It’s been said that the Bible was written over a period of 2,000 years by 40 different authors from three continents, in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). And it was Augustine who said, “The Bible is shallow enough for a child not to drown, yet deep enough for an elephant to swim.” The Bible presents clearly the Gospel message for all to be saved (even children can understand it’s message), yet there are also those details that make the Bible equally difficult to understand. Those details may come in the form of oblique sacrifices in Leviticus, funky kings and countries in 1-2 Kings, or weird beasts and historically detailed prophecies in the book of Daniel.
The Bible doesn’t come with a “How-to-Read” manual. Abraham was born more than 4,000 years ago, and the New Testament was completed just less than 2,000 years ago. We shouldn’t expect to be able to understand everything on our own. You might recall that at the end of last year I reviewed the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. At a whopping 2,912 pages, it is focused on the Bible’s storyline.
Now Zondervan has come out with another quality study Bible, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (CBSB). Authored by John Walton (OT) and Craig Keener (NT), this study Bible’s one purpose is
to increase your understanding of the cultural nuances behind the text of God’s Word so that your study experience, and your knowledge of the realties behind the ideas in the text, is enriched and expanded (v).
Both Walton and Keener are masters in the cultures of the Old and New Testaments. There are 74 charts and 64 maps throughout the CBSB to help bridge the gulf that lies between the world of the Bible and the world of the modern reader. I’ve been asked to review the notes and layout of one book, so I chose Daniel (I’ve posted links to reviews of other Biblical books in the CBSB under the Lagniappe section).
The Introduction to Daniel spans a short two pages covering the historical and literary setting of Daniel. The date debate on Daniel is not solved here, and it is only briefly touched upon. Walton points out that Daniel is not named as the author, and he is uncertain of the date of writing given that “many narrative traditions were preserved orally, perhaps even for centuries before being committed to writing,” though “there is not reason to question the authenticity of the accounts in the book” (1414).
The first excursus touches on stories of courtiers (e.g., Daniel, Esther, and Joseph). These stories, played out in different ways, encourage their readers to reman faithful to God in foreign lands.
I have long wondered why, in Daniel 4, after Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in and told him that he was the felled tree, Nebuchadnezzar proceeds to walk out on his roof twelve months later and proclaims, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” Did he forget what Daniel said one year prior?
In Daniel 1.1, Walton notes how Nebuchadnezzar reigned for 43 years. Babylon, which had “suffered destruction” by Assyria, was “literally rebuilt” by Nebuchadnezzar. “In fact, most of the city of Babylon that has been uncovered by modern excavators was from Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. Thus, the Chaldean kingdom was primarily his creation, and it crumbled only a generation after his death” (1415). Nebuchadnezzar rebuilt the great Babylon, but he forgot who he was before Yahweh, the great true and sovereign King.
Walton notes in Daniel 4.4 that the phrase “I, Nebuchadnezzar” and what follows after parallels different Akkadian literature which “tells of a king’s act of pride (failing to heed the gods’ instructions given through omens) that leads to disaster and repentance. It was published for the benefit of others.” The end of Nebuchadnezzar’s tale (Dan. 4.34-37) both reminds and warns others that Yahweh reigns supreme. However, even with this warning, King Belshazzar didn’t listen (Dan. 5.18-23) and because of that, he paid a price. Despite having a huge party in belief that the gods would save them from the oncoming Persians, they didn’t.
Daniel 2.1, Nebuchadnezzar summoned his astrologers and miscellaneous men quickly because dreams with bad omens needed rituals to be performed to prevent the calamity. The quicker these rituals were performed, the better.
What is meant by “seventy ‘sevens’” in Daniel 9.24? After looking at the significance of a seven year (Sabbatical) cycle in Leviticus 25.3-4, Walton notes that “special attention is paid to the first Jubilee cycle (v. 25, “seven ‘sevens’”) and to the final sabbatical cycle (v. 27)” and suggests that these numbers carry a symbolic significance. Support can be seen in “several verbal and thematic links between Daniel’s prayer and Lev 26:27 – 45 . . . and the apparent understanding of Jeremiah’s 70 years in terms of sabbatical cycles in 2Ch 36:20 – 21.”
Walton notes the symbolic use of weeks and Jubilee cycles in intertestamental Jewish literature (e.g., 1 Enoch 91; 93; the Testament of Levi 16 – 18; and the Book of Jubilees). “There are also examples of the symbolic use of seven and multiples of seven (including time periods) in Babylonian and Ugaritic literature. These symbolic schemas are intended not as strict chronologies but as a way of expressing the significance of history” (1443).
- Contributors: John H. Walton; Craig S. Keener
- Hardcover: 2400 pages
- Publisher: Zondervan; Special edition (August 23, 2016)
- Understanding the Tower of Babel
- The Radical Parable of the Good Samaritan
- Why Didn’t the Disciples Try to Stop Judas?
Reviews of Bible Books in the CBSB
(Special thanks to Zondervan for sending me this study Bible to review!)