Background

“God is my Judge” is the likely meaning of Daniel’s name. The name “Daniel” also appears in other Semitic languages, including Akkadian and Ugaritic. Daniel was among the exiles taken from Judah in the deportation of 605 BC, eight years before Ezekiel was in the same way brought to Babylonia. As revealed in the book itself, Daniel continued to serve and write until after the defeat of Babylonia by the Medes and Persians under Cyrus (539 BC). If Daniel had been taken captive at about fifteen years of age, he would have been approximately eighty-five years old at the time of his death. Tradition has given us two locations for his tomb: in the royal vault in Babylon a little west of the acropolis and in one of the synagogues of Susa. The writing of this book is frequently dated between 535 and 530 BC.1The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.

The Hebrew Bible did not place Daniel into the prophetic section, but considered it one of “the Writings.” The likely reason for this was that Daniel was not formally called to serve as a prophet, but continued to serve as a civil servant in the prevailing government structures.

Historically speaking, in this book we note a memorable transfer of power in empires. Nebuchadnezzar’s long (43 years) and illustrious rule came to an end in 562 BC, and soon the Persians began to build their empire under the leadership of Cyrus. The successors of Nebuchadnezzar performed so poorly that by 539 Cyrus was welcomed into the city of Babylon as much as a deliverer as a conqueror. Within a year, after consolidating power, Cyrus was allowing many deported peoples to return to their homelands and rebuild their sanctuaries. What the Old Testament prophets had spoken regarding the remnant of Israel was about to take place.

See also the Chronology of the Prophets and the Chronology of Latter Prophets and Intertestamental Period.

Authorship

The authorship of Daniel is attested internally (see Dan 9:2, 10:2) as well as externally by our Lord Jesus (Mt 24:15, citing Mt 9:27, 11:31, 12:11). Stated simply, we also see no evidence that would lead us to depart from this clear testimony.

From the perspective of negative critics, however, there are many reasons to advocate a late-date composition. Most critics like to date the book to second-century BC and often during the persecutions at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, 168-165 BC. Others prefer the idea of multiple authorship, with portions (chapters 2-6 or 2-7) possibly dated as early as the third century BC.  This is because critics often deny the supernatural nature of Daniel’s prophecies and the miraculous events that accompanied his ministry.

It may also be mentioned that linguistic evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls indicates a composition substantially prior to the second century BC. There are grammatical evidences in the Aramaic of Daniel that are not found in the writings of subsequent centuries. Gerhard F. Hasel has concluded: “On the basis of presently available evidence, the Aramaic of Daniel belongs to Official Aramaic and can have been written as early as the latter part of the sixth century B.C.; linguistic evidence is clearly against a date in the second century B.C.”2Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Vol. 18. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994. 31. Also, the fact that the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) mistranslated some of the technical terms in chapter three indicates that these terms were likely obsolete by the second century BC. In short, there is empirical evidence that argues strongly against a late-date composition for the book.

Purpose for Writing

The primary thrust of the book has to do with the sovereignty and superiority of the Lord over all nations, rulers, and events. In his providence, God deals with nations in justice while he delivers and preserves his people. God’s people are especially comforted through the repeated assurances of the messianic hope. So we might well say that the “Kingdom of God” is the dominant theme in contrast to kingdoms of man, and it is seen in prophecy as the kingdom to be entrusted to the “son of man” (Dan 7:13-14; Mt 16:13-20).

Based on their reading of the prophets many faithful Israelites probably looked for a consummate establishment of God’s kingdom immediately upon their return from seventy years of exile. “Daniel’s visions informed them that four kingdoms were yet to come before the establishment of God’s kingdom, and that while the return from exile would come within seventy years of Jeremiah’s prophecy, this should not be confused with the full restoration. Rather than seventy years, the required span would be seventy weeks of years.”3Hill, Andrew E. and Walton, John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. 456.

Content

There are two clearly identifiable portions of the book. The first six chapters are historical narratives relating events during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius the Mede, and Cyrus. The last six chapters are apocalyptic visions that concern the End Times. Each half follows a chronological sequence, taking us from the first year of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 1) to the third year of Cyrus (Dan 10).

Almost half of the book of Daniel is written in Aramaic (Dan 2:4‑7:28), the language of the Babylonian Empire and the language which the returning exiles spoke. Why was so much of the book given in Aramaic and much in Hebrew? Simply, those portions which concern foreign powers were written in the language of the foreign powers, while those portions that were of particularly Jewish interest were written in Hebrew.

Christ Connection

We find Christ in Daniel through the prophecies of a kingdom that will never end and a ruler that will restore his people (Dan 7:9-10,13-14,27). This ruler is referred to as the “Son of Man” (Dan 7:13-14), which is the origin of one of Jesus’ favorite names for himself (e.g., Mt 8:20; 9:6; 12:40). Jesus has made his people a part of his kingdom through faith (Col 1:13-14; Rev 11:15). He will come on the Last Day to bring all who have believed in him to be with him in heaven forever (Dan 12:1-3).

Notable Passages

  • Daniel 2:20-23
  • Daniel 2:31-45
  • Daniel 3:19-30
  • Daniel 4:34-37
  • Daniel 5:5,25-28
  • Daniel 6:6-28
  • Daniel 7:9-10,13-14
  • Daniel 12:1-3

Outline

The book of Daniel may be organized simply as follows:

  1. Daniel’s Experiences (Dan 1-6)
  2. Daniel’s Visions (Dan 7-12)

or

  1. Historical lessons to be learned (Dan 1-6)
  2. Prophetic lessons to be learned (Dan 7-12)

There are also significant parallels between the sections, parallels that may be regarded as organized in a repeating pattern. Hill and Walton offer these comments: “Chapters 1 and 6 both see Daniel refuse to adjust his practices to conform to expectations. Chapters 2 and 7 both deal with four empires. Chapters 3 and 8 both deal with kings who set themselves up as God and so interfere with proper worship. Chapters 4 and 9 have in common a sevenfold scheme of punishment (Dan 4:23,25; 9:24-25). Chapters 5 and 10-12 both deal with the coming of the end.”4Hill, Andrew E. and Walton, John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. 457.

References   [ + ]

1. The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.
2. Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Vol. 18. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994. 31.
3. Hill, Andrew E. and Walton, John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. 456.
4. Hill, Andrew E. and Walton, John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. 457.