Book of Daniel is one of the most contested portions of the Old Testament

Taken from:

The Book of Daniel

Robert I Bradshaw

1 Introduction

For reasons that will soon become clear the book of Daniel is one of the most contested portions of the Old Testament, perhaps second only to the early chapters of Genesis. The book derives its name from its author and central character, whose experiences in the court of Babylon form the majority of the first six chapters and the his dreams and visions the last six. Regarding the interpretation of these visions there are almost as many views as there are commentators, so only the most plausible interpretations are referred to here.

2 Date

The date of the book of Daniel is one of the most hotly contested themes in OT scholarship. Two main views prevail: a) That the book was written in the second Century BC in Judea in order to encourage the people of Israel undergoing persecution by the Seleucids under Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Writing after the event the writer cast his work as a prediction of the future and urged his fellow Jews to remain faithful to their God. b) That it was written in the 6th Century BC in Babylon by a Jewish exile named Daniel who served in the royal court and accurately predicted events that were not fulfilled until the Second Century.

2.1 Internal Evidence.

2.1.1 The Book’s Claim to a Predictive Prophecy. On numerous occasions Daniel claims to be predicting the future (Dan. 2:29; 4:24-25; 5:24-30; 7 – 12). Following the established custom among the Old Testament prophets Daniel was often instructed to seal up his visions, so that after the events had been fulfilled the people might have clear evidence that the prophet had foreseen (Dan. 8:26; 12:4, 9; cf. Isa. 8:16; 29:11; 30:8; Jer. 30:2; 32:14; 36:1-32; Hab. 2:2-3) (Wenham, 1977: 50). Since the time of the Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry (c.232 – c.305 AD) the presence of predictive prophecy in Scripture has been denied. Porphyry, an intelligent man, produced a detailed verse by verse study of the book of Daniel in support of his argument for a second century date in volume 12 of his 15 volume work Against the Christians which survives in part in Jerome’s 5th century Commentary on Daniel (Wilken, 1984: 139-143). During the Enlightenment many of Porphyry’s arguments were revived and these, together with the conviction that predictive prophecy is impossible, still form the basis of liberal views on the book of Daniel.

2.1.2 The Book’s Claim That the Author Lived in the Sixth Century BC. Several times Daniel refers to himself as the witness of the events he describes (7:2; 8:1, 15, 27; 9:22; 10:2, 7; 12:5) and claims that he was present in the royal court in Babylon from shortly after his exile from Judea in 605 to around 535 BC (Dan. 1:21; 10:1). The text contains many historical references that would have been unknown to a Second Century writer. These include the assertions that: a) Neo-Babylon was the creation of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:30); b) Belshazzar was the second ruler of the Empire and governed Babylon in his father Nabonidus’ place (implied by Belshazzar only being able to offer Daniel third position in the kingdom – 5:7, 16, 29) (Pffeifer, 1948: 757-759), and c) that Shushan was to be found in the province of Elam (8:2). In the Persian and Roman periods Shushan gave its name to the province in which it was located (Archer, 1985b: 408-409). In addition to the Daniel’s own statements concerning himself we also have the testimony of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel (Matt. 24:15). This establishes that he believed Daniel to be the book’s author.

Against this it is sometimes argued that the fact that Daniel makes no mention of either the destruction of Jerusalem or the return of the exile in 539 BC counts against his being contemporary with these events. Such an argument carries no real weight as the focus of the book is on events in Babylon, not in Judea. It is not necessary for any piece of literature to be comprehensive in its scope for it to be historically accurate.

2.1.3 Language. The most significant feature about the language of the book of Daniel is the encapsulation of an Aramaic core (2:4b – 7:28) inside a Hebrew shell (1:1 -2:4a; 8:1 – 12:13). It has been noted that Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Ancient world (cf. 2 Kings 18:26). It was therefore appropriate that messages concerning the Gentile nations contained within the central section of the book be recorded in this language. The beginning and end of the book, which relate specifically to the Jewish nation, are written in Hebrew (Archer, 1985a: 6). The use of different languages is no longer seen as evidence of disunity, but a R.K. Harrison points out:

The device of enclosing the main body of a composition within the linguistic form of a contrasting style so as to heighten the effect of the work was commonly employed in the construction of single, integrated writings in the corpus of Mesopotamian literature (Harrison, 1970: 1109-1110).

Another biblical example of this technique is to be found in the book of Job, that encloses a poetic core (3:1 – 42:6) within a narrative introduction and epilogue (1:1- 2:13; 42:6-17). Ezra is written for the most part in late Hebrew, but also contains Aramaic sections (4:8 – 6:18; 7:12-26).

The presence of Persian and Greek loan words in Daniel (3:5, 15) has long been considered a problem for those who would argue for an early date for the book (so Pfeiffer, 1948: 756-757). However, further study has shown that linguistic arguments alone are inadequate when it comes to dating the book one way or the other (Kitchen, 1970: 79). Our knowledge of the development of the vocabularies of Aramaic and Hebrew from the 6th to the 2nd century BC is too fragmentary to prove that the text of Daniel contains “late” words. However, there are certain factors that favour an early date, such as the mistranslation in the Septuagint (dating from the Second Century BC) of some of the Aramaic words used in Daniel. Such an occurrence is more explicable if the translators were dealing with words with which they were no longer familiar (i.e. if the text of Daniel was from the 6th century) than if they were working on a contemporary manuscript. Persian words found in Daniel are traceable to the Old Persian Period which ended about 300 BC (Kitchen, 1970: 42-44).

The presence of three Greek loan words is easily explained, as all three refer to the names of musical instruments (lyre/zither, harp/trigon and pipe/bagpipes – 3:5, 10, 15). We now know that the Greeks traded extensively throughout the Ancient Near East from at least the 8th Century BC, and Greek mercenaries were common from the 7th Century. These facts, together with Daniel’s position in the Royal Court (Dan. 2:49), the diplomatic centre of the Empire, adequately explain the few loan words that he uses (Kitchen, 1970: 44-50). All of these occurrences are completely consistent with a 6th Century date.

2.1.4 Apocalyptic Character. The second half of the book of Daniel is written belongs to a literary genre known as apocalyptic. The characteristics of this genre have been defined by examining documents of the same type and so not every apocalyptic writing necessarily contains all the distinctive features. These are: 1) Revelatory Nature. This is distinct from the nature of the revelations about the future given to the OT prophets which were intended to communicate the Word of the Lord with the aim of reminding the people of their covenant responsibilities. To this central message the foretelling of the future took second place. In apocalyptic, however, the events of future are themselves the centre of attention. 2) Artificial nature. In general the visions and dreams the are literary fictions rather than genuine subjective experiences. There is nothing in Daniel to suggest that his visions were artificial – he recorded what he saw. 3) Pseudonymity. The revelation is presented in the name of a long dead Old Testament character. It is probable that after the end of the prophetic era in order to be taken seriously writers felt it necessary to deceive their readership by ascribing their work to an author who had lived at a time when the Lord was indeed still speaking to his people. In addition it is important to note that outside of the book of Daniel the character of Daniel himself was unknown (see 9.1). In no way could a later writer have appealed to him to lend authority to his work. 4) Pseudo-Prophecy. Having selected an ancient figure the author often rewrote history down to his own day and so presented it as a fulfilled prophecy. Characteristically the details of the “prophecy” became more vague the nearer one comes to the time of the actual writer of the work, and this is used by modern scholars to establish its date. This principle is often applied to the book of Daniel and it is argued that whilst Daniel 11:21-39 accurately describes the career of Antiochus Epiphanes, verses 40-45 are much less accurate, so indicating the true date when the book was written. However, it is more likely that just as the prophecy in 11:2-3 jumps 130 years, the fulfilment of vv. 40-45 occurs long after the Maccabean Period. Many commentators argue that the fulfilment of these verses is still future (e.g. Archer, 1985a: 146-148). 5) Symbolism. The visions are cast in the form of complex symbols that often require interpretation (e.g. Zech. 6:1-8; Dan. 7:1, 15-28). 6) Dualism. A sharp distinction is drawn both between this age and the age to come and between the power of God and the powers of evil that dominate this present age. This dualism becomes more pronounced in later apocalypses. It is discernible in the book of Daniel when it refers to the four human kingdoms (this age) and the rock representing God’s kingdom that will bring the human kingdoms to an end (2:31-35, 44-45a). Daniel also contains references to evil forces that oppose the will of God and require additional effort to overcome them (Dan. 10:13, 20) (see 7.1.3). 7) Lack of Historical Perspective in Eschatology. Whereas the prophets saw a purpose in history leading eventually to a day of judgement and vindication of the upright, apocalyptic lacks the positive understanding that God is working out his purposes. 8) Pessimism. The apocalyptic writings are not pessimistic in the sense of losing their faith in God, but rather in their despair of this present evil age in which he does not seem to act. In contrast to this pessimism it is clear that one of the themes of Daniel is the conviction that the God of Israel is also the Lord of history (2:37-38, 44, 47; 4:28-35; 5:18-21; 6:26) (see 7.1.2). 9) Determinism. The plan of history is already written and cannot be altered and God himself is viewed as waiting for his plans to come to fruition rather than actively working them out. The writers of apocalypses usually assumed that they stand at the end of this history on the threshold of the new age. 10) Ethical Passivity. Unlike the writings of the prophets, reminding the people of their covenant obligations, apocalypses were directed to the righteous remnant and usually did not include moral exhortation because the remnant was believed to be those who did uphold the Law (Ladd, 1979: 151-156).

From this brief summary it is obvious that the book of Daniel contains only a few of the features found in the later apocalypses and so cannot be subject to the same generalisations that are applied to them. For example, many scholars who argue for a second century date point often argue that as Daniel contains apocalyptic it must therefore be pseudonymous. Such reasoning ignores the most likely explanation: that apocalyptic literature modelled itself, at least in part, on the book of Daniel not vice versa. The existence of other OT passages that contain elements of apocalyptic (e.g. Isa. 25-27; Zech. 9) that cannot be dated as late as the Second Century BC support this view of literary development (Wenham, 1977: 50).

2.1.5 The Characters of the Kings. Advocates of the second century date (beginning with Porphyry in the third century AD) argue that a Maccabean writer attempted to use his work to encourage the Jews to remain faithful during the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. According to this view the characters of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius were all styled on Antiochus IV. Although there are many similarities between the kings, the differences are more significant, particularly their motives in persecuting the Jews (see Table 1 below). It should also be noted that Antiochus desecrated rather than destroyed the Temple as Nebuchadnezzar had done. Nor was he ever likely to issue a decree protecting the Jews from religious persecution (cf. Dan. 3:28-29).

Table 1: A Comparison of the Characters of Nebuchadnezzar and Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Similarities Nebuchadnezzar / Belshazzar / Darius the Mede Antiochus IV Epiphanes
Represented as God’s instrument on a sinful nation Dan. 1:1-2 (Nebuchadnezzar) 2 Macc. 5:17-20; 6:12-17
Proud and arrogant Dan. 4:27, 31 (Nebuchadnezzar) 1 Macc. 1:21; 2 Macc. 5:21
Destroyed the Lord’s Temple, removed the sacred vessels and put an end to worship there. Dan. 1:2 (Nebuchadnezzar) 1 Macc. 1:20-24; 2 Macc. 6:1-2
The reason behind their mistreatment of the Jews. The suffering of the Jews was a by-product rather than the purpose of the kings actions. In the case of Darius he is presented as being a victim of the intrigue of his courtiers against Daniel. At other times the Jews had freedom to practice their own religion (Dan. 2:12-13; 3:8-15; 6:3-9; cf. 1:11-16; 3:28-29;6:10b). Deliberately set out to compel their Jewish subjects to violate their consciences by doing things forbidden in the Law (1 Macc. 1:41-64; 2 Macc. 6-7)

2.1.6 The Renaming of Daniel and his Friends. Daniel 1:7 describes how Daniel and his four friends received new names, some containing the names of Babylonian and Sumerian deities (see Table 2). It seems improbable that a Second Century writer would fabricate such a story or allow it to pass without comment in a situation where the preservation of the purity of the Jewish faith was considered so critical.

Table 2: The Meanings of the Names of Daniel and his Companions

Jewish Name


Babylonian Name


Daniel My Judge is El Belteshazzar May (a god) protect his life
Hananiah Yahweh has shown Grace Shadrach The Command of Aku
Mishael Who is What El is? Meshach Who is What Aku is?
Azariah Yahweh has Helped Abednego Servant of Nego

2.2 External Evidence

2.2.1 Daniel 1:1. The contents of the first verse in Daniel have been challenged on two counts. It is often claimed that the date given by Daniel for the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign contradicts that given by Jeremiah (so Pfeiffer, 1948: 756) (see Table 3). This objection is easily answered as the Babylonians used the Accession year system of dating (also known as post-dating) and the Judeans the non-Accession year system (or antedating). It is not surprising that Daniel follows the Babylonian system and therefore dates Jehoiakim’s reign as being one year less than that given by Jeremiah.

Table 3: Apparent Contradictions Between Dates Given By Jeremiah and Daniel






Nebuchadnezzar besieges Jerusalem 605 Dan. 1:1 3rd year of Jehoiakim 1st year of Nebuchadnezzar
Nebuchadnezzar besieges Jerusalem 605 Jer 25:1 4th year of Jehoiakim 1st year of Nebuchadnezzar
Battle of Carchemish 605 Jer 46:2 4th Year of Jehoiakim

The second objection involves the circumstances of Daniel’s exile to Babylon. There is no extrabiblical evidence for a siege of Jerusalem in 605 BC, but we do know from the Babylonian Chronicle that Nebuchadnezzar was in the area, pursuing the remnants of the Egyptian army after his victory at Carchemish (see Exile 4.1). Although our only evidence for this event comes from Scripture there is no real reason, apart from critical presuppositions, why it could not be an accurate account (Wiseman, 1970: 16-18).

2.2.2 The Identity of Darius the Mede. Daniel provides us with a number of facts about Nabonidus’ successor to the throne of Babylon: i) His name was Darius; ii) He was the son of Xerxes; iii) he was a Mede (Dan. 9:1), and iv) he began to rule when he was 62 years old (6:1). Despite this no extrabiblical evidence that such a person existed. It is generally agreed that this remains the strongest evidence against a seventh century origin for the book of Daniel (Wiseman, 1970: 9). Two main solutions have been suggested by conservative scholars. Both argue that the name Darius was a honorific title just as “Caesar” and “Augustus” was in the Roman Empire (Hoerth, 1998: 384). a) The first of these explanations sees Darius is another name for Gorbryas (Gubaru), a man who played a significant part both in the capture of Babylon and later its new administration where he served as provincial governor. The use of double throne names is not without precedent (Tiglath-pileser of Assyria=Pul in 2 Kings 15:19-29; cf. 1 Chron. 5:26). Factors which make this identification doubtful are that facts that Gorbryas is never described elsewhere as the son of Xerxes, of 62 years of age or of Median descent. The use of a royal title by a governor of a city is also without precedent and there is no evidence than Gorbryas ever bore such a title at any time in his life. Most seriously of all this identification is contradicted by extant inscriptions which portray Gorbryas as a Persian (Wiseman, 1970: 10-12). b) A more likely theory is that of D.J. Wiseman that Darius was a “throne name” or honorific title for Cyrus. Cyrus was referred to by Nabonidas in 546 as “the king of the Medes”, only four years after Cyrus’ conquest of the Median Empire. There is also some evidence that Cyrus was descended from the Medes on his father’s side and was probably about 62 when he captured Babylon. The name Xerxes (Ahasuerus) may also be an ancient royal title, which would solve the remaining difficulty. While the theory is not without its weaknesses (e.g. Xerxes occurs in Ezra 4:6 and throughout the book of Esther as a real name) it remains the best explanation pending the discovery of further relevant archaeological evidence (Wiseman, 1970: 12-16).

2.2.3 Acceptance into the Jewish Canon. The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal that Daniel shaped the theology of the Qumram Community. They referred to Daniel as “the Prophet” and accepted his writings as authoritative, indicating that they predated the founding of the community in the Second Century BC (Beckwith, 1985: 78). Writing in the First Century AD the former Pharisee Josephus also called Daniel a prophet (Antiquities, 10.249), as “…one of the greatest of the prophets…” (11.266) and his writings as being “among our ancient books” (10.218).

A number of other citations found in Intertestamental literature are significant (see Table 4 below). If the writer of 1 Enoch borrowed from Daniel then it would demonstrate that that book was considered authoritative prior to 150 BC (Harrison, 1970: 1107). In the same way the writer of 1 Maccabees refers to Daniel and his friends as famous ancestors – hardly the language one would expect if the stories of their deeds had only recently been composed.

Table 4: Extrabiblical Evidence For a Seventh Century Date For the Book of Daniel

Book Date Quotation (given in full when space permits) Corresponding Quotation(s) from Daniel
1 Enoch

c. 150 BC

And I looked and saw therein a lofty throne: its   appearance was as crystal, and the wheels thereof as the shining sun, and there   was the vision of cherubim. And from underneath the throne came streams of   flaming fire so that I could not look thereon. And the Great Glory sat thereon,   and His raiment shone more brightly than the sun and was whiter than any snow.   None of the angels could enter and could behold His face by reason of the   magnificence and glory and no flesh could behold Him. (14:18-22). As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient   One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head   like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire.   A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands   served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court   sat in judgement, and the books were opened. (7:9-10).
1 Maccabees

c. 120 BC

“Remember the deeds of the ancestors, which they did in   their generations…. Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael believed and were saved   from the flame. Daniel, because of his innocence, was delivered from the mouth   of the lions. “And so observe, from generation to generation, that none of   those who put their trust in him will lack strength (2:51-60). 3:24-26; 6:21-22.
3 Maccabees

c.100 BC

The three companions in Babylon who had voluntarily   surrendered their lives to the flames so as not to serve vain things, you   rescued unharmed, even to a hair, moistening the fiery furnace with dew and   turning the flame against all their enemies. (v.6) Dan. 3:13-27
Daniel, who through envious slanders was thrown down into   the ground to lions as food for wild animals, you brought up to the light   unharmed. (v.7) Dan. 6:1-24
4 Macc.

c.19 -54 AD


Thus I have demonstrated not only that men have ruled over   the emotions, but also that a woman has despised the fiercest tortures. The   lions surrounding Daniel were not so savage, nor was the raging fiery furnace   of Mishael so intensely hot, as was her innate parental love, inflamed as she   saw her seven sons tortured in such varied ways. (16:2-3) Dan. 3:1-30; 6:1-24
Daniel the righteous was thrown to the lions, and   Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael were hurled into the fiery furnace and endured   it for the sake of God. (16:21) Dan. 3:1-30; 6:1-24
He praised Daniel in the den of the lions and blessed him.   (18:13) Dan. 6:1-24
Matt. 24:15

c.70 AD

So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the   holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader   understand), Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11
Hebrews 11:33f


-90 AD

…who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered   justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions Dan. 6:1-24
Josephus, Antiquities 10.186-263

c.90 AD

[Josephus provides a commentary on the text of   Daniel.]
Bible quotations taken from the NRSV.

3 Author

The book claims to have been written by a man named Daniel, who was brought from Jerusalem in the year 605 BC (Dan. 1:1-2) and served the kings of Babylon and later Persia until 539 BC (1:21). The first six chapters of the book, written contain a narrative that describes several significant events that took place in Babylon in which Daniel and his three fellow exiles had a part. Wishing to harness the best minds of his subject peoples Nebuchadnezzar ordered that the most promising of the Judean exiles be selected for training for royal service (1:3-5). Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were selected and received new Babylonian names (see Table 2). Like Joseph before them they accepted their new names without protest (1:6-7; cf. Gen. 41:45), but when presented with food from the king’s table they refused to eat it. The text is clear that eating such food would have led to defilement for the Hebrews, but the reason for this defilement is less certain. It is most likely that food was rejected because of its source (the Kings table) rather because of its content (unclean or non-kosher meats). In the Ancient Near East accepting table fellowship was indicative of entering into a covenant relationship with your host (Gen. 31:54; Exod 24:9-11; Neh. 8:9-12; cf. Matt. 26:26-28). In order to remain free to serve the Lord, Daniel and his friends refused to be tempted by the choice food (cf. Gen 3:6) (Baldwin, 1978: 83). This interpretation is further supported by the fact that later in his career Daniel was partaking of choice food, meat and wine (10:3). Presumably only its source is different to that mentioned in Chapter 1. The guard who had been set over the four Hebrews was understandably reluctant to restrict their diet to vegetables as they requested, because he was responsible for their well-being. Daniel wisely suggested that they be allowed ten days to prove their case and, when the did indeed appear better nourished than the other young men, they won the right to not to eat the royal food. At the end of their period of training they were found to be ten times better than all of the magicians and enchanters in the realm of Babylon (1:11-20).

In the year 604 BC, the year after Daniel was taken to Babylon Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. It is unclear whether when he awoke he simply could not remember it or was perhaps seeking to test the powers of his advisors. In any event the court astrologers assured him that no one could interpret a dream unless the contents of the dream were first recounted to them. In a fit of rage Nebuchadnezzar ordered that all the wise men be put to death, including Daniel and his friends, who were not present in the court at that time. When Daniel learnt of the kings decision he went to the king and asked that he might be given time to interpret the dream. Returning to his friends the four joined together in prayer for God’s mercy and that night the dream was revealed to Daniel. Appearing before the king Daniel first made clear that God alone could do what Nebuchadnezzar asked (cf. Gen. 41:16). He then went on to recount the dream of a statue and interpret it as foretelling the four world empires that were to come (including that of Babylon), followed by the kingdom of God. After this Daniel was placed over all the wise men of Babylon and remained in the royal court while he friends took up senior administrative posts elsewhere in the Empire (2:1-49).

Nebuchadnezzar had cause to call upon Daniel’s services as an interpreter of dreams when once again his other advisors failed. The interpretation showed that unlike the earlier dream this one referred to Nebuchadnezzar personally rather than to his Empire. The king’s pride in his accomplishments was about to bring about a period of chastisement during which he would lose his mind and be driven from position of power. Daniel warned the king that the dream would be fulfilled unless Nebuchadnezzar repented of his wickedness (4:1-27). However, his advice was soon forgotten and the dream fulfilled. At the end of seven “times” Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the his life was in God’s hands, was restored and gave praise to God (4:28-37). No further events dating from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar are recorded.

In 553 BC Belshazzar was made regent of Babylon by his father Nabonidus. Later in that same year Daniel had a dream of four beasts followed by the establishment of God’s rule on earth. The vision deeply affected Daniel and left him drained and troubled (7:1-28). Two years later (in around 551) he had another vision, this time of a Ram and a He-goat. This vision was interpreted by the “man” Gabriel (8:16), who explained that it referred to the events to come in the last days. Again the experience had a dramatic effect upon Daniel, who was left exhausted and ill for days afterward (8:27). During the reign of Belshazzar it would seem that Daniel did not play a prominent role in the royal court. When Belshazzar was confronted with a disembodied hand writing a mysterious message on the palace wall it was left to the queen mother (Belshazzar’s mother) (Baldwin, 1978: 122) to remind the court of the deeds of Daniel during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (5:1-13). Daniel was duly called and interpreted the four words written on the wall as a warning that the Empire of Babylon was about to come to an end. As a reward Belshazzar made Daniel the third ruler in the kingdom, the highest honour he could grant, as he himself was only the second ruler. True to Daniel’s interpretation before that night was over Belshazzar was dead and Cyrus took the city (5:13-31).

Under the new Persian administration Daniel found himself appointed one of the three administrators in charge of the 120 satraps who ran the affairs of the kingdom. Such was his skill that he aroused the jealousy of his co-workers who devised a plot to use his devotion to the Lord against him, since there were no other grounds for accusing him. They approached the king and effectively outlawed the worship of any God but Cyrus. Daniel quietly disregarded the command and continued in his usual routine of praying toward Jerusalem three times a day. His enemies knew about this and soon brought his activity to the notice of the king, who reluctantly agreed to carry of the death sentence on Daniel, for the Persian monarchs were not above the law. Daniel was protected from the lions by an angel, but the next morning his enemies received the punishment that they had planned for Daniel (6:1-28). Later, in the first year of Cyrus’ reign Daniel, realising from his study of the prophet Jeremiah that the seventy years for Babylon had now been fulfilled (Jer. 25:11; 29:10) Daniel turned to the Lord in prayer to fulfil the rest of Jeremiah’s injunction which required repentance on behalf of the people of Israel (29:11-14) (see EXILE 6.1). Standing as Israel’s representative Daniel prayed a prayer of repentance recalling the covenant and the consequences of breaking it. Calling upon the Lord’s great compassion he pleaded that the Lord might turn from his wrath and restore both his people and his city Jerusalem (Dan. 9:1-19). The Lord’s answer was brought once more by Gabriel, who spoke of some of the events that were to take place in Jerusalem in the future (9:20-27).

Daniel’s last recorded vision took place two years later in about 536 BC, two years after his retirement from the royal court (1:21) by which time Daniel must have been an old man. Following a period of mourning and fasting Daniel was confronted with a vision of a man, whom he alone saw. The experience once again overwhelmed the ageing prophet, but the man touched him and gave him the strength he needed (10:1-20). The man spoke of events yet to come during the Persian Empire and the Greek Empire that followed, looking forward to the day when the dead would rise. Daniel never received the full explanation for what he saw, because what he saw referred to the end times (10:21-12:13). He was truly great among the heroes of old who “…administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions…” (Heb. 11:33).

4 Canonicity

Writing in 1909 in his book The Canon of the Old Testament H.E. Ryle put forward the theory of the three stage development of the Hebrew canon. He argued that first the Pentateuch, then the Prophets and finally the Writings were produced and accepted as canonical. Daniel was placed with the Writings by the Jews because it was not in existence when the other prophetic book were accepted as canonical (Beckwith, 1985: 4). Ryle’s theory became widely accepted, but there are now serious doubts about the validity of his arguments. There are other equally plausible reasons why Daniel was not included amongst the prophets. For example, Daniel may have been viewed as a being one of the books of wisdom, like Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, after all “…the words ‘wise’ and ‘wisdom’ occur in the book twenty-six times.” (Beckwith, 1985: 138). More significantly, we know from Josephus’ description of the Jewish canon, dating from the 1st Century AD, that the book of Daniel was indeed counted as one of the prophets (Josephus, Against Apion 1.38-39). As Josephus’ list predated that given by the Masoretes by at least six centuries, so arguments based on the latter’s division of the canon must carry little weight (Archer, 1985a: 7-8).

5 Structure

On the simplest level the book of Daniel might be divided by language (see 2.1.3), or by genre: Narrative (chapters 1-6) and apocalyptic (chapter 7-12) (see 2.1.4). Closer examination demonstrates a complex literary structure throughout the book (see Table 5). Such a structure constitutes strong evidence for the book’s unity.

Table 5: The Literary Structure of the Book of Daniel

Section 1 Common Themes Section 2
Chapter 1 Nebuchadnezzar places God’s vessels in his idol’s temple.Daniel and others refuse in pagan impurities.Court officials sympathetic.Daniel and his colleagues physical and mental powers   vindicated.They are promoted to high office. The end of one kingdom and the beginnings of   another Chapter 6Darius bans prayer to God for thirty days.Daniel refuses to cease practising the Jewish   religion.Court officials intrigue against him.Daniel’s political loyalty to the king vindicated.He is restored to high office.
Chapters 2-3A survey of the whole course of Gentile imperial   power.Four empires in the form of a man.The fatal weakness: an incoherent mixture of iron and clay   in the feet.The whole man destroyed by the stone cut out by divine   power. The universal Messianic kingdom is set up.Nebuchadnezzar thinks that “no god can deliver (the Jews)   out of his hand”.He commands them to worship his god.The Jews defy him.They are preserved in the fiery furnace.God’s ability to deliver is thereby vindicated. An overview of human history and the establishment of   God’s Kingdom Chapter 7-8A survey of the whole course of Gentile imperial   power.Four empires in the form of wild beasts.The hideous strength: a frightening mixture of animal   destructiveness with human intelligence.The final beast destroyed and universal dominion given to   the Son of Man.The little horn: “none can deliver out of his hand”.He stops the Jews worship of their God, and defies God   himself.God’s sanctuary and truth are finally vindicated.
Chapter 4The glory of Babylon.Nebuchadnezzar is warned that he deserves discipline.He persists in pride, is chastised, and his chastisement   lasts for seven times.He is then restored. God’s Discipline and Human Pride Chapter 9The desolations of Jerusalem: Israel’s sins have brought   on them the curse warned of in the OT.Jerusalem will be restored, but Israel’s persistence in   sin will bring on further desolations lasting to the end of 70 x 7 years.Then Jerusalem will be finally restored.
Chapter 5Belshazzar makes a god of his pleasures, but still   recognises the god of stone, etc.Belshazzar sacrilegiously drinks from the Temple vesselsThe writing on the wall.The end of Belshazzar and the end of the Babylonian   empire. The last and most evil king of the human   kingdom Chapter 10-12The king exalts himself above every god, and regards no   god.Antiochus sets up the abomination of desolation in the   sanctuary (11:31)The Writing of Truth.The series of apparent “ends” leading up to “the time of   the end” and eventually to The End itself.
Based on Gooding, 1981: 43-79.

6 Chronology

Archaeological discoveries, particularly that of the Babylonian Chronicle mean that we now know a tremendous amount about the events of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. A summary of the major events in given in Table 6.

Table 6: The Chronology of the Book of Daniel



605 Necho is defeated by Nebuchadnezzar at   Carchemish. Nabopolassar dies (August 16th) and is succeeded by his son   Nebuchadnezzar (in September). While he is being crowned king in Babylon his   army besieges Jerusalem for the first time. They deport some of the young men   of the nobility (including Daniel) and remove some of the gold articles from   the Temple (Dan. 1:1-4).
604 Nebuchadnezzar takes control of the   Philistine Plain. Judah becomes a vassal of Babylon (2 Kings 24:7).
603 Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the image (Dan.   2:1-49).
603-599/598 Nebuchadnezzar campaigns in   Hattu
601 Nebuchadnezzar is defeated by Necho on the   Egyptian border and forced to retreat. Jehoiakim rebels against Babylon along   with several other vassal states (against the advice of Jeremiah).
598 Jerusalem is besieged for the second time.   Jehoiakim dies during the siege (December 7th) and is succeeded by his son   Jehoiachin.
598-597 Royal inscription testifies to   Nebuchadnezzar’s building activities.
597 After three months the city surrenders to   Babylonian forces (March 16th). Nebuchadnezzar deports the king, royal   officials, craftsmen and community leaders to Babylon, as well as the golden   articles from the Temple. Jehoiachin’s uncle Mattaniah (renamed Zedekiah)   becomes Nebuchadnezzar’s vassal (2 Kings 24:17).
597-596/95 Nebuchadnezzar’s campaigns to Hattu and   Tigris.
595-594 Rebellions in Nebuchadnezzar’s army.   Revolt plans among the exiles spread to Judah. Jeremiah’s Letters to the   Exiles. Nebuchadnezzar marches to Hattu.
594/593 Campaign to Hattu.
593/592 Royal inscription testifies to   Nebuchadnezzar’s building activity.
590 Zedekiah rebels against Babylon against   the advice of Jeremiah.
589 Jerusalem in besieged for the third time   (2 Kings 25:1).
586 Jerusalem falls to Nebuchadnezzar in late   July/August. Zedekiah is captured, blinded and deported. All but the poorest   people in the land go into exile. The city, palace and Temple are burnt and the   walls cast down. Gedeliah appointed Governor of Judah.
586-573/72 Nebuchadnezzar besieges Tyre for thirteen   years.
568-567 Nebuchadnezzar attacks Egypt.
562 Nebuchadnezzar dies and is succeeded by   Amel-Marduk (Evil-Merodach).
561 Amel-Marduk releases Jehoiachin (2 Kings   25:27-30).
560 Amel-Marduk assassinated and his   brother-in-law Neriglissar takes the throne.
556 Neriglissar dies and his infant son   Labashi-Marduk loses the throne to Nabonidus.
553 Nabonidus makes Belshazzer coregent and   departs Babylon for Tema in Arabia. Daniel’s dream of the four beasts (Dan.   7:1-27).
550 Cyrus defeats the Medes and becomes king   of both the Medes and the Persians. Daniel’s dream of the Ram, the He-Goat and   the Little Horn (Dan. 8:1-27).
546 Cyrus defeats the army of Lydia and enters   southern Babylonia.
543 Nabonidus returns to Babylon to counter   Cyrus’ advance.
539 Cyrus captures Babylon and Belshazzar is   killed, Nabonidus captured. Cyrus issues decree to allow Exiles to return.   Daniel’s prayer for the restoration of Israel (Dan. 9:1-26). Daniel retires   from Royal service (Dan. 1:21).
537 Daniel’s visions of future battles and the   end times (Dan. 10:1; 11-12).
535-534 Daniel’s vision of a man (Dan.   10:1-21).
Table based on Jonsson, 1998: 254.

7 Theology

7.1 Major Themes

7.1.1 The Covenant-Keeping God. The opening verses of the book make clear that Nebuchadnezzar was able to conquer Jerusalem because the Lord allowed him to (Dan. 1:2), recalling the covenant curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. In his prayer of repentance (directed toward the site of the Temple – Dan. 6:10) Daniel specifically refers to Israel’s sin and failure to live up to her covenant obligations (9:4-11a). The EXILE, he acknowledges, was God’s judgement on the people which they fully deserved (9:11b-15; cf. Lev. 26:37-39: Deut. 4:27-28; 28:63). However, Daniel knew that that was not the end of the story, for after judgement the Lord promised both forgiveness and restoration (Dan. 9:15-16; cf. Lev. 26:40-45; Deut. 4:29-31; 2 Chron. 7:14).

7.1.2 Universal Rule of Yahweh. Although the narrative of the book centres around a group of Hebrews in Babylon the book’s perspective is not simply concerned either with their fate, or even that of their people; it is universal in scope. God is shown to be working at the very heart of a pagan empire and its rulers are forced to acknowledge that he is Lord is King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he who raises up and puts down rulers and it is he alone who directs the course of history (as the visions and dreams demonstrate). Although they might have taken the sacred objects from the temple with impunity when they are used in a sacrilegious manner Yahweh proves himself more than capable of defending his honour (5:1-30).

7.1.3 God’s Rule is Not Unopposed. God’s will is opposed both ion the heavens and on earth. When Daniel prayed and fasted for 21 days for insight God’s answer was given on the first day he prayed. However, we are told that the Prince of Persia opposed God’s messenger until another angel (Michael) was sent to help. Throughout that time Daniel continued to fast, unaware why he had not had an answer to his request (10:1, 12-14). On earth God’s will is opposed by kings and rulers, some of whom can be turned to repentance (4:34-35), some of whom cannot (5:1-4, 30; 11:36-38).

7.1.4 Suffering. Being a believer in Yahweh does not guarantee a life free from suffering. Israel suffered because of military conquest, but Daniel and his friends had to chose between their faith and an easy life (3:8-23; 6:3-12). Further defeats are foretold for Israel, but God will ultimately vindicate them (7:21-25; 8:23-25; 9:26; 11:36-45; 12:7b) and bring every deed to judgement (5:2-6, 22-30; 6:24; 7:9-10; 12:1-3).

7.1.5 God is in Control of Human History. Behind the scenes of history the Lord is working out his purposes (2:44). The kings of the earth rule by his will (2:37-38, 47; 4:28-35; 5:18-21; 6:26) and their end is already known (2:31-35, 44-45)

7.2 Is Daniel’s Theology Unique? The book of Daniel is sometimes seen as standing alone amongst the Old Testament writings. The following section examines five important themes to see if this is the case.

Table 7: A Comparison of the Important Elements of Daniel’s Theology with Other Old Testament Passages

Element Daniel Other OT References
Angelic Messengers 3:28; 6:22; 7:16; 8:16-17; 9:22; 10:18-19. Gen. 16:7; 18:2; 19:1; Josh. 5:13-14; Judges 2:1; 1 Kings   19:5; Zech. 2:3; 3:1; 6:12; 9:9; 13:1; 14:5
Resurrection 12:2 Job 19:25-26; Isa. 26:19; Ezek. 37; Hos. 13:14
Messiah 7:13; 9:26 Gen. 3:15; 49:10; Num. 24:17; Deut. 18:15; Isa. 9:6-7;   11:1; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:11-17; Ezek. 34:23-31; Mic. 5:2; Mal. 3:1; 4:2
Last Judgement 7:9-10; 12:1-2 Psalm 96:10, 12-13; Joel 3:2; Mal. 3:1-5
Book of Life 7:10; 12:1 Exod. 32:32-33; Isa. 4:3; 65:6; Psalm 69:28; Mal 3:16

7.2.1 Angels. The Old Testament contains numerous references to angelic activity. Angels at various times met, guided (24:7), ate (Gen. 18:2-8) and even wrestled with the Patriarchs (32:24-30); they pronounced and executed judgement (Judges 2:1-4; 1 Chron. 21:15), fought on behalf of Israel (2 Kings 19:35; 2 Chron. 32:21), as well as guiding (2 Kings 1:3. 15) and sustaining the Lord’s servants (1 Kings 19:5-8; Psalm 34:7). We see many of the same angelic activities evidenced in Daniel. Angel protected Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fire (Dan. 3:28), shut the mouths of the lions (6:22), gave Daniel strength (10:18-19) and interpreted Daniel’s visions (7:16; 8:16-17; 9:22). However, there is at least one new element in Daniel’s understanding of angels, that of demographic responsibility. Chapter 10:13 refers to a “prince of the Persian kingdom” who resisted the angelic messenger sent to Daniel. The messenger was assisted by Michael, an angel who has special responsibility for protecting Israel (10:13, 21; 12:1). Also mentioned is the prince of Greece, who will succeed the prince of Persia in opposing the people of God (10:21). Although these passages are popularly understood as teaching that these spirits are geographically territorial rather than demographic, such a teaching can scarcely be supported from this passage. After all Michael, the prince of Israel, came to the aid of the messenger sent to Daniel in Babylon, well outside the geographic border of Israel at any point in that nations history (Page, 1995: 63-65; Payne, 1962: 289).

7.2.2 Resurrection. There are a number of passages in the Old Testament that deal with the resurrection of the dead. Hosea 13:14 & Ezekiel 37:11-14 refer to the raising of all Israel, while Isaiah 26:19 refers only to the righteous. Daniel 12:2 is the only reference in the Old Testament in which both righteous and unrighteous are resurrected.

7.2.3 Messiah. Daniel continues the developing revelation of the person of the Messiah, who is referred to explicitly in 9:26. While there is no direct connection made with the “son of man” of 7:13 in the book the two figures were equated in the Intertestamental Period (1 Enoch 48:2, 10) and by Jesus (Matt. 23:63; cf. Mark 14:62). The book of Daniel portrays the Messiah as a suffering (“cut off” – 9:26), a common theme in other Messianic passages (Isa. 52:13-53:12). As the “son of man” he is portrayed as having full access to the presence of the Ancient of Days and exercises the prerogatives of deity (7:13-14).

7.2.4 Last Judgement. Chapter 7:9-10 provides a vivid illustration of God’s judgement metered out against his enemies. We learn from 12:1-2 that this judgement is to take place following the resurrection of the dead (see 7.2.3). Once again, Daniel’s revelation adds to and compliments the revelation of the other prophets (see Table 7).



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