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Daniel 1-4



Lawrence Boadt provides this introduction to the book of Daniel….

In English translations of the Bible, Daniel is always found as the fourth of the major prophets, standing immediately after Ezekiel and before the twelve minor prophets. This follows the Greek traditions of the Septuagint and it is easy to tell why they thought it should be among the more important prophets. The book is filled with dreams and visions that reveal coming events. But, in contrast, the Hebrew Bible always places Daniel among the last of the writings, and does not consider it to be prophecy at all. Indeed, it can be readily understood as edifying examples of trust in God not much different from the stories of Esther, Judith and Tobit. Some scholars consider it to be prophecy, others to be wesdom, and others to be a whole new kind of literature called apocalyptic, because it speaks about the overthrow of the whole world order.

But before deciding what kind of literature the Book of Daniel is, we must look at what it contains. It can be divided into two parts in the Hebrew, and three in the Greek (and modern Catholic) Bible:

Part 1 (chapters 1-6): six romantic stories, sometimes called “court tales,” intended to edify and teach proper religious attitudes. They tell about a young hero who lived under great danger at the courts of the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 B.C.), and of the king of the Persians (about 539 to 485 B.C.).

Part 2 (chapters 7-12): four visions in which Daniel learns about coming occurrences either in a dream or through an angel. These all contain an explanation of past and future events that will culminate in the destruction of Israel’s enemies and their wicked allies in a battle conducted from heaven itself.

Part 3(chapters 13-14): these chapters contain three further stories about the hero Daniel but are found only in the Septuagint. The first shows Daniel’s wisdom as he uncovers the lies of two elders against Susanna. The second and third tell of how Daniel refuses to worship a great statue of Baal and a dragon. He is thrown in the lions’ den, but God delivers him from certain death, and the lions rip apart his accusers instead.

The entire book claims to take place in the sixth century B.C. and to report a series of visions that come to the boy Daniel, who is remarkable for his great wisdom and his ability to receive divine revelation about the future. Few scholars today, however, believe that this book originated in any way during the days of the Babylonian exile. And the ones who do usually have a very difficult time explaining the references to historical people and places which seem to be grossly wrong. Darius the Mede is called the son of Xerxes in 5:31 and 9:11, but both are wrong: Darius was no a Mede but a Persian and the father of Xerxes. Belshazzar is called the king of Babylon in chapter 7 and the son of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 5. He was neither: he was only crown prince under his father Nabonidus. In chapter 6 Cyrus succeeds Darius as king of the Persians. This, too, has history backward, since Cyrus was the founder of the Persian dynasty. The author seems to be quite confused about his facts and either lived long afterward or else intended the giant bloopers to warn the audience that what follows is not intended as a history but a story of faith—similar to the approach of the Book of Judith. (Reading the Old Testament, 506-508)

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