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My Response to Andy Nash Regarding Daniel 2

Andy Nash asks:

If I understand correctly, you’re saying it’s not necessarily an issue of great importance whether Daniel was written (by an actual prophet named Daniel )in 600 BCE or by someone else in 167 BCE–after at least some of the events in question had come to pass. Is that a fair understanding?

Doctorf wrote: “…lets say the later date 167 BCE is correct. Once again what does the date have to do with spiritual meaning of the story?”

Alex wrote: “Recognizing an ex eventu message in Daniel actually shows respect for the Word and God. My faith in God isn’t predicated on some sort of magically predicative quality in the Bible. There are deeper stories about the movement of God through the First Testament and self-revelation in Christ. In light of the evidence, this life-affirming truth seems more vital than basing belief on the clearly problematic issue of almost singular prophetic prescience.”

Here are my questions–and please accept these as honest inquiries.

1. If a prophet called Daniel wasn’t really having these experiences (e.g., “I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, while the men who were with me did not see the vision” Dan. 10:7) and writing about them, then this book called Daniel is obviously lying about the claims it makes–that a prophet, Daniel, was having these experiences and visions. My question is How, in the face of such blatant lies, are you able to still benefit from the “spiritual meaning of the story”? Isn’t it hard to do this?

2. In Matt. 24:15, Jesus refers to “the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet.” What do you do with this statement from Jesus? It’s hard for me to see how Jesus isn’t referring to a specific person, Daniel the prophet. And if Daniel is called into question, isn’t the omniscience of Jesus then called into question as well? (Not all slopes are slippery, but this one would seem to be.)

Andy, I understand where you’re coming from and your questions raise issues of hermeneutical coherence, in ways similar to what Mrs. Coffin asks Cliff. I don’t have it all figured out, but here’s my reflections as a believer who wants to be honest about what appears to be good scholarship.

First, the idea of a text lying is an invention of our (Adventist) 19th century historical-critical legacy. However, as a prophet/author in our midst I believe that Adventism’s experience with Ellen White helps us address the “is it true?” questions you raise.

In doing so, I’m going to assume that you’ve read the essential texts such as Prophetess of Health, the White Lie, the discussion at the 1919 Bible Conference and the Estate’s gradual shift on this issue and that much of what she saw in vision, wrote about the life of Christ and wrote as history, came from others. As Ann Taves shows, Ellen White functioned in the “fits, trances, visions” prophetic tradition. To discount Ellen White while embracing an idea that this same prophetic authorial complexity is not evident in Ancient Near Eastern Judaism is an example of the academic 19th century objectivity that makes historical-criticism fail. How Ellen White functioned in Adventism (a religious community exponentially more literate than 165 BCE) shows how questions of authorship don’t actually as much as some would like, outside of the academic community.

I believe that Ellen White is a prophet in this tradition. For those who rush to dismiss her while embracing the Bible as free from this, from John to David, Ezekiel to Samuel we recognize an embodied ecstatic tradition that also manifests itself in other religions.

Was Daniel lying? Was Ellen? As scholars have shown, our very concept of authorial originality has evolved in the last 100 years, not to mention 3000 years. For instance, the separation of fiction and non-fiction literary categories, the use of pseudonyms. Both of the Christian canons and the Jewish canons were committee decisions based on a pre-existing theological points they both wanted to get across. It’s really hard for us to understand, but imposing our idea of textual authority back to a pre-literate society is like a Martian coming across a History Channel documentary on WWII with its mix of a celebrity reading the text of a script writer for a voice over, survivor interviews, archival footage, reenactment footage, the reading of era documents, interviews with current historians and wondering if the whole war was fake just because the actor voice reading a letter home wasn’t actually the soldier.

I just don’t think that we have enough reference points to fully understand (at least to start questioning each others’ faith) how the historical figure, the stories, the authors and redactors and community and God all functioned in a pre-literate society to make meaning. That we go back and take a sentence from one letter, combine it with another in the voice over, connect it to a verse from the background music and some words from one of the soldiers does seems to miss the ethical point of the story. That post-538 CE Europe is divisible into ten toes (what about the fingers and Medo-Persia?) requires incredible creativity.

2. Before we address the NT text, you ask about the omniscience of Jesus. Where is the Biblical evidence that Jesus knew everything while He was on earth? In fact, I believe that there’s much Biblical evidence that Jesus did not know in the garden, or on the cross, if the plan of salvation would work. Furthermore, Jesus asks lots of questions, was he lying about not knowing the answer?

In addressing your larger point, it’s important to recognize that the Gospels were themselves later written documents and what we have in English are compilations by men working with thousands of fragments with tens of thousands of variations. For instance, the woman caught in adultery does not appear in single copy of any of the Gospels until it appears as marginalia around the 12th century CE and then slips right into the text as we know it.

The text as a closed vehicle for meaning is a human construction, from the inspiration process to the copying process to the translation process to the interpretation process. That doesn’t mean that God’s not present, but God doesn’t override human free will. God is a part of the process, but it is always through humans and no human is perfect, in fact, thousands of humans, with varying relationships with God, over 2000 years means that we are justified in always asking questions about how earlier generations saw the text.

How we read verses in English (sans paraphrase) are translations by committees (everyone knows how well those work) that reach compromises. Thus, often the text as received is what makes sense in their context given what their thinking is at the time, not necessary what Jesus meant. The Gospel of Matthew mimics Mark, but also adds in bits that are First Century Jewish specific. Reading the first part of chapter 24, it’s pretty clear that Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem.

Perhaps in this example we have Jesus speaking to the assumptions of the people of the times, or at least how the author remembered it or thought how Jesus

Does inspiration give perfect memory? See Ellen White. Sometimes she got history wrong or copied facts that don’t match up.

I believe in Ellen White’s prophetic gift and I’ll always fight to make sure we don’t lose her, in part because it helps us see how prophets and inspired writers actually function in religious communities, particularly in the Judeo-Christian inter-textual tradition. There are books in the Bible that copy whole passages, with contradictory variations from other books right in the canon. Now some extreme apologists for Ellen White will make excuses for the plagiarism by noting the less formal citation conventions of the 19th century. Fair enough. But if we can do that, then let’s drop back to an almost pre-literate era with no concept of originality of authorship.

So no, I don’t think that Jesus would get it wrong, but there’s no doubt that humans, even when inspired, get meanings wrong, and of course, even the meanings in one time don’t always apply through the last 2000 years and in every culture. Not to mention that Christian history is littered with outdated interpretations.

This assumes that you agree with most scholars that Ellen White’s writings are a mix of her own words and the words of others. Also, in the Adventist context we’ve also seen how what Sister White says takes on a variety of meanings in believer oral communication. For instance, immediately after the terrible attacks on 9-11, I heard folks say that she predicted the events in the Testimonies. In the less critically-aware mind, these sorts of textual bits take on outsized meaning, especially after the fact.

In some popular Adventist usage, Sister White the prophet takes on different meanings than Ellen G. White the actual author. If one wanted to avoid some of the big questions about epistemology and religion, one could take the rather conservative approach and talk about how Daniel the prophet vs. the writer of Daniel (note how the books shifts between 1st and 3rd person) might mean different things to the writer of Jesus’ words in Matthew. Separating the historical, the narrative characters of Daniel and the spiritual message of God’s presence (remember the Babylon captivity folks. Now under these new oppressors God is in control) is really not that troublesome. The author of Daniel might have some dating problems in similar ways that one might quote the words one heard from General Patton in the aforementioned WWII documentary without presuming that the whole film is by him even though it may open with a first person narrative. No, my example documentary as combine/text doesn’t address the inspiration issue, but then, was Ellen White inspired by the God of the Bible?

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