Book Review: Daniel 11 Decoded by Jacques Doukhan

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Book Review: Daniel 11 Decoded by Jacques Doukhan

Daniel 11 Decoded is Doukhan’s most recent book on Daniel and, as the title suggests, is an exegetical, historical, and theological analysis of chapter 11. The first five chapters shape the framework of the study in relation to the book of Daniel, relevant major biblical themes, and the contemporary context of interpretation. Thus, in chapter 1 Doukhan highlights the key issues in this chapter arising from the three main schools of interpretation. The presupposition of the preterist approach that this passage is not prophetic but merely an account of past events written as prophecy evidently undermines the trustworthiness of the text. This school interprets Daniel 11 to be about the war between the Seleucids and Ptolemies and Antiochus Epiphanes as the main evil power.

 

The futurist approach applies the same historical figures as the preterists to parts of the passage but holds that other parts refer to end times. The historicist approach follows the indications of the author that the text should be read as depicting events of history extending from the time of the prophet until the end times.

 

A fourth approach, which Doukhan describes as “Islamist,” interprets the text as covering future events but assigns correspondence between Islam and some verses. One of the issues with understanding this passage, notes the author, is the lack of clear or consistent methodology, with interpreters switching unsystematically between literal interpretations and spiritual applications.

 

Aiming to uncover as much of its meaning as possible, Doukhan immerses himself into the Bible, seeking to elucidate Scripture with Scripture. As such, he examines, for example:

  • The literary connections between Daniel 9, 10, and 11, concluding that since chapters 9 and 10 cover the wars between Medo-Persia and Greece as well as the subsequent conflicts with Rome, this sequence is implied in chapter 11.
  • The parallel features connecting Daniel 8 and 11, the only passages in Daniel that depict historical events in terms of war, which implies that Daniel 8 holds some keys for interpreting chapter 11.
  • The breaking of pattern in Daniel 8, where the words describing Medo-Persia and Greece are not symbolic creatures, but a ram and a goat, actual animals with strong linguistic connections to temple rituals. This suggests that Daniel 8 is not about identifying the kingdoms, but about Jesus’ ministry as High Priest and the cleansing of the Sanctuary.
  • The horizontal and vertical expansion of the little horn in chapters 7 and 8, indicating not only earthly conquests but an attempt to usurp God, finds an echo in chapter 11, suggesting that the same power is present and at work in the historic events symbolically described in 11. Similarly, the connections between the little horn and the King of the North point to the overlap of these powers.
  • The North-South symbolism, where exegetical evidence and Ancient Near Eastern history and literature suggest that the North represents religious powers, while the South represents human-reliant power.
  • The literary structure of Daniel 11 points to

 

[two] complementary literary structures: the linear-chronological structure and the chiastic-covenant structure. …While the linear-chronological structure focuses on the historical progression of the predicted events, the chiastic-covenant structure focuses on their theological significance as it relates to the course of persecuting power.” (p. 70-71)

 

  • The primary lesson of these literary features is that Daniel 11 “refers to historical events that have spiritual significance.” (p. 71)

 

After these introductory analyses of the main issues in interpretation and the context for biblical interpretation, a verse by verse commentary is offered that includes an exegetical study of each verse, followed by citations of supporting historical texts and a discussion of interpretations.

 

The second to last chapter offers a “Theology of Daniel 11” centered on three main themes:

 

  1. Daniel’s theology of history, according to which “God exercise[s] control over history,” (p. 251)
  2. The Great Controversy, which implies that

because God controls history, He is involved in the same spiritual warfare in which God’s people are engaged as they fight the good fight of faith and resist under persecution (p. 251)

  1. God’s censuring of the evil power represented by the King of the North and the little horn.

 

One key implication of these themes is the fact that God possesses “full foreknowledge of the course of events” (p. 252), which challenges interpretations more reliant on rationalistic presuppositions. Most importantly, the chiastic structure highlights Jesus’s salvific ministry, thus giving a definite Christocentric character to Daniel’s prophecies.

“Excursus on Daniel 11 and Islam” is Doukhan’s concluding chapter, where he writes against the temptation to read current events into Daniel 11. In support of this recommendation, the author offers biblical, hermeneutical, methodological, geopolitical, logical, and ethical arguments. Thus, for example, Daniel 11’s references to other prophecies in the book which have no connection to Islam suggests that neither does chapter 11.

 

Along the same lines, writes Doukhan, historical records show that the first suggestions that connected Islam with the book of Daniel belong to Jewish interpreters who lived in Muslim territories and suffered under their rule and to Christians who were influenced by contemporary events. Interpretations that make such connections based on the Bible text alone do not exist, asserts the author. Hermeneutically, correct interpretation requires coherence with the major themes of the canon, particularly the covenant between God and His people. This requires us to move from the literal and particular to the spiritual and universal, given that the covenant no longer applies to literal Israel but to spiritual Israel.

 

Proper methodology, indicates the author, also necessitates internal consistency where the interpreter does not arbitrarily move back and forth between literal interpretation/connection to historical events and spiritual applications. From a geopolitical standpoint, Doukhan emphasizes the fact that new violent groups such as ISIS do not represent a conflict between Islam and Christianity as the faction is not endorsed by the majority of the Muslim population. While ISIS does consistently targets Christians, it is also in conflict with other Muslim groups.

 

The logical argument builds on what the author perceives as an illogical scenario where the papacy and Islam unite “in a worldwide spiritual struggle” (p. 270) and eventually take control of literal Israel. This scenario also involves the unfitting “mingling of the literal and spiritual applications” (p. 270) noted above. The ethical argument builds from history, which shows that Muslims, Christians, and Jews all have engaged in violence and persecutions against each other or with others of similar religious leanings.

 

Daniel 11 is quite possibly the most difficult and controversial passage in the Bible. Therefore, any treatment of it will not be light reading. While Doukhan does a good job at introducing key issues that help the reader situate the content of this book in relation to the biblical canon, the book of Daniel and the contemporary context, those with the patience for detail and some basic knowledge of the prophecies in Daniel will benefit most from this book.

 

The volume should certainly be considered by those engaged in pastoral ministry as a tool to alleviate anxieties and potential unwarranted biases of church membership and to recap the need for consistency in interpretive efforts. I imagine that readers with special interest in prophecy will find this work important and helpful. Seen that the Adventist church has emphasized prophecy since its beginnings, I believe that Adventist leaders need to stay informed about the latest research on these topics, including Doukhan’s well-researched book on Daniel 11.

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Adelina Alexe is a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. She loves God and enjoys nature, arts, and meaningful conversation. Her special research interests are narrative theology and hermeneutics.