NEW LIGHT
IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM

(Investigator 57, 1997 November)

Bob Potter

[The following critique of Daniel was part of a longer article about tours of the British Museum organized by the JW sect.]  

The afternoon tour, introduced to us as The Bible: History Written in Advance, lasted for nearly two hours and involved much walking; yet, incredibly we looked only at a few statues of historical persons and two rough maps. Nothing we viewed added to what was essentially a Watchtower 'Bible Study' session that could have been better (i.e. more comfortably) carried out in a Kingdom Hall. If this had been the only 'tour' attended on the day, the fare to London could not be justified.

We began at a small statue of Alexander the Great.  A large slab of scripture was read to us by the guide, culled from Daniel 7:1- 8:27.

Of course the point to be asserted, without questioning or consideration, was that the text of Daniel was completed in 536BC – while the events being described (prophesied about), the conquests of Alexander leading up to the break-up of his empire, were not actualized for another two hundred years. Alexander died in 323BC, at the early age of 32 years, before he could fulfil his dream of rebuilding Babylon as his capital.  (Of course, that's the way it had to happen, we were told, because Jehovah had told us that Babylon would never be rebuilt!)  We moved to the two small sketch-maps on the wall of the gallery, which indicated the restructuring of the empire that followed the death of Alexander.  More verses from Daniel were read and 'discussed' in the question and answer format that is basic to any Watchtower gathering.

I must insert a few words regarding the authenticity of this 'piece of scripture' as it is regarded by the overwhelming majority of Biblical scholars, today. Of course these questions were not discussed on the Museum tour!

For those who share my interest and fascination in the Apocalyptic, Daniel is the obvious starting point (and undoubtedly the best introduction to this topic is still The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic by D S Russell: SCM Press (1964). The majority of today's researchers are agreed that the book was written in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (175-163BC) and more particularly after the desecration of the Temple by that ruler in 168BC, but before its reconstruction by the Maccabees in 165BC.  There are at least five reasons for this consensus of opinion:

I) Ch 11 shows clear acquaintance with trivial events in the reign of Ant. Epithanes, of no 'prophetic' value and lacking any moral or spiritual importance. The earlier periods of history are dismissed in single sentences, but the description of Antiochus is full and vivid, extending to more than twenty-four verses.  Earlier, in Ch 8, is indeed a clear description of the conquests of Alexander and the division of his empire; and of Antiochus Epiphanes with the 'fourth beast' representing Alexander's kingdom and its succession in the Seleucid dynasty, on which the writer is focussed; but his main interest remains the great persecution initiated by Antiochus. When, however, the author touches upon a subsequent period, he writes nothing in need of interpretation, but only symbolizes the general Messianic hope of Israel. He foretells the death of Antiochus, but is quite wrong regarding the place and circumstances.  Supernatural foresight enabled the prophet to foresee the future clearly as far as 167BC, but not as far as 164BC!!

2)  The writer's specific knowledge of the times when Daniel is alleged to have lived (?606-535BC) is clearly based on oral tradition.  Within this period he mentions as kings of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius the Mede and Cyrus. He views them all as reigning sovereigns, not as subordinate rulers. Belshazzar is the son of Nebuchadnezzar and king at the time of its capture by the Medes and Persians. But history knows nothing of Darius the Mede preceding Cyrus.  No Darius reigned  until a score of years later. The key to an understanding of the book of Daniel is an appreciation that the four kingdoms, which dominate the book, are Babylonia, the Medes, the Persians and the Greeks.  Daniel was mistaken.  There was no Median empire parallel to the other three!

We now possess a long series of contract tables which are dated virtually day-by-day from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar to that of Xerxes... Daniel's list shows his general confusion of the order of events.  Cyrus, we know from cuneiform inscriptions, took Babylon peaceably. It was during the reign of Darius that Babylon rebelled and Darius was forced to besiege the city. Daniel follows tradition (Herodotus) and transfers the siege to Cyrus.  In Daniel, both king and siege have been transferred to an earlier period. There are many other 'confusions' of this kind, supporting the view that the author lived several centuries later.

3) The languages used in the text likewise are not consistent with the fundamentalist view. The book is written in both Hebrew and Aramaic.The Hebrew is distinguished from that of the exilic Ezekiel and resembles that of the Chronicles, written about 300BC.  The Aramaic (chs 2:5 - 7:28) is also of a later date.  Persian words appear in both sections, suggesting that a long enough period had elapsed for Persian words to have become part of the Jewish language. Musical instruments, contemporary with Antiochus, are mentioned;  instruments that would not have been known in the earlier period.

4) The doctrines of Daniel, angels and demons, fit with the Jewish writings of the first century BC -- ideas that had originated in the contemporary Persian religion. Likewise, Daniel teaches a personal resurrection - none of these views conform to the Old Testament scriptures. The stories of Daniel and 'the three young men' are intended to convey a message of hope to people placed in a similar situation.   If the Book is seen in the Maccabean period, it 'makes sense'. Date it in the days of Babylon, its meaning is unintelligible. If we follow the traditionalists, we must explain why Daniel was so uninterested in events of his own time, and so obsessed with things to happen several centuries after his time!

5) There is no evidence in any Old Testament or Apocryphal writing of its earlier existence. The silence of Ecclesiasticus (190BC) which lists Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve minor prophets, but says nothing of Daniel, is very significant. The testimony of Josephus, written near the close of the first century AD, claiming that the text of Daniel was shown to Alexander the Great represents only a Jewish legend. Had the text been indeed written during the Exile, it would have been included among the 'Prophets' (instead of among the 'Writings').


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