The book of Daniel is named for its main character, a Judean exile who becomes a sage and dream interpreter in the courts of Babylonian, Median, and Persian monarchs, and who receives mysterious visions of his own. Two significantly different forms of the book are attested in Jewish and Christian canons. The Masoretic Text of the Jewish canon, adopted also by Christian Protestants, consists of twelve chapters, the first six containing narratives set in the royal court and the latter six containing apocalyptic revelations. The Septuagint version of Daniel, which is the canonical version for Christian Catholic and Orthodox communities, contains, in addition, a narrative about the wrongly accused matron Susanna, whom the young Daniel saves, and two court tales (Bel) on the topic of what constitutes a “living god.” Moreover, the Septuagint also expands the narrative about the fiery furnace in chapter 3 to include a prayer by Azariah, a hymn of praise, and some small narrative supplements.
The Septuagint tradition has its own internal differences, however. Two distinct translations exist, the Old Greek and Theodotion. The Old Greek translation of Daniel places Susanna and Bel and the Dragon at the end of the book, after 12:13. Theodotion's translation places Susanna at the beginning of the book, with Bel and the Dragon following chapter 6. Both translations insert the additions to chapter 3 between 3:23 and 3:24. The two translations differ in other ways, as well. Theodotion reflects a text quite similar to the Masoretic Text. The Old Greek, however, differs significantly from the Masoretic Text in chapters 3–6, reflecting a different Semitic original. In addition to the differences in content, the place in the canon differs in the Masoretic and Septuagintal traditions. The Masoretic Text places Daniel in the Writings (Ketuvim) between Esther and Ezra-Nehemiah. The Septuagint, however, places the book with the Prophets, following Ezekiel and preceding the twelve Minor Prophets. The reason for this different treatment is not entirely clear. The Masoretic Text may be influenced by the genre of the narratives and perhaps the late date of the book, while the Septuagint may be influenced by the “prophetic quality” of the apocalyptic visions. The difference in location does not necessarily imply a sharply different evaluation of the book. Early Jews as well as Christians considered Daniel to be a prophet.
Authorship, Dates of Composition, and Historical Contexts.
Traditionally, Jews and Christians assumed that the character Daniel, a figure of the sixth century B.C.E., was the author of the book. Although the stories in chapters 1–6 are largely narrated in the third person, the apocalyptic visions that follow are in the first person. Moreover, in 12:4 an angel tells him to “conceal the words and seal the book,” (lit.) suggesting that Daniel wrote down the contents of the book that the reader is now reading. Even in antiquity, however, this assumption did not go unchallenged. The Christian scholar Jerome writes that the third-century Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry questioned the authenticity of the book of Daniel: “Porphyry wrote his twelfth book against the prophecy of Daniel, denying that it was composed by the person to whom it is ascribed in its title, but rather by some individual living in Judaea at the time of that Antiochus who was surnamed Epiphanes [i.e., in the mid-second century B.C.E.]. He further alleged that ‘Daniel’ did not foretell the future so much as he related the past, and lastly that whatever he spoke of up till the time of Antiochus contained authentic history, whereas anything he may have conjectured beyond that point was false, inasmuch as he would not have foreknown the future” (Jerome 1958, p. 15). Jerome attempted to refute Porphyry, and Christian and Jewish tradition continued to affirm the sixth-century B.C.E. date for Daniel. It was only in the nineteenth century C.E. that critical opinion embraced the view that Daniel was indeed composed during the time of the Maccabean Revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes (168–164 B.C.E.) (Bevan 1892, pp. 5–9). The narratives that purport to be set in the Babylonian period contain egregious historical errors, such as the claim that Belshazzar was the son of Nebuchadnezzar (ch. 5), when he was in fact the son of the last king of Babylon, Nabonidus. Daniel 6 claims to narrate events during the reign of a Median king named Darius, who conquered Babylon. In actuality, Babylon was defeated by the Persian king Cyrus the Great. There is no historical evidence for any such Darius the Mede. Attempts to identify him with Gobryas (Ugbaru), the general of Cyrus who occupied Babylon, have been thoroughly refuted (Rowley 1964, pp. 1–60). Darius the Mede is simply a construction of the author who was following an ancient historiographical tradition that world rulership passed from the Assyrians (or Babylonians) to the Medes, the Persians, and then to the Greeks. By contrast, chapters 7–12 contain historical allusions, often quite detailed, to historical events of the Hellenistic period, focusing on the religious and political crisis in Jerusalem under Antiochus IV. Thus, even though cast as prophetic revelations to a sixth-century B.C.E. Daniel, they are, as Porphyry rightly perceived, reviews of recent history. Only when the author attempts to make actual predictions (e.g., the death of Antiochus in 11:40–45) does the accuracy of the account fail. Thus it is possible to date the composition of these chapters quite precisely to the years after the beginning of Antiochus's persecutions in 168 B.C.E. but before the retaking of the Temple by Judah the Maccabee and the death of Antiochus in late 164 B.C.E..
For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the consensus of critical opinion was that the entire book dated from the second century. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, however, the argument began to be made that the two parts of the book of Daniel differed not only in genre but also in their attitude toward the gentile kings and thus likely reflected different historical and cultural contexts (Meinhold 1888, pp. 68–70). The kings, with the exception of the miserable Belshazzar, are represented as ultimately acknowledging the supreme power of the God of the Judeans and as rewarding and promoting their Jewish subjects to positions of authority within the government. Moreover, the focus of attention is on life in the pagan court; Jerusalem is only briefly mentioned (6:10 [Heb 6:11]). The atmosphere and concerns of these narratives hardly seem to fit the context of Jerusalem during the persecution and revolt of the mid-second century. Today, the scholarly consensus is that the narratives in chapters 1–6 reflect the situation of Jews in the eastern Diaspora at a period preceding the Antiochene crisis. The latest historical allusion in this part of the book (2:43) refers to intermarriage between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasties in 252 and/or 193 B.C.E. There is reason to believe, however, that this verse may be a later addition. If so, the completed cycle of stories may date to the early Hellenistic period, with individual narratives going back to the Persian era. Although the final form of chapters 7–12 can be securely dated to the Antiochene crisis for the reasons given above, it is possible that chapter 7 is a pre-Antiochene apocalypse that was later updated during the persecution and revolt. Some scholars maintain that the sections referring to Antiochus (7:8, 11A, 20–21, 24–25) are an interpolation, though others defend the unity of the chapter. If the core of the chapter is pre-Antiochene, it would indicate the existence of intense ideological resistance to the Hellenistic kingdoms even before the persecutions. Whether this development took place in the eastern Diaspora or among the Jews of Judea is uncertain.
As indicated above, the Masoretic version of the book of Daniel consists of two distinct genres: narratives in chapters 1–6 and apocalypses in chapters 7–12. What appears to be a simple structure, however, is complicated by the fact that part of the book is written in Hebrew and part in Aramaic. The use of the two languages, however, does not correspond to the division between genres. Daniel 1:1—2:4A is composed in Hebrew; 2:4B—7:28 is in Aramaic; the final chapters of the book, chapters 8–12, return to Hebrew. Many theories exist to explain this complex bilingualism, and no explanation has yet achieved a consensus. It is most helpful to consider the literary history of the book and only then reconsider the bilingual nature of the final composition.
It is clear that the origins of the Daniel tradition belong to the eastern Diaspora in Babylonia and/or Persia at the time of the transition from the Babylonian to the Persian Empire. At this period the literary language of the Jews of the eastern Diaspora was Aramaic, though Jewish scribes were certainly also literate in Hebrew. The best clue to the oldest layer of Daniel traditions lies in the background to the narratives in Daniel 4 and 5. Daniel 5 (the story of the “handwriting on the wall” at the feast of Belshazzar) calls Belshazzar the son of Nebuchadnezzar, though historical sources clearly show that he was actually the son of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon. Moreover, Daniel 4, a narrative purporting to be about the punishment of Nebuchadnezzar by “seven seasons” of exile from Babylon in animal-like madness, is almost certainly related to the ten-year sojourn of Nabonidus in remote Arabian Teman, an absence from Babylon that was negatively interpreted by his enemies among the priests of the god Marduk in Babylon. Even though these stories in Daniel 4–5 have been clearly elaborated and developed in subsequent times, the echoes of traditions about Nabonidus and Belshazzar suggest that the oral background goes back to the end of the sixth century. Chapter 3 may also contain echoes of Nabonidus. In Daniel 3 “Nebuchadnezzar” sets up a statue and requires all of his empire to worship it. What is described does not closely fit any events from the reigns of either Nebuchadnezzar or Nabonidus. But Nabonidus was deeply controversial in Babylon because he championed the worship of the moon god Sin, and he did have a statue of Sin consecrated. Thus Daniel 3 may well contain some literarily transformed memory of the controversy about Nabonidus's religious reforms. Scholars have also suggested that the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2 may be a reflection of Nabonidus's distinctive preoccupation with ominous dreams, though these connections seem less certain than those that connect Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar to Daniel 3–5. Confirmation that there was Jewish literature about Nabonidus, however, has come from the Dead Sea Scrolls, where a fragmentary narrative explicitly names Nabonidus as a king who recovered from a seven-year illness and was then told by a “Jewish exorcist” that his recovery was due to the intervention of the “Most High God” (4Q242 = 4QPrNab). This revelation causes Nabonidus to publicly proclaim his worship of this saving deity.
If one attempts to reconstruct the early stages of the tradition of Daniel literature, it is important to note that the narratives of Daniel 1–6 probably were not originally composed as a cycle of stories but circulated independently and involved a variety of characters. Daniel does not appear at all in the narrative of Daniel 3, only his companions Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The narrative in Daniel 4 (and perhaps Daniel 5) may have originally been about a Jewish court sage named Belteshazzar, who was only secondarily associated with the figure of Daniel. Thus at the earliest stages of the “Daniel” tradition, the stories clustered around the figures of the Babylonian monarch Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar and were associated with various Jewish heroes. Only later would these narratives be organized into a “Daniel” cycle and associated further with the most important of the Neo-Babylonian kings, Nebuchadnezzar.
What might have been the occasion for the earliest development of these narratives? The Jewish exiles, some of whose ancestors had been exiled to Babylon in the early sixth century B.C.E., would have been—like all displaced peoples—necessarily concerned with the political changes of the country in which they resided. At the end of the Babylonian Empire, when Cyrus the Persian was threatening Babylonia, the Babylonians themselves were divided, some remaining loyal to Nabonidus and others (including the priesthood of Marduk, the dynastic deity) supporting Cyrus. Apparently, the Jewish Diaspora community was also divided. The poetic oracles of “Second Isaiah” (the anonymous prophet of Isaiah 40–55) strongly support Cyrus. The early narratives of the Daniel tradition (the precursors of Daniel 2–5) apparently represented Nabonidus (later recast as Nebuchadnezzar) as a previously arrogant and idolatrous king who had been brought to recognition of the Most High (i.e., the Jewish God) through his chastening experiences. Thus the Jewish community in exile in Babylon apparently engaged in rival propaganda, alternately championing Cyrus (Isaiah 40–55) or Nabonidus (the proto-Daniel tradition).
This reconstruction of the origins of the narrative tradition must remain speculative, because we no longer have access to the earliest stages. After the Persian Empire secured its control on the former Babylonian Empire however, stories about the last embattled Babylonian king (Nabonidus) would have lost much of their interest, and it is thus not surprising that such stories would have been transferred to the more historically significant Nebuchadnezzar. And this is the form in which the tradition has preserved the biblical narratives, complementing them with stories about Daniel and “Darius the Mede” in Daniel 6 and about Daniel and Cyrus in the deuterocanonical stories.
A comparison between the oldest Greek translation of Daniel and the Masoretic Text of Daniel provides the next clue to the literary development of the Daniel tradition. The Old Greek translation of Daniel differs more markedly in chapters 4–6 than in other chapters, leading scholars to surmise that at some point chapters 4–6 may have circulated as a separate collection. These chapters were translated into Greek, and then, when the entire book of Daniel was translated into Greek, the translator simply used this earlier booklet as part of the Old Greek translation. Later, a second translation was made (known as the Theodotionic translation), which used what was the then current Hebrew/Aramaic text. When the booklet of Daniel 4–6 was combined with other Daniel narratives to create the story collection of Daniel 1–6 is unknown, but it probably took place by the early Hellenistic period.
The first chapter of Daniel complicates this narrative of the literary development of the Daniel corpus, however, because it is written in Hebrew. This chapter was almost certainly never an independent story. It carefully anticipates every other narrative, and so it was almost certainly composed as an editorial introduction to the present collection of Daniel 1–6. Since it does not foreshadow the apocalyptic chapters, it is generally assumed to have been composed as an introduction to a collection of Daniel 1–6, not to Daniel 1–12. But if so, why is it written in Hebrew? The most common and most persuasive hypothesis is that it was originally written in Aramaic but was subsequently translated into Hebrew when the Hebrew apocalypses of Daniel 8–12 were added to the book. Connecting these apocalypses to the narrative cycle and translating the initial chapter (and the first part of chapter 2) into Hebrew served to lend to the newly expanded book the authority of the previously known and popular story cycle.
This account of the growth of the book of Daniel, however, fails to address the fact that not all of the apocalypses are composed in Hebrew. Chapter 7 is in Aramaic, and the status of this chapter has given rise to a great debate about the literary development of the book of Daniel. If the genres of the book divide between narratives (chs. 1–6) and apocalypses (chs. 7–12), and if the historical frameworks of the different parts of the book seem to reflect the Persian/early Seleucid Diaspora (chs. 1–6) and the Antiochene crisis (chs. 7–12), how can one account for the Aramaic apocalypse in chapter 7, when all of the rest of the apocalypses are composed in Hebrew?
Numerous hypotheses have been advanced to account for the pattern of evidence. The scribes responsible for most of the apocalypses were in all probability bilingual or trilingual, able to read and write in Aramaic, Hebrew, and possibly Greek. The choice of language of composition is undoubtedly significant, although we are not always able to understand what that choice represents. Redaction critics note that there are indications that Daniel 7 may have originally have been written before the Antiochene crisis and only later “updated” to include references to Antiochus IV. If that is the case, then one might understand the literary development of the book of Daniel to have been a cycle of Aramaic narratives (Dan 1–6) that was reframed in the early Seleucid period by the addition of an Aramaic apocalypse (Dan 7) that recast Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Daniel 2 as a revelation to the seer Daniel and foretold the end of the sequence of gentile kingdoms and the rise of a world dominion under the rule of the “holy ones” who represent the faithful Jews.
If this reconstruction of the literary development is correct, then during the Antiochene persecution, the Daniel book, consisting of the narratives of Daniel 1–6 plus the anti-Greek apocalypse of Daniel 7, would have made a most inviting text for expansion by like-minded scribes involved in resistance to the rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Their choice of Hebrew as a language of composition for chapters 8–12 (expansions of ch. 7 were composed in Aramaic) would have reflected a resurgent national identification with the language of the Torah, also reflected in the use of Hebrew on the coins of the Hasmonean monarchy. Presumably the authors of these apocalypses also decided to frame the book of Daniel in Hebrew by translating the initial material from Aramaic into Hebrew.
This account of literary development covers the Masoretic form of Daniel. The additional texts found in the Septuagint have different and distinct origins, though their history is somewhat obscure. At some point Daniel 3 was expanded by the inclusion of the long Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men, together with a short prose passage. Whether the prose passage was ever part of an Aramaic text of Daniel is debated. It may simply have been created when the Greek text was expanded to include the poetic passages. The poetic compositions themselves, however, are recognized as translations from Semitic originals. Many scholars think they were composed in Hebrew, though Koch has argued that a medieval text, the Chronicle of Jerahmeel, preserves something close to the Aramaic original from which the Greek translation was made (Koch 1987, 1:22, P. 26). The hymnic praise of the Song of the Three Young Men gives little clue as to its date of composition, but allusions in the Prayer of Azariah to an “unjust king” (v. 9 [Gk 32]) and to the absence of sacrifice or a place to make an offering (v. 15 [Gk 38]) suggest that it was composed during the persecutions of Antiochus IV (168–164 B.C.E.).
The short court stories in Bel and the Dragon are also translated from Semitic originals, probably Hebrew, though possibly Aramaic. While they include the motif of Daniel's being thrown into the lion's den, also used in Daniel 6, the two stories seem to be independent of Daniel 1–6 and were probably first associated with the book of Daniel by the Greek translator. The origin of the story of Susanna is the most perplexing, since it is utterly unlike the other Danielic literature. It is neither a court story nor an apocalypse, but the story of an unjustly accused Jewish woman who is saved from execution by the cleverness of “a young lad” named Daniel. It is set in Babylon, however, and was probably composed in either Aramaic or Hebrew, though the date is uncertain. As with Bel and the Dragon, it was probably first associated with the other Daniel compositions by the Greek translator. Thus while the Masoretic book of Daniel represents a process of organic growth and careful redaction, the Septuagint version of Daniel is rather a small Danielic library. It did not, however, include all of the compositions associated with Daniel. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls are two Aramaic compositions that feature Daniel (4Q243–244 and 4Q245) and that may be independent
of Masoretic Daniel. Two other compositions (4Q246 and 4Q552–553) contain motifs related to Daniel 2 and 7, though the name of the speaker is not preserved. The Prayer of Nabonidus (4Q242) contains motifs similar to those in Daniel 4.
In sum, the complex literary history of the book of Daniel and related texts suggests both the popularity of Daniel and the adaptability of this literature to a variety of communities and concerns. As the section on Reception History below will indicate, Daniel has continued to be influential in both Judaism and Christianity and the subject of new compositions.
Structure and Contents.
Despite its complex literary history, Masoretic Daniel has a clear and coherent structure. Of the six court stories, the first four take place during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar and form something of a Nebuchadnezzar cycle, showing how Nebuchadnezzar gradually and painfully comes to recognize the sovereignty of the Most High. Chapter 1 explains how Daniel and his friends came to be in Babylon as Judean captives whom Nebuchadnezzar decreed should be educated for service in his court. The drama of the story has to do with a conflict between what the king commands (eating food from the royal table) and what Daniel's sense of piety demands (avoiding such food) and how he and his friends are rewarded by God with special wisdom and skill. But the story also serves to anticipate the other stories by mentioning Daniel's ability to interpret dreams (chs. 2, 4), the Babylonian names given to the characters (chs. 3 and 4), the fate of the Temple vessels (ch. 5), and Daniel's continuing service under Cyrus the Persian (ch. 6).
The plots of court tales are often described as either involving a “contest” between courtiers or a “conflict” between courtiers. Chapters 2, 4, and 5 have elements of a contest, whereas 3 and 6 feature conflict. Chapter 2 concerns an ominous dream that Nebuchadnezzar has and that he demands his expert interpreters to decipher without his even telling them the content of the dream. They fail, but Daniel succeeds and is rewarded along with his friends with political advancement in the kingdom. The dream itself features an imposing statue, composed of four sections of different metals, which is destroyed by a rock that becomes a great mountain. Daniel interprets this dream as representing a succession of four kingdoms that are brought to an end by an everlasting kingdom. The notion of a succession of kingdoms was a traditional motif in Persian political historiography, later appropriated in the Hellenistic period in resistance literature by Jews and perhaps other peoples. Oddly, the dream in chapter 2 is the only eschatological element in the story cycle.
Chapter 3 does not feature Daniel but only his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (i.e., Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah). As in chapter 1, the plot revolves around a conflict between the king's command (to worship the statue of gold that he has erected) and the Jews' refusal to worship anything or anyone other than God. The king learns of the power of their God when they are denounced by jealous rivals and the king throws them into the fiery furnace, only to find that the fire has no power over them. Although chapter 4 has minor elements of a court contest story, its literary form is quite different, for it is framed as an encyclical from Nebuchadnezzar to all the peoples of his kingdom, recounting his punishment and restoration by the Most High God. Here, too, the future is presaged by a symbolic dream of a great tree that is cut down by divine command, which Daniel interprets for the king.
In contrast to the ultimately redeemed Nebuchadnezzar, chapter 5 presents the fatal judgment that falls on his arrogant son Belshazzar, who angers God by calling for the Jerusalem Temple vessels to be used as drinking vessels at a banquet where they praise “the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone” (v. 4). Belshazzar's judgment is announced by a mysterious hand that writes a coded message on the wall, a message that only Daniel is able to interpret for him. The words written on the wall, mene, tekel, and parsin, are a series of nouns denoting weights of silver and gold: a mina, a shekel (1/50 of a mina), and two half shekels. Originally, this may have been a popular slogan critical of the declining quality of the Babylonian monarchs after Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel, however, decodes the words as verbs referring to divine judgment on Belshazzar's reign. The days of his kingdom are “numbered” and he has been “weighed” and found wanting, so that his kingdom is “divided” between the Medes and the Persians.
The series of court tales ends on a more positive note, however, with a final tale of court conflict in chapter 6. Jealous rivals dupe the amiable King Darius into issuing a decree forbidding prayer to anyone but the king himself, thus setting a trap for Daniel, who continues to pray to God. Though Daniel is thrown into a den of lions, they do not harm him, once again demonstrating the sovereign power of his God, whom King Darius praises in a proclamation sent throughout his kingdom.
Although the last verse of chapter 6 brings the chronology of the story cycle to the reign of Cyrus the Persian, the fictive dates of the apocalypses are the first year of Belshazzar (ch. 7), the third year of Belshazzar (ch. 8), the first year of Darius (ch. 9), and the third year of Cyrus (chs. 10–12). The reason for these dates is not clear, but the oldest manuscript of the Old Greek translation rearranges the chapters so that they occur in chronological order.
It is not difficult to see why the cycle of court stories became the textual base for the development of apocalyptic revelations. The theme of the court stories is the divine sovereignty of God, and Nebuchadnezzar's dream in chapter 2 has eschatological content. Moreover, Daniel the interpreter of dreams can be developed as Daniel the receiver of dreams, visions, and angelophanies that are then interpreted for him by divine beings. In a certain sense, the four apocalypses all recount the same basic message, though with increasing specificity: the God of the Jews is bringing to an end the sequence of gentile kingdoms because of the arrogance and violence of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Each of the four, however, has distinctive concerns.
Daniel 7 is intentionally modeled on Nebuchadnezzar's dream in chapter 2, though it uses different imagery: four beasts that rise from the sea instead of a great statue of four metals. The fourth beast is the most violent, and its final “horn” (i.e., king) a blasphemous figure who makes war on holy ones (i.e., the angels). While the original version of Daniel 7 may come from the early Hellenistic period, in its present form the arrogant king is clearly Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Whereas in Daniel 2 the statue was destroyed by a stone, here judgment is rendered by a divine court, which executes the fourth beast and confers everlasting sovereignty on “one like a human being” (literally, “one like a son of man”) and to “the people of the holy ones” (i.e., the Jews). Several alternative suggestions have been made concerning who or what the figure of the “one like a human being” represents. Since the gentile kingdoms were represented by animals, the humanlike figure evidently represents the divinely authorized kingdom that will succeed them. More specifically, the figure may simply be a collective representation of the Jewish people. Alternatively, the figure may represent the angel Michael, who is elsewhere in Daniel called “the great prince, the protector of your people” (12:1). If so, then Daniel 7 envisions the eschatological kingdom as having a heavenly reality (the kingdom of Michael and the angelic holy ones) and an earthly reality (the kingdom of the Jews). Not long after Daniel was written, however, the figure of the “Son of Man” became an object of speculation and was interpreted as another type of eschatological heavenly figure, either a pre-existent messianic judge (1 En. 37–71) or as a Davidic Messiah (4 Ezra 7, 12). In the New Testament Gospels Jesus is identified as the Son of Man, both as Messiah and as eschatological judge.
The following apocalypse in chapter 8 also uses animal imagery but narrows the focus to the historical period from the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great to the time of the persecution by Antiochus. As in chapter 7, Antiochus is represented as acting arrogantly toward the “prince of the host” (i.e., God) both by attacking heaven itself and by violating the sanctuary in Jerusalem and putting an end to its sacrifices.
Chapter 9 is composed in a very different style and features a different medium of revelation. It depicts Daniel as attempting to understand certain prophecies of Jeremiah that refer to the end of Jerusalem's desolation after seventy years. Following a long penitential prayer by Daniel (apparently prompted by his understanding of Jer 29:10–14), the angel Gabriel appears to him and gives him a different interpretation of Jeremiah's prophecy as seventy weeks of years, which the reader will realize are about to come to completion, as the angel's description of the events of the last week of years corresponds to the persecutions and sacrileges of Antiochus IV. As in chapter 8, the desecration of the Temple is a primary concern.
The final apocalypse begins with an elaborate introduction, as chapter 10 describes Daniel's terrified reaction as an angel (presumably Gabriel) appears to him. The angel explains that there is war in heaven, with Gabriel and Michael opposing the angelic leaders of Persia and then Greece. But he has taken a break from the fighting to reveal to Daniel “what is inscribed in the book of truth” (10:21), which is a detailed account of the conflicts between the King of the North (i.e., the Seleucid kingdom centered in Mesopotamia and Syria) and the King of the South (the Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt). The account culminates in the actions of the king that the reader will recognize as Antiochus IV and concludes with a prediction of his death in Judea. Although Antiochus did die in 164 B.C.E., his death occurred in Persia. The final chapter of the book includes a promise of resurrection both for those who have been martyred and for those who have not received the punishment they deserve. The final verses contain two predictions about the length of time until the promised end.
Given the complex literary history of Daniel, it is important to consider the meaning and function of the cycle of stories first and then the book as a whole. The narratives in Daniel 1–6 were composed originally by and for the Jewish Diaspora in Mesopotamia. The loss of Judean kingship created a conceptual dilemma for the Jews. It was generally assumed in the ancient Near East that
overall authority for the world belonged to the gods. They exercised this authority on earth, however, largely through the institution of human kingship. Thus kings often referred to the gods as having chosen them and given them their kingship. In Israel the Davidic line claimed just such authorization (see 2 Sam 7; Pss 2, 89, 110, etc.). After the Babylonian conquest of Judah put an end to the Davidic monarchy, Jews did not forsake their belief in the sovereignty of their own God. But how were they to understand the way in which God exercised this sovereignty on earth? Already Jeremiah had made the bold interpretation that it was the LORD who had given Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty over many nations, though for a limited period of time (Jer 25:5–7). More significantly, Isaiah of Babylon referred to Cyrus as the LORD's anointed one, the one who would rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem (Isa 44:24—45:8)—that is to say, Cyrus is represented as taking on the functions of a kind of new David and Solomon (cf. 1 Sam 16; 2 Sam 7). This strategy of interpretation recognized the gentile kings as the instruments through which the LORD's sovereignty on earth would be exercised. The problem with this perspective, however, is that the Persian kings attributed their own kingship to Ahura Mazda. Jewish texts, however, do sometimes represent the Persian kings as acknowledging their authorization by the LORD (e.g., Ezra 1:1–4; 2 Chr 36:22–23). This is also the strategy of the narratives in Daniel.
Is this representation of pagan kings as recognizing the God of the Jews simply a matter of wishful thinking? The narratives in Daniel are certainly fictitious. Neither Nebuchadnezzar nor Nabonidus ever acknowledged the God of the Jews; and Darius the Mede is not a historical king. But even if these are fictions, are they based on any historical models? Scholars debate the authenticity of the decree of Cyrus quoted in Ezra and 2 Chronicles, with the majority now of the opinion that at least the specific wording and perhaps even the substance of the decree is an invention of Jewish scribes, though some still defend its authenticity. What can be demonstrated historically, however, is that, although in their own imperial inscriptions the Persian kings claimed to have been given kingship by their own Persian deity Ahura Mazda, in Babylon they had themselves represented as authorized by Marduk. The Cyrus Cylinder, an inscription placed in the foundations of the city wall of Babylon shortly after Cyrus's conquest of the city, describes him as chosen by Marduk for kingship over Babylon. Similarly, in Egypt the Persian kings represented themselves as authorized by the Egyptian gods. Thus it is conceivable that a practice of claiming authorization by the various deities of conquered peoples was a feature of Persian imperial ideology, though there is no evidence for minor nations apart from the contested passages in Ezra and 2 Chronicles. Nevertheless, one can see how such a custom would have served both the ruler and the subject peoples. It would have given dignity to the subject peoples, but it would also have helped secure the authority of the ruler, since rebellion against him would be rebellion against one's own god.
Whether the authors of the Daniel narratives were drawing on an imperial custom or simply developing the interpretations of Jeremiah concerning Nebuchadnezzar as the LORD's chosen servant and Isaiah's naming of Cyrus as the LORD's anointed, the narratives function as a complex act of both resistance and accommodation to the ideological double-bind of life as a subject people. The narratives seem to take great pleasure in presenting the various monarchs as ignorant of the true state of affairs in their kingdom and in the world, as bombastic and outrageous, as easily manipulated, and as anxious and fearful. Even when they are redeemed, as Nebuchadnezzar finally is, it is only after the most abject humiliation. The gentile kings may be powerful and dangerous; but in the world of the narrative they are at the mercy of the author. The stories also serve to contest the claims of power made by imperial rhetoric, asserting a counterclaim that ultimate sovereignty belongs only to the God of the Jews. Not only is this evident in the plot lines of the stories, but poetic doxologies to this effect are placed on the lips of the kings themselves (4:1–3 [Heb 3:31–33]; 4:34–35, 37 [Heb 4:31–32, 34]; 6:26–27). In this way the narratives perform the function of resistance to the ideology of empire.
This very mechanism, however, also serves to legitimate the empire's claims to power. These gentile kings are the ones to whom God has chosen to give rulership over “the kingdom of mortals” (4:17B [Heb 4:14B]), and their ultimate recognition and praise of God renders them worthy of the honor and rule entrusted to them. Only the sacrilegious Belshazzar is destroyed. The system of gentile imperial rule is ideologically stabilized by showing how it can be consistent with a claim to the ultimate sovereignty of the God of the Jews. Moreover, Daniel and his friends are represented as deeply loyal servants of the kings, disobeying only when forced into a situation that would put their dual loyalties to the divine sovereign and the human sovereign in conflict. But the optimistic framework of the narratives always moves toward a resolution in which none of the heroes is martyred, and the king recognizes the rightness of their uncompromising loyalty to the divine ruler.
Although it is too simplistic to see in these narratives simply the modeling of a “life-style for the diaspora” (Humphreys 1973, p. 211), they do by and large construct an ideological modus vivendi by which the Diaspora Jews can accommodate to the reality of gentile rule but without accepting its own self-representation of power. This fairly stable way of relating God's sovereignty to that of the gentile monarch that characterizes the overall narrative structure of Daniel 1–6 is in tension, however, with the eschatological orientation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Daniel 2. There the long history of gentile world sovereignty is described as destined to end with the Hellenistic kingdoms and to be replaced soon either by the direct rule of God or by Israel's universal rule (2:44 can be interpreted in either way). The tension between the eschatological vision of chapter 2 and the perspective of the narrative cycle as a whole is so striking that some have argued that the eschatological elements are secondary (so Kratz 1991). While this is possible, there is no clear evidence for such a development. It is also possible that the authors of these narratives were simply conflicted, both feeling the need to interpret the long history of gentile rule in a way that would be conceptually plausible, and refusing to believe that it was the ultimate intention of God.
However and whenever the eschatological elements entered the Daniel tradition, they become the dominant perspective in the apocalypses. As noted above, many scholars think that chapter 7 was originally composed after the cycle of narratives but prior to the persecutions by Antiochus IV. Its reworking of the four kingdoms schema of chapter 2 is even more explicit than that chapter about the transfer of universal and everlasting sovereignty from the final gentile kingdom to “the people of the holy ones of the Most High,” that is, to Israel (7:27). With this shift in perspective not only does the function of resistance become dominant, but resistance also takes on the form of an explicitly articulated political hope. Strikingly, that hope for an Israelite imperium is not repeated in any of the following apocalypses, suggesting again that perhaps the Aramaic apocalypse in chapter 7 was composed in different circumstances than the Hebrew apocalypses in chapters 8–12.
Those apocalypses, written during the years of the persecution in 168–164 B.C.E., have a somewhat different focus and function. They are acutely preoccupied with the horrors of a devastated Jerusalem and a defiled sanctuary, and with the fate of those who died during the persecution. In various ways these apocalypses scrutinize the dynamics of power, the patterns of history, the meaning of ancient prophecies, and the logic of numerological models to attempt to discern when God will act and put an end to the arrogant violence of Antiochus IV and restore the sanctuary and holy city. In chapter 8 the author describes the political history of the Persian and Hellenistic periods in a coded fashion, showing that it exhibits a meaningful pattern: precisely when an empire or a king appears to be at its peak of power is when it will be broken. Similarly, the detailed account of the history of the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kingdoms in chapter 11 sketches out an implicit theory of political power in which the human kingdoms serve to contain one another's power (Clifford 1975). Only at the end, when Antiochus IV overreaches and challenges heaven itself, does the system of containment collapse, and he meets his end symbolically “between the sea and the beautiful holy mountain,” that is, Zion (11:45). Chapter 9 approaches the predictive task differently, by a clever reinterpretation of the prophecy of Jeremiah concerning the seventy years of Babylon's rule and Jerusalem's devastation (Jer 25:11–12; 29:10). Because the consonants for the word “seventy” and for the word “week” are the same, the author was able to interpret the prophecy as referring to “seventy weeks of years” (Dan 9:2, 24), with the events now taking place in Jerusalem located in the final week. Other calculations of the duration of the defilement and the persecution (2,300 evenings and mornings, 8:14; half a week of years, 9:27; a time, two times, and half a time, 7:25; 12:7) are also based on the numerology of seven.
In the cycle of narratives, the Gentile kings were actually the central characters, and the resolution of the narratives came when they understood the nature of the sovereignty of the Most High God. The wisdom of Daniel functioned simply as one of the means by which they could gain understanding. In the apocalypses, however, there is no longer any interest in what kings know or do not know. Even Antiochus IV may not understand the nature of the power that breaks him. The apocalypses are rather concerned with what Daniel knows, for he is the figure who represents the authors of the apocalypses. The authors are “the wise” of 11:33–35 who teach others the mysteries contained in these apocalypses and so strengthen them to stand firm and persevere. Knowledge and understanding are themselves a kind of power. The reward that the wise seek, especially for those who have been martyred, is not political authority but rather to “shine…like the stars forever and ever” (12:3), which presumably refers to a form of astral immortality.
The book of Daniel quickly became very influential and by the end of the second century B.C.E. was treated as authoritative. First Maccabees alludes to the “desolating sacrilege” (1:54; cf. Dan 9:27) and invokes Daniel and his friends as models of faithful courage (2:59–60), as does 3 Maccabees 6:6–7. At Qumran eight manuscripts of Daniel, all very close to the Masoretic Text, were found, along with other compositions featuring Daniel or developing motifs from the book (see above). Moreover, 4QFlorilegium (4Q174) cites phrases from Daniel 11:32 and 12:10 and identifies them as coming from “the book of Daniel the prophet.” The Qumran War Scroll (1Q33) also reflects clear influence from Daniel 11–12. Other early Jewish apocalypses develop aspects of Daniel's eschatology. The four kingdoms motif is employed in 2 Baruch and in 4 Ezra (ca. 100 C.E.), where, however, the fourth kingdom is identified with Rome. In the “Book of Similitudes” of Enoch (1 En. 37–71) the account of the Son of Man shows definite influence from Daniel 7, even though the figure is developed into a pre-existent heavenly judge. Fourth Ezra, analogously, interprets the Son of Man as a heavenly messianic warrior.
In contrast to Qumran and the apocalypses, the Jewish historian Josephus focuses mostly on the narratives of Daniel 1–6, to which he adds a number of details. He does, however, consider Daniel to have been a prophet who foretold the Antiochene persecutions and who also predicted that the Romans would take Jerusalem and destroy the Temple. Although it is clear that Josephus identifies the evil fourth kingdom with Rome, he declines to make this interpretation explicit, presumably to avoid offending his Roman sponsors.
Later Jewish tradition valued Daniel and his friends as role models of piety and fidelity, but they were troubled by Daniel's apparently loyal service to Nebuchadnezzar, notably in 4:19 (Heb 4:16). Two options were found for dealing with this problem. Daniel could either be subjected to punishment (b. B. Bat. 4a) or his reply to the king could be reinterpreted, so that the remark, “my Lord, may the dream be for your enemies” becomes an aside addressed to God and thus against Nebuchadnezzar (Tanhuma, Mishpatim 4). As for the eschatological elements in Daniel, the most common interpretation of the Son of Man is as a messianic figure, although sporadically the figure might be identified with the people of Israel (so Ibn Ezra in the twelfth century). The identification of the fourth kingdom with Rome, already evident in Josephus, remained the most popular, although after the rise of Islam, the sequence of kingdoms was sometimes rearranged to allow for a place for the Muslim caliphate. In addition, during the medieval period additional Danielic apocalypses were composed that allowed him to prophesy about current events and to articulate a more developed account of the end times.
While Daniel is fairly significant in Jewish tradition, it has been considerably more so in Christianity. Already in the New Testament, the Son of Man is an important eschatological figure, both Messiah and eschatological judge, with whom Jesus is identified. The New Testament usage reflects a similar development to that found in the “Book of Similitudes” of Enoch and 4 Ezra. Several eschatological passages in the Synoptic Gospels often referred to as “little apocalypses” (Matt 24–25; Mark 13; Luke 21:5–36) also show significant influence of Danielic terminology and imagery. Similarly, the book of Revelation is heavily influenced by the book of Daniel, although it never cites it verbatim.
The early patristic literature gives ample testimony to the continuing significance of Daniel for Christology. Already in the second century Irenaeus identifes both the “stone cut out without human hands” (Dan 2:34) and the “one like a son of man” (7:13) with Jesus Christ, specifically with his second advent. The “holy ones of the most high” are understood as Christian believers and martyrs. These identifications remain persistent throughout much of Christian biblical interpretation until the rise of historical criticism. Numerous patristic commentaries were written on Daniel, the most familiar of which is Jerome's commentary, which preserves the skeptical arguments of the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry. Porphyry's historicizing interpretation of the four kingdoms as culminating in the Seleucid period was not to be found only among pagan critics, however, for early Syriac theologians also identified the kingdoms in Daniel 2 as Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece.
Throughout late antiquity and the medieval period additional Danielic literature continued to be produced, which, like the Jewish medieval apocalypses, allowed the figure of Daniel to authorize eschatological scenarios that addressed contemporary events and beliefs. And major theologians, such as Albertus Magnus and Nicholas of Lyra, also wrote commentaries that show evidence that they were familiar with Jewish lines of interpretation. But the dominant understanding of Daniel in the Christian medieval commentaries continued the basic lines laid out in the patristic period. During the Reformation many Protestant interpreters updated the identification of the fourth kingdom with Rome to refer to the Roman Catholic Church, although Calvin continued the traditional identification. He differed with earlier Christian interpretation, however, in his conviction that Daniel 7 described not Christ's second advent but his first.
It was the English and American Puritans of the seventeenth century, however, who most enthusiastically found Daniel suited to their theological and political needs. The replacement of a series of evil monarchies with the rule of the “saints of the Most High” allowed them to identify their own anti-royalist movement with that passage and even to provide a justification for regicide in the execution of King Charles I. One segment of the English radical Puritans, the Fifth-Monarchy Men, understood themselves to be the vanguard of the eternal kingdom predicted by Daniel. Although millennialist fervor declined during the eighteenth century, fascination with Daniel did not, and Sir Isaac Newton composed Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John (1733) in which he attempted to decipher a world chronology in these books.
The rise of historical-critical analysis of the Bible during the nineteenth century radically changed the understanding of the book of Daniel, which was increasingly understood in relation to the events of the second century B.C.E., much as Porphyry had argued in antiquity. During this century, however, a stiff battle was waged between the historical critics and the traditionalists. In English, one of the most formidable opponents of the Maccabean dating of
the book of Daniel was E. B. Pusey, whose Daniel the Prophet (1868) defended the traditional dating. By the late nineteenth century, however, academic scholarship had largely embraced the conclusions of the historical critics. Conservative movements, however, such as the premillennial dispensationalists, continued to use Daniel, along with other apocalyptic biblical texts, as a key to predicting eschatological events. These beliefs were popularized by Cyrus Scofield in the Scofield Reference Bible (originally published 1909) and more recently in the writings of Hal Lindsay, particularly in his The Late Great Planet Earth (1970).
The colorful narratives in Daniel have made them frequent subjects in art. Perhaps the most famous painting on the subject of Daniel is Rembrandt's rendering of Belshazzar's Feast (1636–1638). A rich selection of art depicting aspects of the book of Daniel from the medieval period to contemporary works can be seen online at biblical-art.com. Daniel has been a less frequent subject for musical compositions, although William Walton's 1931 cantata, also on Belshazzar's Feast, remains frequently performed.
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Carol A. Newsom