Background

BACKGROUND
– Presented on 19 Oct 03 by Adult N Class (Teacher: Tan SK)
Outline:

1. Date and Authorship
2. Purpose and Theme
3. Place in Scriptures
4. Languages
5. Structure and Overview

1. Date and Authorship

Author: The book of Daniel records the life and prophetic revelations given to Daniel, a captive Jew carried off to Babylon after the first conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 605 BC. Although Daniel does not speak of himself in the first person until chapter 7, there is little question that the book present Daniel as its author. Chapter 8 begins with an affirmation of Daniel’s authorship: “I Daniel”. Earlier chapters refer to Daniel in the third person except where he is directly quoted. But careful examination shows that the author usually writes about himself in the third person, as was the custom among ancient authors of historical memoirs.

Date: Two main views prevail. The first is that the book was written in the second Century BC in Judea in order to encourage the people of Israel undergoing persecution by the Seleucids under Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Writing after the event the writer cast his work as a prediction of the future and urged his fellow Jews to remain faithful to their God. The other is that it was written in the 6th Century BC in Babylon by a Jewish exile named Daniel who served in the royal court and accurately predicted events that were not fulfilled until the Second Century.

a) 2nd Century BC
The authenticity of the book of Daniel went unchallenged from the time of its writing, before 530 BC, until the third century of the Christian era. Porphyry, a pagan and atheistic writer questioned whether the book of Daniel was a genuine biblical prophecy on the premise that prophecy of the future is impossible. Porphyry found that the book of Daniel was so accurate in describing future events that it must have been written after the event, advanced the theory that the book was a forgery, written in the Maccabean period, about 175 BC.

2nd century BC Theory Refuted
As for the historical arguments against Porphyry’s theory, the first has to do with the reference to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 1:1. Critics using this argument see a conflict between this verse and Jeremiah 25:1, where he refers to “the fourth year of Jehoiakim,” whereas Daniel 1:1 refers to the same event occurring in the “third year of the reign of Jehoiakim.” This apparent error is actually a cultural difference of dating systems. Jeremiah, a Palestinian, naturally uses the Palestinian dating system, which would place Jehoiakim’s fourth year in 605 BC. Daniel, using the Babylonian system, places Jehoiakim’s third year in 605 BC.
If the author of Daniel lived in the second century during the persecution, therefore in Palestine, one would naturally assume that he would use his native system of dating, and not the ancient, relatively unknown system of Babylonian dating. If Daniel were an unknown, but well knowledgeable Jew (as he would have had to have been to know Babylonian history as well as he does) he would have certainly followed in the footsteps of a well respected prophet. It is very likely that he himself would be referring to historical sources, such as Jeremiah, which uses the Palestinian dating system. Why would he have strayed from such an important and well-known prophet to use another, obscure dating system, which would appear to contradict Jeremiah, to his readers who read from, and knew the prophets work well?
The second main historical argument concerns Belshazzar. The mention of him as the last king of Babylon in Daniel 5:30 seemed to be an unreconcilable error to historians and critics. Secular sources have, since ancient times, stated that Nabonidus was the last king of Babylon. Then, with the discovery of the Nabonidus Chronicle, Daniel was proven correct. In the verse account of Nabonidus, it is said that Nabonidus “entrusted the ‘camp’ to his eldest son [‘Belshazzar] …entrusted the kingship to him and himself …he turned towards Tema in the West.” This is fairly strong evidence that Belshazzar was indeed the coregent of Babylon in his father’s absence, and was there when Babylon fell in 539 BC. The mystery here is how the author knew of Nabonidus’ leaving Belshazzar in charge, when all knowledge of Belshazzar was lost by at least 450 BC, until the discovery of the Nabonidus Chronicle. The only conclusion that one can reach, other than some other information which has been lost to us today, is that the author was indeed alive during the events, in 539 BC.

b) 6th Century BC
The book of Daniel claims to have been written in the sixth century BC, indirectly. The author places himself in the midst of the exile, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.” (Dan 1:1) This event occurred around 605 BC, being the earliest chronological event in the book, gives a general timeframe for reference. The last chronological event written as history is “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia,” (Dan 10:1), which was 537 BC. This, together with the first date, gives us reason to believe that the book was probably written / compiled, according to the author, sometime quite soon after 537 BC, as he would have been somewhere over eighty years old.

2. Purpose and Theme

Purpose and Recipients: The book of Daniel is not intended to give an account of the life of Daniel. It gives neither his lineage nor his age, and recounts but a few of the events of his long career. Nor is it meant to give a record of the history of Israel during the Exile, nor even of the captivity in Babylon. Its purpose is to show how by His providential guidance, His miraculous interventions, His foreknowledge and almighty power, the God of heaven controls and directs the forces of nature and the history of nations, the lives of Hebrews captives and of the mightiest of the kings of the earth, for the accomplishment of His divine and beneficent plans for His servants and people. It encouraged the exiled Jews by revealing God’s program for them, both during and after the time of Gentile power in the world. Prominent above every other theme in the book is God’s sovereign control over the affairs of all rulers and nations, and their final replacement with the True King. It also shows that God continuingly works in His people Israel even in the time of their chastening, giving hope to the Jews who returned to restore the temple and the city.

Major Themes:

a. The Covenant-Keeping God. The opening verses of the book make clear that Nebuchadnezzar was able to conquer Jerusalem because the Lord allowed him to (Dan. 1:2), recalling the covenant curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. In his prayer of repentance (directed toward the site of the Temple – Dan. 6:10) Daniel specifically refers to Israel’s sin and failure to live up to her covenant obligations (9:4-11a). The EXILE, he acknowledges, was God’s judgement on the people which they fully deserved (9:11b-15; cf. Lev. 26:37-39: Deut. 4:27-28; 28:63). However, Daniel knew that that was not the end of the story, for after judgement the Lord promised both forgiveness and restoration (Dan. 9:15-16; cf. Lev. 26:40-45; Deut. 4:29-31; 2 Chron. 7:14).

b. Universal Rule of Yahweh. Although the narrative of the book centers around a group of Hebrews in Babylon the book’s perspective is not simply concerned either with their fate, or even that of their people; it is universal in scope. God is shown to be working at the very heart of a pagan empire and its rulers are forced to acknowledge that he is Lord is King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he who raises up and puts down rulers and it is he alone who directs the course of history (as the visions and dreams demonstrate). Although they might have taken the sacred objects from the temple with impunity when they are used in a sacrilegious manner Yahweh proves himself more than capable of defending his honour (5:1-30).

c. God’s Rule is Not Unopposed. God’s will is opposed both on the heavens and on earth. When Daniel prayed and fasted for 21 days for insight God’s answer was given on the first day he prayed. However, we are told that the Prince of Persia opposed God’s messenger until another angel (Michael) was sent to help. Throughout that time Daniel continued to fast, unaware why he had not had an answer to his request (10:1, 12-14). On earth God’s will is opposed by kings and rulers, some of whom can be turned to repentance (4:34-35), some of whom cannot (5:1-4, 30; 11:36-38).

d. Suffering. Being a believer in Yahweh does not guarantee a life free from suffering. Israel suffered because of military conquest, but Daniel and his friends had to choose between their faith and an easy life (3:8-23; 6:3-12). Further defeats are foretold for Israel, but God will ultimately vindicate them (7:21-25; 8:23-25; 9:26; 11:36-45; 12:7b) and bring every deed to judgement (5:2-6, 22-30; 6:24; 7:9-10; 12:1-3).

e. God is in Control of Human History. Behind the scenes of history the Lord is working out his purposes (2:44). The kings of the earth rule by his will (2:37-38, 47; 4:28-35; 5:18-21; 6:26) and their end is already known (2:31-35, 44-45)

3. Place in Scriptures

In the English Bible, Daniel is placed among the Major Prophets immediately after Ezekiel, following the order of the Septuagint. However, in the Hebrew Bible, it is placed in the third division of the canon, called the Kethubhim or “writings” by the Hebrews, and the hagiographa or “holy writings” by the LXX. The third division of the canon is composed of works written by men who were inspired of God and yet did not themselves occupy the office of prophet. In ancient Israel the prophet was primarily a mediator between God and the nation, speaking to the people on behalf of God. He was in effect a spokesman for the Lord. None but the works of the nebhi’im (“prophet”) were put in the second part of the Jewish canon, the third belong reserved for the heterogeneous works of seers, wise men, and priests, or for those that do not mention the name or work of a prophet, or that are poetical in form.
Daniel was placed in this part of the Hebrew canon because Daniel is not called a nabî’ (“prophet”), but rather a hozeh (“seer”) and a hakam (“wise man”). Daniel’s training had prepared him for a service as a statesman at a heathen court. While he did not occupy the technical office of a prophet of Israel, his outlook manifested many elements consistent with the highest aspirations of normative prophecy, and for that reason the NT speaks of him as a prophet.

4. Languages

An unusual feature of the book of Daniel is the fact that it was written in 2 languages, the central portion (2:4 – 7:28) is written in biblical Aramaic, while the rest was written in Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament.

1. Hebrew: Hebrew, one of the North Western group of the Semitic family of languages, was adopted by Abraham and his descendents when they settled in the land. There were about 70 distinct forms of Semitic languages and dialects, which were spoken in an area extending from the Caspian Sea to the Horn of Africa, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Tigris Valley.

The earliest reference to spoken Hebrew is recorded in Gen 31:47 (18th century BC), where Laban and Jacob refer to a heap of stones in their own native tongue. Laban calls it Jegarsahadutha (Aramaic) while Jacob calls it Galeed and a nearby pillar Mizpah, 2 Hebrew words. A thousand years later, Hebrew was called “the language of Judah” (2 Ki 18:26) and the language of Canaan (Isa 19:18). The earliest Hebrew script was the Pentateuch, written by Moses at the command of God. Subsequently, the court records of the kings and the words of the prophets were also written in this language, which became the official language of the Old Testament. Although the literature of the Old Testament covers over a period of 1000 years, there is very little development and changes in the grammar and vocabulary. This is probably because the books of Moses became the pattern for all Hebrew composition due to their dominant influence on Hebrew life and culture. However, the Aramaic influence of post-Exilic times brought changes in style and form. Much of the literature of this period was written in a less figurative and more vernacular Hebrew than the Old Testament. Hebrew ceased to be a spoken language about 3rd century AD but survived until modern times as a literary language. Aramaic, Arabic and various European tongues replaced Hebrew as the spoken tongue of the Jews until the Haskalah or enlightenment period between 1784 – 1881 brought about a renaissance of the language. The resettlement of the Jews in the land of Israel since 1882 made imperative the revival of a common language. The tremendous vocabulary needs of modern society made updating Hebrew necessary, a task that was undertaken successfully with the aid of the Hebrew Language Council, founded in 1890 and reorganised in 1953 as the Academy of Hebrew Language. Hebrew is now the official tongue of the modern state of Israel.
Although the book of Daniel was composed during the Exile, a large portion of the book was still written in Hebrew, the language of the prophets and the Old Testament. This is because the book was directed to, and concerned, the Jews. However, the central portion of the book was intended for a wider audience, the Gentile world, and was thus written in Aramaic, the official tongue of the Babylonian court.

2. Aramaic: Aramaic first appeared among the Aramaeans about the late 11th century BC. By the 8th century BC it was accepted by the Assyrians as a second language. The mass deportations of people by the Assyrians and the use of Aramaic as a lingua franca by Babylonian merchants served to spread the language, so that in the 7th and 6th centuries BC it gradually supplanted Akkadian as the lingua franca of the Middle East. It subsequently became the official language of the Achaemenian Persian dynasty (559-330 BC), though after the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek displaced it as the official language throughout the former Persian empire.
The use of the Aramaic in the book of Daniel was related to the fact that the material concerned the Gentile world rather than Israel directly. The Aramaic chapters (2:4 – 7:28) deal with matters pertaining to the entire citizenry of the Babylonian and the Persian empires, whereas the other six chapters relate to peculiarly Jewish concerns and God’s special plans for the future of his covenant people. Those parts that are written in the language of the Gentiles is a record of their own history and their judgment, so that they may read both, and be without excuse before God when judgment comes.
Aramaic replaced Hebrew as the language of the Jews as early as the 6th century BC. Among the Jews, Aramaic was used by the common people, while Hebrew remained the language of religion and government and of the upper class.

5. Structure and Overview

The book is divided into two parts; the historical, 1-6, and the prophetic, 7-12. In the former part Daniel is spoken of in the third person; in the latter, he himself is the narrator.

Historical Section: Daniel and his friends are taken captive (chap 1); Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great image (chap 2); Nebuchadnezzar’s making of a gold image and his decree that it be worshiped (chap 3); Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of an enormous tree (chap 4); Belshazzar’s and Babylon’s downfall (chap 5); Daniel’s deliverance (chap 6).

Apocalyptic Section: Daniel’s vision of the four beasts (chap 7); Daniel’s vision of a ram and a goat (chap 8); Daniel’s prayer and his vision of the 70 ‘Sevens’ (chap 9); the preparation of Daniel (chap 10); Prophecies concerning Persia, Greece, Egypt, Syria and the antichrist (chap 11); conclusion (chap 12).