Book of Daniel: Part 2: Primary Exploration

So we start to look at the passage and the book in context. When was the Book of Daniel written? Research suggests that it was written by an unknown author probably in the middle of the second century B.C., but presents itself as the composition of a wise Israelite, Daniel, during the fifth century B.C. This false attribution of authorship was a common practice in the ancient world when a composition needed the extra authority of a prominent author or the extra authority of having been written a long time before. Daniel thus predicts a future which is already known to the author and to his readership. This is what it appears to be about. Makes it safer!

 It is a book that comprises of three parts. The first part deals with the stories of Daniel and his companions. These may have been separate stories brought together for the purpose of this book. The second part deal with the Revelations as told by Daniel and was composed during the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus 1V Epiphanes of Syria [168-164B.C.] The third part may actually be additions added at a later date. The book called Daniel is written in two different languages, Hebrew and Aramaic. Chapter 1 and Chapters 8-12 are written in Hebrew. Chapter 2 from verse 4 to the end of Chapter 7 is written in Aramaic.

 The first part is composed of tales which we can liken to historical novels. They mention names and places but they appear to be fictional as the names and dates do not match up with what we know of historical fact.  Watch that word appear; because that is a portal for delving deeper! What would be the purpose for this inaccuracy? It is in fact that they carry spiritual and not historical meaning; therein lies the clue. So they are not there to carry historical accuracy but instead carry a religious message like the parables of Jesus. Daniel, like Job and Noah may never have existed, but that does not take away from the religious value of the tales. These tales portray an idealized life of Jewish exiles in Babylon. In this idealization, the definition of acceptable behaviour is conveyed as well as hope. The message of these tales is familiar to religious people living in a secular world in our own times, not so distanced from ancient Jews living in pagan Babylon then. The challenges that arise are familiar to those living somewhere different to where they originated from; and yet it affirms the possibility that life can carry on in strange environments and that fidelity to ones own traditions is also vital for survival, and perhaps spiritual integrity. The stories about King Nebuchadnezzar and King Belshazzar seem to indicate that Gentile kings must be subject to God and not become too proud and arrogant. Sticking to ones traditions is vital Daniel points out. The stories of the fiery furnace and the lion’s den, like all miracle stories are meant to arouse a sense of wonder. They are not realistic stories. The essential point that Daniel is making is that God has the power to save or to do what is for the best. Daniel and his companions trust God and this liberates them to do whatever they ought to do regardless of the immediate circumstances.

 In the second part Daniel uses apocalyptic literature, a term used to describe a particular type of revelation, with certain recurring characteristics. Some of these characteristics and the functions they perform can be understood quite easily. A heavy use of symbolism veils meaning. The lack of specificity enhances the mystery and it allows for long-term interpretation. It is thus a facility that enables work to travel through time and speak of common human experiences, linking them in past, present and future. Angels and demons are a common theme, they emphasize the supernatural and they act to dramatize divine control. Daniel is trying to build up hope in the people by saying that earthly war is not entirely under earthly control, and so to understand apocalypse it is better to say “what do these angels stand for”, rather than “do these angels exist”? Determinism is used, for example to illustrate that history has a fixed duration-70 weeks of years and the idea behind this is that the course of history is set by divine control and that human decisions are not predetermined. Predictions of the End were used in those days to give hope; that whilst enduring persecution, it is easier if the specific day of “relief” is known. Whether the end predicted was of persecution or of the world, the point of the specific predictions was to encourage people to stand firm in their faith in the midst of their suffering. Daniel uses heavy symbolism and images. For example although many scholars concur that King Antiochus is a major figure in Daniel he is never mentioned by name. He appears as the eleventh horn on the beast. Two hundred years later this eleventh horn may have been recognized as the roman emperor. In our own times, the beasts rising out of the sea may have been thought to represent the outbreak of the Second World War.

 The long vision explains to Daniel that the ongoing war between Judah and her enemies is not the whole picture. The earthly battle is a reflection of the more important heavenly battle between the archangels Michael and Gabriel opposing the angelic princes of Persia and Greece. The vision shows that Michael will eventually be victorious and the resurrection will follow. The vision presumes that the outcome of warfare between human kingdoms depends on God’s power, not human power.

  It clearly affirms the resurrection of individuals and is the only book of the Hebrew Bible to do so. Other books use the language of resurrection to refer to the Jewish nation, but not the individual. So here a message encouraging endurance is given. Endure persecution, put ones trust in the spiritual world, do not join in the fighting and act with integrity at all times, even at the cost of life itself [for resurrection is now assured].

 Daniel may or may not have understand that his visions referred to the internal and spiritual state of the church, but he would have been able to see how they related to the state of the world around him. These understandings above would have been acceptable in the times they were written in. In the next post we delve into the deeper layers of meaning; and the hidden things within the writings which are conveyed.