‘The book of Daniel tells the story of a young Israelite taken from Jerusalem in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (605-562 BC). Despite a life-long exile and much opposition he remained faithful to his God. Like Joseph before him (Gen 37-50), he was gifted with the ability to understand dreams and visions (Dan 1:17); he rose to prominence in a foreign court and was privileged to receive insight into the future purposes of God in history.’ (NBC)

‘Although in our English Bible the book is included among the Prophets, in the Hebrew Bible it is numbered among the Writings. In that context it illustrates the nature and blessings of a life lived in faithfulness to God’s covenant under inhospitable conditions (chs. 1-6) and reveals the conflicts in which God’s covenant people will be engaged and divinely kept (chs. 7-12).’ (NBC)

‘The first six chapters of Daniel surely have roots in the wisdom tradition of Israel. They present Daniel and his friends as wise men, dream interpreters, and ideal courtiers who, though observant Jews and unwilling to compromise with idolatry, were nonetheless able to win their way in the foreign courts of Babylon and Persia.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

‘The stories of the saints in chaps. 1–6 have contributed to the determination of Jews and Christians to lead personal lives of courage and collective lives of obedience, trusting that the cause of justice will prevail in the end.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

The book is divided into two parts: chapters 1-6 are biographical; chapters 7-12 are apocalyptic.

Dan 1:1-2:4a; 8:1-12:13 is written in Hebrew; Dan 2:4b-7:28 is written in Aramaic. The fact that the use of Aramaic spans the two halves of the book is an argument in favour of the unity of Daniel.

The structure of the book can be further described as follows:-

Chapter 1 – Introduction

Chapters 2-7 – The heart of the book

Chapters 8-12 – An expansion in terms of world history

The middle section (chs 2-7) are arranged in reverse parallelism. Chs. 2 and 7 present visions of four world kingdoms set over against the kingdom of God; chs. 3 and 6 are narratives of miraculous divine deliverances; chs. 4 and 5 describe God’s judgment on world rulers. Thus, the motifs employed in chs. 2, 3 and 4 reappear in reverse order in chs. 5, 6 and 7.

Whereas the narratives of chs 1-6 follow a chronological order, the visions of chs 7-12 follow a progressive parallelism, covering the same time period. ‘The literary structure is akin to that of a spiral staircase which moves round the same point time and again, but brings us to a higher vantage point from which we are able to gain a clearer and fuller view of things. Hence, the material covers the same ground on more than one occasion, but develops it more fully each time. The same pattern may be detected in Jesus’ teaching in Mk. 13 and in the book of Revelation itself.’ (NBC)

‘The context in which the life of Daniel is set is summed up in the question asked by the exiles in Babylon, recorded in Ps 137:4, ‘How can we sing the song of the LORD while in a foreign land?’ The entire book, biography and visions, teaches us that this world will always be a ‘foreign land’ to the people of God (cf. Jn 17:16; Phil 3:20a). God’s people are ‘strangers in the world’ (1 Pet 1:1, 17), surrounded by malignant and destructive enemies (1 Pet 5:8-9). Yet, it is possible to live in a way which brings praise and honour to God, just as Daniel did. He is the embodiment of the teaching of Ps 1.’

‘Such a life of faith (cf. Heb 11:33-34) is nourished on the knowledge of God (Dan 11:32b), consecration to him (Dan 1:8; 3:17-18; 6:6-10), and fellowship with him in prayer (Dan 2:17-18; 6:10; 9:3; 10:2-3, 12). It draws its confidence from the knowledge that God is sovereign over all human affairs (Dan 2:19-20; 3:17; 4:34-35), and that he is building his own kingdom (Dan 2:44-45; 4:34; 6:26; 7:14). Our times are in his hands (Dan 1:2; 5:26), since the affairs of earth are not unconnected with those of heaven (Dan 10:12-14, 20). He is a God who makes himself and his purposes known, so that his people may know him and rely on his word (Dan 1:17b; 2:19, 28-30, 47). Such knowledge enables God’s people to resist pressure knowing that they will share in the fulfilment of his kingdom (Dan 7:22, 26-27; 12:2-3).’ (NBC)

Davis: ‘Two words of Jesus then might sum up the message of Daniel: ‘the end is not yet’, and ‘but the one who endures to the end—he shall be saved’. That is not what we usually like to hear, for we think, for example, of the planned annihilation of Christians in Somalia and Iraq, of the decades of deprivation and terror endured by Christ’s flock in southern Sudan, of his servants tortured in Vietnam, and we long to tell them that the Lord has marked on his calendar a date in the very near future for their vindication. No, we have something like Daniel’s book instead—a realistic survival manual for the saints.’

Date

Even though the first half of the book is in autobiographical form, many scholars believe that the book was composed, not in the sixth century (its literary setting), but in the second century, in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes. ‘According to this view, the stories in chs. 1-6 doubtless have their origins in the traditions of the Hebrew people. Daniel is presented as a hero figure, faithful to God’s law in the face of all opposition. The visions are largely interpretations of the past rather than supernatural revelations of the future. Rather than providing a historical account, Daniel’s autobiography and visions in various ways employ, expound and apply other Scriptures in order to bring strength and encouragement to second century Jews. Thus, for example, his own experience is seen as modelled on that of Joseph (the exile who rose to power in a foreign nation yet remained faithful to God); his prayer in ch. 9 is seen as dependent on the prayers in Nehemiah; while parts of the visions are seen as subtle expositions of Scripture (Dan 11:33; 12:3 being viewed as an exposition of Isa. 52:13-53:12). The author was composing his book in the 160s BC, when God’s people were suffering the fierce persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes and desperately needed to know that there was meaning to life, that faithfulness to God was significant, that suffering was not permanent, that God reigned and his people would triumph. The question raised in Dan 12:6 (‘How long will it be?’) thus echoes the cries of God’s people. The cryptic prophecies contain the answer: It will not be for ever.’

‘This view also suggests that the book of Daniel can be dated with greater precision than any other OT book. The author was aware of the profanation of the temple (which can be precisely dated in December 167 BC; cf. Dan 11:31) and the heroic resistance led by Judas Maccabeus in 166 (11:33-35), but he apparently did not know of the death of Antiochus in 164 (Dan 11:40-45 is read as a genuine, but mistaken, attempt at prophecy). Critics suggest that, whatever earlier periods of composition and revision the book may have passed through, the final edition can be dated accurately around 165/164 BC. This, in turn, becomes a major argument for believing that the fourth kingdom in chs. 2 and 7 is Greece.’

‘According to critical scholars, therefore, Daniel is a book of edifying legends and dramatic visions, a powerful piece of second-century BC resistance literature. Because it was written in such a way that none of its first readers would have mistaken it for a history of the past, or for prophecy of the future, they would have accepted it for what it was, would have been challenged by it and gained strength through its message – just as a reader today might be moved by reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.’ (NBC)

Towner (writing in Harper’s Bible Commentary) says: ‘In the form in which we have it (perhaps without the additions of Dan 12:11, 12), the book must have been given its final form some time in the years 167–164 B.C. This dating is based upon two assumptions: first, that the authors lived at the latter end of the historical surveys that characterize Daniel 7–12; and second, that prophecy is accurate only when it is given after the fact, whereas predictions about the future tend to run astray.’

In particular, then, the descriptions of the activities of Antiochus Ephiphanes in Dan 11:29-39 are so accurate as to persuade scholars that they must have been composed after the event.  On the other hand, the description of Antiochus’ end (Dan 11:4-45) is said to be so inaccurate as indicate a prophecy before the event.  These considerations, in the minds of many, fix the date of composition at around 165 BC.

There are a number of problems with the usual critical views of date and authorship: (a) if the book is so self-evidently non-historical and non-predictive, we should expect to find evidence of this in the history of its interpretation; (b) the book is regarded as historical within the NT (Mt 24:15; Heb 11:33f); (c) the idea that a work of fiction can inspire people to be faithful unto death is theologically and psychologically flawed. The biblical view of miracles is that they are significant precisely because they actually happened (cf. 1 Cor 15:15-17); (d) there are many indications within the book of a Babylonian background, and this would be incompatible with a 2nd-century Palestinian Hebrew origin. ‘These include the use of the Babylonian dating system (Dan 1:1); familiarity with the Babylonian love for the number six and its multiples (Dan 3:1; NIV mg); the implication that Belshazzar’s title ‘king’ implied his acting as regent (Dan 5:7); and the reference to the Persian custom of punishing the relatives of a guilty party (Dan 6:24). Even the reference to ‘the plaster of the wall’ (Dan 5:5) is striking since we know from archaeological discoveries that the walls of the palace at Babylon were covered with white plaster.’ (NBC); (e) ‘The second-century dating theory assumes that Daniel was written in 165/164 BC and was mistaken in its genuine attempt to prophesy Antiochus Epiphanes’s downfall. Given the authority of the canon of the OT it is inexplicable (on this view) why the book was not revised for accuracy or how the book was accepted as canonical in the full knowledge that it contained errors.’ (NBC)

Davis critiques the prevailing critical view concerning late authorship along the following lines:-

The Aramaic used is consistent with that in use between 600 and 330 BC, and differs from that used in the 2nd century BC.

Evidence from Qumran shows that the Book of Daniel had been copied and was regarded as Scripture as early as 115 BC.  This would suggest that the original dates from before 165 BC.

If the stories told in Dan 1-6 are of legendary character, composed specifically to support the faith of Jews suffering persecution in the middle of the 2nd century BC, then the fit is poor.  Davis asks: ‘Why depict Daniel manoeuvring to be faithful within and under ‘the system’ in chapter 1 when one’s objective is to stir absolute repudiation of the pagan system of Antiochus? Why show Daniel enlightening Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2 and simultaneously saving the heads of the pagan dark-arts practitioners? Why pass on the record of Daniel 4 in which Daniel so obviously has a genuine concern and even compassion (Dan 4:19, 27) for the pagan king he serves?’  Wallace comments: ‘Throughout the whole book it becomes obvious that the work is written as a message not primarily for those who are suffering in the midst of deadly persecution but rather for those who are living in a settled condition yet within an alien culture—in other words, not in a Maccabean-type situation, but in a Babylonian-type situation.’

If the book were pseudonymous (and, as the critics suggest, readily recognised as such), what practical purpose would it have served to its first readers?  How are God’s suffering people encouraged and strengthened by stories that they know are fictional?  As Davis comments: ‘What some call the ‘quasi-prophecy’ of Daniel would give such sufferers nothing more than quasi-encouragement.’

The late dating of Daniel is predicated on a rejection of predictive prophecy.  Critics do not think that a 6th-century prophet either could or would offer such minute predictions of events that lay centuries ahead.  We respond by affirming that such a prophet could, under divine inspiration, make such predictions, and by suggesting that the crisis in the 2nd century was of such a nature and severity as to provide ample rationale for thorough fore-warning and fore-arming.  To deny the predictive element in prophecy is to contradict the prophets themselves (see, e.g., Isa 40-48).  As Davis remarks: ‘The last thing people—including some biblical scholars—want is a real God running around loose and having the chutzpah to order history ahead of time.’

Time-span

‘The entire story is said to begin in 606 B.C., the third year of Jehoiakim, king of Judah (Dan 1:1), and to conclude seventy years later in 536, “in the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia” (Dan 10:1). Such a span of time would imply that Daniel, who was taken as a lad to serve in the Babylonian court, completed his career at a ripe age of more than eighty years.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

Contemporary application

‘The church today, even when it lives in relative freedom, is still in exile. Ever since God expelled our ancestors from Paradise, we have been living in exile, east of Eden. This broken, sinful world is not our home. We may call ourselves citizens of a certain country, but really, Paul says, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20). That is why Peter addresses his first letter “to the exiles of the Dispersion” (1 Pet 1:1), and James “to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (Jas 1:1). Jesus also says to his followers, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.… If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:19–20).
Even if the churches we address do not suffer from overt, state-sponsored persecution, therefore, they still suffer the consequences of living east of Eden. The people we address struggle with thorns and thistles, earthquakes and tornadoes; they suffer from the enmity of Satan, broken relations, pain, death, and murder (Gen 3–4). Hence the comforting messages of Daniel aimed at Israel in exile will also be relevant and life-giving for the church today.’ (Greidanus)

Bibliography

Baldwin (TOTC); Wallace (BST); Davis (BST); Greudanus; Ferguson. Of the whole-Bible commentaries, the entry by Ferguson (NBC) is especially valuable.

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