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Theology Thursday: Here be dragons!

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Posted by Giles Walter, 1 Sep 2016

The early chapters of Daniel are full of great tales that often appear in children's story Bibles. But what about the horns, monsters and sevens that occupy the rest of Daniel? Giles Walter reviews a book that helps connect the whole of Daniel to wider biblical theology...

This latest volume in IVP’s New Studies in Biblical Theology originated in the author’s inability, when leading a PhD seminar at the Southern Baptist Seminary in 2009, to find a suitable evangelical, biblical-theological study of Daniel to commend to his students.

While appreciative of the plentiful evangelical writing on Daniel, Hamilton in his own study attempts something rather different, blending together two ingredients that, while characteristic of this series, are not always found in the same volume. He aims not only to present a carefully worked out theology of the book itself, but also to look both backwards and forwards across the sweep of Scripture, investigating antecedent sources which Daniel has taken up and used, as well as tracing out how his own book has been used by later biblical writers. Considerable attention is given, for instance, not just to his major influence on the thinking of Jesus and the New Testament writers, but also, in the final chapter, to the typological story of Joseph, and its verbal and thematic parallels with Daniel, as well as with Abraham, Nehemiah, Esther, and the Psalms.

After a helpful opening chapter entitled “Preliminaries,” the place of Daniel in Old Testament salvation history is addressed, followed by an analysis of the book’s literary structure, which Hamilton understands as a simple chiasm, in which the central place is given to the humbling of the kings in chapters 4 and 5. This structure highlights the central message of the book, that the faithful in Daniel’s day can trust God and persevere through persecution until the four kingdoms are followed by the kingdom of God, who humbles proud human kings and will give everlasting dominion to the Son of Man and his saints. A later chapter on the interpretation of Daniel in the Apocalypse finds that book likewise to be chiastic, with John deliberately placing at its core the triumphant declaration that “the kingdom of our world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev 11:15).

Each section of Daniel is carefully considered. The imagery and mathematics of the book are examined in considerable detail, along with surveys of early Jewish understandings of the book, and of its interpretation in the New Testament. At the end of each of his investigations the author consistently finds the book’s purpose to be essentially simple, and in profound harmony with the rest of the Bible, on which its influence is so potent. Hamilton writes from a robustly conservative view of the book’s date and authorship, insisting that only that view (unfashionable as it is, even among modern evangelical scholarship) is compatible with Daniel’s integrity and message. “Put bluntly” he says, “a late date for Daniel demands an author who was a scoundrel of the highest order.”

This is a work of considerable scholarship, and the inexpert reader may struggle a little with some of the more detailed analysis. Even so, the many illuminating moments along the way, along with the author’s heartfelt devotion to his task, to the Scriptures, and their divine author, mean that—as Don Carson says in his preface—most readers will find it wonderfully stimulating.

Walter, Giles. Review of James M. Hamilton, Jr., With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology (Nottingham: IVP, 2014). Churchman 130/2 (2016): 179–180.

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Giles Walter is vicar of St John's Tunbridge Wells

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