Book of Daniel  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Book of Daniel (דניאל) is a book in both the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) and the Christian Old Testament. Originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic, it is set during the Babylonian Captivity, a period when Jews were deported and exiled to Babylon following the Siege of Jerusalem of 597 BC. The book revolves around the figure of Daniel, an Israelite who becomes an adviser to Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler of Babylon from 605 to 562 BC.

The book has two distinct parts: a series of six narratives (chapters one to six) and four apocalyptic visions (chapters seven to twelve). The narratives take the form of court stories which focus on tests of religious fidelity involving Daniel and his friends (chapters one, three and six), and Daniel's interpretation of royal dreams and visions (chapters two, four and five). In the second part of the book, Daniel recounts his reception of dreams, visions and angelic interpretations in the first person.

The dating and authorship of Daniel has become a matter of debate among some Christians. The traditionalist view holds that the work was written by a prophet named Daniel who lived during the sixth century BC, whereas many Biblical scholars maintain that the book was written or redacted in the mid-second century BC and that most of the predictions of the book refer to events that had already occurred. A third viewpoint places the final editorial work in the fourth century BC.

The Court Tales

The first six chapters comprise a series of court tales involving Daniel and his three companions. The first account is in Hebrew; then Aramaic is used from ch. 2:4, beginning with the speech of the "Chaldeans", through chapter seven. Hebrew is then used from chapter eight through chapter twelve. Three additional sections are preserved only in the Septuagint, and are considered apocryphal by Protestant Christians and Jews, and deuterocanonical by Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

  1. After being taken captive to Babylon, members of the Israelite nobility are taken into the king's service. Among these, Daniel and his three friends refuse to eat and drink at the king's table because the food may be ritually unclean. At the end of a short trial period they appear healthier than those who have accepted the royal rations and are allowed to continue with their abstemious diet of vegetables and water. Finally, after a three year induction, they enter the king's service and in matters of wisdom, literature, and learning are judged "ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in the kingdom". Daniel, moreover, has a unique talent for interpreting dreams and visions. Despite apparent defeat and the ransacking of the Jerusalem temple, Israel's God is surprisingly active in this chapter: "deliver[ing]" the King of Israel into Nebuchadnezzar's hands, causing the chief official to treat Daniel and his friends favorably, and giving the four exceptional knowledge and understanding. Many of the book's key themes are introduced in this chapter.
  2. Nebuchadnezzar dreams of an idol made of four metals and a mixture of iron and clay. The image is destroyed by a rock that then dominates the world. The idol's composition of metals is interpreted as a series of successive empires ending with a kingdom that will "endure forever".
  3. The account of the fiery furnace, in which Ananias (Hananiah/Shadrach), Azariah (Abednego), and Mishael (Meshach) refuse to bow to the emperor's golden statue and are thrown into a furnace. As seen by Nebuchadnezzar, a fourth figure appears in the furnace with the three and God is credited for preserving them from the flames.
  4. Nebuchadnezzar recounts a dream of a huge tree which is suddenly cut down at the command of a heavenly messenger. Daniel is summoned and interprets the dream as referring to Nebuchadnezzar, who for seven years will lose his power and mind and become like a wild animal. All of this comes to pass until, at the end of the seven years, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that "heaven rules" and his kingdom and sanity are restored. The recurring image of a tree representing a kingdom appears at least three times in the Bible.
  5. Belshazzar's Feast, where Belshazzar and his nobles blasphemously drink from sacred Jewish temple vessels, offering praise to inanimate gods, until a hand mysteriously appears to the king and writes upon the wall of the palace. The horrified king eventually summons Daniel who is able to read the writing and offer the following interpretation: Mene - God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel - You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Upharsin - Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians. "That very night", we are informed, Belshazzar was slain and "Darius the Mede" took over the kingdom.
  6. Daniel is elevated to a preeminent position under Darius which elicits the jealousy of other officials. Knowing of Daniel's devotion to his God, these officials trick the king into issuing an edict forbidding worship of any other god or man for a 30 day period. Because Daniel continues to pray three times a day to God towards Jerusalem, he is accused and king Darius, forced by his own decree, throws Daniel into the lions' den. God shuts up the mouths of the lions and the next morning king Darius finds Daniel unharmed and casts his accusers and their families into the lions' pit where they are instantly devoured.
  7. Susanna and the elders (apocryphal to Jewish and Protestant canons)
  8. Bel and the Dragon (apocryphal to Jewish and Protestant canons) - Bel and the Dragon contains three interconnected court tales set in the reign of an unidentified "King of Babylon". In the first Daniel uncovers a trick by the Priests of Bel designed to promote a belief that the cult idol magically consumes food and drink offerings set before it each night. Daniel secretly scatters ashes on the floor of the god’s locked chamber before it is sealed by the king and, in the morning, the incriminating footprints of the priests result in their slaughter and the destruction of the idol.

In a second, Daniel feeds cakes made of pitch, fat and hair to a sacred serpent revered as a god which causes it to explode.

Finally, the anger of the Babylonians at the destruction of their gods is directed towards Daniel with the result that he is thrown into a den of lions. During this time he is fed by the prophet Habakkuk who has been miraculously transported to Babylon for that very purpose. Finally the king rescues Daniel and has him replaced by his accusers who, as in the similar story of chapter six, are killed instantly.

Protestant and Jewish editions omit the sections that do not exist in the Masoretic text: in addition to the two chapters containing accounts of Daniel and Susanna and of Bel and the Dragon, a lengthy passage inserted into the middle of Daniel 3; this addition contains the prayer of Azariah while the three youths were in the fiery furnace, a brief account of the angel who met them in the furnace, and the hymn of praise they sang when they realized they were delivered. The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children are retained in the Septuagint and in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Roman Catholic canons; the "Song of the Three Holy Youths" is part of the Matins service in Orthodoxy, and of Lauds on Sundays and feast days in Catholicism.

The narratives are set in the period of the Babylonian captivity, first at the court of Nebuchadnezzar and later at the court of his successors Belshazzar and a 'King Darius' of unclear identity (see 'Historical Accuracy' and 'Date' below). Daniel is praised in Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897, as "the historian of the Captivity, the writer who alone furnishes any series of events for that dark and dismal period during which the harp of Israel hung on the trees that grew by the Euphrates. His narrative may be said in general to intervene between Kings and Chronicles on the one hand and Ezra on the other, or (more strictly) to fill out the sketch which the author of the Chronicles gives in a single verse in his last chapter: 'And them that had escaped from the sword carried he (i.e., Nebuchadnezzar) away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia' (2 Chr. 36:20)." However, see the section on Dating and Content (below) for other views on the dating and historical accuracy of the court tales.

Daniel appears as an interpreter of dreams and visions in these early court events. He is depicted later in the book as a prophet with his early experiences serving as the basis for his future ministry.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Book of Daniel" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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