26 October 2015

Miscellaneous Musing #74

In Daniel 2:31-45, the prophet who gave his name to the book tells New-Babylonian King Nebuchadrezzar (this is the correct transliteration of Nebuchadnezzar):
You saw, O king, and behold, a great image.  This image, mighty and of exceeding brightness, stood before you, and its appearance was frightening.  The head of this image was of fine gold, its breast and arms of silver, its belly and thigh of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.  As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it smote the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces; then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found.  But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
This was the dream; now we will tell the king its interpretation.  You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the sons of men, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the air, making you rule over them all—you are the head of gold.  After you shall arise another kingdom inferior to you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth.  And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things; and like iron which crushes, it shall break and crush all these.  And as you saw the feet and toes partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom; but some of the firmness of iron shall be in it, just as you saw iron mixed with the miry clay.  And as the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle.  As you saw the iron mixed with miry clay, so they will mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not hold with clay.  And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people.  It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever; just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold.  A great God has made known to the king what shall be hereafter.  The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.
The significance of the passage for this posting, and for all mankind, concerns the “fourth kingdom”.  This can be identified only with the Roman Empire. (After making this exposition, I learned that the author of 2 Esdras evidently came to the same conclusion.  According to Scripture scholar Robert Dentan, on p. 43 of The Apocrypha, Bridge of the Testaments: “Chapters 11-12 contain a vision of … an eagle rising from the sea to dominate the whole world.  This is plainly a picture of the Roman Empire, which our book identifies with the last of the four beasts mentioned in Daniel 7 (II Esd. 11:39 and 12:11).”) It fits the chronology, because it followed the Neo-Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenistic powers in establishing supremacy in the world known to the author of Daniel; it was often divided between East and West, the former being easily the stronger and wealthier of the two (as demonstrated by the fact that the Eastern Roman or "Byzantine" Empire survived the Western portion by nearly a millennium), and it was during the last period of unified rule (AD 324-395) that Christianity (then still a minority faith, like the stone that, as Nebuchadrezzar dreamt, grew into a mountain) became the official religion. (Note that, again in the words of Dentan, the Book of Daniel "can be dated with certainty in the year 165 B.C."; skeptics, therefore, cannot object that this was a retroactive pseudo-prediction.) Christendom is the "kingdom which shall never be destroyed."