November 4, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: The Book of Daniel

John F. FinkExcerpts from the first 12 chapters of the Book of Daniel are read in the Office of Readings next week, the 32nd week of Ordinary Time. Chapters 13 and 14 were added as an appendix. They have some nice stories about Daniel that you will enjoy.

If you read this column about the Maccabees last week, you will understand the situation of the Jews when the Book of Daniel was put together in 165 B.C. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid tyrant, decreed a persecution of the Jews and outlawed its practice. That is what precipitated the armed revolt of the Maccabees.

However, there was another group that advocated nonviolent resistance to their oppressors. It was a member of this group who put the book together after the desecration of the Temple, but before the death of Antiochus.

Instead of writing about his present time, the scribe placed Daniel and his three associates in Babylon during the Exile (587-538 B.C.), where they served a succession of three kings in the Babylonian or Persian empires—Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Cyrus.

The first six chapters tell stories about Daniel—as does the appendix—while the second six chapters present Daniel’s visions. The stories might have originated during the Exile and passed down through the centuries, while the visions were written by the unknown scribe who published the book.

The scribe wanted to hold Daniel up as a model for youths. The stories, about heroic young Jews who were willing to die for their faith, taught readers that God would provide for the Jews the way to survive in a treacherous Gentile world—whether in sixth-century B.C. Babylon or second-century B.C. Jerusalem.

In the stories, Daniel is able to interpret dreams for Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar and thus distinguish himself. We also have the stories of Daniel in the lions’ den, and his three associates in the fiery furnace.

The second half of the book is apocalyptic, a type of literature that enjoyed its greatest popularity from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. Christians are familiar with it because the Book of Revelation is apocalyptic. In fact, the book was originally called The Apocalypse.

Apocalyptic literature uses symbols to present God’s design for the world. In the Book of Daniel, he receives divine wisdom from the angel Gabriel, enabling him to understand the future (considered from the sixth century B.C.) or history (considered from the second century B.C.).

Those responsible for this book definitely believed in the resurrection of the dead. The book taught its readers not to live for this world, but for “the kingdom of God,” and it upheld the ideal of martyrdom. Jesus was to develop the theme of “the kingdom of God,” first introduced by Daniel, in his parables.

Jesus also called himself “Son of Man,” the most characteristic way of referring to himself. In Daniel, “Son of Man” was a heavenly figure who came on “the clouds of heaven,” and received from God “dominion, splendor and kingship” (Dn 7:13-14). Jesus quoted “the Son of Man coming in the clouds” during his trial before the Sanhedrin (Mk 13:26). †

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