Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Exploring the Dismal Swamp: The Identity of the Anointed One in Daniel 9:24-27

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Exploring the Dismal Swamp: The Identity of the Anointed One in Daniel 9:24-27

Article excerpt

ProQuest Information and Learning: Foreign text omitted . . .

Daniel 9:24-27 is notoriously complex, comprising what has been well denoted by James Montgomery as a "most vexed passage."1 Unfortunately, the same verses are a key to ch. 9, "if not to the whole book" of Daniel, so they are not easy to ignore.2 Calvin, who claimed "not usually to refer to conflicting opinions," regretted the fact that he could not "escape the necessity of confuting various views of the present passage."3 Despite Calvin's confidence that this was finally possible, Montgomery's analogy of the "dismal swamp" springs easily to mind as the interpreter seeks to assemble the constituent parts of the passage into a coherent interpretive whole. With so many angles of interpretation needing to be held together, progress feels much like wading through a swamp, uncertain of what pitfalls lurk beneath the ooze.

One of the particular vexations is the identity of the . . . of vv. 25 and 26-a vexation in that there has been little agreement on the identity of that figure or those figures, and in that most treatments seem to ignore the evident link with what has been anointed in v. 24.4 My contention is that this link ought not to be ignored, but that in the various contexts of the book of Daniel as a whole, of ch. 9, and of vv. 24-27, the most natural understanding of the anointed one in w. 25 and 26 is as that which is anointed in v. 24, namely, the . . ..5 Therefore the identity and fate of the anointed one of both v. 25 and v. 26 are a specification of what happens to the holy of holies.

There are two key difficulties with that assumption. One is that it asks that which is anointed, . . ., to be conceived of as a community or even an individual, rather than as a physical location. The second is that it asks . . . to bear a more communal and less individualized sense than is usual.6 Indeed, at that moment I am in conflict with one of the few points of consensus among interpreters of these verses, "that the passage refers to an historical individual."7 Assuming a date for ch. 9 in the early to mid second century B.C.E., I argue that both of those problems can be satisfactorily addressed in terms of the thought world of the middle to late Second Temple period. In that context the anointed one may be conceived communally, and the place of the holy of holies may be understood as located in a particular community or segment of that community.

In doing so I argue also that my thesis enables the interpreter to avoid twin weaknesses: (1) Strongly messianic or eschatological interpretations tend to fragment the literary integrity of these verses; and (2) historical interpretations run the danger of an overliteral understanding of the history that is being conveyed.

There is no claim that this argument solves all the interpretive problems of Dan 9:24-27. It does, however, suggest a way forward for one particularly vexatious aspect of these verses, in the light of which other problems therein may be explored. A final section of the article outlines several outcomes for ongoing interpretation of these verses.

I. Some Possible Options

Before turning to the exploration itself, a brief overview of the main interpretive options facing the double mention of an anointed one is in order. The history of Christian and Jewish interpretation of these verses is a complex one and beyond the scope of this article, but that history continues to be evident in the present era.8 It is probably fair to say that the prevailing view in the academy today is the historical school of interpretation, which sees the primary reference of the verses to events in the history of the Jewish people culminating in the crisis precipitated by the desecration of the temple by the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 167 B.C.E. This school has inherited the concerns of early Jewish interpretation. In such an approach the MT punctuation is accepted, and the assumption is made that three clearly distinct phases of history are in mind: seven "sevens," followed by sixty-two "sevens," culminating in the final "seven. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.