Book Review: Tremper Longman III, How to Read Daniel

Longman III, Tremper. How to Read Daniel. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 189 pp. Pb; $20.  Link to IVP Academic

Tremper Longman has previous published five volumes in the How to Read series (on Psalms, Proverbs, Genesis, Exodus, and Job [with John Walton]). In this series, Longman intentionally targets the lay person, pastor and seminarian rather than an academic audience. Like the previous volumes in this series, Longman provides a clear introduction to this fascinating but sometimes frustrating prophetic book.

Longman, How to Read DanielIn the first part Longman deals with some introductory issues in three chapters. In the first chapter he deals with the genre, language and structure of the book of Daniel. Daniel is composed of a series of “court tales” (Dan 1-6) and apocalyptic visions (Dan 7-12). Longman uses the genre to divide the book into two units, although he does consider using the use of Aramaic in chapters 2-7 and the clear chiastic pattern as a way to structure the book.

Second, he sets the book of Daniel into the historical context of the Babylonian exile. He briefly treats a historical problem for the historicity of Daniel, the identity of Darius the Mede. Not surprisingly Longman accepts an early date for the book. Since the prophecy in Daniel 11 is so detailed many scholars consider it an example of prophecy after the fact, a common feature in apocalyptic literature. Since Longman believes God often predicts the future, he sees no reason to bracket out his faith when he interprets Daniel 11. If the prophecy is after the fact, then “these texts traffic in deception” (p. 33).

Third, Longman sketches a brief theology of the book by tracing the primary theme of God’s control of the events of history (which guarantee his ultimate victory). This is true despite present difficulties, as illustrated in the court tales. This theme of God’s sovereign control of the events of history should be comforting to those enduring oppression. A secondary theme in Daniel is that God’s people can survive and thrive in a toxic culture. While the theme is found throughout the book, Longman illustrates this theme with the testimony of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when Nebuchadnezzar demands they demonstrate their loyalty to him or die in the fiery furnace. These two themes are developed further in the final two chapters of the book.

The second part of the book devotes a chapter to each of Daniel’s chapters with the exception of last vision (Daniel 10:1-12:4) and 12:5-13 (the conclusion to the book). This is a light commentary on major sections of the English text. Longman offers insight into key details when necessary, but this is an introduction not an exposition of the text. For controversial issues, Longman usually does not take a side. For the empires represented by the four metals, he says “it does not really matter which kingdoms are represented by these metals” (69). When he summarized the vision of four beats in Daniel 7, he does not consider the possibility the arrogant little horn represents Antiochus IV Epiphanes (although the contemptible person in 11:21-35 is Antiochus).

The final part of the book concerns the application of Daniel for the twenty-first century Christian. These final two chapters are more detailed expansions of the two themes he introduced in chapter 3. First, Longman returns to Daniel 1-6 and makes several suggestions for living in a toxic culture. Daniel and his friends engage with culture and provide a model for navigating how Christians can engage contemporary culture. Second, the visions of Daniel 7-12 offer comfort in God’s ultimate victory. Longman says Daniel 7-12 gives readers “the long view to help them live with confidence in a troubled world” (166). Here Longman refers to Jesus’s own apocalyptic discourse which cites the book of Daniel. This chapter also relates the book of Daniel to Revelation. Daniel certainly looks forward to God’s intervention in history to rescue his people, but Longman is clear: Daniel’s visions do “not have an interest in giving us information that will allow us to predict when that great even will happen” (140). Although he briefly mentions Hal Lindsey and Harold Camping (along with the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary) as using Daniel and Revelation to predict the return of Christ (or interpret current events), he refrains from bashing them unfairly and he does not relate these attempts to dispensationalism. He concludes, “perhaps the saddest consequence of the obsession with Daniel as a tool to reconstruct an apocalyptic timetable is that we often miss the important message the book has for us today in the twenty-first century” (142).

Each chapter concludes with several discussion questions which could be used in the context of a small group Bible study or classroom. An annotated commentary list appears as an appendix including Goldingay (WBC), House (TOTC), Longman (NIVAC), Lucas (AOTC), Miller (NAC), Widder (SOG), and E. J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel (Banner of Truth, 1949). Occasional endnotes point interested readers to other literature.

Conclusion. Like Longman’s other How to Read books, How to Read Daniel succeeds in introducing the reader to the book by providing the background necessary to better understand Daniel. Longman’s careful explanations and judicious application of the text to contemporary issues will appeal to lay Christians who want to dig deeper into Daniel.

NB: There is a minor typographical error on page 24, Nebuchadnezzar’s reigns until 662 BC; this ought to be 562 (it is correct in the next paragraph). On page 128, Antiochus Epiphanes IV ought to read Antiochus IV Epiphanes (it is correct elsewhere in the text).

Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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