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Book of Daniel

Books of Ketuvim
Song of Solomon

The book of Daniel, written in Hebrew and Aramaic (most of chapters 2-7) and revolving around the Jewish prophet Daniel, is a book of the Tanakh, in the section known as the Ketuvim (Hagiographa), or the Writings in the Christian Old Testament. Daniel was considered a prophet at Qumran (4Q174 [4QFlorilegium]) and later by Josephus (Antiquity of the Jews 10.11.7 266) and Liber antiquitatum biblicarum (L.A.B. [Lives of the prophets] 4.6, 8), and grouped among the prophets in the Septuagint, the Jewish Greek Old Testament, and by Christians who place his book, among the prophets. However, his book is not included by the Jews in the section of the prophets, the Nebiim. The book grew in stages, beginning as separate Persian and Hellenistic period Aramaic stories that were collected and then had a vision added possibly in the 3rd century B.C.E., forming the Aramaic chapters 2-7, to which were added the three 2nd century B.C.E. (see "Date" below) visions of chapters 8-12, and the introduction to the book, chapter 1. The now has two distinct parts, a series of narratives and four apocalyptic visions.


Narratives in Daniel

The first part, consisting of the first six chapters, comprises a series of lightly connected court tales, connected instructive narratives, or miracle tales, of the kind that would be parables save for their miraculous content. Only the first story is in Hebrew, the rest in Aramaic from ch. 2:4, beginning with the speech of the "Chaldeans". Three sections are preserved only in the Septuagint, and are considered apocryphal by Protestant Christians and Jews, and deuterocanonical by Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

  1. Daniel refuses to eat meat at court
  2. Nebuchadnezzar dreams of an idol of four metals with feet of clay, which Daniel interprets as the four great monarchies (compare Fifth Monarchy)
  3. Ananias, Azariah, and Mishael refuse to bow to the golden idol and are thrown into the Fiery Furnace; God prevents their death
  4. Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a tall tree
  5. Belshazzar's Feast, where Daniel interprets the writing mene mene tekel upharsin
  6. Daniel in the lions' den
  7. Susanna and the elders (apocryphal to Protestants)
  8. Bel and the Dragon (apocryphal to Protestants)

Protestant and Jewish editions omit the sections that do not exist in the Hebrew text: in addition to the two chapters containing accounts of Daniel and Susanna and of Bel and the Dragon, a lengthy passage following Daniel 3; this addition contains the prayer of Azariah while the three youths were in the fiery furnace, a brief account of the angel who met them in the furnace, and the hymn of praise they sang when they realized they were delivered. The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children are retained in the Septuagint and in the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic canons; the "Song of the Three Holy Youths" is part of the Matins service in Orthodoxy, and of Lauds on Sundays and feast days in Catholicism.

The narratives are set in the period of the Babylonian captivity, first at the court of Nebuchadnezzar and later at the court of his successors Belshazzar and the Persian king Darius. Daniel is praised in Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897, as "the historian of the Captivity, the writer who alone furnishes any series of events for that dark and dismal period during which the harp of Israel hung on the trees that grew by the Euphrates. His narrative may be said in general to intervene between Kings and Chronicles on the one hand and Ezra on the other, or (more strictly) to fill out the sketch which the author of the Chronicles gives in a single verse in his last chapter: 'And them that had escaped from the sword carried he [i.e., Nebuchadnezzar] away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia'" (2 Chr. 36:20)."

Daniel appears as an interpreter of dreams and visions in these narratives, though not as a prophet.

Modern secular historians of Babylonia or Achaemenid Persia do not adduce the narratives of Daniel as source materials. As the editors of the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-1906) put it, "they contain many details that cannot be harmonized with the data furnished in other historical sources." and that "during the long period of oral tradition the unimportant kings of Babylon might easily have been forgotten, and the last king, who was vanquished by Cyrus, would have been taken as the successor of the well-known Nebuchadnezzar." The intended identity of "Darius the Mede" (from the narrative of the lions' den) is disputed among the various Persian rulers named Darius. Secular histories state that the Median kingdom had been conquered by Cyrus II of Persia before he conquered Babylon, so that there was never a Median rulership of this city. Some suggest that the character is based on Darius the Great, who ruled Persia from 522-486 BC, that is, after the end of the Jewish Exile in Babylon.

However, the historicity of the texts of Daniel is rarely disputed among traditionalist Christians. For these narratives as literal history, its supporters claim the following:

  1. the testimony of Jesus (Matthew 24:15; 25:31; 26:64) and his apostles (1 Cor. 6:2; 2 Thess. 2:3) and
  2. the testimony of Ezekiel (14:14, 20; 28:3).
  3. The character and records of the book are also entirely in harmony with the times and circumstances in which the author lived.
  4. The linguistic character of the book is, moreover, quite similar to what might be expected.
  5. Certain portions (Dan. 2:4; 7) are written in the Aramaic language; and the portions written in Hebrew are in a style and form having a close affinity with the later books of the Old Testament, especially with that of Ezra. The writer is familiar both with the Hebrew and the Aramaic, passing from the one to the other just as his subject required. This is in strict accordance with the position of the author and of the people for whom his book was written. That Daniel is the writer of this book is also testified to in the book itself (7:1, 28; 8:2; 9:2; 10:1, 2; 12:4, 5).

Apocalyptic visions in Daniel

The second part, the remaining six chapters, are visionary, an early example of apocalyptic literature, in which the author, now speaking in the first person, reveals a vision entrusted to him alone. The historical setting of the first chapters does not appear. It too consists of text from two sources, part (to 7:28) written in Aramaic, the rest (chapters 8-12) in Hebrew. The apocalyptic part of Daniel consists of three visions and one lengthened prophetical communication, mainly having to do with the destiny of Israel:

  1. The vision in the first year of Belshazzar the king of Babylon (7:1) concerning four great beasts (7:3) representing four future kings (7:17) or kingdoms (7:23), the fourth of which devours the whole earth, treading it down and crushing it (7:23); this fourth kingdom produces ten kings, and then a special, eleventh person arises out of the fourth kingdom that subdues three of the ten kings (7:24), speaks against the Most High and the saints of the Most High, and intends to change the times and the law (7:25); after a time and times and half a time (three and a half years), this person is judged and his dominion is taken away (7:26); then, the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven are given to the people of the saints of the Most High (7:27)
  2. The vision in the third year of Belshazzar concerning a ram and a male goat (8:1-27); Daniel interprets the goat as the "kingdom of Yawan" that is, the Hellenistic kingdom (8:21)
  3. The vision in first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus (9:1) concerning seventy weeks, or seventy "sevens", apportioned for the history of the Israelites and of Jerusalem (9:24)
  4. A lengthy vision in the third year of Cyrus king of Persia (10:1 - 12:13)


Dating of the edited version of Daniel that we have is based on elements within the text, rather than on the historical dates of the royal personages that figure in the narratives. The later version of the royal name, which is "Nebuchadrezzar" in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, has its later form, "Nebuchadnezzar." His music is played on instruments with Greek, not Hebrew names (and give the first instance of symphonia by the way).

Most interpreters find that references in the Book of Daniel reflect the persecutions of Israel by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175 - 164 B.C.E.)

Christian uses of Daniel

As mentioned above, the prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Children from the deuterocanonical parts of Daniel are widely used in Orthodox and Catholic prayer.

The various episodes in the first half of the book are used by Christians as moral stories, and are often seen to foreshadow events in the gospels.

The apocalyptic section is primarily important to Christians for the image of the "Son of Man" (Dan 7:13). According to the gospels, Jesus used this title as his preferred name for himself. The connection with Daniel's vision (as opposed to the usage in the Book of Ezekiel) is made explicit in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark (Matt 27:64; Mk 14:62). Christians see this as a direct claim by Jesus that he is the Messiah.

Medieval study of angels was also affected by this book, as it is the only Old Testament source for the names of two of the archangels, Gabriel and Michael (Dan 9:21; 12:1). The only other angel given a name in the Old Testament is Raphael, mentioned in the deuterocanoncial Book of Tobit.

This entry incorporates text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897, with some modernisation.

External links

  • Jewish Encyclopedia: Daniel
  • Life-Study of Daniel - online study of the Book of Daniel, from a Christian perspective
  • Daniel in the Historians' Den - An analysis of the book's origins, from a skeptical perspective.
  • The Book of Daniel
    Full text from (also avaiable in Arabic


E. J. Bickerman, Four Strange Books of the Bible, 1967 A standard analysis.

Last updated: 02-07-2005 17:54:24
Last updated: 05-03-2005 02:30:17