July 27, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The Book of Daniel and the minor prophets

John F. Fink(Fifteenth and last in a series)

As I said last week, the Old Testament concludes with 18 prophetic books. Last week, I briefly described five of them. I’ll go into detail about only one more—the Book of Daniel.

The stories in the first six chapters are like historical novels. They mention historical names and places but are fictional. They concern the life of Jewish exiles in Babylon, especially four young men—Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

We have the stories of the three young men in a fiery furnace and Daniel in the lion’s den, but also Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams and reading the writing on the wall for King Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s successor. The message of these stories is that it’s possible to live and to thrive in a Gentile environment while remaining faithful to the Jewish tradition.

Then the book shifts to apocalyptic literature—revelations and visions, especially concerning the end of time.

It starts with “predictions about kingdoms to come”—fairly easy to do since the book was actually written after those kingdoms came and went.

The book also has an angel telling Daniel about the ongoing battle in heaven between the archangels Michael and Gabriel on the one hand and the angelic “princes” of Persia and Greece on the other.

The revelations end with the resurrection of the dead, the only book in the Jewish Bible that clearly affirms individuals’ resurrection. Belief in the resurrection didn’t come into Judaism until the second century B.C., the time of the Maccabees.

Most of the 12 books of the minor prophets are prophetic oracles composed over a period of about 300 years. It has been postulated that there are 12 because of the 12 tribes of Israel. Some of these prophets lived in the northern kingdom of Israel, some in the southern kingdom of Judah. Some came from the Babylonian period and some after the exile and the return to Palestine.

The Book of Jonah is included among the minor prophets. It’s unique in that it’s a narrative, a short story, as I pointed out in the 11th column in this series.

Of all the minor prophets, Hosea is probably the most fascinating, beginning with the bizarre command for him to take a harlot as his wife. The prophet uses the imagery of infidelity in marriage to convey an understanding of Israel’s behavior toward God.

Some of the minor prophets predict the coming of a Messiah. The final book of the Christian Old Testament, for example, is the Book of Malachi. It ends with the prophecy, “Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day.”

When the Apostles questioned Jesus about the return of Elijah, he told them that Elijah had returned and they realized that he was talking about John the Baptist.

These 15 columns are my cursory introduction to the Old Testament. I hope, though, that they might have whetted your appetite enough for you to read some of it yourself. †

Local site Links: