Posted by: religionthink | December 7, 2006

Then the Court Shall Sit in Judgment: The Role of …

Then the Court Shall Sit in Judgment: The Role of the Prophets Part VI

In past essays, the discussion has been geared toward the role of the prophets in Israeli history. This was prompted by recent developments in the Middle East and also, the topic of prophecy being in the media in the form of books, TV shows, and radio programs more then ever. It is important at times to reflect on the issue and ask important questions about the topic of prophecy, mainly their function, cultural influence, and political importance in Israeli history. In this particular essay we will look at the role of Daniel and compare it to the events in the texts of Maccabees I and II.

To the lay-person in the evangelical movement, the texts of Maccabees and other Apocryphal books go virtually unread. Unless one takes a course in intertestamental history, their is little knowledge of how these texts play a part in understanding the topic of prophecy, particularly in the book of Daniel. You may hear or see in the media, a good evangelical program, where the symbolism of Daniel is being discussed. Many times is it is humors, in a way, on just how creatively people assign the different themes of Daniel and other texts, change the meaning or context, to support their own modern day agenda or theories of end time prediction. This technique is called pesharim, and as we shall see later in this essay, it was used as a writing form, however today we have taken more liberties on when to use it. In this essay we will discuss Daniel using Maccabees as text reference. By making this comparison we will be able to understand how the prophesies of Daniel were understood by the people it was written for.

First we will discuss the book of Daniel; focusing more on the later chapters of the text, we will spend time sorting out the visions and symbolism that run thick through the texts. Periodically, we will be referring to the texts of Maccabees, when appropriate, to put this symbolism in historical context. It is the goal of the author to correct some of the misconceptions of the prophecies of Daniel and possibly shed some new light on the important contribution the Apocrypha can make in understanding the Old Testament Texts.

Our first topic of discussion is the literary genres of Daniel. Without mentioning all the historical criticism the text has received both for and against Daniel being a historical document, we can come to the conclusion that; 1. The book reminds the Jew of their monotheistic heritage and how superior Yahweh was to the pagan gods. 2. The book reminds the Jewish People to stay true to their heritage and Yahweh, and not compromise at any cost be it political, economic, or social. 3. To remind the Jewish people that Yahweh comes to their aid even though there are severe consequences such as death or martyrdom. With these three topics in mind we can see how richly the metaphor and symbolism speaks to the community that is suffering extreme persecution. So whether one believes the text as historical or written after the fact, to those suffering under the Greek hellenization policy under the tyrant Antiochus IV in the years 167to 164 B.C., It was a plea to hold strong to the convent and Jewish values (Hartman pp. 43-54).

The book of Daniel, for the purpose of this essay, 1-6 are a collection of accounts concerning Daniel and 7-12 are the revelations or prophecies. With in these texts we find such symbolism as The Four Beasts, The Ram and the He-Goat, The interpretation of the 70 weeks and the revelation of the Greek wars. Below we will discuss three of these topics. As we slowly progress through the texts explaining each of these symbols, we may be able to come to the conclusion that there may have been more than one writer, and that parts of the texts were written during the Greek period using the guise of the 6th century. This was not done for deceptive practices but possibly to preserve the writing from Greek censorship.

And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. (Dan 7:3 KJVA)

Above the four beasts symbolize the Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Greek empires. The lion, with three fangs, represents Babylon and their three kings as the fangs. These symbolize; Nebuchadnezzar, the less popular Evilmerodach (Jer. 52:31), and finally Belshazzar. The Medes were represented as the bear, that is less dangerous then the lion and attacks only when provoked and stands on its hind legs like a man when attacking. This represents Darius the Mede. The Leopard represents the Persian Empire, and its four head represent Cyrus, Ahasuerus, Artaxerxes, and Darius II. The fourth beast, the most terrifying which there is no animal description to attach it to symbolizes the Greek Kingdom of the Seleucids. The ten kings represented would be Alexander the Great, Alexander Aegus, Seleucus I, Antiochus I Antiochus II, Seleucus II, Seleucus III, Antiochus III, Seleucus IV, and finally Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The writer believed that Antiochus IV Epiphanes would be the last ruler and that Israel would rule the kingdom. However this never materialized (Hartman pp. 213-215).

Moving on to the topic of the Ram and the He goat, the two horned ram here represents the Kingdom of the Medes and Persians. The one horned He- Goat represents the kingdom of Alexander the Great. After his early passing after conquering the Persian Empire his kingdom was spit apart and divided among his four generals. However, the author here may be referring to the four Greek kingdoms that sprang up. In the end in Daniel 8:9 the little horn represents Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Below we read of the account.

And it happened, after that Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came out of the land of Chettiim, had smitten Darius king of the Persians and Medes, that he reigned in his stead, the first over Greece, And made many wars, and won many strong holds, and slew the kings of the earth, And went through to the ends of the earth, and took spoils of many nations, insomuch that the earth was quiet before him; whereupon he was exalted and his heart was lifted up. And he gathered a mighty strong host and ruled over countries, and nations, and kings, who became tributaries unto him. And after these things he fell sick, and perceived that he should die.

Wherefore he called his servants, such as were honourable, and had been brought up with him from his youth, and parted his kingdom among them, while he was yet alive. So Alexander reigned twelves years, and then died. And his servants bare rule every one in his place. And after his death they all put crowns upon themselves; so did their sons after them many years: and evils were multiplied in the earth. And there came out of them a wicked root Antiochus surnamed Epiphanes, son of Antiochus the king, who had been an hostage at Rome, and he reigned in the hundred and thirty and seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks. (1Ma 1:1-10 KJVA)

The vision of the “Seventy Weeks of Years” to most is very confusing. In Daniel nine there is a interesting technique known as pesharim, which in short, means biblical interpretations. The writer would put new interpretations on a text by combining it with other texts. This process is used today all to well, and it seems rather humorous that the modern day prophets have picked up this technique to the point of perfection. It was used by the biblical writers, and more commonly in the Dead Sea scrolls. The writer of Daniel 9 uses pesharim here to convert the prophecy of Jeremiah 25:11-12, and changes it to propose a prediction to the end of persecution of the Jews by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. So the writer of Daniel 9, to explain the seventy years found in Jeremiah, and to instill confidence, changes the prophesy to “weeks of years” and shows that the 490 years are almost at an end. Also it may be proper here to discuss the “abomination of desolation” . simply put it refers to Antiochus IV Epiphanes defaming the temple by sacrificing pork on the alter and worshiping Zeus in the temple. Below we read of this account:

Not long after this the king sent an old man of Athens to compel the Jews to depart from the laws of their fathers, and not to live after the laws of God: And to pollute also the temple in Jerusalem, and to call it the temple of Jupiter Olympius; and that in Garizim, of Jupiter the Defender of strangers, as they did desire that dwelt in the place. The coming in of this mischief was sore and grievous to the people: For the temple was filled with riot and revelling by the Gentiles, who dallied with harlots, and had to do with women within the circuit of the holy places, and besides that brought in things that were not lawful. The altar also was filled with profane things, which the law forbiddeth. Neither was it lawful for a man to keep sabbath days or ancient fasts, or to profess himself at all to be a Jew. And in the day of the king’s birth every month they were brought by bitter constraint to eat of the sacrifices; and when the fast of Bacchus was kept, the Jews were compelled to go in procession to Bacchus, carrying ivy.

Moreover there went out a decree to the neighbour cities of the heathen, by the suggestion of Ptolemee, against the Jews, that they should observe the same fashions, and be partakers of their sacrifices: And whoso would not conform themselves to the manners of the Gentiles should be put to death. Then might a man have seen the present misery. For there were two women brought, who had circumcised their children; whom when they had openly led round about the city, the babes handing at their breasts, they cast them down headlong from the wall. And others, that had run together into caves near by, to keep the sabbath day secretly, being discovered by Philip, were all burnt together, because they made a conscience to help themselves for the honour of the most sacred day. (2Ma 6:1-11 KJVA)

Above we have covered some of the main themes and where proper have shown the events and importance of the Apocryphal books of Maccabees I &II. The author strongly encourages reading of the Apocryphal books for they are rich and colorful and at times provide insight into some of the questions we may have. The next topic will be concerning the prophecies found in Revelation. We will see some of the same writing techniques, metaphors, and symbolism, used in referring to the Roman persecution of the new Christian church. In closing, the author find it necessary to highlight the most compelling examples of martyrdoms for the sake of the covenant. Two are found in 2 Maccabees chapters 6 and 7. Below one example is given in full to clarify the intensity of the Jewish refusal to be Hellenized.

Eleazar, one of the principal scribes, an aged man, and of a well favoured countenance, was constrained to open his mouth, and to eat swine’s flesh. But he, choosing rather to die gloriously, than to live stained with such an abomination, spit it forth, and came of his own accord to the torment, As it behoved them to come, that are resolute to stand out against such things, as are not lawful for love of life to be tasted. But they that had the charge of that wicked feast, for the old acquaintance they had with the man, taking him aside, besought him to bring flesh of his own provision, such as was lawful for him to use, and make as if he did eat of the flesh taken from the sacrifice commanded by the king; That in so doing he might be delivered from death, and for the old friendship with them find favour. But he began to consider discreetly, and as became his age, and the excellency of his ancient years, and the honour of his gray head, whereon was come, and his most honest education from a child, or rather the holy law made and given by God: therefore he answered accordingly, and willed them straightways to send him to the grave. For it becometh not our age, said he, in any wise to dissemble, whereby many young persons might think that Eleazar, being fourscore years old and ten, were now gone to a strange religion; And so they through mine hypocrisy, and desire to live a little time and a moment longer, should be deceived by me, and I get a stain to mine old age, and make it abominable. For though for the present time I should be delivered from the punishment of men: yet should I not escape the hand of the Almighty, neither alive, nor dead. Wherefore now, manfully changing this life, I will shew myself such an one as mine age requireth, And leave a notable example to such as be young to die willingly and courageously for the honourable and holy laws. And when he had said these words, immediately he went to the torment: They that led him changing the good will they bare him a little before into hatred, because the foresaid speeches proceeded, as they thought, from a desperate mind. But when he was ready to die with stripes, he groaned, and said, It is manifest unto the Lord, that hath the holy knowledge, that whereas I might have been delivered from death, I now endure sore pains in body by being beaten: but in soul am well content to suffer these things, because I fear him. And thus this man died, leaving his death for an example of a noble courage, and a memorial of virtue, not only unto young men, but unto all his nation. (2Ma 6:18-31 KJVA)

Brown, E. Raymond., Fitzmyer, Joseph. And Murphy, Ronalde. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice-Hall, Inc, New Jersey, 1990.

Hartman, Louis F and DiLella, Alexander A. “The Book of Daniel,” In The Anchor Bible, vol. 23, eds. William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1978.

Walton, John H, Matthews, Victor H. and Chavalas, Mark W. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. InterVarsity Press. Illinois 2000.

All biblical references were taken from the 1769 King James Version of the Holy Bible Apocrypha.

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