemporary actions of Antiochus Epiphanes.

The first component of this perspective notes that the start of chapter 9 recounts Daniel’s response to his reading of Jeremiah and the realization that the desolation of Jerusalem was to last 70 years. Daniel then petitions God for mercy until he is interrupted with the message of the prophecy. It is this context which leads one to consider Jeremiah’s prophecy of Jerusalem’s restoration as a likely candidate for the “word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem”. In this case, the message from Gabriel was building upon the very scriptures that Daniel had been contemplating. Under this view, the start of the 70 weeks would then be around 593 to 587 BCE.

The relationship to Jeremiah’s prophecy is also important for understanding the choice of a 70 week duration. Within the naturalist explanation, this is an artifact of the author’s attempt to parallel Jeremiah’s prophecy rather than an exact definition of the time span. This is discussed in more detail later.

With respect to the two competing translations (the third data point in “What do we know?”), the naturalist agrees with the translation that yields two anointed ones. The preference for this translation is based on the view that it yields a better harmonization with the historical data and with the language and the surrounding text. This is supported by the following:

  1. This translation offers the best explanation for the fact that the text divides the first 69 weeks into two parts of 7 weeks and 62 weeks. Why would the 69 weeks have been split unless it was intended to demarcate two events?
  2. The division rendered by the Masoretic punctuation is the best option we have for estimating the original sentence structure since this reflects the Rabbinical tradition.
  3. If the first 7 weeks (49 years) starts from Jeremiah’s prophecy and if we take this to be around 593 to 587 BCE then that puts us somewhere around 540 BCE. Along with this, note that the first mashiach which arrives at the end of this period is qualified in the prophecy as being a prince (nagiyd, Strong’s 5057), which is used consistently in reference to a political ruler. In 539 BCE the Persians conquered Babylon and took over the kingdom. The Persian king, Cyrus, allowed the exiles to return to their homeland and, as a result, he is called God’s anointed – mashiach – in Isaiah 45. This fits well with the anointed one that comes after the first 7 weeks. In fact, it seems possible that this is inferring that God’s answer to Daniel’s petition was to reduce the 70 years to 49 years and that this was accomplished when Cyrus showed up. Under the Maccabean Thesis, the author of Daniel would have been familiar with the Isaiah text and the reference to Cyrus as mashiach.
  4. The next 62 weeks starts the period of rebuilding the temple and city after Cyrus gives the Jews freedom to return to Jerusalem. At the end of the 62 weeks the prophecy indicates that an anointed one (but not identified as a prince) is cut off. In the discussion of the prophecies of kingdoms, the naturalist view associated this person with Onias, who was murdered in the years leading into the actions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This would have occurred around 170 BCE, which is about 369 years after the alleged start of the 62 weeks (434 years). That date is about 65 years too soon.
  5. The prophecy states that after the 62 weeks “the people of the coming prince” (again, prince = nagiyd) will destroy the city and sanctuary. This is the start of the final week and the portion of the prophecy that is attributed to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid ruler. The portion of the prophecy spanning the last week carries many parallels to other prophecies in Daniel. Refer to the discussion of the prophecies of kingdoms for details.

The most obvious and significant problem with this view is that the second period is 65 years too short. The naturalist argues that it is not without warrant to suggest that the author did not properly reconcile the duration of this second period. In fact, it appears likely that the author could not have accurately reconstructed the duration and may not have been very concerned with the accuracy anyway. This argument is based primarily on the following:

  1. It appears that the first standardized Jewish system for identifying the year (minyan shtarot) was not introduced until about 312 BCE. Prior to this, years were only identified relative a king’s reign. It is not clear how an author writing in 165 BCE would have obtained an accurate determination of the number of years that had passed since a known historical event 400 years earlier. As evidence of this difficulty, note that the development of the Jewish calendar appears to have introduced multiple issues which bring it in conflict with other dating systems.
  2. It is reasonable to suspect that the author was more concerned with numerology than accuracy. Note that the first period is 7 sevens (the pervasive number of perfection) and the total period is 70 sevens (matching the 70 from Jeremiah’s prophecy). The 62 week duration of the second period may have been little more than a byproduct of the author’s realization that the historical periods seemed to fit with the desired numerology.

Lastly, the natural explanation concludes with a discussion of the use of the hebrew “mashiach” (Strong’s 4899) in the prophecy. The NET translates mashiach as “anointed one” and several other translations use the transliteration into “messiah”. It turns out that the word mashiach is never actually used anywhere in the Old Testament to refer to the eschatological figure that came to be known as the messiah. The application of the word mashiach as a reference to the eschatological figure who rises to power at the end of days only began to arise in the late second century BC. If this usage in Daniel is in fact a reference to the figure implied by other prophetic texts then this is the first and only reference which applies the “messiah” terminology, even if the later date for Daniel’s authorship is accepted. Furthermore, the prophecy of the 70 weeks does not appear to be placing the focus of the prophecy on the mashiach. The end of the prophecy, with it’s eschatological implications, does nothing to incorporate the prior references to a mashiach – in fact, it leaves the mashiach as having been cut off. If this prophecy was really about the arrival of the mashiach then why isn’t he a central figure in bringing an end to the one who destroys?

Which interpretation seems more probable?

I will often develop preliminary probabilities as I research and fill in the details of a post. In this case, my preliminary estimates had favored the Christian view. After further research, the data eventually led me to split the probabilities 50/50. It seemed to me that the Christian interpretation did the better job of fitting the timing while the naturalist interpretation did the better job of fitting the language and context. However, as I continued to dig further it became apparent that I had been working under the false assumption that the author of the text had at his disposal a relatively accurate accounting of the historical record and would have used this. This assumption was gradually defeated as I began to uncover the multitude of chronological problems. In light of those issues, it would seem that it would actually be presumptuous to think that a Jewish author writing around 165 BCE could accurately recount the number of years that had passed since events some 400 years earlier. As such, there is nothing to discredit the notion that Daniel’s 70 sevens was largely devised to mimic Jeremiah’s 70 years and was not intended to reflect an accurate passage of time. This may in fact be the most proper view of the 70 sevens.

Even so, the Christian interpretations presented above do not rely on an accurate biblical chronology – they only rely on the proper identification of the person of Artaxerxes I. If that assignment holds up, then the Christian view still does a better job of fitting the timing. There are some oddities, however, such as the starting from the second year of the king’s reign in the historicist view, or using the lunar year in the futurist view (additionally, I think that the start date might be wrong). Regardless, these views would still come out to within 5 to 10 years of Jesus’ ministry, which is pretty good considering that we’re talking about a nearly 500 year span in total. Aside from the timing, however, the Christian interpretation of the passage is difficult. The relative dismissal of the split after the first 7 weeks seems unfounded. The insistence on the translation of “dabar” as “decree” is odd, particularly when more fitting options could have been used, such as “choq” (Strong’s 2706), “tsavah” (Strong’s 6680) or “dath” (Strong’s 1881), which has an Aramaic derivative that is used in Daniel to describe royal decrees. The fact that, under the Christian view, this would be the first and only use of mashiach in reference to the eschatological figure was a surprising result. And, in the case of the futurist view, there’s no clear basis for the gap leading up to the 70th week.

When I consider everything, I feel that the naturalist interpretation does the better job of fitting the context and explaining the language. When that assessment is coupled with the fact that the author probably could not have accurately counted the years leading up to the events of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and that the timing was most likely secondary to the author’s numerological goals, I am led to believe that the naturalistic interpretation does a better job of explaining the data.

Christianity
35%
Naturalism
65%

This conclusion is not without significance. The accuracy of this prophecy has long been held up as one of the most powerful evidences for the divine inspiration of the bible. If a comprehensive evaluation yields results wherein the prophetic interpretation can be considered to be less compelling than a natural explanation, that is a noteworthy outcome.

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The authorship of Daniel

In this post I will evaluate the question of who wrote the book of Daniel and when did they write it. This consideration is directly tied to the evaluation of the kingdom prophecies in Daniel. In a companion post I have discussed the fulfillment of the prophecies of kingdoms and I suggest that you read that post first before consuming this post.

What do we know?Hand writing on the wall

I’ve identified the following as the key pieces of information for my evaluation of Daniel’s authorship:

  1. The first half of Daniel presents the lives of Daniel and his compatriots in the third person. There is no indication that any of the parties involved in the story itself are the authors. The first six chapters proceed to cover about 60 years in this fashion, by way of several discrete stories. The identification of kings and events tells us these stories span from 597 BC (the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon) to about 539 BC when Cyrus the Great overtook Babylon for Persia. About half of these stories serve to demonstrate Daniel’s role as an interpreter of dreams and visions.
  2. The second half of Daniel, chapters 7-12, jumps into a substantially different message. Chapter 7 introduces Daniel in the third person but then proceeds to quote Daniel’s report of his prophetic vision and the angelic interpretation entirely in the first person. The subsequent chapters, 8-12, are written almost exclusively in the first person (all expect the one verse introduction in chapter 10) and continue with the theme of prophetic vision and angelic revelation. These prophecies are largely concerning the events which are to occur after the Jewish return from exile and the rise of Yahweh’s eternal kingdom.
  3. The Masoretic text of Daniel has been preserved in two different languages. Chapters 1 – 2:4a and all of chapters 8 – 12 are written in Hebrew, whereas the remainder (chapters 2:4b – 7) are written in Aramaic. Of all the Masoretic texts in the Tanakh, only Ezra also contains Aramaic texts, but these portions are almost exclusively those which quote documents of external origin. Aramaic did not begin to see widespread use when authoring Jewish writings until about 300 BC.
  4. The Septuagint version of Daniel is substantially different than the Masoretic text. There is also a third major version of Daniel, the Theodotion text, which somehow become the primary Greek version of the book and found its way into the bulk of transmissions of the Greek texts. The Theodotion version is closer to the Masoretic text but still contains many of the variations in the Septuagint. The most striking difference between the Greek and Masoretic texts is the addition in the Greek of the apocryphal texts of the Prayer of Azariah, Bel and the Dragon and The Story of Susana. There are also numerous additions and subtractions scattered throughout the texts, particularly in the Aramaic portion (chapters 2-7). Refer to Meadowcroft’s “Aramaic Daniel and Greek Daniel: A Literary Comparison” for a comprehensive analysis of the differences. The Greek version of Daniel is estimated to have been translated no later than 63 BC (Knibb, 433).
    1. Note that the inclusion of Daniel is the Septuagint is often claimed as conclusive evidence that it was written before 250 BC. However, that date refers to the commissioning of the Greek translation of the Torah in the third century BC, as attested by the Letter of Aristeas. The remaining books were translated over the next couple centuries and it is unclear when exactly each was translated.
  5. The copies of Daniel discovered at Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) are substantially in agreement with the Masoretic text. The Daniel texts at Qumran are roughly dated to between 125 – 25 BC.
  6. 1 Maccabees 2:59-60 refers to the fiery furnace and lion’s den, which are also recorded in Daniel. 1 Maccabees 1:54 identifies the “abomination of desolation”, which uses the same phrasing as in Daniel. The Books of the Maccabees record historical events from 175 to 134 BC and so were written during and\or after those events.
  7. There is significant debate about the evidence for the dating of Daniel’s authorship from linguistic analysis. Contentions abound regarding Greek and Persian loan words, the style of Aramaic and Hebrew, etc… The best place to find a summary of the issues is in the substantial number of apologetic works which cover these in detail (see one, two, three). An example of an issue in this domain is that Daniel 4 identifies angels as “watchers” (Aramaic iyr), which is also present in the Book of Enoch and Jubilees but not in any earlier works. Daniel is also the first and only identification of the angel Gabriel in the Old Testament, though he is featured prominently in the apocryphal works and the Christian tradition.
  8. Daniel’s identification of 6th century rulers does not match other historical sources. Daniel identifies the sequence of rulers as follows:
    • Nebuchadnezzar
    • Belshazzar (son of Nebuchadnezzar)
    • Darius the Mede (son of Xerxes), who setup 120 Satraps
    • Cyrus the Persian

    Continuity between these rulers is not always directly stated but is generally inferred.
    Multiple other historical sources identify the sequence of rulers as follows:

    • Nebuchadnezzar, ruled 605-562
    • Amel-Marduk (son of Nebuchadnezzar), ruled 562-560
    • Neriglissar (Amel-Marduk’s brother in law), ruled 559-556
    • Labaši-Marduk (Neriglissar’s son), briefly ruled in 556
    • Nabonidus ruled 556-539 (father of Belshazzar, who was 2nd in command and was most likely the primary ruler in Babylon from about 551-541 while Nabonidus was in Tayma)
    • Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon and ruled from 539-530
    • Cambyses (son of Cyrus), ruled 530-522
    • Smerdis \ Gaumâta, ruled for a few months in 522
    • Darius overthrew Smerdis \ Gaumâta and from ruled 522-486. He is credited with establishing 23 Satraps for the kingdom.
    • Xerxes (son of Darius) ruled 486-465
  9. There are no external references to the prophet Daniel, or his writings, in Jewish literature until 1 Maccabees, with the possible exception that Ezekiel made reference to Daniel in Ezekiel 14:12-23 and 28:3. The claim that Ezekiel is referring to the Daniel of interest here, however, is widely disputed (see one, two, three). Even so, it should be noted that there is little opportunity for such external references to Daniel due to the scant number of texts that we have identified to have been authored between 500 and 120 BC. The primary concern on this matter is Daniel’s absence from Jesus Ben Sirach’s extensive listing of famous historical figures (Sir. 44 – 54), composed in the early 2nd century.
  10. There appears to be a strong correlation between the text of Daniel 9:7-14 and Baruch 1:15-2:12. The nature of the correlation is unknown, though the majority view is that Baruch borrowed from Daniel. There are no extent versions of Baruch in Hebrew, though it is suspected that at least Baruch 1:1-3:8 was translated from Hebrew. The exact date and authorship of Baruch is unclear and it is generally believed that our current version combines material from multiple authors and time periods, with the primary period of authorship being the Maccabean era.
  11. In Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, Chapter 8, Josephus reports that the priests showed the book of Daniel to Alexander the Great upon his arrival in Jerusalem and pointed out the prophecy that a Greek would destroy the Persian empire. This presentation to Alexander would have taken place around 330 BC. The Antiquities of the Jews was composed by Josephus around 94 AD.
  12. In the Jewish collection of the Tanakh, Daniel was included as one of the “Writings” (Ketuvim) instead of the “Prophets” (Neviim). This assignment stands in contrast to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and all the minor prophets.
  13. The Talmud (Baba Bathra 15a, written between 200 – 600 AD) records that the book of Daniel was “written” by The Great Assembly along with Ezekiel, the Twelve minor prophets and Esther. The word “written” is generally considered to be more accurately viewed as a synonym for “adopted”. This adoption would have occurred some time shortly after the return from the Babylonian exile (c. 500 BC).
  14. Jesus refers to the person of Daniel (Matthew 24:15) and quotes from Daniel (“son of man”, “abomination of desolation”) on several occasions in the New Testament. In doing so, Jesus affirms Daniel to have been a prophet.
  15. Lastly, and most significantly, the prophecies in Daniel show remarkable agreement with the known historical events up until Antiochus IV Epiphanes through 167 BC but falter in predicting the subsequent events. This is covered in detail in the companion post which evaluates the predictions themselves.

Collectively, this data has led most scholars (Collins, p88) to assign the authorship of Daniel to about 165 or 164 BC, the point in time at which the prophecies would transition from being fulfilled to not being fulfilled. It goes without saying that this would imply that Daniel is not the author.

What is the Christian interpretation?

The Christian view on the authorship of Daniel is founded on the assumption of the text’s authenticity. By this, I mean that this view trusts in the accuracy and truthfulness of the accounts given in Daniel. Under this premise, the content favors two possible authors: a first-hand witness to the events or a divine revelation to a third party after the fact. Given the first-person style that names Daniel in the last five chapters and the intimate details of the events described in the first six chapters, the most logical conclusion is that Daniel himself wrote the book. With this conclusion in place, the book’s authorship is considered to be either a gradual accumulation of material throughout the period identified in the text (597 – 539 BC) or a single composition which was produced near the end of Daniel’s life.

Working on the assumption that Daniel is the author, the Christian must then account for the data points above which conflict with this view. I will try to summarize the Christian apologists view on these issues in the following paragraphs. Refer to the apologist links given in #7 above for further details.

The Use of Multiple Languages and Perspectives

The explanation for the multiple languages and points of view which are present in Daniel is often addressed in the form of an argument for the unity of Daniel, wherein the alternate presentations serve a literary function. The most prominent of these sees the different languages as addressing two different audiences: Aramaic for the Babylonians and Hebrew for the Jews. The difference in point of view is seen as an additional side effect of this literary form. Other arguments employ similar reasoning, such as outlining a symmetry in the literary structure, suggesting a sort of poetic and symbolic meaning to the structure.

Divergent Translations

As far as I can tell there is little explanation given from a Christian perspective for the widely divergent translations. These are generally taken to be nothing more than the result of corruption by an imaginative redactor, either prior to or after the original translation for the Septuagint.

2nd Century Texts

The presence of Daniel manuscripts at Qumran and the reference to Daniel in 1 Maccabees is cited as evidence of the early composition date for Daniel. The thrust of this claim is the assumption that a text could not see such widespread familiarity and adoption in the short a period of time (about 40 years) required for the critical date.

Linguistic Analysis

The apologetic coverage of this aspect is substantial but boils down to showing that the loan words and styles were not necessarily unavailable in the 6th century. In so far as the similarities with later apocryphal works, the claim is that Daniel is the original from which others drew inspiration. Refer to the apologetic links for details.

Mismatched Rulers

The historical Darius arrives far too late to have been aligned with the Darius in Daniel, so the predominant theory is that Darius the Mede is either some as of yet unknown ruler or an alias for a known ruler (perhaps a governor named Gubaru or for Cyrus himself). Under this theory, Daniel ends up much closer to the historical record once a couple more concessions are made: First, Belshazzar needs to be seen as “effectively king” with a primary leadership role during Nabonidus’ reign. Second, Nebuchadnezzar’s actual son isn’t listed, as well as other rulers prior to Belshazzar, because they didn’t align with any of the events in the story. Daniel’s claim that Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar’s son is also, in this case, taken in a political sense rather than a biological sense.

No External References Prior to 2nd Century

First, most apologists will assert that the Daniel in Ezekiel is the Daniel of interest here. Second, they will point out the fact that there are not many texts to examine from the 5th through 3rd centuries. Lastly, Daniel’s absence from Jesus Ben Sirach’s text is dismissed on the grounds that several other prominent figures are excluded, such as Job and Ezra.

Commonality with Baruch

Like Daniel, the perspective put forth by the author(s) of Baruch suggests that it was written during the Babylonian captivity. If this is taken at face value, then Baruch’s borrowing from Daniel would support an early date for Daniel’s authorship.

Daniel as a Writing instead of Prophet

The primary argument regarding this data point as evidence of a later authorship involves demonstrating that Daniel was considered a prophet early on (using the grouping of the Septuagint) and that it was not until much later that the book was considered to be part of the Writings. This categorization is often theorized to be an attempt to hide the relevance of Daniel’s prophecies to the person of Jesus.

Jesus’ Use of Daniel

These occurrences are used to show that Jesus considered Daniel to be an authentic and true prophet. On the assumption of Jesus’ authority and infallibility this then serves an undeniable evidence for Daniel’s authenticity – meaning that it was written by Daniel in the 6th century BC.

The Fulfillment of Prophecies

This aspect is covered in detail by the companion post. In short, it is only the preterist view which sees the events in Daniel as having been fulfilled by the historical events over the next six centuries. That view then sees Jesus, the new covenant and the church as fulfilling the portions of the prophecies which foretell the rise of the eternal kingdom. All other views (e.g., dispensationalism) see many of the prophecies of Daniel as separate from those early events.

What is the naturalistic interpretation?

The naturalistic view does not start with an assumption of Daniel’s authenticity. From this perspective, one does not immediately accept that the author is Daniel, though this is certainly the appropriate default stance based on the claims of the text. As previously noted, however, further consideration has caused many scholars to suggest that Daniel, or at least the prophetic portions of it, were written about 165 BC. This is often labeled the Maccabean Thesis and I will adopt a form of this as the naturalist position on this topic.

This view starts by allowing the possibility that Daniel is in some sense a historic person. The naturalist has no reason to deny the existence of a person named Daniel who rose to some level of prominence during the Babylonian exile. Potentially this is the Daniel referenced by Ezekiel, though he seems an odd fit for the context of those verses. Despite this allowance, the naturalist position also allows the possibility that Daniel is entirely legendary, which is supported by pointing out the similarities between Daniel and Joseph (Genesis 41). Both stories describe a captive in a foreign land who rises to a powerful position by interpreting the dreams of the country’s rulers. This is particularly relevant when paired with the observation that Jesus Ben Sirach, in the listing from which Daniel is excluded, says of Joseph that “no man like Joseph has been born”. Whether real or legendary, the naturalist also allows that the figure of Daniel may very well have been known in some respect prior to the composition of the current text. Oral tradition, and perhaps even written tradition, is a good candidate as the source of the narrative portions of Daniel (chapters 1-6). These portions of the text fit much better with the expectations of an inherited tradition than of a sudden work of fiction. The pre-existence of some form of a Daniel tradition is bolstered by the Qumran text “The Prayer of Nabonidus“, which appears to be an alternate version of the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness in Daniel 4.

The naturalist position with respect to the prophecies in Daniel is covered in detail by the companion post. In short, this view sees a breaking point between fulfilled prophecy and unfulfilled prophecy at about 165 BC. If one considers that the composition at this time is building upon existing narratives about the person of Daniel, as captured in chapters 1 – 6, then it becomes apparent how this effort might produce a text containing multiple languages (Hebrew and Aramaic) and different points of view (third person and first person).

The naturalist recognizes the limited time-frame between 165 BC and the translation of the Septuagint and the transmission of Daniel at Qumran but does not see this as persuasive evidence to the contrary. There are several reasons for this:

  1. If the person of Daniel is allowed to have been known in some capacity prior to the inception of the text then that would aid in the rapid adoption of the text as authentic.
  2. There is little reason to assert that 40 years (conservatively) is too little time for the transmission and adoption of the text. One only needs to reflect on the adoption and transmission of texts in early Christianity, or upon the events that have transpired in one’s own lifetime, to gain an appreciation of just how much can happen in 40 years.
  3. Given the historical context, any text which foretells of the destruction of Antiochus IV and the subsequent rise of the Jewish kingdom would have been likely to see immediate acceptance and distribution by those familiar with his role in Jerusalem. The text’s acceptance may have then been further advanced by the death of Antiochus having occurred near the 3 1/2 years foretold in Daniel. Thereafter, the introduction of the Hasmonean dynasty and the largely independent Israeli state would have further legitimized Daniel’s prediction of the rise of the Jewish kingdom. Throughout this period, the state of affairs could have easily been seen as validation of the prophecies in Daniel. When this is combined with Daniel’s implications regarding the end of days, one could imagine how this would have reinforced and perhaps even helped instigate the apocalyptic culture that seemed to grow during this time. Many critical scholars would argue that Jesus was part of that culture.
  4. The extreme variations in the Septuagint, Theodotion and Masoretic versions of Daniel can actually be seen as an argument for the critical date. The infancy of ancient texts was quite dynamic as oral traditions, philosophies, pre-existent texts and multiple perspectives were woven into the new text. It is not until that new text became adopted by the culture that the text became more static. Only once a community had come to agree on the value of a text did the text become resistant to change. At this later stage alterations would be readily detected (due to familiarity) and would cause dissension in the community. Minor changes which arose during transmission were tolerated because they were often overlooked and did little to alter the shared value of the text, but major reorganizations, additions and deletions would be disruptive. In light of this, the widely divergent translations of Daniel would point toward the more recent authorship and against the notion of a text that had been accepted in the community and transmitted faithfully for 400 years prior to the translations.

In the closing verses of Daniel the naturalist also sees the author attempting to hide the fact that the text was written around the critical date. Verse 12:4 reads “But you, Daniel, close up these words and seal the book until the time of the end.” Then in verse 12:9 “He said, “Go, Daniel. For these matters are closed and sealed until the time of the end.” The most likely explanation for these verses is that they are an attempt by the author to explain why the text was not known until now – that is, at the time of his writing, a time that the author perceived to be very close to the end of days. This is in stark contrast to Revelation 22:10, “Then he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy contained in this book, because the time is near.” If these verses in Daniel are viewed from a Christian perspective then the only possible explanation is that the divine commandment to seal the words until the time of the end was violated some time before the late 2nd century BC, even though that obviously wasn’t actually the time of the end.

The naturalist view also points out that the books of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees provide detailed accounts of the events surrounding the reign of Antiochus IV, and are the earliest external references to the person of Daniel, yet fail to recognize the fulfillment of the prophecies of Daniel. The only references are in 1 Macc. 2:59-60, which refers to the fiery furnace and the lion’s den, and in 1 Macc. 1:54, which identifies the abomination of desolation but does not refer specifically to Daniel. To the naturalist, this indicates that the authors of the Maccabees were probably unfamiliar with the text as we know it. The premise here is that it is unexpected that the Maccabees authors would borrow from the book of Daniel yet ignore the fulfillment of prophecy. The more rationale explanation is that the authors were familiar with a common set of traditions and phrasing that were incorporated into both Daniel and the Maccabees without directly borrowing from each other.

Regarding the similarity between Daniel and Baruch, there is reason to see this as supportive of the later date for authorship. For one, there is no external evidence that Baruch was written in the time period suggested by the author and there are many reasons to suspect that it was composed, or at least completed, much later. In short, the similarities between Daniel and Baruch seem to be rooted in their sharing of a common culture, a culture which fits best with the apocalyptic milieu of the Maccabean era.

Lastly, the naturalist must address the data points which directly contradict this view. Regarding the account written by Josephus, which places the book of Daniel in existence at the time of Alexander the Great around 330 BC, the naturalist argument is to reiterate that Josephus was writing in the late first century AD, 400 years after the proposed event. It is known from many sources (including Jesus) that by this time Daniel was well established and believed to be a prophet. As such, it would not be surprising if Josephus was simply propagating an established legend. Regarding the adoption of Daniel by the Great Assembly shortly after the return from exile, this again is a very late source (200 – 600 AD) that is most likely propagating tradition about the authors of the Tanakh. The same passage attributes the entirety of the Torah authorship to Moses, a claim which modern scholarship has found difficult to support.

Which interpretation seems more probable?

When one allows for the possibility of predictive prophecy, there is nothing in the data which precludes the possibility of authorship at any time between the 6th century BC and the critical date around 165 BC. However, as observed in the post on the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecies, a view which allows for predictive prophecy and also accepts Daniel’s prophecies as having been fulfilled encounters substantial difficulty in accounting for the final events in the prophecies and in reconciling these with Jesus’ view of the prophecies. This injection of future fulfillment is a major strike against the notion that these are genuine predictive prophecies. When that consideration is brought into view and coupled with the other data points, I find that the critical dating of the text presents a more rationale understanding of the situation and that viewing Daniel as a late composition provides a more cohesive explanation of the peculiarities of the text. The evidence is, in my opinion, sufficient to overcome the default position claimed by the text itself.

In light of all these considerations I have chosen to assign the probabilities for the correct interpretation as follows:

Christianity
30%
Naturalism
70%
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