When Structures Enlighten Prophecy: Introduction

1.1 Introduction to the topic

The book of Daniel is “one of the most intriguing works in the Bible” (Miller 1994:22). Particularly the apocalyptic visions of the second half of the book (Dan 7-12) bewilder the imagination. Some readers have lost hope in making sense of these encoded visions, while others work hard at undoing the knots and uncovering the veil of symbolism. But hermeneutical difficulties are not limited to visions. In the first part of the book (Dan 1-6), stories raise some key questions as to the manner and reality of God’s intervention in human history. Moreover the use of two languages in both parts of the book (Hebrew and Aramaic) is strange, to say the least. Finally, the multiplicity of key themes makes it difficult to discern the author’s main intention.

The book of Daniel carries its share of difficulties, but at the same time, it communicates its main message in a crystal clear way. The prophet and the angels regularly offer clues to understanding the main lessons of the visions, and sometimes of details in the visions. In the historic section, Nebuchadnezzar and Darius conclude several stories by public declarations that summarize the main lessons to be retained. The book of Daniel is both easy and hard to understand. This is also what makes it intriguing.

How is one to understand the book of Daniel? Many approaches have been pursued. They can be classified in three categories: doctrinal, historical, and literary. (1) Doctrinal approaches concentrate on the book’s eschatological teaching. This has been the church’s traditional approach to the book, and it is still prevalent today in popular evangelical circles. Daniel[1] is studied alongside Revelation and other prophetic books in order to establish the Bible’s teaching on end times. (2) Historical approaches focus on the author’s context. The redactional context came to the forefront in the nineteenth century when liberal theologians challenged the traditional sixth century B.C. Babylonian background and suggested a Maccabean second century B.C. setting for the book’s redaction. The date issue fostered heated debates because the new approach involved a radical shift in the book’s appreciation: Daniel was no longer considered to be a prophetic, divinely inspired book announcing future events, but was merely the expression of the unfulfilled hopes of political activists that forged a “revelation” to foster resistance against the oppressor. The second century position has gained a majority status in scholarship circles, but it is still rejected by most evangelical authors. (3) Literary approaches are now at the centre of theological and exegetical research. Weary of a century and a half old date-debate, scholars are increasingly moving their attention and efforts since the 1970’s towards synchronical rather than diachronical studies. It is no longer the date of writing or the different stages of the book’s composition that fascinate scholars, but the final stage of the text, that is to say the text found in the canon of Scripture. Liberals and Evangelicals find here a common ground for searching new insights and understanding of Daniel.

1.2 Problem

So far, literary studies have concentrated on a variety of literary features: genre analysis, characteristics of narrative and apocalyptic literature, structural features, and rhetorical analysis. Unfortunately, the literary attention has too often been limited to a section of the book. Global studies analysing the whole work have been few so far and have only brought some structural elements to light.

Furthermore, the global structures that have been proposed are quite different from each other and do not overlap. This is due to the complexity of Daniel. Scholars who give priority to genre divide the book in two parts (Dan 1-6; 7-12); those who emphasis the languages (Hebrew and Aramaic) have three parts (Dan 1; 2-7; 8-12); and those who privilege empires have two parts (Dan 1-5; 6-12) but end the first one with Babylon’s fall (Dan 5) and not with the end of the narrative section (Dan 6).

How do we account for those three structures? Why do they not overlap? Are they equally valid or is one superior to the other? Are they complementary or contradictory? Do they support the idea of a single author or of multiple authorship?

Another question that needs to be better addressed deals with the purpose of those structures. Are the structures merely artistic features or do they have hermeneutic functions? And if they do, what is their hermeneutical value? What point of the text do they highlight; what message do they emphasise? Is there a global message around which everything is articulated, or is the reader faced with diverse messages and viewpoints?

Finally, a literary global approach needs also to consider the way themes are developed. Literary structure is not limited to the relationship, arrangement, and articulation of literary entities (i.e., the various chapters of the book), but may also be marked by the development of the book’s themes. In the case of Daniel, the duality and progressions observed in the book’s themes need to be addressed in conjunction with the above mentioned structures.

1.3 Purpose of the study

The purpose of this thesis is to present an in-depth analysis of Daniel’s global structures and to show the hermeneutical pertinence of those structures, particularly of comparisons, parallelisms and progressions.

The study will examine, elaborate, and evaluate the three global structures (genre, language, and empire structures) suggested by scholars. These structures point to various similitudes and contrasts that connect Daniel’s ten literary entities. (Each chapter of Dan 1-9 forms one entity, and Dan 10-12 constitutes the tenth unit.) The complementarity of the three structures will be examined. The thesis will also seek and suggest the hermeneutical significance each structure brings to the book.

Once the articulation of Daniel’s literary entities have been examined, the thesis will turn to an examination of the book’s main themes: time, revelation, salvation, and judgement. The bipolar aspect of those themes will be demonstrated. It will be argued that this dual aspect is an intrinsic aspect of the whole book, and that it reflects the same concept of Hebrew parallelism found in the three structures examined initially. Numerology will also add its contribution to the growing conviction of Daniel’s unity and bipolar dimension.

Finally, the study of key progressions that run through the book add a dynamism to the book’s structure, that could be lost if one limits the literary structure to a comparison of pairs.

The study will show how parts are organized into a whole, how prophecies are linked to narratives, and how minor details help to express main ideas. Structure is the backbone of communication. It holds things together. It avoids confusion, fogginess, and misunderstanding. It sheds light on obscure passages because it puts them into the book’s global perspective.

1.4 Overview

The study is built on four stages, divided into fourteen chapters, including the introduction.

The first stage is introductory. It contains a review of scholarly works (chapter 2) and a reflection on Hebrew parallelisms and communication (chapter 3).

The second stage examines the structural links between the ten literary building blocks of Daniel. Three global structures (chapters 4-6) and links uniting adjacent-chapters (chapter 7) are presented and examined.

The third stage investigates other complementary global structural features. Daniel is built on numerological characteristics (chapter 8), dualistic thematic developments (chapters 9-11), and progressive thematic developments (chapter 12).

The fourth stage broadens the horizon and examines the links between Daniel and other scriptural text (chapter 13). This intertexual approach doesn’t treat Daniel’s structure “per se”, but treats Daniel as a part of a broader structure.

The conclusion summarizes key findings and points to significant contributions to Daniel’s studies.

1.5 Methodology

Having briefly stated the outline, some comments on methodology will explain the logic of the argumentation. Nine points will expand the four stages just mentioned in the outline. These points express the progressive steps of my argumentation.

1. Review of scholarly works. First, I explore the current status of scholarly approaches to Daniel (chapter 2 of the thesis). I present the main issues debated in the field of (a) doctrine, (b) historicity, and (c) literary approaches. Doctrinal inquiries are mainly centred on eschatological questions. Those issues are interesting – even fascinating for some authors – but they are only indirectly related to my thesis, thus their treatment here is more succinct.[2] Historical studies are often apologetic and reflect either a 6th century or a 2nd century position for its date of writing. I will present arguments advanced from both sides in support of their view. I will also cite authors’ opinions on their opponents’ positions. Quotations are sometimes extensive in order to better reflect the authors’ argumentation and the tone of their interaction. The question of the date of writing is important for a proper understanding of the book. It also plays a role in regard to the book’s composition. Is Daniel the work of one author, at a specific point in time (6th or 2nd century), or is it the work of an editor who collected various sources, written over an extended period of time? The question of unity of the book is a fundamental one when one studies the book’s structure.

Literary studies are presented with their strengths and weaknesses. They are particularly important to my study because Daniel’s structures are built on literary features. First, I explore the advent of literary biblical studies, and then, I present various studies, mainly relating to genre (narrative and apocalyptic) and structure (of the book or of a section).

2. Hebrew parallelisms and comparative exegesis. The second step of my study (chapter 3 of the thesis) is dedicated to a methodological question. How is one to conduct a structural analysis? Is there a model or a paradigm that can help biblical scholars to discover and analyse global structural patterns? My conviction is that the concepts lying at the base of Hebrew parallelism are excellent hermeneutical tools for exploring larger literary entities. The reason for this can be expressed in a nutshell: comparison is a key ingredient of communication in much of biblical literature. This is particularly manifested in Daniel.

Therefore, chapter 3 of the thesis explores the fundamental elements of comparisons. Broadly speaking, parallelisms are of three kinds: synonymic, antithetic, and climactic. I will show that communication through comparison is deeply rooted in Hebrew mentality and has a broad spectrum of application for it extends from poetry to canonical intertextuality. Parallelisms can be on the level of words, paragraphs, stories, chapters, and books. Chiasms are built on parallelisms and help to identify them. They often are a key element in the structure of a larger segment (for instance of a chapter and a book). Progressions can be understood as an expression of climactic parallelism.

Most examples in this chapter are taken from other books than Daniel. The purpose here is to integrate the study of Daniel in the large perspective of biblical literature. Then in the following chapters, the richness and density of comparisons in Daniel are explored.

3. Three global independent structures. The third step of the thesis is a detailed analysis of three global structures of Daniel (chapters 4, 5, and 6). The linguistic structure is based on the language division (chapter 4); the genre (or apologetic) structure (chapter 5) is based on the type of literature (narrative and apocalyptic); and the era structure (chapter 6) is based on time and empires (Babylon vs. post-Babylon).

Scholars have examined those structures with greater or lesser interest, but hardly ever with the purpose to integrate the three structures. When more than one structure is examined, it is generally to defend one structure over another. The genre structure has been by far the most popular structure. Most commentators have retained it, but very few have examined it in detail. Usually, only the simple division between narratives and visions is mentioned, and little connection between the two halves is made. I will elaborate on that structure and show how the two parts are related, and how important that relationship is. The narrative section (Dan 1-6) gives the basis on which Daniel’s visions rest (Dan 7-12). Therefore, I have used the word “apologetic” to qualify this structure.

The linguistic structure has been forcefully defended by Lenglet (1972). His work is often mentioned by other scholars, but few have elaborated on it. Shea (1985a, 1985b) has done some work on two chapters (Dan 4 and 5). The importance of the use of two languages has been neglected by most authors. Sometimes, it is only used to date some chapters. (But this diachronic approach fragments the book.) I will show how the languages are directly linked to the various chapters. I also elaborate on the book’s linguistic structure and give a detailed analysis of the second Hebrew section (Dan 8-12).

The era structure has been defended by Gooding (1981), but it has gained little audience. Romerowski (2001) has included it in the Bible du Semeur (SEM). The main division (Dan 1-5, 6-12) is based on solid ground, but some refinement is necessary to better express the connections between the chapters within each section. The first five chapters manifestly form a chiastic structure.

In order to better show the connection between the various parts of Daniel, I often quote the Biblical text, usually taken from the MKJV. Occasionally the NIV is used or a translation from a French version.

4. “Chapter links”. Chapter 7 of the thesis reinforces the three global structures. Links connect adjacent chapters with each other, thus transforming Daniel into a chain of closely connected yet distinct literary units.

I point to the manifold links tying each literary unit of Daniel with the preceding or following one. Indeed, each of the ten sections of the book is distinct from the preceding one, and yet at the same time, is closely connected to it.

Thus the chapter-links and the three global structures create a dense network connecting the ten literary units of Daniel.

5. Numerology. In chapter 8 of the thesis, I walk into a new land, almost a virgin territory in terms of Daniel’s structural analysis. A sense of selectivity radiates out of the book when one counts “named individuals”, “geographical proper names”, and “time expressions”. The book of Daniel presents a large number of dualities and quartets, and many items appear seven times. Those numerous signs of selectivity demonstrate the care with which the book was written. They speak strongly in favour of the book’s unity.

6. Themes dualities: analysis of three basic themes. The study of a book’s theme(s) is a good way to grasp the author’s intention and message. In Daniel, main themes are developed along two axes. This bipolarity is part of the book’s structure and needs to be examined. Three thematic dualities are presented: (1) Time expressions and time durations (chapter 9); (2) Revelations to pagans and revelations to Daniel (chapter 10); (3) Salvation of the believers and end-times judgement of the wicked (chapter 11). The themes of time, revelation, and salvation/judgement are at the core of Daniel. In each case, extreme contrasts are presented: present vs. future, close vs. distant, clear vs. obscure, life vs. death. The complexity of Daniel’s message is partially explained by the complexity of life and by God’s well-adjusted plan to fit various situations.

7. Global progressions: analysis of three macro progressions. Sometimes themes also show a progression and not only duality. This element of progression enriches the global structure and adds a dimension of dynamism that is not found in a simple polarity. Three global progressions are explained in chapter 12: the increasing clarity in the visions, the increasing animation in the visions, and the progression of hardness in the pagan world. The concept of progression is vital to grasp in Daniel particularly because the visions relating to kingdoms reveal elaborate chronological sequences.

8. Intertextuality: mega comparisons with four other works. The eighth step takes the reflexion of parallelism a stage further (chapter 13). It analyses the similitudes and contrasts between Daniel and four other texts: (1) Genesis 11, (2) the story of Joseph, Gen 37-50, (3) the book of Ezekiel, and (4) the book of Revelation.

The story of the tower of Babel and the confusion of language in Gen 11 is particularly important since, in Daniel, God completely changes his attitude towards the pagan world. The prophet Daniel resembles the figure of Joseph, yet the study of differences helps to clarify the specificity of Daniel’s ministry.

There are also striking contrasts between Daniel and the two aforementioned books. Ezekiel is a contemporary of Daniel, but his ministry is totally different from Daniel’s. The book of Revelation insists on immediacy in contrast to Daniel which presents the coming of God’s kingdom as being at a far distance.

9. Conclusion: some helpful contributions. At the end of the thesis, I present a summary of the book’s structures. The fundamental message of Daniel is spelled out, and some contributions drawn from the study of structures are given; they touch on the questions of authorship, historicity, and eschatology.

[1]     When the name “Daniel” refers to “the book of Daniel,” the word is in italics (Daniel); when it refers to “the prophet Daniel,” the word is straight types (Daniel). When the word is preceded by “book of,” the word “Daniel” is in straight types (book of Daniel). Quotes have been left untouched; the word “Daniel” appears almost always in straight types.

[2]     Eschatology is however an important theme of Daniel, and in chapter 13, I will compare Daniel with the book of Revelation from a literary perspective.