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Daniel by Amy C. Merrill Willis

According to the biblical book bearing his name, Daniel is a wise man whom King Nebuchadnezzar takes captive during the invasion of Jerusalem. Daniel rises to power and prestige in the Babylonian court because he can interpret dreams better than the king’s own magicians can. Although Daniel interprets the king’s dreams and visions throughout chapters 2-6, in chapters 7-12 it is Daniel who receives visions that he himself cannot interpret.

Does Daniel predict a timeline for the end of the world?

Daniel’s visions talk about the end a great deal, but neither the book of Daniel nor the character of Daniel ever gives one precise timeline for the end. In fact, the character of Daniel provides many different calculations and depictions of the end! Not only that, but what Daniel means by the end seems to change from one chapter to another. In most English translations of Dan 2:28, for instance, Daniel says that God has revealed to the king what is to happen “at the end of days.” But this translation may not be the best. The Hebrew phrase suggests a turning point but not necessarily the end of history or the world. In this case, the end refers to the end of foreign empires that rule over Judea and the coming of a government that is wholly different.

In Dan 8:17-18 the end probably means the final period of time during which the faithful Jews will suffer persecution. Although this vision of the end claims to happen during the Babylonian exile, circa 546 B.C.E. (Daniel 8:1), the passage itself was written in or near Jerusalem around 167 B.C.E., during the Hellenistic period. The writer of the chapter understands the rule of the Hellenistic kings to be an extension of the Babylonian exile. As such, the king that the passage has in mind is the Syrian emperor, Antiochus IV, who outlawed Judaism in Jerusalem in 167 B.C.E., desecrated the Jerusalem temple, and killed many Jews. But Dan 12:4 provides yet another understanding of the time of the end. In that verse, the end refers to the time of the resurrection of the dead. The writer of the book thinks this is the time at which mundane history will cease and Antiochus IV will fall from power.

There are several calculations of the end of Antiochus IV’s persecution of the Jews or the end of the desecration of the Jerusalem temple. Dan 7:25 says that Antiochus’s rule over the people of Jerusalem will last “a time, two times, and a half time.” This is a period of three and a half years. In Dan 8:14, an angel tells Daniel that the desecration of the temple will last “two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings,” or 1,150 days. This is a period of a little less than three and a half years, which seems fitting since Dan 8 was written a little later than Dan 7 and reflects an escalation of the crisis, seen in the shorter deadline.

But Dan 12:12 speaks of waiting even longer: 1,335 days. Apparently, the anticipated ending mentioned in Dan 8:14 did not take place and so the writer pushed the end even further into the future. But why? The Maccabees drove Antiochus IV and his forces out of the temple precincts and resumed temple worship in the winter of 164 B.C.E., only three years after its desecration. Moreover, by early 163 B.C.E. Antiochus IV was dead. So the last calculation of the end seems to refer to something other than the end of the temple’s desecration. Perhaps the writers of the book were disappointed with the leadership of the Maccabees and hoped for a different end.

Was Daniel an actual person who lived during the Babylonian exile?

The dates and calculations for the end refer to events that took place between 167 and 164 B.C.E, during the period of the Maccabean revolt rather than the period of the Babylonian exile. Extra-biblical records and accounts suggest that some materials from the first half of the book of Daniel may be based on Neo-Babylonian realities. Notably, Nebuchadnezzar’s exile (Dan 4) may have been based on the Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidus. There is even an extra-biblical account of Nabonidus consulting with a Jewish seer, as Nebuchadnezzar does in chapter 4. Yet the extra-biblical account does not name Daniel. The names of both figures were probably changed later as the tales of Daniel took shape and eventually became a book. According to the book, Daniel serves the foreign kings for a long time—roughly 70 years. Such a long career serving under so many different royal regimes—Babylonian, Median, Persian—would have been virtually impossible. These historical difficulties suggest that the character of Daniel was probably not an actual person but a fictional hero whose wisdom and faithfulness bring Judaism and its God to heightened visibility in a foreign land.

Amy C. Merrill Willis, "Daniel", n.p. [cited 23 Nov 2017]. Online: http://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/people/main-articles/daniel

Contributors

Amy C. Merrill Willis

Amy C. Merrill Willis
Assistant Professor, Lynchburg College

Amy C. Merrill Willis is assistant professor of religious studies at Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Virginia. She is the author of Dissonance and the Drama of Divine Sovereignty in the Book of Daniel (T & T Clark, 2010).

According to the book that bears his name, Daniel is a Judean wise man who advises foreign kings during the time of the Babylonian exile and receives revelations concerning the end.

Did you know…?

  • There is a Hebrew edition of Daniel that consists of 12 chapters, which was actually written in both Hebrew and Aramaic. This edition was completed around 163 B.C.E.
  • There is a Greek edition of Daniel that reorders the tales found in the Hebrew version and contains additional tales. This edition was completed around 100 B.C.E.
  • Dan 12:1-3 provides the first reference to the idea of individual resurrection found in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.
  • The Book of Daniel provides the first references to Michael and Gabriel as named angels in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.
  • The Book of Daniel heavily influenced the Gospels’ references to the Son of Man and to the angel Gabriel. It also influenced the symbols and ideas found in the Book of Revelation.

Of or relating to ancient lower Mesopotamia and its empire centered in Babylon.

The period between 586 and 539 B.C.E., when the leaders and elite of Judea were exiled to Babylon. The exile ended when Cyrus of Persia defeated Babylon and allowed the Judeans to return home.

general condition of living away from ones homeland or specifically the Babylonian captivity

Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the southern kingdom of Judah during the divided monarchy, or what later became the larger province of Judah under imperial control. According to the Bible, the area originally received its name as the tribal territory allotted to Judah, the fourth son of Jacob.

Ruler of the Seleucid Empire from 175 to 164 BCE, he was emperor during the Maccabean Revolt.

A period of time that appears most often in apocalyptic texts and refers to a future time marked by radical change, at the end of human history.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

Of or relating to Greek culture, especially ancient Greece after Alexander the Great.

The religion and culture of Jews. It emerged as the descendant of ancient Israelite Religion, and is characterized by monotheism and an adherence to the laws present in the Written Torah (the Bible) and the Oral Torah (Talmudic/Rabbinic tradition).

The southern kingdom of Judah.

Dan 2:28

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Dan 8:17-18

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Dan 12:4

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Dan 7:25

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Dan 8:14

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Dan 8

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Dan 7

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Dan 12:12

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Dan 8:14

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An uprising led by the priest Mattathias against the Hellenizing agenda of Aniotchus IV Epiphanes. It turned into full-scale war with Judah Maccabee taking the reins and paving the way for the Hasmonean dynasty.

The last ruler of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, ruled from 555–539 B.C.E. Nabonidus promoted worship of the moon god Sin over the national god of Babylon, Marduk. Nabonidus spent much of his reign at the oasis of Tayma in the Arabian desert, leaving his son Belshazzar in charge of the empire. Nabonidus was defeated by the Persians under Cyrus in 539 B.C.E.

An empire in lower Mesopotamia that dominated the ancient Near East in the middle of the first millennium B.C.E. At the height of their power, they controlled all of the ancient Near East, including Egypt. They were defeated by the Persian king Cyrus in 539 B.C.E.

Dan 4

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The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

Also called the Hebrew Bible, those parts of the canon that are common to both Jews and Christians. The designation "Old Testament" places this part of the canon in relation to the New Testament, the part of the Bible canonical only to Christians. Because the term "Old Testament" assumes a distinctly Christian perspective, many scholars prefer to use the more neutral "Hebrew Bible," which derives from the fact that the texts of this part of the canon are written almost entirely in Hebrew.

Dan 12:1-3

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