Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Daniel 2, Cyrus and the problem of dating ancient writing

One of the by-products of studying Daniel 2,7 and 8 is that we have to deal with those of the scholarly community who hold to a later date for the writing of the book of Daniel then conservative Christian Scholars often choose. Many evangelist sermons have been presented throughout Adventist history using the four kingdoms as proof of the divine nature of prophecy and the foreknowledge of God; the older date for the origin of the book of Daniel has been assumed. It is attention grabbing to say the least a dramatic example of God predicting the future and revealing it to people. In the book of Daniel three of the four kingdoms are actually named. Though even with an assumed earlier date of writing, two of the kingdoms would have already occurred by the writing of the book. The kingdoms of Babylon and Medio-Persia, both according to the book of Daniel used Daniel’s services. The specific naming of the third kingdom and the lack of a name for the fourth kingdom seem problematic. If Daniel had known the name of the third kingdom why not the fourth? From a Christian perspective that simple inclusion of the fourth kingdom name would have meant that criticism of the date of the writing of the book would be irrelevant, its predictive quality would be assured.

Instead we have to deal with the question of when this book was written much as we have to deal with the question of when the statements about Cyrus were written in Isaiah. In the last half of the book in which very few personal names other then historical names such as Abraham are mentioned, Cyrus is mentioned as an agent used by God. An agent who carries out the desires of God yet is said that he will not acknowledge God.

Isaiah 45:1, 4 "This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me.

Josephus tells the story of how Cyrus read about himself in the book of Isaiah. In Antiquities of the Jews Book XI Chapter 1 we read:

“2. This was known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind him of his prophecies; for this prophet said that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision: "My will is, that Cyrus, whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations, send back my people to their own land, and build my temple." This was foretold by Isaiah one hundred and forty years before the temple was demolished. Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the Divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfill what was so written;”

As Josephus points out this is a remarkable prediction, however if the mention of Cyrus was made by someone writing under the name of Isaiah it would no longer be a prediction but be an exposition of current events and God’s involvement. Most people would be very impressed to be mentioned by name, with what you were going to do as a prophecy of God. Such knowledge may even lead one to accept a different God, which in the pagan world is not a huge deal, but to be told also that you won’t acknowledge that God who made the prediction, that seems strange. Why would God poison the well so to speak? The idea of too specific a prophecy is the general reason many see the tendency to vague prophecies. Confirming the ability of people involved to make their own decisions rather then have to live some pre-planned life. This would not hold to nations such a Greeks or Romans so Daniel would not endanger anyone’s free choice by stating the name of the fourth kingdom.

So books like Daniel and Isaiah are critically questioned as to authorship and time and place of the writer. Isaiah is often considered to be the work of two or three authors and/or redactors over time greater then Isaiah’s lifetime and Daniel to be written under a pseudonym at the time of Antiochus (IV) Epiphanes a Hellenistic Greek of the Seleucid Empire, a successor state of Alexander the Great. The critic’s analysis is certainly not without merit or logic. This leaves the Christian in the position of wondering if these instances are really accurate predictions or accounts of contemporary events to the writer.

The more important issue however is upon what basis we insist upon one view over another. Does Christianity stand or fall upon the four kingdoms of Daniel or whether Cyrus was predicted 140 years before he was born? To insist upon an earlier date of writing discounts the other scholarly views. If we continue to teach our traditional perspective of Daniel we are also demanding that those listening must discount the other scholarly views because it gives us a stronger case upon some peripheral issue.

All this leads to something important. Is Christianity merely a religion based upon faith or is it a religion based upon evidence which leads to faith? If it is just faith then we can assume anything we want about any book or person in the Bible or any writing from Gnostic to Science Fiction. If faith is based upon evidence then we have to recognize that some things may through reason help build faith and some reasonably may harm and some things may not be the type of evidence that we can use at all. Christianity is at a fork in the road and Christian evangelism in the future will be decided upon which road we take today.

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