Daniel: Signs and Wonders

Written by Robert A. Anderson Reviewed By Joyce Baldwin

The title of this new series of commentaries is bound to arouse interest, with its distinctive emphasis on a theological rather than a critical approach, and its intention to transcend the parochialism of western civilization by including authors from Eastern Europe and from such countries as Israel, Indonesia and India. The series, intended for ministers and Christian educators, has as its goal ‘the Old Testament alive in the church’, and is to be written ‘by front rank scholars who treasure the life of faith’. Their brief includes reference to such Jewish traditions as will help illuminate the text of the Old Testament, but all the contributors are persons who affirm the witness of the New The new Testament to Christ, and who ‘share a developing consensus that any serious explanation of the Old Testament’s relationship to the New will uphold the integrity of the Old Testament’.

The author of the Daniel volume is Professor of Old Testament, Ormand College, University of Melbourne. In a short introduction (less than five pages) he dates the book in its present form to the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, touches on its place in apocalyptic and wisdom literature, and in the development of the canon. He sees its aim to instruct, inspire and confirm the faith of ordinary people, who were forced to live in the midst of hostility. Questions of historical accuracy are in general considered as irrelevant to this commentary, though they are touched upon as they arise in the text. There is ‘essential historicity’, but ‘to heighten the drama and underline the message he [the author] had to move beyond the restrictions of historically accurate detail’. For instance Belshazzar (son of Nabonidus) is called son of Nebuchadnezzar, who is made to displace the relatively insignificant Nabonidus.

In the apocalyptic chapters (2, 7–12) the focal point of all the prophecies is the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, though reference is made to other possibilities; e.g. on ch. 2 there is reference to the Jewish interpretation that Rome was the fourth kingdom (21, 22), and a quotation from R. H. Goldwurm’s commentary on Daniel (1979), p. 59, that the fourth beast is the Christian church. It is good to be shocked into considering such a point of view. The last three pages touch on the influence of these chapters on the thinking of Jesus (Mark 13) and on the Book of Revelation, as well as on the music and art of our own day.

This is a reverent commentary that takes seriously both the stories and the apocalyptic chapters, yet despite some unusual references and thought-provoking passages it is not as distinctive as one might have been lea to expect by the claims of the series. Its theology seems to this reviewer to be ‘thin’ because the book of Daniel is seen only in relation to the second century bc. Its relevance therefore is limited to periods that reproduce the same sort of circumstances. If there is no overview of future world kingdoms (future in the sixth/fifth centuries bc., coming to focus in Christ, there is no ground here for proclaiming God’s overruling of history, and so a whole dimension of the book’s significance is missing.

Joyce Baldwin