Friday, May 07, 2010

Comment on the comment on OT essay

The comment on my OT essay by the lecturer is this:
"You omitted discussion of Dan. 11.40-45, which explains your mark, although you show the ability to handle critical issues."
Those passages are passages where scholars think that the author of Daniel was referring to Antiochus Epiphanes. They say that although the description of Antiochus' life provided in Daniel is accurate but Daniel got it wrong about Antiochus' death. They say that Antiochus died of sickness in 164 B.C., and Daniel states that he died in a war (Daniel 11.45). Therefore they can say that the book of Daniel was written before Antiochus' death since he got his death account wrong.

During discussion in the class, I have raised a lot of questions over this way of looking at the text. I said that if this is a historical error, then it would discredit itself among its contemporary readers (for eg. Qumran community) who were much more familiar with their current times than us. Since they didn't have problem recognizing the credibility of Daniel, that shows that either they do not see this as an error or they just couldn't care less.

If these ancient readers of Daniel, who were living around Antiochus' time, did not see Daniel 11.45 as referring to Antiochus, then what basis can we modern readers so certain that those passages are referring to Antiochus?

The lecturer invoked the genre of Daniel to say that the ancient readers does not have problem with the historical error because they received Daniel as an 'apocalyptic' literature. And according to her (she got it from J. J. Collins, whose work I had also consulted in my essay) an apocalyptic literature is written ex eventu (prophecies that are written after the event have occurred). And I asked her on what basis can we say that Daniel was written ex eventu, just because there is similarity between the character narrated in Daniel and Antiochus? But the fact that the ancient readers, who are much more aware of Antiochus than say, J. J. Collins and us, did not have issue with Daniel, then that suggests that these ancient readers did not see the character in Daniel as a reference to Antiochus.

Anyway, this post is just for my personal venting. I do not intend to pursue the case with her. She is just doing her job. And I am lazy and think this is not a severe issue. My point is that I didn't include the discussion of Antiochus and Daniel 11.40-45 is because it is irrelevant, as I have shown above. Hence in my essay, I discussed explicit historical references such as Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius the Mede rather than Antiochus who is not named at all in Daniel. On that basis, it is questionable how much historical probability can we read Antiochus into Daniel 11.

That's the sentiment in my conclusion:
To skip through all these ambiguities to a secured conclusion in pretence for the sake of marks would be a dishonest research, if not a worse essay. As much as I am tempted, I do not think I can ride a cart with the horse behind. It just would not go anywhere.

7 comments:

SHWong said...

"I said that if this is a historical error, then it would discredit itself among its contemporary readers (for eg. Qumran community) who were much more familiar with their current times than us."

It is the historical error that tells us the dating. The error however does not discredit Daniel for Qumran. Why? You yourself said so in the next line.

"Since they didn't have problem recognizing the credibility of Daniel, that shows that either they do not see this as an error or they just couldn't care less."

Historical accuracy is simply something "they just couldn't care less".

Sze Zeng said...

Hi SHWong,

Yes, I listed the reason to show that I did take it into consideration as much. But while you chose the latter, I chose the former.

The reason is simple. Do you not think that the Qumran community, who separated themselves from the world and who intensely saw themselves as the eschatological community which YHWH will be delivering, did not practice discernment over prophecy with reference to Deuteronomy 18:21-22; Isaiah 43:9?

Even modern day people like us who are not as intense as the Qumran community busy going around investigating and verifying prophecy to expose certain cults or cultic figure who predict doom-days, etc out of concern. Why not these ancient Qumran communities who were much more religiously intensed than us have that benefit to be concern over prophecy, if not more than us, as well?

SHWong said...

My answer is that they do not interpret Daniel as prophecy in the sense of predicting the future. Daniel is prophecy in the sense of having a message for the events today in light of history.

I take this stand because as stated by Dale Martin, the collaboration of historical details pre-167BC is just too uncanny.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi SHWong,

Your answer is enabled by assuming the book as ex eventu. And your assuming that it is ex eventu because Dale Martin's sentence "How do we know that this document was written around the year 164? Because this author doesn't know the end of the story."

Martin was referring to Antiochus' death. That means your assumption is resting upon the assumption that Daniel 11 is referring to Antiochus.

And my question to that is what is the historical warrant to read it as referring to Antiochus?

Just because a narrative shares a similar story with another narrative, does that make both telling the same story?

But in Daniel's case, the fact that his narrative does not cohere with another narrative shows that we should not be too quick to conclude that both narratives are telling the same story. This is especially so when there is no name being explicitly referred to.

Unless one is willing to see both narratives as telling the same story even when both have differences among similarities, I don't see any other way for one, like Martin, to equates them as telling the same story. There is just no historical warrant.

A similar but more explicit argument is the one on Darius the Mede. But in this case, at least Darius the Mede is mentioned, while other sources has Ugbaru of Gutium. Even in this case, where two narratives have explicit contradictory names acting on an event, based on limitation in historical study itself and the lack of corroborative data, we cannot brush off any one too hastily to conclude that they are contradictory. The very nature of historical study does not allow that.

Israel Lee said...

I was reading through a short passage on the historicity of Daniel in the Archaeological Bible and the author concluded in similar fashion to yours. ;-)

Sze Zeng said...

@Israel, thank you for highlighting that. Ahh... if I know earlier, I don't need to go through what I went through. Just pick that Archaeological Bible up and read! :D


@SHWong, after reading my own sentence the second time, I spotted a mistake. What I meant is, "Just because a narrative shares similarities with another narrative, does that make both telling the same story?" Sorry about the mistake.

Cheat Grace said...

Who is your OT lecturer?