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  • The Eastern Christian Exegetical Tradition of Daniel's Vision of the Ancient of Days
  • Gretchen Kreahling McKay (bio)

An unusual depiction of an aged man with white hair and beard emerges in post-Iconoclastic Byzantine art. Most commonly, this figure was identified as God the Father. However, the rulings of the Council of Nicea that ended the century-long Iconoclastic struggle declared that no images of God the Father were permitted in Byzantine art. Who or what, then, was the image of the Ancient of Days meant to signify? An important source for the original intent of the image may lie in early Christian and Byzantine exegesis of the only passage in which the Ancient of Days is referred to by name: Daniel 7. Throughout the early Christian and Byzantine periods, many writers discussed this figure and its relevance to the meaning of the vision in chapter seven. Their varying interpretations provide the foundation for any subsequent study of this unusual image in Byzantine iconography.1

The vision of the Ancient of Days, which is recorded in the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel (7.9–10, 13–14), describes the appearance of a white-haired man whom Daniel refers to by name as "the Ancient of Days" (). This particular Old Testament theophany generated many different interpretations by early Christian and Byzantine writers, all of whom offered comments on the unusual revelation of this aged man.

Previous studies on the Ancient of Days have only superficially addressed the literary and theological interpretations of the Biblical [End Page 139] vision on which the image is based. While the literary tradition on the meaning of the Ancient of Days is particularly important for scholars seeking to understand this complex image, no study has ever considered all the theological interpretations of the figure described in Daniel's vision. In this article, the extant written sources that examine the significance of the Ancient of Days are brought together for comparative study and will demonstrate that Byzantine writers from the third to twelfth centuries, including both church fathers and secular writers, found different meanings in Daniel's account.

The patristic and literary commentaries on Daniel's vision will be examined chronologically. In addition to providing a framework with which to interpret Byzantine imagery, this compilation of various interpretations of the Daniel passage adds to our understanding of the role of the Bible in early Christian exegesis.2 To this end, I have provided a brief overview of each passage, placing it in its proper historical context, since several religious controversies influenced the writer's discussion of the Ancient of Days. The main aim of this article is not the role these texts played in different religious controversies. However, it is hoped that this study will aid scholars who seek to establish how specific Biblical passages, in this case Daniel 7, were utilized in establishing official church positions on various doctrinal issues.

I. The Commentaries

1. Hippolytus, Fragmenta in Danielem3

One of the earliest commentaries on the Book of Daniel is by Hippolytus (ca. 170–ca. 236), who discusses the identities of both the Ancient of Days and a figure named "One Like the Son of Man," who appears in Dan 7.13–14. Two separate editions of this text by Hippolytus exist, and each offers a different identification of the Ancient of Days. The Greek text provided by Migne states that the Ancient of Days was a revelation [End Page 140] of "the Lord and God and Master of All, [who is] Christ himself."4 However, Migne's text was based on an edition by Mai, who did not consult all of the extant manuscripts of Hippolytus' Daniel commentary.5 As a result, the word "" ("Father") is missing from Migne's text. This omission makes it seem that Hippolytus identified the Ancient of Days as Christ.

In a later edition of Hippolytus' commentary, Bonwetsch corrected Mai's errors and provided an emendation based on all the extant copies of Hippolytus' work. In Bonwetsch's edition, Hippolytus writes that the Ancient of Days "is, for Daniel, nothing more than the Lord, God and Master of All, the Father of Christ himself."6 Hippolytus also...


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