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Daniel in the Critic's Den 4: Philological Peculiarities

By Robert Anderson


      "THE philological peculiarities of the book" constitute the next ground of the critic's attack on Daniel. "The Hebrew" (he declares) "is pronounced by the majority of experts to be of a later character than the time assumed for it." The Aramaic also is marked by idioms of a later period, familiar to the Palestinian Jews.' And not only are Persian words employed in the book, but it contains certain Greek words, which, it is said, could not have been in use in Babylon during the exile.

      (The opening passage of Daniel, from ch. i. i to ch. ii. 3,is written in the sacred Hebrew, and this is resumed at ch. viii. i and continued to the end. The intervening portion, from ch. ii: 4 to the end of ch. vii., is written in Chaldee or Aramaic. Professor Cheyne accepts a suggestion of Lenormant's that the whole book was written in Hebrew, but that the original of ii. i4 to vii. was lost (Smith's Bible Dict., art. "Daniel").

      Here is Professor Driver's summary of the argument under this head :- "The verdict of the language of Daniel is thus clear. The Persian words presuppose a period after the Persian Empire had been well established: the Greek words demand, the Hebrew supports, and the Aramaic permits, a date after the conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great (B.c. 332). With our present knowledge, this is as much as the language authorises us definitely to affirm."

      Now, the strength of this case depends on one point. Any number of argumentative presumptions may be rebutted by opposing evidence; but here, it is alleged, we have proof which admits of no answer: the Greek words in Daniel demand a date which destroys the genuineness of the book. Will the reader believe it that the only foundation for this is the presence of two words which are alleged to be Greek! Dr. Farrar insists on three, but one of these (kitliaros) is practically given up.

      The story was lately told that at a church bazaar in Lincoln, held under episcopal patronage, the alarm was given that a thief was at work, and two of the visitors had lost their purses. In the excitement which followed, the stolen purses, emptied of course of their contents, were found in the bishop's pocket. The Higher Criticism would have handed him over to the police! Do the critics understand the very rudiments of the science of weighing evidence? The presence of the stolen purses did not "demand" the conviction of the bishop. Neither should the presence of the Greek words decide the fate of Daniel. There was no doubt, moreover, as to the identity of the purses, while Dr. Pusey and others dispute the derivation of the words. But in the one case as in the other the question would remain, How did they come to be where they were found?

      (The attempt to explain in this way difficulties of another kind is to force the hypothesis unduly. But assuming, what there is no reason whatever to doubt, that such a revision took place, we should expect to find that familiar idioms would be substituted for others that were deemed archaic, that familiar words would be substituted for terms which then seemed strange or uncouth to the Jews of Palestine, and that names like Nebuchadrezzar would be altered to suit the then received orthography. And the "immense anachronism," if such it were, of using the word "Chaldeans" as synonymous with the caste of wise men is thus simply and fully explained.

      As regards the name Nebuchadnezzar, it is hard to repress a feeling of indignation against the dishonesty of the critics. They plainly imply that this spelling is peculiar to Daniel. The fact is that the name occurs in nine of the books of the Old Testament, and in all of them, with the single exception of Ezekiel, it appears in this form. In Jeremiah it is spelt in both ways, proving clearly that the now received orthography was in use when the Book of Daniel was written, or else that the spelling of the name throughout the sacred books is entirely a matter of editing.)

      The Talmud declares that, in common with some other parts of the canon, Daniel was edited by the men of the Great Synagogue - a college which is supposed to have been founded by Nehemiah, and which continued until it gave place to the Great Sanhedrim. May not this be the explanation of all these philological difficulties? This is not to have recourse to a baseless conjecture in order to evade well-founded objections: it is merely to give due weight to an authoritative tradition, the very existence of which isprimafacie proof of its truth.'

      It may be added that in view of recent discoveries no competent scholar would now reproduce without reserve the argument based on the presence of foreign words in the book. The fact is, the evolution theory has thrown its shadow across this controversy. The extraordinary conceit which marks our much-vaunted age has hitherto led us to assume that, in what has been regarded as a prehistoric period, men were slowly emerging from barbarism, that written records were wanting, and that there was no interchange among nations in the sphere either of scholarship or of trade. It is now known, however, that at even a far earlier period the nations bordering upon the Mediterranean possessed a literature and enjoyed a civilisation of no mean excellence. Merchants and philosophers travelled freely from land to land, carrying with them their wares and their learning; and to appeal to the Greek words in Daniel as proof that the book was written after the date of Alexander's conquests, no longer savours of scholarship. According to Professor Sayce, "there were Greek colonies on the coast of Palestine in the time of Hezekiah "-a century before Daniel was born; "and they already enjoyed so much power there that a Greek usurper was made King of Ashdod. The Tel el-Amarna tablets have enabled us to carry back a contract between Greece and Canaan to a still earlier period." Indeed he goes on to indicate the possibility "that there was intercourse and contact between the Canaanites or Hebrews in Palestine and the Greeks of the Aegean as far back as the age of Moses."

      But this is not all. Will the reader believe it, I ask again with increasing emphasis and indignation, that the Greek words, the presence of which is held to "demand" the rejection of the Book of Daniel, are merely the names of musical instruments? If the instruments themselves came from Greece it might be assumed that they would carry with them to Babylon the names by which they were known in the land of their origin. In no other sphere would men listen to what passes for proof when Scripture is assailed. In no other sphere would such trifling be tolerated. What would be thought of a tribunal which convicted a notorious thief of petty larceny on such evidence as this? The Persian words are of still less account. That the Persian language was unknown among the cultured classes in Babylon is incredible. That it was widely known is suggested by the ease with which the Persian rule was accepted. The position which Daniel attained under that rule renders it probable in the extreme that he himself was a Persian scholar. And the date of his closing vision makes it certain that his book was compiled after that rule was established.

      But, it will be answered, the philological argument does not rest upon points like these; its strength lies in the general character of the language in which the book is written. The question here raised, as Dr. Farrar justly says, "involves delicate problems on which an independent and a valuable opinion can only be offered" by scholars of a certain class and very few in number.'

      But the student will find that their decision is by no means unanimous or clear. And of course their dicla must be considered in connection with evidence of other kinds which it is beyond their province to deal with. Dr. Pusey's magnificent work, in which the whole subject is handled with the greatest erudition and care, is not dismissed by others with the contempt which Dr. Farrar evinces for a man who is fired by the enthusiasm of faith in the Bible. In his judgment the Hebrew of Daniel is "just what one should expect at the age at which he lived."

      (1 Dr. Farrar's words are, "by the merest handful of living scholars" (p. 17). How many scholars make a "handful" he does not tell us, and of the two he proceeds to appeal to, one is not living but dead!)

      And one of the highest living authorities, who has been quoted in this controversy as favouring a late date for the Book of Daniel, writes in reply to an inquiry I have addressed to him: "I am now of opinion that it is a very difficult task to settle the age of any portion of that book from its language." This is also the opinion of Professor Cheyne, a thoroughly hostile witness. His words are:

      "From the Hebrew of the Book of Daniel no important inference as to its date can be safely drawn."'

      And, lastly, appeal may be made to Dr. Farrar himself, who remarks with signal fairness, but with strange inconsistency, that "Perhaps nothing certain can be inferred from the philological examination either of the Hebrew or of the Chaldee portions of the book." And again, still more definitely, he declares: "The character of the language proves nothing." This testimony, carrying as it does the exceptional weight which attaches to the admissions of a prejudiced and hostile witness, might be accepted as decisive of the whole question. And the fact being what is here stated, the stress laid on grounds thus admitted to be faulty and inconclusive is proof only of a determination by fair means or foul to discredit the Book of Daniel.

      In his History of the Criminal Law, Sir James Fitzjames Stephen declares that, as no kind of evidence more demands the test of cross-examination than that of experts, their proper place is the witness chair and not the judgment seat. Therefore when Professor Driver announces "the verdict of the language of Daniel," he goes entirely outside his proper province. The opinions of the philologist are entitled to the highest respect, but the "verdict" rests with those who have practical acquaintance with the science of evidence. Before turning away from this part of the subject, it may be well to appeal to yet another witness, and he shall be one whose competency Dr. Farrar acknowledges, and none will question. His words, moreover, have an interest and value far beyond the present controversy, and deserve most careful consideration by all who have been stumbled or misled by the arrogant dogmatism of the so-called Higher Critics. The following quotation is from An Essay on the Place of Ecclesiasticus in Semitic Literature by Professor Margoliouth : "My lamented colleague, Dr. Edersheim, and I, misled by the very late date assigned by eminent scholars to the books of the Bible, had worked under the tacit assumption that the language of Ben-Sira was the language of the Prophets; whereas in reality he wrote the language of the Rabbis" (p. 6).

      (It should be explained that the Proverbs of Jesus the son of Sirach have come down to us in a Greek translation, but the character of that translation is such that the reconstruction of the original Hebrew text is a task within the capacity of competent scholarship, and a preface to that translation fixes the date of the book as not later than about B.C. 200. But to resume :-)

      " If by 200 B.C. the whole Rabbinic farrago, with its terms and phrases and idioms and particles, was developed, . . . then between Ben-Sira and the Books of the Old Testament there must lie centuries - nay, there must lie, in most cases, the deep waters of the Captivity, the grave of the old-Hebrew and the old Israel, and the womb of the new-Hebrew and the new Israel. If Hebrew, like any other language, has a history, then Isaiah (first or second) must be separated from Ecclesiastes by a gulf; but a yet greater gulf must yawn between Ecclesiastes and Ecclesiaticus, for in the interval a whole dictionary has been invented of philosophical terms such as we traced above, of logical phrases, . . . legal expressions, . . . nor have the structure and grammar of the language experienced less serious alteration. . . . It may be, if ever Ben-Sira is properly restored, . . . that while some students are engaged in bringing down the date of every chapter in the Bible so late as to leave no room for prophecy and revelation, others will endeavour to find out how early the professedly post-exilian books can be put back, so as to account for the divergence between their awkward middle-Hebrew and the rich and eloquent new-Hebrew of Ben-Sira. However this may be, hypotheses which place any portion of the classical or old-Hebrew Scriptures between the middle-Hebrew of Neheniiah and the new-Hebrew of Ben-Sira will surely require some reconsideration, or at least have to be harmonised in some way with the history of the language, before they can be unconditionally accepted."

      These weighty words have received striking confirmation by the recent discovery of the "Cairene Ecclesiasticus," a Hebrew MS. the genuineness of which is maintained by most of the critics, though others regard it as merely an attempt to reconstruct the original of Ben-Sira. According to Dr. Schechter, who has edited the document for the University of Cambridge, an examination of the language establishes "the conclusion that at the period in which B.-S. composed his 'Wisdom' classical Hebrew was already a thing of the past, the real language of the period being that Hebrew idiom which we know from the Mishnah and cognate Rabbinic literature." And again, after freely quoting from Ben-Sira: "These specimens are enough to show that in the times of B.-S. the new-Hebrew dialect had long advanced beyond the transitory stage known to us from the later Biblical books, and had already reached, both in respect of grammar and of phraseology, that degree of development to which the Mishnah bears testimony." ( The Wisdom of Ben-Sira, etc., by S. Schechter, M.A., Litt.D., etc., and C. Taylor, D.D., Master of St. John's College, Cambridge (Cambridge University Press, 1899).

      As Professor Driver and his school have unreservedly accepted this MS., it is not open to them to plead that its genuineness is doubtful. And if Professor Margoliouth's judgment should ultimately prevail that it is a forgery of late date - the tenth or eleventh century - it would be still, as an attempt to reconstruct the Hebrew original, a notable confirmation of the views and opinions above cited.

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