Good morning! Today with Daniel 7-9 we turn the corner to a quite different form of literature: apocalyptic. The second half of Daniel is the best example of apocalyptic literature in the Hebrew Scriptures (though we will see other examples in these final books), and Revelation is the crowning example in the New Testament. Indeed, Revelation borrows key themes and images from Daniel, so what we read today and tomorrow will show up again in different forms when we finish the Bible at the end of December.
Apocalyptic literature has several signposts, with the first among them being the time frame in question. This is end-of-the-world stuff—more than even the end of an era or a civilization, but “Game Over” altogether. Such literature is also secret knowledge, often communicated by visions and shared only with a privileged few, sometimes by allusions or numerical code. Clear Good/Evil dichotomies are present also (with almost nobody in a middle ground), starring a faithful remnant whose righteousness stands in sharp contrast to the wickedness that’s rampant in the rest of the world. Apocalypses emerge when the threat a group faces is so great there seems to be no chance of winning in a human vs. human contest. This is when eternal forces like deities come out and “turn over the apple cart”, if you will. Apocalyptic literature describes when the natural ways of things do not work anymore, and supernatural forces break in upon the everyday physical world. These cataclysms are a sign that the end of the world is nigh. Finally for our unscientific purposes, such texts are intended to bring encouragement, roughly along these lines: 1) the good people are being persecuted and it’s hard but bearable because 2) the ultimate battle between Good and Evil is about to take place, and 3) Good wins in the end, banishing Evil forever.
The original audience for Daniel is a community under great duress as they resist imperial oppression during the time (scholars think) of the Maccabean revolt. Reflecting the circumstances of its audience and composition, Daniel’s apocalypse meets all of the criteria mentioned above. His visions describe beasts (bad) and both an Ancient One and a Son of Man (good). The four-fold code of the beasts in chapter 7, plus the ram and goat in chapter 8, serve to both hide and reveal Daniel’s deeper meaning. He’s explicit at one point how these refer to the different civilizations that rule in Palestine through the centuries. At the same time, the images are symbolic, which means they readily apply across many different circumstances. Finally, remember that though the ensuing struggles will shake heaven and earth, this is good news for the Hebrews because God’s own presence will save from the current unbearable reality of being a minority people besieged and unsuccessful by the worldly measures of power and prestige. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Daniel 10-12. Thanks for reading!