The arrangement is topical; first, three poetical books, The Psalms, The Proverbs, and Job; then five so-called Megilloth, or Rolls, read in the later synagogues on certain great feast days, -- The Song of Songs at the Passover, Ruth at Pentecost, Lamentations on the anniversary of the burning of the temple, Ecclesiastes at the Feast of Tabernacles, and Esther at the Feast of Purim; lastly, the historical and quasi-historical books, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Chronicles.
Of Ruth I have already spoken in its proper historical connection, taking it with the Book of Judges.
In treating of the remaining books I shall not follow the order of the Hebrew Bible, which I have given above, but shall rather reverse it, treating first of the historical books, Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Chronicles, also of Esther and Daniel; then, in a subsequent chapter, of the poetical books, the Lamentations, the books attributed to Solomon, -- Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Solomon's Song, -- and finally of Job and the Psalms.
The histories which, under the title of the "Earlier Prophets," are contained in the middle group of the Hebrew Scriptures, have been studied in a former chapter. In this later group of writings we find certain other historical works which cover the same ground. In the words of Mr. Horton: --
"Taking historical excerpts from the first six books of the Bible, and then going on in a continuous narrative from the beginning of Judges to the end of the Second Book of Kings, we have a story -- true, a story with many gaps in it, still a connected story -- from the earliest times to the captivity of Judah. Then, starting from the First Book of Chronicles and reading on to the end of Nehemiah, we have, in a very compressed form, though enlarged in some parts, a complete record from Adam to the return from the Captivity; at the end of this long sweep of narrative comes the Book of Esther, which is a brief appendix containing a historical episode of the Captivity. Taking these two distinct histories, we have two lines of narrative, an older and a later, which run together up to the Captivity; the older, though covering a shorter time, is much the larger and fuller; the later, very thin in most parts, becomes very full in its account of the Temple-worship and Temple-kingship at Jerusalem, and then continues the story alone up to the end of the Captivity, and the reestablishment of the Temple-worship after the return." [Footnote: Inspiration and the Bible, pp.159, 160.]
The older history, contained in Samuel and Kings, breaks off abruptly in the time of the Captivity; we know that it must have been written during the Exile, and could not have been written earlier than about 550 B.C. The later history, in Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, begins with Adam, and goes on, by one or two genealogical tables, for almost two centuries after the Captivity. In 1 Chronicles iii.19, the genealogy of Zerubbabel, who came back with the captives, is carried on for at least six generations. Counting thirty years for a generation, the table extends the time of the writing of this record to at least one hundred and eighty years after the return of the exiles. This occurred in 538 B.C., and the book must therefore have been written as late as 350 B.C., or very nearly two centuries after the earlier history was finished.
There are conclusive reasons for believing that the four books now under consideration, the two books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, were originally but one book. In the Hebrew Canon the Chronicles is now but one book; and in the old Hebrew collections Ezra and Nehemiah were but one book. It was in the Septuagint that they were first separated. Thus we have the four certainly reduced to two. And it is not difficult, on an inspection of the documents, to reduce the two to one. If you will open your Bible at the last verses of Second Chronicles, beginning with the twenty-second verse of the last chapter, and, fixing your eyes on this passage, will ask some one to read to you the first three verses of the Book of Ezra, you will see how these two books were formerly one; and how the manuscript was torn in two in the wrong place; so that the Book of Chronicles actually ends in the middle of a sentence. The period at the end of this book ought to be expunged.
The explanatfon of this curious phenomenon is not difficult. The last group of sacred writings, what the Jews call the Ketubim, was kept open for additions to a very late day. After this history was written (Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah) the question arose whether it should be admitted into the canon. The first answer to this question evidently was: "We do not need the first part of the history, -- the Book of Chronicles, -- for we have the substance of it already in the Books of Samuel and Kings and in the earlier writings; but we do need the last part of it, 'Ezra-Nehemiah,' for this carries the history on beyond the Captivity, and gives the account of the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the city and the temple." So they tore the book in two, and put the last part of it into the growing collection of "Ketubim," or "Writings." The careless division of the manuscript, not at the beginning of a paragraph, but in the middle of a sentence, made it necessary, of course, for the scribe to copy at the beginning of the Ezra-roll the words belonging to it which had been torn off; but they were not erased from the first part, and have been left there, as the old historians say, "unto this day."
By and by there were requests that this first part -- the Chronicles -- be admitted to the Ketubim. The priests and the Levites of the temple would be sure to urge this request, for the Chronicles is the one book of the Old Testament in which their order is glorified; and at length the request was granted; the Chronicles were added to the collection, and as they went in last they follow Ezra-Nehemiah, although they belong, chronologically, before it. They stand to-day at the end of the Hebrew Bible, and thus testify, by their position, respecting the lateness of the date at which they were admitted to the canon. Thus the Hebrew Bible ends with an incomplete sentence.
What this later history may have been called before it was torn in two we have no means of knowing; but the Jews called the last part of it (which stands first in their collection) by the name of Ezra, and the first part of it (which is last in their canon) they named, "Events of the Times," or "Annals." In the Septuagint this book of the Chronicles was called "Paraleipomena," "Leavings," "Things Left Over," "Supplements." Jerome first gave it the name of "Chronicles," by which we know it.
The name of the author of this book is unknown. The strong probabilities are that he was a Levite, connected with the temple service in Jerusalem. The Levites had charge of the public religious services of the temple, especially of its music; and the fullness with which this writer expatiates upon all this part of the ritual shows that it was very dear to his heart. [Footnote: See 1 Chron. vi.31-48; xv.16-24; xvi 4-42; xxv.2 Chron. v.12, 13; vii.6; viii.14; xx.19-21; xxiii.13; xxix.25-30; xxxi 2; zxxiv.12; xxxv.15.] Everything relating to the Levitical priesthood and its services is dwelt upon in this book with emphasis and elaboration; as the histories of Samuel and the Kings are written from the prophetical standpoint, this is most evidently written from the priestly point of view.
In these books of the Chronicles the author constantly points out the sources of his information. He tells us that he quotes from the "Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel," from the "Acts of the Kings of Israel," and from "The Story of the Book of the Kings." The identity of these books is a disputed question. It is supposed by some critics that he refers to the Books of Kings in our Bible; others maintain that he draws from another and much larger book of a similar name which has been lost. The latter theory is generally maintained by the more conservative critics; and it is easier to vindicate the author's trustworthiness on this supposition; yet even so there are serious difficulties in the case; for it is hard to believe that he could have written these annals without having had before him the earlier record, and between the two are many discrepancies. The main facts of the history are substantially the same in the two narratives; but in minor matters the disagreements and contradictions are numerous. It is part of the purpose of this study to look difficulties of this kind fairly in the face; it is treason to the spirit of all truth to refuse to do so. Let us examine, then, a few of these discrepancies between the earlier and later history.
In 2 Samuel viii.4, we are told that in David's victory over Hadadezer king of Zobah, he took from the latter "a thousand and seven hundred horsemen." In 1 Chronicles xviii.4, he is said to have taken "a thousand chariots and seven thousand horsemen." In 2 Samuel xxiv.9, David's census is said to have returned 800,000 warriors for Israel, and 500,000 for Judah. In 1 Chronicles xxi.5, the number is stated as 1,100,000 for Israel, and 470,000 for Judah. In 2 Samuel xxiv.24, David is said to have paid Araunah for his threshing-floor fifty shekels of silver, estimated at about thirty dollars of our money; in 1 Chronicles xxi.25, he is said to have given him "six hundred shekels of gold by weight," amounting to a little more than thirty-four hundred dollars. In 2 Chronicles xiv. i, we read that Asa reigned in the stead of his father Abijah, and that in his days the land was quiet ten years. Again in the 10th and the 19th verses of the following chapter we learn that from the fifteenth to the thirty-fifth year of Asa there was no war in the land. In 1 Kings xv.32, we are explicitly told that "there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel all their days." In 1 Chronicles xx. the story of the taking of Rabbah seems to be abridged from 2 Samuel xi., xii.; but the abridgment is curiously done, so that the part taken by David in the siege and capture of the city is not brought out; and the whole narrative of David's relation to Uriah and Bathsheba, with the rebuke of Nathan and the death of David's child, is not alluded to. The relation of the two narratives at this point is significant; it deserves careful study. One more curious difference is found in the two accounts of the numbering of Israel. In 2 Samuel xxiv.1, we read, "And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them, saying, Go, number Israel and Judah." In 1 Chronicles xxi., we read, "And Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel." The numbering in both narratives is assumed to be a grievous sin; and the penalty of this sin, which was David's, was visited upon the people in the form of a pestilence, which slew seventy thousand of them. I observe that the commentators try to reconcile these statements by saying that God permitted Satan to tempt David. I wonder if that explanation affords to any mind a shade of relief. But the older record utterly forbids such a gloss. "The anger of the Lord against Israel" prompted the Lord to "move David against them," and the Lord said, "Go, number Judah and Israel!" It was not a permission; it was a direct instigation. Then because David did what the Lord moved him to do, "the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel," which destroyed seventy thousand men. We are not concerned to reconcile these two accounts, for neither of them can be true. Let us not suppose that we can be required, by any theory of inspiration, to blaspheme God by accusing him of any such monstrous iniquity. Let no man open his mouth in this day to declare that the Judge of all the earth instigated David to do a presumptuous deed, and then slew seventy thousand of David's subjects for the sin of their ruler. Such a view of God might have been held without censure three thousand years ago; it cannot be held without sin by men who have the New Testament in their hands. This narrative belongs to that class of crude and defective teachings which Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, points out and sets aside. We may, nay we must apply to the morality of this transaction the principle of judgment which Jesus gives us in that discourse, and say: "Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time that God sometimes instigates a ruler to do wrong, and then punishes his people for the wrong done by the ruler which he himself has instigated; but I say unto you that 'God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man;' moreover the ruler shall not bear the sin of the subject, nor the subject the sin of the ruler; for every man shall give account of himself unto God." It is by the higher standard that Christ has given us in the New Testament that we must judge all these narratives of the Old Testament, and when we find in these old writings statements which represent God as perfidious and unjust, we are not to try to "harmonize" them with other statements; we are simply to set them aside as the views of a dark age.
Such blurred and distorted ideas about God and his truth we do certainly find here and there in these old writings; the treasure which they have preserved for us is in earthen vessels; the human element, which is a necessary part of a written revelation, all the while displays itself. It is human to err; and the men who wrote the Bible were human. We may have a theory that God must have guarded them from every form of error, but the Bible itself has no such theory; and we must try to make our theories of inspiration fit the facts of the Bible as we find them lying upon its pages.
The second portion of this history, the Book of Ezra-Nehemiah, presents fewer of these difficulties than the Book of Chronicles. It is a fragmentary, but to all appearance a veracious record of the events which took place after the first return of the exiles to Jerusalem. The first caravan returned in the first year of King Cyrus; and the history extends to the last part of the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus, -- covering a period of more than a hundred years. The documents on which it is based were largely official; and there is no doubt that considerable portions of the first book came from the pen of Ezra himself, and that the second book was made up in part from writings left by Nehemiah. The language of the second book is Hebrew; that of the first is partly Hebrew and partly Chaldee or Aramaic. We read in the fourth chapter of Ezra that a certain letter was written to King Artaxerxes, and it is said that "the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian character." The margin of the revised version says "Aramaic." We find this letter in our Hebrew Bibles in the Aramaic language. And the writer, after copying the letter in Aramaic, goes right on with the history in Aramaic; from the twelfth verse of the fourth chapter to the eighteenth verse of the sixth chapter the language is all Aramaic; then the historian drops back into Hebrew again, and goes on to the twelfth verse of the seventh chapter, when he returns to Aramaic to record the letter of Artaxerxes, which extends to the twenty- seventh verse. The rest of the book is Hebrew. With the exception of some short sections of the Book of Daniel, this is the only portion of our Old Testament that was not written originally in the Hebrew tongue.
The contents of these two books may be briefly summarized. The first book tells us how the Persian king Cyrus, in the first year of his reign, issued a proclamation to the Jews dwelling in his kingdom, permitting and encouraging them to return to their own country and to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The conquest of the Babylonians by the Persians had placed the captive Jews in vastly improved circumstances. Between the faith of the Persians and that of the Jews there was close affinity. The Persians were monotheists; and "Cyrus," as Rawlinson says, "evidently identified Jehovah with Ormazd, and, accepting as a divine command the prophecy of Isaiah, undertook to rebuild their temple for a people who, like his own, allowed no image of God to defile the sanctuary.... The foundation was then laid for that friendly intimacy between the two peoples of which we have abundant evidence in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther." The words of the decree of Cyrus, with which the Book of Ezra opens, show how he regarded the God of the Jews: "Whosoever there is among you of all his people, his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord, the God of Israel, (he is God,) which is in Jerusalem." The parenthetical clause is a clear confession of the faith of Cyrus that Jehovah was only another name for Ormazd; that there is but one God.
In consequence of this decree, a caravan of nearly fifty thousand persons, led by Zerubbabel, carrying with them liberal free-will offerings of those who remained in Babylon for the building of the temple, went back to Jerusalem, and in the second year began the erection of the second temple. With this pious design certain Samaritans interfered, finally procuring an injunction from the successor of Cyrus by which the building of the temple was interrupted for several years. On the accession of Darius, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah stirred up the people to resume the work, and at length succeeded in getting from the great king complete authority to proceed with it. In the sixth year of his reign the second temple was completed, and dedicated with great rejoicing. This closes the first section of the Book of Ezra. The rest of the book is occupied with the story of Ezra himself, who is said to have been "a ready scribe in the law of Moses," and who, "in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, king of Persia," led a second caravan of exiles home to Jerusalem, with great store of silver and gold and wheat and wine and oil for the resumption of the ritual worship of the Lord's house. The story of this return of the exiles is minutely told; and the remainder of this book is devoted to a recital of the matter of the mixed marriages between the Jewish men and the women of the surrounding tribes, which caused Ezra great distress, and which he succeeded in annulling, so that these "strange women," as they are called, were all put away. To our eyes this seems a piece of doubtful morality, but we must consider the changed standards of our time, and remember that these men might have done with the purest conscientiousness some things which we could not do at all.
The Book of Nehemiah is in part a recital by Nehemiah himself of the circumstances of his coming to Jerusalem, which seems to have taken place about thirteen years after the coming of Ezra. He was the cupbearer of Artaxerxes the king; he had heard of the distress and poverty of his people at Jerusalem, and in the fervid patriotism of his nature he begged the privilege of going up to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls. Permission was gained, and the first part of the book contains a stirring account of the experiences of Nehemiah in building the walls of Jerusalem. After this work was finished, Nehemiah undertook a census of the restored city, but he found, as he says, "the book of the genealogy of them that came up at the first," -- the list of families which appears in Ezra, -- and this he copies. It may be instructive to take these two lists -- the one in Ezra ii. and the one in Nehemiah vii. -- and compare them. After this we have an account of a great congregation which assembled "in the broad place that was before the water gate," when Ezra the scribe stood upon "a pulpit of wood" from early morning until midday, and read to the assembled multitude from the book of the law. "And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people (for he was above all the people); and when he opened it all the people stood up, and Ezra blessed Jehovah the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with the lifting up of their hands; and they bowed their heads, and worshiped Jehovah, with their faces to the ground." Other scribes stood by, apparently to take turns in the reading; and it is said that "they read in the book, in the law of the Lord distinctly [or, 'with an interpretation,' Marg.], and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading." From this it has been inferred that the people had already become, in their sojourn in the East, more familiar with Aramaic than with their own tongue, and that they were unable to understand the Hebrew without some words of interpretation. It is doubtful, however, whether all this meaning can be read into this passage. At any rate, we have here, undoubtedly, the history of the inauguration of the reading of the law as one of the regular acts of public worship. And this must have been about 440 B.C.
The narrative of the first complete and formal observance of the Feast of Tabernacles since the days of Joshua; the narrative of the solemn league and covenant by which the people bound themselves to keep the law; the narrative of the dedication of the wall of the city, and the account of various reforms which Nehemiah prosecuted, with certain lists of priests and Levites, fill up the remainder of the book.
Taking it all in all it is a very valuable record; no historical book of the Old Testament gives greater evidence of veracity; none excels it in human interest. The pathetic tale of the return of this people from their long exile, of the rebuilding of their city and their temple, and of the heroic and self-denying labors of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, the governors, and Haggai and Zechariah, the prophets, and Ezra the scribe, with all their coadjutors, is full of significance to all those who trace in the history of the people of Israel, more clearly than anywhere else, the increasing purpose of God which runs through all the ages.
That portions of the first book were written by Ezra, and of the second book by Nehemiah, is not doubted; but both books were revised somewhat by later hands; additions were undoubtedly made after the death of Nehemiah; for one, at least, of the genealogies shows us a certain Jaddua as high priest, and tells us that he was the great grandson of the man who was high priest when Nehemiah came to Jerusalem. It is not probable that Nehemiah lived to see this Jaddua in the high priest's office. It is probable that the last revision of the Bible was made some time after 400 B.C.
I have now to speak, in the conclusion of this chapter, of two other books of this last group, concerning which there has always been much misconception, the Book of Esther and the Book of Daniel. Esther stands in our Bibles immediately after Ezra-Nehemiah, while Daniel is included among the prophets. But in the Hebrew Bibles both books are found in the group which was last collected and least valued.
I have styled these historical books; are they truly historical? That they are founded upon fact I do not doubt; but it is, perhaps, safer to regard them both rather as historical fictions than as veritable histories. The reason for this judgment may appear as we go on with the study.
The Book of Esther may be briefly summarized. The scene is laid in Shushan the palace, better known as Susa, one of the royal residences of the kings of Persia. The story opens with a great feast, lasting one hundred and eighty days, given by the King Ahasuerus to all the nabobs of the realm. It is assumed that this king was Xerxes the Great, but the identification is by no means conclusive. At the close of this monumental debauch, the king, in his drunken pride, calls in his queen Vashti to show her beauty to the inebriated courtiers. She refuses, and the refusal ought to be remembered to her honor; but this book does not so regard it. The sympathy of the book is with the bibulous monarch, and not with his chaste and modest spouse. The king is very wroth, and after taking much learned advice from his counselors, puts away his queen for this act of insubordination, and proceeds to look for another. His choice falls upon a Jewish maiden, a daughter of the Exile, who has been brought up by her cousin Mordecai. Esther, at Mordecai's command, at first conceals her Jewish descent from the king. An opportunity soon comes for Mordecai to reveal to Esther a plot against the king's life; and the circumstance is recorded in the chronicles of the realm.
Soon after this a certain Haman is made Grand Vizier of the kingdom, and Mordecai the Jew refuses to do obeisance to him; in consequence of which Haman secures from the king an edict ordering the assassination of all the Jews in the kingdom. His wrath against Mordecai being still further inflamed, he erects a gallows fifty cubits high, with the purpose of hanging thereon the testy Israelite. The intervention of Esther puts an end to these malicious schemes. At the risk of her life she presents herself before the king, and gains his favor; then, while Haman's purpose halts, the king is reminded, when the annals of his kingdom are read to him on a wakeful night, of the frustration of the plot against his person by Mordecai, and learning that no recompense has been made to him, suddenly determines to elevate and honor him; and the consequence is, that Haman himself, his purposes being disclosed by the queen, is hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai, and Mordecai is elevated to Hainan's place. The decree of an Eastern king cannot be annulled, and the massacre of the Jews still remains a legal requirement; yet Esther and Mordecai are permitted to send royal orders to all parts of the realm authorizing the Jews upon the day of the appointed massacre to stand for their lives, and to kill as many as they can of their enemies. Thus encouraged, and supported also by the king's officials in every province, who are now the creatures of Mordecai, the Jews turn upon their enemies, and slay in one day seventy-five thousand of them, -- five hundred in the palace of Shushan, -- among whom are the ten sons of Haman. On the evening of this bloody day, the king says to Esther the queen: "The Jews have slain five hundred men in Shushan the palace, and the ten sons of Haman; what then have they done in the rest of the king's provinces? [From this sample of their ferocity you can judge how much blood must have been shed throughout the kingdom.] Now what is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee; or what is thy request further? and it shall be done." It might be supposed that this fair Jewish princess would be satisfied with this banquet of blood, but she is not; she wants more. "Then said Esther, if it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews which are in Shushan to do to-morrow also, according unto this day's decree, and let Haman's ten sons be hanged upon the gallows." The request is granted; the next day three hundred more Persians are butchered in Shushan the palace; and the dead bodies of the ten sons of Haman, weltering in their gore, are lifted up and hanged upon the gallows, and all to please Queen Esther! If a single Jew loses his life in this outbreak, the writer forgets to mention it. It is idle to say that this is represented as a defensive act on the part of the Jews; the impression is given that the Persians, by the menacing action of their own officials under Mordecai's authority, were completely cowed, and were simply slaughtered in their tracks by the infuriated Jews.
As a memorial of this feast of blood, the Jewish festival of Purim was instituted, which is kept to this day; and the Book of Esther is read at this feast, in dramatic fashion, with passionate responses by the congregation.
Is this history? There is every reason to hope that it is not. That some deliverance of the Jews from their enemies in Persia may be commemorated by the feast of Purim is possible; that precisely such a fiendish outbreak of fanatical cruelty as this ever occurred, we may safely and charitably doubt. The fact that the story was told, and that it gained great popularity among the Jews, and by some of those in later ages came to be regarded as one of the most sacred books of their canon is, however, a revelation to us of the extent to which the most baleful and horrible passions may be cherished in the name of religion. It is precisely for this purpose, perhaps, that the book has been preserved in our canon. If any one wishes to see the perfect antithesis of the precepts and the spirit of the gospel of Christ, let him read the Book of Esther. Frederick Bleek is entirely justified in his statement that "a spirit of revenge and persecution prevails in the book, and that no other book of the Old Testament is so far removed as this is from the spirit of the gospel." [Footnote: Introduction to the Old Testament, i.450.] For it is not merely true that these atrocities are here recited; they are clearly indorsed. There is not a word said in deprecation of the beastliness of the king or the vindictiveness of the hero and the heroine. It is clear, as Bleek says, "that the author finds a peculiar satisfaction in the characters and mode of acting of his Jewish compatriots, Esther and Mordecai; and that the disposition shown by them appears to him as the right one, and one worthy of their nation." "Esther the beautiful queen," whose praises have been sung by many of our poets, possesses, indeed, some admirable qualities; her courage is illustrious; her patriotism is beautiful; but her bloodthirstiness is terrible.
As to the time when this book was written, or who wrote it, I am not curious. Probably it was written long after the Exile, but by some one who was somewhat familiar with the manners of Oriental courts. The name of God is not once mentioned in the book; and it seems like blasphemy to intimate that the Spirit of God could have had anything to do with its composition. It is absolutely sickening to read the commentaries, which assume that it was dictated by the Holy Ghost, and which labor to justify and palliate its frightful narrative. One learns, with a sense of relief, that the Jews themselves long disputed its admission to their canon; that the school of Schammai would not accept it, and that several of the wisest and best of the early fathers of the Christian church, Athanasius and Melito of Sardis among the rest, denied it a place in sacred Scripture. Dr. Martin Luther is orthodox enough for me, and he, more than once, expressed the hearty wish that the book had perished. That, indeed, we need not desire; let it remain as a dark background on which the Christian morality may stand forth resplendent; as a striking example of the kind of ideas which Christians ought not to entertain, and of the kind of feelings which they ought not to cherish.
The Book of Daniel brings us into a very different atmosphere. Esther is absolutely barren of religious ideas or suggestions; Daniel is full of the spirit of faith and prayer. Whether the character of Daniel, as here presented, is a sketch from life or a work of the imagination, it is a noble personality. The self-control, the fidelity to conscience, the heroic purposes which are here attributed to him, make up a picture which has always attracted the admiration of generous hearts.
"As in the story of the Three Children," says Dean Stanley, "so in that of the Den of Lions, the element which has lived on with immortal vigor is that which tells how, 'when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks to God, as he did aforetime.' How often have these words confirmed the solitary protest, not only in the Flavian amphitheatre, but in the ordinary yet not more easy task of maintaining the right of conscience against arbitrary power or invidious insult! How many an independent patriot or unpopular reformer has been nerved by them to resist the unreasonable commands of king or priest! How many a little boy at school has been strengthened by them for the effort, when he has knelt down by his bedside for the first time to say his prayers in the presence of indifferent or scoffing companions.... Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel in the court of Darius, are the likenesses of 'the small transfigured band whom the world cannot tame,' who, by faith in the Unseen, have in every age 'stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire.' This was the example to those on whom, in all ages, in spirit if not in letter, 'the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire passed upon them;' but it was 'as it were a moist, whistling wind, and the form of the fourth, who walked with them in the midst of the fire, was like a Son of God.'" [Footnote: History of the Jewish Church, pp.41, 42.]
Was Daniel a historical person? The question has been much disputed, but I think that we may safely answer it in the affirmative. It is true that in all these writings of the later period of Israel Daniel is mentioned but twice, both times in the Book of Ezekiel (xiv.14; xxviii.3). The first of these allusions is a declaration that a few righteous men cannot save a wicked city, when the decree of destruction against it has been issued; "though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God." The other is in a prophecy against the King of Tyre, in which he is represented as saying to himself that he is wiser than Daniel; that there is no secret that can be hidden from him. Whether these casual uses of the name of Daniel for purposes of illustration can be regarded as establishing his historical character may be questioned. And it is a singular fact that we have not in Ezra, or Nehemiah, or Haggai, or Zechariah, or Malachi, any reference to the existence of Daniel. Nevertheless, it is hardly to be supposed that such a character was wholly fictitious; we may well suppose that he existed, and that the narratives of his great fidelity and piety are at any rate founded upon fact.
The first six chapters of the book are not ascribed to Daniel as their author; he is spoken of in the third person, and sometimes in a way that a good man would not be likely to speak about himself. The remainder of the book claims to be written by him. The question is whether this claim is to be taken as an assertion of historical fact, or as a device of literary workmanship. Ecclesiastes was undoubtedly written long after the Exile, yet it purports to have been composed by King Solomon. The author puts his words into the mouth of Solomon, to gain attention for them. It is not fair to call this a fraud; it was a perfectly legitimate literary device. It is entirely possible that this may be the case with the author of this book. Daniel was a person whose name was well-known among his contemporaries, and the author makes him his mouthpiece. There may have been a special reason why the author should have desired to send out these narratives and visions under the name of a hero of antiquity, a reason which we shall presently discover.
The Book of Daniel is not what is commonly called a prophecy; it is rather an apocalypse. It belongs to a class of literature which sprang up in the last days of the Jewish nationality, after the old prophets had disappeared; it is designed to comfort the people with hopes of future restoration of the national power; its method is that of vision and symbolic representation. Daniel is the only book of this kind in the Old Testament; the New Testament canon closes, as you know, with a similar book. I shall not undertake to interpret to you these visions of the Book of Daniel; they are confessedly obscure and mysterious. But there is one portion of the book, the eleventh chapter, which is admitted to be a minute and realistic description of the coalitions and the conflicts between the Graeco-Syrian and the Graeco-Egyptian kings, events which took place about the middle of the second century before Christ. These personages are not named, but they are vividly described, and the intrigues and vicissitudes of that portion of Jewish history in which they are the chief actors are fully told. Moreover the recital is put in the future tense; "There shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be richer than they all; and when he is waxed strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the realm of Greece." If, now, the Book of Daniel was written in the early days of the Exile, this was a very circumstantial prediction of what happened in the second century, -- a prediction uttered three hundred years before the event. And respecting these predictions, if such they are, we must say this, that we have no others like them. The other prophets never undertake to tell the particulars of what is coming to pass; they give out, in terms very large and general, the nature of the events which are to come. No such carefully elaborated programme as this is found in any other predictive utterance.
But there are those -- and they include the vast majority of the leading Christian scholars of the present day -- who say that these words were not written in the early days of the Exile; that they must have been written about the middle of the second century; that they were therefore an account of what was going on, by an onlooker, couched in these phrases of vision and prophecy. The people of Israel were passing through a terrible ordeal; they needed to be heartened and nerved for resistance and endurance. Their heroic leader, Judas Maccabeus, was urging them on to prodigies of valor in their conflict with the vile Antiochus; such a ringing manifesto as this, put forth in the progress of the conflict, might have a powerful influence in reinforcing their patriotism and confirming their faith. It might also have appeared at some stage of the conflict when it would have been imprudent and perhaps impossible to secure currency for the book if the reference to existing rulers had been explicit; such a device as the author adopted may have been perfectly understood by the readers; although slightly veiled in the form of its deliverance, it was, perhaps, for this very reason, all the better fitted for its purpose.
It might, then, have been written when the Ptolemies and the Seleucidae were wasting the fields of Palestine with their conflicts. But was it written then? How do we know that it was not a circumstantial prediction made three hundred years before? We do not know, with absolute certainty, when it was written; but there are strong reasons for believing that the later date is the true date.
1. The book is not in the Hebrew collection of the Prophets. That collection was made at least a hundred years after the time at which Daniel is here said to have lived; if so great a prophecy had been existing then, it is strange that it should not have been gathered with the other prophets into Nehemiah's collection. It is found, instead, among the Ketubim, -- the later and supplementary writings of the Hebrew Bible.
2. It is strange also, as I have intimated, that no mention of Daniel or of his book is found in the histories of the Exile and the return, or in any of the prophecies uttered in Israel after the return. That there should be no allusion in any of these books to so distinguished a personage can hardly be explained.
3. Jesus, the son of Sirach, one of the writers of the Apocrypha, who lived about 200 B.C., gives a full catalogue of all the great worthies of Israel; he has a list of the prophets; he names all the other prophets; he does not name Daniel.
4. The nature of this prediction, if it be a prediction, is unaccountable. Daniel is said to have lived in the Babylonian period, and looked forward from that day. His people were in exile, but there is not a vision of his that has any reference to their return from the captivity, to the rebuilding of the temple, or to any of the events of their history belonging to the two centuries following. It is strange that if, standing at that point of time, he was inspired to predict the future of the Jewish people, he should not have had some message respecting those great events in their history which were to happen within the next century. Instead of this, his visions, so far as his own people are concerned, overleap three centuries and land in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes. Here they begin at once to be very specific; they tell all the particulars of this period, but beyond this period they give no particulars at all; the vision of the Messianic triumph which follows is vague and general like the rest of the prophecies. These circumstances strongly support the theory of the later date.
5. Words appear in this writing which almost certainly fix it at a later date than the Babylonian period. There are certainly nine undoubted Persian words in this book; there are no Persian words in Ezekiel, who lived at the time when Daniel is placed at the Babylonian court, nor in Haggai, Zechariah, or Malachi. There are several Greek words, names of musical instruments, and it is almost certain that no Greek words were in use in Babylonia at that early day. This philological argument may seem very dubious and far-fetched, but it is really one of the most conclusive tests of the date of a document. There is no witness so competent as the written word. Let me give you a homely illustration. Suppose you find in some late history of the United States a quoted letter said to have been written by President Zachary Taylor, who died in 1850, respecting a certain political contest. The letter contains the following paragraph: --
"On receiving this intelligence, I called up the Secretary of State by telephone, and asked him how he explained the defeat. He told me that, in his opinion, boodle was at the bottom of it. I determined to make an investigation, and after wiring to the member of Congress in that district, I ordered my servant to engage me a section in a Pullman car, and started the same night for the scene of the contest."
Now of course you know that this paragraph could not have been written by President Taylor, nor during the period of his administration. The telephone was not then in existence; there were no Pullman cars; the words "boodle" and "wire," in the sense here used, had never been heard. In precisely the same way the trained philologist can often determine with great certainty the date of a writing. He knows the biography of words or word-forms; and he may know that some of the words or the word- forms contained in a certain writing were not yet in the language at the date when it is said to have been written. It is by evidence of this nature that the critics fix the date of the Book of Daniel at a period long after the close of the Babylonian empire.
This verdict reduces, somewhat, the element of the marvelous contained in the book; it does not in any wise reduce the moral and spiritual value of it. The age of the Maccabees, when this book appeared, was one of the great ages of Jewish history. Judas Maccabeus is one of the first of the Israelitish heroes; and the struggle, in which he was the leader, against the dissolute Syrian Greeks brought out some of the strongest qualities of the Hebrew character. The genuine humility, the fervid consecration, the dauntless faith of the Jews of this generation put to shame the conduct of their countrymen in many ages more celebrated. And it cannot be doubted that this book was both the effect and the cause of this lofty national purpose. "Rarely," says Ewald, "does it happen that a book appears as this did, in the very crisis of the times, and in a form most suited to such an age, artificially reserved, close and severe, and yet shedding so clear a light through obscurity, and so marvelously captivating. It was natural that it should soon achieve a success entirely corresponding to its inner truth and glory. And so, for the last time in the literature of the Old Testament, we have in this book an example of a work which, having sprung from the deepest necessities of the noblest impulses of the age, can render to that age the purest service; and which, by the development of events immediately after, receives with such power the stamp of Divine witness that it subsequently attains imperishable sanctity." [Footnote: Quoted by Stanley, History of the Jewish Church, iii. p.336.]