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Scholars have recognized apocalyptic literature has a distinct class of works since the time of Friedrich Lucke in the early 19th century. However, this field has not progressed like other fields of study i.e. there is a general lack of pseudepigrapha. At the same time, there are also other factors that have hindered the progress in this field.
First, there has been confusion with regard to the use of the word apocalyptic to refer to a collection of literary, social and phenomenological elements. Scholars like Koch, Stone, and Hanson agree that genre of apocalypse should be separated from the apocalypticism and apocalyptic eschatology. Second, Bible scholars did not clearly recognize and label the apocalypse genre in the ancient history.
The use of the term apocalypse seems to have originated from the last book of the Bible in the New Testament, Revelation. In this context, scholars used the term to refer to a class of writing among the Jewish literature.
Third, Jewish apocalypses joined various and distinct literary styles, such as vision, prayers and legends, among others. This has made some scholars claim that the apocalypse is not literary genre but a mixture of compositions (Collins 1998).
The literature of Daniel contains full-blown elements of apocalyptic literature in the Bible. Consequently it has received far more attention than any other Jewish apocalypse, but its special status has not always been beneficial. Likewise, scholars have a tendency to view Daniel as the typical example of apocalypse, although, in fact, it represents only itself.
On the other hand, there is even now a spirited attempt to separate the canonical book of Daniel from the rest of the apocalypse genre. Attempts to dismiss the non-canonical apocalypses as Daniel’s imitators should by now be dismissed. There are, however, differences between Daniel apocalypses and other traditions of apocalypse literature like Enoch, some apparent and some real, which require consideration.
Some Bible scholars argue that the place of the book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible was because the author presented the work when the writers had closed the prophetic canon.
According to them, the significant question is whether or not Daniel belongs with the other prophetic books. Consequently, they have concluded that Daniel is not a prophetic book but an apocalypse and the only one with the full examples in the Hebrew Bible.
The genre of Daniel as apocalypse
When we take the book of Daniel as a whole, it is an apocalypse book. Specifically, it belongs to the category of historical apocalypse. This category of apocalypse does not involve other worldly journey, but uses the strategy of ex eventu prophecy (this is a presentation of previous events as future prophecy) of history and eschatology that is cosmic in scope and has a political dimension.
The book gives the revelation in the form of allegorical visions in chapters 7 and 8. It also presents angelic discourses from chapter 9 to 12. Then the angel interprets the visions. The content of the revelation has a review of history in the guise of prophecy and an eschatological crisis in each unit.
Daniel 12 explicitly speaks of the resurrection of the dead. The book shows the importance of the heavenly world in the vision of the divine throne in chapter 7 and, the roles of angels and holy ones in chapter 7 and 8 and explicitly in chapter 10 to 12. Daniel combines a number of revelations, each of which we can regard as an apocalypse in itself.
Apocalypse is a macro-genre which provides the frame holding various smaller forms together. The narrative framework shows the overarching unity of Daniel, which establishes Daniel’s identity in chapters 1 to 6 and in chapter 12. In addition, the use of the narrative framework presents a collection of compositions and writings that authors created for different purposes, and in different settings.
The use of collection of stories creates unusual genre in Daniel. The ideological tensions between the stories and the subsequent revelations enhance a sense of distinction in Daniel.
However, the final form of Daniel shows that these stories simply act as the introduction to the revelations. The dominant form of the whole book is apocalypse. While the subgenres of chapter 1 to 6 are quite distinct from those of 7 to 12, there are some significant continuity in both form and content.
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The authors present Daniel in the tales as a recipient of revelations and as a skilled interpreter of dreams and mysteries. Chapters 7 to 12 present revelations, but Daniel is no longer the interpreter.
There are affinities in content between the four-kingdom passages in chapters 2 and 7, and the miraculous deliverances in chapter 3 and 6 are relevant to the situations described in chapter 11. The apocalyptic forms in chapter 7 to 12 represent a new development over and beyond the dream interpretation of chapter 2, and the motifs that carry over from the tales do not determine either the form or the message of the revelations.
Only in the case of Daniel 9 can we speak of a midrash. The attempt to present the revelations simply as an outgrowth of the tales is an apologetic strategy intended to mitigate the supposed scandal of pseudonymity. In fact, pseudonymity is a constant feature of the Jewish apocalypses.
The classification of Daniel as an apocalypse is full of theological implications. The significance of the genre label is that it points to a context for the interpretation of the individual text. In the case of Daniel, pseudepigraphic works provide the generic context of the various apocalypses in 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch. After these, there is no clear case of another apocalypse in the Hebrew Bible.
This analysis is not an attempt to disregard the other valuable literary works of the biblical traditions. However, we can only draw the analogies of Daniel with those of Joseph, or the impacts of Zechariah and Ezekiel on the use of vision in the Bible. All in all, the whole literature of Daniel finds its best parallels in the Pseudepigrapha, and it is in that context that we must understand its literary conventions and function.
In short, Daniel cannot be adequately interpreted within the context of the canon alone. The work of Daniel gained prominent in the past. Consequently, some scholars tried to avoid this conclusion by dismissing the non-canonical apocalypses as Daniel’s “second-rate imitators.”
However, late studies reveal that several parts of 1 Enoch are likely to be older than the revelations of Daniel, and there is surely no reason to regard a book like 4 Ezra as “second-rate.” When we take due account of the genre, then such matters as pseudonymity and ex eventu prophecy are no longer theological problems, but conventions which indicate the nature and function of the book.
The successions and the world empires in Daniel
Arnaldo Momigliano has significantly studied the connection between the literature of Daniel and the Greek world. Momigliano looks at the issue of how Daniel used the Greek historiography in his Biblical works. First, we must show that the concept of imperial succession existed in Greek historiography.
In fact, succession is a recurring theme in Greek literature. We can look at successions from Herodotus and Ctesias. These successions exist in history of Asia in the empires of Persia and Assyria, among others (Niskanen 2004).
We can recognize the contact between the book of Daniel and the Roman and Greek historiographic tradition with the four-kingdom pattern in the second book of Daniel, which contains the four images of metals which decrease with worth. Scholars argue that these images could be Greek in origin.
The records of these metals are in Hesiod who talks of four ages as four metals with decreasing worth together with the fifth age of heroes. In addition, the four metals are in the arrangements that are similar to the one we see in Daniel.
Meaning behind the imagery of the metals shows the declining age in human history is the same as the meaning in the vision and dream of Daniel. These connections and interpretations show that it is during the time of Nebuchadnezzar or Neo-Babylonian Empire that as the age in which human history declines. However, the interpretation of the dream vision does not imply this conclusion.
The setting of book of Daniel
Apocalypse discussion must separate between the ostensible setting of the text and the real setting in which the writers composed and used the text. The ostensible setting of Daniel is in the Exile during the 6th century. These events occur at the successive kingdoms of Babylon, Media, and Persia (LaSor 1996).
In Daniel 1-6, the setting creates a paradigmatic setting to show how Jews can preserve their religious integrity in the service of Gentile kings. The most probable time of composition of these stories is the third or early second century B.C.
The four kingdom sequence, which is explicit in Daniel 2, and implied by the introduction of Darius the Mede before Cyrus of Persia, points to a date in the Hellenistic period (under the Greek kingdom).
The allusion to intermarriage in 2:43 most probably refers to one of the dynastic marriages between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids. The Greek names of instruments in Daniel 3 also suggest the Hellenistic period. Since there is no clear allusion to Antiochus Epiphanes in the tales, we must assume that the author composed the book before the events of his reign.
It is likely that the tales of Daniel had a long prehistory. Scholars suggest that the origin of traditions in the literature of Daniel seems to be in the eastern Diaspora. However, whether or not these traditions attained their present status there or in Judea are less certain.
There are no doubts that the author composed the revelations in Judea, and so we must assume that travelers brought the tales from the Diaspora during some times in history.
We can specify the setting of Daniel evidently with the wise teachers who play a crucial role in Daniel 11. As we have noted above, the book identifies Daniel as a wise teacher in chapter 1. Wise teachers are the heroes of persecution, and they will shine like the stars in the resurrection (12:3) (Longman and Raymond 2006).
Scholars the Bible suggest that the book of Daniel shows continuity between different chapters, and the circles that wrote the visions, particularly chapter 1-6. The fact that Daniel and his companions were wise teachers supports this idea. Therefore, the heroes in chapter 11 relate to the heroes of the Exile.
While the tales are congruent with the visions in significant respects (the deliverance from death, the idea of mysterious revelation), it is not apparent that the wise teachers of the Maccabean era would have picked up the older Diaspora tales if they were not conscious of continuity with the origins of these tales.
Therefore, we may suppose then that the authors of the visions had education, and indeed the visions show a better knowledge of Hellenistic history and familiarity with ancient mythological imagery. By virtue of their education they presumably belonged to the urban upper class, although they were not necessarily wealthy.
The visions show a greater affinity with the prophetic tradition than do the tales, especially in the development of the vision form and interest in apocalyptic eschatology.
The shift in interest is presumably due to the new situation and does not require a change in the makeup of the group. Some scholars have also argued for the influence from the Leviticus circles with a strongly Deuteronomy theology.
Some scholars like Lebram propose different ways of looking at the teachers as wise men or scribes. Lebram argues that it is priestly circles in Jerusalem that wrote the book of Daniel and their focuses were mainly in the Hellenistic reform. In this context, Lebram’s main argument is that the temple plays a central role in Daniel and that the disruption of the cult is the author’s primary concern (Collins 1998).
In addition, Lebram notes that the periods in history and the scope of the book have the characteristics of priestly work. This thesis fits well with other scholars like Steck who note that the tales originated in the Jerusalem theocracy, but these two claims are independent of each other. However, Lebram claim is not apparent.
Therefore, we cannot conclude that temples dominated Daniel’s visions to the extent that Lebram claims. The great vision in chapter 7 does not even refer to it explicitly. The profanation of the temple by Antiochus imprinted itself on the minds of all Jews of the age.
We cannot conclusively write that only priests had interests in recording historic periods or cosmic chronology. We can establish this in chapter 11 by identifying priestly characteristics of the wise teachers. We can identify elements of cultic language in connection with the deaths of priests, but the characterization of the wise teachers emphasizes their wisdom and their role as teachers.
Intentions in the apocalypse of Daniel
The intention of Daniel in its historical setting is surely to exhort and console the faithful Jews in the face of persecution. The narrations in Daniel 1-6 clearly show that intention, particularly the story of the fierce fire and the lions’ den. However, the original setting gives us the life of Diaspora that demonstrates how we can combine fidelity to the Jewish law and service of the king.
The content of the exhortation is complete fidelity to the Jewish law, even at the risk of death. This message is constant throughout the book. Daniel and his companions, as well as the wise teachers clearly demonstrate this concept. The message in Daniel’s book acquires complete new meaning. The wise teachers give their lives to the service of the Lord, and the tales arouse a sense of wonder and miraculous happenings.
This suggests that fidelity, even at the risk of death, may be the key to the advancement and success. Daniel and his companions must believe in a supernatural world of angels we see through visions and dreams.
This idea suggests that human beings can only get solutions to their problems from the supernatural world. However, the ultimate solution is not preservation from death but rather resurrection and exaltation in an afterlife (Niskanen 2004).
In the Book of Daniel, the Kingdom of God defines human history and set ups. In Daniel 2, we see that it is God who removes kings and sets up kings (2:21). It is only the wise teachers such as Daniel who can understand such revelations. These tales show us that, in the end, God will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or left to anybody (2:44). However, God is giving human beings a chance to dominate the world kingdoms.
The visions reveal that the human kingdoms rebel against God but the wise teachers confirm the divine sovereignty through their revelations. God gives the kingdom to “the people of the saints of the Most High.” The formulation here suggests that there is another dimension to human history. Humanity will receive the kingdom in a heavenly judgment, and the “saints” or angels play a role in it.
The setting of the book of Daniel reflects an exile setting. This setting plays a significant role in apocalypse literature. It conceals the real historical situation beneath the crisis happenings of the past. This technique helps scholars to put the present into analysis perspective. The exile setting provides the occasion for an ex eventu prophecy. In this context, the prophets have foretold the prophecy and thus predetermined the events.
The fictitious setting also opens the book up to repeated applications, long after the crisis under Antiochus Epiphanes had passed. Ultimately the book addresses not only one particular crisis but a recurring type.
For instance, we can interpret the prophecy of the four kingdoms such that the fourth was not Greece but Rome. This suggests that historical interpretation cannot exhaust the setting, and function of the apocalypse by a single historical referent.
Classification of apocalypse literature of Daniel
In 1980, Klaus Koch reviewed the literature of Daniel and listed a minimum of five categories that scholars often propose as the overall classification of Daniel. These classifications include the legend, court tale, midrash, and aretalogical narrative.
These categories depend on different aspects and levels of the stories. However, in Koch’s classification, he forgot to mention the broadest and most basic genre of these chapters: the story or tale. We can define a story or a tale as a narrative that creates interest by arousing tension or suspense and resolving it. Koch may have forgotten this category because it is so obvious and usually ignored (Niskanen 2004).
Conversely, most critical scholars take for granted that the genre is not history. This assumption does not rest on the mistaken allusions to Belshazzar as king of Babylon or to Darius the Mede. This is because inaccuracy is compatible with the genre of history writing. Rather it rests on two observations. First, critical analysis reveals that the stories show stereotypical patterns common in the folklore of the world.
In this context, the aim of folklore is not capturing historical data but rather to pleasing, evaluating, inspiring and moving people. Therefore, historical accuracy is incidental and not necessary element of this genre.
Second, stories frequently introduce marvelous elements, such as the writing on the wall or the transformation of Nebuchadnezzar, which suggest that their purpose is to inspire the wonders rather than to record facts. Occasional use of hymns enhances this impression, which expresses appreciation of wonders. These stories often have elements of fairy tales.
The use of marvelous elements to inspire wonder is the point of analogy between the tales in Daniel and the legend. Legend is a traditional narrative set in a mysterious world of fantasy, provoking sympathy for the principal figure. The crucial element here is the prominence of the fantasy world. No one would argue that the narratives of Daniel as they now stand are legend.
This is because their narrative world is predominantly realistic. However, they contain legend-type motifs, such as the writing on the wall. Several of these stories may have evolved from earlier forms, particularly in the case of Daniel 4. The mysterious world of fantasy is also directly relevant to two other categories, the legend and the aretalogical narrative.
We may define legend as a narrative primarily concerned with the wonderful experiences and aimed at edification. It has no specific structure as such and is not primarily concerned with narrative interest. It often inculcates wonder and dread for holy places or respect for individuals who may be models of virtue. Some scholars provide a narrower definition of legends about Biblical occurrences.
A legend is a narrative, which expresses a virtue embodied in a deed and focuses on the element of imitation. These scholars have taken the stories of Daniel 1-6 as a case in point. They portray the virtue of fidelity embodied in a variety of deeds, and focus on a call in going and doing likewise (Zuck 1991). The focus on imitation serves to delimit the works by exclusion of, e.g., cult legends.
The authors imply the call for imitation clearly enough in Daniel 1, 3, and 6. It is not apparent, however, that when Daniel interprets the king’s dream or deciphers the writing on the wall anyone can meaningfully be expected to go and do likewise.
Conversely, all the stories that fall under the broader category of narratives focus on the wonderful and aim at edification. The fact that some of the stories focus on heroic individuals, particularly in Daniel chapters 3 and 6, reflect characteristics of those legends that illustrate the lives of the saints (Zuck 1991).
The aretalogical narrative and legend are close to each other since both of them focus on wonderful and miraculous acts. However, scholars accept legend in that designation than aretalogical narrative. The relative simplicity of these stories characterizes them as legends rather than as novellas, which typically involve subplots and interweaving motifs.
Some scholars argue that the distinct designation martyr legend in Daniel 3 and 6 is not appropriate since the stories do not involve martyrdom. However, it is apparent that the difference between legend and aretalogical novella is almost negligible. They conclude that aretalogical novella is an elaborate legend narrated artfully.
The court tale is different among the categories of genres in Daniel. It delimits the category of a story or tale by referring to a given setting. Court tale shows the story of adventures at the royal court. Court tale also has different subtypes of court tales that we can distinguish by variations in plots.
We can find these plots in other folktales. However, in situations where there are no court settings, we can find these tales elaborated in different ways in legends, sagas, or novellas. This categorisation cuts across the form forms of categories. This is because it depends on the setting and plot rather than on the narrative world and intention. Court tales are useful and valid classification.
We note this because they indicate most immediate context of these tales in ancient Near Eastern literature by pointing up affinities of Daniel with Joseph, Esther, Ahiqar, a story of three pages in Ezra 3 with tales of Near Eastern courts in Herodotus and Ktesias. However, we should not use court tales to replace legends. Instead, we should see them as complementary designation that further indicates the genre of these stories.
In addition, we can further classify court tales as contest and conflict. There is also a category of Diaspora novella. Scholars proposed this category in the cases of Joseph and Esther. This is because authors set Jewish court tales in the Diaspora. This is significant for the history of the genre studies.
We can find illustrations in the three Maccabees. This category loses sight of non-Jewish parallels such as Ahiqar. However, it has the advantage of focusing attention on the Jewish setting of the tales. Therefore, we can specify that the overall genre of the tales in Daniel 1 to 6 as court legends, or legends in a court setting.
Lastly, the category of midrash takes its point of departure in the biblical text and exists for the sake of explaining that text. It is not enough that a work makes use of biblical allusions alone. French scholars such as Delcor, Gaide, Lacocque have favoured characterization of Daniel 1 to 6 as midrash. So they regard these tales as midrash and make a comparison to the story of Joseph.
We know the parallels between the stories of Joseph and Daniel. Therefore, we cannot use a story to explain the existence of another one. The influence of biblical motifs and terminology are considerable factors in the tales with regard to intention and sources, but they do not determine their genre (Vaux 1984).
Biblical scholars have considered the literature of Daniel as a full-fledged example of apocalypse literature in the Hebrew Bible. This does not imply that there are no other books fitting this genre. The book of Daniel stands out because of the obvious futures of apocalypse literature. We can identity these features through settings, intentions, classifications and relations to the world empires.
Collins, John. 1998. The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, 2nd ed. Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
LaSor, William. 1996. Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Longman, Tremper and Raymond Dillard. 2006. An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd Ed. Michigan: Zondervan.
Niskanen, Paul. 2004. The Human and the Divine in History: Herodotus and the Book of Daniel. New York: T&T Clark International.
Vaux, Roland de. 1984. Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions. Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Zuck, Roy. 1991. A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Publishers.