Wow! What a colorful Book of Daniel! In some places, it almost sounds and reads like an old Marvel comic book with the super hero being Daniel, the man who can interpret dreams, tame lions, and be a big government official. These colorful tales show a young man who rose to important roles by watching what he ate. His friends withstood a fire. He interpreted dreams without anybody even telling him what the dream was. He lived with lions in their den. He shamed foreign gods and demolished demons and dragons. No wonder, the Bible stories about Daniel were so prevalent. There are even visions of the future that are fulfilled, as he becomes the right hand man of a number of kings in Babylon and Persia.
This Book of Daniel is about the activities and visions of Daniel, a young noble Judean, who was exiled to Babylon. In the Hebrew Bible, it is in the Ketuvim Writings, while in the Christian Bibles, this work it is grouped with the Major Prophets. The God of Israel saved Daniel and his friends from their enemies. Thus, the God of Israel would save all of Israel from its present oppression.
Though the book is traditionally ascribed to Daniel himself, modern scholarly consensus considers it pseudonymous. The stories of the first half are legendary in origin, and the visions of the second half are the product of anonymous authors during the Maccabean period in the 2nd century BCE.
However, its influence has resonated through the ages, from the Dead Sea Scroll community to the Christian gospel authors, especially the Book of Revelation. Even today, among modern millennialist movements it is a favorite book. Daniel is a biblical apocalyptic book, combining a prophecy of history with an eschatology.
This Book of Daniel has the simple division between the court tales of the first half and the apocalyptic visions of the second half. There also is a language division between the Hebrew of the beginning and ending chapters around the middle Aramaic chapters. Finally, there are the Greek chapters in the epilogue. Although there is a progression from Babylonian to Persian times in the first part of the court stories, the visions of the second half reflect the crisis that took place in Judea between 167 and 164 BCE. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Greek king of the Seleucid Empire, wanted to destroy traditional Jewish worship at Jerusalem.
This Book of Daniel probably originated with a collection of Aramaic court tales, probably composed in the third or early second century BCE. Maybe the introductory Hebrew chapter was added to give context. The third stage might have been Hebrew visions. This is one of a large number of Jewish pseudonymous apocalypses. The real author or editor of Daniel was probably an educated Jew. He would have had some Greek learning. He probably was a man of high standing in his own community, much like the wisdom literature that credited wisdom to God’s revelation.
Probably, the person Daniel never existed. The author of this book took the name from a wise Hebrew seer who lived during the Babylonian times, mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel. The Book of Daniel is an apocalyptic work, not a book of prophecy. The prophecies in Daniel are accurate down to the career of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 BCE), king of Syria and oppressor of the Jews, but not about his death. Thus, this may have written between 169-164 BCE. The Hebrew Bible canon of the prophets was closed around 200 BCE.
The Book of Daniel is an apocalypse that has visions, symbolism, other-worldly mediators, with an emphasis on cosmic events, angels, and demons. They were very common from around 300 BCE to 100 CE, not only among Jews and Christians, but also among Greeks, Romans, Persians and Egyptians. Daniel was a wise man because God was the source of his wisdom. Thus, his wisdom surpassed the Babylonian magicians.
This Book of Daniel is also an eschatology, a divine revelation about the end time, when God will intervene in history with the final kingdom full of justice and righteousness. This book is filled with monsters, angels, and numerology, drawn from a wide range of sources, both biblical and non-biblical. The intended audience was the Jews of the 2nd century BCE. There is an emphasis on immortality and resurrection, as rewards for the righteous with punishment for the wicked. Both Jews and Christians referenced and quoted this Book of Daniel in the 1st century CE as predicting the imminent end-time. Daniel was the most popular of the prophetic books for the Anglo-Saxons, who treated it as a historical book.
This book is divided into two parts. The first part is a series of court tales or stories in chapters 1–6. The second part contains the various dreams of Daniel in chapters 7–12. There are also the Greek Septuagint additions including the Prayer of Azariah and his two companions, the story of Susanna, and the story of the god Bel and the dragon god. The latter two make up chapters 13-14.
The Hebrew introduction to the Daniel stories features the story about four Hebrew young men in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem to King Nebuchadnezzar. This Babylonian king had requested some young captured Israelite noble students to learn about Babylonian life and culture. Daniel was one of them with his three companions. Daniel had a concern about food defilement. However, God favored Daniel, after a ten-day test saw that his diet was better. These young Judeans were good learners, so that they went before King Nebuchadnezzar to become successful court attendants in Babylon.
The Aramaic second chapter was about the troubled dream of King Nebuchadnezzar. The king summoned his court people to get an explanation. However, they were not able to give an interpretation without knowing the dream first. The king insisted that they should know the dream. Since this was an impossible task, the king wanted to destroy all the wise men of Babylon, that also included Daniel. Daniel discussed the situation with his companions. Then he got the answer to the dream problem. Daniel uttered a beautiful prayer. Then Daniel went to Arioch, who brought him to the king. King Nebuchadnezzar questioned Daniel and he responded. God had revealed the answer to Daniel, so that Daniel explained his dream to the king. There was a scary bright statue in the dream of the king, as Daniel described it. Then the statue was destroyed. After his explanation of the dream, Daniel gave the king his interpretation. King Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold. The later inferior kingdoms of bronze and iron came after him. The divided mixed kingdom would be followed by an eternal kingdom. Finally, King Nebuchadnezzar was well pleased. He worshiped Daniel. Then he recognized the God of Daniel, so that he gave Daniel and his friends rewards.
The Aramaic 3rd chapter was about the adoration of the golden statue and the fiery furnace. This also included the great prayer of Azariah and his companions, the friends of Daniel. The king had built a great golden statue, so that he invited important people to come to the statue dedication with a great proclamation. Everyone was to worship this statue. However, there were accusations against his Jewish appointees, so that the three men were brought to the king. After their conversation, King Nebuchadnezzar was angry. So, he then sent the three men, the companions of Daniel, but not Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the furnace.
The Greek prayer of Azariah, while he was in the furnace, was inserted here. Azariah stood still to pray, blessing God, whose judgment was due to their sins. God delivered true judgment. Azariah who was also called Abednego, called for mercy for the small weak Israelites. They only had a spiritual worship, since their temple was destroyed. He wanted to be delivered from the fiery flames. The angel of the Lord came to make this fire useless. Then the three companions prayed together, blessing God in heaven and his name. All the heavenly bodies and the weather elements should praise God. Day and night, extreme conditions, the earth, and the earthly waters should bless God. The birds, the animals, and all humans should bless God. Even the souls of the righteous and the three men in the furnace should bless and praise God.
This Aramaic story had the king upset. Since they had survived being in the den of lions, the king released the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He praised them and their God, as he sent out a decree that promoted the three men.
The Aramaic fourth chapter was about a scary dream of King Nebuchadnezzar, who some think was a little crazy. After this fearful dream, the king called all his wise men. As usual, Daniel also came to the king. The king’s dream was about a big beautiful tree. Then a holy watcher from heaven came down and said to get rid of the tree, but save the stump. The king asked Daniel to interpret this dream. At first, Daniel was a little stunned, but the king told him not to worry. Daniel said that the dream was for the king’s enemies. The king was the great tree. However, like the great tree, he would lose his kingdom. Daniel told the king to repent. The great pride of the king would cause him to lose his kingdom and his mind for seven years. He would have to live like a wild beast. Then the king left his throne immediately. However, then he blessed God. With that, he was restored as king with great praise for God.
The Aramaic chapter five was about King Belshazzar’s feast. While at this party, King Belshazzar wanted the sacred cups from the Jerusalem Temple brought in, so that they could drink wine from these sacred vessels. Then they toasted various gods. Suddenly, there were fingers writing on the wall. King Belshazzar became afraid. He called for his wise men, but once again they were not successful in interpreting the writing. Then the queen or queen mother showed up to remind him about what Daniel had done for his father. Thus, Daniel went to the king, who explained his dilemma about the writing on the wall to Daniel. Daniel told the king to keep his gifts. Daniel first praised King Nebuchadnezzar, but then told him of his downfall, because of the pride of this unhumble king. Next Daniel interpreted the writing on the wall. He explained the words, Mene, Tekel, and Peres. His kingdom would be given to the Medes and Persians. Of course, Daniel was rewarded, as the third most important person in the kingdom. Then suddenly King Belshazzar died and Darius the Mede took over.
The Aramaic sixth chapter was the famous story of Daniel in the lions’ den. Darius was now the king, so that he made Daniel the president of the whole kingdom. The other jealous leaders tried to find things to complain about Daniel. They convinced the king to issue a new decree that anyone who prayed to a god or human in the next thirty days, except to the king himself, should be put into the lion’s den. Then Daniel continued to prays to God three times a day. These conspirators wanted the king to enforce his edict against Daniel. The king was troubled about Daniel, but he had to follow the law. Thus, Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den. They then sealed it with a stone. God forced the mouths of the lions shut. The next morning, the king went to the lions’ den. Daniel responded to the king, so that he was released from the den. Instead, Daniel’s accusers, including their families, were put into the lion’s den to be killed. Finally, King Darius declared universal peace and prosperity. He sent out a decree about the living God of Daniel. Meanwhile, Daniel prospered.
The second part of the Book of Daniel was about his visions. The seventh Aramaic chapter was a dream of Daniel about the beasts from the sea, set in the Babylonian era. In the first year of King Belshazzar, Daniel had a dream about the four winds and the four beasts from the sea. The first was like a lion, the second like a bear, and the third like a leopard. The fourth beast was a monstrosity with ten horns. A little horn came out of the fourth beast and destroyed three other horns. However, the Ancient One on a fiery throne killed the little horn beast, while the other beasts were spared. Then the son of man appeared. This made Daniel anxious. Then Daniel got an interpretation about the four great beasts. He wanted to know why the fourth beast was so different? The odd little horn was at war with the holy ones. Of the four kingdoms, he was the last of the ten kingdoms. However, there would be an everlasting kingdom of the Most High God to take over. Daniel was still disturbed by his dream.
In the eighth Hebrew chapter, Daniel had a vision of a ram and a goat, set in the Babylonian era. This vision took place in Susa, in the third year of King Belshazzar. In this vision, the great powerful goat with one strong horn attacked a two-horned ram. The goat decimated the ram. But once again, a little horn grew out of the four horns that had replaced the one horn. This little horn took over the sanctuary in Jerusalem for a little over three years. The holy angels, particularly Gabriel, spoke to Daniel to give him an interpretation of this vision. Then Daniel fell into a trance as Gabriel explained the vision. This was a very destructive king, but it was a true vision. In the end, Daniel got sick.
The ninth chapter was a Hebrew interpretation of Jeremiah’s prophecy about seventy weeks that took place during the reign of King Darius. There would be seventy years of desolation. Daniel would do penance and confess his sins. There would be open shame for the people, because they had not followed the law. A great calamity would happen, so that the holy city would be disgraced. Then Gabriel spoke to Daniel about the seventy weeks. Then, there would be an anointed prince, who would be cut down.
The tenth Hebrew chapter took place during the third year of King Cyrus. Daniel saw a vision of an angel who told him about the grand vision of history to come after him in Persia and Greece. Daniel was mourning, when someone who appeared like a man appeared to him at the banks of the Great River. Daniel alone saw the vision. He was stunned, but then revived when this angel touched him. He stood up to learn that his words had gone to God. He was to learn about present and future battles. Daniel was speechless, until someone touched his lips to let him speak. Daniel got stronger, so that he was able to hear the explanation.
The eleventh Hebrew chapter was about a future king of Persia who would lose a battle with the great king of Greece. After this great mighty king, the empire would be broken into four pieces, then eventually two, the king of the north, Assyria, and the king of the south, Egypt. After many battles, described in great detail, there was an alliance of the kings of the north and the south. Yet the king of the south would attack the king of the north. Then the sons of the northern king would attack the south. However, there would be an insurrection in the south. Eventually there would be a fight over Palestine with a coastland invasion. Then, a new terrible contemptible king of the north arose. He would lead a southern campaign in Palestine and an Egyptian campaign. There were many disputes and the resistance. However, this self-exalted king favored the power of foreign gods. On his way back to his own country, they would desecrate the Temple and abolish the daily sacrifices in Jerusalem. They would set up an abomination of desolation in the Jewish Temple. He would defeat Libya and Egypt. He would die between the sea and the holy mountain.
The twelfth Hebrew chapter was about the end times, a time of great distress. The angel Michael would appear to talk about a future resurrection. Daniel was to close or seal the book of life. Those whose names were written in the book would be rewarded like a bright star. Two other people showed up to talk about a time frame, but Daniel did not understand. He was told not to worry. There were some calculations about the problems of the Jerusalem Temple. However, Daniel was to use up the days that the he had and not worry
The Greek text of Daniel is considerably longer than the Hebrew, due to additional stories. These stores had been accepted by all Christians, until the English reform movement of the 16th century rejected them, because they were not in the Hebrew Bible.
The Greek story of Susanna and the Elders, became chapter 13. Daniel would come in at the end of the story to show his good judgment. There was a rich Judean in Babylon during the exile called Joakim who was married to Susanna. Every day two elder judges would come to their house to conduct business, while Susanna would walk in the garden. These two elders had a secret passion for her, so they plotted to seduce Susanna. One day, while Susanna was bathing with her two maids, they made a proposition to her. Susanna said no and cried out, so that the servants of the house came to see what was going on. The old judges asked Susanna to appear in court. Then they accused Susanna of having sex with an unidentified young man. Thus, she should be condemned to death for adultery. Then Susanna sent out a prayerful cry. The Lord’s responded through Daniel. Then Daniel questioned the elders, as he put them on trial. He questioned these two elders separately. They each said that the intimate embrace took place under different trees. Thus, the two elders were put to death for lying against their neighbor. Everyone then praised God.
The Greek story of the god Bel and the Dragon god was placed at the end of the book as chapter 14. In this story, King Cyrus had Daniel as his companion. He wondered why Daniel did not worship the Babylonian god Bel, instead of his living God. The king said the idol Bel ate and drank like a living god. This set up a confrontation between the Bel priests and Daniel. The king left some food for the idol Bel. The next day, the king found that the rations were gone. However, Daniel pointed out that there were human footsteps in the ashes left in the temple. Then the king realized that the priests of Bel had a secret passageway, so that they ate the food left for Bel. Thus, the king killed all his Bel priests with their families.
The final story was about Daniel and the revered dragon god. Daniel asked the king if he could kill the dragon without a club or sword. Thus, Daniel fed the dragon a strange concoction that made him burst into pieces. Meanwhile, the other Babylonians wanted Daniel killed, because he was having too much of a Jewish influence on the king. The king had already destroyed the priests of Bel, along with the temple of Bel, and now their beloved dragon. They gave the king no other choice, so that the king put Daniel into the lion’s den for a week. The Judean prophet Habakkuk brought some food to Daniel. After a week, Daniel was still alive. Then the king put all his detractors in the lion’s den, where they perished. So, this brought all the Daniel tales to an end.