Daniel (Everyday Bible Commentary Series) Review

Book Review: 

John C. Whitcomb has taught theology and Old Testament at Grace Theological Seminary. This commentary on Daniel is conservative, dispensational, pre-tribulational, and pre-millennial. “Conservative” means that Whitcomb dates the Book of Daniel to the sixth century BCE rather than the second century BCE. That allows the prophecies in the Book of Daniel to be actual predictions that at least partially came to pass, rather than fake prophecies written after the “predicted” events. “Conservative” also implies that Whitcomb regards the Book of Daniel as historically authentic, as opposed to containing historical errors. And it entails that Whitcomb sees the Book of Daniel as predicting eschatological events that will actually be fulfilled in our future, not predictions about the Maccabean era that failed to materialize. “Dispensational” means that Whitcomb contends that the Book of Daniel concerns Israel, both historically and in the last days, not the church; still, the tribulational saints who believe in Jesus after the rapture of the church seem to factor into Whitcomb’s exposition of Daniel. “Pre-tribulational” indicates that Whitcomb believes in the rapture of the church prior to the Great Tribulation, and “pre-millennial” implies that Whitcomb thinks Jesus will return to earth and will then establish a literal millennial reign.

Here are some thoughts:

A. An asset to this book is its conservative arguments for the Book of Daniel’s historical authenticity and sixth century date. Whitcomb responds to the more liberal scholarly arguments that the captivity of Daniel in the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign is factually inaccurate and contradicts Jeremiah 46:2; that the Greek words for musical instruments in Daniel 3 attest to a Hellenistic date; that there was no historical “Darius the Mede” who conquered Babylon; that, contrary to Daniel 5, Belshazzar was not the son of Nebuchadnezzar and was not the actual king of Babylon; and that there was no law of the Medes and the Persians stating that a king’s decree cannot be revoked. Among other things, Whitcomb appeals to the Aramaic of Daniel, a late second century fragment of Daniel at Qumran shortly after the time that liberal scholars think Daniel was written, Babylonian customs, the existence of different Israelite dating systems, and a detail provided by the ancient historian Diodorus Siculus (second century BCE) about Darius III that sounds like the irrevocable law of the Medes and the Persians. The endnotes provide more extensive scholarly discussion and documentation.

B. Was Whitcomb convincing in his conservative arguments? I would say “Perhaps, but…” to a lot of these arguments. Whitcomb appeals to Kenneth Kitchen’s 1965 article, “The Aramaic of Daniel,” which appeared in the book Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel. Kitchen indeed does argue that the Aramaic of the Book of Daniel fits the seventh-fourth centuries BCE more than the Aramaic in the late second-first centuries BCE. At the same time, Kitchen’s conclusion appears rather modest: “Some points hint at an early (especially pre-300), not late, date—-but in large part could be argued to be survivals till the second century BC…It is…obscurantist to exclude dogmatically a sixth-fifth (or fourth) century date on the one hand, or to hold such a date as mechanically proven on the other, as far as the Aramaic is concerned.” Whitcomb refers to the scholarly argument that “Darius the Mede” was the Median Gubaru, whom Cyrus made governor of Babylon, Syria, and Palestine. Why does the Book of Daniel call Gubaru “Darius the Mede,” however, as well as the son of Ahasuerus (Daniel 9:1)? Are these not names of Persian kings? Whitcomb does well to refer to a possible non-biblical reference to the unchanging law of the Medes and the Persians, while responding to scholarly arguments that it is not such. Still, a question occurs in my mind. Michael Fox argues that the proto-Alpha text of Esther came before the MT Esther, and the proto-Alpha text presents the king of Persia revoking his previous decree. Could that indicate that the concept of an unchanging law of Medes and Persians was a concept later invented (or applied) by biblical authors rather than a historical memory? While Whitcomb characterizes the liberal position as dating all of Daniel to the second century BCE, scholars such as John Collins and John Goldingay maintain that many stories in Daniel may be older than the final version of the book.

C. This is not to suggest that I find liberal arguments completely convincing. Liberal scholarship tends to interpret the second kingdom of Daniel 2 and 7 as the Medes, the third kingdom as Persia, and the fourth kingdom as Greece, culminating in Antiochus Epiphanes. That coincides with its view that Daniel is a wishful eschatological hope about the end of Antiochus’ reign. Conservative scholars, by contrast, contend that the second kingdom is Medo-Persia, the third is Greece, and the fourth is Rome. The problem with separating the Medes and the Persians is that Daniel often combines the two (Daniel 5:28; 6:8, 12, 15).

D. In his chapter on Daniel 8, Whitcomb states: “Toward the end of the times of the Gentiles…we should not be too surprised to find certain aspects of the third kingdom still existing.” Whitcomb speculates that “the eschatological extension of the third kingdom” will be Gog from Magog (Ezekiel 38-39). A liberal scholar might understandably conclude that Whitcomb is trying to force what the Book of Daniel is—-a document from and about events in the second century BCE—-into an eschatological scenario that concerns our future.

E. At the same time, Whitcomb raises some legitimate arguments that call into question whether the prophecies in Daniel culminate solely in the second century BCE. If the King of the North was only the Seleucid Empire, Whitcomb asks, why does he take such a circuitous route to get to Israel, attacking countries on the way? If his base were in Syria, all he would have to do is go straight south to Israel.

F. The book offers interesting interpretations and prophetic scenarios. For instance, Daniel 12:11-12 refers to the 1,290 days and the 1,335 days. Whitcomb argues that Christ returns 1,260 days after the Abomination of Desolation. Christ then spends thirty days cleansing the sanctuary, and the days after that consist of judgment of those who survive the Great Tribulation. Whitcomb also attempts to reconcile the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, and to read both books in light of each other. For example, Whitcomb interprets the Beast’s deadly wound being healed in Revelation 13 in light of northern attacks on the man of sin in the Book of Daniel.

G. The book used historical arguments to illuminate the Book of Daniel, but there were also homiletical meanderings. Whitcomb at one point refers to Saul not knowing about Samuel the seer (I Samuel 9). In discussing how Darius threw the wicked men’s families to the lions in Daniel 9, Whitcomb says that the Israelite culture was much more humane than the Persian.

H. The book would have been stronger had Whitcomb explained why God in the Book of Daniel would talk both about the time of Antiochus Epiphanes and end-time events long after that. Whitcomb somewhat touched on this, but not adequately.

I. A slight pet-peeve: on page 165, Whitcomb dates Antiochus Epiphanes’ reign to 175-64 BCE. Whitcomb frequently did that with BCE dates: cut off the first digit in the terminus ad quem year. He should not do that with BCE dates because it is confusing. Antiochus IV’s reign ended in 164 BCE, not 64 BCE, as Whitcomb knows.

My critiques notwithstanding, I still give this commentary five stars. It is informative, interesting, and meaty.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.