Hanukkah and the Prophet Daniel, Pt 1

Hanukkah arrives Friday night and among other things (like reading the relevant chapters in H.H. Ben-Sasson’s A History of the Jewish People) my thoughts are turned toward the prophet Daniel.

Let me say at the outset that I am not well-read in Daniel studies. What I have to offer here is as much about me learning and exploring the topic as it is about helping anyone else learn.

But there are several reasons why Daniel is relevant to Hanukkah.

First, as most of you know, Hanukkah is not specifically mentioned in the Hebrew Bible because the events of Hanukkah came after the main period of the Hebrew Bible. Hanukkah’s only mention in the Bible is in John 10:22 (“dedication” is Hanukkah).

Yet, the events behind Hanukkah are mentioned in the prophet Daniel, at least in part.

There are two ways (at least) to approach this subject. A very common way is to find evidence that Daniel is a late book or at least has late sections, dating to about 167 B.C.E. For those who choose this way of looking at the evidence, it is still quite likely that Daniel 2-7 could be an early document, perhaps, many would say, even being a genuine writing of Daniel (if, they would say, he really existed at all).

The case for a late date of Daniel is not as naively skeptical as it sounds to many who offhand reject such critical theories. P.R. Davies (a Biblical minimalist of extreme proportions) makes a good case for the late dating of parts of Daniel (The Oxford Bible Commentary). He points to three issues:

(1) Some inaccuracies that a person living in the sixth century B.C.E. ought not to have made.

(2) The possibility that the latter part of Daniel 11 is a failed prediction (it was future to the time of even the late “Daniel” writer and it turned out not to happen that way historically).

(3) The popularity of pseudonymous (falsely ascribed to a famous writer) and fictitious history among Jews in the Second Temple period.

A Little Philosophy of Knowing
I am not trying to deal with these issues in full. I realize that raising them will be troubling for some people and even more so if there is no simple resolution. But we should look at the Bible honestly and know the issues.

However, there is one philosophical point that is often not made. Many “conservative” readers play the same game and use the same philosophy of reason (epistemology) as the historical critics.

But since when did reason come to be the trustworthy vehicle for knowledge? Reason, in my philosophy, is one part of the tools of knowledge, but is itself a somewhat untrustworthy tool. Reason has limits reason should become aware of, not the least of which is our extremely partial command of the “facts.” We know less than we’d like to admit about history, especially ancient history.

How much weight, therefore, should we give to tradition, especially tradition that appears to go back thousands of years closer to the events than our own? How do we balance tradition and reason?

I, for one, believe that tradition should be given weight, and for the sacred texts such as Daniel, that means I tend to give a work the benefit of the doubt and I have a reluctance to jump to conclusions about false ascriptions, failed prophecies, and the like. The evidence may increase and I may be shown wrong.

But the heavy point about tradition is that people much closer to the time than I am read Daniel and felt it should be included in the Hebrew Bible.

Tradition also tells me that things like prophecy actually happened. Men and women did actually pass on to us from God insights into coming events. And my philosophy of knowing inclines me to give Daniel the benefit of the doubt and to attempt to read this book as it presents itself: the words of a sixth century B.C.E. prophet.

Another Way to Look at Daniel
Iain Provan, whose work in Hebrew Bible I am beginning to appreciate, especially Provan, Long, and Longman’s A Biblical History of Israel, writes about Daniel in the Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible.

Provan addresses and chooses a more traditional path in discussing Daniel 11. I will get into the specifics tomorrow and how it relates to Hanukkah. For now, let me summarize his major point about Daniel 11:

The failed history (alleged) in the latter part of Daniel 11 may not be history at all, but a foretelling which is yet future.

I will get into details tomorrow. This does not in and of itself resolve all of the reasons people point to a late date for Daniel. Nor is this approach intellectually satisfying in some sort of manner of proof.

How convenient, the critic will say, that you can jump from obvious history-made-to-look-like-foretelling to eschatology (final things, events at the end of this age of the world) and avoid the problems.

Sure, but could it really be happening in Daniel 11? Could Daniel 11, which begins as a sixth century prophet foretelling the conquests of Xerxes of Persia and Alexander of Macedonia move on to foretellings of anti-Christ couched in details similar to Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) and the Hanukkah story?

Let’s get into the details tomorrow and see what Daniel might have to do with Hanukkah. Meanwhile, you might want to read Daniel 11. Warning: it is long, detailed, confusing, and you may just scratch your head.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Holidays, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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