donderdag 21 februari 2013

Review of: Sharon Pace, Daniel (SHBC), Smyth & Helwys, 2008; in: Interpretation

Sharon Pace, Daniel (SHBC), Smyth & Helwys, 2008.

Review in: Interpretation 2009 63: 298
Review door: W. Sibley Towner
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by Sharon Pace
The Smyth 8c Helwys Bible Commentary Series, Smyth & Helwys, Macon, Ga., 2008.
383 pp. $55.00 (cloth). ISBN 978-1-57312-074-6.

MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY professor Sharon Pace has taken full and admirable advantage of the wide scope that the format of the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series gives to each of its projected thirty-one authors. Pace's volume is the fifteenth title in the series to have been published so far, and judging from her book and those that have preceded it, Smyth & Helwys and its editors and authors are seriously enriching the art of biblical commentary in our time.

Here is Pace's procedure. After a summary introduction, Pace treats each chapter unit by unit, incorporating into her exegetical discussion philological, historical, and literary-critical observations. She misses no details. For example, in the judgment scene of Dan 7:9-10, the text reads "thrones were set in place." Obviously the Ancient of Days needs a throne to sit on, but why, Pace wonders, is there a second one? The discussion of a pericope may be followed by an excursus on the history of its interpretation and always by a theological summary. At the end of each chapter, Pace links the text to other Scriptures and to the contemporary situation of Jews and Christians in a section called "Connections." (One of the most interesting of these connections is the lengthy exploration of musical portrayals of Belshazzar's Feast in Dan 5, with special emphasis on the English composer William Walton's oratorio by that name [pp. 184-89].) Pace's interpretation, while enriched throughout the book with fresh insights and even the occasional universally applicable principle (e.g., "God judges not only this one king [Nebuchadnezzar], but all kings [2:21]," p. 64), is generally cautious and mainstream. For example, on the question of the angelic vs. human identity of the "one like a son of man" (Dan 7:13), Pace declines to take sides. Characteristically, she warns that "No argument has won consensus" (p. 246). By the end of ch. 7, however, given the disclosure by the angelic interlocutor to the seer that the "one like a son of man" is "the holy ones of the Most High" (7:18,22), and "the people of the holy ones of the Most High" (7:27), Pace tends to see an integration of angels and elect humans in the regime of the age to come. On the question of the dating of the Book of Daniel, based on the vagueness at 11:40 after the relatively accurate chronicle of foreign rule over Judea from the Persian empire through the Seleucid tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.E.), Pace says, "Many scholars conclude that the date of the composition of the book of Daniel can be determined by these remarks of Antiochus's last days" (p. 335). Clearly, she does, too. In short, Pace offers no major new directions for the interpretation of Daniel in this commentary, but what she gives us is a very readable, user-friendly, and wide-ranging discussion of the book of Daniel. How often can you honestly speak of a commentary as a page-turner?

The sidebars that appear on almost every page of the commentary are intrinsic to the multidisciplinary approach of the Smyth & Helwys series. In brief but intense bursts, they explore issues of language, historical and cultural setting, and interpretation. For example, given that Nebuchadnezzar's retainer Ashpenaz bears the title sans ("guard, eunuch," Dan 1:3), is it possible—as the rabbis speculated—that Daniel and his friends were castrated in order to serve in the royal court (sidebar: '"Eunuch'—Tragic Connotations," p. 27)? Occasionally a sidebar will function as a history of interpretation piece. An example: various identifications of the ten horns on the fourth beast in Dan 7:7 have, over the centuries, given interpreters latitude to bring the vision down to their own times (sidebar: "Examples of Identifications of the Ten Horns," p. 236). It is in the sidebars that Pace often invokes rabbinic interpretation (sidebar: "Nebuchadnezzar in Ancient Jewish Sources," p. 37).

As to the kerygma of Daniel, Pace discerns two principal themes. The first is "the belief in a just God who orders the universe according to a divine plan" (p. 13). The second is the conviction that the oppressive kings and empires of Daniel's time and of all time are "included in God's providential design and stand under divine judgment. Nebuchadnezzar is presented more as a type of a ruler... than as an individual" (p. 14). Understanding this king to be a prototype encourages readers to believe that God will have done with tyrants and tyranny in every generation. Pace adds, "the author shows that nothing in human experience ... remains outside of the divine plan" (p. 14).

No doubt the difficult doctrine of the predetermination of history—inexorable destiny—is present in the book of Daniel. But Pace offers little by way of bridging from this conviction to a contemporary world that is skeptical of the notion that everything that happens was already written in God's book of destiny. Today secular and faith communities alike take seriously the realities of chance, randomness, and accident. From time to time, however, Pace does restate the deterministic theology of the book of Daniel in terms that are more attuned to our way of thinking. In her summary discussion of Dan 10:1-12:13, for example, predetermination is toned down in a statement like this: "The tireless efforts of individuals who work for peace and justice give humanity pause so that it neither despairs nor falls into a numb disregard for evil The book of Daniel shows that it is possible for the human spirit to continue the search for meaning in the midst of the unfathomable" (p. 347). Elsewhere, it becomes clear that Pace's idea of the "interim ethic" implied in the book of Daniel flows from trust that free choice to do well is possible. Such a hope "can serve as a powerful encouragement never to abandon striving for the betterment of the world" (p. 83).

One moral value to which Pace returns again and again is justice. Even while acknowledging other theological themes such as courage, faithfulness, and, in the end, resurrection, Pace takes it as a fixed principle that God's rule is "passionately consumed with providing justice" (p. 247). The restoration and advancement of justice are, for Pace, at the heart of the representation of God and of human responsibility in the book of Daniel.

On the vexing question of how a failed apocalypse could retain the status of Scripture, Pace has relatively little to say. In a sidebar on p. 336, she remarks that even though ancient readers would have known that the details of the prediction of Antiochus's death in Dan 11:45 were wrong (as well as, I might add, the expected concurrent onset of the rule of the saints [7:27] and the resurrection of the dead [12:1-3]), "they could nonetheless trust in the essential truth of the vision." The book could therefore be preserved because it advances abiding convictions, including the confidence that "God has set up the world so that justice will prevail" (p. 336).

Against the prevailing scholarly view, Pace appears to side with Leonard Greenspoon in adducing evidence that belief in an afterlife existed in Judaism before the first unambiguous reference to resurrection appeared in Dan 12:1-3 (sidebar: "Others Restored to Life," p. 340.)

Large print, wide margins, numerous pictures, charts, maps, and other elements of the graphic design of the commentary invite the intended audience of scholars, pastors, and serious lay students of the Bible to read the book with pleasure. The sidebars cast the net of welcome inquiry even further. My only criticism of them is that the low intensity reddish-brown color in which the sidebars are printed makes them difficult to read. (I found myself twitching my glasses and adjusting my lamp many a time while otherwise enjoying them.) In addition to a general bibliography, the book concludes with four indices, including one for the sidebars. The entire text is contained in an accompanying CD-ROM disc that is fully indexed and searchable. This electronic version makes classroom use of text and illustrations instantly accessible.

W. Sibley Towner, Professor Emeritus

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