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Thursday, May 7, 2020

"How to Read Daniel" (Tremper Longman III)

TITLE: How to Read Daniel (How To Read Series)
AUTHOR: Tremper Longman III
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020, (190 pages).

This is the sixth book of the "How to Read" commentary series. Bible books of the apocalyptic genre are generally more challenging for the layperson to read and to comprehend. There are visions, dreams, and multiple symbols that pose some level of difficulty when it comes to interpretation. What can we make of these ancient visions? What do they mean then and now? How can we understand the message of Daniel for today? These questions and more are covered in this volume. Part One deals with the literary structure of the book such as the genre, the structure, the language, history, background, and the main theological messages. In Part Two, readers could dive into the six stories and four visions; and the lessons Daniel had experienced from. In Part Three, we read Daniel to learn about applications for our modern context.

Some people avoid the apocalyptic books simply because they think it is too difficult to understand. They might have thought about studying it but shy away for lack of guidance and background information. Others study it but due to the lack of foundation about biblical theology, they might miss the forest for the trees. For both categories, this book can fill in the gaps. It is easy to read as far as the layperson is concerned. While not as technical as some other commentaries, this book can provide compelling guidance for scholars and seminarians. In other words, this book is not too difficult but do not let the simplicity of the language used deceive us. Some of the terminology and concepts used in the book are what biblical scholars would be most familiar with. "Apocalyptic" is one. "Chiasm" and the interpretation of numerology are others. These are however kept to a minimum.

The author leaves no chapter unturned. Through helpful citations and interesting observations throughout, readers will not find this book dull at all.

My Thoughts
First, I appreciate the clear and structured flow of the whole book. Beginning with the genre, language, and explanation of basic foundational structures, readers are quickly equipped and prepared for what is to come. Longman is pretty unassuming in this aspect and that should assure readers that they have a guide who pre-empts the questions of a layperson. The short discussion questions at the end of each chapter help not only to summarize the key themes of the chapter but allows readers to use the book for further discussion and interaction. Sometimes, when we read the Bible, we might need help in initiating a conversation. Longman provides that in every chapter.

Second, I can think of several ways different groups can use this book. For laypersons, they could read this book that gives fresh eyes to an ancient apocalyptic book. For Bible study leaders, they can take a challenging book like Daniel and apply the "How to Read" model in their Bible group study. While the questions are limited, leaders can easily supplement the book with other resources. For preachers, the whole book can be used as a preaching series as well! For pastors and teachers, this is a convenient primer to structure the discussion and the teaching curriculum. For seminarians, this book might even inspire them to come up with their own versions on how to read Daniel!

Third, there are more strengths than weaknesses in this book. The strengths lie in its readability, clarity, and ease of understanding. Longman does a great job in parts one and two. There, the author draws on his strength as a biblical scholar, to put into simple language the complex array of images and symbolism. It is thus not surprising that the bulk of the book is in the description of the background and historical contexts. If there is any weakness, I can only point out in terms of a relative weakness. Compared with Parts One and Two, which are the stronghold of Longman's area of expertise, the applications are limited and somewhat weak. Perhaps this is intentionally so, given Longman's reticence in being too "clear" about the insights of Daniel. For example, we cannot be too clear about when events will happen. Hope is precisely that. It is clear enough about the future but vague enough with regard to when it will happen. In the same way, Longman can be clear about the historical background, but is somewhat restraint about the exactness of applications. He critiques books like certain reputable scholars that tried to link specific events with specific end-times. Maybe that is the reason why he maintains a stance of vagueness in Part Three. I would caution readers about jumping straight to Part Three in the reading of this book because the real deal is in Parts One and Two.

Overall, I think it is a book that is clear enough for the layperson but sufficiently meaty enough for seminarians and teachers wanting to start a basic course on understanding the book of Daniel. I warmly recommend this book for all pastors, teachers, students, and especially laypersons who want to study Daniel but don't know how. This book will serve as helpful guide.

Tremper Longman III (PhD, Yale University) is Distinguished Scholar of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He is also visiting professor of Old Testament at Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and adjunct of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. He lectures regularly at Regent College in Vancouver and the Canadian Theological Seminary in Calgary.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of InterVarsity Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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