From the West
Peter J. Leithart
January 22, 2008
Category: Bible - OT - Daniel
In his recent commentary on Daniel, Jim Jordan notes that the goat of Alexandrian Egypt (Daniel 8) is something new in Israel’s history – a power coming from the West: “Israel has always been the west-most power, with the Mediterranean Sea at her edge. All previous history has been involved with north, south (Egypt), or east.”
What does it mean in the Bible for a power to come from the West? So far, I haven’t found that Jordan develops this, but a couple of things occur to me.
First, west is the direction of return to the garden and temple. To turn it around, the westernmost region of the original world was the land of Eden, with the garden in the east; the westernmost area of the temple was the Most Holy Place; Israel corresponds to both, as the westernmost nation. But now a nation comes from further west: From the land of Eden? From the Most Holy Place?
Second, east and west are directions associated with the sun, and hence with days and times. “East” is “sunrise,” and is associated with new beginnings, new days. West is sunset and is associated with conclusions and ends. East is male; west is female, the completer of the man. As the westernmost nation, Israel has been the eschatological nation, the bride, but now a new power emerges from the regions of “sunset,” a new nation from the “end” of the earth.
Assuming that’s correct, what does that mean? It definitely highlights the significance of Alexander and of the Hellenic world generally. Alexandrian Greece and its successors form the eschatological civilization of the Old Covenant. Jordan goes on to explain that the “four horns” are a succession of Hellenic rulers over Palestine: Alexander’s generals, the Ptolemies, the Seleucids, and Hellenistic Rome. These four correspond numerically to the four empires of the “latter days”; thus, within what Jordan calls the “oikoumene” of four Gentile empires is another “four,” the four of post-Alexandrian Greece. This makes sense of Jordan’s claim that the NT distinguishes between “Greek” (as member of the oikoumene) and “Gentile” (generic non-Jew). Greece, the people in the west, corresponds to Israel, the original people from the west.
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