Daniel: A Book of Dreams and Dark Prophecy

The Book of Daniel is an odd book in the Hebrew Bible – it is believed to have been the last or most recent book written that was later included in the Biblical corpus, though its contents take place many hundreds of years earlier during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. In the deutero-canon, which was removed from the Septuagint, three additional stories were included as part of Daniel, including Song of the Three Holy Children, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon. There is an odd shift in the book from Biblical Hebrew to Aramaic, the language of the common people (part of Chapter 2 – Chapter 7)  – the attendant characters speak in Aramaic.

It tells the story of Daniel, or Belteshazzar as his Babylonian name is called, a noble prophet living under the rule of the mad king of Babylon. The king has a dream and rather than explain its contents, he demands that his prophets repeat to him his dream. When they cannot do it, he condemns them all to death, but Daniel receives a vision from God of the dream. However, Daniel’s compatriots: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, are cast into a fiery furnace but a fourth man of God appears.

The king continues to elevate Daniel as he continues to prophecy and interpret his dreams. And Darius of the Medes (Persians) takes the kingdom and then continues to elevate Daniel. However, his officials become jealous and persuade the king to prohibit worship of the gods for 30 days, however Daniel continues to pray three times each day facing Jerusalem. Darius’s attendants throw Daniel into the lions den, but he is spared by God and Darius then casts his accusers and their whole families into the lions den to be instantly devoured.

The second part of the Book of Daniel (Chapters 7-12) concerns several apocalyptic dreams of Daniel – four great beasts coming out of the sea (based on a Canaanite myth of origins, the four represent Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece), river of fire, tongue of flame, the Ancient of Days taking a seat to judge history, an everlasting dominion, allusions to Antoichus the infamous persecutor of the Jewish cult, a future rise of Israel ruling all kingdoms. By Chapter 8, Aramaic switches back to Hebrew. Again Daniel describes a vision – a ram by a brook, horns, invasion of the Greeks as a “he-goat”, princes, evenings, desolation, the coming of a warrior-king (Alexander the Great), sleepers in the dust shall awake, and so on.

The Book of Daniel is odd for its darkly conspiracy-laden, “end of days”, eschatological language. It does not fit the mold for much of the rest of the Tanakh, however it does play well into the new existential form of Judaism as seen elsewhere in Isaiah and Jonah and foreshadows the new ‘judgment of history’ upon which the weight of the coming Christian religion will rely – hence why a link has often been cast between the cryptic prophecies of the so-called Old Testament, and the so-called New Testament, a testament of the ‘good news’ of the self-sacrifice of the son of God and the fulfillment, finally, of a celestial kingdom that cannot pass away.

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