Hamilton, James M., Jr. With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Edited by D. A. Carson. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014.
I found much to appreciate in Hamilton’s biblical theology of Daniel. Hamilton forthrightly holds to the early date for the book and defends the necessity of this understanding for right interpretation of the book. Hamilton also has his eye on both the theology of Daniel and how that theology connects to the rest of the canon. Finally, I found the book full of exegetical insights. For instance, I thought his treatment of the parallels between various visions well-done.
I have three criticisms, however. First, I do not find Hamilton’s chiastic structure for the book compelling. I rarely find chiastic structures for books compelling. Too often the sections are unbalanced and the parallels created by the author’s wording rather than by the text. This is the case with Hamilton’s structure of Daniel. For instance, Hamilton labels chapter 1 “Exile to the unclean realm of the dead.” Yet chapter 1 does not clearly identify Babylon as the realm of the dead. The parallel closing section, 10-12, Hamilton labels “Return from exile and resurrection from the dead.” This label works for chapter 12, but it doesn’t really work for chapters 10-11.
Second, I find Hamilton’s approach typology to be somewhat over-imaginative. For instance, I see the parallels that Hamilton draws between Joseph and Daniel, but whether that makes Joseph a type of Daniel is unclear to me. What is more I think it is a stretch to use these parallels to connect Daniel to the New Exodus theme.
Third, I find Hamilton’s interpretation of Daniel’s 70 sevens unconvincing. One of my motivations for reading Hamilton was to examine alternatives to the dispensational approach to this passage in which the first 69 sevens stretch from a decree of a Persian monarch related to the rebuilding of Jerusalem to the first coming of Christ and in which the 70th seven awaits a future fulfillment. Hamilton takes the first seven weeks to refer to the “time between the revelation of these things to Daniel and the conclusion of Malachi’s prophetic ministry.” The troubled sixty-two weeks are the intertestamental period. The seventieth week extends from the establishment of the church to the return of Christ, the last half of the week being the time of Antichrist (131-32; 215-16).
Hamilton begins by discounting the literal nature of Jeremiah’s 70 year prophecy. Hamilton says, “If Daniel counted from the time of his own exile to Babylon in 605 BC, the first year of Darius in 539/538 BC would be roughly seventy years.” He concludes from this “Daniel seems to take the seventy years as a round number that broadly corresponds to an individual’s lifespan” (123). This leads to another conclusion, in turn. Since the 70 years of Jeremiah were not literal years, “I do not think Daniel intended the seventy weeks to be understood literally either” (124). But there are several weak links in this chain of reasoning. First, even if one does not adopt one of the interpretations that finds Jeremiah’s prophecy fulfilled precisely (Hamilton calls these interpretations “strained” but fails to engage with them), the years may still be literal rather than figurative. As Hamilton notes, the time span was “roughly seventy years.” A “round number,” as Hamilton designates Jeremiah’s seventy years, is not necessarily a figurative number. In fact, if the number is a round number it would seem that it is not merely a symbolic number. Furthermore, if the number is a round number that is fulfilled in roughly seventy years rather than in exactly seventy years, why would Daniel conclude that the number is symbolic of a lifespan? Hamilton appeals to Isaiah 23:15 and Psalm 90:10 as evidence that the Bible uses 70 symbolically for a lifespan. But even if Isaiah 23:15 is referring to an idealized period of time with regard to Tyre, this does not mean that Jeremiah is doing so with regard to Israel. Second Chronicles 36:20 says that the exile was for seventy years so that the land would enjoy its Sabbaths. This would be an inspired indication that the 70 years for Israel should be taken more literally than that for Tyre. Furthermore, understanding the seventy years for Tyre literally is not beyond the realm of possibility. Erlandsson notes that “between the years 700 and 630 . . . Assyria did not permit Tyre to engage in any business activity.” S. Erlandsson, The Burden of Babylon: A Study of Isaiah 13:2-14:23 (Lund: Gleerup, 1970), 102 as cited in Geoffrey Gorgan, “Isaiah,” Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 6:147.
Hamilton also argues that the 70 sevens of Daniel 9 are not to be taken as actual years because Ezekiel speaks of differing period: a 430 year period of judgment (430 years being symbolic of the sojourn in Egypt) (124-25). The comparison between Ezekiel 4 and Daniel 9 is far from apt. Ezekiel is obviously working with symbols throughout Ezekiel 4, so for his numbers to symbolically represent exile in Egypt/Mesopotamia is understandable. However, the prophecy of the seventy sevens follows on a prophecy of seventy years that was fulfilled in “roughly seventy years.” We would expect then the seventy sevens to follow to be actual years rather than merely symbolic years unless there is some compelling reason to the contrary.
The only other reason that Hamilton gives for taking the 70 sevens as symbolic is that 490 amounts to a tenfold jubilee. This is interesting in light of the fact that Jeremiah’s 70 year prophecy dealt with giving the land its Sabbath rest. I’m not entirely convinced in light of the in fact that 9:24 provides readers with the purposes for the seventy sevens prophecy and does not raise mention the jubilee. In any event, granting the symbolism does not eliminate the possibility of literal years. Hamilton would likely grant two literal trees stood in the Garden of Eden from one of which Adam and Eve literally ate fruit. Yet at the same time these trees bore a profound symbolic significance.
I found Hamilton’s reasons for rejecting a literal 490 years view similarly dissatisfying. He writes: “Questions multiply for those who would take the 490 years literally, involving both the date from which to count (from 538, 458, or 445 BC?) and the event that marks completion (until the birth of Jesus, until his triumphal entry, until the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, or until his return?) And do we factor in a ‘parenthesis’ that is the church age, leaving a literal seventieth week, or do we switch from a literal understanding of the first sixty-nine weeks to a symbolic understanding of the seventieth? In addition to these would seem to be an additional question: How are Daniel’s 490 years to be harmonized with Ezekiel’s 430?” (126, n. 13) This is one of the few places where I thought Hamilton was actually unfair. Of course, historical questions multiply if a text is understood historically rather than merely symbolically. But this is true throughout the whole book. Questions multiply for those who believe Daniel to be a historical figure who wrote in the reigns of the kings mentioned in the book that don’t arise if he were merely a symbolical character created by an author in Maccabean times. Nonetheless, Hamilton rightly mounts a strong defense of the historicity of Daniel. The questions of terminus ad quo and terminus ad quem should not prejudice interpreters against a historical understanding of the 490 years. Similarly, if one understands the exodus as a historical event, “questions multiply”: several dates are possible and several attempts at harmonizing biblical and Egyptian chronology have been proposed. The fact that these multiple proposals exist doesn’t invalidate the historicity of the event.
There are several ways by which 69 sevens can be seen to extend from a decree of a Persian monarch related to rebuilding the city to the life of the Messiah prior to his crucifixion. The fact that these calculations can be made in a number of different ways (that is, from different starting points, using solar years or 360 day years, etc.) should not obscure the amazing fact these years at the very least roughly span the period of time from decrees to rebuild to the time of Christ. In fact the timing is so close that I find it odd, then, to dismiss a literal interpretation of these years. What is more, one does not have to be a dispensationalist to understand these years literally. Hamilton’s colleague Peter Gentry does so in Kingdom through Covenant. Gentry, contrary to a dispensational view, locates the seventieth week within the ministry of Christ. Hamilton, however, makes cogent arguments against Gentry that the seventieth is eschatological. Of course if the years are literal, and if the sixty-ninth year terminates sometime in Jesus’s ministry, and if the seventieth week is still future, the means that there is a lengthy gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth years. Personally, I don’t find that troublesome as there are numerous Old Testament prophecies that are fulfilled partially in the first come and partially in the second.
The lengthy critique of Hamilton’s position on Daniel 9 should not detract however from my recommendation of this book. Disagreements aside, I filled my notes on Daniel with many helpful observations from this book.