10. A Unique Document (Daniel 11)
The comments to be offered here will be very
brief, and—in the judgement of some readers—not very
This prophecy presents a problem the like of
which occurs nowhere else in the Bible. In its detail it is too exact,
too specific—and apparently too pointless. Verses 3-39, and
possibly to the end of the chapter, read for the entire world like a history
written in the language of prophecy. For a short and otherwise unimportant
period in Bible history, it deals with the inter-relations of the kings of the
south (the Ptolemys of Egypt) and the kings of the north (the Seleucids of
Syria), with only very slight mention of the consequent sufferings of the
attenuated Judaean state.
Some say these features present no problem. They
are content to believe that God had some special purpose in foretelling in such
a “programmatic” fashion the events of that era. Put the explanation
goes no further than that.
The modernists assert: Here is history, written
after the event, not true prophecy-written before it. Here, they declare, is the
final proof that the Book of Daniel was not written by Daniel, but was written
in his name several hundred years later. But even if this could be established
for ch. 11, it would prove nothing about the rest of the book.
There is another view, which has been advanced by
conservative scholars like C.H.H. Wright and C. Boutflower. This suggests the
possibility that a Jewish Targum has replaced this part of Daniel’s
These Targums were popular paraphrases of
sections of Scripture, and were much used in certain synagogues. Thus, it is
suggested, a short prophecy following on 11:2 was blown up by some imaginative
commentator into a marvellous relevance to recent or current events. Some
Christadelphian attempts at elucidation of Last Day prophecies have been known
to yield to the same sort of temptation!
Those who believe that the text of the Old
Testament has come down to us in immaculate form will feel outraged at the idea
that such a distortion has overtaken a part, albeit a small part, of Holy
Scripture. Yet there is no lack of evidence that, whilst the Old Testament text
is in general thoroughly dependable, there are places where distortions have
crept in. The Jews were not always as careful of their Holy Scriptures as
they have been in less ancient days.
It would be possible, but too tedious, and
long-winded, to set out in parallel columns the otherwise uncanny correspondence
in detail after detail between the text of Daniel 11 and the events preserved in
the histories of Josephus and Maccabees. Always the question recurs: Why? Why
this photographic exactness? This Targum theory may supply an explanation. One
cannot be sure.
A further question is this: Where, then, does the
genuine prophecy of Daniel resume?
Mesmerised by the opening phrase of verse 40:
“And at the time of the end...”, some would insist on the verbal
inspiration of the last six verses, and are even inclined to accord verbal
inspiration to their own personal understanding of those verses. Yet even from
this standpoint there are at least three competing interpretations, and none of
them free from difficulty. It may be that these verses also are an extension of
the main part of the chapter, detailing some of the activities of the infamous
Antiochus Epiphanes. But the student and commentator can certainly resume with
confidence his detailed work at chapter 12, verse 1.
In the Appendix (at the end of this book) an
outline is supplied of the uncanny correspondences in detail after detail
between Daniel 11 and the narratives preserved in Maccabees.