In this post we will explore the unity of the book of Daniel. The book shows diversity between Daniel 1-6 and 7-12 in genre, yet there are various ways that the book insists that we read the whole together. This is more than just saying that the book is meant to be read in one sitting, but even extends to the message of the book as a whole and how the chapters relate to one another. I refer to a handout in this text that is available by clicking here.
The book of Daniel has chapters written in Hebrew and chapters written in Aramaic. Historically, Aramaic did serve as the language of diplomacy – a lingua franca – for a time. It makes sense that Aramaic would be associated with the king’s court more than Hebrew. But there appears to be a more important reason for the use of two languages. The two languages serve to make sure that the reader sees the book of Daniel as a unity. Daniel is easily divided into two as Daniel 1-6 and Daniel 7-12. Daniel 1-6 consist of court narratives not unlike that which we have seen most recently in the book of Esther (and more distantly in the stories of Joseph in Egypt in the book of Genesis). I will argue that Daniel 1-6 are clear examples of wisdom literature. Daniel 7-12, on the other hand, are apocalyptic literature. It is obvious to all reading the book of Daniel that Daniel 7-12 are very different than Daniel 1-6. The languages in which the book of Daniel was written forces the reader to read the book as a unity. How? Daniel 1 and 8-12 are in Hebrew and Daniel 2-7 are in Aramaic. Thus the first chapter of the court narratives is in Hebrew while the rest are in Aramaic and the first chapter of the apocalyptic literature is in Aramaic with the rest in Hebrew. (The Dillard-Longman Introduction says that Daniel 2:1-4a is Hebrew and not Aramaic, which I would note further ties these sections together. The Intro also observes that the Aramaic does not read as if translated from Hebrew.)
Moreover, the chapters originally written mostly in Aramaic (Daniel 2-7) form a chiasm.
Daniel 2: Dream about 4 Kingdoms
Daniel 3: Fiery Furnace
Daniel 4: Judgment of Nebuchadnezzar
Daniel 5: Judgment of Belshazzar
Daniel 6: Lions’ Den
Daniel 7: Vision about 4 Kingdoms
The reader knows that a chiasm is intentional because of the most obvious parallelism of Daniel 3 and Daniel 6. The parallelism of Daniel 3 and 6 is reinforced by the same phrase being used in both: ”maliciously accused” (ESV). The Hebrew for this phrase is more literally rendered: ”ate his pieces.” This phrase is especially appropriate for Daniel 6 since the conspirators were figuratively eating Daniel’s pieces with their words and the story involves lions, but it also appears in Daniel 3 since certain Chaldeans were figuratively eating the Jews’ pieces with their words. The enemies of these Jews were like lions in both Daniel 3 and Daniel 6. The fiery furnace is not all that different from the lions’ den.
All of these patterns reinforce the unity of the book in the mind of the reader rather than dividing the book into two as Daniel 1-6 and Daniel 7-12. It is possible that the structure of the book is a double chiasm. While looking for others who argue that Daniel 1 or 2 or 3 or 4, etc. are chiasms I have stumbled upon arguments that Daniel 1 is the prologue, Daniel 2-7 is a chiasm, Daniel 8-12a is a chiasm and the rest of Daniel 12 is the epilogue. I need to do more work to either support or refute this understanding of the structure of the book.
The parallel of Daniel 3 and 6 means you should be looking for a chiasm. The Dillard-Longman introduction sees Daniel 2-7 is a chiasm as does George M. Schwab’s Hope in the Midst of a Hostile World: The Gospel According to Daniel in The Gospel According to the Old Testament series (and most other modern commentaries). Schwab describes the A portions as ”Dream statue representing four kingdoms” and ”Dream of four beasts representing four kingdoms” and the B portions as ”Worship the golden statue or perish in a pit” and ”Worship Darius or perish in a pit.”
While studying Daniel 1, 2, and 4 in preparation for eventually preaching these passages I noticed that each one follows a chiastic pattern. Therefore, this week I set about trying to understand the structure of Daniel 3, 5, and 6. Since these are more recently done, these are the ones that I have the most doubts that I have outlined them correctly. Nevertheless, it is clear that the court narratives are very artistic writings. (Here again I make my usual comment that artistic does not mean fictional – the ancients did not think the way that modern Americans do).
One thing that these chiasms do for these very similar stories is to highlight different things. In other words, while the teaching of Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 are very similar, the focus of Daniel 2 is different than the focus of Daniel 7. Daniel 2 centers on Daniel asking Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah to pray and how the mystery was revealed to Daniel during a vision in the night. Not having yet explored the structure of Daniel 7, it seems more likely that Daniel 7 wants to highlight the content of that message.
Daniel 1 has at its center that Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or with the wine that he drank. The main point of the chapter then is that God honors those who seek to honor Him. Clearly the chapter is a wisdom story with a wisdom application. It is no accident that Jews living in post-exilic times did not view Daniel primarily as a prophet but as a sage – a wise man. Wisdom is an important theme of the opening chapter. Likewise, at the center of Daniel 2 on my chiasm outline also is the statement that Daniel blessed God as the giver of wisdom and revealer of secrets. Together Daniel 1 & 2 are making the larger point that God honors those who seek to honor him with wisdom.
Daniel 4 teaches that God is able to humble those who walk in pride. At the center of the chapter is Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Belshazzar shows his ignorance in Daniel 5. He had not learned the lesson that God is able to humble those who walk in pride. Neither did he understand that God could give the interpretation to Daniel, hence the center of Daniel 5. Unlike the book of Esther, which we are again reminded of when we read how the decree of the king of the Persians and Medes cannot be revoked, the book of Daniel is teaching the people of Israel how to live in a post-exilic world. Even more specifically, it is teaching the Jews how they are to live in the presence of their enemies. Daniel 3 and 6 are especially appropriate in emphasizing this point. Hence it is appropriate to call these six court narratives ”wisdom literature.”
The Dillard-Longman Introduction lists the following common traits of apocalyptic literature: a narrow eschatology (end of time), mediated revelation (usually receiving something from an angel or going on a heavenly journey), unusual imagery (bizarre, evil pictured as grotesque), written by and for the oppressed (with the purpose of bringing comfort to the oppressed), holding a deterministic view of history with optimism (judgment is certain, which is good news to the oppressed), and apocalypses often are written under an assumed name and give prophecy after the fact.
The Dillard-Longman introduction gives the following description of the overarching theme of Daniel (encompassing both genres): ”God is sovereign. He overrules and eventually will overcome human evil” (emphasis is his). He gives as a ”case in point” Daniel 6. The genre of apocalyptic literature also is naturally suited to make this point. The major difference is that the deliverance came more immediately in the former court narratives than in the latter apocalyptic narratives. This is not unlike the difference between the former prophets and the latter prophets, yet Daniel is among the Writings.
Longman situates the book of Daniel in the sixth century B.C. He lists the dates mentioned in the book as 605 B.C. (Daniel 1:1), 539 B.C. (Daniel 1:21), and 537 B.C. (Daniel 10:1). For the purposes of these classes I am not going to attempt to provide harmonizations between the non-biblical historical record (with all of its many gaps) and the account of Daniel. I did find interesting, however, that the reason Daniel would become third in the kingdom under Belshazzar is that the acting ”king” in question was only himself technically second in the kingdom at the time. Additionally, the book of Daniel describes Belshazzar as the son of King Nebuchadnezzar. Now historically speaking they were not likely related. But the old saying ”like father, like son” explains why the Biblical text describes them with such a relationship. The earlier king of Babylon went down a path to ruin that the most recent acting king of Babylon was imitating. My point is that the meaning we seek for the book of Daniel is largely found in the book itself, with additional light from the rest of Scripture. Thus I may appeal to other historical sources periodically, but we are generally going to avoid the oft debated questions of relating them to the book of Daniel. After all, various harmonizations are always possible – though often speculative until further evidence appears ruling out some earlier harmonizations – but they also serve to distract us from the point being made in the book.
What I would like to do going forward is to explore the issues involved chapter by chapter, starting with the first one, including observations that did not make it into my sermons on Daniel. I would especially welcome critical reflection on these suggested chiasms for the structure of each chapter. I would like to be able to improve, and wherever necessary correct, these outlines.
That particular example is a good one for just how much we do not know. It had been assumed for a long time that the book of Daniel was mistaken about Belshazzar until it was discovered that King Nabonidus had a son named Belshazzar who sat on the throne in his place while he was living, as the Dillard-Longman Introduction describes it, in ”an oasis in northwest Arabia approximately one thousand miles from Babylon.” This then would make sense of why Daniel became third in the kingdom.