A Song in the Furnace

I have been reading the Book of Daniel for many years since my conversion to Christ in 1970, which also means (a bit unfortunately) that I have been reading commentaries on the Book of Daniel for almost as long. The commentaries came in two contrasting flavours: liberal and conservative. The liberal commentaries delighted with a kind of perverse glee to point out all the historical problems and improbabilities found in the text, making the Book of Daniel a kind of Exhibit One in their case against the reliability of the Bible. Predictably then the conservative commentators rushed to write their counter-commentaries like soldiers rushing to the barricades or the frontlines, to defend the Book of Daniel from the liberal onslaught. In all the ensuing shouting and noise of battle, the voice of the Book of Daniel itself was lost amid all the scholarly and academic pandemonium.

As a good Evangelical, of course I stood on the conservative side. Our side produced volumes like E.J. Young’s old 1949 commentary, written with such passion and heat that one could almost see the sweat pouring down, and later, in 1979, the wonderfully-named Daniel in the Critics’ Den by Josh McDowell—less sweat, but just as much defensiveness. After a while the Book of Daniel felt not so much like a story with twelve chapters to read as a thesis to defend (in his historical chapters) or a puzzle to solve (in its prophetical ones).

As I kept reading throughout the years, I came to hear another voice, like a child’s song heard in snatches against the voice of jackhammers in the street. It was the voice of the Book’s author itself. I began to catch some of the humour found in the Book, almost in spite of myself. Then, once I found it one place, I began to see it in more places. Scholars still intent on the frontline fight of course had the noise of battle in their ears, and the sight of enemy guns in their eyes and so, not surprisingly, they couldn’t hear or see anything humorous in the Book of Daniel. But I thought I could. Like light coming through the crack of a door, I thought I began to see things that I hadn’t before. My view of the Book of Daniel began to change. I thought perhaps the best thing to do would be to leave the frontline, take off my flak jacket, and open myself up in complete vulnerability to whatever the author of the Book of Daniel was trying to tell me. I am glad that I did.

The result is A Song in the Furnace, my new commentary on the Book of Daniel, now available from Ancient Faith Publishing. I believe it does justice to the patristic readings of the Book’s Christology, and can take its place on a scholar’s bookshelf without being too ashamed to be in such august company. But more importantly, I think I have finally heard what the author of the Book of Daniel was trying to say. It is certainly worth hearing. I hope you will buy my book and give it a read.


  1. Father Lawrence,
    Delighted to see this!
    For the very same reason I read your commentary on Revelation, I am looking forward to reading your commentary on Daniel.
    Thank you! The book is on it’s way!

  2. Daniel and the origins of apocalyptic literature was the topic of my undergrad senior project, and I remember well that tug-o-war between the commentaries that hurried to dismiss everything historical about it, and the commentaries that worked overtime to defend every last detail. In the first version of my submitted paper I came down on the side of the defenders, and the review committee gently told me that “that conclusion is not warranted by everything that comes before it.” After a re-write of the last section, I ended up trying to be in both camps a little — agreeing that much evidence supported a later date for the book’s composition, but suggesting that this does not automatically mean everything written is historical fiction. That was 30-some years ago, so the details are a little foggy at this point. I look forward to revisiting the book with your commentary along side. 🙂

    1. Like yours, my own stout defense of the classic conservative stance died a little at a time, until it occurred to me that it was time to throw in the defensive towel. That encouraged me to withdraw from the battlefield entirely and try to open myself up to the Book with a new vulnerability. Now I wonder how I could have missed so much for so long. The question, I think, is one of genre: in reading Daniel are we reading something like 1-2 Samuel or something like Judith? Anyway, I hope you like the book. Thank you for your comments.

  3. Hi, Fr, Farley. Are you familiar with the mainstream orthodox jewish understanding of Daniel? If so, what is your take on it?

  4. Fr Lawrence,

    Have you found John Goldingay at all helpful? I know I did when I went down your same rabbit trail. He doesn’t take the conservative line for the date but does not dismiss the last chapters as simply failed prediction either. I noticed this is what John J. Collins tends to do.

    I’m not saying Goldingay got everything right and is reading Daniel with the spirit of the Fathers, but I nevertheless found him helpful. There was another commentary…red book I think…in a series edited by Gordon Wenham that took a similar approach as well. Can’t remember the author though.


    1. I did find him helpful, though I am happy to hear other more traditional voices as well. Kirkpatrick’s commentary–so old as to be venerable–I find particularly good.

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