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2.4.1.1 - The Maccabean Composition Hypothesis

In our discussion of The Nature of the Attacks upon the book of Daniel, one of the earliest figures who alleged that Daniel was not written by the biblical Daniel was the philosopher Porphyry:

Quite apart from the historicity of the figure of Daniel, the authenticity of the book had already been questioned by the 3d century Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry. We are informed by Jerome that: “Porphyry wrote his twelfth book against the prophecy of Daniel, denying that it was composed by the person to whom it is ascribed in its title, but rather by some individual living in Judaea at the time of that Antiochus who was surnamed Epiphanes; he further alleged that ‘Daniel’ did not foretell the future so much as he related the past, and lastly that whatever he spoke of up till the time of Antiochus contained authentic history, whereas anything he may have conjectured beyond that point was false, inasmuch as he would not have foreknown the future.” Porphyry’s insight was resisted for well over a millennium, but its validity has been widely acknowledged by modern critics, beginning in the 18th century (see Koch 1980: 186–87). Daniel refers to no events later than the time of Epiphanes, and evidently expected the end of history shortly thereafter. [emphasis added]1

See The Nature of the Attacks for background on the rationalistic naturalism that lies behind the views of Porphyry and the modern critics who have been convinced by his line of argument. In the above quotation, you’ll notice a common liability among modern critics: the inability to understand the large-scale prophetic framework spanning the entire Scriptures. In asserting that Daniel expected the end of history shortly after the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the critic either ignores or is unable to see the common characteristic of predictive prophecy which often combines a near-future and related far-future view.2 This explains why the “abomination of desolation” (Dan. 9:27+; 11:31+; 12:11+) can refer to an event in the life of Antiochus fulfilled over a hundred years before the birth of Jesus, yet Jesus still referred to Daniel’s passages as also relating to an event future to His day, “ ‘Therefore when you see the “abomination of desolation,” spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place’ (whoever reads, let him understand), ‘then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains’ ” (Matthew 24:15-16). The critic misses this dual reference so common in prophecy and, as we’ll see, attributes any lack of fulfillment in the life of Antiochus to error on the part of the writer of Daniel.

Although Porphyry may have started the ball rolling, it is instructive to see that his theory gained relatively little traction until it was revived during the Enlightenment.3 Porphyry’s ideas fit well with those who sought to dismiss the supernatural or miraculous of history as superstitious fables because of their belief that there is no reality other than man can rationally investigate and measure.

The critics deny that Daniel was the author of the book, contending that it was written after the fact so that its prophetic content can be explained away as a description of historical events that had already transpired. This is especially the case for the detailed predictions made in chapters 11 and 12:

The wars between the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria as depicted in the final two chapters of the book were introduced by means of a revelation to Daniel in chapter 10. These accounts have been commonly held by critics of orthodoxy as being too precise in their prediction of events to belong to the area of prophecy in the sense of foretelling.4

Because of the detailed nature of apocalyptic timetables, the dating of at least the last chapters of Daniel can be established precisely. Scholars consider the predictions in this book, as in other apocalypses, to be prophecies after the fact, purportedly written own centuries earlier and kept secret in order to give credence to other predictions about the end of history. . . . The predictions are detailed and accurate until the end of the Maccabean revolt in 164. At that point, however, they veer dramatically from what we know of the actions of the Seleucid king . . . and scholars assume that the author lived and wrote at the precise time when the predictions become inaccurate.5

Not only do the critics deny the possibility of true prophetic prediction, in some cases they maintain that the truthfulness of the book (its authorship, date of composition, and content) is not connected with its value to the Christian faith—though believed to be riddled with errors it somehow still retains its spiritual power and authority.6

Predictably, the critics typically establish the date of the material in the book by a priori assuming that prophecy is not possible. Therefore, where the book contains descriptive passages which accurately match historical events, those passages must have been written after the events they describe.

It is above all the close correspondence of Daniel 11+ to events in the life of Antiochus IV that convinces scholars that these are vaticinia ex eventu. As Baldwin notes: “Though several arguments are adduced with the intention of giving cumulative force to a second-century date, there is basically one reason for the tenaciously-held opinion, and that is the content of chapter 11.” Numerous studies have underscored the close parallels between Daniel and the actual events. The divergence of vv 36–45 from the known history of Antiochus simply proves to liberal scholars that the author was ignorant of the death of Antiochus, which took place in Persia in 164 rather than in Palestine. Scholars believe that they can pinpoint the exact date of Daniel’s composition from these verses.7

Here we see that not all the prophetic content in the book can conveniently be dealt with by moving the composition of the book later in history, because some of its predictions remain outstanding and await future events in God’s timetable. The critics generally deal with this problem by claiming these unfulfilled predictions concern Antiochus IV Epiphanes, but did not come true.

Another problem for the critic is the nearly universal identification of the first four kingdoms of chapters 2 and 7 (see Sequence of Kingdoms) as Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. The problem here is that at the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (c. 165 B.C.), Rome was not the major influence in Palestine that Daniel’s predictions describe. “Rome . . . not being in Daniel’s time known beyond the precincts of Italy, or rather of Latium . . .”8 It was only after Pompey made Judea tributary to Rome in 63 B.C. that Daniel’s predictions concerning Rome began to come to pass. Therefore, some method must be found to dismiss the prophecies concerning Rome since the critics are unable to push the date of Daniel out that far. This complication is generally dispatched by ignoring the Scriptural evidence for viewing the Medo-Persian Empire as a single kingdom (Est. 1:3, 14, 18-19; Est. 10:2; Dan. 5:28+; 6:8+, 12+, 15+; 7:5+; 8:20+) and taking the first four kingdoms as Babylon, the Medes, Persia, and then Greece—culminating with the break up of Greece and the events of the Seleucids and Ptolemies down to Antiochus IV Epiphanes. But this ignores the evidence within the book itself:

If then one is to pay any attention to the testimony of the text itself, it must be conceded that Daniel regards the second empire as Medo-Persian, with the Persians predominating over the Medes, rather than as Median alone. This being the case, the third empire has to be the Greek Empire, and the fourth power can only be that of Rome. Again, one is faced with conclusive internal evidence from the text that the author of Daniel predicted the overthrow of the Greek Empire by the Roman at least one hundred years (even on the assumption of the Maccabean date) before it took place. Thus it turns out that the entire effort to explain the predictive elements in Daniel as prophecy after the event ends up in failure.9

If, then, the fourth empire of chapter 2, as corroborated by the other symbolic representations of chapter 7, clearly pointed forward to the establishment of the Roman empire, it can only follow that we are dealing here with genuine predictive prophecy and not a mere vaticinium ex eventu. According to the Maccabean Date Theory, Daniel was composed between 168 and 165 B.C., whereas the Roman empire did not commence (for the Jews at least) until 63 B.C., when Pompey the Great took over that part of the Near East which included Palestine. To be sure, Hannibal had already been defeated by Scipio at Zama in 202 B.C., and Antiochus III had been crushed at Magnesia in 190, but the Romans had still not advanced beyond the limits of Europe by 165, except to establish a vassal kingdom in Asia Minor and a protectorate over Egypt. But certainly, as things stood in 165 B.C., no human being could have predicted with any assurance that the Hellenic monarchies of the Near East would be engulfed by the new power which had arisen in the West. No man then living could have foreseen that this Italian republic would have exerted a sway more ruthless and widespread than any empire that had ever preceded it. This one circumstance alone, then, that Daniel predicts the Roman empire, is sufficient to overthrow the entire Maccabean Date Hypothesis (which of course was an attempt to explain away the supernatural element of prediction and fulfillment).10

Besides the “Roman Empire problem” there is also the problem of the seventy weeks which most understand as predicting the first coming of Christ—an event even later than the ascendancy of Rome:

But no critic has ever dared to suggest a date for the Book of Daniel as late as the birth of our Lord. Yet Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks predicts to the very day Christ’s appearance as the “Prince” of Israel. Therefore, when the critics have done their worst, no matter where they place the date of the book, the greatest time-prophecy of the Bible is left untouched. And on this prophecy the whole case of the critics goes to pieces. For if even so much as one predictive prophecy is established, there remains no valid a priori reason for denying the others.11

Yet the critics never seem to be without a work-around. They generally address this problem by adopting a non-Messianic interpretation of the words of Gabriel in Daniel 9:24-27+ and once again assert fulfillment in the Maccabean age. (See Seventy Sevens for some of the different ways this prophetic passage has been interpreted.)

Even if one overlooks the above problems, there is still the question why a pseudonymous author would write the book of Daniel during the times of the Maccabean revolt purporting to document events of a much earlier era? What purpose would it serve? The critic offers the answer that it was meant primarily to motivate his countrymen during the dangers of the Maccabean times, but this is unconvincing:

There is a theological and psychological flaw in the notion that a piece of known and obvious fiction is well suited to inspire readers to be faithful to death. According to the second-century dating theory this is not merely a possible effect but the actual function of the book. But this is asking people to trust in the power, knowledge and wisdom of God when in fact the evidence for these attributes was a figment of the writer’s imagination, not the actual revelation and activity of God.12

Would Jews who were dying for their God-given faith and their God-given Scriptures have looked for encouragement to fictional characters and events in a pseudograph? The truth of the matter is that nothing but well-known material and material that was believed to be infallibly true and inspired of God could have kindled their spirits in the midst of that supreme hour of national crisis.13

If the work is actually a retrojection from Maccabean times, as has been claimed by many critics, it is not easy to see how the beleaguered Jews could have been encouraged by a narration of past history made to look like prophecy, as in ch 8 and 11. Furthermore, since some of the apocalyptic sections were apparently beyond even the understanding of Daniel himself, it is hard to imagine that Maccabean Jews would have had any greater degree of insight or enlightenment, and consequent encouragement, since so many of the allusions are so cryptic as to defy precise explanation or identification, particularly in 11:30–45.14


Notes

1 John J. Collins, “DANIEL, BOOK OF,” in David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1996, c1992), 2:30.

2 The near-future view allows the prophet to be tested (e.g., Deu. 18:22). The far-future view is used by God to relate events beyond the lifetime of the prophet and his original recipients.

3 “No significant writer espoused a late date for the book after Jerome refuted Porphyry until the eighteenth century A.D. J. D. Michaelis revived Porphyry’s theory in 1771, and it took root in the rationalistic intellectual soil of the Enlightenment.”—Thomas Constable, Notes on Daniel (Garland, TX: Sonic Light, 2009), 3.

4 Roland K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 1969, 1999), 1130.

5 Marc Berlin and Brettler, eds., The Jewish Study Bible (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1985,2004), 1641-1642.

6 “Speaking of Daniel, the late Louis Hartman asserts: “Inasmuch as neither of these genres (haggadic and apocalyptic) is concerned with history, it is no longer the task of Catholic exegetes to try to solve the seeming inner-fancies in historical matters where an inspired writer, such as the author of Dn, did not intend to write history.” Hartman was entrusted with the Anchor Bible volume on Daniel. After his death the work was completed by another Catholic scholar, Alexander A. Di Lella. In the work, which bears the nihil obstat and imprimatur of the Catholic Church, the authors refer to the stories in the first part of Daniel as ‘mildly incredible or even childish’ and accept the view of Daniel as a late pseudonymous work full of historical errors. On the other hand, by some exercise of casuistry they are able to maintain: ‘At the same time it should be emphasized that in no way at all does the argument presented above impugn or even call into question the sacredness, authority, and inerrancy of the Book of Daniel which are accepted here without question as truths of Christian faith.’ ”—Edwin M. Yamauchi, “Archaeological Backgrounds of the Exilic and Postexilic Era, Part I: The Archaeological Background of Daniel,” in Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 137 no. 545 (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, January-March 1968), 19.

7 Edwin M. Yamauchi, “Hermeneutical Issues in the Book of Daniel,” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 23 no. 1 (Evangelical Theological Society, March 1980), 18.

8 A. R. Fausset, “The Book of Daniel,” in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), s.v. “Introduction.”

9 Gleason Leonard Archer, “Modern Rationalism and the Book of Daniel,” in Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 136 no. 542 (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, April-June 1979), 141.

10 Gleason Leonard Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1998, c1994), 443.

11 Alva J. McClain, Daniel’s Prophecy of the 70 Weeks (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1940, 1969), 10.

12 Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Daniel,” in D. A. Carson, ed., New Bible Commentary (4th ed.) (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1994, 1970), s.v. “Author and Date.”

13 John C. Whitcomb, Daniel (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1985), 11-12.

14 Roland K. Harrison, “Daniel, Book of,” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979, 1915), 1:862.


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