Daniel :: Catholic News Agency

Author: Unknown

Date Written: 540-164 BC


Daniel is a complicated book.  The first six chapters tell stories about the life of Daniel and a few other Jews in the court of Nebuchadnezzer II (605-562 BC) in Babylon.  Then the book presents several of Daniel's prophetic visions (7-12).  Finally, three stories about Jews in exile, including Daniel, conclude the book (13-14).  Daniel was written in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek).  It covers the reigns of several rulers from different empires.  It is one of the most controversial books of the Old Testament.


The narrative parts of Daniel (1-6, 13-14) are similar to other Old Testament stories while the visionary parts of Daniel (7-12) are similar to the apocalyptic visions in Ezekiel, Zechariah or Revelation.  In fact, Revelation is steeped in Daniel's language and imagery (e.g. Dan 7:9, Rev 1:14).  The Catholic canon includes the Greek additions to Daniel, while Protestants generally do not accept them (see chart).  The Church uses a canticle from one of the Greek additions in the Liturgy of the Hours every Sunday morning (3:56-88).


Traditionally, Daniel is considered to be the author of this book.  Yet many scholars in recent years have argued that the book was written in the 2nd Century BC as resistance literature during the reign of the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  There are several intricate historical problems in Daniel, the most important of which is what kingdoms the book refers to in the visions (Ch. 2, 7).  The traditional interpretation understands the kingdoms in the visions to be the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman empires but most contemporary scholars recognize them to be the kingdoms of Babylonia, Media, Persia and Greece.  These scholars usually understand Daniel's prophecy as vaticinium ex eventu, "a prediction after the outcome." The issue of predictive prophecy is at the heart of the dispute about Daniel's date of composition.  Was the book written in the 6th century BC and does it accurately predict the development of future kingdoms or was it written in the 2nd century BC and describe the historical development of past kingdoms merely in the style of prediction?  Those who hold to the traditional position accept a 6th century BC date of composition, while the more widely accepted scholarly position insists on a 2nd century BC date.


Daniel speaks of a Messiah, an anointed one who is "cut off" (9:25-26).  Jesus fulfills this prophecy and he also takes the title "Son of Man" from Dan 7:13, which he constantly uses to refer to himself.  The Son of Man is given authority by God and worshipped by all peoples (7:14).  Besides the title "Son of Man," the gospels use the cryptic phrase "abomination of desolation" from Dan 9:27 (see Matt 24:15, Mk 13:14).


Daniel and his companions lived as a minority people under intense persecution for their nationality and their religion.  Their fidelity to the Lord under such difficult circumstances is an enduring witness for us to be faithful in the midst of suffering.  The examples of pagan kings (Nebuchadnezzer, Belshazzar) whose pride leads to their disgrace serves to illustrate an important biblical principle (Prov 16:18, 29:23).


Daniel is a snapshot of the lives of the Jewish exiles in the Babylonian empire.  Yet it is not merely a collection of nice stories, but a spiritual testimony which shows how it is possible to be faithful to the Lord in trying situations.  Daniel anticipates Jesus the Messiah and teaches lasting spiritual truths about living for God.


By Mark Giszczak

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