Towards Understanding Revelation


I need to start by noting, that from my reading, there are many people, including some Christians, who are just certain that humans cannot know the future. They are sure that there isn’t a God, or that God would not or could not divulge that information, so in consequence, all prophecies must be history in disguise. According to these people, all prophecies are either just poetic books that we are misunderstanding, or, more likely, books written after the events that they claim to prophesy about.  

Here’s a quote from Sibley Towner, a Professor Emeritus of Biblical Interpretation at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, VA. With professors like these (a retired one no less) we don’t need critics:

We need to assume that the vision [of Daniel 8] as a whole is a prophecy after the fact. Why? Because human beings are unable accurately to predict future events centuries in advance and to say that Daniel could do so, even on the basis of symbolic revelation vouchsafed to him by God and interpreted by an angel, is to fly in the face of the certainties of human nature.”

As I mentioned in my last post, Genesis, Daniel, and Revelation are the most attacked books of the Bible, in terms of authorship and timing. These three books have the most concentrated prophetic passages regarding the very one-sided battle between God and Satan. Paul lays it out pretty clearly too, and I’ve seen a number of people, including some Christians, who will not read Paul because they’ve been convinced by the culture that there is something wrong with him: he’s misogynistic, he led the Church down the wrong path, etc.

We have looked at some of the arguments against Revelation being what it says it is, so now let’s look at some against Daniel. Eventually we will be bumping up against parts of Daniel as we pursue Revelation, so it’s fitting that we get this out of the way.

Arguments based on Daniel’s place in the Bible and canonicity

According to Wikipedia, the Masoretes “were groups of Jewish scribe-scholars who worked from around the end of the 5th through 10th centuries CE…each group compiled a system of pronunciation and grammatical guides…in an attempt to standardize the pronunciation, paragraph and verse divisions, and cantillation (the manner of chanting ritual readings) of the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) for the the worldwide Jewish community.” These versions of the Tanakh are referred to as Masoretic texts. There was only one pre-medieval fragment of the Tanakh before the discovery at Qumran.  Now, there are fragments of about 180 different biblical manuscripts, dating from the 3rd century BC to the 2nd century AD, 10 of which are of a different origin than Qumran. Some of these texts are are quite variant with the Masoretic texts, while others are almost identical, showing that the medieval work took the texts back to an earlier time rather than rethinking the whole thing. There have been fragments found in the Judean desert and at Masada (~73 AD), and these all agree almost totally with the Masoretic texts. There are no extant versions currently know from the time of these last texts until the time of the Masoretic texts of the Middle Ages, so not much can be said about how things changed leading up to the decision to write the Masoretic texts. 

Those who think Daniel was not written in the 6th century BC say that, because the Masorets listed Daniel as one of the ‘writings’ instead of with the prophets, Daniel must have been written after the prophetic canon was closed. 

At first I thought that this was rather crazy because the Masorets were writing in the Middle Ages after all. But, the Masorets were using much earlier material in making their revisions, and perhaps they were making revisions to the order of texts to bring those in line with the older material as well. It’s possible.

A more plausible explanation is that the Masorets may have placed Daniel in the Writings because much of the book is history, and because Daniel was not seen as a ‘commissioned’ prophet. Daniel never said “Thus says the Lord.” He saw, and interpreted, visions, which is very different from all the other prophetic books, except Revelation. The Medieval Jews did not consider Revelation as part of their canon, so Daniel probably stuck out as something different, something prophetic yet not prophetic.

In the first century AD, Josephus called Daniel a prophet and referred to his book as being “among our ancient books.” Even today, 200 or 300 years isn’t considered ancient, even though we are a young nation. Josephus was looking back at a very old nation, and, this reference is about 6 centuries before the Masoretes listed the book of Daniel as one of the ‘writings’ rather than one of the ‘prophets.’

Looking back further, the Qumran Community was founded in the second century BC, yet they shaped their theology around Daniel and referred to him as ‘the Prophet.’ They accepted his writings as authoritative and canonical. There were 9 copies of Daniel in 22 fragments (representing almost every chapter, suggesting canonicity) found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The oldest fragment of Daniel found at Qumran seems to have been copied in the late second century BC, which is only about 50 years after the Maccabean period. If Daniel had been written in the Maccabean period, then 50 years is to short a time for it to have been considered canonical or authoritative, or to even have been sufficiently circulated. 

In the last fifty years, writings circulated rather rapidly. Today, of course, things can circulate in minutes and hours. But to have considered Daniel to have been canonical or authoritative within 50 years would be like us considering the writings of J. Vernon McGee or even Sir Isaac Newton as being canonical, or even worthy of building a whole community around.

To take this a step further, it has also been noted that there are copy errors (~10%) in the fragments found at Qumran, and 50 years is not enough time for there to have been that many errors made. Medieval copyists were careful, but Jewish copyists were (and still are) fanatical.

[This is beyond the scope of this article, but I’ve been seeing references online to the idea that the Bible was an ‘oral tradition’ only, until after the time of Jesus! One reference even went so far as to suggest that the Jewish Bible wasn’t really settled until about 135 AD.  An acquaintance of mine, who has taught religious history at the college level, recently tried to tell me that the Jews weren’t really writing things down even as late as Jesus’ time. You can imagine my reaction.]

Biblical Arguments

Daniel is mentioned in Ezekiel:

 “13Son of man, if a country sins against Me by being unfaithful, and I stretch out My hand against it, destroy its supply of bread, send famine against it, and eliminate from it both human and animal life, 14even though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job were in its midst, by their own righteousness they could only save themselves,” declares the Lord God…19Or if I were to send a plague against that country and pour out My wrath on it in blood to eliminate man and animal from it, 20even though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in its midst, as I live,” declares the Lord God, “they could not save either their son or their daughter. They would save only themselves by their righteousness.” (Ezekiel 14:13-14,19-20; NASB)

Critics claim that the ‘Daniel’ cited in Ezekiel refers to a mythological character named ‘Danel’ from the Ugaritic epic “The Tale of Aqhat.”

First of all, how ridiculous. I can’t think of anywhere in the Bible where a ‘mythological character’ is held up as an equal, especially in righteousness, to a person of the Bible. Though, of course, the critics seem to think that all the characters of the Bible are ‘mythological,’ despite constantly increasing archaeological evidence to its historicity. 

Secondly, it’s unlikely that Ezekiel would cite an Ugaritic wise man favorably while condemning idolatry in Judah.

Let’s take some time to look at “The Tale of Aqhat.” According to Wikipedia, the story is about Aqhat, son of Danel, a “righteous ruler,” “probably a king.” Danel wants a son, so the story tells how Danel makes offerings at a temple for 6 days in a row, and on the 7th day, the god Ba’al asks the high god El to provide Danel with a son…El agrees. Aqhat is born and grows up. There’s a break in the text, then the story picks up with Aqhat at a feast with a number of deities. Aqhat angers one of the goddesses when he refuses to give her his bow. She then gets permission from El to kill Aqhat; Aqhat is killed by a devotee of the insulted goddess.The goddess regrets having him killed, though she regrets more that his bow was broken in the fight, and predicts that the murder will lead to the crops failing. 

Meanwhile, Danel doesn’t know right away that Aqhat is dead, but he and his daughter, Paghat, are noticing that a drought is starting.

Once Danel notices that his son is dead,  he gets Ba’al to send him all the vultures so he can cut them open in his search for bits of his son. He finds some of Aqhat’s bone and fat in the head vulture and buries those remains along the shores of “the Sea of Galilee.” The drought goes on for years; Paghat revenges Aqhat by killing the devotee who killed him.

I’m truly wondering if the genius who decided that the ‘Daniel’ mentioned in Ezekiel was the ‘Danel’ of this story, ever actually read this story. Danel is praying to Ba’al…the god that the whole Bible loves to hate. This feels like it goes beyond an attempt to discredit Daniel; this feels like an attempt to profane the whole Bible because Ezekiel is quoting God talking about “Noah, Daniel and Job” as righteous men. To attempt to inject a worshipper of Ba’al into this quote as a righteous man is quite profane. 

And, I should add, when I found this reference to ‘it’s really Danel,’ there was no explanation of the story beyond that it was an Ugaritic epic. I had to go look up the story…how many people would do that? How many would just say, “Wow, those names are really similar, I bet they’re right!” without looking any deeper? Not including a synopsis of the story takes this out of the realm of scholarship and puts it in the arena of evil, in my humble opinion.

Jesus referenced Daniel repeatedly, including calling Himself the son of Man about 80 times. Here are a couple references:

“…and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:24; NASB)

Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place — let the reader understand — (Matthew 24:15; NASB)

For a full list of New Testament references to Daniel (many of which came directly from Jesus), check out the list is about 25 pages long.

The critics answer to this is: Jesus was just going along with the views of the day. Did Jesus ever ‘just go along’ with anything? 

Extra-Biblical and Historical Arguments

There is another argument against an early Daniel that involves extra-Biblical information. The critics complain that Ben Sira (Shimon ben Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira) doesn’t mention Daniel in his work, Book of Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus). This was a book of ethical teachings, written in Hebrew somewhere between 200 and 175 BC (per Wikipedia). A passage in this work lists some notable Old Testament figures, but Daniel is not one of them. Some critics claim that the author didn’t know about Daniel, thus meaning that Daniel was contemporary with Ben Sira.

First of all, arguments from silence are considered weak. Secondly, the passage in question (44:1f) does not list Ezra or Mordecai either, among others. Other evidence indicates that Daniel was actually well-known by the second century. First Maccabees (2:59f) alludes to Daniel and his book.

51Call to remembrance what acts our fathers did in their time; so shall ye receive great honor and an everlasting name…59Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, by believing were saved out of the flame. (1 Maccabees 2:51,59; KJV)

Including the evidence from Qumran, it appears that Ben Sira’s list was selective and not exhaustive.

The critics declare that a Maccabean wrote the Book of Daniel to encourage Jews to remain faithful during the time of Antiochus, and that the characters of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzer, and Darius were all styled after Antiochus. After all, both Babylon and Antiochus represented God’s instrument on a sinful nation, they were all proud and arrogant, and both Nebuchadnezzar and Antiochus put an end to worship in the Temple.

It has been said that the modern translations are manipulated to fit the history of Antiochus; and that the little known of Antiochus has been manipulated some as well to sound like those portrayed in Daniel.  Going into the deep comparisons needed to prove these points is beyond the scope of my abilities, so we will argue from history here.

While Antiochus desecrated the Temple, taking it temporarily out of commission, Nebuchadnezzar actually destroyed the Temple. Daniel’s relationship with each administration, whether Babylonian or Persian, seems to be overlooked; Daniel was obviously liked and respected. This was definitely not the case with Antiochus who was killing as many godly Jews as he could. Daniel describes he and his four friends receiving new names that include the names of foreign gods; this seems very unlikely if the goal was to encourage 2nd century Jews. And lastly, Babylon and Antiochus were not, and won’t be, the only instruments used by God against a sinful nation.

Continuing with historical arguments, critics have concluded that Daniel (in the 2nd century) couldn’t have known so many details about the pre-Greek era; so these details must be inaccurate (or fictional). This problem doesn’t worry them much because historical errors don’t affect the religious teachings of the book.

Starting with the weaker argument of silence, we can ask why Daniel didn’t include more detail in his supposed prophecies about the time of the Maccabees, and why he wouldn’t have mentioned some of the heroes of the time, such as  Mattathias or Judas Maccabeus…or anything about the Maccabees at all. The critics think that the battle being discussed involving Michael was about Israel vs Antiochus, yet Michael is not named as fighting on behalf of Israel, nor does God empower a son of man who will judge the nations and establish a kingdom that will never end when this battle is completed.

Even if the stories were written earlier than the second century BC and adapted by a Maccabean author, it seems logical to expect that he would have changed elements of the stories to fit his present situation more clearly.

Fortunately, many of the so-called inaccuracies are being backed up by archaeology, so that these details provide an argument for 6th century authorship rather than against it.  I’ll review a few of the more pertinent details here. First, the river Ulai, that Daniel liked to stand next to, was said to not exist. Archaeology has discovered a bull inscription at the palace in Ninevah that records the battles of Sennacherib, king of Syria (704-681 BC), against some Chaldeans “by the Ulai, a river whose bank was good.”

The term “The Great Sea,” mentioned in Daniel 7:2,3, Numbers 34:6,7, and in Joshua 9:1, was thought to be “mythic.” It turns out that this was a term used to indicate large bodies of water. A foundation stone laid by Shamashi-Adad I (c. 1808-1776 BC), king of Asshur and Old Babylonia, identifies Lebanon as a land on the shore of “the Great Sea.” A broken slab at Calah is inscribed with Adad-Nirari III’s (810-783 BC) conquest that stretched from “the Great Sea of the rising sun,” which is the Persian Gulf, to “the Great Sea of the setting sun,” which is the Mediterranean.

The critics have declared that there was no extra-Biblical evidence for the besiegement of Jerusalem in 605 BC, so Daniel got his dates wrong. 

Inscriptions referred to as the Babylonian Chronicles state that Nebuchadnezzar was in the area of Jerusalem in 605 BC chasing remnants of the Egyptian army after his victory at Carchemish. While the defeat of Jerusalem wasn’t mentioned, after the defeat of Egypt, the defeat of Jerusalem was probably not considered worth recording. However, archaeology has found fire damage on the northern side of Jerusalem that dates from the 6th century BC; there were also many arrowheads of the type that was used in Babylonia. One could ascribe these details to one of the later beseigements, but inscribed seals were also found in this layer with the name of Gemareyahu ben Shapen on them, the scribe named in Jeremiah 36:9-12,25 as being part of Jehoiakim’s court in 604 BC.

The Babylonian Chronicles describe the major events of each year in Babylon from 605 BC to 595 BC. It describes Nebuchadnezzar’s accession and also the details of his siege of Jerusalem in 597 BC.  There is an allusion to the 605 BC campaign when Daniel was taken:

In the accession year [605 BC] Nebuchadnezzar went back again to the Hattiland [the Babylonian term for the area that included Judah] and until the month of Sabatu marched unopposed throughout the Hattiland; in the month of Sabatu he took the heavy tribute of the Hatti-territory to Babylon.” 

This “heavy tribute” included people, like Daniel.

The Babylonian office of Master of the Eunuchs was one of the details thought to have been a tell that the story was untrue. An inscription on a clay tablet used the title “rab-saris,” which means Chief Eunuch. The name associated with the title is Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, which transliterated into English is Nebo-Sarsekim, and in Hebrew would be rendered Sarsekim, and this is the name of the Chief Eunuch in Jeremiah 39:3. 

Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came in and sat down at the Middle Gate: Nergal-sar-ezer, Samgar-nebu, Sar-sekim the Rab-saris, Nergal-sar-ezer the Rab-mag, and all the rest of the officials of the king of Babylon.  (Jeremiah 39:3; NASB)

Mention of this title is very rare in ancient sources, though apparently there were several “chief eunuchs” working in the court at any given time. Daniel’s Chief Eunuch was Ashphanez; Nebo-Sarsekim would have been about a decade later.

We’ll look at more archaeological evidence as we get into some of the other arguments.

Another historical argument: Critics point out that Daniel states it was the third year in the reign of Jehoiakim in 605 BC, when Jeremiah says it was the 4th year.

The answer to this is rather easy. The Babylonians used the Accession year system of dating and the Jews used the non-Accession year system. What that means is that the Babylonians counted the first year of a king’s reign as from the date of his Accession to the new year. So if a king was ‘crowned’ on November 30, 597 BC (the Babylonian equivalent date), then his first ‘year’ of reign would be 597 BC. If a Jewish king was ‘crowned’ on November 30, 597 BC (the Jewish equivalent date), the king’s first year of reign would be 598 BC, the first full year.  Daniel used the Babylonian system, and Jeremiah was using the Jewish system.

One last historical argument is that Daniel doesn’t mention the destruction of Jerusalem or the 539 BC return of the exiles. 

The Book of Daniel focuses primarily on events in Babylon, not on Judea. But Daniel was not insensible to “the desolations of Jerusalem” or to the imminent return to Jerusalem (Daniel 9:2). 

In the first year of his reign, I Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. (Daniel 9:2; NASB)

Daniel continues on in chapter 9 praying in supplication to God regarding the sins of Israel to speed that return, until verse 20 when Gabriel interrupts him for more prophecy.  

This paper took a long time to research and write, and it has gotten very long. I dislike sending out posts that are too long, making them hard to read and absorb fairly quickly. So I’m breaking this into 3 parts that I will release rather rapidly.

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