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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 63, 2015

CAROL A. NEWSOM with BRENDEN W. BREED, Daniel A Commentary (The Old Testament Library; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014). Pp. liv + 416. Hardback. US$50.00.

Daniel A Commentary is the successor to Norman Porteous’s Daniel: A Commentary in the Old Testament Library Series (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965). The aim of the original series was that it be understandable to non-theologians and so extended discussion of individual difficulties, particularly those of a philological and archaeological nature, was not encouraged. The result was immensely readable commentaries but ones that the specialist needed to supplement with those that delved more deeply into technical matters. This holds true to some extent in the case of Newsom’s commentary which is very readable but does not make redundant, for example, the one by J. A. Mongomery (The Book of Daniel, ICC; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1927) with its emphasis on philological and linguistic matters or the one by J. J. Collins (Daniel, Hermeneia Series; Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1993) with its extensive discussions of all dimensions of the problematic aspects of the work. However, Carol Newsom's Daniel: A Commentary is not entirely deficient in such matters for she gives short reviews of problematic aspects, including the views of some scholars whose work post-dates Collins’ Daniel, as well as providing some relevant archaeological data.

In the Introduction, Newsom provides a brief overview of the following: The Masoretic Book of Daniel in Literary Context; Texts and Versions including the DSS fragments and the two Greek versions (OG and Th), the difficulties presented by the OG to the Masoretic Text and their implications for the development of the Book of Daniel; the literary genres within Daniel (court tales and apocalyptic dream visions) and whether the court tales should be viewed as Accommodationist (the older scholarly consensus) or as Resistance Literature; the social location of the authors of Daniel and the Historical context of Daniel 1–12. In addition, there is a section by Brennan Breed, the auxiliary author, on the History of Daniel’s reception.

In the main body of the work, Newsom translates and comments on the twelve chapters of Daniel that appear in the Masoretic Text. In each case she provides an overview of the chapter or group of chapters, prior to discussing individual verses within their pericopes. There is much of value in these discussions where links are made between particular verses and those elsewhere in Daniel, other Biblical works, the DSS, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. Literature from outside the Jewish world is also referred to where it provides illumination of a passage in Daniel. No new viewpoint is given though in the case of the most difficult passages/verses/phrases in Daniel; rather, a digest of some previous scholarly views is provided and comments are made about them. The witness of the OG, although mentioned, is rarely used as an interpretive tool. This is perhaps inevitable, given the widely divergent scholarly opinions about it. Providing a commentary on all twelve chapters in the Masoretic Text of the Book of Daniel is no mean task, given the complexities of the ancient work and Carol Newsom has certainly fulfilled the aim of producing a guide to Daniel for scholars, students and the intelligent non-specialist. To this end, transliteration rather than Hebrew/Aramaic or Greek alphabets feature when a word or phrase is commented upon.

A worthwhile contribution to Daniel: A Commentary is provided by Brennan Breed whom Newsom invited to give a review of the reception of Daniel. This he does in a very able and interesting way, commenting on key aspects after Newsom’s discussion of each chapter of the Book of Daniel. In his part of the Introduction (28–32) Breed reminds the reader that Daniel was composed, edited and updated from the Persian period onwards up to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes; thus glimpses of various viewpoints are apparent in the finished work (29). Accordingly, we should not expect its later interpreters to have only one understanding of what Daniel meant. He declares though that his emphasis is not on what Daniel meant but on “what the Book of Daniel can do” (32). In other words, he shows how passages in Daniel were understood and/or aligned with particular viewpoints or needs in later times. For example, Daniel’s refusal of the King’s food and wine in Daniel 1 have been proclaimed in later times to be measures of resistance; the path to greater spirituality or even an aid to weight loss! Breed’s synopsis of the Reception History of Daniel, while not exhaustive, certainly demonstrates the importance and influence of the Book of Daniel in the civilisations where the three great monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have flourished.

Review by
Anne Gardner