Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dating Sacred Texts on the Basis of Fulfilled Prophecy

In a recent post, the ever intriguing N. T. Wrong discusses the Scholarly Dating of Daniel to After the "Prophecies" were "Fulfilled". Here in the biblioblogging community, we are all on first name terms, so I hope the bishop will not mind my calling him Tom. Tom quotes and then argues against a character who sees "The practice of late-dating the books of the Bible . . . as a position of faith on the part of those scholars who do so"; Tom pays special attention to John J. Collins on Daniel, and the quotation is worth repeating here:
The issue is not whether a divinely inspired prophet could have foretold the events which took place under Antiochus Epiphanes 400 years before. The question is whether this possibility carries any probability: is it the most satisfactory way to explain what we find in Daniel? Modern critical scholarship has held that it is not.
- John J. Collins, Daniel, First Maccabees, Second Maccabees, with an Excursus on the Apocalyptic Genre (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1981): 11-12.
Tom's timely post coheres with what I have been arguing here (especially in Dating Game VI and Dating Game VII) with reference to the predictions of the temple's destruction in the Gospels. Allow me to quote from a section of my forthcoming SBL paper (31-32 in the current draft):
One of the standard arguments against the idea that Mark shows knowledge of the destruction of Jerusalem is the reassertion of the text’s own character here as prediction. In his Introduction to the New Testament, David A. DeSilva suggests that “The primary reason many scholars tend to date Mark’s Gospel after 70 CE is the presupposition that Jesus could not foresee the destruction of Jerusalem – an ideological conviction clearly not shared by all.” But this kind of appeal, while popular, tends not to take seriously the literary function of predictions in narrative texts like Mark. Successful predictions play a major role in the narrative, reinforcing the authority of the one making the prediction and confirming the accuracy of the text’s theological view. It is like reading Jeremiah. It works because the reader knows that the prophecies of doom turned out to be correct. It is about “when prophecy succeeds”.
My concern about the popular appeal to what Jesus could or could not have done is that it does not take seriously the real issue, which has nothing to do with making a judgement about the historical Jesus. Rather, it is about observing the literary function of successful prophecy in the narrative in which it appears. The prediction only gains traction because the reader is saying, "Hey, yes! I know what that's about!" The issue is parallel to the one discussed here by Tom Wrong, and I am grateful to have his Daniel discussion to inform my own. James McGrath weighs in on Exploring our Matrix, with similarly helpful observations.

5 comments:

Andrew Criddle said...

... so I hope the bishop will not mind my calling him Tom.

On the analogy of Antipope surely N. T. Wrong should be referred to as Antibishop.

Bill said...

Mark, I hate to admit I had to bookmark the previous entries in your recent series on dating texts - forgive me - because work has been extremely busy. But I read this one today, very, very gratefully. Your keen ability to make a succinct point has once again opened my eyes to another false dichotomy I'd overlooked. And that instantly opened my mind to a new perspective on whether or not people would publish predictions.

You can read the rest of my thoughts here. It's definitely a challenge, so I'll hope for and welcome your reply.

As always, thanks so much for blogging and continuing to blog.

N T Wrong said...

This rhetorical function in written predictive prophecies in Mark has got me thinking again about Daniel. My cross-fertilized response is here.

N T Wrong said...

... nope, that was the previous post. My latest post is here.

Michael A. Peters said...

Hi Mark,
Daniel is my favorite book of the Bible. The second century dating Daniel as history never made sense to me because of the 70 weeks. If Daniel was written in 2nd Century BCE for 2nd Century readers, it makes no sense for the 70 weeks to completely skip over that period by 200 years.

There's other problems with a late date (IE what Joyce Baldwin and others point out) but the 70 weeks of years just really makes no sense for 2nd Century CE document, not to me anyway.