Daniel and the Book of Daniel

Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Daniel, The Book of. O.T. book written by an unknown author during the Greek rule over the Jews (about 168 B.C.) to encourage the faithful to have hope in the eventual triumph of God in history. The setting of the book is the time of the exile. The stories and visions in it comprise a type of secret language intended to make sense to those who would read them as symbols of persons and powers in the history of that time. Such writing is called "apocalyptic" (meaning "revealing"), and is represented in the Bible by the books of Daniel and The Revelation.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Daniel, the Book of, an ot Bible book placed with the Writings in the Hebrew Bible but with the Prophets in the ancient collections of Scripture. Chaps. 1-6 are stories set at the Babylonian and Persian courts, narrated in the third person. Chaps. 7-12 are apocalyptic revelations, narrated in the first person. The Greek translations include certain additions accepted as canonical by the Roman Catholic Church: the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men in chap. 3 and the stories of Susanna and Bel and the Dragon in additional chapters. Even within the twelve chapters of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible there are signs of composite authorship. Chaps. 1:1-2:4a and chaps. 8-12 are in Hebrew; chaps. 2:4b-7:28 are in Aramaic.


The Book of Daniel

The stories in Daniel 1-6 bristle with historical problems. Chap. 4 tells of the transformation of Nebuchadnezzar into a beast. This story seems to have its origin in an episode in the life of Nabonidus, the last Babylonian king. A variant of the tradition has been found in the ‘Prayer of Nabonidus’ among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Chap. 5 represents Belshazzar as king of Babylon at the time of its destruction, although he was never actually king. Chap. 6 speaks of a wholly unhistorical Darius the Mede who is said to have been the conqueror of Babylon. Darius was the name of later Persian monarchs. In view of these problems, the stories in chaps. 1-6 must have been written a considerable time after the Babylonian exile.

The apocalyptic section of the book, chaps. 7-12, can be dated more precisely. Chap. 11 contains a lengthy prophecy of history, communicated to Daniel by an angel. No names are mentioned, but persons and events can be easily identified down to Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Syria and his persecution of the Jews, which began in 168 b.c. The prophecy goes on to predict, incorrectly, that the king would die in the land of Israel. We must infer that the accurate ‘prophecy’ was written after the fact and that the actual time of composition was during the persecution, but prior to the king’s death in 164 b.c. The persecution is also the focal point of the other apocalyptic revelations in chaps. 7-12. By contrast, there is no clear allusion to it in chaps. 1-6.

The composition of the book, then, can be reconstructed as follows: the Aramaic stories were traditional tales that probably took shape in the third century b.c. Chap. 7 was added in Aramaic after the outbreak of the persecution. Chaps. 8-12 were then added in Hebrew, perhaps for nationalistic reasons. Chap. 1 was either translated from the Aramaic or composed as an introduction to the book, in Hebrew. Scholarly opinions vary on the details of this reconstruction but there is a consensus on its main outline. Many conservative Christians however continue to defend the view that the whole book was composed in the sixth century b.c. and that Daniel was a historical person.

In its final form the book of Daniel was intended to offer hope and consolation to the persecuted Jews. It shows no sympathy for the armed revolt of the Maccabees. Instead it advocates a stance of piety and acceptance of martyrdom. The victory is in the hands of Michael the Archangel. The martyrs will be rewarded in the resurrection, when they will ‘shine like the stars.’ Daniel is the only book in the Hebrew Bible that clearly attests a belief in resurrection. It is also the only ot example of the apocalyptic genre. Daniel’s visions are interpreted by an angel. The division of history into a set number of periods, which is characteristic of apocalyptic writings, is found in the four-kingdom prophecy in chap. 2 and again in chap. 7. The prophecy of Jer. 25:11-12 and 29:10, that the Jews would be restored after seventy years, is reinterpreted in Dan. 9 as seventy weeks of years. The most influential part of the book, however, is the vision in chap. 7 of ‘one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven’ (v. 13). This figure is variously interpreted as a collective representation of the Jewish people, or, more probably, as their angelic representative, Michael. In the nt the phrase ‘son of man’ from Dan. 7:13 was adapted so that Son of man became a title for Jesus (see Mark 14:62).

Daniel, the hero of the Book of Daniel, represented as a Jew in the Babylonian exile who is skilled in the interpretation of dreams and is miraculously preserved in the lions’ den. Daniel was already the name of a legendary wise man in Ezek. 28:3 and was linked with Noah and Job (Ezek. 14:14). This legendary figure is probably related to the Dnil of the Ugaritic Aqhat legend (from about 1500 b.c.). Dnil was a judge who defended the fatherless and the widow. The function of judge is suggested by the name Daniel (Heb., ‘my judge is God’ or possibly ‘judge of God’) and appears again in the story of Susanna. The author of the biblical book probably took over the legendary name for his fictional hero.

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