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Introduction to the Book of Daniel

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Place in the Old Testament

In the Christian OT, the book of Daniel follows Ezekiel as one of the four major prophets, being one of the longer prophetic books, in contrast to the mostly shorter minor prophets. However, in the Hebrew Scriptures, Daniel appears towards the end of the third section, 'The Writings', the collection of the works of seers, wise men and priests, and is not classified as one of the prophets.

In the Hebrew Bible, Daniel is described is described as a man of wisdom and vision, and not as a prophet, as he was not a normal prophet who brought God's Word to his people, calling them back to covenant faithfulness. Instead, Daniel served as a statesman in a heathen court, exiled from his homeland of Israel, and unable to address his people directly. He was a was a wise man who interpreted visions and was given some remarkable predictive visions, so Jesus referred to him as a prophet (Mt 24:15). He had the same political position as Joseph, who also served in a heathen court in Egypt, and who also was noted for his supernatural ability to interpret dreams.

Daniel the man

In Hebrew, Daniel's name means 'God is my judge', or 'God is judging'. He is not mentioned in other books of the OT, so all we learn is from the book itself. Ezekiel refers to a well-known and respected wise man called 'Danel' (Ezek 14:14,20, 28:3), but it is not at all certain whether this is the same Daniel, as the spelling is different.

Daniel was born during the reign of Josiah, probably around 620 BC, during the height of Josiah's reforms.

From the book of Daniel, we know only a few details about his life. He was taken to Babylon as a young man in the first deportation from Jerusalem in 605 BC. He was probably about fifteen years old. This was the third year of Jehoiakim (1:1-2), when he rebelled against Babylon, so enemies came against Judah (2 Kg 24:1-2). Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem, took vessels from house of lord to Babylon (2 Chr 36:5-7). Daniel was included in the group described as, “Israelites of the royal family and nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom ... competent to serve in the king's palace” (1:3-4). So, Daniel was either from the royal family, or other nobility in Judah. Josephus wrote that Daniel was related to King Zedekiah, so part of the royal family. In Babylon he and his friends were educated for three years so they could be stationed in the king's court (1:5).

He rose in rank in the Babylonian court under Nebuchadnezzar, and recognised to have special insight to interpret visions and dreams (1:17). They recognised Daniel as one endowed with a spirit of the holy gods, able to interpret dreams. (4:9, 5:11). He was appointed as ruler over province of Babylon, and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon (Dan 2:48). Later he was briefly made third highest ruler of Babylonian empire (Dan 5:29). He retained his position under the government of the Persians, and was appointed as one of three presidents over 120 provincial satraps (6:1-3). The King planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom (v3).

Dates of his ministry

Daniel's ministry spanned all seventy years of Israel's exile in Babylon, from 605 through to 534 BC. He was deported to Babylon aged about fifteen years (ch 1), lived through the Fall of Babylon in 539 BC (ch 5-6), by which time he was about eighty-one years old. His last vision (ch 10) was in 536 BC, when he would have been eighty-six years old. We do not normally think of Daniel being thrown into the lion's den at the age of eighty-one. Daniel lived to see the first group of exiles return to the land in 538 BC, but did not return with them. Perhaps he was too old to travel by that time.

Other prophets at the same time

Jeremiah was about twenty years older than Daniel, and was taken to Egypt after fall of Jerusalem. Daniel probably heard Jeremiah preach in Jerusalem before 605 BC. Daniel was reading from Jeremiah about the seventy years exile (Dan 9:1). Ezekiel was also in exile, but with the Jews by the River Chebar outside the city of Babylon. It is not known whether Daniel knew about Ezekiel.

Structure of the book

Daniel has a straightforward structure:

Chapters 1-6
Six historical narratives describing events in the life of Daniel or his three friends (written in the third person). A recurring theme in this section is the recognition of the supremacy of Daniel's God by pagan rulers:
1. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (3:28-29, 4:34-37)
2. Darius of Persia (6:25-27)

Chapters 7-12
Four visions concerning future world empires (written in the first person).

Languages

Daniel is written in two different languages: Hebrew and Aramaic. It is a mystery why the book is in two languages. However it has been suggested that the author wrote in Aramaic when writing about the nations of the world, and in Hebrew when writing about the future of Israel and the Kingdom of God. Aramaic was the international language of commerce.

Hebrew 1:1 - 2:4a Focus on Jews
Aramaic 2:4b - 7:28 Focus on nations
Hebrew ch 8 - 12 Focus on Jews

The Aramaic section is in Chiastic form:

A. Four kingdoms & God's kingdom (ch 2)
     B. God's power to deliver the faithful (ch 3) - fiery furnace
         C. God judges proud rulers (ch 4) - climax Nebuchadnezzar
         C. God judges proud rulers (ch 5) - climax Belshazzar
     B. God's power to deliver the faithful (ch 6) - lion's den
A. Presenting four kingdoms (ch 7)

Hebrew section

Ch 1 An introduction
ch 8-12 Three visions that give the future of Israel
ch 8 Antiochus IV Epiphanes
ch 9 Jerusalem seventy weeks of years from restoration to destruction
ch 10-12 Israel's future

The Apocrypha

In the Apocrypha, there is a book called 'Additions to Daniel', which were added to the Book of Daniel when it was translated into Greek. It is very unlikely that these are historically accurate. This consists of three sections.

The first is the Prayer of Azariah, and the Song of the Three Young Men, which is claimed to be the song they sang in the fiery furnace (inserted between 3:23 & 3:24). It recognises the divine justice of the Babylonian exile, and is similar to Psalm 148.

The second is Susanna (ch 13 of Greek version of Daniel). Susanna was a beautiful wife of a leading Jew in Babylon. The Jewish elders and judges frequently came to his house, where two of them tried to seduce Susanna. She cried out and the two elders claimed that she was found in the arms of a young man. When she was tried in court, two witnesses agreed, so she was sentenced to death for adultery. Daniel interrupted and cross-examined the witnesses, asking each one under which tree they had found Susanna and the young man. They gave different answers, so were put to death, and Susanna was saved.

The third is the story of Bel and the Dragon (ch 14). It consists of two stories to ridicule idolatry.
1. King Cyrus asked Daniel why he did not worship Bel, who showed his greatness by consuming sheep, flour and oil daily. Daniel scattered ashes on the floor of the temple. The next morning the king took Daniel to the temple to show him that Bel had eaten the food during the night. Daniel showed the king the footprints of the priests in the ashes, who had taken the food. The priests were killed and the temple destroyed.
2. A mighty dragon worshipped in Babylon is destroyed by Daniel, who is thrown into the lions' den, where he is preserved for six days. On the sixth day, the prophet Habakkuk is miraculously transported from Judea to give Daniel food, and on the seventh day he is released.

Purpose of the book

The book shows the Jews that, although they had lost everything: land, temple, king, Jerusalem, God was still alive and active. Both Daniel and Ezekiel show that God is not limited to the temple in Jerusalem. Ezekiel had a vision of the glory of God in Babylon. He was still with the Jews in exile. They could still worship God and have a relationship with him.

God still had plans and a destiny for his people beyond the exile. God was preparing his people for the 400 silent years, so they were not so silent. They could see God was in control of the destinies of the nations. The overwhelming theme of the book is God's sovereignty over nations: "He removes and sets up kings" (2:21), (Nebuchadnezzar) "may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men" (4:17) and "Until you (Nebuchadnezzar) have learned that the Most high has sovereignty over the kingdom of men" (4:25,32, 5:21)

If the book was written during the Maccabean period, then the purpose of the book was to encourage the Jews during their struggles against Antiochus IV Epiphanes, by describing the examples of Daniel's faithfulness to God.

From a sixth century BC perspective, the book shows that the collapse and destruction of the kingdom of Judah was not the end of God's purposes for his people. The fact that Yahweh had allowed pagan powers to destroy his temple and land, was no proof that he was inferior in power to the Babylonian deities. In fact, God would display his power to show his sovereignty over all history and all nations until the end of time.

Date and authorship

Modern critical scholarship has been virtually unanimous in its rejection of the book as a sixth century BC document written by Daniel, containing predictions of the future written centuries before their fulfilment in the Greek and Roman empires.

Instead, it is claimed that Daniel was a book written by an unknown author during the period of the Maccabees, with the aim of encouraging faithful Jews in their resistance to the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes. In this case, the prophecies were written after the events were fulfilled. If this was so, then it would have been written about 165 BC.

This view was first put forward in the third century AD by Porphyry. His pre-supposition was that there could be no predictive element as such in prophecy, therefore Daniel must have been written as history. This view has been reflected one way or other ever since, in rationalistic attacks by those who cannot accept the supernatural, and therefore explain away the miracles and do not believe in predictive prophecy. The result of his claim is that the book of Daniel is basically a forgery, and therefore not the Word of God, and therefore of no value.

Evidence used to claim that Daniel was not written in the sixth century BC

Daniel 1:1 is said to be in conflict with Jer 25:1 and 46:2.

Did Nebuchadnezzar conquer Jerusalem in the 3rd year of Jehoiakim's reign (Dan 1:1) or the fourth year (Jer 25:1)? The difference is due to the different ways of counting the years of the reigning kings between Egypt and Babylon. The Babylonian scribes used a system of counting which reckoned the year in which the king ascended the throne as the 'year of accession to the kingdom', or 'the beginning of his reign', lasting from his accession until the next New Year's Day. This was followed by the first and second years etc.. The scribes in Palestine used the method of the Egyptians which reckoned the year the king started reigning as the first year. Therefore the fourth year of Jer 25:1 is the third year of Dan 1:1 (605 BC).

Jeremiah (Jerusalem / Egypt) Daniel (Babylonian method)
First year 608 BC Accession year
Second year 607 BC First year
Third year 606 BC Second year
Fourth year 605 BC Third year

This historical accuracy actually is a mark of the genuineness of Daniel, and increases its authenticity as a 6th cent. BC. document.

'Chaldeans' is used in a restricted sense to denote a group of wise men.

This usage is not seen anywhere else in the OT, therefore points to a late date of composition. Normally 'Chaldeans' is used to describe all Babylonians (as in Habakkuk). Daniel uses the word both to refer to the astrologers or wise men (eg. 2:2, 4:7, 5:7,11), and in the ethnic sense to describe Babylonians in general (1:4, 3:8, 5:30). The historian Herodotus also used the word in both ways.

Who was king? Belshazzar or Nabonidus?

In Daniel chapter five, Belshazzar is king but contemporary cuneiform writings state that Nabonidus occupied the throne. There was great political unrest when Nabonidus began to reign (four kings in six years). Neriglissar killed Evil-Merodach and Nabonidus killed Labashi-Marduk. There were high taxes for military and public expenditures. There was pressure from the Medes and the Lydians. Nabonidus wanted to bring reforms that were rejected by the Babylonian priesthood, so he made Belshazzar his son, co-regent in his place, and left for northern Arabia for a decade while the feud between them simmered down.

The Chronicle of Nabonidus, a clay tablet in the British Museum, explains that Nabonidus was absent in Arabia for much of his reign, and that his son Belshazzar ruled in his place. Therefore when Daniel successfully interpreted the writing on the wall during Belshazzar's feast, he was offered third place in the kingdom, rather than the second (Dan 5:7). Heroditus the historian writing in 450 BC, 100 years after the fall of Babylon, makes no mention of Belshazzar, which suggests that Belshazzar was soon forgotten.

Was Belshazzar the son of Nebuchadnezzar?

Dan 5:18 refers to Nebuchadnezzar being Belshazzar's father, but history shows that Nabonidus was his father. However, in Semitic usage 'son' often was used for a grandson or another descendant, or even an unrelated king.

The insanity of Nebuchadnezzar (ch 4)

Critics often claim the insanity of Nebuchadnezzar as evidence of the non-historical nature of the book, because they say that there is no historical record of this event. Insanity was treated with fear and dread in the time of Daniel, and considered to be the result of demon possession. Madmen were deprived of normal social contacts lest the others should be infected. It is unthinkable that this should happen to the great king Nebuchadnezzar, therefore we should not be surprised by the silence in Babylonian history.

Actually the silence is not so silent. A third century BC Babylonian priest and historian named Berossus preserved a tradition that Nebuchadnezzar became suddenly ill towards the end of his reign. From 582 to 575 BC, there is no record of any political activity by Nebuchadnezzar in any secular historical sources. A damaged tablet was found by Sir Henry Rawlinson from the period of Nebuchadnezzar II: "For four years...in all my dominions I did not build a high place of honour; the precious treasures of my kingdom I did not lay out. In the worship of Merodach...I did not sing his praise...Nor did I clean out the canals". Maybe this is an allusion to this period. The 'seven times' (4:16) does not necessarily mean seven years, as the word 'times' means 'seasons' (4:32). In the Babylonian calendar, there were only two seasons, summer and winter. Therefore seven seasons equals 3½ years.

This kind of insanity is known today. It is a rare but genuine psychotic condition called boanthropy, in which the sufferer imagines himself to be an ox and acts like one, eating grass and drinking rain water.

The identity of Darius the Mede

One of the biggest problems to some scholars has been the identification of Darius the Mede, the ruler who succeeded Nabonidus to the throne of Babylon after Babylon fell to the Persians in 539 BC. According to the Book of Daniel, his name was Darius, king of the Medes. "The first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus (Xerxes), by birth a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans" (9:1), "Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about 62 years old" (5:31), "In the first year of Darius the Mede" (11:1), and "So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian" (6:28). Darius is also described as king in (6:1,9,25).

The problem is that there is no reference to anyone of this name in extra-biblical sources, which state that Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon as his empire was expanding. There was another King Darius of Persia, but much later. This lack of any records of Darius is used by critics to support their claim of a second century BC date for the book.

Several possibilities have been put forward, each based on the suggestion that Darius may be a title, meaning 'Great Ruler' or similar title, as with the Egyptian Pharoahs.

1. Darius was a throne name of Cyrus

This would claim that that Darius and Cyrus were the same person. Cyrus was a Persian, but was descended from the Medes on his mother's side. Also, he would have been about 62 years old when he captured Babylon. However, he was not the son of Ahasuerus (Xerxes), unless Xerxes is also a royal title. This suggestion would contradict Dan 6:28, where it appears to refer to two separate kings. Foreigners when referring to the empire of the Medes and Persians frequently spoke of 'Medes', meaning both.

2. Darius is Gubaru, governor of Babylon

After the Persian conquest, Gubaru became the governor of Babylon and the regions beyond the river. He was governor under the rule of Cyrus. Gubaru was one of the key people responsible for diverting the River Euphrates and capturing the city. He was governor of southern Babylonia for fourteen years after 539 BC, while Cyrus was conquering areas to the west. Gubaru is mentioned in a number of cuneiform texts. The problem is that Gubaru the son of Ahasuerus (Xerxes), and was not around 62 years old. Also Gubaru was a Persian, not a Mede.

It is important not to confuse Gubaru with Ugbaru, whose name sounds similar. Ugbaru was governor of Gutium, who was named Gobryas by the historian Xenophon. He died shortly after the capture of Babylon in 539 BC, perhaps from being wounded in the attack

3. Darius was Cyaxares II, king of the Medes

Cyaxares II, son of King Astyages of the Medes, was father-in-law and uncle of Cyrus - his wife's father and his mother's brother, as he married his first cousin.

According to the Greek historian Xenophon, Cyrus was the nephew of Cyaxares, and married his daughter:
And now when the march had brought them into Media, Cyrus turned aside to visit Cyaxares. After they had met and embraced, Cyrus began telling Cyaxares that a palace in Babylon, and an estate, had been set aside for him so that he might have a residence of his own whenever he came there, and he offered him other gifts, most rich and beautiful. And Cyaxares was glad to take them from his nephew, and then he sent for his daughter (Cassondone), and she came carrying a golden crown, and bracelets, and a necklace of wrought gold, and a most beautiful Median robe, as splendid as it could be. The maiden placed the crown on the head of Cyrus, and as she did so Cyaxares said
"I will give her to you, Cyrus, my own daughter, to be your wife. Your father (Cambyses I) wedded the daughter (Mandane) of my father (Astyages), and you are their son; and this is the little maid whom you carried in your arms when you were with us as a lad, and whenever she asked whom she meant to marry, she would always answer 'Cyrus'. And for the dowry I will give you the whole of Media, since I have no lawful son." (Xenophon Cyropedia 8:5:17-19)

Cyrus became king over Anshan in 559 BC, after the death of his father Cambyses I. At this time Persia was under the control of the Medes. After several battles, Cyrus conquered the Median capital, Ecbatana, in 500BC, uniting the empire of the Medes with Persia.

Greek names used for musical instruments

In chapter three, Greek names are used for musical instruments. These are: lyre/zither, harp/trigon and pipe/bagpipes (3:5,10,15). This however no longer presents a problem since archaeological discoveries have revealed something of the extent to which Greek culture had infiltrated the near east long before the Persian period. There were Greek traders in Babylon from the 8th century BC, and mercenaries from the 7th century BC. It is known that the instruments in question are undoubtedly Mesopotamian in origin.

The descriptions of the relations between Syria and Egypt in Chapter eleven are so detailed, they must have been written after the events.

Liberal theologians, approaching this book from a rationalistic viewpoint claim that this chapter must have been written at the time of the Maccabees, looking back on history from the perspective of the second century BC. 11:40 onwards does not seem to fit any known history of that period, so must contain the author's inaccurate guess of his future.

Evidence supporting a 6th century date for Daniel

The style of writing

The Hebrew sections (1:1-2:4a, 8-12) have affinity to Ezekiel, Haggai, Ezra, and Chronicles, rather than the later linguistic characteristics of the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus. The Aramaic sections are very similar to the Aramaic used in the fifth century BC in the Elephantine papyri and in the Aramaic sections in Ezra (4:7 -6:18, 7:12-26). Recent studies have shown that the Aramaic used in Daniel was the kind which developed in government circles from the seventh century BC and subsequently became widespread in the near east.

The writer was familiar with the details of different customs of the two different empires

Various types of punishment: Babylon used fire (ch. 3), Persia used lions (ch. 6), because fire was sacred to the Zoroastrians.

The law-making of the different peoples: Nebuchadnezzar could make and change laws with absolute sovereignty (2:12, 13-46). Darius was limited as the law of Medes and Persians could not be changed (6:8-9).

The author also knew why the image in chapter three had been set up in the plain of Dura

Archaeological excavations have shown that Nebuchadnezzar instigated a great reformation of religious calendars and rituals. Before, many religious practices had been undertaken by the priesthood in secret. Nebuchadnezzar brought them into the open and established general congregational worship by the public, with the king rather than the priests representing god, thus bringing religion within reach of the lowliest citizen in the empire.

Daniel and his three friends were given Babylonian names (1:7). These names include the names of Babylonian or Sumerian deities. An author writing in the second century BC would be unlikely to know, or to include this information, especially if they were concerned with preserving the purity of the Jewish faith.

The apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees, written around the time of the Maccabees in the second century BC, includes Daniel and his friends in a list of the great exploits of their ancestors, including Abraham, Joseph, Joshua, Caleb, David and Elijah (1 Macc 2:51-60). He did not consider Daniel to be a contemporary character, but rather an historical figure in Israel's past.

The fact that Daniel is included in the O.T.

Another strong indication that Daniel was written before 165 B.C. is the very fact that it is in the canon. The canon was closed before this period by common consent (at the time of Ezra - 450 BC), and the book of 1 Maccabees along with others were not accepted.

Daniel writes in the first person and the phrase "I, Daniel" (8:1, 9:2, 10:2, 12:5-8)

The Book of Daniel claims to be contemporary with the historical kings Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Cyrus in the sixth century BC, with Daniel present in the royal court in Babylon from 605 BC to 535 BC.

If Daniel's authorship is denied, then serious questions are made about the inerrancy and accuracy of God's Word. If the book was written in the second century BC, then it was a forgery. Jesus quoted from Daniel 9:27, using the phrase "spoken by the prophet Daniel" (Mt 24:15), showing that he accepted Daniel to be the author.

Other pages connected with the Book of Daniel

There are other pages on this site which contain information useful for the study of the Book of Daniel.

Daniel's 70 Weeks

I have also written a guide to the Book of Daniel, called God Rules the Nations, which explains more of the historical setting, as well as an explanation of the text, especially the visions concerning his future.