The Book of Daniel turns out to be something quite other than what one might suspect on first blush. So, much of the study of this (centrally Aramaic) book ends up repeating the galma-gamla problem.
Daniel 2.7 – 7.1 forms a peculiar section of the book that bears that name. It was written originally in Aramaic, so far as we can tell. Only a little of Ezra-Nehemiah and of Jeremiah bears this distinction. All else was Hebrew. The best explanation for Aramaic Daniel is that chapters 2 -7.1 are the original — Josephos has chapters 1 -8 as the original in his commentary — and the rest is accretive.
Where did it come from? Most probably it originated out of the Jewish commentary (brief commentary on OT Hebrew scripture) called the “Targums” (or “Targummim” in Hebrew), which (two of them — Targums Onkelos and Johnathan) read in the Aramaic tongue. A hint at the liturgical origination of Daniel is found both in the devout (even liturgical in prayer and fasting) character of Daniel and his friends, and in the strange entry point of Aramaic at 2.7, which reads “They [the Chaldeans] answered [the king] a second time, ‘let the king [Nebuchadnezzar] tell his servants the dreamand we will show its interpretation.” “Second time” forms a phrase native to the practice of the Targumic use in liturgy, where the Hebrew passage was read twice, then the Aramaic commentary given once.
Our history textbooks assure us that Aramaic was the administrative language of the Neo-Chaldeans (or “Babylonians” in Daniel), and find a direct expression in the book as “Mene Mene Tekel Uparsin” near the end of the account. Other notable features of the account include these —
- While Daniel and his 3 friends each receive Babylonian names, the captain of the guard (named “Arioch” has a distinctively Greek name — not Aramaic or Babylonian.
- The advisers to the king are called by the Greek title “Chaldaioi” (Chaldeans).
- The order of the kings listed in the book of Daniel runs badly awry. It is not even close. In sports language, it has the Boston Oilers playing the Los Angeles Rocketeers, and the score is 161 to 17. “Something is wrong here” does not begin to describe the situation. It places the reign of Darius I before that of Cyrus the Persian, and has the last Babylonian king as Belteshazzar, when it was “Nabonidos.” It has Daniel lasting at least 117 years, from the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s third year of reign (around 603/2) to that of Darius (fl. 486). Holy Moses, people do not live this long very often.
- In the book, Daniel does not do what devout Jews do in the other parts of the Bible. He does not reprove Nebuchadnezzar for causing worldwide idolatry with a golden image said to be 60 cubits high. While most Bible notes indicate that a cubit is little more than 1.5 feet, ther reai
- The distinctive Aramaic phrase “Mene, mene, tekel, uparsin” has to be translated and explained in the Aramaic text, as though the readers and hearers do not know basic Aramaic. Perhaps they only knew Greek — since Babylonians would know Aramaic (The Book of Daniel was not written for Babylonians in any event) and Hebrew was no longer on the menu (At least not according to Daniel 2.7 – 7.1 and the Targums). It is assumed that the readers of Daniel know Greek.
After all, if you don’t know Greek, you cannot read the LXX, and well, you’re a beast (bad news for barbarians everywhere). The use and spread of the Targums in liturgy most probably led to the creation of the Septuagint in Alexandria, Egypt, since their use indicated that linguistic times were changing, and the obvious fact that Greek was on the rise, even in late Persia, showed (er) the writing on the wall?
2. Another important point worth noting about Daniel, that most readers miss is that Daniel is not a particularly devout person at all, on a Jewish basis of its Torahic legal standards.
How “Devout” is Daniel on Jewish terms??
Here are the facts:
a. Daniel never sings Psalms at all, like David, Solomon and Josiah. He does not sing any hymn to God, ever.
b. Daniel receives without protest the pagan, Babylonian name of “Bel” (false god) teshazzar; the OT commands, Let not the name of other gods be named upon your lips; but saying Daniel’s new name would in fact violate this commandment.
c. Daniel does not say one word about Nebuchadnezzar creating a 60-cubit golden statue, and ordering worldwide idolatry upon the pain of death. He gives tacit consent. This means that Daniel is in fact a rank idolater on the Torahic view, which requires the protest of a woman who is taken against her will by a paramour (let us suppose out in the country). Her crying out against him makes her guiltless. But Daniel does not protest — neither does the text of the Book of Daniel say anything that is not pure description against it. This would condemn the author in like manner on a Torahic basis.
d. Daniel seems wholly unfamiliar with the Law of Moses, and how one might apply it in his day to solve problems (casuistry). He never quotes from Torah. Nor do his friends.
e. The text lauds Daniel as a wise man. Yet he neither ever quotes, or refers to Solomon or his writings. Nor do his friends. The Chief of the Chaldeans (Wise Men) sees no need for, and shows no interest in either the Law of Moses, or the Wisdom literature of the Bible. This book portrays both as unnecessary and irrelevant to their wisdom — which came from Babylon.
However, he IS SO WISE as never to eat crickets. Even crunchy ones.
f. And now for something totally bizarre — Genocide unnoticed.
Since the deaths of all these people who refuse the rank idolatry of the golden image — would amount to a mass murder (probably mostly of Jews), here comes this next textual tatoo: The next chapter blames all the problem on Nebuchadnezzar’s braggadocia — ignoring the condemnation of the mass murder of Jews, worldwide idolatry, assigning of pagan names to prophets (defaming God on the OT view; in the ANE, this was an act of attempting conversion to another religion — that of Bel), and the like. Daniel says nothing about the mass murder of his people. The Book of Esther would reprove him harshly for this.
By the way, pure gold is soft. The 100 foot gold image could not sustain anything like the pressures generated by its own weight — falling apart fairly quickly — without the aid of a significant quantity of an alloy or two invested within the gold — e.g. copper and nickel.
g. Daniel prays to God, but never offers him worship or bows down. Though he does on occasion receive the worship of others.
In fact, Daniel “sinfully” allows another (a king) to bow down to himself (Daniel) and offer a sacrifice to Daniel and incense. This is unspeakably blasphemous in the biblical outlook; but the text passes over this error in silence, and Daniel says nothing.
f. Likewise, Daniel does not say one word about all the sorcery and magical practices (occultism) going on in Babylon. In fact, he is made their chief (“Harry Potter In Chief”), and placed at the king’s court in Babylon. He accepts the honor without protest.
Punchline: Surprisingly, it would seem that Daniel would be construed under the Mosaic Torah as worthy of death (at least three times) for blasphemy, sorcery and genocide, on a fair reading. This hardly qualifies him as either wise or devout.
What are we to make of this??
The best explanation for the problems of Daniel is this: the book of Daniel was written by way of a comparison between Joseph and Daniel. Good evidence exists for this comparison of profiles in the writings of an early Alexandrian Jew named “Philo,” who wrote a fairly extensive commentary on Genesis in good, Alexandrian Greek, about the middle of the first century (C.E.).
Curiously, Philo writes with an eye on “Genesis only” in his evaluation of Daniel, and considers him so great a man as to be too ideal to be a real person; and Philo even doubts Daniel’s historicity on this basis. That is, given the Book of Genesis alone as one’s standard, one could achieve a very high evaluation of Daniel. But judged by the Mosaic legislation and wisdom literature, we should have to conclude the opposite.
This would mean that the author (s) of Daniel most probably constructed the Book of Daniel with little more than Genesis in view. Genesis 1 requires vegetarianism, and Daniel is a vegetarian. The “clean and unclean” food references could have been added commentary to the original facts of that narrative section, or else a Levitical exception to the Genesis rule. Daniel does not violate either the Leviticus diet rules, or the Genesis diet rule, in either case.
He prays often, and then follows the other kinds of devout acts we see in Joseph, who is also presented as an ideal person in the text. The Joseph-Model understanding of the Book of Daniel, almost entirely apart from the rest of the OT, best explains why Daniel is 1. so much like Joseph and 2. Would get a horrific rating in light of the Mosaic-legal and wisdom traditions. Daniel’s “vegetarian priesthood” (no temple = no levitical priesthood, no eating the meat of sacrificed animals) represents one similar to that of Melchizedek in the text of Genesis.
Conclusion: Daniel is little more than a “Joseph + Melchizedek” lifted out of the pages of Genesis, and then transposed and adapted into the post-exilic environment and literary context.