To Whom Daniel Was Writing Makes All the Difference
Richard W. Coffen | 17 December 2021 |
The Bible! We reverently call it “God’s Word.” When we use this terminology, we imply that “word” does not denote a single term, such as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, or preposition, but a message.
A synonym is “communication.”
So let’s start by analyzing the process of communication based on a well-known model that you probably remember from school.
The steps involved in communicating any message are defined by four Cs:
- Channel, and
Encoding (the attempt of the communicator to make the message intelligible) occurs at the beginning (left) side of the channel, and decoding (the attempt of the communicate to understand the message) is at the ending (right) side of the channel. Of course there is “noise,” which can interfere with the process of communication at any and every stage. (Noise, by the way, is not necessarily static. It denotes any distraction that can disturb the process of communication. A headache, maybe. Hunger pangs. Sleepiness.)
All stages in the model are essential for delivering a message. If one aspect is absent, then no communication occurs.
So to illustrate with Scripture,
- Without the inspired biblical writers (communicators)…
- …there would be no God’s Word (communication).
- Without the encoding of the divine message into communicating tools such as dreams, visions, which were then spoken or written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek…
- …there would be no channels for communication to God’s people (communicatees).
- Without the decoding of visions and dreams in the minds of the recipients (communicatees), there would be no communication.
To Whom It May Concern
Assuming we agree that Scripture is communication, let us proceed with a test case analyzed by this model, with special emphasis on whom Daniel was communicating to:
“For two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state” (Daniel 8:14, NRSV).
Our test passage sounds like an answer to some question—but what? It certainly worried a being in heaven, who queried:
“For how long is this vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled?” (verse 13, NRSV)
This query surely must have echoed something disconcerting for God’s people on Planet Earth. The issue? The ramshackle condition of the temple, the very place where YHWH had promised to place his name “forever” (1 Kings 9:3; 2 Kings 21:7).
Inquiring minds—heavenly or earthly—wanted to know.
Time and Again
At this point, we must say that Old Testament scholars are divided over when the book of Daniel was written. This is important because the specific situation with regard to the temple differed depending upon the date to which the snippet of communication we call Daniel 8:14 applied.
Conservative scholars, including most Seventh-day Adventist biblicists, believe that the messages in the book of Daniel were penned by the historical Daniel sometime prior to circa 537 BCE. Why that date?
First, because Daniel likely died a few years later—perhaps when he was 85 or 90. Second, because the last dateable event referred to in the text is the first year of the reign of Cyrus, which occurred in 538/537 BCE (1:21). (This perspective was accepted for centuries, although Porphyry (A.D. 234-305), not a biblical scholar, appears to be the first to question that traditional date.)
Many contemporary Old Testament scholars assume that the book of Daniel was penned sometime around 165 BCE Why that date? One of the strongest arguments is that of the four kingdoms mentioned in the first part of Daniel, only three out of the four were named: Babylon (head of gold), Medo-Persia (ram), and Greece (billy goat).
The fourth remains unnamed.
Indeed, Daniel “refers to no events later than the time of Epiphanes.” Based on this internal evidence, the fourth kingdom (arguably Rome) arose after the book of Daniel had been written—maybe around 165 BCE.
Why do these dates matter? Because the date we choose determines which communicatees received the communication. The underlying question is the condition of the temple. Something devastating had happened to the “burnt offering”—a synecdoche, perhaps, for the temple and/or its services. The situation of the temple was “desolate” because of “the transgression.” Also, the holy place (a.k.a. temple?) had been or was being “trampled” (verse 13, NRSV).
Let’s consider the alternatives.
The Traditional Date
Assuming we use this traditional date, the context for Daniel 8:14 is that something terrible had happened to the sanctuary—the temple. The downtrodden condition of the very holy place where God had put his name must have traumatized the Jewish POWs in Babylon.
Many had settled into everyday life, having heeded the counsel of Jeremiah (29:5). Nevertheless, since God had put his name on the temple, the burning question was the length of time that this disheartening condition would last. Would those displaced hewn rocks once arranged without hammering, and charred cedar paneling, and confiscated golden paraphernalia used in the sacred rituals, remain in Babylon forever?
The answer from heaven was that the rundown condition of the temple would be temporary—just for 2,300 evening and morning sacrifices, or 1,150 days of 24 hours each.
If divided by the 360 days in an alleged “prophetic year” (the Jewish year was not that short), then the devastation would persist for three years and 70 days. If divided by 365, the average length of a year, that would amount to three years and 55 days. Only a two-week (technically, 15 days) difference was involved.
This would have reassured those in Babylonian exile. The destruction done by Nabû-kudurri-uṣur II (a.k.a. Nebuchadnezzar) to the temple, the place where YHWH said he was putting his name, would not perdure. At some point, relatively soon to when the episode recounted in Daniel 8 occurred, restoration would take place. The fulfillment of such good news would assuredly take place during the lifetime of many of those eking out an existence in that foreign land.
Wait a minute, though…
My excitement evaporated when I reread (for the umpteenth time) Daniel 8. The devastation that verses 11 and 14 depict was not done by King Nabû-kudurri-uṣur II, but by a derivative ruler of the billy goat nation (verse 8), which in verse 21 is specifically identified as Greece.
Contextually, then, verse 14 might refer to devastation done nearly 420 years later than the lifetime of the prophet Daniel, a historical period preserved for us in 1 and 2 Maccabees, which we know were part of Jesus’ Bible, the Septuagint, and also part of the King James Version until 1666.
I recalled a conversation with Siegfried Horn, beloved Old Testament scholar and archeologist. In a private conversation, he said (and I cannot reconstruct his words verbatim at this time): “We don’t correctly interpret some of Daniel’s prophecies when we insist that they refer to certain relatively unremarkable rulers who had but a slight impact upon God’s people—far less than the person whose damaging work was second only to that produced by Nebuchadnezzar: Antiochus Epiphanes. He must be referred to in the book of Daniel,” Horn said to me. “We shouldn’t exclude him.”
The Presently Postulated Date
Let us consider the later date suggested by most modern scholars for the book of Daniel.
After several royal edicts had authorized the reconstruction of the Jewish temple, it was finally rededicated in 516/517 BCE, after King Cyrus had returned 5,400 items of temple paraphernalia (Ezra 1:7,11).
Solomon’s temple, the first temple, had survived for approximately 370 years prior to its ransacking by Nabû-kudurri-uṣur II in 586 BCE. The newly restored second temple served its sacred purpose for some 360 years, about the same historical duration as the first temple.
After Alexander the Great died in 323 BCE his domain was divided among Ptolemy, Cassander, Seleucus, and Antigones. Later, other rulers rose to power over sections of Alexander’s realm. Among them, Antiochus IV was certainly the worst—at least for Jews. He claimed to have been Zeus incarnate. In his attempts to Hellenize his realm, he tried to force paganism upon the Jews, many of whom resisted his attempts.
In 156 BCE Antiochus IV was bribed to install a man named Jason as high priest. However, when Menalaus offered Antiochus an even larger sum of money, Menalaus was appointed the high priest, replacing Jason. Money talks!
Worse nonsense ensued. Antiochus forbade the worship of YHWH. He banned all Jewish rites. He burned every copy of the Torah he could find. Antiochus prohibited the circumcision of newborn boys. On Chislev (November/December) 25, 167 BCE, he offered on the altar of burnt offerings a pig, the animal which Jews believed epitomized uncleanness. Antiochus also erected an altar to Zeus where the altar of burnt offerings stood. He even set up a statue of himself, before which sacrifices were to be offered. Those who opposed his “reform” he tortured to death.
This desecration of the temple where YHWH had placed his name, and the resulting persecution of pious Jews, continued until the Maccabean Revolt (167-160 BCE) put an end to such impiety.
Indeed, mirroring the time and place of the desecration of the Second Temple and its altar of burnt offerings, three years later (also on Chislev 25, 164 BCE), the temple and its altar were rededicated. Hanukkah celebrates this restoration.
For 1,095 days—almost the 1,150 days of Daniel 8:14—both the temple and the Jewish lifestyle had been debased and, in some instances, outlawed.
Almost, but not quite
It is true that this time period falls 45 days short of the period given in Daniel 8:14. Such imprecision shouldn’t bother us, however. We can deduce from other biblical predictions that when the details of fulfillment are not exact but near enough, the prophecy can be considered accomplished.
Note the following sampling of seemingly failed (almost, but not quite) prophecies that were considered fulfilled:
- Jeremiah 34:5 prophesied that King Zedekiah would die in peace. He did not. He was blinded, carried off in chains, and died as a POW (2 Kings 25:7; Jeremiah 52:10,11).
- Ahijah had predicted: “When your feet enter the city, the child [Abijah] shall die” (1 Kings 14:12, NRSV). Although Abijah died, it was not when specified. “As she came to the threshold of the house, the child died” (verse 17, NRSV).
- Elijah had predicted of Ahab that “in the spot where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood they will also lick up your blood—yes, yours!” (1 Kings 21:19, NET). Naboth’s blood was shed in Jezreel, where he had his residence. It was in Jezreel where Ahab’s blood was predicted to be shed and lapped up. According to 1 Kings 22:38, dogs lapped up Ahab’s blood in Samaria, not Jezreel.
- God predicted through Ezekiel that Nabû-kudurri-uṣur II would demolish Tyre, even scraping up the dirt and making the city “a bare rock” (26:4,5, NET; see also verses 9-12). The divinely detailed destruction never happened. God later admitted that (29:18). Not until about three centuries later did the described destruction occur—produced by Alexander the Great.
Good will triumph
In 70 CE the Roman armies raided Jerusalem. They demolished the temple refurbished by Herod the Great. The invaders set ablaze this sacred edifice, toppling the stone blocks from which it was constructed. However, this terrible devastation is not cogent for the present discussion, because the Jews living in A.D. 70 were not the communicatees of the communication from heaven that Daniel 8 records.
One thing this kind of analysis might tell us is that there is danger in hypothesizing about ancient dates, persons, and places. Perhaps we might instead consider all of this in light of the teaching of Daniel’s contemporary Zoroaster (628-551 BCE). Zoroaster taught that the cosmos is wracked by a conflict between good and evil. Good, however, will ultimately triumph.
And it will.
- Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. ↑
- At what age did Daniel die? How did Daniel come to be in Babylon in 606/605 BC? ↑
- Louis F. Hartman and Alexander A. DiLella, Anchor Bible Commentary, Daniel, vol. 23, p. 131. ↑
- Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2, p. 30. ↑
- Antiochus IV Epiphanes | Biography, Reign, Jerusalem, Revolt, & Death | Britannica; Antiochus Epiphanes—The Bible’s Most Notoriously Forgotten Villain – Biblical Archaeology Society; Antiochus Epiphanes Profanes the Temple, 156 BC – Landmark Events; Josephus, War, 1: 2; Whiston, V3: 11. ↑
- https://www.britannica.com/biography/Zarathustra. ↑
Richard W. Coffen is a retired vice president of editorial services at Review and Herald Publishing Association. He writes from Green Valley, Arizona.