[Read Daniel 7:1-28; 10:1-14; 11:1-12:13. Using our course materials as a resource and citing these where appropriate, make a list of all of the elements of apocalyptic literature that you find in these passages, noting (chapter and verses) where you find each element. Use the lecture and your textbook of choice to learn what “elements of apocalyptic literature” to look for.]
Dr. Brooke Lester defines the content of the apocalyptic writings as that which communicates a “reality that is transcendent both spatially and temporally.” The idea of transcendence is that these writings communicate a future reality, distinctly “other” than the current reality, that gives hope to a community in crisis. Here are the elements of apocalyptic literature, summarized from Christopher Stanley’s discussion in The Hebrew Bible: A Comparative Approach: visionary experiences (revelation often given in a complex and elaborate vision), narrative framework (often considered literary fictions), detailed descriptions of the heavenly realms, pessimistic view of human nature and the present universe, cosmic dualism (God vs. personified forces of evil), eschatological orientation (the anticipation of God’s work to intervene and make all things radically new), assurance that the day of judgment will come soon, descriptions of the fates of the righteous and the wicked after death, moral strictness (instruction to live strictly by God’s laws), and symbolic language (language that appeals to the imagination in an attempt to describe something completely new using the old language available).
The narrative framework occurs in 7:1, where the character of Daniel is fixed in time and setting (first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon) and is described as having a visionary experience in a dream. In verses 2-8, there are many uses of symbolic language (for example, a little horn with eyes like human eyes and a mouth speaking arrogantly [7:8]). The reference to the sea in verse 3 represents cosmic dualism, as the sea is often associated with mythological forces of chaos. The overarching interpretation of this passage (7:2-8) sees this symbolic language as representing four kingdoms with a pessimistic view of the present universe.
Verses 9-14 describe a vision of a day of judgment where God (described in symbolic language as having clothing white as snow, hair like pure wool, a throne in fiery flames, etc.) destroys the “arrogant horn” (7:11) and takes away dominion from the other three “beasts” (7:12) to prepare the way for the everlasting dominion of glory (7:13-14). This passage has an eschatological orientation and contains descriptions of the heavenly realms.
Verses 15-28 contain an interpretation of Daniel’s visions. This continues the narrative framework in verse 15-16, where Daniel professes his fear of the visions and finds an attendant to help him interpret his dream. Eschatological hope is portrayed in verse 18, “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever – forever and ever.” Using symbolic language (particularly in verses 19-22 “teeth of iron and claws of bronze,” etc.), the author writes about the “arrogant horn” as an evil force against the “holy ones,” another example of cosmic dualism (the overarching theme of 7:21-25). The day of judgment is mentioned again in verse 26, and eschatological hope is offered in verse 27. The final verse of the chapter (7:28) ends the narrative framework.
Here we have another narrative framework revealing time and setting (third year of King Cyrus of Persia; later, in verse 4, the bank of the Tigris river is mentioned), and the mode of revelation described as a visionary experience (10:1). Daniel asserts his moral strictness that in his three-week mourning he had “eaten no rich food, no meat or wine” and “had not anointed [himself] at all” (10:2-3). Symbolic language is used, especially, in verse 6 when Daniel describes the man he saw: “His body was like beryl, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the roar of a multitude.” The nature of Daniel’s unique visionary experience is magnified in his being the only one to see the vision (10:7-8), losing strength when seeing the vision (10:8), and falling into a trance (7:9).
Another call to moral strictness occurs in the description of Daniel: “For from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard” (10:12). The implication is that Daniel is rewarded for his adherence to God’s laws. There is an indication that the visionary experience has an eschatological orientation in verse 14, with the declaration that the vision is to help Daniel “understand what is to happen to [his] people at the end of days.” There is also a sense of cosmic dualism in this passage, in that the one communicating with Daniel (most likely an angel) is opposed by the prince of the kingdom of Persia, keeping him from coming to Daniel earlier (10:14).
There is, once again, a mention of an earthly ruler, Darius the Mede, to further orient the narrative framework (11:1) in a specific time and setting. The bulk of chapter 11 (verses 2-39) portrays a pessimistic view of human nature and the present universe. The kings are described as “doing as they please” (11:3, 11:16, 11:28, 11:36), indicating that they are not following the will of God, but are rather acting as human agents of evil in the cosmic dualism that is portrayed. There is explicit mention in this section of moral strictness, claiming that the king will “seduce with intrigue those who violate the covenant” (11:32) and that the people of God should act by standing firm (11:32) and seeking wisdom (11:33), indicating the need to be “refined, purified, and cleansed” (11:35). There is also a sense of moral strictness in the admonishments toward the king who “considers himself greater than all” (11:37). There is also, in this passage, reminder of eschatological hope, that although the present time contains hardship “it shall not succeed, for there remains an end at the time appointed” (11:27).
There seems to be somewhat of an immediacy to the nature of this eschatological orientation, that the day of judgment will come soon. This is seen in the narrative framework of the current setting (time and place) of the destruction of the current kingdom (11:40-45). That said, the final words of the book (chapter 12, verses 6-13) give a rather unclear sense of precisely when these event will take place. So there is not a clear timeline for the day of judgment.
The book of Daniel ends with a description of the resurrection of the dead, with descriptions of the fates of the righteous and the wicked after death (12:1-3). There is a pessimistic view of the present universe, with warnings that “evil will increase” (12:4). There is also another call to be “purified, cleansed, and refined” (12:10) and to “persevere” (12:12) in the sense of moral strictness. There is some reference to eschatological orientation in the symbolic language of those who will “shine like the brightness of the sky…like the stars forever and ever” (12:3).
This exercise has been informative in helping to frame these passages in Daniel in the apocalyptic genre. It is interesting to look deeply at the themes that run throughout the text and to see how many of the elements of apocalyptic literature are present. The typical message of apocalyptic writings, that of hope for those who are being threatened by present circumstances, becomes more clear as these apocalyptic elements are brought to light. When reading Daniel with this framework, one can appreciate the author’s intent to bring hope to the people of Israel during the political changes and upheaval of the postexilic period.