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Book Review – With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology (Jim Hamilton)

James M. Hamilton Jr. With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014. 272 pp. $25.00.

DanielHaving published both an introductory biblical theology (What is Biblical Theology?) as well as a full-scale whole-bible biblical theology (God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment), it’s not much of a surprise to see a volume from Dr. Jim Hamilton in IVP Academic’s excellent New Studies in Biblical Theology series. In With the Clouds of Heaven, Dr. Hamilton provides an evangelical and canonical biblical theology of the book of Daniel that seeks “to understand and explain Daniel’s interpretive perspective…to understand both how Daniel has engaged earlier Scripture to present his message and how later Scripture engaged Daniel to exposit what he wrote” (27).

This volume begins in Chapter 1 with preliminaries. Here Hamilton defines biblical theology as “the attempt to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors” (21), explores the issue of how we access the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors (a literary and intertextual exercise that assumes that later biblical authors correctly interpreted earlier ones), looks at the relationship between this definition of biblical theology and authorial intent and the implications on salvation historical and thematic studies, and briefly considers the difference between this approach to biblical theology and others. Because this approach to biblical theology is based on certain assumptions about the canon of Scripture, the rest of chapter 1 provides an overview of the canonical framework with which Hamilton works. The heart of this section is a defense of the traditional early date of Daniel. Here Hamilton provides a sketch of the historical evidence as well as theological reasons for an early date. I found the latter particularly gripping because of how common it has been for evangelicals to capitulate to later dates, often thinking it an insignificant/secondary matter. Hamilton convincingly demonstrates that the issue has massive theological and ethical implications:

The author of Daniel encouraged people to be faithful to Yahweh even unto death (e.g. Dan. 11:32-35). The book of Daniel inspires faithfulness to Yahweh because it teaches that God and his kingdom matter more than the preservation of one’s own life. Undergirding this is the fact that Yahweh can deliver people from death (Dan. 3, 6) and predict the future (Dan. 11), including the future resurrection and reward of the faithful. If some Maccabean-era author is making fraudulent claims, if these are fictional deliverances and not future predictions but recitals of what has already happened presented as though being predicted by Daniel, then there is no real proof that Yahweh can either deliver from death or predict the future. This means that there is no proof that he is any better than the false gods who can neither reveal the future nor deliver their worshippers, which is exactly what the book of Daniel claims Yahweh can do, especially by means of the revelations in Daniel 2 and 7-12 and the deliverances in Daniel 3 and 6. (Hamilton 32)

Furthermore,

A late date for Daniel requires some later author setting out to deceive his audience, creating in them the impression that things he knew had already taken place were actually being predicted. His purpose in creating this impression was to give himself the moral standing with his audience necessary for him to call them to suffer and die for the cause he advocated – when he knew all along that his claims were false. (Hamilton 37)

Having laid the foundations of the particular approach to biblical theology as well as evangelical canonical framework, Chapter 2 “sets out what the book of Daniel reveals against the wider storyline of canonical biblical theology” (41) by sketching out salvation history from creation to consummation, highlighting the way the Torah points forward to Israel’s exile, the way these prophecies are fulfilled in the Prophets and Writings, and the way that the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in Daniel. Chapter 3 looks at the literary structure of Daniel at three levels: the discrete units (which roughly correspond to the chapters of English translations, except that Daniel 10-12 is one unit), the structural relationships between the discrete units (as seen in repeated words, phrases, and concepts), and the book as a whole. In regards to structuring the book as a whole, Hamilton surveys several prominent structures (e.g. Steinmann, Gentry, etc.) before presenting his own proposal – the whole book as one chiasm. From the chiastic structure proposed by Hamilton, the message of Daniel is summarized as follows:

Daniel encourages the faithful by showing them that though Israel was exiled from the land of promise, they will be restored to the realm of life at the resurrection of the dead, when the four kingdoms are followed by the kingdom of God, so the people of God can trust him and persevere through persecution until God humbles proud kings, gives everlasting dominion to the son of man, and the saints reign with him. (Hamilton 83)

Next, Chapter 4 examines the four-kingdom sequence in Daniel 2, 7, 8 and 10 – 12, which establishes the framework for the seventy weeks of Daniel 9, the subject of Chapter 5. Chapter 6 focuses on the heavenly beings in the book of Daniel and argues that none of them can be confidently identified with the “one like a son of man.” This chapter definitely shatters some “pop theology”, such as the identification of the angelic figure in the fiery furnace with the preincarnate Christ. The subsequent three chapters deal with how later authors interpreted the book of Daniel: early Jewish literature (specifically Tobit, the Qumran scrolls, 1 Maccabees, 4 Ezra, and 1 Enoch) in chapter 7,  the NT except Revelation in chapter 8, and Revelation in chapter 9. In Chapter 9 Hamilton proposes that the Apocalypse also has a chiastic structure, and that from independent studies of it and Daniel, the two can be seen to have corresponding centers and emanating concentric rings. The concluding chapter illuminates what Daniel contributes to biblical theology by looking at the typological correspondences between Joseph and Daniel and how these can be applied to other figures and ultimate fulfillment in Christ.

With the Clouds of Heaven is one of the best volumes I’ve read in the NSBT series. Because the series is not primarily written for an academic audience, Hamilton’s preliminary chapter is particularly helpful to the target audience of the book and series as it provides a prolegomena for biblical theology. The other volumes I’ve read dove right in to the subjects of the specific volumes, leaving the uninitiated perhaps without a clear picture of what biblical theology is and what approach to biblical theology the particular author is taking. Because of this, for those who have never read any of the volumes in this series or who have never read a biblical theology, I highly recommend With the Clouds of Heaven as their initiation into biblical theology.

Beyond the value of the prolegomena that Hamilton provides for biblical theology, this volume stands pretty uniquely as an evangelical biblical-theological treatment of the book of Daniel based on traditional early dating. With the Clouds of Heaven would therefore be an important and enjoyable read for any with interest in biblical theology and/or the book of Daniel. Not only does the book provide much stimulating (and perhaps sometimes surprising) insight into Daniel, the study also provides a model for how to study other parts of Scripture seeking the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. For the typical Christian, then, this book can help one be a better reader and interpreter of the Bible; for the student/academic, it can provide stimulation for engaging in this kind of work with other biblical texts. No doubt readers will not agree with all the details, especially if one embraces a different perspective on eschatology; regardless, though, this is an enjoyable read from which much can be gleaned, both in terms of little details and big picture.

[I have chosen to focus more on the introductory chapter because of both it’s importance and the fact that I haven’t seen other reviews highlight it. Because other reviews have summarized the book in detail, I thought it unnecessary to do so. See Phil Long’s review for an excellent, detailed summary of the whole book and Linsday Kennedy’s for some excellent critical points.]

Many thanks to IVP Academic for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review!

Purchase: WestminsterAmazon

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4 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging and commented:
    An excellent and very helpful review, thanks Jennifer!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. Thank you for linking to my review, Jennifer!

    Like

    Reply
  3. Thanks for this review! I’ve been enjoying more of Jim Hamilton’s work!

    Like

    Reply

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