Book of Daniel

The Book of Daniel, one of the volumes of the Bible, is found in the section of Scriptures. The book is written in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. There is uncertainty as to when the story may have taken place, but most scholars contend that its stories occurred in the second century BCE. According to the stories, Daniel was a Jewish government official working for three successive Babylonian and Persian kings. The kings relied heavily on his interpretations of visions and dreams. Daniel's interpretations often involved apocalyptic descriptions, specifically the downfall of the ancient Babylonian, Median and Persian empires. The book acts as a reminder that no matter the might of earthly kingdoms, the Kingdom of Heaven always reigns supreme.

Daniel acts as a representative of the Jewish people in the gentile court during the Babylonian exile. The king Nebuchadnezzar has destroyed the Jewish temple, and the Jewish people are forced to flee the land of Israel. Daniel comes to the royal court accompanied by three friends: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Despite their surroundings and subsequent tests of faith, the four men remain devoted to their God. The stories in the beginning of the book are often defined as courtier stories, in which Daniel and his friends gain power and prestige in the Babylonian court, and the other courtiers thereby conspire against them. Through divine interference, Daniel and his friends are consistently saved from execution and are vindicated. The struggles of these four men reflect the national struggles of the Jewish people.

The book is composed of 12 chapters. Scholars have split the book in two, the first five chapters coinciding in theme with the last seven chapters. The first chapter sets the stage for the book: Nebuchadnezzar takes Daniel and his comrades into his court after destroying the Jewish temple and placing its holy vessels in his pagan temple. The court recognizes the wisdom and sophistication of Daniel and his friends, especially Daniel's talent for interpreting dreams. The second and third chapters describe Nebuchadnezzar's disturbing dream in which appears a huge idol made of four different metals with feet of iron and clay. A small rock rolls toward the idol, turns into a huge mountain, collides into the idol and destroys it because of the idol's weak foundation. Daniel interprets the dream: The idol represents the four major empires that will conquer the Jewish people but will thereby be destroyed by the gradual workings of divine power. Distressed by this interpretation, Nebuchadnezzar orders Daniel and his friends to bow down to his pagan idol. When they refuse, he orders them to be burned alive in a fiery furnace. Their miraculous survival vindicates both them and their God.

The first section ends with the rise and fall of Belshazzar after Nebuchadnezzar's death. In an attempt to mock the Jewish God, Belshazzar and his court sacrilegiously drink from the temple's vessels. During their feast, a hand appears in the banquet hall and inscribes the famous writings on the wall. The mystified king summons Daniel to interpret the writings; he reads that God has judged Belshazzar's kingdom and has orchestrated its downfall to the Median and Persian empires. Belshazzar meets his end that same night at the hands of the Median Darius.

The second half of the book transitions to a new regime; the Persian empire takes control. Under Darius, Daniel becomes an eminent official, stirring the jealousy of other courtiers. They convince the new king to forbid the worship of any religion but their own for 30 days. Daniel persists in his devotions, and the king throws Daniel into the lion's den. Miraculously, the lion's mouth remains shut the entire time Daniel is there. Those who conspired against Daniel are fed to the lions, and Daniel's position is restored.

The rest of the book involves an intense, apocalyptic vision of Daniel. In parallel to Nebuchadnezzar's dream of an idol made of four metals, Daniel dreams of four beasts, each representing four future kingdoms that will attempt to dominate the world. These four beasts demonstrate the animal destructiveness invested with human intelligence. The fourth beast has 10 horns, each representing 10 kings. One king, or little horn, takes control and defies God, waging a war of apocalyptic proportions; "none can deliver out of his hand." God divests this king of his powers and brings "one like a son of a man" to power; a leader with messianic qualities who brings about the End of Days.

Contemporary scholars debate about the origins and composition of the book of Daniel. A multitude of theories abound regarding whether or not the book was written by one person or by more than one. The book maintains a consistent style and structure, and the overall message of the book stays the same throughout. Yet the book wavers between Hebrew and Aramaic, and there is a distinct lack of continuity between the various episodes.

Book of Daniel: Selected full-text books and articles

The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature By John J. Collins William B. Eerdmans, 1998
Librarian's tip: Chap. Three "Daniel"
Invitation to the Apocrypha By Daniel J. Harrington S.J W.B. Eerdmans, 1999
Librarian's tip: Chap. 9 "The Additions to Daniel: Who Is the Living God?"
How to Read the Bible By Marc Zvi Brettler Jewish Publication Society, 2005
Librarian's tip: Chap. 21 "'Those That Sleep in the Dust...Will Awake': Zechariah, Apocalyptic Literature, and Daniel"
The Burden of Prophecy: Poetic Utterance in the Prophets of the Old Testament By Albert Cook Southern Illinois University Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: Chap. 7 "The Pressure of History in Zechariah and Daniel"
Fashioning Jewish Identity in Medieval Western Christendom By Robert Chazan Cambridge University Press, 2004
Librarian's tip: Chap. Six "Biblical Prophecy: Messianic Advent"
The Bible and Its Rewritings By Piero Boitani; Anita Weston Oxford University, 1999
Librarian's tip: Chap. Two "Susanna in Excelsis"
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