Book of Daniel

The Book of Daniel is a 2nd-century BCE biblical apocalypse with an ostensible 6th century BCE setting, combining a prophecy of history with an eschatology (a portrayal of end times) both cosmic in scope and political in focus.[1] It gives "an account of the activities and visions of Daniel, a noble Jew exiled at Babylon",[2] and its message is that just as the God of Israel saves Daniel from his enemies, so he would save all Israel in their present oppression.[3]

The Hebrew Bible includes the Book of Daniel in the Ketuvim (writings), while Christian Bibles group the work with the Major Prophets.[4] It divides into two parts, a set of six court tales in chapters 1–6, written mostly in Aramaic, and four apocalyptic visions in chapters 7–12, written mostly in Hebrew;[5] the deuterocanon contains three additional sections, the Song of the Three Holy Children, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon.[6]

The book's influence has resonated through later ages, from the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the authors of the gospels and of Revelation, to various movements from the 2nd century to the Protestant Reformation and modern millennialist movements—on which it continues to have a profound influence.[7]

The Book of Daniel is divided between the court tales of chapters 1–6 and the apocalyptic visions of 7–12, and between the Hebrew of chapters 1 and 8–12 and the Aramaic of chapters 2–7.[8][9] The division is reinforced by the chiastic arrangement of the Aramaic chapters (see below), and by a chronological progression in chapters 1–6 from Babylonian to Median rule, and from Babylonian to Persian rule in chapters 7–12.[10] Various suggestions have been made by scholars to explain the fact that the genre division does not coincide with the other two, but it appears that the language division and concentric structure of chapters 2–6 are artificial literary devices designed to bind the two halves of the book together.[10] The following outline is provided by Collins in his commentary on Daniel:[11]

There is a recognised chiasm (a concentric literary structure in which the main point of a passage is placed in the centre and framed by parallel elements on either side in "ABBA" fashion) in the chapter arrangement of the Aramaic section.[12] The following is taken from Paul Redditt's "Introduction to the Prophets":[13]

In the third year of King Jehoiakim, God allows Jerusalem to fall into the power of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon.[Notes 1] Young Israelites of noble and royal family, "without physical defect, and handsome," versed in wisdom and competent to serve in the palace of the king, are taken to Babylon to be taught the literature and language of that nation. Among them are Daniel and his three companions, who refuse to touch the royal food and wine. Their overseer fears for his life in case the health of his charges deteriorates, but Daniel suggests a trial and the four emerge healthier than their counterparts from ten days of nothing but vegetables and water. They are allowed to continue to refrain from eating the king's food, and to Daniel God gives insight into visions and dreams. When their training is done Nebuchadnezzar finds them 'ten times better' than all the wise men in his service and therefore keeps them at his court, where Daniel continues until the first year of King Cyrus.[14][Notes 2]

In the second year of his reign Nebuchadnezzar has a dream. When he wakes up, he realizes that the dream has some important message, so he consults his wise men. Wary of their potential to fabricate an explanation, the king refuses to tell the wise men what he saw in his dream. Rather, he demands that his wise men tell him what the content of the dream was, and then interpret it. When the wise men protest that this is beyond the power of any man, he sentences all, including Daniel and his friends, to death. Daniel receives an explanatory vision from God: Nebuchadnezzar had seen an enormous statue with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of mixed iron and clay, then saw the statue destroyed by a rock that turned into a mountain filling the whole earth. Daniel explains the dream to the king: the statue symbolized four successive kingdoms, starting with Nebuchadnezzar, all of which would be crushed by God's kingdom, which would endure forever. Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges the supremacy of Daniel's god, raises Daniel over all his wise men, and places Daniel and his companions over the province of Babylon.[15]

Daniel's companions Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar's golden statue and are thrown into a fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar is astonished to see a fourth figure in the furnace with the three, one "with the appearance like a son of the gods." So the king called the three to come out of the fire, and blessed the God of Israel, and decreed that any who blasphemed against him should be torn limb from limb.[16]

Nebuchadnezzar recounts a dream of a huge tree that is suddenly cut down at the command of a heavenly messenger. Daniel is summoned and interprets the dream. The tree is Nebuchadnezzar himself, who for seven years will lose his mind and live like a wild beast. All of this comes to pass until, at the end of the specified time, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that "heaven rules" and his kingdom and sanity are restored.[17]

Belshazzar and his nobles blasphemously drink from sacred Jewish temple vessels, offering praise to inanimate gods, until a hand mysteriously appears and writes upon the wall. The horrified king summons Daniel, who upbraids him for his lack of humility before God and interprets the message: Belshazzar's kingdom will be given to the Medes and Persians. Belshazzar rewards Daniel and raises him to be third in the kingdom, and that very night Belshazzar is slain and Darius the Mede takes the kingdom.[18][Notes 3]

Darius elevates Daniel to high office, exciting the jealousy of other officials. Knowing of Daniel's devotion to his God, his enemies trick the king into issuing an edict forbidding worship of any other god or man for a 30-day period. Daniel continues to pray three times a day to God towards Jerusalem; he is accused and King Darius, forced by his own decree, throws Daniel into the lions' den. But God shuts up the mouths of the lions, and the next morning Darius rejoices to find him unharmed. The king casts Daniel's accusers into the lions' pit together with their wives and children to be instantly devoured, while he himself acknowledges Daniel's God as he whose kingdom shall never be destroyed.[19]

In the first year of Belshazzar Daniel has a dream of four monstrous beasts arising from the sea.[Notes 4] The fourth, a beast with ten horns, devours the whole earth, treading it down and crushing it, and a further small horn appears and uproots three of the earlier horns. The Ancient of Days judges and destroys the beast, and "one like a son of man" is given everlasting kingship over the entire world. A divine being explains that the four beasts represent four kings, but that "the holy ones of the Most High" would receive the everlasting kingdom. The fourth beast would be a fourth kingdom with ten kings, and another king who would pull down three kings and make war on the "holy ones" for "a time, two times and a half," after which the heavenly judgement will be made against him and the "holy ones" will receive the everlasting kingdom.[20]

In the third year of Belshazzar Daniel has vision of a ram and goat. The ram has two mighty horns, one longer than the other, and it charges west, north and south, overpowering all other beasts. A goat with a single horn appears from the west and destroys the ram. The goat becomes very powerful until the horn breaks off and is replaced by four lesser horns. A small horn that grows very large, it stops the daily temple sacrifices and desecrates the sanctuary for two thousand three hundred "evening and mornings" (which could be either 1,150 or 2,300 days) until the temple is cleansed. The angel Gabriel informs him that the ram represents the Medes and Persians, the goat is Greece, and the "little horn" is a wicked king.[21]

In the first year of Darius the Mede, Daniel meditates on the word of Jeremiah that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years; he confesses the sin of Israel and pleads for God to restore Israel and the "desolated sanctuary" of the Temple. The angel Gabriel explains that the seventy years stand for seventy "weeks" of years (490 years), during which the Temple will first be restored, then later defiled by a "prince who is to come," "until the decreed end is poured out."[22]

Daniel 10: In the third year of Cyrus[Notes 5] Daniel sees in his vision an angel (called "a man", but clearly a supernatural being) who explains that he is in the midst of a war with the "prince of Persia", assisted only by Michael, "your prince." The "prince of Greece" will shortly come, but first he will reveal what will happen to Daniel's people.

Daniel 11: A future king of Persia will make war on the king of Greece, a "mighty king" will arise and wield power until his empire is broken up and given to others, and finally the king of the south (identified in verse 8 as Egypt) will go to war with the "king of the north." After many battles (described in great detail) a "contemptible person" will become king of the north; this king will invade the south two times, the first time with success, but on his second he will be stopped by "ships of Kittim." He will turn back to his own country, and on the way his soldiers will desecrate the Temple, abolish the daily sacrifice, and set up the abomination of desolation. He will defeat and subjugate Libya and Egypt, but "reports from the east and north will alarm him," and he will meet his end "between the sea and the holy mountain."

Daniel 12: At this time Michael will come. It will be a time of great distress, but all those whose names are written will be delivered. "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt; those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever." In the final verses the remaining time to the end is revealed: "a time, times and half a time" (three years and a half). Daniel fails to understand and asks again what will happen, and is told: "From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days."

The Greek text of Daniel is considerably longer than the Hebrew, due to three additional stories: they remain in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles but were rejected by the Protestant movement in the 16th century on the basis that they were absent from Jewish Bibles.[23]

Daniel refusing to eat at the King's table, early 1900s Bible illustration

The visions of chapters 7–12 reflect the crisis which took place in Judea in 167–164 BCE when Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Greek king of the Seleucid Empire, threatened to destroy traditional Jewish worship in Jerusalem.[24] When Antiochus came to the throne in 175 BCE the Jews were largely pro-Seleucid. The High Priestly family was split by rivalry, and one member, Jason, offered the king a large sum to be made High Priest. Jason also asked—or more accurately, paid—to be allowed to make Jerusalem a polis, or Greek city. This meant, among other things, that city government would be in the hands of the citizens, which meant in turn that citizenship would be a valuable commodity, to be purchased from Jason. None of this threatened the Jewish religion, and the reforms were widely welcomed, especially among the Jerusalem aristocracy and the leading priests. Three years later Jason was deposed when another priest, Menelaus, offered Antiochus an even larger sum for the post of High Priest.[25]

Antiochus invaded Egypt twice, in 169 BCE with success, but on the second incursion, in late 168 BCE, he was forced to withdraw by the Romans.[26] Jason, hearing a rumour that Antiochus was dead, attacked Menelaus to take back the High Priesthood.[26] Antiochus drove Jason out of Jerusalem, plundered the Temple, and introduced measures to pacify his Egyptian border by imposing complete Hellenisation: the Jewish Book of the Law was prohibited and on 15 December 167 BCE an "abomination of desolation", probably a Greek altar, was introduced into the Temple.[27] With the Jewish religion now clearly under threat a resistance movement sprang up, led by the Maccabee brothers, and over the next three years it won sufficient victories over Antiochus to take back and purify the Temple.[26]

The crisis which the author of Daniel addresses is the defilement of the altar in Jerusalem in 167 BCE (first introduced in chapter 8:11): the daily offering which used to take place twice a day, at morning and evening, stopped, and the phrase "evenings and mornings" recurs through the following chapters as a reminder of the missed sacrifices.[28] But whereas the events leading up to the sacking of the Temple in 167 BCE and the immediate aftermath are remarkably accurate, the predicted war between the Syrians and the Egyptians (11:40–43) never took place, and the prophecy that Antiochus would die in Palestine (11:44–45) was inaccurate (he died in Persia).[29] The obvious conclusion is that the account must have been completed near the end of the reign of Antiochus but before his death in December 164 BCE, or at least before news of it reached Jerusalem, and the consensus of modern scholarship is accordingly that the book dates to the period 167–163 BCE.[30][31]

It is generally accepted that Daniel originated as a collection of Aramaic court tales later expanded by the Hebrew revelations.[32] The court tales may have originally circulated independently, but the edited collection was probably composed in the third or early second century BCE.[33] Chapter 1 was composed (in Aramaic) at this time as a brief introduction to provide historical context, introduce the characters of the tales, and explain how Daniel and his friends came to Babylon.[34] The visions of chapters 7–12 were added and chapter 1 translated into Hebrew at the third stage when the final book was being drawn together.[34]

Daniel is a product of "Wisdom" circles, but the type of wisdom is mantic (the discovery of heavenly secrets from earthly signs) rather than the wisdom of learning—the main source of wisdom in Daniel is God's revelation.[35][36] It is one of a large number of Jewish apocalypses, all of them pseudonymous.[37] The stories of the first half are legendary in origin, and the visions of the second the product of anonymous authors in the Maccabean period (2nd century BCE).[5] Chapters 1–6 are in the voice of an anonymous narrator, except for chapter 4 which is in the form of a letter from king Nebuchadnezzar; the second half (chapters 7–12) is presented by Daniel himself, introduced by the anonymous narrator in chapters 7 and 10.[38]

The author/editor was probably an educated Jew, knowledgeable in Greek learning, and of high standing in his own community. It is possible that the name of Daniel was chosen for the hero of the book because of his reputation as a wise seer in Hebrew tradition.[39] Ezekiel, who lived during the Babylonian exile, mentioned him in association with Noah and Job (Ezekiel 14:14) as a figure of legendary wisdom (28:3), and a hero named Daniel (more accurately Dan'el, but the spelling is close enough for the two to be regarded as identical) features in a late 2nd millennium myth from Ugarit.[40] "The legendary Daniel, known from long ago but still remembered as an exemplary character ... serves as the principal human 'hero' in the biblical book that now bears his name"; Daniel is the wise and righteous intermediary who is able to interpret dreams and thus convey the will of God to humans, the recipient of visions from on high that are interpreted to him by heavenly intermediaries.[41]

The prophecies of Daniel are accurate down to the career of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of Syria and oppressor of the Jews, but not in its prediction of his death: the author seems to know about Antiochus' two campaigns in Egypt (169 and 167 BCE), the desecration of the Temple (the "abomination of desolation"), and the fortification of the Akra (a fortress built inside Jerusalem), but he seems to know nothing about the reconstruction of the Temple or about the actual circumstances of Antiochus' death in late 164 BCE. Chapters 10–12 must therefore have been written between 167 and 164 BCE. There is no evidence of a significant time lapse between those chapters and chapters 8 and 9, and chapter 7 may have been written just a few months earlier again.[42]

Further evidence of the book's date is in the fact that Daniel is excluded from the Hebrew Bible's canon of the prophets, which was closed around 200 BCE, and the Wisdom of Sirach, a work dating from around 180 BCE, draws on almost every book of the Old Testament except Daniel, leading scholars to suppose that its author was unaware of it. Daniel is, however, quoted in a section of the Sibylline Oracles commonly dated to the middle of the 2nd century BCE, and was popular at Qumran at much the same time, suggesting that it was known from the middle of that century.[43]

The Book of Daniel is preserved in the 12-chapter Masoretic Text and in two longer Greek versions, the original Septuagint version, c. 100 BCE, and the later Theodotion version from c. 2nd century CE. Both Greek texts contain three additions to Daniel: ; the story of Susannah and the Elders; and the story of Bel and the Dragon. Theodotion is much closer to the Masoretic Text and became so popular that it replaced the original Septuagint version in all but two manuscripts of the Septuagint itself.[44][45][8] The Greek additions were apparently never part of the Hebrew text.[46]

Eight copies of the Book of Daniel, all incomplete, have been found at Qumran, two in Cave 1, five in Cave 4, and one in Cave 6. Between them, they preserve text from eleven of Daniel's twelve chapters, and the twelfth is quoted in the Florilegium (a compilation scroll) 4Q174, showing that the book at Qumran did not lack this conclusion. All eight manuscripts were copied between 125 BCE (4QDanc) and about 50 CE (4QDanb), showing that Daniel was being read at Qumran only about 40 years after its composition. All appear to preserve the 12-chapter Masoretic version rather than the longer Greek text. None reveal any major disagreements against the Masoretic, and the four scrolls that preserve the relevant sections (1QDana, 4QDana, 4QDanb, and 4QDand) all follow the bilingual nature of Daniel where the book opens in Hebrew, switches to Aramaic at 2:4b, then reverts to Hebrew at 8:1.[47]

(This section deals with modern scholarly reconstructions of the meaning of Daniel to its original authors and audience)

The Book of Daniel is an apocalypse, a literary genre in which a heavenly reality is revealed to a human recipient; such works are characterized by visions, symbolism, an other-worldly mediator, an emphasis on cosmic events, angels and demons, and pseudonymity (false authorship).[48] The production of apocalypses occurred commonly from 300 BCE to 100 CE, not only among Jews and Christians, but also among Greeks, Romans, Persians and Egyptians, and Daniel is a representative apocalyptic seer, the recipient of divine revelation: he has learned the wisdom of the Babylonian magicians and surpassed them, because his God is the true source of knowledge; he is one of the maskilim (משכלים), the wise ones, who have the task of teaching righteousness and whose number may be considered to include the authors of the book itself.[49] The book is also an eschatology, as the divine revelation concerns the end of the present age, a predicted moment in which God will intervene in history to usher in the final kingdom.[50] It gives no real details of the end-time, but it seems that God's kingdom will be on this earth, that it will be governed by justice and righteousness, and that the tables will be turned on the Seleucids and those Jews who have cooperated with them.[51]

The message of the Book of Daniel is that, just as the God of Israel saved Daniel and his friends from their enemies, so he would save all Israel in their present oppression.[3] The book is filled with monsters, angels, and numerology, drawn from a wide range of sources, both biblical and non-biblical, that would have had meaning in the context of 2nd-century Jewish culture, and while Christian interpreters have always viewed these as predicting events in the New Testament—"the Son of God", "the Son of Man", Christ and the Antichrist—the book's intended audience is the Jews of the 2nd century BCE.[52] The following explains a few of these predictions, as understood by modern biblical scholars.

Engraving of Daniel's vision of the four beasts in chapter 7 by Matthäus Merian, 1630.

The concepts of immortality and resurrection, with rewards for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, have roots much deeper than Daniel, but the first clear statement is found in the final chapter of that book: "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to everlasting shame and contempt."[68] Without this belief, Christianity, in which the resurrection of Jesus plays a central role, would have disappeared, like the movements following other charismatic Jewish figures of the 1st century.[69]

Daniel was quoted and referenced by both Jews and Christians in the 1st century CE as predicting the imminent end-time.[70] Moments of national and cultural crisis continually reawakened the apocalyptic spirit, through the Montanists of the 2nd/3rd centuries, persecuted for their millennialism, to the more extreme elements of the 16th-century Reformation such as the Zwickau prophets and the Münster Rebellion.[71] During the English Civil War, the Fifth Monarchy Men took their name and political program from Daniel 7, demanding that Oliver Cromwell allow them to form a "government of saints" in preparation for the coming of the Messiah; when Cromwell refused, they identified him instead as the Beast usurping the rightful place of King Jesus.[72] For modern popularizers, the visions and revelations of Daniel remain a guide to the future, when the Antichrist will be destroyed by Jesus Christ at the Second Coming.[73]

The influence of Daniel has not been confined to Judaism and Christianity: In the Middle Ages Muslims created horoscopes whose authority was attributed to Daniel. More recently the Baháʼí Faith, which originated in Persian Shi'ite Islam, justified its existence on the 1260-day prophecy of Daniel, holding that it foretold the coming of the Twelfth Imam and an age of peace and justice in the year 1844, which is the year 1260 of the Muslim era.[74]

Daniel belongs not only to the religious tradition but also to the wider Western intellectual and artistic heritage. It was easily the most popular of the prophetic books for the Anglo-Saxons, who nevertheless treated it not as prophecy but as a historical book, "a repository of dramatic stories about confrontations between God and a series of emperor-figures who represent the highest reach of man".[75] Isaac Newton paid special attention to it, Francis Bacon borrowed a motto from it for his work Novum Organum, Baruch Spinoza drew on it, its apocalyptic second half attracted the attention of Carl Jung, and it inspired musicians from medieval liturgical drama to Darius Milhaud and artists including Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Eugène Delacroix.[74]