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The Book of Daniel and the Additions to Daniel

Amy C. Merrill Willis
Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Lynchburg

Course: Introduction to Hebrew Bible/Old Testament
Related Courses: Apocalyptic Literature; Early Jewish Literature
Audience: Undergraduates
Syllabus Section: The Writings; The Book of Daniel

Guide to the Lesson Plan and Pre-Class Preparation

The lesson plan and materials given here provide materials for two sessions on the book of Daniel. It is intended for undergraduates in a Hebrew Bible class. The materials focus on the fundamental distinction between Daniel's two genres of literature—the tales and the apocalypses. Information on the authors and their historical and social setting emerge in connection with this attention to genre. Although this lesson plan hints at the ways in which biblical materials fund popular culture, the instructor could develop this topic more fully in a third session.


At the end of this lesson, students should:

  • Have a basic knowledge of the composition, historical context, and content of the book of Daniel and the Additions
  • Be able to identify and define two major genres of writing in the book of Daniel and the Additions: the court tale and the apocalypse
  • Distinguish the purposes of these genres in connection with their social settings
  • Be able to identify and discuss the dynamics of resistance, accommodation, and negotiation with foreign power in selected chapters

Outline of Lesson Plan

I. The Book of Daniel: Introduction and Court Tales

  1. 1. Pre-Class Preparation
  2. 2. Introduction to Daniel
  3. 3. Lecture: Justice and Power in the Court Tales
  4. 4. Further Developments: the Additions to Daniel
  5. 5. Class Discussion

II. The Book of Daniel: Apocalypses Then and Now

  • Pre-Class Preparation
  • Opening Discussion and Lecture: Defining "Apocalypse"
  • Lecture: What Good is an Apocalypse? Understanding the Purpose of Daniel 7
  • Class Activity: Divine Theophanies
  • Concluding Discussion

III. Further Reading

I. The Book of Daniel: Introduction and Court Tales

1. Pre-Class Preparation

Prior to class, students should read Daniel 2,6,7, and Bel and the Dragon using the following questions to guide their reading: What connections do you find between Daniel 6 and 7—what features do they share (consider characters, images, themes, and details)? What contrasts do you notice between Daniel 6 and 7?

Students should also read the following introductory essays: NOAB: Daniel: Introduction NOAB: Additions to Daniel: Introduction; Introductions to "Susanna" and to "Bel and the Dragon."


Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible: "Daniel and Additions to Daniel" by Carol Newsom [also in OBSO].

2. Introduction to Daniel

Warm-Up Activity

Ask members of the class to work in pairs or groups to consider the questions asked for the pre-class preparation, especially the questions about the similarities and differences between Daniel 6 and 7. After a few minutes of small group discussion, ask each group to volunteer an insight. Groups might have noticed that chapters 6 and 7 both mention lions, and that both stories feature the wise man Daniel, the foreign king, and references to God. As for differences, students might notice that the stories in chaps 6 and 7 are of quite different types. Chap 6 deals with what happens to Daniel in the king's court that leads to his being thrown into the lions' den, whereas chap 7 describes Daniel's dream-vision that involves a lion-like creature and other fantastical beasts who are judged in a heavenly court scene. Students may have other insights or questions around animal imagery, the character of Daniel, differing depictions the foreign king, divine power, and the differing literary characteristics of each chapter. These observations can be noted and referenced later.


Perhaps the two best known chapters from the book of Daniel are the story of Daniel in the lions' den (chap 6) and the vision of the four beasts and the Ancient One (chap 7). In the opening activity, the class had the opportunity to identify a number of contrasts between these two chapters. The differences between these two chapters illustrate Daniel's distinctive dualities: two different genres, styles, and contrasting attitudes toward Gentile rule characterize these writings.

In the Hebrew Bible, the book of Daniel consists of twelve chapters that can be divided in two neat halves based on literary genre. The first half, chaps 1-6, consists of court tales, a genre of literature that depicts the inner workings of the royal court as kings and their courtiers are beset by various problems. Overall, the attitude toward the ruler is relatively optimistic. While the king is frequently rash and injudicious, most of the stories show that he is teachable and capable of recognizing Daniel's god. Despite conflicts, some of them life-threatening, Daniel and his friends prosper in the foreign king's court. Daniel 7-12, however, paints a contrasting picture. This half of the book consists of several apocalypses, a genre of literature that depicts the inner workings of heavenly realities. Unlike the court tales, the apocalypses have a consistently negative view regarding foreign kings and empires, depicting them as arrogant, destructive, and in conflict with divine purposes. Ultimately, the kings and their empires will be swept away by divine judgment.

These two genres reflect differing social contexts as the two halves of the book took shape. As the background readings indicate, the tales probably emerged in the 400s–300s BCE in the diaspora where Jews lived as minorities ruled by the Persians and, afterward, the Greeks. The apocalypses, on the other hand, primarily take shape between 167 and164 BCE in Judea during a time of military, political, and religious trauma. While the writers of the apocalypses were not living as minorities in a foreign land, they were nevertheless ruled by a foreign power.

While the book can be neatly divided in half according to genre, the book's bilingual character complicates that simple division. Half of the book is written in Hebrew and the other half in Aramaic, but the division of languages does not line up with the division according to genre. The chapters in Hebrew (chaps. 1, 8-12) include both court tales and apocalypses, while the Aramaic portion (chaps. 2-7) consists mostly of court tales and one apocalypse. These intersections of genre, language, and outlook ask us to consider how all the parts fit together; they complicate any simplistic interpretation.

3. Lecture: Justice and Power in the Court Tales

The court tale is a genre of literature that emerged in Mesopotamia and is well-attested within the Bible (e.g., the books of Esther and Tobit, and the story of Joseph in Gen 39–50). But the function or purpose of the court tale in Daniel has been the subject of ongoing disagreement.

The tales as accommodationist

This position emphasizes the optimistic character of the stories and understands the tales to be advocating accommodation to the culture of the foreign empire. According to one scholar, the tales of Daniel model "a lifestyle for the diaspora," (Humphreys 1973). That is, the tales show how Jews in the diaspora could view the Gentile world as one filled with possibilities for success even as they remain devoted to their god. A slightly different, and more influential, line of thought highlights how the tale in its Mesopotamian context is rooted in the view that the court is a place where conflicts could be resolved in a just fashion (Wills 1990). Biblical court tales adapted this idea by featuring Jews as minority courtiers to the Gentile king. As conflicts are resolved, the Jewish courtiers gain ascendancy despite their minority status. The tales thus demonstrate that justice prevails (thanks to the workings of the Jewish god rather than the wisdom of the Gentile king) even as the tales bestow dignity on ethnic and religious minorities who find themselves unexpectedly successful.

But the problems that Daniel and his friends encounter in the court are of different kinds. On this basis, the court tale can be divided into two subgenres (Humphreys 1973). The contest narrative shows the heroes, who are of lower status, solving a problem that the higher-ranking wisemen in the court cannot. This narrative usually ends with a notice of the courtier's promotion. The conflict narrative, however, relates a story of professional rivalry in which the palace wisemen seek the ruin of the Jewish courtiers. In the resolution of the conflict, the Jewish courtiers are delivered from unjust treatment and promoted while the plotters are punished. In both subgenres, the success of the Jewish courtiers buttresses the tale's fundamental optimism about the foreign court.

The tales as resistance literature

Over the past twenty years, a growing number of scholars have expressed their disagreement with the optimistic view of the accommodationist reading. While the tales might superficially indicate that the Jewish wisemen are among the elite, these scholars argue that the reality of life in exile or in the diaspora was characterized by a brutal, unjust, and dehumanizing experience of the power the empire (Smith-Christopher 1996). Moreover, various details from the tales indicate a subversive and oppositional attitude toward what is foreign (Polaski 2004). These details include Daniel and the Jewish courtiers' resistance to the king's commands (e.g., refusing to eat from the king's rations in chap 1; refusing to bow down to the golden statue in chap 3); the lampooning of the king by depicting him as capricious and easily manipulated (chaps 2, 3, and 5); and the regular defeats and chastenings dealt to the king by Daniel's god (chaps 4, 5, and 6). The tales repeatedly show divine power trumping imperial power. Given this literary and historical evidence, the tales should be read as attempts to nurture resistance to empire.

Negotiating Divine Sovereignty and Imperial Power

The recognition that the tales sometimes support resistance and at others times advocate conformity to the empire poses an interpretive dilemma. How does one make sense of their outlook on imperial power and what are the tales trying to accomplish? Some argue that the vacillation between opposition and accommodation should be read as a careful attempt by the writers to negotiate cultural and theological difficulties for the Jewish community (Newsom 2012). The Jews use the court tales to show not only that are they a dignified minority group, capable of besting the native courtiers in the complex arts of court wisdom and divination, but also that they also serve a god whose power bests that of the king. Indeed, the tales make it clear that it is the god of Daniel who is the source of the king's authority. God has delegated it to the king, even to the point of giving that foreign king power over the Jewish people—an idea that did not sit easily with the Jewish community. But God's authorization of the foreign king is only for a short period of time. Thus, to serve the king is an act of obedience to YHWH, most of the time. This is reinforced in those moments throughout the tales when the monarch himself recognizes YHWH as "king of heaven" (4:37). But because the king is arrogant, there are times when he tries to claim godlike authority for himself. It is in those moments that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego must oppose the emperor and engage in faithful resistance, even at the risk of their own lives.

4. Further Developments: the Additions to Daniel

The figure of Daniel and his friends spawned a larger body of literature beyond what is found in twelve chapters of the Hebrew Bible. As the book of Daniel was translated into Greek, sometime around 100 BCE, additional tales and prayers about the Jewish courtiers were attached to the book. These Additions are preserved in Greek and include two tales: "Susanna" is a story about how Daniel saves a respected Jewish woman from a great injustice; and "Bel and the Dragon," a story about how Daniel exposes the foolishness of the king's devotion to Babylonian idols. The plot of "Bel and the Dragon" bears many similarities to the court tales of Daniel 3 and 6. Notice that Daniel is once again thrown into the lions' den, this time because he cleverly, but brashly, exposes the powerlessness of the Babylonian idols. At the end of the story, Daniel is delivered from the lions and the king extols Daniel's god. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), the story of Bel and the Dragon came after the apocalypses. This means that for those Greek-speaking Jews who read the Septuagint, the book of Daniel moved from the optimistic and comic tales, to the apocalypses with their opposition to foreign power, and then back to the tales. The book of Daniel in Greek thus ends on a more positive note than the Hebrew version of Daniel.

5. Class Discussion

Ask members of the class to work in small groups. Direct groups to focus on Daniel 2, Daniel 6, or Bel and the Dragon using these questions to guide their discussion:

  • Is the court tale a conflict narrative or a contest narrative? Identify the details that support your view.
  • How does the tale depict the relationship between divine power and kingly power? Is the king's power aligned with God's sovereignty or do they seem to be in conflict at times? Is the king a sympathetic figure in your view? Why or why not?
  • Which elements of the court tale seem to be accommodationist and which ones indicate resistance to empire?
  • Can you identify anything comic in your tale? How might comedic elements work to resist the king or to negotiate tensions provoked by the king's actions?
  • How does Daniel negotiate cultural and theological tensions? Does he strike you as someone who is looking for opportunities to be openly oppositional or does he seem to be circumspect in your tale? When he does act in an oppositional manner, what provokes him?

After groups have had adequate time to work, have them report back to the whole class. Students should be able to identify Daniel 2 as a contest narrative and Daniel 6 and Bel and the Dragon as conflict narratives. The last question can be used to generate a larger class discussion about what conclusions students can draw about the kind of resistance Daniel might be modeling for ancient and contemporary readers. Observant students may notice that Daniel is far bolder and confrontational in Bel and the Dragon than in Daniel 6.

II. The Book of Daniel: Apocalypse Then and Now

1.Pre-Class Preparation

Prior to class, students should read:

Daniel 7
OBSO "Antiochus IV and the Jews" by Leonard Greenspoon. This article discusses the reign of Antiochus IV and his persecution of the Jews that provides the historical context for the apocalypses in Daniel 7-12.
OBSO "Apocalypticism" by J. Todd Hibbard. Discusses the literary origins and features of apocalyptic literature and thinking. Students should focus on the first half of the essay concluding with the section on Daniel.
Optional reading, but may be helpful: OBSO "Eschatology" by William B. Nelson, Jr.

2. Beginning Discussion: On the definition and features of "Apocalypse"

Begin the class session by asking students to consider the following question:

  • Those who grew up watching Veggie Tales or attending Sunday School or Hebrew School may have noticed that the court tales are easily adapted for young audiences, but is this the case with Daniel 7? Have you ever encountered Daniel 7 in a Children's Bible or Bible video? Why would this chapter not be well suited for young children?

Because of materials introduced in the first class session and in the reading assignment, students should be able to identify Daniel 7 as an apocalypse that is quite different from the entertaining and comic nature of the tales. Students should be able to give some account of the elements that make Daniel 7 challenging for adult readers (and probably scary for children!). If students are not able to identify Daniel 7 as an apocalypse, be sure to introduce the term before moving on to the next questions.

  • Even though Daniel 7 does not appear in children's materials the way the tales are, the word apocalypse or apocalyptic has become a common term to describe novels and movies and other pop culture items. When this word is used in casual conversation or pop culture, what does it usually mean or imply? What kinds of things are usually described as apocalyptic?

Students should be able to identify the casual use of apocalyptic as having to do with catastrophe, doom, dystopian societies, or the end of the world. These ideas can be noted before transitioning to the assigned reading on apocalypticism. At that point, the instructor might ask students to identify the scholarly definition and features of apocalyptic literature from the reading:

  • Apokalyptein comes from the Greek term "to unveil" or "disclose"
  • Apocalypse refers specifically to Jewish and early Christian literature where heavenly realities and mysteries are revealed by an otherworldly figure to a human seer
  • Apocalypses have a narrative framework:they are fundamentally stories
  • The heavenly realities revealed to the seer concern temporal and spatial realities
  • There are two types: historical apocalypses and otherworldly journeys
  • Some apocalypses, especially those in Daniel, employ the convention of ex eventu prophecy—prophecy after the fact—to speak about past events as if they are future events
  • Eschatology—the study of last things or the end of human history—is a feature of historical apocalypses. The depiction of final things involves catastrophe and cosmic upheaval, but also some indication of transformation and new beginnings.

Before moving on to the lecture, the instructor might ask students to reflect on overlaps and disconnects between the scholarly definition of this biblical phenomenon and the casual use of the term.

3. Lecture: What Good is an Apocalypse? Understanding the Authors and Purpose of Daniel 7

The distinctive qualities of Daniel 7, and the apocalypses in chaps 8-12, are attributed to the work of a Jewish scribal group living in Judea in 167–163 BCE (Collins 1993). Clues to the identity of this group are found in Dan 11:33, which refers to " the wise ones" among the people who have the role of instructing the faithful. They appear to be scribes and teachers. These wise ones, in Hebrew called maskilim, are also subject to violence and martyrdom at the hands of "the king of the north." The description of this king in Dan 11:21-45 refers to the Seleucid ruler of Judea, Antiochus IV. Thus, the clues in the apocalypses yield a picture of the authors as scribes who lead a group of the faithful by means of their teaching and their writing.

This might lead the interpreter to ask: How does writing apocalypses help these wise ones lead the faithful? That is, what is the purpose of this kind of writing which, in striking contrast to the tales, has a very dark view of political events? Some scholars argue that the ex eventu prophecies coupled with the actual predictions in the apocalypses serve the primary purpose of instilling hope during a dark time: the apocalypses show that there is a divine plan for human history and these evil forces will be destroyed at an appointed time in the future. The problem with this theory is that it would be more effective to create hope by writing soaring poetry that assures the people that they will be lifted out of trouble on eagle's wings (see Isa 40:31) than by writing extensively about destructive empires and kings using monstrous symbols. While the apocalypses do give their readers hope that the catastrophe will come to an end, that is probably not their primary purpose.

Other scholars argue that the apocalypses are responding to dissonance. Dissonance is a concept that comes from the field of sociology and refers to the profound disorientation groups of people experience when their expectations of the world do not fit reality (Merrill Willis 2010). In the case of the wise ones of Daniel 7-12, this dissonance might emerge from the lack of fit between their faith in God's ultimate power over earthly rulers and the conviction that YHWH had chosen those foreign kings and the experience of profound trauma at the hands of Antiochus IV. Daniel's apocalypses respond to this dissonance by revealing the true nature of imperial power as being ferocious and monstrous. YHWH does indeed have power over these monstrous forces, but is not using that power to punish to wise ones and their followers. Instead, these beasts and the "little horn" (another reference to Antiochus IV, Dan 7: 8,24-25) abuse their power. Unlike the court tales, where God could correct or reeducate the foreign king (chaps 2,3, 4, and 6), the kings in the apocalypses are beyond correction. The deity must punish them and ultimately eradicate foreign rule altogether. Indeed, justice on the foreign rulers is already being meted out by the heavenly court, though it is only visible to the seer who has been granted the heavenly revelation.

Until the divinely determined end arrives, the apocalypses constitute and encourage resistance to the empire (Portier-Young 2011; Carey 2018). This resistance takes the form of a "counterdiscourse" that challenges the emperor's godlike pretensions and the empire's values. Instead of arrogance and brutal militarism, the apocalypses lift up the values of knowledge and nonviolent righteousness.

The bilingualism of the apocalypses may also serve as a strategy of resistance. While Dan 7 is written in Aramaic, which was the common language of the Persian and Hellenistic empires, the remaining apocalypses are written in Hebrew. As the language of the Torah, Hebrew is a specific marker of Jewish identity and faithfulness to YHWH. It may be that the writers used the Aramaic of Dan 7 to begin moving readers from a position of moderate accommodation to foreign domination to one of steadfast resistance, reinforced by the subsequent Hebrew apocalypses (Portier-Young 2011).

4. Class Activity: Examining Divine Theophany

A key feature of Daniel's apocalypses is their use of visionary materials to reveal heavenly mysteries. Daniel 7 is especially remarkable for its depiction of God's appearance as "The Ancient One." Ask students to work in small groups to investigate the significance of this depiction. Have groups make their own drawings of the Ancient One based on the details given in Daniel 7:9-10. What features does the writer describe? The Ancient One appears in human form, but which human features are not described in the vision?

Then ask students to compare Daniel 7:9-10 with the descriptions of God and the divine throne in Isaiah 6: 1-3 and Ezekiel 1:26-28. What items or divine features appear in all three? Finally, ask students to look at Isaiah 1:18 to discern the significance of clothing that is "white as snow." After groups have had time to work through the passages, facilitate a conversation with the class about why these details might be important and what they might communicate about God's justice and power. Some key ideas that could be highlighted:

  • Daniel 7's imagery for the Ancient One and the throne is quite dependent on Ezekiel 1 though Daniel 7 offers some specific details about the Ancient One not found in Ezekiel
  • The Ancient One's humanlike form poses a contrast to the monstrous bodies of the foreign empires and kings; indicates YHWH's alignment with and for the community despite God's transcendence
  • The presence of the throne in all three visions (Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1; Daniel 7) signals God's ultimate sovereignty over human affairs
  • The deity's white hair and clothing (not in Ezekiel) signal righteousness and justice. Also, white hair, along with the name "Ancient One," signals YHWH's antiquity—a sign of wisdom and permanence.
  • Fire and other indicators of brightness signal divine transcendence and utter separateness humanity
  • Notably, the Ancient One's face is not described nor are feet- these omissions may reinforce the deity's transcendence; God is not to simply an oversized human.

5. Questions for Discussion

  • Does the description of God as an ancient human-like figure with white hair and flowing robes convey wisdom, power, and justice for modern Americans in the same way that it did for the Jews in the second century BCE? Why or why not? If you were to draw images of divine justice and power for contemporary Americans, what would they look like?
  • Why do you think Americans like apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies? What is the appeal of these kinds of stories? Do you think they function in the same way for us as Daniel 7 and other apocalypses did for the Jewish community?
  • The scribal community responsible for the later apocalypses intentionally connected themselves to the earlier, more optimistic, materials concerning Daniel and his friends. Given what we have discovered about the significant differences between the court tales and the apocalypses, what are the connecting links that pull are the different parts of the book together?

Further Reading

Carey, Greg. "Daniel as an Americanized Apocalypse." Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 71 (2017): 190-203.

Collins, John J. Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993.

Collins, John J., and Peter W. Flint, eds. The Book of Daniel: Composition and Reception. 2 vols. Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 83. 2 vols. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2001.

Goldingay, John E. Daniel. Word Biblical Commentary 30. Dallas, Tex.: Word, 1989.

Humphreys, W. Lee. "A Life-Style for Diaspora: A Study of the Tales of Esther and Daniel." Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973): 211–223.

Merrill Willis, Amy. Dissonance and the Drama of Divine Sovereignty in the Book of Daniel. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010.

Merrill Willis, Amy. "A Reversal of Fortunes: Daniel among the Scholars." Currents in Biblical Research 16 (2018): 107-130.

Murphy, Kelly J. and Justin Jeffcoat Schedtler, eds. Apocalypses in Context: Apocalyptic Currents through History. Minneapolis, Fortress, 2016.

Newsom, Carol A. "Political Theology in the Book of Daniel: An Internal Debate." Review and Expositor 109, Fall (2012): 557-568.

Polaski, Donald C. "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin: Writing and Resistance in Daniel 5 and 6." Journal of Biblical Literature 123 (2004): 649-69.

Portier-Young, Apocalypse Against Empire: Theologies of Resistance in Early Judaism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011.

Smith-Christopher, Daniel L. "The Book of Daniel." In The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary, vol 7, edited by Leander E. Keck, pp. 19–152. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996.

Valeta, David. "Court or Jester Tales?: Resistance and Social Reality in Daniel 1–6." Perspectives in Religious Studies 32 (2005): 309-324.

Wills, Lawrence M. The Jew in the Court of the Foreign King: Ancient Jewish Court Legends. Harvard Dissertations in Religion 26. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990.

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