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Holman Bible Dictionary
Daniel, Book of
Literary Features Daniel combines characteristics of prophecy, wisdom, and apocalyptic writing into a unique type of literature. Matthew identified Daniel as a prophet (Matthew 24:15 ). The book addresses a current situation with a call for moral uprightness, as did the prophets. It also points to hope for the future rising out of God's words and promises. It focuses on the nations as well as Israel, as did the other prophets. It does not, however, use the literary forms of the prophets, particularly the standard formulas such as, “Thus says the Lord”; nor does it represent a collection of prophetic sermons.
As did the wisdom writers, Daniel served in a royal court counseling a ruler. He was highly-educated. The book seeks to instill moral wisdom in young persons. Yet it does not string proverbs or wisdom poetry together nor delve into the problems Job or Ecclesiastes tackled. It is wisdom literature and more.
Apocalyptic literature best describes Daniel for most Bible students. Apocalyptic writings originate from times of national, communal, or personal tribulations. See Apocalyptic . They make profuse use of symbols, numbers, figures of speech, and signs to interpret history and events during dreadful persecution and personal danger. They present visions of God and His future acts, describing in figurative language the future of peace and victory rising out of current troubles. Often a messianic figure stands in the center. Angels and demons are prominent. Generally, apocalyptic writings bear the name of ancient heroes such as Adam, Enoch, or Baruch, who demonstrated in their time the type of character needed in the current situation of the writer. See Apocalyptic .
The visions and angelic figures of Daniel along with its strongly figurative, symbolic language tie it closely to the apocalyptic. Its opening stories serve as the tie to times of persecution and call for moral living. The letters to the churches serve a similar function in Revelation.
Daniel uses two languages—Aramaic (Daniel 2:4-7:28 ) and Hebrew (Daniel 1:2-2:4; Daniel 8:1-12:13 )—plus loan words from Persian and Greek to write the complex work of prophecy, wisdom, and apocalyptic writing. This is apparently a combination of the language of worship (Hebrew) and the language of daily life (Aramaic). The two languages combine to form two distinctly separate sections of the book (1–6; 7–12), the first told in narrative form about Daniel and his friends with a historical conclusion (Daniel 6:28 ) and the second told in form of Daniel's visions.
Canon and Authority The basic twelve chapters of Daniel appear in the Hebrew Bible between Esther and Ezra in the last section called the Writings rather than in the Law or the Prophets. The Greek translation called the Septuagint introduced Daniel into the prophets and also introduced additional materials: the prayer of Azariah, the song of the three children, story of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon. See Apocrypha . The Christian church has followed the Septuagint in placing Daniel among the prophets, but Protestant Christianity has not accepted the additions, whereas the Catholic tradition has. All agree the basic Book of Daniel is God's authoritative Word for His people. Questions rise in interpretation not in the book's authority.
Unity Many things appear to separate Daniel into unrelated parts. The position of the person Daniel differs in various portions of the book. He is more central in Daniel 1-2 and Daniel 4-7 than in the rest of the book. In Daniel 1-6 Daniel is spoken of in the third person in the form of a biography. In Daniel 7-12 , however, Daniel speaks in the first person in the form of autobiography (except Daniel 10:1 ).
In Daniel 1-6 the dreams or phenomena come to heathen kings, but in Daniel 7-12 Daniel has the visions. In Daniel 1-6 Daniel is the one who interprets the dreams, but in 7–12 “someone” else interprets the dreams and visions to Daniel. Daniel 1-6 have simplicity, whereas Daniel 7-12 are complex.
The Book of Daniel acts as a unit despite these differences in languages used and types of literature employed. Each of the twelve chapters contributes to this unity. The unifying theme is that God expects His followers to maintain fidelity in face of threats, wars, legal pronouncements, or changing customs. God judges mankind constantly, and He also provides His presence and strength. God continuously judges.
I. The Faithful Young Men in a Foreign Court (Daniel 1:1-6:28 )
A. Loyalty to God leads Daniel and his friends to high political positions (Daniel 1:1-21 ).
B. Interpretation of the king's dream leads to the king's confession of God and to important positions for the friends (Daniel 2:1-49 ).
C. Loyalty to God brings deliverance from the fiery furnace, royal decree protecting the right to worship God, and further promotion for the friends (Daniel 3:1-30 ).
D. Interpretation and fulfillment of the king's dream leads the king to praise God (Daniel 4:1-37 ).
E. Loyalty to God and His rewards allows interpretation of the handwriting on the wall, brings promotion in the kingdom, and spells doom for Babylon (Daniel 5:1-31 ).
F. Faithfulness in prayer despite secular laws overcomes conspiracy, brings deliverance from the lions' den, leads the king to command fear of the true God, and brings political prosperity (Daniel 6:1-28 ).
II. Daniel's Visions Point the Way Through Persecution to Hope (Daniel 7:1-12:13 ).
A. Vision of four beasts shows four kingdoms to be overcome by Son of man and saints of the Most High, who will reign forever (Daniel 7:1-28 ).
B. Vision of ram, he goat, and four horns points to passing of Persians, Medes, and of proud Greeks, one of whom will interrupt daily sacrifices of Temple for a while (Daniel 8:1-27 ).
C. Daniel confesses the nation's sins, seeks forgiveness, and learns meaning of Jeremiah's 70 weeks as pointing to Messiah and to desolation of Jerusalem (Daniel 9:1-27 ).
D. A heaven-sent vision shows that Scripture points to battles between north and south until the northern king proudly triumphs and persecutes the people of God's covenant, taking away their sacrificial system and desecrating the Temple, but facing disaster in the end (Daniel 10:1-11:45 ).
E. Heavenly intervention will bring the time of the end and the resurrection of God's faithful people (Daniel 12:1-13 ).
Meaning Daniel encouraged the reader to remain faithful to God, God's law, and to the scriptural traditions of God's people. War, danger, threat, heathen kings, temptation, greedy desire for luxury, prosperity, and position lead away from God's way. Daniel encouraged the faithful to stand firm in faithfulness to the heritage of Israel. This resolve is painted in a characteristic prophetic outline. The essence of the book appears in a condensed form (Daniel 1:1-8 ). Then the author enlarged upon the theme he had expressed (Daniel 1:8-6:28 ). Finally, in typical Hebrew parallelism, he explained the purpose of the book in full form (Daniel 7:1-12:13 ).
Daniel 1:8-6:28 shows how in history Israelite heroes stood firm in their resolve to stay true to God and their heritage. In six different situations an Israelite hero faced extreme pressure to forsake God and tradition for personal safety and gain. In each case the hero resisted threats or danger of loss of life with no assurance of victory other than his faith.
Daniel 7:1-12:13 brought these truths to bear upon an extremely tense situation. Throughout the book the author focused upon the “fourth kingdom,” that of a tyrannical despot. As the ancient heroes remained faithful, so people facing the despot could double their resolve and experience victorious faith. They faced the choice: believe a ruthless foreign conqueror, or stay true to the faith of the fathers and the God of their history.
Interpretation The literary features, authority, outline, and meaning of the book are rather clear. The historical setting and details of interpretation bring varying opinions. The basic issue is the nature of inspired prophecy and Daniel's relationship to prophecy. All agree that prophecy is both exhortation of a present generation to faithfulness and painting of a future hope. The point at issue among interpreters is the fidelity to detail that prophecy must contain and whether Daniel with its wisdom and apocalyptic overtones must have the same type of historical setting and perspective as do the classic prophets of Israel.
To simplify the picture, two major stances on Daniel can be summarized. The first sees Daniel standing in the precise line of previous prophets, so that every detail of his visions points to the future and not the past. This assumes that Daniel in the sixth century B.C. wrote the book and described the history of contemporary Babylonian, Median, and Persian history and future Greek, Ptolemaic, Seleuccid, Maccabean, and Roman history, as well as the events of end time. Those interpreters who use a dispensational system (see Dispensations) to interpret Daniel see antichrist , tribulation , and the final kingdom pictured in Daniel.
A second stance emphasizes Daniel's relationship to other apocalyptic literature in which writers often use the names of ancient heroes to describe history long past to bring a message to a present generation facing extreme persecution. Writing in the name of the ancient hero gives authority to the writing and protection in the situation of extreme danger. This stance views Daniel as the hero but not the author of the book. The author is an unknown inspired writer who lived in the time of Antiochus Ephiphanes shortly before 164 B.C. The author used contemporary methods of interpreting the prophecies of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and others to give hope to his generation when many Jews were seeking favor with the Syrian government of Antiochus by adopting a Hellenistic life-style and ignoring Jewish traditions. He used biblical traditions and other knowledge of his day to review the history of Babylon, the Medes, Persia, Greece, the Ptolemies of Egypt, and the Seleuccids of Syria. He then pointed to an immediate future when God would judge Antiochus and his followers who enforced the present persecution of God's people. This interpretation may then take another step and say that the book lends itself to valid new interpretations in light of Jesus Christ and the Christian hope, but that these were not necessarily the main points of the original author.
Whichever stance one takes in interpreting the details of Daniel, the inspired book continues to give hope, strength, and courage to God's people, especially in times of persecution, and to call for ultimate faithfulness no matter the temptations faced.
J. J. Owens and Trent C. Butler
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Daniel, Book of'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/d/daniel-book-of.html. 1991.