The first reading is from the Book of Daniel. I am not happy at seeing it in today’s Mass. Oh, it is a fine story, and I can enjoy its message of the way faith in God brings us through difficulties. What makes me unhappy is that while it was a work of fiction, people see it as God’s truth, and they take it as a direct message to them from God.
When the Book of the Prophet Daniel was written in the year 168 B.C. everyone saw it as a a story composed by pious Jews. Their grave troubles that inspired them to make it up. They had always used the temple as a bank where their savings were safe. Then, in 169 B.C. the king of Syria, desperate for money, took away every last penny.
Afterwards all the rulers throughout the Middle East turned on that king, Antiochus IV. They were saying that a hundred and sixty years earlier Alexander the Great had laid down the rule that no monarch could touch Jerusalem’s temple.
To deflect the criticism Antiochus IV turned to saying he had only wanted to raise the Jews to the noble religion of the Greeks. To back that up, he put a golden statue of Zeus on the temple’s altar. He went on then to build a gymnasium where Jerusalem’s youth could exercise in the altogether, and he supplied them with luncheons of pork.
The pious Jews would have been put to death if they opposed the king, so they built a story around a fine man named Daniel who had lived at the time of the Babylonian captivity. In their story Daniel and his companions were great successes even though they did not eat his unclean food or bow down to his statue. The pious Jews composed the story of Daniel to inspire their young men not to eat unclean food, and not to bow down to the magnificent statue erected by the king.
Their historical fiction worked. Soon after it had begun being told around Judas Maccabeus and his brothers staged a revolt that drove out the enemy soldiers, winning back the temple.
The Book of Daniel can clearly be seen as fiction. The so-called historical events are wrong, and most of the language in the book did not come into use until centuries after the events described in the book.