Introduction to Daniel

An Introduction to the Book of Daniel



A New Stage in Redemptive History

The Babylonian Exile formed a great turning point in the development of the kingdom of God and the history of redemption. With this event the form of the theocracy (God’s direct rule over His people as an independent nation) established at Mt. Sinai came to an end. That previous form of the theocracy in which the people of God constituted an earthly kingdom, taking its place beside the kingdoms of the world, was not restored after the termination of the seventy-year exile and the return of God’s people to the land of Judah.

The restoration of the Jewish state after the Exile was not a re-establishment of the Old Testament kingdom of God. When Cyrus granted liberty to the Jews to return to their own land, only a very small band of the former Babylonian captives returned; the greater part remained scattered among the Gentiles. Even those who went home to Canaan were not free from subjection to the heathen world powers, but even while living in the land the LORD had given to their forefathers they were servants to whatever Gentile world empire was reigning at a given time. The space of five hundred years, from the end of the Babylonian Captivity to the birth of Jesus the Messiah, was, for that portion of the Jewish people who had returned to Judea, no deliverance from subjection to the power of their Gentile overlords, no re-introduction of the kingdom of God as it had been known in the days of their forefathers, but only a period of transition from the Old to the New Covenant as it would be inaugurated by Jesus the Messiah and His work of atonement. It was at the outset of this transitional period that Daniel was called by God to carry out his unique ministry.

The Theme and Purpose of The Book

At the time Daniel writes, the kingdom of Judah had been overthrown. That fact, notes H.C. Leupold (p. 14), was so grievous a shock to the people of God that even they who firmly believed in the providence of God had severe difficulties to overcome. No doubt, they had entertained the belief that such a calamity as the overthrow of God’s city and the demolition of God’s temple could never take place. Now the unexpected had happened. Furthermore, the overthrow had been wrought with a distinctive thoroughness: deportation. The remnant of God’s people had been violently uprooted and transplanted, a process from which no nation had ever recovered. Now, with this particular nation (Judah) were tied up all the gracious promises of God. Were these promises cancelled? (H.C. Leupold, p. 15)

One of the major purposes of the Book of Daniel is to remind and reassure the people of God that, despite the fact they found themselves dominated by an alien and pagan world power (as a consequence of their own sin), our God reigns. This great truth is expressed in three ways: (1) by the names and titles of God that appear throughout the book; (2) by the testimonials, even from the lips of pagan rulers, confessing the sovereignty of God; and (3) by the great acts of God, both in the form of miraculous deliverances, and in the form of imparting visions that reveal the future course of history right up to the final coming of the kingdom of God. (Note: Lesson #1 deals with this subject in greater detail.)

A companion theme, addresses the fact that, as previously noted, with the Babylonian Exile the history of redemption entered upon a new, (and perplexing from the perspective of God’s people), stage of development. In this setting Daniel’s calling was to assure the people of God that, despite the continuance of their affliction and subjection under the oppression of the empires of this present world, the LORD their God will be faithful to sustain those who are faithful to Him until that time when, according to Revelation 11:15, “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.” Furthermore, it was Daniel’s prophetic duty to proclaim before the throne of the rulers of this world the glory of the God of Israel as the God of heaven and earth, in opposition to all false gods, and to announce to those invested with worldly might and dominion the final subjugation of all the kingdoms of this world and the supplanting of them by the everlasting kingdom of God.

The Book of Daniel’s Place in the Old Testament Canon

The Hebrew Bible, consisting of the 39 books that comprise the Old Testament, was divided into three parts: The Law, The Prophets, and The Sacred Writings. In the Hebrew Bible the Book of Daniel is not listed among the Prophets; rather, it is found under the category known as The Sacred Writings.

As E.J. Young explains (p. 370), the reason why Daniel was placed among the Hagiographa (“The Sacred Writings”) is due to the fact he did not occupy the technical office of a prophet. He was trained to be a statesman and it was in that capacity that he carried out his God-given ministry. A prophet was a mediator between God and His covenant people (see Deut. 18:18), but this was not Daniel’s calling. When the New Testament speaks of Daniel as a prophet, it is referring to the prophetic gift Daniel possessed—the gift of prophecy in distinction from the office of prophet. Another reason why Daniel is placed in the category of The Sacred Writings rather than among the Prophets is due to the fact that a large portion of the book bears more the character of history (similar to the books of Kings and Chronicles), rather than that of prophecy (G. Archer, p. 369.)


 Porphyry and His “Disciples”

Throughout all of antiquity no one questioned the genuineness of the Book of Daniel, except for the third century A.D. Neo-Platonic philosopher, Porphyry. Porphyry denied that the book was written in the sixth century B.C. What led him to take this position was the fact that the Book of Daniel speaks so accurately and in such detail about events that occurred in the times of the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.) Hence, the book must be recording historical events, not prophesying future events, since, according to Porphyry, predictive prophecy is impossible (E. J. Young, p 362.)

Rather than accepting the book as a sixth century B.C. composition in which, by the Spirit of God, future events were revealed to the writer, sometimes in astounding detail, Porphyry postulated the book to be the work of a Jew living in Palestine during the time of the Maccabees. According to Porphyry, the writer’s intention was to inspire his fellow Jews in their struggle against Antiochus Epiphanes and his attempt to eradicate the biblical faith. This anonymous writer sought to accomplish his purpose by presenting an account that featured feigned miracles of dramatic deliverances of God’s faithful servants, along with feigned prophecies of the ultimate victory of God’s people, not only over Antiochus, but over all their enemies (C.F. Keil, p. 28.)

Porphyry, and those critics who would follow him, called attention to the fact that the eleventh chapter of Daniel describes the history of conflict between Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria with such astonishing detail and accuracy up until the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. But what is described in Daniel 11:36-ff. is not an accurate description of Antiochus’ latter end; it does not correspond at all to the subsequent events of second century B.C. history. The conclusion to be drawn from this, according to Porphyry, is that at this point in his narrative the writer of Daniel was beginning to deal with things that lay in the future and, therefore, could no longer write accurately (H.C. Leupold, p. 17.)

Those who defend the sixth century B.C. dating of the Book of Daniel assert that considerable attention is devoted to the events that would occur during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes for a very good reason: this coming period would present the greatest threat in all of subsequent history to the survival of the faith and nation of Israel. Hence, it is to be expected that the revelation given to Daniel would make it clear to the coming generations that God had not only foreseen this future threatened extinction of His people, but that He would not allow it to be accomplished.

Furthermore, the prophetic emphasis upon the time of Antiochus Epiphanes was all the more warranted in view of the fact that Antiochus and his persecution of God’s covenant people were to serve as types (i.e.; historical models) of the final Anti-Christ and the Great Tribulation that is yet to come at the end of history (G. Archer, p. 382.) Daniel 11:35 concludes the account of the historical Antiochus Epiphanes and the persecution he would enact against God’s Old Testament covenant people, and Daniel 11:36 then transports us into the distant future (from Daniel’s perspective), providing an account of the career and the doom of that individual of whom Antiochus was the type, namely, the Anti-Christ himself.

We have seen the underlying assumption that prevented Porphyry (and all of his subsequent “disciples”) from accepting the authenticity of the Book of Daniel as a genuine sixth century B.C. book containing astoundingly detailed prophecies of events that would transpire in the second century B.C., namely, their rationalistic, anti-supernatural bias. Now we must proceed to a consideration of some of their major criticisms of the book; submitted in their attempt to defend their thesis of a second century B.C. composition of the book.

Alleged Chronological Discrepancies

It is alleged that Daniel1:1 is in conflict with Jeremiah 25:1,9. Dan. 1:1 states that it was in the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem; but Jer. 25:1 implies that this event took place in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, (which is equated with the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign as king of Babylon.) As R.K. Harrison (p. 1112) and others point out, this difference between Daniel and Jeremiah can be explained by the fact that the Babylonians and the Jews used two different systems of chronology when it came to dating the reigns of kings. In the Babylonian system the year a king ascended the throne was designated as “the year of the accession to the kingdom;” and the subsequent years of his reign were then designated as “his first year, second year, etc.” In the Jewish system of reckoning, the year of a king’s accession to the throne was counted as the first year of his reign. In his account, Daniel is computing according to the Babylonian system of chronology; while Jeremiah is using the Jewish system. Consequently, the third year according to Daniel’s computations is identical to the fourth year according to the system used by Jeremiah.

Alleged Linguistic Discrepancies

In 1891 the renowned Hebrew scholar, S.R. Driver, wrote that the Persian words in the Book of Daniel presupposed a period of composition some time after the Persian Empire had been well established. He went on to maintain that the Greek words demanded, the Hebrew supported, and the Aramaic permitted a date after the conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. (R.K. Harrison, p. 1124.) Further studies, however, have disproved Driver’s confident assertion.

First, let us consider the Persian words that occur in the Book of Daniel. There are no less than fifteen words of probable Persian origin, and, indeed, their presence proves quite conclusively that even the chapters dating back to Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar could not have been composed in the Chaldean (i.e.; Babylonian) period. But those who hold to the authenticity of Daniel do not maintain that the book was composed, at least in its final form, until the establishment of the Persian conquest of Babylon. Since the book indicates that Daniel lived to serve, for several years at least, under Persian rule, there is no reason why he should not have employed Persian terms, especially those referring to government administration (G. Archer, p. 374.) As H.C. Leupold observes (pp. 23-24), since Daniel moved in the circle of the new Persian regime, he would have been familiar with the new nomenclature they employed to designate their officials. Not only that, but he would have realized that if he were to have used the old terminology, he would have caused confusion for the new generation for whom he was writing.

The presence of three Greek names for musical instruments (translated “harp,” “sackbut,” and “psaltery”) found in Daniel 3 was adduced by critics as pointing to a Maccabean date for the composition of the book. This argument, however, can no longer be considered to pose a serious objection to the sixth century composition of the book. As the archaeologist and biblical scholar, W.F. Albright, has shown, and as is now well recognized, Greek culture had penetrated the Near East long before the Neo-Babylonian period. There were Greek colonies present in mid-seventh century B.C. Egypt, and Greek mercenary troops served in both the Egyptian and Babylonian armies at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. (R.K. Harrison, p. 1126.) Furthermore, if through ancient commerce, principally carried on by the Phoenicians, Greek instruments were brought into Upper Asia, it is not surprising that they retained their original Greek names, since the foreign name is usually retained when such items are imported to foreign cultures (C.F. Keil, p. 35.) By way of example, G. Archer points out (p. 375) how the Italian piano and viola have retained their original names even in the foreign cultures to which they have been imported.

The Hebrew used in Daniel resembles that of Ezekiel, Haggai, Ezra, and Chronicles, not the later Hebrew of Ecclesiasticus (an apocryphal book from the second century B.C.) With regard to the type of Aramaic found in the Book of Daniel, F. Rosenthal’s studies have shown that it was the kind that grew up in the courts and chancelleries from the seventh century B.C. and subsequently became widespread in the Near East. Thus it cannot be employed as evidence for a late date of the composition of the book; in fact, it constitutes a strong argument for a sixth century B.C. period of composition (R.K. Harrison, p. 1125.)

Alleged Historical Discrepancies


The appearance of King Belshazzar in chapter 5 was interpreted by critics to be unhistorical, since it was known that Nabonidus was the last king of the Babylonian Empire. But discoveries of cuneiform tablets referring to Belshazzar as ”the son of the king” have served to discredit that criticism. Nevertheless, it is still objected that Belshazzar is referred to in Dan. 5 as a son of Nebuchadnezzar, whereas his father was actually Nabonidus. This argument, however, overlooks the fact that by ancient usage, the term “son” often referred to a successor in the same office, whether or not there was a blood relationship. Furthermore, it is a distinct possibility that there was, in fact, a genetic relationship between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. If Nabonidus married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar in order to legitimize his usurpation of the throne in 556 B.C., it would follow that his son by her would be a grandson of Nebuchadnezzar.

There is fairly conclusive evidence that Belshazzar was elevated to secondary kingship during his father’s lifetime. Recent archaeological discoveries indicate that Belshazzar was in charge of the northern frontier of the Babylonian Empire while his father, Nabonidus, maintained his headquarters at Teman in North Arabia. Among the discoveries at the site of Ur is an inscription of Nabunaid (Nabonidus) containing a prayer for Nabunaid himself followed by a second prayer for his first-born son, Bel-Shar-Usur (Belshazzar.) Such prayers were customarily offered only for the reigning monarch. Note, too, that Dan. 5:16 quotes Belshazzar as promising to the interpreter of the handwriting on the wall the position of third ruler of the kingdom. Why could he only promise the position of third ruler, and not the second? Because Belshazzar himself was the second ruler, inasmuch as his father, Nabonidus, was still alive (G. Archer, pp. 370-371.

Darius The Mede

While Darius the Mede is an important figure in the Book of Daniel, he is unknown, at least by that name, outside of the book. Perhaps the best explanation of who this individual was, is offered by the Old Testament scholar W.H. Shea.

Shea proposed that during the first fourteen months of Cyrus the Great’s reign, he ruled Babylon by means of a viceroy who bore the title, “King of Babylon.” Shea identifies this viceroy with Darius the Mede. After careful study, he concluded that the ruler whom Daniel identifies as Darius is the same individual that the extra-biblical text known as the Nabonidus Chronicles identifies as Ugbaru (R. Dillard and T. Longman, pp. 336-337.) Ugbaru was an elderly general who had engineered the capture of the city of Babylon by the stratagem of diverting the waters of the Euphrates River into an artificial channel (G. Archer, p. 373.)

Concluding Comments on the Criticism of the Book of Daniel

As previously stated, those who deny the authenticity of Daniel as a sixth century B.C. composition, propose that it is, rather, the work of a second century B.C. pro-Maccabean Jew. However, as C.F. Keil demonstrates (pp. 46-50), neither the spirit nor the content of the book lend themselves to a second century B.C. Maccabean setting

For one thing, the contemplative, visionary tone of the book shows little accord with that period of history when the sanctuary was desecrated and tyranny rose to an intolerable height. Keil quotes the Old Testament scholar Kranfeld as asserting, “It is inconceivable that in such a time those who took part in that fearful insurrection [against Antiochus Epiphanes] and were called on to defend their lives with weapons in their hands, should have concerned themselves with visions and circumstantial narratives of detailed history … instead of directly encouraging and counseling the men of action, so that they might be set free from the fearful situation in which they were placed” (C.F. Keil, p. 46.)

Furthermore, as Keil observes (p. 57), if the Book of Daniel were a production of a Maccabean Jew, who sought to bring “certain wholesome truths” to his contemporaries, presenting them as the prophecies of a divinely enlightened seer from the time of the Exile, then what his book contains are neither prophecies given by God, nor wholesome divine truth, but mere human invention, clothed with falsehood. If such were, indeed, the facts concerning the Book of Daniel, then Christ, who is the eternal Truth, would never have commended the book to His disciples (Matt. 24:15; Mk. 13:14.)

The underlying conviction that motivates the critics to hold onto their view is honestly expressed by W.S. Towner when he writes: We need to assume that the vision as a whole is a prophecy after the fact. Why? Because human beings are unable accurately to predict future events centuries in advance … So what we have here [in the Book of Daniel] is in fact not a road map of the future laid down in the sixth century B.C., but an interpretation of the events of the author’s own time, 167-164 B.C. (R. Dillard and T. Longman, p. 332.) As Dillard and Longman rightly remark (p. 332), Towner’s presupposition is unacceptable because he discounts the power of God to speak predictively and, indeed, without error through sinful human agency. Ironically, the critics display a deep-seated bias against the very thing that is the central theme of the Book of Daniel, namely, God’s sovereign control over history and His sovereign working in history.


Archer, Gleason L., Jr.; A Survey of Old Testament Introduction; Moody Press, Chicago, 1964, (Sixth Printing, 1970.)

Harrison, R.K.; Introduction to the Old Testament; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI, 1969 (Fifth printing, November 1975.)

Keil, C.F. & Franz Delitzsch; “Daniel,” Commentaries on the Old Testament; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI, Reprinted, January 1971.

Leupold, H.C.; Exposition of Daniel; Baker Book House, Grand Rapids MI, Thirteenth printing, February 1969.

Longman, Tremper III & Raymond Dillard; An Introduction to the Old Testament; Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI, 1994.

Van Gemeren, Willem A.; “Daniel,” Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Edited by Walter A. Elwell; Baker Book House, Grand Rapids MI, 1989.

Young, Edward J.; An Introduction to the Old Testament; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI, 1949 (Fourth printing, February 1969.

Young, Edward J.; “Daniel,” The New Bible Commentary, Edited by Prof. F. Davidson; The Inter-Varsity Fellowship, London, Reprinted October 1967.