Ancient of Days

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ANCIENT OF DAYS . The King James Version of the Bible rendered both attik yomin in Daniel 7:9 and attik yomayya in verses 13 and 22 by the phrase "the Ancient of days," i.e., with the definite article the and with a capital A, hence with the clear implication that this was an appellation or epithet of God (like, e.g., "the God of heaven" in Dan. 2:18, 19, etc.); just as it rendered kevar enash in Daniel 7:13 by the phrase "one like the *Son of man," likewise with a capital letter preceded by the definite article, with the clear implication that the reference was to "the Son of man" of the Gospels, i.e., Jesus. All revisions of the King James Version, however – the Revised Version, the American Standard Version, and the Revised Standard Version (see *Bible Translations, English) – have recognized that this is precluded not only by the context but also by the very grammar of biblical *Aramaic and have consequently rendered attiq yomin in Daniel 7:9 by "one that was ancient of days"; attiq yomayya in Daniel 7:13, 22 by "the ancient of days" but without a capital athe in this case meaning not "the well-known" but "the aforementioned" – and kevar enash in Daniel 7:13 by "one like unto a son of man" (with a, not the). For, of course, these expressions – exactly like "great beasts" in verse 3, "lion" and "eagle" in verse 4, "bear" in verse 5, etc. – do not purport to be designations of objective realities but only descriptions of figures seen in a dream. To be sure, the figures symbolize objective realities; and that the reality that corresponds to the figure of one of advanced age, with fleece white hair and snow white raiment, who sits on a throne of fire, surrounded by millions of attendants, and determines the fates of kingdoms and nations is God Himself, is so obvious that, unlike other features of the dream, it is not specifically interpreted in the second half of the chapter. One cannot, therefore, ask, "Why is God called the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7?" because He is not, but only, "Why is God represented in the vision of Daniel 7 by the figure of an ancient of days?" As for the explanation, no further one than His role there as the Lord of history is necessary, but an additional factor has been suggested. A vague recollection of a Canaanite tradition has been surmised on the basis of one of the epithets of El, the head of the Ugaritic pantheon, namely, mlk ab šnm, which is commonly interpreted as "the King, Father of Years." Such a connection would be possible, but not certain, even if the correctness of the rendering "Father of Years" for the Ugaritic ab šnm were certain. But in the first place, "years" is elsewhere in Ugaritic (as in Phoenician) not šnm but šnt; and in the second place, "father of" in the sense of "possessing" or "characterized by" is strictly an Arabic idiom. (That is why H.L. Ginsberg formerly translated "King Father Shunem," guessing that El was identified with the God Shunem who is known from the Ugaritic ritual texts – which has its difficulties. So has another possible solution: that šnm in this title is a doublet of nšm "men, people," so that ab šnm would be synonymous with El's other epithet ab adm "Father of Man[kind].")

That "ancient of days" is not an epithet of God in Daniel 7 does not constitute an objection to the liturgical use of it as such in English (in which it has a solemn and singularly beautiful ring), even if it probably is in large measure a result of the mistranslations of the King James Version cited above (see the Book of *Daniel).


H.L. Ginsberg, Studies in Daniel (1948), 15–18, 70–71; J.A. Montgomery, The Book of Daniel (icc, 19492), 297–8; A. Bentzen, Daniel (Ger., 19522), 61–62. add. bibliography: B. Becking, in: ddd, 44–45.

[Harold Louis Ginsberg]

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Ancient of Days

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Ancient of Days