Daniel is certainly one of the most thought-provoking books in the entire Old Testament. In addition to the characters' stories of loyalty to God, it is also a book with an eschatological approach and many revelations for the present day. In the first quarter of 2020, it was painstakingly studied by many people around the world through the official Sabbath School Lesson of the Seventh Adventist Church.
To raise awareness on the subject, the South American Adventist News Agency (ASN) spoke with one of the denomination's leading experts on the Old Testament. Jacques B. Doukhan is professor emeritus of Hebrew and Old Testament Exegesis at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary and director of the Institute of Judeo-Christian Studies at Andrews University in the United States. He has been on the Andrews faculty since 1984 and also serves as general editor of the SDAIBC (Seventh-day Adventist International Bible Commentary) project.
In addition to his numerous published articles and reviews, Doukhan has written more than 20 books, some of which have been translated into multiple languages, including Drinking at the Sources; Daniel: The Vision of the End; Hebrew for Theologians; Secrets of Revelation; Israel and the Church: Two Voices for the Same God; Ecclesiastes: All Is Vanity; Genesis and Proverbs commentaries for the SDAIBC; Daniel 11 Decoded; On the way to Emmaus: Five Major Messianic Prophecies; and Secrets of Daniel. He was editor of the journal Shabbat Shalom and several collective books, including The Three Sons of Abraham: Interfaith Encounters between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
ASN: Adventists find an in-depth study of the book of Daniel relevant. Why should this book be studied in more detail by Christians today? And what historical, cultural, and grammatical assumptions need to be taken into account by those who want to better understand its content?
Jacques B. Doukhan: As author Ellen White points out, this book deserves special attention. This is true for two reasons. More than any other book in the Old Testament, Daniel focuses on the end (see 8:17). Second, this is the only book addressed directly to us (see 12:12, 13).
However, attention to the apocalyptic message that opens up to heavenly realities should be accompanied by wisdom and ethics that connect us with our present existence and contemporaries so it does not lead to fanaticism and violence. Daniel is both apocalyptic and a book of wisdom (Daniel was a prophet and a wise man). Methodologically, this book should be studied from the assumptions extracted from the text itself. His literary and linguistic material should guide our interpretations.
ASN: In terms of influence and faithfulness to God in the book's narrative, what great lessons can be learned from the perspective of the captive youth (Daniel and his friends) present in the courts of empires that dominated the times in which they lived, such as Babylon and Persia?
JBD: The main lesson is the tension of being “human and holy”. Human: being able to relate to people like Daniel, who maintains a good relationship with the head of the eunuchs (see 1:9). Holy: being able to separate from others for God's sake. This book teaches us to live as minority Christians “in the world” but not of the world.
The three Hebrews and Daniel fit into the context of the world: they work for the king at the court; however, they never give in and are ready to die for their faith. They are holy without being fanatical and legalistic. They excel at their tasks without bragging or belittling others. They fully witness through their words, wisdom, intellect, healthy bodies, and behavior.
ASN: You describe in one of your books the risk of an anti-Semitic view. How [does one] avoid this type of attitude from reading and studying the book?
JBD: Although there was no anti-Semitism at that time—as we will know later in the history of Christianity from the fourth century onwards—the book of Daniel warns us against any kind of prejudice… against another person simply because they belong to another culture, race, gender, or social class. Daniel is the most inclusive book in the Bible. Note the diversity of languages, peoples, classes, genders, etc.
Ironically, the book of Daniel was used at times by Christians, including Seventh-day Adventists, to promote anti-Semitism (see Daniel 9:24). This interpretation is based on a grammatical error and ignorance of literary expression. A careful reading of the biblical text and Daniel's model should prevent us from approaching the Word of God that would be affected by cultural prejudices.
ASN: You have already written expounding a different interpretation (especially compared to the traditional Adventist view) regarding a portion of [Daniel 11]. Explain further what your view of this passage is, especially the identity of the kings of the North and the South.
JBD: I share the same traditional Adventist Church views on the interpretation of 11:40–45. With most Adventist interpreters, I understand that this passage refers to a spiritual conflict at the end of the age, involving the papacy (king of the north: Babylon) and secular political power (king of the south: Egypt), which will unite against God and His people (holy mountain).
Anchored in the traditional historicist approach of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, my interpretation of Daniel 11 differs, however, from most Adventist interpreters, who see from 11:5 to 11:39 the story of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids and Antiochus Epiphanes, following, thus, the Maccabean thesis, which was initiated by the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry. I interpret these verses, in parallel with chapter 8, from the same spiritual perspective as 11:40–45, involving the papacy, from its ascension (11:5) to its end (11:45).
The intimate connection between the books of Daniel and Revelation is often mentioned.
ASN: What can the Bible student still learn from Daniel to better understand some important points from the prophetic book written by the apostle John?
JBD: The two books are closely related, so much so that we cannot understand one without the other. The way the book of Revelation is expressed, the symbols and the images, but also the ideas, are all rooted in the book of Daniel. Significantly, the book of Revelation begins where the book of Daniel ends, with a blessing in the same perspective as Christ's coming (Daniel 12:12; cf. Revelation 22:3).
Furthermore, the two books are molded into the same judgment-centered chiastic framework, the Day of Atonement. While Daniel sees the Day of Atonement in heaven after 2300 prophetic days, Revelation sees on Earth, at the same time, the proclamation of the three angels' messages (Daniel 7–8; cf. Revelation 13–14). Therefore, the two books are not only conveying the same prophecy but delivering complementary aspects of the same message.