Monday, May 24, 2010

261: I Read, but I Did Not Understand & Daniel: In Review

Daniel 10-12
"I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, 'My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?' " - Daniel 12:8

This whole section is a big vision that Daniel has. After hearing this vision, Daniel mourns for 3 weeks.

As Daniel is walking with some of his friends he sees a man. This man's skin looks like a precious stone, his body looks like bronze, and his face is like lightning. Interestingly, none of the people he is walking with see this vision. Which brings me to the only logical conclusion: Daniel is a nut job who's hallucinating. Yet we are still reading his book thousands of years later and are told to take him seriously.

Daniels colleagues are, for some reason, terrified and run away to hide (I guess this means doing something crazy, because we are told that his friends can't see this person). This leaves only Daniel and his imaginary friend to have a long conversation. This angel (I don't know what else you would call him) tells him that God heard his prayers, but the angel was busy in Persia so he couldn't come let Daniel know that he'd been heard. What? The angel was busy? Couldn't God come himself? If God really is all powerful, he must be terribly lazy. The man then says that he's come to explain what will happen to the Israelites in the future.

The next chapter is so confusing and convoluted that I don't think I can accurately summarize it. The angel from Persia tells Daniel that there will be two kings, one of the south and one of the north. The next page is filled with the convoluted interactions between these two kings. To help you feel some of my pain/confusion, I'll quote you just one of the paragraphs of this story:
The king of the South will become strong, but one of his commanders will become even stronger than he and will rule his own kingdom with great power. After some years, they will become allies. The daughter of the king of the South will go to the king of the North to make an alliance, but she will not retain her power, and he and his power will not last. In those days she will be handed over, together with her royal escort and her father and the one who supported her.
This goes on for the next page and a half. I'll make an attempt to summarize, though I can't promise that I completely understand this story. The king of the south attacks and defeats the king of the north. Many then rebel against the king of the south. The king of the north attacks the king of the south. The two kings try and fail to make an alliance. The king of the north again (years later) attacks the king of the south and wins (I think). The two kings then make an alliance, but they are both lying to each other. The king of the north, at the "appointed time", again attacks the king of the south. This time the king of the north fails. And all of this will happen at some unknown time in the future. It all makes perfect sense.

The last part of the chapter is about "the king". This king will say terrible things against God. He will exalt himself over every God thought up by man. The angel says that he will promote some strange new god that no one has heard of. Both the king of the south and the king of the north will oppose him. Eventually this new king will be defeated, or just die, or something (there's not really a clear conclusion).

The last chapter goes off the deep end, it's titled "the end times". In the end, the angel Michael will rise to protect the people. The angel says that this will be a time of distress that has never been seen up until then. He says that multitudes who "sleep in the dust" will rise. Some will be destined for everlasting life, some for everlasting shame. Is the bible talking about zombies again? The angel ends by telling Daniel to seal up these words till the end time. Well I guess Daniel dropped the ball on that one, considering this isn't the end time and I'm reading these words.

Once the angel finishes his monologue, two more figures come out of nowhere. Daniel asks how long it will be before these end times happen. The angel gives him this answer:
It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.
What the hell does that mean? I'm comforted in the fact that Daniel seems to have no idea what's going on either. He tells the men, "I heard, but I did not understand". The angel, I guess feeling sorry for Daniel, decides to give a more clear measure of time:
From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days.
Nope, still lost. Hasn't daily sacrifice been abolished? Shouldn't the world have ended about three years after daily sacrifice was abolished?

If anyone know's what all this is supposed to mean, I encourage you to leave a comment.

Daniel: In Review
Up until today, I have to admit that I've really enjoyed reading Daniel. I obviously have some complaints about how legitimate Daniel's visions are, but at least it was interesting.

This is one of the very few books in the bible that doesn't contain a rewording of the first couple of books of the bible. There wasn't even a mention of keeping the sabbath day holy!

This is really what I expected from the entire bible to be before I began. There are plenty of angels around, God generally isn't an ass hole, there is little to no repetition of ideas, and there are parables/stories on every page. If only the whole bible was like this I wouldn't be such an unsatisfied reader.

For once I'm giving a book of the bible a positive review.

This is a question many people have been asking lately: Who is responsible for the Gulf oil spill? Ted Turner has an interesting answer:

Anything bad that happens is obviously God punishing us for something he's not pleased with. This is the same logic that cave men were using thousands of years ago. It's the 21st century, grow up.


  1. Here is a case where it would help to understand a little of the history of Israel and the book of Daniel, although if the Bible is supposed to be God's timeless message to all people this shouldn't really be necessary.

    The events that are described in Daniel 12 (i.e,. the wars between the kings of the North and South) are actually the Syrian Wars between the Ptolemies (from Egypt) and Seleucids (from what is now Iraq, Syria, and Iran) in the 3rd and 2nd century BCE. After Alexander the Great's death (he being the Greek king, mentioned earlier, that replaced the Persian and Median ones), his empire was split among his generals into 4 smaller kingdoms that warred with each other (and neighboring powers) over a 2 and 1/2 centuries before Rome conquered them. Ptolemy and Seleucid were 2 of these Macedonian kingdoms, and Palestine was caught in between.

    The crisis which is evolving as this book was written was the Maccabean revolt (in 164 BCE) of the Jews against their Seleucid overlords. The Seleucid king at that time, Antiochus IV, tried to Hellenize Judea by banning Jewish religious practices (such as sacrifices and circumcision) and set up an altar to Zeus in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem (the "abomination that causes desolation"). The author of this book took this as a sign that the end of the world was near and would occur shortly thereafter (within a couple of years). Suffice it to say, it didn't happen.

    The author chose to write his book as if it were a series of predictions (of events in his recent past and also his near future) by someone, Daniel, who had lived 500 hundred years earlier. Thus the "predictions" of Daniel are incredibly accurate for events that happened up to the revolt, but are completely off for what happened after that.

    The author of Daniel tried to get people to believe his future predictions by making it seem as if he had predicted accurately events of the recent past. But, as one would expect, his future predictions failed miserably.

    This book is very different from earlier ones because it was written much later, when Jewish religious ideas were evolving. It shares much in common with the 1st century Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature that form the background of much of the NT.

    Why should a book of failed predictions for events in 164 BCE have any relevance to modern readers? Well, why should any of the Bible, for that matter?

  2. First Katrina and now the oil spill. God must hate Louisiana. Maybe it's Mardi Gras. That Iranian boob must've been right.



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