I'll very briefly indicate a problem with Daniel 11:40-45.
In a nutshell Dan 11:2-12:4 is a revelation about the turbulent relations between the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt (the king of the south) and the Seleucid dynasty in Syria (the king of the north). It is a symbolic and theological account of history but it maps very well in its details onto what we know of the history from other sources ... that is until we get to 11:40-45 in which the last days of Antiochus IV are told. At that point the story seems to depart from what we know of his actual history.
The standard explanation for this is as follows. The vision is a pseudo-prophesy in that it was written at the time of the persecution of Jews by Antiochus IV (2nd C BC) but set at the time of Daniel (6th C BC). The history that it symbolically recounts is actually in the past from the time of the author(s) but future from the time of the narrative. That is not at all unusual - it is a regular feature of apocalyptic texts to recount past history in such a pseudo-prophetic way (and it is perfectly consistent with biblical inspiration, etc).
So 11:40-45 is still future from the perspective of the writers. And they get the details wrong!
OK - to save time I am simply going to accept that account of why the 'prophecy' and history pull apart at this point. And in fact I suspect that it is indeed correct (I know that more conservative readers will disagree).
But this account is somewhat problematic. God could have given the author an accurate, detailed prediction of what will happen (I am no Open Theist and I think that God knows the future absolutely). Why did he not do so?
So here is my brief theological thought. First a thought from Origen. Origen was very attentive to 'problems' in biblical texts. But he was convinced that the Holy Spirit put such problems there on purpose to invite readers to press beyond the surface level of the text to a deeper, spiritual meaning. So thought 1 is this: is the problem an invitation for us to consider the text in a different way?
The message of the text is that God will humble the proud and that those who set themselves up against God's purposes will be crushed. The Daniel text draws on patterns of divine action in the past (there are allusions to Isaianic texts in Dan 11:40-45 which model Antiochus' fate on God's dealings with Assyria) as a basis for the confident expectation that God will do it again. He did. Antiochus IV was indeed crushed - Daniel does get it right (even if the actual events do not happen as Daniel recounts them).
So getting back to Origen, perhaps the 'error' is there for a purpose. What? Ernest Lucas suggested to me that it might be an invitation to open up the application beyond the fate of Antiochus to other oppressors of God's people through history. Could be.
Now let's bring in Nicholas Wolterstorff's model of divine discourse. Wolterstorff says that God appropriates certain human speech acts as a means of articulating his own divine speech acts. He thinks that God can appropriate a speech act without appropriating everything that the author might have been saying.
So let's suppose that the author of Daniel really did mean to assert that the future of Antiochus IV would be such and such. Even if the author got the details wrong, God could still appropriate that speech act as a means of divine discourse without himself asserting that the future of Antiochus would be such and such. God would simply be saying, "Antiochus set himself against me and will be brought down." And God could be inviting readers to see the same pattern repeated in their own experience.
This is just a tentative and slightly risky (= flaming liberal, burn me at the stake) approach I wondered about today.
- Robin Parry
- Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).