Thursday, October 30, 2008

Intertextuality Review Continues: "Looking Back"

An intertextual view of the Scriptures puts more emphasis on later writers looking back and appropriating earlier writers, than early writers looking forward and 'prophesying' what later writers would say. Here is my attempt to graph this out for you, comparing a homotextual "Left Behind Theology" understanding of Daniel and Jesus' words in Mark, Matthew, and Luke to an intertextual understanding of the same.

Just to set the tone for you:
Daniel is a young Hebrew, who is taken into captivity as part of the exile when the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzer overthrew Jerusalem in the 6th century BCE. Daniel has some compadres named Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who were also taken into exile. They were recognized immediately as possessing uncommon wisdom and put into service in the king's palace, where they resisted eating foods that were in violation of their Hebrew faith. Daniel, particularly, distinguished himself with the ability to interpret dreams. (In some ways, this makes Daniel like a new 'Joseph,' who also was a slave in the service of the Empire's Pharoah who resisted temptation and was able to interpret dreams.) In Bablylon, the palace master gave the exiled Hebrews new Babylonian names: Daniel became Belteshazzar, Hananiah became Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach, and Azariah became Abednego. (A curious thing is that Daniel is almost always called by his Hebrew name in the stories, while Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are called mostly by their Babylonian names. I don't know why, but their most memorable names were given by the makers of Veggie Tales, who dubbed them 'Rack, Shack, and Bennie.')

Most biblical scholars date the book of Daniel as the latest book in the Hebrew Bible, from the 2nd century BCE. Many Jewish Bibles actually place it as their last book, whereas Christian Bibles place it in between the Major prophets and Minor prophets. Therefore, most biblical scholars make a distinction between the the person Daniel and the Daniel of the book. That is an especially important distinction in the latter chapters, when Daniel's voice appears in 1st person language ("I saw...") It is important to remember that someone is attributing words from the 2nd century BCE to Daniel who lived 400 years earlier. I signify this difference as the 'historical Daniel' and the 'literary Daniel.'

The dating of the book of Daniel is significant, because it was during the 2nd century BCE that another empire overtook Jerusalem, desecrated the temple, enslaved many of the best and brightest, forced the Jews to eat foods that were in violation of their faith, and tried to enforce pagan religion on them. It was horrendous, but during this time someone or a group or a community produced this book of Daniel, about a hero who was probably well-remembered in oral stories, and whose integrity and faith were exemplary for Jews under fire.

So, here are two scenarios for reading Daniel.

Left Behind Theology says: The historical Daniel predicted in the 6th century BCE that Antiochus Epiphanes would arise 400 years later and desecrate the temple. At the same time, he also predicted that 200 years later Jesus would come and that Jesus would come again one day after that. The image is that Daniel sees ahead, sees aheader, and sees aheadest from the 6th century BCE. In explicit homotexual fashion, the working definition of prophecy here is strictly predictive prophecy, and Jesus would prophesy the same thing in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Daniel (6BCE) >>>>>Temple destroyed (2BCE) >>>>>>Jesus (CE)>>>>>>2nd Coming (?BCE)

Intertextuality views this differently: The historical Daniel is remembered by a person, group, or community during the awful events of the 2nd century BCE. The book of Daniel recalls both Daniel's heroic faith and attributes to Daniel visions that encourage the people of the 2nd century BCE to trust in God's steadfast love and to remain faithful during their own perilous time. The book of Daniel also represents some new developments that were arising in the 2nd century BCE. Noteworthy among those developments was the rise of the belief in the afterlife, as the place where virtue would be rewarded and vice punished, since it was increasingly clear that those rewards and punishments were not guaranteed to occur during one's lifetime. There was also a rising expectation of a final scenario when good would ultimately conquer evil, which was often cast in terms of military and cosmic imagery. (That kind of symbolic and hyperbolic language is more familiar to people of the east than the west, where literalism is assumed. For example, when Saddam Hussein forecast the "mother of all battles" against the US, it provided plenty of rhetorical fodder for late-night comedians, but most analysts understood immediately that it was a desperate attempt to rally other nations to Iraq's aid and that Saddam's army- even his vaunted Republican Guard- was not able to compete with the US Army. The point was not that Saddam was literally predicting victory. He was trying to gain support and establish resolve.) Through the symbolic language, the community was urging faith in God, even during trying times.

An intertextual reading of these words does not work in a linear fashion, but more of a circular one- better yet, a spiral one. I can't figure out how to make that appear graphically, but here are the important parts:

-The faithful community in trying time of 2BCE looks back at Daniel's faithfulness in trying times of 6BCE, who was reminiscent of Joseph during trying times under Pharaoh (from 'a long time ago'BCE).
-Mark, in trying times of 66-70CE looks back at the book of Daniel and appropriates much of that language as how Jesus calls us to be faithful when the temple is destroyed (again)
-Matthew, several years after the temple's destruction, recasts Jesus' words in terms of living with constant awareness of Christ's presence among us through the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned, etc. (See last week's blogs; Matthew's scenario ends with the parable of the sheep and goats in 25:31-46.)
-Luke, also several years after the temple's destruction, recasts that destruction and Jesus' words in terms of his understanding of the 'times of the Gentiles' that must be fulfilled (chapter 21). The book of Acts makes it unclear whether the times of the Gentiles is made known through Romes destructive acts or through the 'gentilization' of the church.

In intertextuality, the focus is not that Daniel, way back when, saw clearly into the future. It is, rather, that the book of Daniel spoke truth to power, as did Jesus, as did Mark, as did Matthew, as did Luke, each with great respect for the language and imagery of their predecessors, but also each faithfully interpreting that language and imagery for their own situation. So, there is repetition, but that repetition is not rote; it is not the same thing being said over again; it is a faithful reinterpretation for one's own time. That is how 'prophecy' works when we serve a God who is not confined to the past, but who is faithful to every generation. Prophecy speaks truth to power, relying on the wisdom of the past in order to be faithful in the present.

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