Discernment from Daniel
Bernie L. Calaway’s Discernment from Daniel is a religious investigation of a text notorious for its complexity and controversies within Biblical scholarship. Beginning with an introduction to Daniel and who he may and may not have been, Calaway contextualizes the character for a modern audience, allowing the reader to insert themself into the core story of a boy in exile before beginning the deeper study of Jewish legend and prophecy amidst pagan conquest and assimilation. Drawing on themes such as Daniel and his peers’ use of their kosher diets to establish and defend a unified Jewish culture and identity against their Babylonian norms, Calaway also does the work of tying Biblical history to wider themes that help the reader understand the purpose of the text’s broader message.
The Book of Daniel seems to have come from different sources from varying time periods, and there is a historical and what seems to be eternal debate as to whether the text is prophetic or apocalyptic, whether Daniel was an allegorical legend or an actual prophet. Rather than shy away from these controversies to form a solid consensus, Calaway takes on the arduous task of parsing each perspective and argument in order to present a thorough examination of legend. The question thus shifts from who wrote Daniel and when, to why they did so, and what it meant to those who share their faith. Calaway urges the reader to reflect on the role of apocalyptic and prophetic scholarship; if the reader gives too much of themself to cynicism and pontification over the who and the when, they risk losing out on “the mystery of the eternal.”
While Calaway’s dedication to meticulous and unbiased examination allows for broader insight into the text, at times the language of his arguments can seem convoluted and injudicious. There are moments in the book where he rationalizes disparities between the text and the time periods in which they were thought to be written, which provides little insight or explanation into why they were written or edited in such a way.
Despite these moments, Calaway’s examination in Discernment from Daniel is a useful and fascinating introduction to apocalyptic discourse for readers both well-versed in or brand new to Biblical scholarship. His vivid and emotional depiction of the Israelites’ exile and Babylon’s breathtaking cityscape allow the reader to fully immerse themself in the story while following his thoughtful study of the legends of Daniel—prophet, hero, and survivor.
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