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Daniel in the Critic's Den 6: Violent Errors

By Robert Anderson


      "THE existence of violent errors as to matters with which a contemporary must have been familiar, at once refutes all pretence of historic authenticity in a book professing to have been written by an author in the days and country which he describes." "By no possibility could the book have been written in the days of the Babylonian exile." Thus it is that Dean Farrar disposes of the Book of Daniel. Such dogmatism, while it will surprise and distress the thoughtful and well-informed, will no doubt overwhelm the simple folk whom this volume of the Expositor's Bible is presumably intended to enlighten.

      Indeed, the writer betrays throughout his belief that, from Bacon to Pusey, all who have accepted the Book of Daniel as authentic have been wanting either in honesty or intelligence. And it suggests that he himself is one of a line of scholars who, as the result of independent inquiry, are agreed in rejecting it. The discovery of the hidden records of the court of Babylon cannot be much longer deferred, and when these shall have been brought to light we shall learn, perchance, on which side the folly lies - that of the believers or of the critics. And while an ignorant public is easily imposed upon by a parade of seeming scholarship, no one who is versed in the Daniel controversy can fail to recognise that fair and independent inquiry is absolutely wanting.

      Porphyry the Pagan it was who set the ball rolling long ago. After resting for centuries it was again put in motion by the rationalists. And now that the fashion has set towards scepticism, and "Higher Criticism" is supposed to denote higher culture, critic follows critic, like sheep through a gap. Here in this last contribution to the controversy the writer falls into line, wholly unconscious that the "violent errors" he pillories have an existence only in the ignorance of those who denounce them. And we seek in vain for a single page that gives proof of fair and unbiassed inquiry.

      But the critic will tell us that the time for inquiry is past, for the question is no longer open. "There is no shadow of doubt on the subject left in the minds of such scholars as Driver, Cheyne, Sanday, Bevan, and Robertson Smith." This list of names is intended as a climax to the pretentious periods which precede it, but this grouping together of the living and the dead makes it savour rather of anti-climax. Do these writers monopolise the scholarship of England? or does the list represent the authorities hostile to the Book of Daniel?

      It may seem ungracious to add that not one of these distinguished men has ever given proof of fitness for an inquiry so difficult and complex. And as for the treatise here under review, every part of it gives proof of absolute unfitness for the task. It is easy to convict an accused person if all his witnesses are put out of court and refused a hearing, and his own words and acts are misrepresented and distorted. Yet such is the treatment here accorded to the Book of Daniel. Not one of the champions of faith is allowed a hearing, and the exegesis offered of the prophetic portions of the book would be denounced as a mere travesty by every intelligent student of prophecy. In not a few instances, indeed, the transparent error and folly of the critic's scheme will be clear even to the ordinary reader.

      Take the Seventy Weeks as an example. In adopting what he terms "the Antiochian hypothesis" of the sceptics, the critic is confronted by the fact that "it does not accurately correspond with ascertainable dates." "It is true," he says, "that from B.C. 588 to B.C. 164 only gives us 424 years, instead of 490 years." But this difficulty he disposes of by declaring that "precise computation is nowhere prevalent in the sacred books." And he adds, "to such purely mundane and secondary matters as close reckoning of dates the Jewish writers show themselves manifestly indifferent." No statement could well be more unwarrantable. A "close reckoning of dates" is almost a speciality of "Jewish writers." No other writings can compare with theirs in this respect. But let us hear what the critic has to urge.

      "That there were differences of computation," he remarks, "as regards Jeremiah's seventy years, even in the age of the exile, is sufficiently shown by the different views as to their termination taken by the Chronicler (2 Chron. xxxvi. 22), who fixes it B.C. 536, and by Zechariah (Zech. i. i 2), who fixes it about B.C. 519." This is his only appeal to Scripture, and, as I have already shown, it is but an ignorant blunder, arising from confounding the different eras of the Servitude, the Captivity, and the Desolations. Dr. Farrar next appeals to "exactly similar mistakes of reckoning" in Josephus, and he enumerates the following

      "1. In his Jewish Wars (VI. iv. 8) he says that there were 639 years between the second year of Cyrus and the destruction of the Temple by Titus (A.D. 70). Here is an error of more than 30 years.

      "2. In his Antiquities (XX. x.) he says that there were 434 years between the return from the Captivity (B.C. 536) and the reign of Antiochus Eupator (B.c. 164-162). Here is an error of more than 60 years.

      "3. In his Antiquities, XIII. xi. I, he reckons 481 years between the return from the Captivity and the time of Aristobulus (B.C. 105-104). Here is an error of some 50 years.

      These "mistakes" will repay a careful scrutiny. In the passage first cited, Josephus reckons the period between the foundation of the first temple by Solomon and its destruction by Titus as 1130 years 7 months and 15 days. "And from the second building of it, which was done by Haggai, in the second year of Cyrus the king," the interval was 639 years and 45 days. This, be it remarked, is given as proof that "precise computation" is nowhere to be looked for in Jewish writers! The enumeration of the very days, however, renders it certain that Josephus had before him chronological tables of absolute precision. But in computing the second era above mentioned, he refers to the prophet Haggai, who, with Zechariah, promoted the building of the second temple in the second year of Darius Hystaspis. As this historian speaks elsewhere of 'Artaxerxes as Cyrus,' so here he calls Darius by that title. The period, therefore, was (according to our chronology) from B.C. 520 to A.D. 70 - that is, 589 years - that is, about fifty years less than Josephus reckons. In Dr. Farrar's third example, this same excess of about fifty years again appears; and if in his second example we substitute 424 years for the doubtful reading of 434 years, we reach a precisely similar result.

      What are we to conclude from these facts? Not that the ancient Jews were careless or indifferent in regard to chronology, which would be flagrantly untrue; but that their chronological tables, though framed with absolute precision, were marked by errors which amounted to an excess of some fifty years in the very period of which the era of the seventy weeks must be assigned.

      Here, then, we have a solution which is definite and adequate of the only serious objection which the critic can urge against the application of this prophecy to Messiah. Of that application Dr. Farrar writes :- "It is finally discredited by the fact that neither our Lord, nor His apostles, nor any of the earliest Christian writers, once appealed to the evidence of this prophecy, which, on the principles of Hengstenberg and Dr. Pusey, would have been so decisive! If such a proof lay ready to their hand - a proof definite and chronological - why should they have deliberately passed it over ? "

      The answer is full and clear, that any such appeal would have been discredited, and any such proof refuted, by reference to what (as Josephus shows us) was the received chronology of the age they lived in. But what possible excuse can be made for those who, with the full light that history now throws upon the sacred page, not only reject its teaching, but use their utmost ingenuity to darken and distort it? "From the decree to restore Jerusalem unto the Anointed One (or 'the Messiah '), the Prince "- this, to quote Dr. Farrar's own words, describes the era here in view. There is no question that the Holy City was restored. There is no question that its restoration was in pursuance of a decree of Artaxerxes I. The date of that decree is known. From that date unto "the Messiah, the Prince," was exactly the period specified in the prophecy.'

      But Dr. Farrar will tell us that the real epoch was not the decree to restore Jerusalem, but the catastrophe by which Jerusalem was laid in ruins. "It is obvious," be says, after enumerating "the views of the Rabbis and Fathers," "that not one of them accords with the allusions of the narrative and prayer, except that which makes the destruction of the Temple the terminus a quo." This sort of talk is bad enough with those who seek to adapt divine prophecy to what they suppose to be the facts it refers to. But the suggestion here is that a holy and gifted Chasid, writing in B.C. 164, with the open page of history before him, described the destruction of Jerusalem as "a decree to restore Jerusalem," and then described a period of 424 years as 490 years! And at the close of the nineteenth century of the Christian era, these puerilities of the sceptics are solemnly reproduced by the Dean of Canterbury for the enlightenment of Christian England! To escape from a difficulty by taking refuge in an absurdity is like committing suicide in order to escape from danger.

      Other writers tell us that the era of the seventy weeks dated from the divine promise recorded in Jeremiah XX1X. 10.1 But though this view is free from the charge of absurdity it will not bear scrutiny. That was not a "commandment" to build Jerusalem, but merely a promise of future restoration. All these theories, moreover, savour of perverseness and casuistry in presence of the fact that Scripture records so definitely the "commandment" in pursuance of which it was in fact rebuilt.

      Neither was it without significance that the prophetic period dated from the restoration under Nehemiah. The era of the Servitude had ended with the accession of Cyrus, and the seventy years of the Desolations had already expired in the second year of Darius. But the Jews were still without a constitution or a polity. In a word, their condition was then much what it is today. It was the decree of the twentieth year of Artaxerxes which restored the national autonomy of Judah.

      And a precedent which is startling in its definiteness may be found to justify the belief that such an era would not begin while the existence of Judah as a nation was in abeyance. I allude to the 480 years of i Kings vi. I, computed from the Exodus to the Temple. If a little of the time and energy which the critics have expended in denouncing that passage as a forgery or a blunder had been devoted to searching for its hidden meaning, their labours might perchance have been rewarded. That the chronology of the period was correctly known is plain from the thirteenth chapter of the Acts, which enables us to reckon the very same era as 573 years. How then can this seeming error of 93 years be accounted for? It is precisely the sum of the several eras of the Servitudes.The inference therefore is clear that "the 480th year" means the 480th year of national life and national responsibilities. And if this principle applied to an era apparently historical, we may a priori be prepared to find that it governs an era which is mystic and prophetic.

      (Acts xiii. i8--21 gives 40 years in the wilderness, 450 years under the Judges, and 40 years for the reign of Saul. To which must be added the 40 years of David's reign, and the first three years of Solomon, for it was in his fourth year that he began to build the Temple. The servitudes were to Mesopotamia for 8 years, to Moab for 18 years, to Canaan for 20 years, to Midian for 7 years, and to the Philistines for 40 years. See Judges iii. 8, 14; iv. 2, 3; vi. I; xiii. I. But 8+58+20+7+40 years are precisely equal to 93 years. To believe that this is a mere coincidence would involve an undue strain upon our faith.

      Acts xiii. 20 is one of the very many passages where the New Testament Revisers have corrupted the text through neglect of the well-known principles by which experts are guided in dealing with conflicting evidence. It is certain that neither the apostle said, nor the evangelist wrote, that Israel's enjoyment of the land was limited to 450 years, or that 450 years elapsed before the era of the Judges. The text adopted by R.V. is therefore clearly wrong. Dean Alford regards it "as an attempt at correcting the difficult chronology of the verse" and he adds, "taking the words as they stand, no other sense can be given to them than that the time of the Judges lasted 450 years." That is, as he explains, not that the Judges ruled for 450 years--in which case the accusative would be used, as in verse i8--but, as the use of the dative implies, that the period until Saul, characterised by the rule of the Judges, lasted 450 years. The objection that I omit the servitude of Judges x. 7, 8 is met by a reference to the R.V. The punctuation of the passage in Bagster's Bible perverts the sense. That servitude affected only the tribes beyond Jordan.)

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