Ancient Higher Critic?

Source: H. Graetz, History of the Jews, volume II (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1893) 502.

“In Daniel, the Christian dogmatists had discovered a Sibylline book, with vague insinuations and mystic numbers, which they contended contained prophecies related to the Christian economy and to the appearance of Christ on the Day of Judgment. In opposition to these views the heathen philosopher Porphyry wrote a polemical commentary on the book of Daniel, which is certainly the only biblical commentary composed by a heathen. This neo-Platonist…asserted in his commentary that the book of Daniel is the work of an author who lived during the time of the persecution of Judaism and the Jews by the Syrian monarch, Antiochus Epiphanes, and that the ambiguous expressions in which it abounds are only allusions to that period, and in no wise prophecies, still less oracular proofs of the facts of Christianity.”

Porphyry lived in the third-fourth centuries C.E. According to Graetz, he had a historical-critical approach to the Book of Daniel, one which interpreted it in light of the events surrounding Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century B.C.E. I wonder if Porphyry believed that Daniel had expectations that failed to come to pass, since many historical critics maintain that Daniel expected God to shatter the dominion of Antiochus and to set up God’s kingdom on earth immediately thereafter. God indeed did get rid of Antiochus, but he didn’t set up his kingdom in the second century B.C.E. But Porphyry wouldn’t fear such an interpretation, since he was a heathen: he had nothing to lose if Daniel turned out to make false predictions.

Interestingly, N.T. Wright is a Christian, but he also interprets Daniel in light of the second century B.C.E. In The New Testament and the People of God, for example, he interprets the Son of Man of Daniel 7:13 as the righteous people of Israel. Still, I once heard him contend that Jesus fulfilled the role of the Son of Man when he came to God at his resurrection, since the coming of the Son of Man in Daniel is the son going to God, not the son coming to earth. So Wright believes that the Son of Man is Israel, yet he also applies it to Jesus. How can he do both? Is he doing what some Christians have done regarding the Servant Songs in Isaiah: they originally referred to righteous Israelites, but Jesus was the main person to fulfill that role?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to Ancient Higher Critic?

  1. steph says:

    Ha ha – that’s a very good example of Wrightian inconsistency and nonsense. Of course he can’t have both but I’m sure he could weave some poetic nightmare to wiggle his way out. He just makes it up as he goes along. But then we are talking about the bishop who thinks his writing may help establish peace and justice in Israel and Palestine and elsewhere too. (see the preface of Jesus and the Victory of God) I can’t quite imagine them wanting to read it over there, but it sure sounds good.

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  2. James Pate says:

    I liked reading Jesus and the Victory of God, but I’m not sure it will create peace in the Middle East. Man!

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