A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by B. Jason Epps
Joe Sprinkle is Professor of Old Testament at Crossroads College. He has authored the books Leviticus and Numbers: Teach the Text and The Book of the Covenant: A Literary Approach to Biblical Law and Its Relevance.
Sprinkle argues for the traditional dating of Daniel around the year 605 B.C. In defending his position on the date of Daniel, he thoroughly presents the objections levied by the higher critical scholars. For example, Daniel could not have been written that early because of the large amount of Persian and Greek loan words as well as Daniel’s placement in the canon being relegated to the writings versus the prophets. With each of these objections and more, Sprinkle first presents his opponents’ views and then expertly debunks the opposing evidence. For example, he asserts that the existence of Persian and Greek loan words does not pose a major problem because there were already well-established trade routes between the Babylonian empire and Greece. He also argues that the existence of Aramaic in Daniel serves to promote the unity of the entire book since it is unlikely that a translator would simply translate part of the book and not all. It is this reasoning that causes him to advocate that the current text in our English Bibles is authentic. Regarding additions present in the Septuagint, he maintains that these are merely scribal clarifications of the text and not original.
In discussing the historicity of Daniel, Sprinkle utilizes extra-biblical sources such as Josephus as well as other biblical writers such as Jeremiah to defend both the early date of Daniel and its authenticity. One of the key historical elements he discusses is the identity of Darius the Mede since historical literature does not identify anyone named Darius. After discussing in detail the strengths and weaknesses of the most common options, he comes to the conclusion that Darius is none other than Cyrus the Great. He explains the possibility of the existence of two names by mentioning the common practice of a leader taking a “throne name.” He argues that it is conceivable for Cyrus to have taken the throne name Darius when he ascended the Median throne, but then to have himself ultimately referred to as Cyrus as he took over the Babylonian empire. Sprinkle acknowledges that this interpretation will need to be reevaluated if new historical data comes to light. His general premise in this regard is just because we currently do not have the data on hand, does not mean we should immediately discount the Bible.
He notes that Daniel is essentially divided into two main sections, the first being narrative and the second part, chapters 7-12, he terms apocalyptic prophecy. He rightly notes that while there are similarities between Revelation and Daniel, namely detailed imagery and content dealing with God’s ultimate restoration with the world as well as detailed visions, all the elements that define apocalyptic literature, this does not mean that the prophecies of Daniel or Revelation should be equated to the apocalyptic literature in the second century that was purely fabricated. He also notes that other biblical authors used similar styles and their prophecies came true.
In regards to the four kingdoms noted by Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statue and four beasts, he holds to the standard conservative view that the head of gold is Babylon, the chest of silver is Medo-Persia, the bronze thighs are Greece, and the legs of iron are Rome. Sprinkle mentions that the main reason critical scholars do not adopt this view is that in their minds everything must have been that Daniel must have been writing about history that has already happened from his viewpoint, a claim that Sprinkle vehemently contests. In discussing the statue, in particular, Sprinkle mentions the common view that the Roman empire was never really destroyed. He also mentions the belief that it refers to a new empire that we have not seen before. He does not seem to lean one way or the other on this particular element.
In the commentary, Sprinkle divides the first section of Daniel into one chapter of his commentary, chapters 1-6. The remaining section of Daniel, chapters 7-12, is in the following chapters. He then discusses the biblical and theological themes. In the chapters on his commentary, he separates the chapter into the text’s pericopes, beginning each section with the biblical text and then including a section of context which contains historical context and biblical chronological context. He then covers individual verses.
In his commentary proper, Sprinkle is extremely detailed, regularly utilizing Greek and Hebrew, including both the biblical text and transliteration in this commentary. He even has a section detailing the differences between the types of instruments! As such, readers might find it a little disorienting, but his prose makes the content understandable.
In his discussion of chapter 3, Sprinkle notes that it is unclear why Daniel is not included. He mentions that a possibility is that officials in the palace were exempt because their loyalty did not need to be tested.
Another element where this commentary shines is his discussion of the seventy weeks in Daniel 9. Sprinkle mentions the three most common positions and details each position’s strengths and weaknesses with extensive detail with the benefit of the specific time frame of the dispensational perspective. He interprets the seventy weeks not as referring to specific years, but as a general period of time beginning with Cyrus’ decree to rebuild Jerusalem. What I particularly enjoyed regarding this section was his fairness in presenting all the views. It also helped that he had presented them all in a highly structured summary chart. While he acknowledges that his final conclusion is tentative, one weak point that I see is that a starting date seems unnecessary if one interprets the seventy weeks as referring to general periods of time.
Another positive element of this commentary is Sprinkle’s use of charts to organize key information and facts as well as disparate interpretations. This enables the reader to clearly compare and contrast the differing positions in an understandable way.
Also included in his commentary are detailed discussions on the structure of the text. After he discusses individual verses, in his bridge section he connects the passage discussed to the whole Bible and provides some practical ramifications.
The table of contents included in this commentary enables the reader to easily navigate to the particular section or verse they desire to consult. His discussion of the biblical and theological themes of the book of Daniel mostly revolves around God’s character and its contrast to pagan deities. Again in this section, he masterfully connects the whole of biblical data.
Sprinkle has taken a complex book and expounded on it in detail and excellence. Because of this commentary’s extensive use of biblical languages and scholastic discussions, this commentary would be best suited for someone who desires to have detailed content on the book of Daniel. Because of this commentary’s presentation of all major views, it could serve as a springboard for further research. Sprinkle’s writing could also have the benefit of increasing biblical language literacy since he discusses technical concepts in an understandable way. This commentary would not be useful, however, to someone looking for a light devotional reading of Daniel. As such, this commentary is more on the technical side than a thematic overview. Unlike some technical commentaries, however, Sprinkle attempts to help the reader see the whole and interconnectedness of the biblical text. As such, this commentary is in many ways the best of both worlds.
B. Jason Epps
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Buy the books
DANIEL, by Joe Sprinkle