So I am studying the Book of Daniel in an attempt to identify the elements of apocalyptic literature present. I have enjoyed this assignment because when reading such material, I have always gotten a headache trying to figure out what it was actually trying to teach me.
As I have sank into the genre of apocalypse, I have learned something of the form, content, origin of this strangely mystical and sometimes disturbing form of writing. I will attempt here to share some of those elements from Daniel, so that I may grow in my understanding of why these passages were written in the first place, and why they were included in the Canon of Scripture.
The main elements that characterize apocalyptic literature are fantastic visionary experiences that most times include a heavenly messenger or presence (visions,) narratives recounted by famously wise people from history (legends,) cosmic dualism that pits the forces of good against the forces of evil (dualism,) eschatology, or a picture of the end where the current world order is abolished in favor of a new world structure that favors the righteous (end times,) moral strictness that exhorts the reader to maintain the highest moral standards – that they would be considered one of these righteous (morality,) and finally highly symbolic language that appeals more to the readers emotions than to his logic.
We find all these elements of apocalyptic literature in the Book of Daniel. Let’s look at chapter 7 first.
Chapter 7 opens in verse 2 with Daniel (a legend,) having a dream (vision) of some fantastic beasts (symbols,) that represent foreign kings that rule over Judah. In verses 9-14, we see clear dualism in the introduction of an almighty figure. The heavenly figure is pure and powerful and good. This symbol of good succeeds in destroying the evil beasts and establishing his reign upon the earth forever. In verses 15-28, we see the narrative of Daniel, himself, trying to understand this vision he has been given. He speaks to another heavenly being (verse 16,) and the we are given a view of the end times in which the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil occur, and reign of the Holy One ushers in a new order in which the righteous prevail over the evil (verses 26-27.)
In chapter 10, we see a different story, although it contains similar elements. Once again, Daniel receives a vision from a heavenly messenger (verse 4.) The vision only comes to him because he is wise and trustworthy (verse 7.) And it is filled with complex and exciting imagery describing this “man” that speaks with Daniel (verses 5-6.). We see a battle in the heavenly realms between the opposing forces of good and evil (verse 13.) We also see great acts of morality, or righteous behavior on the part of Daniel as he persists in prayer (verse 12.) And, finally, we see elements of end times discussion as the being proclaims to Daniel that he will receive the further revelation of what is to come (verse 14.)
As we move our attentions to chapter 11, we see a great narrative developing we see the cosmic tension building as the evil forces take center stage in wars against each other (verses 1-28.). However, as the final victorious king turns his attentions to warring against the righteous ones (verses 30-39,) our author continues to assert the coming defeat of this evil agent (verse 45.)
We must move into chapter 12 to view the continuation of Daniel’s revelation. And in it we find that Daniel is affirmed by the heavenly being as being wise and trusted to possess this great revelation (verses 4 & 13.). As well, rewards are promised to the righteous that persevere throughout persecution from the evil ones (verses 1-3, & 12.)
As I read these stories, and as I uncover the meaning of the symbolism and repeating themes used, it is becoming pretty clear that the author’s intent was to encourage those oppressed people. He was trying to infuse spiritual hope into a physically hopeless situation. By revealing Yahweh as the almighty conqueror, he supported the Jewish nation in their attempts to remain faithful and hopeful in a time of great despair and uncertainty. The use of the vivid and symbolic language engaged them at an emotional level that superseded their intellectual reality. So, in taking the Book of Daniel as whole, we can see that it could have been an effective tool in the sustaining of the Jewish people throughout one of their darkest historical periods.