For my daily quiet time, I am going through the Book of Daniel. I am aware of the standard historical-critical approach that applies the book to Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabean revolt (second century B.C.E.). I can understand why scholars arrive at that conclusion, since even conservatives relate huge parts of Daniel 8 and 11 to these events. How could you not? The chapters explicitly mention a mad dictator arising out of the Greek empire.
Conservatives diverge from the standard historical-critical approach, however, in their approach to other parts of Daniel. Unlike more liberal scholars, most conservatives see the fourth kingdom of Daniel 2 and 7 as Rome, not the Greek empire (E.W. Bullinger has a unique interpretation of Daniel 7, but I'll save that for another day). In his book Daniel, Dr. Desmond Ford, a former Seventh-Day Adventist, argues that the dreadful fourth kingdom could not be the Greek empire, since Antiochus Epiphanes was not as powerful as Rome even in the times of the Maccabees. Unlike many liberal scholars, Ford also doesn't read the stories in Daniel 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 in light of the Antiochan persecution, since these chapters do not portray Nebuchadnezzar and Darius as inflexible, wild-eyed fanatics intent on persecuting God's people (as Antiochus IV was). The way the Book of Daniel tells the story, these Gentile leaders are often misled (by themselves or others), and they ultimately repent after God confronts them.
In their treatment of Daniel 11, many conservatives apply part of the chapter to the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, and part to the Antichrist of the end times. Liberals argue, by contrast, that the Book of Daniel views the time of Antiochus as the actual end times. For them, pious Jews expected God in the second century B.C.E. to supernaturally overthrow Antiochus and set up a divine kingdom, which would never be destroyed. So, for liberals, the Book of Daniel contains expectations that were never fulfilled. Conservatives try to preserve the book's divine authority by arguing that it doesn't relate only to Antiochus. For example, in his commentary on the Bible, evangelical pastor John MacArthur places a lot of emphasis on Daniel 11:35. He interprets the verse to mean that God's people will be persecuted between the time of Antiochus up to the time of the end (which, for MacArthur, is yet to come).
Why would the Book of Daniel spend so much time on Antiochus, if Antiochus were not its main subject? Although I understand the liberal reading, I want to play with a proposal that rests on more conservative presuppositions. It's not necessarily original, but it is the fruit of my struggle with the text. Maybe Daniel as a whole is about the times of the Gentiles, which refers to Gentile dominion over the entire earth, particularly the Jews and the land of Palestine. For God, the Gentiles who rule Judah have clear deficiencies. Nebuchadnezzar was arrogant, Belshazzar was an irreverent drunk, Darius was easily misled (and lived in a nation that regarded his decrees as irrevocable, and perhaps divine), and Antiochus was a fanatic. For Daniel, maybe the Antichrist would be another example of a bad Gentile ruler. By overthrowing him, God not only ends the rule of the Antichrist, but he also terminates Gentile rule in general. Under this interpretation, Daniel is not only about Antiochus, but it concerns the overall history of ungodly Gentile rule, starting with Nebuchadnezzar.
Weekly Meanderings, 1 November 2014
7 hours ago