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Unjamming The Genres: Part One

Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.”

Daniel 2:27–28

Assumptions are an important part of our quest for truth. Questions exist because we lack the knowledge we are seeking, so we begin the process by venturing a guess. We quickly survey a matter using what we already know and then wager what the end result may be. Like the dad building a drone, we flip through the instructions, glance over the parts, and estimate what it will take to get the toy up into the air.

Unfortunately, we tend to hang onto our assumptions long after they’ve expired. Additional information should move us from “This will only take a minute” to “This is a four-hour job.” But that would require swallowing our pride and changing our plans, and who wants to do that?

Accident or Arrangement?

Liberal scholarship approaches the Book of Daniel on the assumption that it is only a human book. Consequently, modern Daniel studies search the book’s pages for human errors and agendas, tell-tale signs that they think will reveal the real author(s) of the Book of Daniel. But although a century and a half has passed, studies have abounded, and information has increased, their results are far from conclusive. Isn’t it time to discard the old assumption and try a different starting point?

What if the Book of Daniel is not a product of sociopolitical movements but a divinely designed document? In other words, what if this book was carefully and significantly arranged to convey a clear, inspired message to its readers? The adoption of this perspective provides clear answers to Daniel’s structure and genres. But to understand this, allow me to explain a few things about Hebrew literature.

Poetry and Wordplay

Poetic structures and wordplay have great significance in Old Testament literature. These and related literary devices are so common that we quickly notice them even in our English translations. Phrases are poetically arranged or restated with similar words to draw our attention to the fact that something important is afoot (Gen. 1:27; 9:6).

We chuckle at the wordplay employed when God commands Abraham to name his coming son Isaac (“laughter” Gen. 17:19), noting that Abraham had “laughed within himself” at a blessing that he wasn’t ready to believe (Gen. 17:17). It isn’t long before we realize that the literary devices used within a passage constitute a critical part of understanding the passage itself. The repetition and arrangement of words and phrases provide key insights into the intent of the author.

New Insights

The Book of Daniel is no different. Textual analysis over the last three decades is changing the way we understand this text, making it increasingly evident that it  was carefully arranged according to clearly defined, well-known literary devices. These forms and techniques give clear insight into the nature and emphasis of the book itself. Over the coming weeks, we will not only learn these literary devices but also discover how their application can help explain the Book of Daniel’s purpose, structure, themes, genres, and styles. 

New to this series? To read the first installment of the Two Riddle series click here or start at the very beginning of the Daniel series by clicking here.

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