How do we read Daniel?
Many Mennonites have preferred the “calendarizer” -Vernard Eller’s term- approach to the book of Daniel and its “prophecies”. In doing so they have emphasized the chronological connection between events in the fashion of the diviners and astrologers. This approach neglects the ethical connection between events in prophetic utterance: good deeds will bring blessing, evil deeds bring curses. Others have joined the modern trend of casting the wisdom prophet into the ivory tower of apocalypticism and throwing away the key. By declaring Daniel “apocalyptic” the prophetical/ethical dimension has been of the book has been blunted.
The “proto-constantinianism” of the Maccabees has been the key to interpretation of the political relevance of Daniel for both protestants and Catholics. (see Harrington, The Biblical Model for Revolution). These interpreters agree with the book of the Maccabees that revolutionary violence and state violence are necessary to protect the people of God and punish evil.
Although Mennonites have focused on the ethical dimension of the Christian faith, they have not given much attention to this dimension of Daniel. The Mennonite Encyclopedia. does not contain an article on Daniel, in spite of the importance of Daniel to many of the era of the editors of ME. [There is mention of Daniel in the article on “chiliasm”.] That Daniel was of importance to the early Anabaptists, such as the Munsterites, has not increased the appeal of Daniel. The disputes between the premillennialists and amillennialists and their use of Daniel to create timelines has detracted from viewing the ethical aspect of the wisdom prophet’s ethical teaching. There have been no interpretative articles on Daniel in the Gospel Herald/Mennonite since at least 1960, if my research is correct. I have searched the indexes back to 1960 and talked to former editors, Dan Hertzler and John Drescher. (The Believers’ Church commentary on Daniel was published after I began this study.)
This essay proposes that we expect the wisdom prophet, as other prophets, to provide practical guidance on a current issue of the day, not simply children’s rescue stories or timetables for the distant future. For our day also, when evil people arise, the wisdom prophet’s stories can encourage us to faithfulness to God and trust in him. In the face of oppression and persecution, many have chosen the Maccabean way of violent resistance, rather than the wisdom prophet’s way of faithfulness and suffering. From the Münsterites of the Anabaptist era to the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas and liberation theologians today, people read the book of Daniel as if it supported the Maccabees, rather than opposed them.
Many followers of God have insisted that God’s people need the state and state violence for their preservation of Christian values. Christians rooted in the Cold War era saw the United States’ nuclear weapons as a necessity for the survival of Christianity. Christians have encouraged the Israelis to believe that only by military superiority will they be spared another Holocaust. In the post-9/11 world, Christians have insisted that the evil of terrorism will only be overcome by violence. How can people of peace encourage others to let the angel Michael (Dan 10:13) and the Son of Man deal with the enemies of the people of God? Following Daniel’s example, we can choose the way of suffering, prayer, and the wisdom of trusting God.