The Elements of Apocalyptic literature in Daniel 7-12

“Apocalyptic” is derived from the Greek verb apokaluptein , that is, “to reveal, disclose, uncover” and Bandstra defines “apocalypse”, a literary genre found in apocalyptic literature,  as a ”revelation of future events initiated by God and delivered through a mediator (typically an angel) to a holy person.” This definition of ‘apocalypse’, Bandstra asserts, is strictly fits Daniel 7-12, even with other books in the Hebrew Bible, such as Isaiah 24-27, and the book of Revelation in the New Testament. (P442)

According to Dr. Lester’s lecture, the historical settings of apocalyptic literature is communities in crisis and its function is to provide comfort for the members of the communities and tell them how to respond to the crisis. Bandstra also suggest that “most apocalypses were written during times of political persecution and they were intended to encourage perseverance by revealing the destruction of the wicked and the glorious future that awaited the faithful.” Bandstra affirms that one of the main features of an apocalyptic community is its social political, or economic alienation within the larger society and that apocalyptic literature expresses an alternate universe where the alienated community and its deity will defeat the larger one. In addition to these socio-historical situation of apocalyptic literature, Bandstra presents the term ‘eschatology’ that refers to “the complex of religious belief regarding the end-time.  In the eschatological perspective of apocalyptic literature, God is intervening history in cataclysmic ways to achieve his goal and the role of God’s people is to acknowledge God’s plan and to be prepared to support it. (p442-443)

Bandstra presents some common features of apocalyptic literature in the Bible as follows,

It is in the form of dreams or visions that was witnessed by an individual describing it using the pronoun, “I”;  the authorship is pseudonymous legendary figures;  highly imaginative symbolic imagery is used, such as strange hybrid animals, numbers; secret code words are also found; many apocalypse contain vaticinia ex eventu, that is, predictive prophecies after the event;  the authors of apocalyptic literature describe God as the sovereign power of the universe and other nations under the control of Israel’s God; apocalyptic literature is filled with dualisms: cosmic dualism (the universe as heaven and earth), temporal or chronological dualism (the course of history as “this age” and “the age to come”), ethical dualism (humanity as the large evil-motivated group and the smaller righteous group)

Stanley (p 482-484) also presents common features of apocalyptic literature as follows;

1. various visionary experiences of an individual to whom  Yahweh or an angel disclosed his plans for the future of humanity, sometimes identified as dreams and accompanied by interpretations explaining their significance for the audience

2. a loose narrative fictitious framework to allow the vision of retroactively predicted events by the time of the writing, which brings credibility to the author’s prediction about the events in the future.

3. cosmic dualism to view the universe as the battleground between two opposing armies ; Yahweh and his angels on one side and the personified supernatural forces of evil against Yahweh’s goal on the other side; all humans are considered allies of one army or the other; the evil forces dominate the present world system, Yahweh will conquer and overthrow them in the future.

4. eschatological orientation to anticipate Yahweh’s cataclysmic intervention the result of which is a abrupt change of the present world order, creating a new heaven and earth, a new era of human history; all insists the time of Yahweh’s intervention is near and Yahweh will defeat the evil and rescue his faithful followers at the time of salvation that only Yahweh knows.

5. moral strictness to avoid the temptation of Yahweh’s enemies to urn away from the path of righteousness and join their side and live strictly by the law; the suffering and death from the radical devotion to Yahweh will be rewarded by Yahweh after death, which is useful for motivation people to keep their faith in the face of temptation and persecution.

6. symbolic language of vivid imagery and symbols to appeal to the readers’ imagination rather than their rational faculties; the texts overflow with images of beasts with many heads and horns, vines and trees growing as high as heavens, stars falling from the sky, and battles that pit the armies of evil against the forces of good; but, the meaning behind these symbols apparent to the people familiar with the world of apocalyptic thought, and the message serious.

All these elements of apocalyptic literature commonly mentioned by both Bandstra and Stanley are found in the following verses of Daniel 7-12.

As indicated by Bandstra and Stanley, the apocalypses of Daniel consist of Daniel’s visions in his dream followed by angels’ interpretations. The first apocalypse is Daniel 7 :1-14 and its interpretation is given by an angel in 15-27.  In Daniel 7:1-14, we can find most elements of apocalyptic literature that Bandstra and Stanley suggests above; the apocalypse is in the form of dream witnessed and described by an individual ‘I’ , whose name is ‘Daniel’, a legendary figure of Israel; in the dream,highly imaginative symbolic imagery, such as ‘four winds, the great sea, four great beasts out of the sea,  the first beast… like a lion…had eagle’s wings…made to stand on two feet like a human…was given a human mind…another beast…like a bear…had three tusks in its mouth among its teeth…another…like a leopard…had four wings of a bird on its back and four heads…fourth beast…had great iron teeth…had ten horns…there were eyes like human eyes in this horn…, according to the Harper Collins Study Bible (p1182-1184),  these symbolic animals and their shapes symbolize the historical figures and nations in the history of Israel ; in 7:9-14, God in the heaven witnessed by Daniel in his dream is described as the sovereign power of the universe and other nations symbolized into the beast with the horn and the rest of the beasts described as under the control of God in the heaven, which exemplifies a cosmic dualism between God and the beasts against God; the beasts out of the sea and the heavenly scene exemplifies chronological dualism, the current Israel under the persecution and the future; the interpretation given by the angel in 7:15-27 provides the eschatological perspective (orientation) of the apocalyptic literature; the “holy ones” will be given the kingdom of God forever.(Bandstra, p452)

In Daniel 10:1-14, Daniel’s visionary experience of an angel in human form (the Harper Collins Study Bible, p1188) is described by his narrative and the angel’s speech to Daniel about “the end of days,” which also reflects eschatological orientation of apocalyptic literature. In addition, we can also find a reflection of the socio-historical situation of apocalyptic literature that was mentioned by Bandstra, that is, the marginal status of Israel  within the larger society, here in Daniel 10-12, in the conflict between the Ptolemies and Seleucids for control of Palestine and it also includes the great tribulation introduced by the military campaign of Antiochus IV (p452).

In Daniel 11:1-12:13, Stanley suggests that the vision described in Daniel 11-12 is compatible with the history of the period that most scholars believe that it was created after the events took place,  which is an example of ‘retroactively predicted events’ or vaticinia ex eventu as Bandstra mentions, that is, “making predictions a subtle form of literary fiction.”(Stanley, p490) In reality, the events “predicted” in these visions had already happened by the time of writing and the writer assured that Daniel’s predictions were historically accurate. The readers who knew the accuracy of the visions would accept the message of the visions, that is, Yahweh’s victory over Antiochus IV, which would encourage them to keep their faith and not to turn away in the face of persecution. (p490-491)

As for the latter part of Daniel 11 (11:20-45), Stanley suggests it describes the rise and fall of Antiochus IV persecuting the Jews from 167-164 BCE. and that none of the events described here never took place. The reason for this loss of accuracy of the prediction, Stanley assures, is that the person who created the visions was writing it during the time of Antiochus IV whom the writer viewed an evil threat to be stopped only by divine intervention; the author intended to encourage his fellow Jews to keep their faith in the midst of a painful and seemingly hopeless persecution of Antiochus IV through the vivid description of the ultimate victory of Yahweh. This is compatible with the function of apocalyptic literature that Dr. Lester mentions in the lecture, that is, to provide comfort for the members of the communities in crisis and tell them how to respond to the crisis; to keep their faith and not to turn away in the face of persecution.

Stanley explains in detail that in 11:40, the vision speaks of a final series of battles that will end with the death of “the king of the north” , that is,  Antiochus IV; in 12:1-2, 13, the vision of the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment follows. (P490)  In other words,  “even if they should be forced to die for their faith, Daniel’s vision assured them that they would soon be restored to life and rewarded by Yahweh.” (Stanley p491) This would be what the author of Daniel intended to speak out with the elements of apocalyptic literature in it.


5 thoughts on “The Elements of Apocalyptic literature in Daniel 7-12”

  1. Nice job explaining the elements of the Apoloyptic literature in Daniel! I liked the idea that these “passages”, while very dark in imagery, are meant to deliver hope to the oppressed. “Keep the faith even in the face of persecution.” What an interesting concept! Nice job pointing out the historical background in which Daniel was written. My favorite part came in Daniel 11:40, where Daniel’s vision assures us that God will persevere and that we (as his followers) would soon be joining him in a place of peace and restoration.


  2. Very informative! You have included lots of information and used several sources to discuss the apocalyptic writing found in Daniel. It is fascinating how each of us reads the same materials and then find such different ways to present it.


  3. Nicely done. A very thorough review of the common elements and purpose of apocalyptic literature. A nice addition might be to add your personal thoughts on this type of literature and how you think it speaks to people today.


  4. Very informative! I didn’t include much about Stanley in mine but i really enjoyed how well you can tie it all together! I would like to know some of your thoughts on the overall story as well, I’m just curious and sometimes intrusive in that way though. I wish I would have included more language of Yahweh in my blog, I enjoyed your presentation of it!


  5. You did really great job in your presentation! It provides so much information of the literature!
    I agree with your opinion that we, Christians, have to keep the face regardless of any situation.
    Thanks for sharing your thought!


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