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The Book of Daniel (Hebrew דָּנִיֵּאל, Dānī’ēl, "God is my judge") is "the account of the activities and visions of Daniel, a noble Jew exiled at Babylon." In the Hebrew Bible it is found in the writings while in Christian Bibles and the Septuagint it is grouped with the prophets.
The Jewish/Protestant version of Daniel (the Greek and Catholic version contains additional material) divides into two parts, a set of tales in chapters 1–6 in which Daniel and his companions demonstrate the superiority of their God, and the series of visions making up chapters 7–12. Traditionally ascribed to Daniel himself, modern scholarly consensus considers the book pseudonymous, the stories of the first half legendary in origin, and the visions of the second the product of anonymous authors in the Maccabean period (2nd century BCE). Its exclusion from the Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve) was probably because it appeared after the canon for those books had closed, and the dominant view among scholars is that Daniel is not in any case a prophetic book but an apocalypse.
The book's message 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. Its influence has resonated through later ages, from the Dead Sea Scrolls community and the authors of the gospels and Revelation, the various movements from the 2nd century to the Protestant Reformation, and modern millennialist movements, on whom it continues to have a profound influence.
Daniel falls into two halves, chapters 1–6 containing six tales of Jewish heroism set in the Babylonian court, and chapters 7–12 containing four apocalyptic visions. This is complicated somewhat by the fact that chapters 1 and 8–12 are in Hebrew and 2–7 in Aramaic. The reasons behind this have never been satisfactorily explained. Chapters 1–6 show a progression over time in terms of their setting, from Babylonian to Median times, which begins again (Babylonian to Persian) in chapters 7–12. The following outline is provided by John J. Collins in his commentary on Daniel:
PART I: Tales (chapters 1:1–6:29)
PART II: Visions (chapters 7:1–12:13)
There is also a clear chiasm (a poetic structure in which the main point or message of a passage is placed in the centre and framed by further repetitions on either side) in the Aramaic section of the book, chapters 2–7. (The following is taken from Paul Redditt's "Introduction to the Prophets"):
The story begins with a brief reference to king Nebuchadnezzar robbing the Jerusalem Temple (Solomon's Temple) and carrying its treasures back to Babylon. It goes on to describe how some young members of the Judean nobility, including Daniel and his three companions, are inducted into the king's service. Daniel and his companions are given Babylonian names, but refuse to be 'defiled' by the royal provisions of food and wine. Their overseer fears for his life in case the health of his charges deteriorates, but Daniel suggests a ten-day trial on a simple diet of vegetables and water. When they miraculously emerge healthier than their counterparts, Daniel and his friends are allowed to continue with their diet. At the end of the induction period, the king finds them 'ten times better' than all the wise men in his service, and it is noted that Daniel has a particular gift for dream interpretation.
Nebuchadnezzar has a disturbing dream and asks his wise men to interpret it, but refuses to divulge its content. When they protest he sentences all of them, including Daniel and his friends, to death. Daniel asks permission to petition his God for a solution. He receives an explanatory vision in the night: Nebuchadnezzar has dreamed of an enormous statue with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of copper, legs of iron, and feet of mixed iron and clay. The statue is destroyed by a rock that turns into a huge mountain, filling the whole earth. The statue symbolises four successive kingdoms, starting with Nebuchadnezzar, all of which will be crushed by God's kingdom, which will endure forever. Nebuchadnezzar raises Daniel to be chief over all his wise men, and appoints him and his companions to rule over all the chief cities of Babylon.
Daniel's companions Ananias (Hananiah/Shadrach), Azariah (Abednego), and Mishael (Meshach) refuse to bow to the emperor's golden statue and are thrown into a furnace. Nebuchadnezzar sees a fourth figure appear in the furnace with the three and God is credited for preserving them from the flames. Daniel does not appear in this story.
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.
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 of the palace. The horrified king eventually summons Daniel who is able to read the writing and offer the following interpretation: Mene, Mene – God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel – You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Upharsin – Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians. "That very night" Belshazzar was slain and "Darius the Mede" took over the kingdom.
Daniel is elevated to a pre-eminent position under Darius which elicits the jealousy of other officials. Knowing of Daniel's devotion to his God, these officials trick the king into issuing an edict forbidding worship of any other god or man for a 30-day period. Because 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. God shuts up the mouths of the lions and the next morning king Darius finds Daniel unharmed and casts his accusers and their families into the lions' pit where they are instantly devoured.
This vision, set in the first year of Belshazzar, concerns four great beasts (7:3) representing future kings (7:17) or kingdoms (7:23). The fourth of these devours the whole earth, treading it down and crushing it (7:23). This fourth beast has ten horns representing ten kings. They are followed by a further wicked king, or "little horn", who subdues three of the ten (7:24), speaks against the Most High, wages war against the saints, and attempts to change the set times and laws (7:25). After 'a time and times and half a time', this king is judged and stripped of his kingdom by an "Ancient of Days" and his heavenly court (7:26). Next, "one like a son of man" approaches the Ancient of Days and is invested with worldwide dominion. Moreover, his everlasting reign over all earthly kingdoms is shared with "the people of the Most High" (7:27).
This vision in the third year of Belshazzar describes Daniel's vision of a ram and goat that, according to the text, represent Media, Persia (the ram's two horns) and Greece (the goat). The goat with the mighty horn, becomes very powerful until the horn breaks off and is replaced by four "lesser" horns. The vision then focuses on a small horn that grows very large, representing a wicked king who arises to challenge the "army of the Lord" by removing the daily temple sacrifices and desecrating the sanctuary for a period of "twenty three hundred evening/mornings". The vision culminates in the "cleansing" or reconsecration of the temple.
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) This consists of a meditation on the prediction in Jeremiah that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years, a lengthy prayer by Daniel in which he pleads for God to restore Jerusalem and its temple, and an angelic explanation which focuses on a longer time period – "seventy sevens" – and a future restoration and destruction of city and temple by a coming ruler.
Daniel 10–12, set in the third year of Cyrus king of Persia (around 536 BCE), recounts a vision of a great war. Chapter 10 tells how an angel (called "a man", but clearly a supernatural being) appears to Daniel and 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 Daniel's people (the Jews) in that time.
Daniel 11 begins the angel's revelation of the coming war. 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 invasion 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. The triumphant king of the north will wage war in the Levant and 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: the angel reveals that at this time Michael, "the great prince who protects your people," 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" (two 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:
The additions to Daniel were accepted by all branches of Christianity until the Protestant movement rejected them in the 16th century on the basis that they were absent from Hebrew bibles; they remain in Catholic, Orthodox, and a few other bibles.
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The first impression of Daniel is of a discontinuous text composed of arbitrary units of various styles and genres, but an important article by H. H. Rowley, "The Unity of the Book of Daniel," has drawn attention to the book's extensive continuity and homogeneity, notably in the complementary character of the visions, the chiastic structure of the Aramaic part, the references to earlier episodes, and the frequent recurrence of otherwise uncommon Aramaic expressions.
Despite Rowley's defense of the book's overall unity, it is generally accepted that Daniel originated as a collection of Aramaic folk-tales later expanded by the Hebrew revelations. The folk-tales likely had a long prehistory and would have originated in the Babylonian diaspora. The first stage may have consisted of the stories in chapters 4–6, as these differ quite markedly in the oldest texts. In the second stage chapters 2 and 7 were added, creating the chiasm of the Aramaic section of the book, possibly including a brief Aramaic introduction telling how Daniel and his friends came to Babylon. In the third stage the Hebrew visions of chapters 8–12 were added, plus a revised Hebrew introduction making the present chapter 1.
Daniel is one of a large number of Jewish apocalypses, all of them pseudonymous. Although the entire book is traditionally ascribed to Daniel the seer, 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; only the second half (chapters 7–12) is presented by Daniel himself, introduced by the anonymous narrator in chapters 7 and 10. The real author/editor of Daniel was probably an educated Jew, knowledgeable in Greek learning, and of high standing in his own community. The book 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.
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. 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. "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.
Daniel's exclusion from the Hebrew bible's canon of the prophets, which was closed around 200 BCE, suggests it was not known at that time, and the Wisdom of Sirach, 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 by the author of a section of the Sibylline Oracles commonly dated to the middle of the 2nd century BCE, and was popular at Qumran beginning at much the same time, suggesting that it was known and revered from the middle of that century.
The actual historical setting of the book is clear from chapter 11, where the prophecy is 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 knows 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 knows nothing about the reconstruction of the Temple or the actual circumstances of the death of Antiochus in late 164. 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.
The visions of chapters 7–12 reflect the crisis which took place in Judea in 167–164 BCE when Antiochus IV, the Greek king of Syria, threatened to destroy traditional Jewish worship in Jerusalem. When Antiochus came to the throne 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.
Antiochus invaded Egypt twice, in 169 BCE with success, but on the second incursion, in late 168, he was forced to withdraw by the Romans. Jason, hearing a rumour that Antiochus was dead, attacked Menelaus to take back the High Priesthood. 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, as was circumcision, and on 15 December 167 an "abomination of desolation", probably a Greek altar, was introduced into the Temple. 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.
The crisis which the author of Daniel addresses is the destruction 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. But whereas the events leading up to the sacking of the Temple in 167 and the immediate aftermath are remarkably accurate (chapter 11:21–29), 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) is totally inaccurate (he died in Persia). The conclusion is that the account must have been completed near the end of the reign of Antiochus but before his death in December 164, or at least before news of it reached Jerusalem.
The Book of Daniel is preserved in the twelve-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 Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children; 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. The Greek additions were apparently never part of the Hebrew text.
A total of eight incomplete copies of the Book of Daniel have been found at Qumran, two in Cave 1, five in Cave 4, and one in Cave 6. None is complete, but 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 forty 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.
(This section deals with modern scholarly reconstructions of the meaning of Daniel to its original authors and audience)
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. Daniel is an apocalypse, a literary genre in which a heavenly reality is revealed to a human recipient; such works are characterised by visions, symbolism, an other-worldly mediator, an emphasis on cosmic events, angels and demons, and pseudonymity (false authorship). Apocalypses were common from 300 BCE to 100 CE, not only among Jews and Christians, but Greeks, Romans, Persians and Egyptians. Daniel, the book's hero, is a representative apocalyptic seer, the recipient of the divine revelation: 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 maskil, the wise, whose task is to teach righteousness.
The book is also an eschatology: the divine revelation concerns the end of the present age, a moment in which God will intervene in history to usher in the final kingdom. No real details of the end-time are given in Daniel, 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 cooperated with them.
Daniel 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 Jewishness. Professor Choon-Leong Seow of Princeton Theological Seminary states that 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 original readers would not have accepted that Daniel's predictions had nothing to do with them. The following explains a few of these, as understood by modern biblical scholars.
The concepts of immortality and resurrection, with rewards for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, were raised for the first time in Judaism in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE. The doctrine has roots much deeper than Daniel, but is clearly stated 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." Christianity would have disappeared, like the movements following other charismatic Jewish figures of the 1st century, had it not been for the perceived resurrection of Jesus. Further influential elements in shaping elements within the Christian gospel traditions and Revelation included Daniel's vision of the "Son of Man" and the "Ancient of Days" (Daniel 7) – although it is note-worthy that the Danielic Son of Man is completely absent from the rest of the New Testament writings, suggesting that it was of little if any importance in the rest of Christianity as represented in the NT.
Daniel was quoted and referenced by both Jews and Christians the 1st century CE as predicting the imminent end-time. 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 Zwikau prophets and the Anabaptist "Kingdom" in Munster. 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.
Daniel remains one of the most influential apocalypses in modern America, along with Ezekiel and Revelation. For modern popularisers elaborating a traditional Christian interpretive framework, Daniel is a prophet who foretells the first coming of Jesus and a series of events that still lie in the future, when a ten-nation confederation (symbolised by the ten toes of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar's dream), ruled by the Antichrist (the "little horn"), will be destroyed by Jesus (the "rock not made by human hands") as he returns (the Second Coming to rule the final and eternal kingdom. The basic themes in apocalyptic belief as a whole include: America's destiny; Antichrist's identity and signs of his activity in current events; the precise sequence of end-time events; and the vision of a world far different from the present one. Individual interpretations of the biblical texts have been ever-changing: in the first half of the 19th century, Daniel was found to have foretold the American Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. itself was the Danielic Fifth Kingdom. In the 1980s the advent of the ten-member European Union was greeted as confirmation of the ten toes and horns of Daniel's visions, a new Roman Empire, "ready to install a modern-day Nero Caesar on the throne;" However, EU membership rose to 12 by the late 1980s and 28 by 2013, with several more countries moving towards membership.
Nor has the influence of Daniel been confined to Judaism and Christianity: the Quran's tale of Dhul-Qarnayn (the man of the two horns) may be based on Daniel 8, while in the Middle Ages Muslims created horoscopes whose authority was attributed to Daniel. More recently the Bahai movement, which originated in Persian Shi'ite Islam, justified its existence on the 1,260-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.
Daniel belongs not only to the religious tradition but also to the Western secular heritage. Philosophers (Spinoza), psychologists (Carl Jung) and the physicist Isaac Newton all paid special attention to the book, it has inspired musicians from Medieval liturgical drama to the 20th century compositions of Darius Milhaud, and artists including Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Delacroix have drawn upon its imagery.
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