First Testament

Examining First Testament Theology

Silent Meditation? Forget That!

What is meditation, or better yet, what does it look like according to the First Testament? We know that meditation was mentioned, even commanded, in the writings of the First Testament. What does meditation look like in the Hebraic culture? First off, meditation in the First Testament was not like meditation that is often portrayed in our culture. Typically people associate meditation with deep thought, solitude, and silence–thanks to the stereotype of meditation being associated with eastern practices. For some Christians, meditation often brings forth negative feelings and even thoughts that Christians should not engage in such “eastern” religious practices. Even though eastern religions do incorporate meditation in their faith, whether little or a lot, the Scriptures speak of meditation. In fact, meditation was of utmost importance to Hebrews.

The Hebrew word for meditate is hagah, which literally means to “emit a sound,” “murmur,” “mutter,” “speak in an undertone.” This idea of meditation thus being a time of emitting a sound is rather different from the majority understanding of meditation. It is no a time of silence, at least no within First Testament theology. Meditation was a time of sound, not silence.

The Tanakh is split into three separate divisions, unlike our contemporary Bible. There is the Torah, Prophets, and Writings. The first book of the Prophets division is Joshua, and the first book of the Writings division is Psalms. Each of these two divisions start out with meditation.

Joshua 1:8: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

Psalm 1:1-2 “Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but who delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on his law day and night.”

The very first division in the Tanakh is the Torah, which is the Book of the Law in the case of the above translation. Each of the two division after the Torah division opens up by stressing the importance of meditating on the Torah (first division of the Tanakh) day and night. This is one of the most foundational facets of the Hebraic culture, and thus Israel’s faith: meditation on Torah. Each division that follows Torah exclaims to meditate on Torah day and night.

As mentioned earlier, meditate (hagah) means to emit a sound, mutter, murmur, speak in an undertone. Hebraic meditation was not a silent movement. On the contrary, Hebraic meditation was lively. Eyes open, reading, praying, confessing, expressing doubts and hardships to God. Meditation was a time of communication and audible study. It is not a time of silent contemplation, but it was a time of fervent pursuit of God and a verbalizing of thoughts before God regarding his teachings and doings.

Eastern religion meditation is a much different kind of meditation that the Hebrews and some Christians engage in. In fact, some may very well be engaged in meditation throughout the day and not even know about it. When we look at meditation in this light, we see the plausibility of being able to meditate on the law of the Lord day and night, not in a sense of monastic-like living, but in audibly studying, thinking, and verbalizing our thoughts to God and about God.

Stop beating yourself up for not being able to sit quietly without your mind wandering and losing focus on God. Instead, start verbalizing your thoughts on Scripture and God, expressing your doubts, problems, concerns, and praises. It is in this way that one truly meditates on God’s word.

Torah and Temple.

Dr. Roger E. Olson created a post about capital punishment, which naturally caused quite a reaction with many evangelicals. Many of the arguments, as Dr. Olson noted in his blog and people argued in comments that followed, revolved around the concept that the First Testament supported a view of capital punishment in cases of murder. Much of this approach can be derived from the Noachide Laws, yet many Christians use other aspects of Torah to further support their presupposition. Not only is this premise insufficient, it does a great disservice to God and First Testament theology.

Unfortunately, many people hold the First Testament as a book full of blood, genocide, slavery, and absolutely zero grace. Though those horrific subjects are present inside the text, it is easy to read outside of context and culture and arrive at conclusions with a 21st century mind. Furthermore, the First Testament is full of grace and consistently reveals the mercy of God. Let’s not forget that the New Covenant scriptures still have consequence for sin (does the two people dying after lying about the amount of money they received for their field in the book of Acts ring a bell?). There is no such thing as “God of the First Testament” and “God of the New Covenant.” God is One.

With that said, I want to touch briefly on the notion that the First Testament is a supporter and useful proof for capital punishment. While the topic is discussed within, it needs to be approached in context and culture. There are facets of Israel’s faith that are solely appropriate and relevant to Israel; things that cannot be applied or even considered here in the West.

I specifically want to address this concept of irrelevance. Concerning animal sacrifices, Yhwh is rather explicit in explaining that sacrifices should not be done outside of the place that Yhwh prescribes and only from the tribe that Yhwh chooses (Deut. 12:13-14). We know that the Temple was the location of animal sacrifice; therefore the Temple is the only place where animal sacrifice can occur, otherwise it is a sin. Because the Temple is not in existence today, there can be no animal sacrifices. If there were in fact a Temple, they could only be done by the priesthood.

Regarding capital punishment, there are many laws that were punishable by death. We do not stone those who do not observe the Sabbath, so why do we choose to enforce capital punishment on the offenses that we do not agree with? One of the other offenses worthy of capital punishment is being a false prophet. How would that go over with some of the false prophetic announcements made in the past? How come the same evangelicals who proclaim “Death sentence!” on murderers are not proclaiming the same thing on false prophets and Sabbath-violators? That is because Christians love to take one part of Scripture that correlates and aligns with their presuppositions and elevate it to a whole different level. While murder is worthy of capital punishment to some, when they break the Sabbath we should ignore that capital punishment sentence found in the same Torah. Why is that so? I think it is a lack of education and desire for education in the ways of First Testament theology. Christianity has ignored the First Testament which shows in theological discussions. The only time the First Testament is considered in a theological conversation is when it is used to further their own beliefs, in which case the horrible “proof text” rears it’s ugly head.

One piece of scripture or the other, it does not deny the fact that capital punishment in the First Testament was done after proving within a Torah court of law (Sanhedrin) that the criminal intentionally, flagrantly, and deliberately violated the law that condemned them. This point is ignored, muted, and avoided like the black plague in capital punishment discussions. Of course capital punishment would be okay for us today, but only under a Torah court of law (Sanhedrin) that had jurisdiction in the United States as well as Israel…show me that and I’ll show you my support for a biblically supported capital punishment. However, until that time comes, I affirm that capital punishment cannot be supported by Scripture.

The Date of Daniel.

The first person to challenge the 6th century dating was Porphyry who opposed the date sometime during the 3rd century A.D. However, for centuries now, the majority of scholars dated the book of Daniel to the sixth century B.C. However, not until recently has the influence of Porphyry surfaced to re-engaged conversation regarding the date of Daniel. This overview of both positions is not intended to be an in-depth study and examination of both sides. The premises of both sides are briefly hinted on and summarized. I side with the early dating of Daniel, so I briefly share the points of weakness of the later dating. Once again, this is only a small, sample-size of the conversation and is not meant to be scholarly, nor academic in nature.

I .  Sixth Century View: The 6th century dating for Daniel is the more widely held view and this has been the case for quite some time. The dating is more welcomed in evangelical circles, while the majority of opposition to the 6th century dating arises from the liberal and more secular academic bodies.

A. Basic Premises
i) The Nature of Prophecy. One of the biggest contrasts between the two dates is the observance or belief regarding the nature of prophecy. Many scholars on the side of the sixth century hold Daniel to be a prophetic book and place high value on the nature of prophecy. There are two reasons for this. First, the text of Daniel is extremely apocalyptic in nature. Second, “both Jesus and Josephus esteemed Daniel as a prophet.”[1] The latter should be satisfactory due to the fact that Jesus the Christ ascribed Daniel to be a prophet. The belief of prophecy and what it is has been revealed as the main antagonist in the date of Daniel debate.

ii) Testimony of Jesus Christ and the Scriptures. As mentioned previously, the testimony of Jesus Christ is enough evidence alone for claiming Daniel as a prophet. This is important because Porphyry, the originator of the opposition to the 6th century dating, insists that Daniel was written by an anonymous Jew (this point to be discussed later). If Daniel was not a prophet, or if the book of Daniel was not prophetic, then this would result in being substantial evidence for a later date.

In Matt. 24:15, Jesus speaks of the abomination of desolation that was spoken of by Daniel the prophet. Jesus Christ has given testimony to the fact that Daniel was indeed a real individual prior to His incarnation and also refers to him as a prophet. Equally important in this passage is Jesus’ reiteration of the prophecy in which Daniel had originally spoken. This further corroborates the prophetic nature of the book of Daniel. In other words, the “arguments based on the premise that the prophets never foretold the distant future are invalid.”[2]

Daniel, the person and prophet, is not only supported by the Savior of the world, but also by a sixth century B.C. prophet. In Ezekiel 14:14 refers to Daniel by name. The book of Ezekiel was written in the sixth century B.C. which further supports an early date of writing for the book of Daniel as it shows that the person Daniel lived in sixth century B.C.

iii) Qumran Evidence. Though the previously mentioned premises are enough evidence for a 6th century dating, the manuscripts at Qumran further substantiate the early date. The “discovery of manuscripts of Daniel at Qumran dating from the Maccabean period renders it highly improbable that the book was composed during the time of the Maccabees.”[3] Waltke goes on to explain that there are seventeen other manuscript fragments in possession and one of them cannot be dated any later than 120 B.C. because of its paleography. Scholars have disqualified a Maccabean date of other Biblical books based on manuscript findings at Qumran. These books however, unlike Daniel, are not prophetic in nature. As a result, “critical scholars have refused to draw the same conclusion in the case of Daniel even though the evidence is identical.”[4]

II. Second Century View: For the majority of the history to now, most scholars have agreed that the book was written by Daniel the prophet in the sixth century B.C. There was, however, a man by the name of Porphyry who challenged the sixth century date, claiming that an anonymous Jew in Judea wrote the book of Daniel during the time of Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century B.C. Many modern scholars attribute the writing of the book between 168 and 164 B.C.[5] The following are the premises of the second century dating which will be succeeded by counterarguments of said premises.

i) The Nature of Prophecy. The nature of prophecy is vital in the second century dating. Porphyry was a firm believer that prophecy was not predictive. Porphyry believed that the person who wrote the book of Daniel wrote about events that had already come to pass.[6] He came to this belief for two reasons. First, all the prophetic material in the book of Daniel (other than that corresponding with Antichrist) happened literally and accurately. Second, Porphyry adamantly claimed that there “could be no predictive element in prophecy, so that the Book of Daniel could only be historical in nature, and therefore of a late date.”[7] Belief in the absence of predictive elements in prophecy is the foundation of the second century dating.

ii) Ben Sira. 2nd century scholars often use the Apocryphal book Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus to prove that the book of Daniel is a product of a later date. Furthermore, Ben Sira is the distinguished source for dating in the Old Testament. Ben Sira was written around 190-180 B.C. This date is significant to the 2nd century scholars because Ben Sira has been counted to have over 327 allusions and 275 references to the Old Testament. Ben Sira acknowledges Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets yet fails to make mention of Daniel or allude to Daniel.[8] Therefore, the book of Daniel must have been written sometime after Ben Sira in the 2nd century.

iii) Language. Language is one of the most extensive arguments given by scholars to support the Maccabean thesis (2nd century dating). In brief, scholars state that because of the differing use in languages and some words found in the book of Daniel, the book must have been composed at a later date. 2nd century believers claim that the Persian, Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew of Daniel point to a late date due to literary features, the words used, the kingdoms that were established and the influence they had on individuals during the second century, and the unpolished use of Hebrew in comparison to other biblical material. There are three Greek loan words found in the book of Daniel (Dan. 3:5,7,10,15). The loan words are used in describing the musical instruments, these being the Greek words for zither (kitharis), harp (psalterion), and pipes (symphonia). [9] They contend that these words originated from the Greek culture that was spread from the conquest of Alexander the Great, thus disqualifying the 6th century dating.

iv) Historical Inaccuracies. Historical inaccuracies or errors are arguments that many scholars use to discredit a sixth century dating. The reasoning behind these arguments is that in a sixth century writing there would not be as many pre-Greek errors that are found in the book of Daniel. The errors that many scholars refer to are Darius the Mede has not yet been identified and the seven-year insanity of Nebuchadnezzar has been attributed more to Nabonidus, the Neo-Babylonian king.[10] Furthermore, those who adhere to the Maccabean view claim contradictions between the dating of first year of Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah (Jer. 25:1,9; 46:2) in correlation to the fourth year of Jehoiakim. This to them (Maccabean view) is conflicting with the first verse found in Daniel.[11]

B.   Points of Weakness

i) The Nature of Prophecy. Porphyry claims that prophecy does not contain any predictive element. As a result, Porphyry denies the prophetic element of Daniel and states that the book was written in 2nd century B.C. after the events had already occurred, thus making it a history book. This view has many flaws that narrow down to prophetic outlook. The way that an individual views Scripture and Jesus will ultimately affect the response of Porphyry’s theory. Without even considering historical and worldly evidence to debunk Porphyry, one simply needs to look at Matthew 24:15. Jesus, the Savior of the world who is both Man and God, called Daniel a prophet and spoke of an event mentioned by Daniel that has yet to occur. As a believer, this alone should be sufficient evidence to ruin Porphyry’s influence of prophecy as well as a Maccabean date. To overlook or even discredit the words of Christ in referring Daniel as a prophet and speaking of events yet to pass creates a major theological problem.[12]

ii) Ben Sira. The testimony of Ben Sira plagued sixth century scholars for quite some time. After research, there seemed to be an absence of parallels between Ben Sira and the Book of Daniel. However, recently there has been thorough research with both books and parallels have been discovered. Daniel 11:27 seems to have influence Sir. 36:8 that says, “Hasten the end, and ordain the appointed time.” These words in Ben Sira are almost precisely identical to the words found in Dan. 11:27. Furthermore, there are three other references or parallels that are precisely identical. Daniel 4:24 correlates to Sir. 3:30. Daniel 9:17 to Sir. 36:17.[13] Ben Sira was written around 180 B.C. If the Book of Daniel was a 2nd century product, it is highly unlikely that the Book and its manuscripts were so highly dispersed that it would influence the writing of Ben Sira that quickly or vice versa. The fact that there are four parallels between Daniel and Ben Sira must reveal a sixth century date.

iii) Language. The language argument by scholars who hold to the Maccabean date is the most compelling. They object to the loan Persian, loan Greek, the Aramaic and Hebrew used by Daniel. The loan Persian word objection is rather shallow. The reason for this is because the Persian words found in the Book of Daniel are mainly used for names of government officials and governmental terminology. Because Daniel wrote the book after Persian conquest, it is only customary that Daniel would use Persian words when needed. In fact, the argument of Persian words is convincing for a sixth century date. Scholars also object to the three loan Greek words for instruments in chapter 3. Maccabean date supporters state that these words came into the oriental vocabulary after the conquests of Alexander the Great. This view, however, is tragically flawed. In secular literature like that of Homer which dates back to at least the eighth century B.C. uses the loan Greek word kitharis which is used in Daniel 3. The other two words are not mentioned prior to the sixth century, but it is obvious from Homer’s usage of the Greek word that the scope of this Greek vocabulary was known well before the sixth century date. Even more so, Stephen R. Miller suggests that “the meager number of Greek terms in the Book of Daniel is a most convincing argument that the prophecy was not produced in the Maccabean period, the heart of the Greek era.”[14] Miller goes on to say that by 170 B.C. Greek government had controlled both Babylon and Palestine for 150 years. If the Book of Daniel was written in the 2nd century, there would be Greek words used for governmental terminology instead of Persian.

The Book of Daniel incorporating Aramaic in its composition is one of arguments used by Maccabean date supporters. Many late-date supporters claim that the Aramaic portion of Daniel was written in Western Aramaic that was a type mostly used in Palestine.  This argument was slightly tolerable until manuscript discoveries surfaced. There was an Aramaic manuscript titled Elephantine Papyri that was written in Imperial Aramaic that dates back to the fifth century B.C. The Aramaic used in this document is almost identical to the Aramaic employed by Daniel. Therefore, the portions of the Book of Daniel can be dated back to the sixth century (or fifth century based solely on this manuscript), not a second century document. Miller is accurate when he concludes “that the linguistic evidence does not necessitate a late date for the composition of the Book of Daniel and in a number of cases rather strongly supports an early date.”[15]

iv) Historical Inaccuracies. Of all the arguments regarding historical inaccuracies deployed by the adherents of the Maccabean date, one seems to be unanswerable on the surface. Darius the Mede is not identifiable, they claim. Bruce Waltke discusses this falsely accused inaccuracy in an essay he wrote. He explains that there are Greek historians and cuneiforms that are in possession that identify Darius the Mede as Gubaru the governor of Babylon.[16] Secondly, those who contend for a Maccabean date claim that Nebuchadnezzar was not the individual who went through the seven-year insanity and that it was Nabonidus, which means that there is another (to them) historical inaccuracy. While this may perhaps be feasible and possible, it is more likely to be Nebuchadnezzar. The reasoning behind this is because there is no known or recorded activity of Nebuchadnezzar between 581 and 573 B.C.[17] While this may not concretely disprove the Nabonidus theory, it does not prove a Maccabean dating either.

v) Antiochus Epiphanes. One of the most convincing arguments against the Maccabean date is Antiochus Epiphanes. Under Antiochus IV reign, the Jews experienced terrible persecution. During this time there was massive oppression, persecution, and loss of life. Antiochus IV reigned from 175 to 164 B.C. Now according to those who hold to the Maccabean date, they subscribe the date of the Book of Daniel to be written from 168 to 164 B.C. This proposed date from critical scholars was during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes. What is uniquely odd about the Book of Daniel is that the Daniel mentioned was at peace with government. If the Book of Daniel was written by an anonymous Jew during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, where is the oppression? To clarify, if Antiochus was ruling during the writing of the Book of Daniel, there would have been mention of the hostility towards the Jews or hostility towards the government. Instead, the text is absent of such hostility. In fact, the Daniel in the book respects the government and has gained a career from the government. This would not be the case if the book was written in the 2nd century under the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes. The milieu of Daniel would be entirely different from what is present in the Book of Daniel if the Maccabean date was correct.

[1] Edwin Yamauchi, “Hermeneutical issues in the book of Daniel,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 23, no. 1 (March 1, 1980): 13-14.

[2] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel (Nashville: Broadmann & Holman, 1994), 35.

[3] Bruce K. Waltke, “The Date of the Book of Daniel,” Bibliotheca Sacra 133, no. 532 (October 1976): 321.

[4] Ibid., 322.

[5] Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 2nded. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 453.

[6] Miller, Daniel, 24.

[7] Waltke, Date of the Book of Daniel, 319.

[8] Miller, Daniel, 25.

[9] Ibid., 28.

[10] Hill & Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 453.

[11] Waltke, Date of the Book of Daniel, 325.

[12] Thomas J. Finley, “The Book of Daniel in the Canon of Scripture,”Bibliotheca Sacra 165, no. 658 (April 2008): 208.

[13] Douglas E. Fox, “Ben Sira on OT Canon Again: The Date of Daniel,”Westminster Theological Journal 49, no. 2 (September 1987): 342.

[14] Miller, Daniel, 30.

[15] Ibid., 32.

[16] Waltke, Date of the Book of Daniel, 327.

[17] Hill & Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 454.

[18] Miller, Daniel, 40.


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