Gospel Doctrine Lesson 46: Daniel 2

Today we focus on Daniel 2, a vision.  The story goes like this.

In King Nebuchadnezzar’s 2nd year, he has a dream. (According to Daniel 1:1-2, Daniel and friends don’t get carried off until Neb’s third year, although they’re present here.) Either he can’t remember what it was (like many of us) or he’s being unreasonable. Either way, he demands all his wise men tell him both the dream itself, and the interpretation. When they can’t, he wants them all killed for incompetence. Daniel hears about this and offers to interpret, which he does, thus saving everyone.

The content of the dream involves a statue representing various political/national entities, and a stone cut out of the mountain, which smashes them all.

Easy enough.

Maybe.

LDS interpretation and non-LDS agrees that the stone represents “The Kingdom of God” per verse 44. However, there are some differences and background that make for interesting discussion. In the chart below, compare the interpretations given by the JSB and the manual.

Verse

StatueMaterialJewish Study Bible (and lots of other scholarship)

Manual1

32

HeadGoldBabylonBabylon

32

Chest/armsSilverMedia

Media/Persia

32

Belly/thighsBronzePersia

Greece (Alexander)

33

LegsIronGreece

Romans

33FeetIron/clayPtolemaic/Seleucid kings

European nations

The differences arise fairly quickly, with the result that the mixed kingdom/feet is either the empire left behind at Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BCE (which was divided up among the Ptolemies and Seleucids), or it’s the European nations in 1830. I know why the JSB makes the argument it does (and will get to it.) The manual explicitly cites President Kimball on this interpretation of European nations as Feet of iron/clay. I read his talk, and wondered why he interpreted as he did. He doesn’t cite anyone, doesn’t claim any revelation (not that he necessarily needs to), just throws it out there. Let’s look at the JSB reasoning, and then the LDS context.

As mentioned in my last post, the book of Daniel has multiple characteristics that have led most schools to conclude that it was written in its current form hundreds of years after its setting. If such is the case (and the arguments are medium to strong), then the context of writing this dream is not  at its beginning, in the Babylon period, but almost at the end, the Feet period of the Ptolemies/Seleucids, and thus anticipating the immanent arrival of God’s kingdom which will shatter Israel’s overlords… exactly as many Jews in the New Testament expect. The expectation of the dream matches a near-contemporary New Testament context. As we know, Israel’s overlords are not destroyed and replaced by a divinely-led theocratic Kingdom of God, but simply replaced by the Romans. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Even worse, the Romans destroy the temple in 70AD, Jews are dispersed, and it’s just unpleasant, all over again.

This kind of thing has happened multiple times before, and it will happen again. We saw that many Mormons, including President Woodruff, anticipated Jesus returning any day in millennial glory (see my lesson on Micah), so too the first Christians expected Christ to return and bring the Kingdom with him within their lifetimes (We see this in the Gospels, Thessalonians, and some other places). So it makes a lot of sense that, if Daniel really dates to the Feet period, instead of the Head period, that they would be expressing the same kind of immanent anticipation as Jews a few generations later in the NT. That’s behind the JSB reasoning.

For President Kimball and LDS, it turns out to be pretty interesting. In Joseph Smith day, as mentioned, there was strong millennial anticipation. They read their Bibles closely, looking for guidance and clues. As it turns out, early Mormons were drenched in the Book of Daniel. “I said drenched, and I meant drenched.” (There’s my Anne of Green Gables reference for the year.)

As I was trying to explore the background of Pres. Kimball’s understanding, I searched the LDS Scripture Citation Index, a useful tool. Here’s the number of General Conference citations to the book of Daniel. Look at the massive bump in Daniel 2 citations.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 12.24.17 PM

 

Most of those citations are very early in LDS history. Daniel was pervasive in LDS thought and language, as “The Book of Daniel in Early Mormon Thought” (David Whitaker, BYU) demonstrates. (See also the much much shorter and less useful Encyclopedia of Mormonism article.) D&C 65:2 uses the language of Daniel 2 explicitly.

The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth.

Note, though, that it does not explicitly equate the Church with the Kingdom of God. And this, I think, is where the biggest difference is between scholarly interpretation and traditional LDS interpretation. Both agree that the stone rolling forth is the kingdom of God. The question is, is “the Kingdom of God” limited to formal Church membership and organization? That’s a question I can see different responses to, but I think answering “yes” takes a very narrow view of things. (Plus, we have not exactly “shattered” or replaced the European nations. At least, not yet.)Some citations, and then I’ll try to reconcile things a little.

Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. … Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted … the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose. The Lord will open their eyes in His own due time. God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. … We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense.” (Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, April 1928, p. 59,  )

This was also cited by Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report April 1972.  He offered Colonel Thomas Kane and Alexander Doniphan as examples.

After quoting Alma 29.1-9, Elder Whitney continued
[These verses] tell one that Providence is over all, and that he holds the nations in the holly of his hand; that he is using not only his covenant people, but other peoples as well, to consummate a work…. [God] is using men as his instruments.  Nor is he limited in the choice of instruments to his own people…. Outside the pale of their [prophetic, priesthood] activities other good and great men, not bearing the Priesthood but possessing profundity of thought, great wisdom, and a desire to uplift their fellows, have been sent by the Almighty into many nations, to give them, not the fulness of the gospel, but that portion of truth that they were able to receive and wisely use.  Such men as Confucius… Zoroaster… Buddha… Socrates and Plato…. They were servants of the Lord in a lesser sense, and were sent to those pagan or heathen nations to give them the measure of truth that a wise Providence had allotted to them.

I’ve mentioned NT Wright and his books before. He’s been influential on my thought. I draw here generally from Wright. I think we should understand “kingdom of God” in broad terms. I think it came with Jesus and began to be established, and that the restoration and organization of the LDS Church are continuing that process, not beginning it. In other words, the formal LDS church represents part of the kingdom of God, an important part authorized to perform ordinances and one we shouldn’t minimize…  but not all of God’s kingdom. God inspires much good towards building his kingdom, good outside the Church as well as inside.

Tidbits
Hebrew vs. Aramaic
In 2:4, the language changes into Aramaic. The text literally says (with no punctuation) “And the Chaldeans spoke to the king Aramaic O King live forever…” and it switches at after the word “Aramaic.”

What is Aramaic and how does it differ from Hebrew? They belong to the same family of languages, much as Spanish, French, Italian, and others belong to the Latinate family, and share cognates.  What most people think of as Hebrew script is actually Aramaic script. Under the Babylonians, Aramaic become the common language of the empire, the lingua franca. Aramaic, and not Hebrew, would be the language of Jesus and his disciples. Aramaic in the Bible is limited to Daniel, Ezra, and smatterings elsewhere,  but we actually have far more existing Aramaic texts than Biblical Hebrew texts. Sometimes the empire would do things bilingually  in Akkadian AND Aramaic, like the important Tel Fekheriye Inscription, written on the front and back of a statute.

To give an example of differences between the two languages.
  • In Hebrew, the  definite article is a prefixed ha plus doubling the first letter, whereas in Aramaic, it’s a suffixed -a (plus some spelling changes).
  • So in Hebrew, “king” = mélek and “the king” is hammélek. (Note Jeremiah 26:36 where the KJV misunderstands hammelek as a proper name Hammelech instead of as “the king.”)
  • In Aramaic “king” is also mélek but “the king” is malka.

I’ve posted some introductory bits about the Aramaic language and usage in the Bible and the ancient Near East here, from Greenspan’s Introduction to Aramaic, 2nd ed. (which is a very accessible workbook and introduction, as long as you know a bit of Hebrew. It gets you through Biblical Aramaic, as well as chapters on non-biblical Aramaic inscriptions, letters from the Jewish colony at Elephantine in Egypt where a Jewish temple was built, Dead Sea Scrolls, midrash, and Targum.)

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