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Chaim Shvilly’s Confession for Bible Critics

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Chaim Shvilly’s Confession for Bible Critics

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Chaim Shvilly’s Confession for Bible Critics

Dismayed by claims of modern scholars that the Book of Daniel’s historical survey of the Seleucid era was written post-facto by a Hellenistic author, Chaim Shvilly (1907–1974) composed a ritual confession that Bible critics would be required to say at Daniel’s grave.

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Chaim Shvilly’s Confession for Bible Critics

“Confession for Bible Scholars” in Chaim Shvilly’s book Chazon HaChaim on the Book of Daniel.

When Was the Book of Daniel Written?

The book of Daniel is comprised of two parts: Chapters 1–6 constitute a loosely connected narrative about a young Judean named Daniel, and his three friends, Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who are taken into exile by the conquering Babylonians and become palace officials in the court of successive kings from the Neo-Babylonian, Median, and Persian Empires. Chapters 7–12 contain a series of apocalyptic visions about the end of the world and the future of Judea, which Daniel experiences during the reigns of these same kings.

The Jewish historian Josephus (37 C.E.–ca. 100) assumes that the Daniel speaking in the book is a historical personage from that period, and therefore a prophet:

Judean Antiquities 10.267 [10.11.7] [H]e retains a remembrance that will never fail, for the several books that he wrote and left behind him are still read by us till this time; and from them we believe that Daniel conversed with God; for he did not only prophesy of future events, as did the other prophets, but he also determined the time of their accomplishment.

The rabbis claim that the book was written down by the אנשי כנסת הגדולה, the “Men of the Great Assembly” (b. Baba Batra 15a), an amorphous group that presumably included all the luminaries from that period: Daniel and his three friends, Ezra and Nehemiah, Mordechai, and the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.[1]

In modern times, scholars have argued that the book, for the most part, is a product of the Hellenistic period. Whether or not the initial narrative section derives from an earlier Persian period layer, the predictions in the second part refer to many specific details concerning the conflicts between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires, and their effects on Judea, suggesting that it was written by someone familiar with this period of history looking backwards.[2] This observation goes back to the 3rd century C.E. anti-Christian polemic of Porphyry.[3]

The survey of history in Daniel goes up to the Antiochian persecutions and the very beginning of the Hasmonean rebellion; as the predictions past this point switch to describing a miraculous intervention and do not reflect what ultimately happened, scholars suggest that it was composed after the rebellion began in 167 B.C.E., but before Judah’s successes, culminating in his defeat of Nicanor in 161 C.E. and the retaking of control over the Temple.

The authors set the book’s predictions in the mouth of a character from the Neo-Babylonian period and have Daniel offer an accurate historical survey of the Seleucid era, to make the final prediction about Judea’s future redemption seem more credible to readers.

The critical dating of Daniel’s predictions to the Hellenistic period was present in Christian scholarship from the beginning, due to Porphyry, but it became consensus in the late 19th century. From there, it soon entered Jewish discourse . In his 1908 Hebrew commentary on Daniel,[4] Mayer Lambert (1863–1930), the French-Jewish Near Eastern and Bible Scholar, adopts the dating of Daniel to the Hellenistic period. In his introduction, Lambert writes:

ואפילו הקנסירוואטיווים שבהם הודו כי הסיפור ע"ד מלכות יון נכתב בתקופת היונים.
Even the most conservative among them (=Bible scholars) admit that the accounts referring to the Greek kingdom were written in the Hellenistic period.

Similarly, Simon Bernfeld (1860–1940), a German scholar and reporter, in his 1923 three-volume work on the history of the persecution of Jews called ספר הדמעות [The Book of Tears], published in 1923, refers to the book of Daniel as a Hellenistic source.

This critical reading of Daniel as a Hellenistic pseudepigraph,[5] posed a serious problem for those who understand Daniel’s predictions to be prophecies about their own day and age. These include the Georgian-Israeli writer, Chaim Shvilly (1907–1974), the author of חזון החיים “The Vision of Life,” which uses Daniel’s visions to “predict” many of the details in WWI, WWII, and beyond.

Chaim Shvilly: Background on a Modern Jewish Prophet

Shvilly was an unusual individual.[6] Born in Jerusalem in 1907, he grew up in Oni, Georgia, where his father was a rabbi. During the Red Army’s invasion, at the age of 13 he escaped to Kutaisi, Georgia, where he studied chasidut and Tanya (kabbalistic teachings) in a Chabad yeshiva for a year. Then he snuck his way into British Palestine through Turkey, and moved in with a relative in Jerusalem, where he continued his studies in the Zion Blumenthal Orphanage School run by Avraham Yoḥanan Blumenthal (1877–1966) until 1928, when he was 21 years old. He then taught there until 1933. For most of his adult life, however, he worked as a banker.

Early on, Shvilly built his reputation as an orator, predicting the future in prophetic or soapbox style. In 1935, he published חזון החיים על ספר דניאל [The Vision of Life on the Book of Daniel], which offers a sustained reading of the prophecies in Daniel as messages for contemporary times. Some of his predictions were retrograde, predicting WWI, and the Balfour Declaration. For example, Shvilly offers the following reading of Daniel 12:7 (p. 69):

שכעבור שלשה מועדים וחצי תכלה מלכות ישמעאל בתור מושלת עולמית אימפריאליסטית וישראל ישובו לארצם ותתחיל גאולתם ע"י הצהרת בלפור....
After the three times and half, the Kingdom of Ishmael (=Islam) will end as a world imperial power (a reference to the fall of the Ottoman Empire in WWI, ZF) and the Jews will return to their land and their redemption will begin with the Balfour Declaration…

Some of his predictions in this and his next book, חשבונות הגאולה Calculations of the Redemption, such as WWII and the reunification of Jerusalem under Jewish rule, did come true to some extent.[7] His prediction, however, that the final redemption would take place in 1970 did not pan out.[8]

Shvilly was so offended by the critical approach that he appended a ritual confession (vidui) to the end of the work (pp. 86–87), in Hebrew acrostic form, and making use of many biblical expressions and allusions.[9]

Shvilly’s Confession

Shvilly introduces the confession with a sardonic comment:

והיה באחרית הימים[10] ילכו מבקרי המקרא אל קבר דניאל איש חמודות[11] אשר בבבל, והתודו שם את הודוי הזה ויכו על לבם וכה יאמרו:
And it shall come to pass in the latter days that the critics of the Bible will go to the tomb of Daniel, a man greatly beloved in Babylon, and there they will make this confession and strike their hearts, and say:[12]

Shvilly then lays out the confession, which is built primarily off the Yom Kippur confession, which has one word per letter. Shvilly starts with that word, but then fills in the sin as having to do with denial of Daniel’s prophetic truth:

אשמנו ב"אמת המדעית האוביקטיבית" שלנו, על ספרך דניאל.
We are guilty of our "objective scientific truth" concerning your book, Daniel.
בגדנו בספרך דניאל, יחד עם החוקרים הנוצרים.
We betrayed your book, Daniel, together with the Christian scholars.
גזלנו ממך את ספרך דניאל, ויחסנו אותו לאיזה מחבר חסיד בזמן החשמונאים.
We cheated you of your book Daniel, and attributed it to some pious author during the Hasmonean period.
דברנו דופי לרב על ספרך דניאל, והעלינו חרם בידינו
We have often spoken reproachfully about your book Daniel, and we have lifted the banned object into our hands.[13]
העוינו את הפסוקים של ספרך דניאל ופרשנום פרושים מעוקמים ומשונים ומגוכחים, למען לא יתראה כי חזית עתידות לעמך ובכללם הצהרת בלפור.
We have distorted the verses in your book, Daniel, and interpreted them with twisted, peculiar, and absurd interpretations, so that it will not be seen that you foretell prophecies for your people, including the Balfour Declaration.
ויתרנו[14] על חזונותיך דניאל ואמרנו שהם חלומות ככל החלומות של איזה חסיד בעל הזיות.
We gave up on your visions Daniel, claiming they were dreams, just like the dreams of an hallucinating pious man.
זדנו במזיד והעלמנו עין מהעתידות שחזית, ובארנוהו בכל על זמן אנטיוכוס, אף שידענו שהם לימות המשיח.
We were presumptuous and turned a blind eye to the future that you foretold, attributing everything to the time of Antiochus, even though we knew that they were visions of the Messianic era.
חמסנו את אמיתות חזונותיך דניאל ואמרנו שהם נכתבו לאחר מעשה.
We robbed the truths of your visions, Daniel, asserting that they were written after the fact.
טפלנו שקר על ספריך דניאל, באמרנו "שאין לדרוש דיוקים מחלומות", כאשר לא התאימו הדברים למהלך מחשבותינו.
We have framed your book with lies, Daniel, saying, “One should not demand accuracy from dreams,” when things did not align with our thoughts.[15]
יעצנו רע, באמרנו שספרך דניאל שייך לסוג הספרים האפוקריפים הידועים.
We provided bad counsel, saying that your book, Daniel, belongs to the well-known apocryphal books.
כזבנו, באמרנו שחזונותיך דניאל לא היו ולא נבראו אלא משל--חלומות של חסיד בלתי ידוע היו.
We lied, saying that your visions, Daniel, were not real but mere allegories[16]—dreams of an unknown pious man.
לצנו על ספרך דניאל בבאורנו את העידנין המועדים המפורסמים שלך על זמנו של אנטיוכוס אף שהרגשנו בקרבנו פנימה כי אין הדבר נכון.
We scoffed at your book, Daniel, attributing the famous events you mention to the time of Antiochus, even though we felt in our heart that this is not true.
מרדנו באמונה, שהיית יכל לחזור עתידות, באמרנו שהדיוק הגדול של פרק י"א בספרך מוכיח על היותו מאוחר.
We rebelled against the belief that you could foretell the future, saying that the great accuracy of Chapter 11 of your book proves its lateness.[17]
נאצנו את ספרך דניאל, בזה, שכאשר הדברים מדויקים גם לפי דעתנו אמרנו שנכתבו לאחר מעשה, וכאשר לא התאימו הדברים למהלך מחשבותינו אמרנו שלא ידע לדייק, ובין כך ובין כך פסלנו את ספרך.
We have blasphemed against your book Daniel, in that when things were accurate even according to our opinion we said they were written after the fact, and when things did not match the course of our thoughts we said he did not know how to be precise, and either way we invalidated your book.[18]
סררנו ונתנו כתף סוררת[19] אל הנבואה העברית וביכלתה לחזות עתידות בחשבונות מדויקים.
We revolted and turned a cold shoulder to Hebrew prophecy and its ability to predict futures with accurate calculations.
עוינו והרשענו,[20] בזה שאפי' לספרי הנוצרים נתנו כבוד יותר מאשר לספרך דניאל והתיחסנו אליהם ביותר דרך ארץ ויראת הכבוד מאשר לחזונותיך דניאל איש חמודות.
With enmity we wickedly treated even the Christian books with more respect than your book, Daniel, showing them greater reverence than your visions, beloved Daniel.[21]
פלפלנו[22] וגבבנו דברים משונים בבקרתנו על ספרך דניאל.[23]
We contorted and confabulated various things, in our criticism of your book, Daniel.
קנטרנו[24] הרבה על ספרך דניאל, באמרנו שלא כיונת אל האמת, מכיון שלא יכלנו לפתור את חשבונותיך הסתומים אשר הבטחת שלא יתגלו עד עת קץ.
We argued extensively against your book, Daniel, saying that it did not align with truth, as we could not solve thehidden calculations you promised would not be revealed until the end of time.[25]
רמינו[26] את העולם בבקרת שלנו על ספרך דניאל, והמצאנו "שאלות" שאינן שאלות כלל אך ורק להרבות במבוכה ולמצוא סתירות מדומות במקום שאינן, והעמדנו את אמיתות ספרך על חוט השערה של מלה אחת, באמרנו, שמכיון שמלה פלונית מאוחרת בסגנון היא – גם כל ספרך מזויף הוא.
We deceived the world in our critique of your book, Daniel, by inventing “questions” that are not questions at all but only meant to increase confusion and to find imaginary contradictions where they do not exist. We made the truth of your book hinge on the style of a single word, saying, since a certain word is later in style, then your entire book is also fabricated.[27]
שחתנו את הדור הצעיר הלומד בספרים שלנו, אשר בהם לא השארנו שריד ופליט[28] לכל אמונה בחזונות ובעתידות.
We corrupted the young generation studying our books, in which we left no trace or refuge for any belief in visions and the future.
תעתענו[29] ככל העולה על רוחנו, על ספרך דניאל, ועשינו בו כאדם העושה בתוך שלו.
We have been deceitful, using everything that came into our minds against your book, Daniel, manipulating it as though it were a possession of our own.

Following the acrostic, Shvilly concludes with a summary confession about the small-mindedness of academics:

ולכן הננו מתודים לפניך ולפני ספרך דניאל איש חמודות, שכל מה שעשינו – מקטנות מוחין עשינו ובשביל הקתדרא עשינו,
That is why we confess before you and before your book, beloved Daniel, that everything we did, we did out of small-mindedness for the sake of academia.
והננו מבקשים סליחתך הגמורה דניאל איש חמדות, ומקבלים על עצמנו מהיום והלאה "להאמין" בתחית המתים שהזכרת בסוף ספרך, אף שאין הדבר הזה מתקבל על דעתנו המטריאליסטית, כי ראינו שכל חזונותיך וחשבונותיך מדויקים בדיוק גמור ואין בהם דופי.
And we ask for your complete forgiveness, beloved Daniel, and take it upon ourselves from this day forward to “believe” in the resurrection of the dead that you mentioned at the end of your book,[30] even though this goes against our materialistic beliefs, because we saw that all your visions and calculations are absolutely accurate and faultless.
ולכן אנא סלח נא לנו.[31]
So please forgive us.
אמן כן יהי ר[צון].
Amen, may it be Your will.

Published

December 14, 2023

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Last Updated

July 7, 2024

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