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NORMAN COHN

Cohn is a Fellow of the British Academy and Professor Emeritus at Sussex University.

(more about Cohn)

We know quite a lot about how the Book of Daniel came to be written. It was written about 164 B.C., probably by several authors. And its background was what was known as the Antiochan persecution of the Jews. After Alexander the Great conquered that whole area of the Near East, he left behind him a number of successor kingdoms, one of which was based in Syria. It was known as the Seleucid dynasty, and one of the monarchs, a particularly nasty one, was called Antiochus Epiphanes IV. And he did exercise a very real tyranny over the Jews. On the whole, these ancient Near Eastern empires didn't persecute people for their religion. They could be nasty to conquered peoples as conquered peoples, but they left their religion largely undisturbed. But not so this man, who desecrated the Temple and forbade all Jewish religious practices. The answer to this was that those Jews who wouldn't compromise in any way started a war, known as the Maccabean Revolt, and in the end won. And they defeated Antiochus, and reconsecrated the Temple, and it was during this war that the Book of Daniel was composed. It wasn't, however, composed by the Maccabeans. Any idea that is was a kind of recruiting manifesto is now discredited. It wasn't that. It was simply a prophetic writing. Saying that we're going to defeat Antiochus and beyond that lies a world in which the Jews will be recognized as God's chosen people, and will really dominate in their turn.

Was Daniel the first apocalypse?

It seems to be so ... . If by apocalypse, one simply means works which are based on divine revelation, but, above all, divine revelation concerning things to come, then I would say, that the Book of Daniel is the first real apocalypse.

How about Ezekiel and Isaiah? Was he writing in the tradition of Ezekiel or Isaiah? Do they have apocalyptic elements in them?

It could be said that there are parts of the Old Testament, in the prophetic books Ezekiel, Jeremiah, which are apocalyptic in the sense that they are prophecies of a benign future. They haven't got the world-wide scope, the idea of a totally transformed world, which you get in the Book of Daniel, and which is passed on, of course, to the Book of Revelation, and which is central to Christian apocalyptic beliefs. ...


James Tabor

Tabor is a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

(more about Tabor)

The Book of Daniel is the apocalyptic book of the Hebrew bible. Its sister book would be the Book of Revelation. And in fact the Book of Revelation is largely a Christian interpretation of the Book of Daniel. Daniel [the character] comes to us from the Babylonian exile. Most academic scholars who study it believe that it was actually composed about 150 years before the time of Jesus, much later than the Babylonian exile. So the actual setting of the book appears to be the what we call the Maccabees. And this has to do with a Syrian-Greek force coming in, suppressing Jerusalem and the Temple. It's a very similar kind of scenario [to the Babylonian period], and this gives rise to the Book of Daniel. That there's going to have to be some sort of a salvation that would come and a redemption that would come, in view of this terrible evil, represented by Antiochus Epiphanes who was the Greek ruler.
book of daniel
He becomes our first Antichrist, really. He becomes the first one in history we can put a finger on and say this is the type of ruler that these apocalyptic books picture as the ruler of the final end time.

What makes the Book of Daniel different from all other books, is it's built around a series of five dreams, or revelations, that purport to lay out, in step by step fashion, what will actually happen in the last days. And the fifth one, which is right toward the end of the book in chapter 11, is so detailed, it's the longest prophecy in the Bible. It literally details troop movements in the Middle East, the invasion of Jerusalem, all the things that are supposed to happen right before the end. ... What makes Daniel different from the other profits, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, is its specificity ... in contrast to the other prophets, which in the most general sense predict a time of peace and a re-gathering of Israel, but not these specific scenarios. The signs of the end. What would actually lead up to this coming about. That's what makes Daniel unique ... .


L. Michael White

White is Professor of Classics and Christian Origins at the University of Texas at Austin, and acted as historical consultant for "Apocalypse!"
Daniel is actually a figure from the Babylonian exile. In fact, he spends his entire life in Babylon. But the Book of Daniel attributed to him is actually written during the Maccabean revolt. Most scholars would say it's written about the year 165 BCE. and it uses the figure of Daniel as a way of reflecting and intensifying the experiences of the Jewish people in the middle of this crisis.

Now who was Daniel? Well, Daniel, himself, is known as first of all as a very pious character. Secondly, Daniel has visions and can interpret dreams. So, we have really two parts of the book of Daniel. One, the legends about Daniel the pious young man. A kind of model Jew resisting the temptations of acculturation to this outside society. The latter half of the Book of Daniel, however, is Daniel's visions, which gives us a way of thinking about what will be the future of Israel after God triumphs over the forces of Antiochus Epiphanes. So the visions of Daniel are really one of our first important pieces of apocalyptic literature, responding to a period of crisis and oppression and using apocalypse as a way of saying, "Hold fast. Stay faithful, God will triumph." ...

Daniel ... is a character from ages past who is the mechanism now for telling the story of the history of the Jewish people from that time to the present. And this is really how all apocalypse literature works. It gives the story to some past figure and lets him or her carry the history down and explain the history to our present moment. And in the process of doing that, it interprets the history in a way that becomes intelligible. It becomes understandable from a theological perspective for how God is directing the course of human events for the faithful.

Is that why it appears to be looking forward ?

... It's that exactly. This motif of pitching the story back and then carrying the history forward is really what gives apocalypse literature its predictive and prospective quality. It's always telling the story from some past time and bringing it all the way down. That's why some people call it prophecy, but it's really a new genre of literature. A new way of thinking about the story. And of course it's what gives it the ability to be thought of as something that's [going to] happen in the future for us. ...

...Some people have referred to this motif of apocalypse literature as "prophecy after the fact," because by putting it in the mouth of a person who ostensibly lived a long time ago and letting that person tell the story it has the quality of predicting the future. Well, if he was right about those events, just think about what he's telling us about our own future and he gives us the confidence that we know what God has in store for us, that we know the plan of God for human history ... .

Daniel tells the story of the collapse of Colossus. Tell us that story, and then what [Daniel] meant by it.

... Nebuchadnezzar has a dream, and he asked his court wisemen to interpret it, but none of them can. Only Daniel has the power to understand this dream. And the dream is of a giant statue, a colossus, made of different metals. The head is of gold, the shoulders and chest are of silver, the waist is of bronze, the legs are of iron, the feet are of iron mixed with clay. And these different metals represent different kingdoms that will succeed one another in the history of the world. ... In Daniel's interpretation, however, these refer to the succession of kingdoms after the Babylonians, the very kingdoms that are in charge of the Jews, ending with the Seleucids, who are the feet of clay, whom the forces of God crumble, cause the statue to collapse and this gives rise to a new kingdom of Israel.

Is apocalyptic writing always a response with concrete [circumstances], or is it more mystical?

Really, all apocalyptic literature is much more a response to a concrete set of circumstances, often political circumstances that drive this sense that we have to look for a mode of deliverance from God. And Daniel was, as a book, really responding to the political crisis of Antiochus Epiphanes and the political forces of war that are all about. ... For the people of this period there's really no difference between religion and politics. We can't simply look at this work as if its symbolism of good and truth and beauty are divorced from the political reality that's all around them. ...

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