Seers, Sibyls, and Sages in Hellenistic-Roman Judaism

By John J. Collins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
THE MEANING OF “THE END” IN
THE BOOK OF DANIEL

Eschatology, discussion of “the end,” is a topic of central importance in biblical studies, which continues to play a vital part in modern theology. Already in the eighth century BCE Amos declared, “The end has come upon my people Israel” (Amos 8:2). For Amos, the end in question was the end of Israel as an independent nation. Similarly, Ezekiel spoke of the “end” of Judah. While the classical prophets entertained expectations of definitive change, they did not expect an end of this world or of the historical process. Such ideas emerge in the apocalyptic literature, beginning in the early second century BCE, where we are told that “the world will be written down for destruction,” and “the first heaven will vanish and pass away, and a new heaven will appear.”1 By the end of the first century CE expectation of an end of this world was widespread. The new heaven and new earth of Revelation entailed the passing away of the first heaven and earth (Rev 21:1). According to 4 Ezra 7:30 this world would be returned to primeval silence for seven days.

The place of the Book of Daniel in this development is disputed. On the one hand, it is often regarded as the first instance of “true and explicit eschatology” in the Hebrew Bible.2 On the other hand, it never speaks of an end of this world, and one scholar has even suggested that its eschatology is no different from that of the Enthronement Psalms or of earlier prophecy.3 Yet the later chapters of Daniel are dominated by the expectation of an “end” to a degree that has no parallel in the Psalms or earlier Prophets. Daniel is also exceptional, even among the ancient apocalypses, in attempting to calculate the exact time until that “end” would come. It is true that the more elaborate scenarios of later apocalypses such as 4 Ezra

11 Enoch 91:14, 16 (the Apocalypse of Weeks). Even here the historical process does not come to an end, since “after this there will be many weeks without number for ever…” (91:17).

2 J.P.M. van der Ploeg, “Eschatology in the Old Testament,” OTS 17 (1972) 92.

3 Rex A. Mason, “The Treatment of Earlier Biblical Themes in the Book of Daniel,” in James L. Crenshaw, ed., Perspectives on the Hebrew Bible: Essays in Honor of Walter J. Harrelson (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1988) 99.

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