Harry Whittaker
Visions in Daniel

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 satisfactory.

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 prophecy.

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.

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