The book of Daniel (Daniel 1)

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The book of Daniel gives the Bible interpreter two clear alternatives: Either it was recounted by Daniel himself or by a person close to him and is historically trustworthy, or it was written by a religious zealot during the Maccabean revolt and is pure fiction.

The question of authorship is essentially dependent upon the issue of when the book was written. The supposition that it was recorded by Daniel or an associate from Babylon and later Persia implies a date of approximately 530 B.C. The suggestion that it was instead composed during the Maccabean wars places the date of writing at approximately 165 B.C. The arguments for either side are complex, but there is good reason for considering Daniel to be historically trustworthy and written early in the Persian period (see When was Daniel written? also under Daniel 1).

Based upon the assumption of an early date of composition (530 B.C.), Daniel wrote to his fellow Jewish exiles in Babylon to remind them of God’s sovereign control over world history and to encourage them with God’s promises of restauration.

Advocates of a late date composition (ca. 165 B.C.) argue that the book was intended essentially to encourage Jews locked at time in conflict with the ruthless Seleucid king Antiochus IV (see Antiochus IV Epiphanes under Daniel 11). From the perspective of scholars holding this view, Daniel was meant to persuade the struggling Jews of that much later time that there were historical examples of godly Jews having overcome pagan kings and their persecutions of God’s people (Daniel 3-6). In addition, these researchers argue, the prophecies foreseen and that the fullness of the kingdom of God would come immediately after Antiochus’ downfall. Intrinsic to this interpretation is the presupposition that all of these historical examples and prophecies were in fact aspects of a pious fraud.

Against this, and apart from the fact that the inclusion of a “pious fraud” in the Bible would be, to say the least, theologically troublesome, it may be helpful to note that the pagan kings in Daniel are at times portrayed in positive terms (4:1-3, 36-37, 6:19-28). If the historical context of Daniel were the much later Jewish war against Antiochus IV, a man who set up an image to Zeus and sacrificed pigs (ritually unclean animals) at the Jerusalem temple – a man who in fact tried to eradicate Judaism – this positive portrayal of pagan kings by a zealous Jewish combatant would be inexplicable.

But what is the purpose of Daniel if it is understood to be a historical document from 530 B.C.? Evidently the book was intended to encourage Jews of the exile and Diaspora to remain faithful in the face of a prolonged period during which Israel would remain at best an obscure, subservient nation under the rule of a series of Gentile world powers. Some Gentile rulers would be harsh and oppressive, while others would be tolerant and even supportive of the Jews. Yet through it all, generations of Daniel’s readers could take heart in the fact that God had foreseen their trouble and would go on to see them through it.

The riveting narratives in Daniel 1-6 will hold the reader’s attention. Look for examples of uncompromising faith in the face of the worst possible odds – that is, without God’s sovereignty taken into account.

As you tackle the apocalyptic literature in the rest of the book, you might find an in-depth Bible commentary a welcome companion. A well-researched commentary will no doubt point out and discuss similarities between this highly symbolic portion of Daniel and the book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament.

Did you know that Daniel had been carried off to Babylon as part of a deportation in 605 B.C., but he was still there in 539 B.C. and still alive when the first exiles returned to Jerusalem (1:1)? Did you know that Belshazzar, Nabonidus’ son, was coregent with his father and ruled Babylon during Nabonidus’ ten-year absence from the capital city (5:1)? Did you know that the identity of “king Darius” is puzzling? In this instance, “Darius” was evidently a throne name for someone ruling on orders from Cyrus or else Cyrus’ throne name in Babylon (6:1).


 

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