A Book Review from Books At a Glance
By Anna Rask
About the Author
Daniel by John Goldingay was published in 2019 and is volume 30 in the Word Biblical Commentary series by Zondervan Academic; it is a revised edition of the original 1996 version. John Goldingay holds a Ph.D. from the University of Nottingham and a DD Lambeth degree. He is the David Allan Hubbard Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary and was previously principal and professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at St. John’s Theological College in Nottingham, England.
Structure of the Commentary
This commentary includes a robust bibliography that includes suggested resources for further study. The introduction “covers issues pertaining to the whole book, including context, date, authorship, composition, interpretive issues, purpose, and theology” as it examines the study of the reception history of Daniel over the centuries (back cover). The body of the commentary is divided into ten chapters which correspond to the first nine chapters of Daniel; chapters 10:1—12:13 are subsumed into the commentary’s tenth chapter.
As is standard in the Word Biblical Commentary series each chapter includes:
- Pericope Bibliography—the most important works for each particular pericope.
- Translation—the author’s own translation of the biblical text, reflecting the end result of exegesis and attending to Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek idiomatic usage of words, phrases, and tenses.
- Notes—notes on textual variants, grammatical forms, syntactical constructions, basic meanings of words, and problems of translation.
- Form/Structure/Setting—a discussion of redaction, genre, sources, and tradition as they concern the origin of the pericope, its canonical form, and its relation to the biblical and extra-biblical contexts.
- Comment—verse-by-verse interpretation of the text and dialogue with other interpreters, engaging with current opinion and scholarly research.
- Explanation—discussion of the meaning and intention of the text at several levels: (1) within the context of the book itself; (2) its meaning in the OT or NT; (3) its place in the entire canon; (4) theological relevance to broader OT or NT issues.
Following a conclusion to the commentary, there are three indices which include a “Scripture and Extrabiblical Index,” a “Subject Index,” and an “Author Index.”
An Explanation of the Revised Editions
There are several other volumes in the Word Biblical Commentary series that are undergoing revision. The original editorial board in 1977 instructed their authors to provide and then use their own translation of the biblical text “as the basis of their comments and exegesis, examining carefully the textual, linguistic, and structural evidence and providing ample explanatory Notes” (7). The board wanted to make the “technical and scholarly approach to a theological understanding of Scripture understandable by—and useful to—the fledging student, the working minister, and colleagues in the guild of professional scholars and teachers as well” (7). The current editorial board has sought to maintain this same level of care and attention. The desire to provide readers with resources on the state of scholarship and further resources to investigate is still maintained in the bibliographies of the revised editions with the only difference being that of a format change, in the “Comment” and “Explanation” sections footnotes are now used instead of in-text citations (7). The revised editions also “incorporate extensively new scholarship and provide insights into the relevance of the biblical texts for faith communities in the twenty-first century” (7—8).
Summary of Key Points
According to Goldingay, the study of Daniel reached an impasse in the twentieth century. Goldingay partially attributes this to the etic nature of the critical approach which, in general, has viewed Daniel as a collection of legends and visions from the second century BC, mostly ignored questions about the book’s historicity, and “largely ignored the way God was speaking to his people through the text in its original context” (128). Yet there were also those who “identified with the concern of the text to enable readers to see what God was doing and was going to do in their lives and on how they were to live,” an emic approach (128). Considering this, Goldingay points to the significance of the commissioning of the Word Biblical Commentary series in the 1970s. In one respect “it represented a new level of confidence on the part of broadly conservative or evangelical scholarship; the volumes were commissioned from scholars who were believed to be broadly orthodox but who also accepted critical approaches to the Scriptures,” yet these publications came “at the time of the ‘postmodern turn’ in Western thinking, which itself linked with a broader impasse concerning the interpretation of texts and which also affected biblical studies” (128). Goldingay concludes that there has been a far greater interest in the past thirty years not simply in the composition of Daniel but in the reception history of Daniel throughout the centuries which for him is a marker of the postmodern interpretation in the humanities.
In preparation for this revised edition Goldingay writes how he reread his 1996 edition to rework it and tidy it up. He then read as much as he could “of the voluminous scholarship on Daniel published over the past thirty years” and concluded that his mind was not changed about the “big things,” but that this research did give him new things to say (9).
Despite Daniel is set in the time of the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the early years of the Persian era, namely the 500’s BC, Goldingay concludes the following about its composition: “Daniel is one of the few books in the Bible of which we can say with some precision and confidence when and where it came into being: in Jerusalem in the mid-160s BC in the midst of the persecution of Jewish people there in the time of Antiochus IV” (131). Goldingay conjectures that while the setting of the individual dispersion court stories in Daniel 1—6 “may have a background in the eastern dispersion, then, as an arranged sequence they belong in the second century, and there is no indication that they were collected as a sequence before that time” (579; cf. 577). As for the revelations in Daniel 7—12, Goldingay writes that these revelations are “cryptically expressed, but when explicitly interpreted within the book they focus on events to take place in Jerusalem in the Persian and Hellenistic periods and in particular on the actions and fate of the Seleucid ruler of Judah in the 160s BC, Antiochus IV Epiphanes” (98). Goldingay regards these revelations to really be no prophecies at all, rather they are “‘pseudo prophecies’” written pseudonymously likely by a variety of authors after the events occurred in order to clarify their meaning (127, 578). He concludes that the “geographically and contextually separate backgrounds of the stories and the visions in chs. 7—12 does not imply that they were produced independently of each other and were then later combined;” rather, the “visions were written in light of the stories: they have been seen as a pesher or actualization of earlier Aramaic material now appearing in chs. 2—7” (578).
In traditional form-critical terms the short stories in Daniel 1—6 combine features of midrash, court tale, and legend, but such terms need not imply the stories are unhistorical (141). Goldingay reminds his readers that literary forms can “be used in ways that do not correspond to their origin, and a historical account could use forms that are more characteristic of less factual narrative” (143). He notes that the short stories in Daniel 1—6 do “tell a different story from what we otherwise know of the period,” but they are not “simply failed attempts at writing history” (568). Goldingay does not think these stories are historiography even though they do reflect historical experiences. His reasons that these stories “manifest the positive features of short stories that make use of fictional features as well as historical ones in order to achieve their aim of telling an instructive and edifying and true story” (568).
Goldingay classifies the genre of Daniel as an apocalypse and cites a helpful understanding of apocalypse from John J. Collins: “a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial, insofar as it involves another, supernatural world” (567). He concludes that each vision in Daniel “shows considerable interest in what is past from the perspective of seer and audience, giving much space to interpretations of past historical events from the exile to the second century” (567). It is the visions of Daniel that Goldingay believes have more in common with historiography than the stories because they are predominately pseudonymous quasi-predictions and not real predictions (569). Yet he clarifies his reasons for this conclusion are not theological but instead formal, for formally “it is not essential to or distinctive of apocalypses to be pseudonymous or quasi-predictive” (569).
Interpretation of the dreams and visions of Daniel is a key element to the exegesis of the book. The following charts provide a brief example of Goldingay’s interpretative methods.
Goldingay sees the structure of Daniel as being a two-part series that comprises chronological sequences that correspond to the schemes of four reigns (575).
Goldingay expresses the relationship between the visions of Daniel 7—10 schematically (577).
Even though Goldingay follows a more traditional critical approach to the dating and composition of Daniel and the interpretation of its revelations, he points out flaws in the conclusions of both critical and conservative scholars. He says critical scholarship, in general, has concluded that the visions of Daniel “cannot be prophecies of events to take place long after the seer’s day because prophecy of that kind is impossible;” conversely, conservative scholars, in general, have concluded that the visions “must be actual prophecies because quasi-predictions issued pseudonymously could not have been inspired by God” (133, 134). Goldingay believes both groups to be mistaken; instead he “assumes that the God of Israel is capable of knowing future events and thus of revealing them, capable of inspiring both actual prophecy and quasi-prediction, and capable of inspiring his servants to speak in their own name, or anonymously, or—in certain circumstances—pseudonymously” (134).
Goldingay also confronts the presuppositions and a priori convictions of critical and conservative scholars when it comes to situations such as rescuing people from lions dens and fiery furnaces; critical scholars argue such events could not happen while conservative scholars assume “that they must be pure history because fiction or mixture of fact or fiction could not have been inspired by God” (134). Again, he believes both groups are mistaken for “God has the capacity to engage in such acts of rescue, and God is capable of inspiring people to write both history and fiction” (134). Goldingay concludes that whether or not the stories in Daniel are fiction or non-fiction, the visions are prophecies or quasi-predictions, if Daniel wrote the book in the sixth century BC or if someone else did in the second century BC, ultimately none of these issues dramatically affect the exegesis of the book.
This volume’s strongest areas include the discussion of Daniel’s reception history, the translation of the text and notes on variants, grammatical forms and syntactical constructions, and also the comments on redaction, genre, and sources. It is Goldingay’s interpretive conclusions that will be of concern to conservative, evangelical readers. Although Goldingay assesses the weaknesses of both conservative and critical positions, he ultimately sides with a critical approach to the book. It is important to keep in mind that he is aligned with the general approach of the WBC series in which the authors are broadly orthodox but also accept critical approaches to Scripture. Goldingay’s faith in God and God’s ability to predict the future is still on display in this volume. This revised commentary on the book of Daniel displays exegesis of the highest caliber; readers can feel confident that Goldingay has done the “heavy lifting” for them. Readers of all persuasions will find there is much to learn from Goldingay’s careful attention to the text.
Anna Rask holds a M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is currently an adjunct professor for the University of Northwestern-St. Paul in Minnesota.
Buy the books
DANIEL (2ND ED.), by John Goldingay