His Social World
JOHN J. COLLINS
What Daniel offers is not a practical strategy for revolution but an act
of the imagination which affirms the freedom of the human spirit in
defiance of any force of oppression.
Historical-critical study of the Bible has been enriched in recent years by increased attention to social factors. The fundamental insight here is that texts do not give us simple objective accounts of reality but are constructs which reflect the interests of their particular authors and the groups to which they belonged.1 A book like Daniel cannot be understood as a timeless handbook, either of eschatological information or of theological principles, but must be seen in its historical and social context. This insight is not a new one; it has long been implicit in the form-critical insistence on the Sitz-imLeben. To be sure, biblical texts do not always yield adequate information about their setting, and the attempt to infer social data from literary evidence has its pitfalls. Social and historical studies can only proceed from an accurate appreciation of the genre and literary character of a text. Yet, where the data are available, an awareness of social and ideological factors will not only deepen our understanding of a text but also clarify its relevance for our own modern situation.
We are relatively well-informed about the situation in which Daniel was composed. Despite the persistent objections of conservatives, the composition of the visions (chaps. 7—12) between the years 167 and 164 B.C. is established beyond reasonable doubt.2 The tales in chapters 1—6 are older,
1. See the basic discussion in P. L. Berger and T. Luckmann, The Social Construction of
Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Carden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1966).1. See the basic discussion in P. L. Berger and T. Luckmann, The Social Construction of
Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Carden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1966).
2. J. J. Collins, Daniel, with an Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, FOTL 20 (Grand
Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1984), p. 36 and passim; L. F. Mailman and A. A. DiLella, The
Book of Daniel, AB 23 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday fit Co., 1978), pp. 46-54. For a recent
conservative objection: A. J. Ferch, “The Book of Daniel and the 'Maccabean Thesis,'” AUSS 21